Murder in a Cathedral: A Robert Amiss/Baroness Jack Troutbeck Mystery #7

Murder in a Cathedral: A Robert Amiss/Baroness Jack Troutbeck Mystery #7

For many years Westonbury Cathedral has been dominated by a clique of High Church gays, so when Norman Cooper, an austere, intolerant, happy-clappy evangelist, is appointed dean, there is shock, ...

About The Author

Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards is an historian and journalist as well as a mystery writer.  The targets of her satirical crime ...

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Prologue

‘Of course you will.’

‘No, Jack, I bloody well won’t.’ ‘Give me one good reason why not.’

‘Because I don’t believe in God and I don’t much care for pomp and circumstance.’

‘What’s God got to do with it?’ Baroness Troutbeck sounded baffled. ‘We’re talking about the Church of England here, not some crowd of born-again fruitcakes. Nobody will be indelicate enough at this shindig to enquire as to whether or not you believe in God. Good grief, these days, in the good old C of E, that’s almost a disqualification for office.’

‘I’m not looking for office.’

‘Stop arguing. For Christ’s sake, Robert, all I’m doing is asking you to come to an amusing occasion and do me a good turn into the bargain.’

Amiss looked at her suspiciously. ‘What kind of a good turn, Jack?’

‘I won’t enjoy this without someone to snigger with and I’ve suddenly been left partnerless. I need a walker. That’s what they call blokes who act as escorts for women who don’t shag them, isn’t it?’

‘Do I gather you’re short of those who do? Have you and Myles had a lovers’ tiff?’

‘He’s got to go to the funeral of some old mate from the dirty-tricks brigade.’

‘Mary Lou?’

The baroness grinned. ‘If I took Mary Lou, every red-blooded cleric—every heterosexual red-blooded cleric, that is, if there are any left in Westonbury, which I doubt—would be sniffing and slavering round her. I’d rather have someone unobtrusive.’

‘Thanks. You  really know how to make a chap feel good.

Makes me sound like a valet.’

‘Stop being temperamental. We’ve got quite enough of that ahead of us. And stop playing hard to get. It’s not every day you get invited to a ringside seat at a great British occasion. You’ve seen me ennobled; now you can watch David being episcopated, or whatever it is they call being bishoped. Besides, it’ll do you good to get away from this dump for a while.’

‘It’s not a dump,’ began Amiss indignantly, recognizing as he did so that he was letting himself get sidetracked. The baroness threw a disparaging glance around his living room; he followed her eye, as if he were a stranger, and took in the undistinguished furniture, the posters from undergraduate days that he’d never got round to replacing, the makeshift bookcase of planks and bricks, the Chinese paper lampshades and the sad, threadbare carpet.

‘If it wasn’t for the odds and ends you picked up in India,’ she said, waving at a few rugs and pictures, ‘this would be the appropriate background for a dreary 1970s sitcom about shiftless students.’

‘I took over the furniture from my predecessors,’ Amiss said defensively. ‘And as you well know, since then I’ve never simultaneously had the time and the money to get around to turning the place into a home. Anyway, what’s the point? I’ll be moving out when Rachel gets back.’

‘Which is when?’

‘In three months. Beginning of June. It’s a bugger that it’s another postponement, but at least this time it’s definite.’

‘She’ll be staying in London?’

‘For the next few years at least. So she’s given notice to her tenants and I’ll move in with her.’

‘Oh, good, good.’ She sounded vague. She looked at her watch and vigorously knocked out her pipe. Plutarch, who had been slumbering peacefully on the baroness’s stomach, started, yowled and propelled her vast marmalade body to the floor.

The baroness looked unsympathetic. ‘Stop being neurotic, Plutarch. As for you, Robert, you’d better get moving. I’ll have to put my foot down hard if we’re going to make Cambridge in time for dinner.’

‘Jack! I said no.’

‘Rubbish. By your own admission you’ve nothing to do until some job applications bear fruit. If they ever do, that is. Now stop being coy. You’ll have an enjoyable few days in Cambridge and we’ll take off on Sunday at sparrow-fart for Westonbury. Besides, you can have a loving reunion with Mary Lou.’

Amiss looked at her sternly. ‘These days my feelings towards Mary Lou are entirely platonic. Just because you put it about at every opportunity doesn’t mean that the rest of us behave similarly.’

‘Good God, Robert, I’m not going to throw you back into bed with her.’ She leered. ‘I prefer her to be in mine. But you’ll enjoy seeing her. Now come on, go and pack your Sunday suit and some clean knickers, stop being such a prig and say yes to life.’

