Friday, 30 December 2011

Reverend Bartle

"Why are you wearing a dress?"  It would be unfair to describe Detective Inspector Playfair as snarling as then one would run out of words to describe his increasing levels of aggression too quickly.  The priest looked up, a little startled, and smoothed the front of his Jane Asher exclusive down.
"Do you like it?" he said.  "It's for the summer play.  We're doing Streetcar."
"Never heard of it," said Playfair automatically.  Miss Flava, stood next to him, and who thought that the priest seemed far too comfortable in the dress, equally automatically disbelieved Playfair.  She'd come to the conclusion that her boss worked very hard to give everyone the impression that he was like a wasp-stung bulldog on a short chain: ferociously aggressive and dangerously short-sighted, while in fact the brain of a classics scholar worked like a well-oiled machine in the background to discover the real facts of any given case.  All she had left to prove was the brain of the classics scholar was in fact his own, and she'd be free to admire him and his incredible depths of cynicism.
"Oh?  That's a shame, it's a fantastic play.  I do confess, I've been having to work on my Deep South accent a little for it though."  The priest giggled, and Miss Flava looked away, feeling a little uncomfortable.
"Right, Stanley," said Playfair.  "We're here looking for a Reverend Bartle.  Derek Bartle.  What have you done with him?"
"Oh, hah, that's me, I've done nothing with him!  Well, maybe hidden him in a dress.  Who are you?"
Playfair produced a bus pass, then his wallet, then a hip flask, and finally his warrant card.  "DI Playfair," he said.  "This here is the lovely Miss Flava, she's my gorgeous assistant and makes people disappear while I keep the audience entertained."
Miss Flava glared at Playfair and produced her own warrant card on the first try, since she kept it ready in an inside pocket.  The priest peered at both cards, and then at their respective owners.
"Yes, well that seems in order," he said.  "Perhaps I ought to change then, if this is official business?"
"It is, and don't bother," said Playfair.  "You're wearing more than some people I've interviewed in the past, and that's a relief.  Oh, Calamity!"
"What's the ma–" started the Reverend Bartle, but his words were lost as Calamity leapt on his back and pushed his face into the gardenias.  She leapt up at Playfair a couple of times, pawing the air and landing each time with her paws unerringly on Bartle's head.  After the first occasion he stopped trying to lift his head until the weight of the dog was off his back.  Miss Flava hurried forward to pull Calamity off, still wondering how the dog managed to do just what Playfair wanted despite that no-one ever saw him training her.
"Thank-you," said Playfair to Miss Flava as she hauled Calamity away from the priest and his now-awry gardenias.  "I'm sorry about Calamity," he said to Bartle.  "She does depend on the kindness of strangers."
"Urghh." said Bartle wiping compost from his eyes and mouth.  "That was... why is she called Calamity?"
"Calamity Jane, my favourite Crimean nurse," said Playfair.  "Why do you sign letters as Melpomene?"
"What?"  Bartle looked confused.
Playfair stared off into the distance instead of answering, looking at the length of the garden, the scattering gardening tools: tiny forks, trowels, lengths of dowel, string and unpotted plants waiting for embedding into the spring earth.  Beyond the garden was a cottage of sorts with heavy stone walls, huge doors and tiny, leaded windows, and behind them was a solid, Saxon church that looked as though it could withstand a siege.  The church had a campanile, at the top of which Playfair could see at least three bells, and after that trees obscured the view of what was very probably the graveyard.
"Someone killed a man here," he said at last.  "You found the body, and someone sent a letter to the local paper claiming the kill and calling themselves Melpomene."
"I didn't send the letter!  I just found the poor soul, hanging from a tree with a screwdriver sticking out of the side of his neck.  The ground all around him was soggy with blood!  It was dreadful!"  The man had whitened a little, but seemed to be otherwise retaining his composure.  "Why are you here?  We have a police-force of our own, and they've been and talked to me already.  And they were much nicer about it too!"
"That's why I'm here," said Playfair.  "They didn't get anywhere with their tea and cupcakes approach."
"So you come with your monstrous dog and your veiled threats?  I shall write to your superior officers about this!"
Miss Flava silently handed Bartle a business card.
"His immediate superior is the first name on the list," she said after a moment.  "Each name after that is one rank higher.  The address for all of them is on the back.  I can supply you with a form letter to copy from if you'd like, his superiors prefer to be able to identify the complaint quickly these days."
"You... you mean he gets a lot of these complaints?  Why's he still a policeman?"
"He gets a lot of results," said Miss Flava.  "Actual results, and not just convictions that are overturned as unsound or wrong, months or years later."
"I'm still complaining."
"Then here's the form letter."
Bartle stared at first her, then at Calamity who was now frantically digging up tomato plants, and then at Playfair.
"Do you use bonemeal for your plants?" asked Playfair.  Bartle nodded.  "That's why she's digging."
"How can I help you then," said Bartle finally, sounding depressed.  "You won't go away until I do, will you?"
"How much do you know about Feng Shui?" asked Playfair.

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