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His Burial Too
A C. D. Sloan Mystery
By Catherine Aird
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Catherine Aird
All rights reserved.
It was the knocking which woke Fenella Tindall.
Not the first time it happened.
The first time the knocking came she was dreaming so deeply that she didn't even hear it. In her dream she wasn't tucked up safely at home in her own bedroom in the English village of Cleete at all. She was miles and miles away. In her dream she was in Italy. In Rome, to be exact. Walking down the Via Veneto with the two young Trallanti children.
It was in her dream as it had always been in real life—the pudgy little Nicola hurrying along beside her, her chubby hand tightly clutched in Fenella's, and the older and more adventuresome Giovanni skipping ahead of them both.
Nevertheless the knocking must have begun to register on her mind because her dream changed gear slightly.
She was calling to Giovanni now, telling him not to go too far ahead on his own. She had spent a lot of her time in Italy with the Trallanti children doing just that. She doubted whether in the long run anyone—anyone at all—was going to be able to keep Giovanni back. Already the boy was slim-hipped and handsome, and as lithe as quicksilver. And someday, too, not so many light-years away, his sister Nicola, dark, slow, and almost insultingly good-looking, was going to break a heart or two.
Not that that was Fenella's problem.
Her problem had been teaching them English.
Fenella's own Italian was good—that had been how she had got the job in the first place—but she always spoke to the children in English. That was what their mother, the Principessa, wanted. That was how the English Miss Fenella Tindall of Cleete had come to be in Italy at all. To teach English to the Trallanti children.
"So that it is their second tongue, Miss Tindall," their mother had said firmly. "That is what I want."
And even that wasn't Fenella Tindall's problem any more.
Not since she had had to come back to England again ...
The knocking came again and this time it did reach her bedroom. The Italian dream faded. Her sleep-soaked mind forgot the Principessa and—in the infinitely accommodating way of dreams—tossed up an association to match the extraneous noise.
She was hammering away at something now—she wasn't quite sure what.
But urgently ...
Now another figure appeared at the edge of her dream. A man, this time. She couldn't see him very clearly but again in the way of dreams she somehow knew who he was. Giuseppe Mardoni ... She was aware of him there ... small, dark, and engaging—and on the fringe.
There was another bout of knocking and she came one stage nearer true wakefulness. Another thought flitted through her mind.
"Wake Duncan with thy knocking ..."
Then the sound—the real sound—came again and all the layers of unconsciousness were stripped away. She opened her eyes, admitted the world and was properly awake at last. The Trallanti children, Macbeth, and the insubstantial Giuseppe were all thoroughly banished by the present.
The present apparently consisted of someone knocking at the front door.
Fenella struggled out of bed and snatched at her dressing gown. It was a beautiful dressing gown—one which she had brought back with her from Rome and really cherished ... she stopped suddenly. As she had been feeling about for her bedroom slippers her eye had fallen on her little bedside clock.
It said half-past eight.
It couldn't be as late as half-past eight.
Not half-past eight in the morning.
What about breakfast? What about getting her father off to work in Berebury? She shook herself. This wouldn't do at all. After all, the whole idea had been that something like this shouldn't happen. This was what she had come home from Italy for. To look after her father. She didn't seem to be making a very good job of it this morning.
She opened her bedroom door and shot along the upstairs landing. She called out to her father as she hurried downstairs to answer the door. Even in her present rush she was vaguely surprised that he wasn't already moving about. It really wasn't like him to sleep in quite as late as this—whether or not she was there to give him a call.
The knocking was coming from the front door all right. A renewed bout of it settled any doubts about that.
Fenella unlocked the door.
"Couldn't make anyone hear at the back," announced a short dumpy woman equably, "so I came round to the front."
"Oh, it's you, Mrs Turvey." Fenella pushed her hair back out of her eyes. "Come in. Thank goodness you woke me. We must have slept in."
"Happens to us all, miss, some time or other." Mrs Turvey lived farther down Cleete High Street and "did" for the Tindalls. She came in for a few hours every morning.
"I'd no idea it was so late ..."
"Shouldn't be surprised myself if it wasn't the heat," said Mrs Turvey, stepping into the hall. "Ever such a hot night, it was. Not that it'll have seemed all that hot to you, miss, I expect. Not after that Rome."
Fenella smiled faintly. "No, it was just about right for me. What I remember of it." She had only been awake a matter of minutes but already she would have been hard put to it to say what it was that she had been dreaming about.
"Hot enough to make anyone oversleep in England, anyway," reaffirmed Mrs Turvey.
"You could be right about that—my father doesn't seem to have woken yet even," said Fenella, going back towards the stairs. "I'd better give him another shout now in case he didn't hear me come down."