‘When you drag me into anything it usually means death.’ ‘For heaven’s sake, man, this is the Church of England we’re talking about. They may be having their differences in Westonbury, but they haven’t taken to rubbing each other out. Yet, anyway.’

‘You should bully for Britain,’ he snarled, as he headed for the door.

She smirked. ‘I do. Now, where’s Plutarch’s basket?’

‘I don’t need to take her. I can get a neighbour to do the necessary for a couple of days.’

‘Better to take her. It’ll be nice for her to see old haunts.’ ‘I thought she was a feles non grata at St Martha’s.’

‘They’ll put up with her for a short time. And Mary Lou actually likes her, so she’ll be looked after while we’re in Westonbury.’

‘Oh, all right then. You feed and water her and get her equipped for the voyage while I change.’

Plutarch, who had just jumped back onto the baroness and was draping herself around a particularly comforting curve, found herself unceremoniously dumped on the floor. ‘Right, old girl. Let’s get cracking.’

Amiss, who had frequently suffered the rough edge of Plutarch’s tongue and claws for much lesser acts of lèse majesté, looked on resentfully as the animal stretched, yawned and then followed the baroness obediently into the kitchen.

Chapter 1

As their speed was reduced to a slow crawl in the queue for the M11, the baroness reached down to her left and picked up a receiver.

‘You’ve got a car phone,’ said Amiss disdainfully. ‘How vulgar!’

‘Vulgarity doesn’t frighten me.’ She punched in some numbers. ‘It’s me. Get me Mary Lou.’

‘Do you ever say hello or goodbye?’ ‘What’s the point?’

‘It’s called manners. But then, I forgot. You don’t have any.’ ‘Has he arrived? Good. Take him for a run or something to give him an appetite for dinner…Yes, got him…Within the hour.’

‘You seem to regard the place as your own personal fiefdom.’

‘Isn’t it?’ She sounded surprised. ‘I’m its boss, amn’t I? And a baroness to boot. Who needs democracy? I was cut out to be a benevolent dictator. I find it saves a lot of time.’

As they reached the motorway, she put her foot down and within sixty seconds had manoeuvred the car into the fast lane and was flashing her lights energetically at the Porsche in front. ‘Out of my way!’

‘He’s already well over the speed limit,’ said Amiss faintly. ‘Slowcoaches like that shouldn’t  be in the fast    lane.’ The Porsche obediently moved over and she put her foot down harder on the accelerator. As they overtook, Amiss observed the look of incredulity on the face of the spivish driver when he grasped that he had been cut up by a woman twice his age and size, who was confounding her impertinence by waving at him cheerily.

‘Taught him a lesson,’ she cried happily.

Getting no response, she turned to view Amiss. ‘You’re very quiet all of a sudden. Not nervous, are you?’

‘Me? Nervous? Certainly not. There’s nothing I like better than being driven at forty miles over the speed limit by a madwoman keeping only one eye on the road.’

‘Just as well.’ She began to gain on a BMW and recommenced the light-flashing. This time the driver pulled over immediately, but sounded his horn as she flew past. Amiss looked apprehensively towards the back seat. ‘Plutarch’s strangely quiet. Normally she creates like hell when confined to basket. Especially when people sound horns. How did you work this magic? Hypnotism?’

‘Nothing magic about a Mickey Finn.’ ‘You doped her?’

‘Certainly I doped her. We don’t want her arriving at St Martha’s a nervous wreck, do we? She’s much better off having a pleasant kip.’

‘Where did you acquire a Mickey Finn?’

‘Good grief, stop asking boring domestic questions. At a Mickey Finn emporium, of course. I always keep a supply. Cretin!’ she shouted, flashing her lights furiously at a Rover that doggedly stayed in front. ‘Doesn’t he realize I’m in a hurry?’

‘Tell me about this about-to-be-bishop. It might take my mind off your driving.’

‘David? What do you want to know?’ ‘Why are you two so pally?’

‘Usual reasons.’ She chuckled.

‘You’re not having an affair with a bishop-elect?’

‘No, no. I’ve rarely seen a bishop—or even a bishop-elect— that I fancied. Our fling was a long time ago. And he was no bishop at the time, I can tell you.’

‘A goer?’

‘Wouldn’t say that. Keen when he got going, but initially young, bashful and awash with scruples. Took me quite a lot of hard work to make him yield to my girlish charms: ordinands led pretty sheltered lives forty years ago, you know.’

‘Are you telling me that you seduced bishop-to-be David when he was embarking on his clerical career? Are there no bounds to your depravity?’

