"More tea, Vicar?" Slender, lace-cuffed hands lifted the stained and worn cozy--a souvenir of Paignton--from the pot. It was an unacknowledged invitation. "No, perhaps not."
The Vicar remained slumped in his chair, his head resting on the table where blood slowly pooled around him like warm plumberry jam on freshly toasted toast. His hand may have twitched, just a little, as the last few crumbs of life were swept from the tablecloth of his existence. A cast-iron crumpet skirdler lay strangely out of place by his feet.
Slender hands returned the cozy to the pot, once more covering the ever-popular Old Country Roses design.
A straight-backed chair opposite the Vicar protested slightly under new weight, the cushion gently flatulent as ample cheeks deformed its vinyl skin. "Now, shall we discuss once more this Nativity play of yours . . . ?" Narrow, soulless eyes turned their gaze toward the butter curler: a final humiliation. "No, I suppose not."
A robin gently lighted on the wall of Amelia Pettipants’ cottage as she pruned back the rose bushes in preparation for the coming winter. It wouldn’t be too long now before the first frost, and that would signal the end of the gardening season for this year. Amelia put down her secateurs and smiled. "No digging today, I’m afraid, Robbie. You’ll have to find your own earthworms, this time." The little bird cocked its head to one side as though listening.
Then, carried on the light autumnal breeze, Amelia thought she heard the insistent tones of a siren. With a gentle grunt, she pushed her delicate frame to standing and listened, the angle of her head mirroring that of the robin. Yes indeed: a siren. Within minutes, Constable Hardbottom went flashing by on his bicycle, his legs pumping like newlyweds.
"How interesting," Amelia said to her passerine visitor. She untied her nylon gardening apron, tossed it to the ground, and headed out onto the lane. Already, she could see a small crowd forming in the distance as she strode to catch up with Hardbottom. Her eyes widened in surprise as she realized where the constable had parked his bicycle.
Oh, how splendid, she thought. It looks like it is going to be a normal Sunday after all!
The small crowd of villagers instinctively parted as Miss Pettipants approached the entrance to The Village Tea House, and a low murmur of anticipation followed her inside. She examined the scene with a certain glee: this was the first time a body had been found in the Tea House.
Constable Tom Hardbottom was leant over a body slumped at one of the tables, making notes in his small, black bobby's notebook while his deputy, Fred, was on hands and knees examining the floor.
"Miss Pettipants," Hardbottom boomed upon seeing her. "How nice to see you. The Vicar, I'm afraid. Someone tied 'im to that chair, boffed him on the 'ead with that there crumpet skirdler, then stuck the butter curler in 'is mouth." The Constable then nodded in the direction of Timmy and Wesley, the proprietors, who were sitting in the corner, pale and shaking. "They found 'im 'ere this morning when they came to open up. The only other thing is this sheet of Christmas carols. This one's got us quite stumped, I must say."
"I don't know why, Constable," Miss Pettipants replied, her gaze sweeping the interior. "Just look around you. This room is as good as a signed confession."
"Well stone me!" Hardbottom exclaimed. "Perhaps you'd care to explain?"
"Timmy." Miss Pettipants walked over to the co-owner of the Tea House. "The crumpet skirdler belongs to you?"
"Well, yes it does, Miss Amelia. But it's purely decorative. We buy all our crumpets pre-skirdled from Safeway."
"So where do you normally keep it?"
Wesley pointed at a light silhouette on the wall. "It normally hangs up there."
"Quite high up . . . And is that tea cozy also yours?" Timmy looked at the teapot cover and his eyes widened in surprise. "Why . . . no," he said. "I've never seen it before. But--?"
"You see, Constable Hardbottom," Miss Pettipants said, turning back to the policeman, "that cozy is the key: a souvenir from Paignton, where the Vicar has holidayed for the past fifteen years."
"A very popular place, Miss Pettipants. Young Emma Blatherstrop went there with a few of the Gymkhana girls this year."
"Did she, Constable? The same Emma Blatherstrop who has been rehearsing for the Nativity play, perhaps?"
"Is there another?"
"No, Constable. There isn't. And the rumour within the ladies' circle is that thanks to the vicar, Miss Blatherstrop is no longer qualified to play the Virgin Mary. No doubt it was a matter of great displeasure to her father, Lord Geoffrey Blatherstrop, a tall man who would have no trouble reaching down that decorative skirdler."
"And the butter curler?"
"Perhaps a message, Constable. To say that butter would melt in the Vicar's mouth."
"Deputy Constable Fred," Hardbottom said, turning to his colleague. "Please ask Lord Blatherstrop to assist in our inquiries. Miss Pettipants," he continued, "you've done it again. Without you, we could never have solved this . . . cozy mystery."
Opening: ril.....Conclusion: Anonymous