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Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire


  BETTY CHURCH AND THE SUFFOLK VAMPIRE

  M.R.C. Kasasian

  Start Reading

  About this Book

  About the Author

  Table of Contents

  www.headofzeus.com

  About Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire

  SEPTEMBER 1939

  a new day dawns in sackwater, not that this sleepy seaside town is taking much notice...

  Inspector Betty Church – one of the few female officers on the force – has arrived from London to fill a vacancy at Sackwater police station. But Betty isn’t new here. This is the place she grew up. The place she thought she’d left behind for good.

  Time ticks slowly in Sackwater, and crime is of a decidedly lighter shade. Having solved the case of the missing buttons, Betty’s called to the train station to investigate a stolen bench. But though there’s no bench, there is a body. A smartly dressed man, murdered in broad daylight, with two distinctive puncture wounds in his neck.

  While the locals gossip about the Suffolk Vampire, Betty Church steels herself to hunt a dangerous killer.

  Contents

  Welcome Page

  About Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire

  Dedication

  Chapter 1: The Fitting 0f the Peg

  Chapter 2: The Lions and the Flamestick

  Chapter 3: The Phantom and the Wolves

  Chapter 4: Poisoned Cake and the Public Enemy

  Chapter 5: Tea, Tennis and Cyanide, Forgetting and Remembering Names

  Chapter 6: The Butterfly, the Bar and the Body

  Chapter 7: Scarecrows and the Hurdy-Gurdy Man

  Chapter 8: Pooky and the Spitfires

  Chapter 9: The Bubble on the Brain

  Chapter 10: The Mad Admiral

  Chapter 11: The Circling of the Shark

  Chapter 12: The Dietrich Days

  Chapter 13: The Integrity of Mandibles

  Chapter 14: The Shape of Things to Come

  Chapter 15: St Jaspar and the Spies

  Chapter 16: Boneshakers and the Tennis Ball Diet

  Chapter 17: Nettles and the Princess

  Chapter 18: Starch and the Girdle and Horrible House

  Chapter 19: The Price of Primates

  Chapter 20: The Last Armenian

  Chapter 21: The Diamond Slipper

  Chapter 22: The Ratcatcher’s Daughter

  Chapter 23: Frankenstein’s Monster and the Sign Of T

  Chapter 24: The Wasp and Oak Tree

  Chapter 25: The Narrow House

  Chapter 26: The Sackwater Martyr

  Chapter 27: The Sirens of Sackwater

  Chapter 28: The Bear and the Socket

  Chapter 29: The Mysterious Mystery of the Mysterious Miss Prim

  Chapter 30: The Rat-Man Cometh

  Chapter 31: Desperadoes of the Black Range

  Chapter 32: The Suffolk Vampire

  Chapter 33: The Vermin of Fleet Street

  Chapter 34: Shapes Across the Moon

  Chapter 35: The Sackwater Slayings, Al Jolson and the Kaiser

  Chapter 36: Breakfast with Pooky

  Chapter 37: Death on Dogeye Lane

  Chapter 38: Snorkelling in Gozo

  Chapter 39: The Man in a Pinstripe Suit

  Chapter 40: The Fate of the Eel

  Chapter 41: The Bone-Handled Knife

  Chapter 42: The Staking of Careers

  Chapter 43: The Dragon’s Teeth

  Chapter 44: The Mangled Sheep Murder

  Chapter 45: The Dance of the Dead

  Chapter 46: The Train to Istanbul

  Chapter 47: The King’s Oak

  Chapter 48: The Prisoners

  Chapter 49: The Clever Dog Prize

  Chapter 50: The Other Side of Fury Hill

  Chapter 51: The Crown of Thorns

  Chapter 52: Manicure Murders and the Idle Bunch

  Chapter 53: The Miracle of Mesopotamia

  Chapter 54: Waves Through the Ether

  Chapter 55: Green Strawberries and the way to Rotterdam

  Chapter 56: The Laziness of Eddies

  Chapter 57: The Destruction of Linings

  Chapter 58: The Hurting of the Hat

  Chapter 59: Mayhem on Spectre Lane and Jimmy in Wonderland

  Chapter 60: The House of Horrors

  Chapter 61: The Humility of Heroes

  Chapter 62: Maggots and the Final Sleep

  Chapter 63: The Lost ‘T’s of Suffolk

  Chapter 64: French Manicures and the Famous Grasshopper

  Chapter 65: The Sackwater Pirate

  Chapter 66: The Tenant and the Crone

  Chapter 67: The Innocence of Felons

  Chapter 68: Spikes and the Extinguishing of Hope

  Chapter 69: The Slicing of the Night

  Chapter 70: The Slaughter and the Sorrow

  Chapter 71: The Creeping of Necrosis

  Chapter 72: The Difference