"And I'd better put the kettle on." Mrs Turvey started off in the direction of the kitchen. "He can't go off, not without something inside him. Not even if he is late."
Fenella paused with one foot on the bottom step of the staircase as a new thought assailed her. "Mrs Turvey, you don't think that he's just gone out on his own without waking me, do you? You know, made his own breakfast and gone ..."
"Well, it would be for the very first time, if he had, wouldn't it?" answered Mrs Turvey, not without spirit. "Had to be here b'half-past seven sharp, I did, until you came back home, miss. Every morning."
"That's true." Fenella nodded. No one could have called her father domesticated. Clever, good at his job, an admirable and devoted parent—all of those things.
That was the whole trouble. That was why she had come back home from Italy. She had been perfectly happy with the Trallantis in Rome but her father had been lonely and sad in England. She hadn't been able to bear the thought of him leading a solitary existence in Cleete ...
"There's another thing, miss," said Mrs Turvey, rapidly unrolling the apron she had brought with her, "if he should happen to have got himself off on his own for once in a while ..."
"Then he's gone and locked all the doors behind him—which he wouldn't be likely to do seeing as how he knew I would be coming round soon the same as always."
"How silly of me," conceded Fenella quickly. "I hadn't thought of that." She turned and ran upstairs and then hurried along the landing to her father's bedroom. She tapped on the door.
There was no reply.
She knocked again.
"I'm afraid it's awfully late," she called out. "We've both slept in this morning."
There was still no answer.
She put her hand on the knob and opened the door. The bedroom curtains were still drawn against the light but the morning sun beyond them was coming in strongly enough for her to see quite easily that the bed was empty.
Not only empty but still made.
There was no sign whatsoever of her father in the room. More importantly, there was no sign whatsoever of his having been in there at all overnight. Everything was just as it had been when Fenella had gone in during the evening before to draw the curtains and to turn down the bed.
She took a second swift glance round the room and then went back on the landing and called down to Mrs Turvey.
"He's gone." She swallowed. "At least, he's not here."
Police Superintendent Leeyes landed the problem of the absent Mr Tindall of Cleete squarely on the desk of Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan (Christopher Dennis to his wife and parents, "Seedy" to his friends) not very long after that hard-working officer reported for duty at Berebury Police Station that morning.
The Thursday morning.
The Thursday after the Wednesday.
Everyone was to remember Wednesday, July 16th. That, at least, was one thing which helped the police. Wednesday, July 16th, was one of the hottest days in living memory in the county of Calleshire and it wasn't forgotten for a long time.
It had been really hot. Not just the ordinary warm weather which customarily passes for summer in England, but hot.
Workers in chocolate factories had had to be sent home because the chocolate was unworkable. Sales of ice cream had soared along with the thermometer. By the middle of the afternoon it had been so hot that—over in the southeastern corner of the county of Calleshire—a fat man had attended a funeral without his jacket.
This particular disregard for the proprieties so incensed a retired major general (who didn't know what things were comin' to) that he wrote an indignant letter about it to the Editor of one of the local papers—The Calleford Chronicle. The police later read this in their patient attempt to build up a complete picture of the day in question.
The letter, predictably, triggered off an energetic correspondence which only finished—weeks afterwards—with a spirited letter from another mourner at the same funeral, who wrote that he was sure that the deceased would have been sympathetic towards the shirt sleeves (he was about to be cremated anyway)—and with a terse note from the Editor of the paper saying "This correspondence is now closed."
By the time that happened everyone in Calleshire knew the name of Richard Mallory Tindall.
The Criminal Investigation Department of Berebury Division, of which Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan was in charge, was small—all matters of great criminal moment being referred to the Calleshire County Constabulary Headquarters in the county town of Calleford. It did, however, collect—much to Sloan's regret—all the odd jobs.
This, it seemed, was one of the odd jobs.
"Man missing," announced Superintendent Leeyes briefly, waving a thin message sheet in his hand. "Seems as if he didn't go home last night."
"Can't say I blame him for that, sir," rejoined Inspector Sloan, fingering his collar. "Thank goodness it's better today."
The Thursday, as everyone—but everyone—remarked, mercifully was cooler than the Wednesday and almost everyone was relieved. Even those who had begun by lapping up the heat of the day before with a certain atavistic voluptuousness had ceased to wallow in it and begun instead to weary of it by evening. Hot nights were for sub-Mediterranean type peoples, not the English.
Superintendent Leeyes, who never admitted to changes of temperature on principle, grunted.
"Much too hot for sleeping in a bed," continued Sloan firmly. "I shouldn't have minded staying out myself last night, sir, come to that."