She paused for a moment to launch another vigorous assault on the recalcitrant driver ahead. ‘Reluctantly, I admit that he was just an ordinary undergraduate at the time. I was in my last year and he was in his first, but he was wrestling with his vocation. Meeting me did him the world of good. Mind you I think he’s stayed on the straight and narrow ever since, though our dalliance has always been a matter of sweet—if unspoken—nostalgia for us both.’

‘And you didn’t think of marrying him?’

She smiled triumphantly. ‘Ah, that got him.’ The obdurate Rover had finally admitted defeat and pulled into the middle lane. ‘They always yield to coaxing in the end.’

‘Coaxing! I’d call it mugging. Anyway you didn’t want to marry this blushing bishop-to-be?’

‘If I had ever wanted to get married, it would have been to someone a bit livelier than David Elworthy, I can tell you. Anyway I don’t think I was cut out to be a clergyman’s wife.’

‘The only suitable marital partner I can think of for you would be a pirate. Captain Morgan in his heyday, perhaps.’

‘It’s more fun being a pirate oneself than a pirate’s moll. I rather fancy swinging around the rigging with a knife in my teeth and making my enemies walk the plank.’

‘Anyway, what’s he like?’

‘David? Sweet. Innocent. Honourable. Reduced to total helplessness by the loss of his wife. She was the one with the balls.’

‘A battleaxe?’

‘Nope. Good egg, old Cornelia. Yes, she’d have been a bit of a dictator at Westonbury, but behind the scenes, and she would have sorted things out kindly and sensibly and left the place happier. David doesn’t have a clue what to do now he’s on his own. He’d never have been given the job if he hadn’t been married to her. The gossip is the appointments unit thought the smart move was to appoint a pussycat with a tiger as minder. But Cornelia died shortly after they arrived in Westonbury and he’s been floundering ever since.’

‘In what?’

‘Distress and dither.’

‘About what?’ asked Amiss impatiently, fed up with the routine difficulty of abstracting information from the baroness.

‘Oh God, all the usual C of E stuff. Queers in the cloister, new happy-clappy dean, defections over women priests, fund-raising crises. No kind of environment for a poor bugger of a theologian.’

‘He wasn’t a vicar?’

‘Never been as much as a curate. Spent the last thirty years or so in various academic jobs and ended up running…connection, presiding over—Cornelia ran it—one of the better theological colleges. Now that’s quite enough spoon-feeding. You’ll see for yourself tonight.’

‘What?’

‘What he’s like. He’s staying with us until tomorrow.’ ‘You didn’t mention that.’

‘Who did you think I was giving Mary Lou instructions about?’

‘A dog, I thought.’

‘Dogs. Cats. Bishops. They’re all the same. Just need care, love and a firm hand.’

‘Jack! I don’t trust you an inch. Why am I being brought to meet this bishop? What’s going on in that fat devious head of yours? You’ve more in mind than simply having me squire you to see Bishop Elworthy get his mitre.’

‘How suspicious you are.’

‘And rightly so. Come on. Give.’

‘Well, I will admit I want to avoid David getting any ideas about me.’

‘Come again?’

‘Since Cornelia died he’s been very lonely. He’s the sort of man who needs to be married.’

‘Jack, you’re not going to tell me that any bishop would be mad enough to think of you as a potential wife.’

‘I should think I’d be excellent,’ she said stiffly. ‘A kind of up-market, benign Mrs Proudie. However I don’t think I can add such a job to my present range of duties. Perhaps I’m slowing up, but I find that between running St Martha’s, throwing my weight around in the House of Lords and living a bit, I seem to have enough to do. I think being a bishop’s lady in Westonbury into the bargain might be just a bit too taxing.’

‘Not to speak of constraining on your love life.’

‘You could say that. I’m a bit old to be smuggling lovers up the back staircase.’

‘Do I understand that I’m to pass myself off as your current inamorato despite our thirty-year age gap?’

‘It’s all the rage these days I hear—older women and younger men. Just look attentive, that’s all. A bit of doglike devotion wouldn’t go amiss. David is very polite and he’ll be too embarrassed to ask…Blimey, nearly missed it.’

She accelerated into the middle lane, braked hard and shot into the slow lane just in time to get onto the slip road. ‘That was your fault. You were talking too much. You’re supposed to keep your eye on the road signs. Why else do you think I take you with me?’

‘You deserve to be put away indefinitely for reckless driving.’

‘Rubbish. There’s nothing reckless about my driving. It’s sound as a bell. Never had an accident yet.’

‘That’s only because everybody else behaves responsibly and gives into your tyranny.’

‘Story of my life,’ she said. ‘Lie back and enjoy it.’

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