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Murder in Mourning

The church clock strikes eight.  A cock belatedly crows.  A body lies across the doorstep of the church, a line of crumb-carrying ants marches across the feodora covering its face.  There is a serene moment of quiet after the chimes cease.  A figure glides past the far side of the graveyard wall, before the silence is cracked by a baby crying.  The figure vanishes briefly as it bends down behind the wall, and the crying gradually dies away.  It is replaced by the mellifluous tones of a soft Edinburgh accent gradually drifting over the gravestones.  The voice is singing.

“Sleep, bonnie boy, like a bird on the wing….”

After a moment, the baby can be heard gurgling and chortling as it tries but fails to join the tune.

The lychgate swings open and the figure appears.  In the strengthening morning light it can be seen to be a young woman in formal nanny uniform, pushing a gleaming black “Harrods Premier’ pram.  The woman wears no makeup or jewellery and her vividly auburn hair, which would normally command an observer’s immediate attention, is hidden away in a tight bun.  Her modest hemline, ramrod straight stocking seams and the crisp, sharp creases in her blouse complete the impression of effortless efficiency.  She continues to gently sing to the baby as she pushes the pram up the path to the Church door, but stops abruptly at:

“Well the claymore may wield…”,

as she catches sight of the body across the threshold.

“Well, Father”, she says.  “This is an unusual way to greet your parishioners”.

She bends down and removes the empty bottle of communion wine from the priest’s grasp and uses it to give the priest a gentle poke in the midriff.

“I’m sure that must have been quite a midnight mass last night, but it’s time to get up now Father – it will be morning prayers in less than an hour.  Come on, I’ll make you a black coffee in the presbytery.”

Neither physical or verbal input has any visible effect on the prone body.   The nanny sighs and, bending her knees so as to use the recommended lifting technique, she rolls the priest over onto his back.   This reveals two things – a crushed packet of communion biscuits – now emptied by the industrious ants and a deep scarlet stain on the flagstones.   A matching red flush blooms on the nanny’s cheeks as she realises the stain was not merely spilt wine from the bottle but had come from a deep wound in the priest’s chest.

The genre I was aiming for was comedic murder mystery with homage to Agatha Christie.  I was trying to hold back revealing that the body was indeed a real dead body for as long as possible by introducing the diversion that it might simply be a rather hung over cleric.  Did that increase the tension?  Was there a hint of comedy there?

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