  Chapter 73: The Visitors

  Chapter 74: The Prevalence of Unicorns

  Chapter 75: Death at the Dunworthy

  Chapter 76: The Socks and the Psalms

  Chapter 77: The Dunworthy Ghoul

  Chapter 78: The Night-And-Day Porter

  Chapter 79: The Suffolk Umpire

  Chapter 80: The Reason for Everything

  Chapter 81: The Film Star and the Few

  Chapter 82: Snap and the Box

  Chapter 83: The Folder

  Chapter 84: Sheep

  Chapter 85: Against the Driving Rain

  Chapter 86: The Rams of Suffolk

  Chapter 87: Swimming with Piranhas

  Chapter 88: The Cat and the Canary

  Chapter 89: The Alligator and the Chain

  Chapter 90: The Tractor, the Cat and the Rat

  Chapter 91: Thistles and the Teardrop Coupé

  Chapter 92: Dancing with the Marquis

  Chapter 93: The Haunting

  Chapter 94: Foxes and Fascists

  Chapter 95: The Whisperer

  Chapter 96: The Slaughterhouse

  Chapter 97: The Invisible Man

  Chapter 98: The Laying out of Lavender Wicks

  Chapter 99: The Finger on the Trigger

  Chapter 100: The Bee-Keeper’s Sister

  Chapter 101: The Weird Sisters

  Chapter 102: The Edge of the Blade

  Chapter 103: The Classification of Flamingos

  Chapter 104: The Silence of the Sea

  Chapter 105: The Etiquette of Murder

  Chapter 106: The Justice of Just

  Chapter 107: The Last Resort

  Chapter 108: The Absence of Listeners

  Chapter 109: The Watcher in the Shadows

  Chapter 110: The Corpse in Brown Paper

  About M.R.C. Kasasian

  The Betty Church Mysteries

  About the Gower Street Detective Series

  An Invitation from the Publisher

  Copyright

  For my darling Tiggy

  1

  THE FITTING OF THE PEG

  All my life I wanted to be a policeman. It wasn’t a family tradition. My father was a dentist, as his father was too; my maternal grandfather a publisher of what was then modern poetry; and the women of the family were just that – the women.

  It wasn’t the uniform either. The Horse Guards looked far more dashing, I thought, and like every quite nice girl, I loved a sailor. But a young policeman gave me a piggyback over a flooded street when I was tiny. He got soaked up to his knees and didn’t seem to mind. At that moment I knew that I wanted to be like him, helping people.

  It did not occur to me until a teacher ridiculed these hopes that nature had thwarted my a
mbition. Neither of the Suffolk forces would even consider applications from my sex – the very idea was absurd – but I was not so easily discouraged. I moved to London and became what was, even there, still an oddity – some said an abomination – a policewoman.

  I started well enough in the Metropolitan Constabulary, considering I was a curvaceous peg in a square hole. Police officers were supposed to be tall, and I was, but they were not supposed to have long blonde hair, and I did. I passed the training course with distinction and was stationed in Marylebone. This was the posting I had dreamed of, having spent many a childhood hour on my godmother March Middleton’s knee in 125 Gower Street thrilled by tales of Aunty M’s adventures with her guardian, the irascible personal detective Sidney Grice. It was nearly sixty years since she had gone to live with him and almost as many since she had started publishing her accounts of their investigations.

  It was after I caught Hay, the Alkaline Shower Murderer, that my name was put forward for a vacancy and, to my surprise and my colleagues’ outrage, at the age of twenty-eight I was made a sergeant – only the ninth woman in the country to reach that rank. And that should have been that but then I foolishly arrested the ringleaders of the Paper Chain Gang – a big mistake because it was hailed in the press as a triumph after it had been Chief Inspector Heartsease’s case for the previous five years.

  I never wanted to make enemies – I only wanted to be a good copper – but being a successful woman is the best way to make enemies that I know of.

  I was thirty-eight when I had my mishap, which meant, of course, that I would have to be invalided out. It was only after leaving hospital that I realised I had a choice: I could feel sorry for myself and do nothing, or feel sorry for myself and go to the one person in the world who might be able to help.

