The Reverend Willis and the Development by Graham Crisp

With his hands on his hips, the Reverend Willis carefully surveyed his freshly cleaned church. 

He took a deep breath. The sweet smell of the newly polished pews tingled his senses. He spoke out loud, “This is what being a clergyman is all about. You know what they say, cleanliness is next to ….” 

“I think there’s a bit more to it, vicar.” 

Startled, Reverend Willis turned and faced the speaker. He immediately recognised the rotund features of Charles Merryman who was standing in the doorway. Reverend Willis noted that Merryman was holding a single sheet of paper in his plump left hand. 

“Ah, Councillor Merryman, you startled me, I was alone with my thoughts, how lovely to see you. To what do I owe this particular pleasure?” 

Councillor Merryman lumbered forward. “I suppose you’re never alone in a church, eh vicar?” Merryman looked up to the ceiling, “You know, what with the big man keeping an eye on you.” Merryman extended his right hand. Reverend Willis grasped the proffered hand and shook it warmly. “Take the weight off, dear boy, you look a little flustered, how can I help?” 

Merryman sat and sighed. “Well, I suppose you know about the development, I mean it’s all over the bloody village.” Reverend Willis nodded. Merryman continued, “You know, vicar, people need homes, so I pushed hard to get this through.” 

Reverend Willis lowered his voice. “Whisper it, Merryman, but I’m in full agreement with you. We need new blood in the village; the average age of my congregation is pushing seventy. It would be great to see some fresh faces, and in particular some with hair.” Reverend Willis glanced at Merryman’s bald pate, he blushed, “Sorry, old man, no offence meant.” Merryman tapped the top of his head. “Lost it ages ago. None taken”. 

“Anyway, what can I do for you, Merryman, as I understand it you’ve got the go ahead, so no need for any divine intervention?” Councillor Merryman produced the piece of paper that had remained in his left fist. “Here look at this vicar this is what I’m having to put up with.” He handed the paper to the Reverend. 

Reverend Willis scanned the sheet. Finally, he paused, and let out a low whistle. “That’s a bit strong, threatening to stab you in the throat and stamp on your head. I didn’t think that a small housing development would evoke so much ire. You know, Merryman, it’s rare that anyone carries out these types of threats, but if I was you, I’d speak to PC Cumbers.” Merryman pulled at his throat and nodded in agreement. “I’ll pop over to his house this afternoon, not that it’ll do any good, Cumbers is just waiting for his retirement payoff everyone knows that.” 

Reverend Willis again ran his eyes down the paper. He noticed that on the right-hand side of the sheet was a faint thin grey line that ran from top to bottom. He stroked his chin, “Merryman, can I borrow this for a moment? I think I’ve seen this type of marking before.” He pointed to the grey line. Councillor Merryman shrugged, “Are you going to do some sleuthing, vicar? Just like that interfering busy-body Catholic priest on the telly, you know, what’s-his-name …. Father Brown?” 

“Strictly C of E snooping here, Merryman.” Reverend Willis smiled and slipped the paper into his jacket pocket. “Try to relax, old boy, I’m certain that everything will sort itself out.” 

…….. 

A blue lever arch file lay on the Reverends’ desk. It was marked ‘Village Correspondence.’ Alongside the folder he placed the Councillors’ threatening letter. Reverend Willis opened the folder, and began to methodically turn each page, closely examining every letter that had recently been sent to him. 

He was about halfway through the folder, when he spotted a typewritten note complaining vehemently about the content of his sermon. It accused him of being a ‘Marxist Lefty’ and saying that if it carried on, the writer would ‘insist that the bishop removed him from his post.’ The letter was signed by Gladys Burman, a long-time resident of the village. He had written back to Miss Burman. A letter long on words but very short on meaning, and it seemed to have the right effect, as Miss Burman took up her usual place at the front of the church the following Sunday. 

On the right side of Miss Burman’s letter was a distinct light grey line that stretched down the page. Reverend Willis pulled the note from the file and compared it against Merryman’s message. “Snap,” he cried out loud. 

……..

Miss Burman’s cottage was a ten-minute bicycle ride from the church. Reverend Willis leaned his bike against the garden wall and removed his bicycle clips. He could just make out the figure of Miss Burman tending to some marigolds at the rear of the front garden. He called over. Hearing her name, Miss Burman put down her watering can and walked slowly towards the Reverend. “Hmm, well, well if it isn’t the padre himself. What can I do for you on this glorious Monday afternoon?” Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. The Reverend ran his fingers through his dog collar and cleared his throat. “I’ll come straight to the point Miss Burman, no point in pussyfooting around, I need to be blunt and get it all out into the ….” Miss Burman interrupted him mid-sentence. “Get on with it man, can’t you see I’m busy, these flowers won’t water themselves.” She glared at the Reverend. He felt his heart momentarily miss a beat. Taking a deep breath the Reverend spoke firmly, “Now I know that you are against this new development, but….” Miss Burman put her hand on his arm. “Who told you that? I’m certainly not against it. There’s too many old fuddy-duddies in this village, it’s about time we had some fresh blood around the place. 

The Reverend dipped his hand into his jacket pocket and produced the two sheets of paper. “Look, Miss Burman, they are both from you.” Miss Burman dug deep into her apron pocket and produced a set of gold rimmed glasses. She slipped them onto her nose and carefully scrutinised the documents. “Well vicar, this one is definitely from me, because as you can see, I’ve signed it. That was a bloody awful sermon you gave, all about refugees, workshy layabouts, and this taking the knee nonsense, but this one here, I’ve not written that.” Miss Burman aggressively pushed the paper back into Reverend Willis’s hand. “A knife in the throat and a stamp on the head, look at me, man, do you think I’m really capable of carrying out that level of violence? And anyway, although I’m certainly not too fond of the pompous oaf, Merryman; I don’t wish him dead.” 

Reverend Willis stared back. “But Miss Burman take a look at the papers. They both have a thin grey stripe down the right side. These letters have been printed by the same printer. There’s no doubting that.” Miss Burman grabbed the sheet back from the Reverend. She paused. Then she let out a gasp and immediately slipped off her apron, dropping it hastily onto the ground. Miss Burman grabbed the Reverend’s arm. “Oh, dear God, we must get round to Merryman’s cottage now, I think something awful is about to happen.” 

“Call PC Cumbers,” demanded Miss Burman. The Reverend Willis pulled out his mobile phone. His call was answered in just two rings. “Vicar! How can I help?” The Reverend wasted no time telling PC Cumbers to get over to Councillor Merryman’s place straightaway, and “bring your truncheon, you might need it.” PC Cumbers affirmed that he was on his way. 

“So, this helper of yours asked if she could use your printer yesterday. Is this right?” Miss Burman nodded. “But, to get all this het up about the development, you know, threatening to stab him, it’s a bit over the top, don’t you think?” Miss Burman let out a huge sigh. “It’s not about the development, you silly man, she was having, you know, a bit of a fling with Merryman. God knows what she saw in the fat fool. But apparently, he called it all off the other day. A woman scorned, and all that. She wasn’t taking it lightly, but I didn’t think she’d go this far.” 

As the pair turned the corner, they could just make out PC Cumbers holding down a slim figure in Merryman’s front garden. They both stopped. Miss Burman whispered, “It looks like old Cumbers has got it under control.” They could hear the distinct sound of sirens in the distance. Reverend Willis scratched his head. “Tell me Miss Burman, how did you know she was heading over to Merryman’s today?” 

Miss Burman was smiling, “Because, vicar, she asked if she could borrow my set of steak knives, moments before you arrived. She said she had guests coming over for dinner this evening!” 


Published in Issue #18

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