CAPABLE OF MURDER – extract.
A cold wind blew across the tiny churchyard as the coffin was lowered into the soggy earth. Doleful chimes from the ancient church tower sounded tenuously across the valley and Belinda shuddered involuntarily at the sight of a worm slowly threading through the freshly dug soil. Belinda was the lone mourner, except for a representative of the legal firm of Munro, Munro & Clarke, a rather spotty-faced young man who appeared to suffer from rampageous adenoids, and Inspector Jordan who had investigated aunt Jane’s death. The latter joined Belinda as she slowly made her way back to the solicitor’s car, which had met her at the train station, transported her to the graveyard and was waiting now to convey her to Bath and a meeting with a senior member of the legal firm.
‘It’s almost certain that the old lady died as a result of a fall, Miss,’ mumbled Inspector Jordan, and blew his nose loudly. ‘Excuse me. Rotten cold.’ He coughed by way of explanation.
‘Almost certain?’ queried Belinda.
Jordan nodded and began to suck noisily on a cough lozenge. ‘One can never be quite certain, but there appears to be no break-in, nothing stolen and no motive for any attack. The autopsy revealed wounds equivalent to a fall of that distance, so …’ Again, he splayed his hands out before him as though protecting himself from a fall. Belinda walked on in silence and surveyed the deserted churchyard.
‘Don’t you think it odd that no one from the village attended the funeral?’ she said eventually. Her companion shrugged and wiped his nose.
‘You forget, Miss, your aunt was a bit a of recluse and didn’t welcome any contact with her neighbours.’
‘Yes, but after living here all her life, I mean, it seems a bit peculiar. I’m sure there must have been someone in the village or nearby who knew her, saw her from time to time. Aren’t country people supposed to know everything that’s going on around them?’ Belinda stopped by a large monument that tilted at a precarious angle. Jordan stamped his feet and rubbed his hands together briskly.
‘I hear that she made herself unpopular with the locals, Miss. Gave them short shrift. People have long memories around here. They don’t like their attempts at friendship thrown back in their face.’
‘Will there be any further enquiries into her death?’
‘No,’ replied the man firmly, ‘the coroner’s report has gone to her solicitor, “death by accidental causes”. The case is closed.’ He put his hands rigidly into his coat pockets and rocked gently back on his feet as though to emphasise the finality of the matter. Belinda nodded uncertainly, a hundred questions still seething through her mind.
‘But there is the letter.’
A faint look of annoyance crossed the Inspector Jordan’s face.
‘You said she died at the weekend, or no later than Saturday,’ said Belinda tenaciously, ‘yet the letter she sent to me was mailed on the following Tuesday.’
Jordan glanced at his watch. Afternoon tea would now be served at the station. He was feeling peckish – “feed a cold”.
‘Probably held up in the post. It can happen you know. Or maybe she got a neighbour to post it and they forgot to do it straight away.’
‘But you said she wouldn’t talk to the neighbours.’
There was a brief and resentful silence. ‘As I said, probably held up in the post,’ repeated Jordan testily. He glanced at his watch. ‘Must be on my way now, Miss. You all right for a lift?’ He didn’t look as though he much cared one way or the other. Belinda nodded and indicated the waiting solicitor’s car. The hungry Inspector bade her farewell and, with a caution to accept the coroner’s report and not fret, he set off eagerly for his tea.
Belinda walked slowly to the car. As she was about to step into it she glanced back to the churchyard where the gravediggers were completing their cheerless task.
Shaded by the protection of the tombs encircling the church was a dark figure.
She straightened up to get a clearer view. The figure, as though sensing her inquisitive gaze, moved sharply into the gloomy shroud of the surrounding foliage and vanished. Belinda’s heart beat faster. The mysterious visitor sent a tingle of apprehension through her. If it was a genuine mourner, why had they not taken their place beside the grave?