Leeyes glared at him. "Supposing he was that daft, too, and went down to Kinnisport for a swim in the moonlight or some such fancy carry-on in the dark then neither his clothes nor his body have turned up ..." He paused and then added lugubriously, "... yet."
"He just didn't go home, sir?" enquired Inspector Sloan. "Er ... is that all?"
The missing man—if he was missing—was by no means the only problem to fetch up on his desk. Like beach-combings washed up by the tide, other worries were stranded there too. There was a nasty little outbreak of anonymous letters over at the village of Constance Parva to be sorted out—to say nothing of the mysterious behaviour of the Berebury mayoral car. The funniest of things kept on happening to that—and always when the Mayor was sitting in it.
"That's all," responded Leeyes flatly. "He just didn't go home."
"But it's not a crime, sir," ventured Detective Inspector Sloan. For all that he was the titular head of Berebury's tiny Criminal Investigation Department Missing Persons didn't usually come within his province. "Not to go home, I mean."
"I know it's not," snapped Leeyes, "but he's officially been reported missing and we can't just write it down and forget it, can we, Sloan?"
"No, sir, but ..."
"And what with your friend, Inspector Harpe, grabbing everyone on the strength who's capable of waving his arms about—and some who aren't—for his blasted traffic problems ..."
"Yes, sir, but ..."
"Not that a collection of scarecrows wouldn't do the job just as well for all the good they seem to do ..."
"Quite, sir," agreed Sloan with feeling. Berebury's traffic jams were a byword in the county—and classic textbook in origin. A medieval town plan surrounded by twentieth century urban sprawl, the experts said. The police had a pithier way of putting it.
"That means," said Leeyes, coming triumphantly up the straight, "that there's only you and Detective Sergeant Gelven left not trying to sort out motorists."
"Yes, sir," repeated Sloan, subconsciously noting that even at a time like this the Superintendent didn't think Sloan's own most junior assistant, Detective Constable Crosby, was worth a mention. Those were Sloan's sentiments, too. The defective constable was what they called him at the Station ...
The Superintendent threw his pen down onto the desk. "That's what police work's been reduced to, Sloan. Caning the motorist. Motoring law and motoring order. That's all anyone cares about these days. I never thought I'd live to see the day when ..."
Detective Inspector Sloan cleared his throat and tried valiantly to get back to the point. "This chap, sir. How did we hear he was missing?"
"What? Oh, Police Constable Hepple told us. You know him, Sloan, don't you? He keeps everything nice and quiet down to the south—Larking way and round there."
Sloan nodded but said nothing. Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary might not define the duties of a police constable as "keeping everything nice and quiet" but it put the situation in a nutshell as far as the Superintendent was concerned.
"Hepple's stationed at Larking," the Superintendent was going on, "as you know, but he covers this little village of Cleete as well. And half a dozen others." Leeyes grunted. "Seems as if he bicycled over there this morning to pin up a notice in the church porch about warble fly ..."
Sloan kept his face expressionless. Somewhere he had once read that there were really only half a dozen original stories in the world. He knew that Cinderella was one of them; the woodcutter's son and the Princess was another and—going back aeons before Aesop—the eternally fascinating tale of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
Bicycling to the church to put up a notice in the porch about the dangers of warble fly to sheep was about as far removed from town police life as it was from the planet Mars. And being late with it into the bargain, thought Sloan suddenly. He might work in the town but he'd been brought up in the country. You dipped sheep earlier than this.
"The church porch?" he echoed dully.
"That's right. And that's where this chap's daily woman nabbed him with this story about her employer being missing." The Superintendent peered at the message sheet again. "The woman's name is Mrs Turvey. Apparently she went to the house this morning at eight-thirty like she always does and ..."
"Exactly," Leeyes grunted again. "Bed not slept in ..."
"So it doesn't happen often then," deduced Sloan intelligently.
"Never before, apparently. Not without him saying. That's what's making her so worried. If he's ever delayed anywhere he always lets them know."
"There's a daughter." The Superintendent flipped over another sheet of paper. "Funny name she's got ... here it is. Fenella."
"Fenella." Detective Inspector Sloan wrote that down in his notebook.
On a new page.
Every case had to begin somewhere.
Usually with a name.
"Anyway," persisted Leeyes, "Hepple says this Mrs Turvey told him that when Miss Fenella saw that the master's bed hadn't been slept in ..."
Sloan kept his face straight with an effort.
It was different, all right, out there in the country.
"... she called her upstairs and they both had a look for him. The daughter didn't know he wasn't in the house. She was expecting him to have come home after she'd gone to bed."
Excerpted from His Burial Too by Catherine Aird. Copyright © 1973 Catherine Aird. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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