  2

  THE LIONS AND THE FLAMESTICK

  March Middleton gave her impressions of her first visit to Gower Street in her journal of 1882 and surprisingly little had changed in that time. The hexagonal red-brick hospital still sprouted its turrets to the right. The University College, white and colonnaded like a Greek temple, stood set back on the opposite side of the road, still paved with wooden blocks for quietness though the traffic was more rubber-wheeled than iron-shoed by now. There was, however, still a good sprinkling of horse-drawn carts. The milkman and the coal merchant had no reason to invest in the internal combustion engine.

  The people were dressed differently – not a man in spats nor a top hat to be seen and the women showing enough leg to have made Sidney Grice apoplectic.

  Gower Street was already all too familiar to me. It had formed part of my Bloomsbury beat when I was a constable and I had made my first arrest on the corner with Cable Street – an unemployed cooper for beating his wife with a cudgel. He had pleaded guilty but, much to my disgust, after hearing what a sharp tongue the woman had, the magistrate had merely bound him over to keep the peace while his wife with a broken jaw and nose was admonished to show more restraint in her language.

  Number 125 stood four storeys high near the end of a Georgian terrace and I saw, as I went up four of the six steps to pull on the bell, that the heavy curtains to the right of the black front door were drawn. I once asked March Middleton why she had never mentioned the lions’ heads on the doorposts and she had explained that she had not noticed them the first time she visited but, if she had mentioned them in later journals, it would have only drawn attention to her poor skills of observation, something Mr Grice was overly fond of doing already.

  The first time I had been there after getting my helmet with its famous Brunswick star, Mr Grice’s old maid had met me with, ‘I’m supposed to tell visingtors to wipe their feet but I ’spect yours is clean so you can just wipe your boots, Constabell.’ At which she clapped her hand over her mouth and came out with a muffled, ‘Oh my gawd you’re a woman – but I suppositate you know that.’

  ‘It’s me, Molly.’

  ‘Everyone is me to themself,’ she had declared wisely, ‘expect me. I’m just Molly.’

  This time I waited a good two minutes and was just about to tug on the round brass handle again when I heard three bolts being drawn back and was greeted by a woman, about my age I guessed, in a plain black dress with a crisp white apron.

  ‘Oh come in,’ she said resignedly, as if I had been pestering her all week for admission. ‘I recognise you from your photograph. I’m Jenny.’ She ushered me in, shut the door and took my coat.

  ‘Hello, Jenny.’ I didn’t tell her that Mr G would have blown a gasket at the familiarity of a servant introducing herself.

  Jenny was tall. I am well above average at five feet nine and she had a good couple of inches on me; but I was inclined to think she was cheating. Her neck alone gave her an unfair advantage. It rose from her collar like the middle section of a boa constrictor.

  ‘I thought you might be in uniform.’ There was something disapproving in the way she told me that. Her nostrils were upturned and her lips thin and I half-expected to see a forked tongue flicking out.

  Jenny hung my coat next to the great personal detective’s old Ulster coat, which was still on its end hook near a stand of his famous walking canes. Sidney Grice had temporarily blinded himself when his gun stick backfired once, and he had stabbed an aristocrat in the foot with his spike stick in Kew one afternoon. I had often wondered which was his swordstick and which one played confusing tunes for they all looked identical to me. But, after nearly starting a blaze with his flame stick, I had been forbidden to touch any of them again and it did not seem right to do so now. I placed my hat on the table alongside seven of March Middleton’s laid out, like a milliner’s display, in a row.

  ‘I’m off duty.’ I was certainly not going to tell her that I might never be on it again.

  ‘Oh.’ This didn’t seem to be a satisfactory explanation until I raised my sleeve. The maid’s head snaked down to inspect this discovery but, finding nothing worth swallowing, reluctantly coiled back.

  ‘How did you do that?’

  ‘I didn’t. Is Miss Middlet—’

  ‘Through there,’ Jenny broke in with a tip of her head, though that was not going to be my question.

  Through there was a site almost sacred in the annals of criminology – Sidney Grice’s legendary study and consulting room. Jenny opened the door and I stepped quietly in.

  The room was quite dark, for it was still lit by gas, and the mantles were turned low, so it was a while before my eyes adjusted enough to make out the form of my godmother.

  ‘Hello, Betty,’ March Middleton greeted me from her armchair to the left of a flickering coal fire.

  3

  THE PHANTOM AND THE WOLVES

  My godmother had her feet up on a cushion on a low rectangular table and started to slide them off when she saw me enter.

  ‘Please don’t get up, Aunty.’ I went over to kiss her, shocked at how frail she had become. My godmother was always short and slender but today, in that dim glow, she looked tiny and the hands that took mine were bony and tremulous.

  Aunty M put her feet on the spottily charred Persian rug. ‘Turn the light up, darling. Let me see you.’

  I fiddled with the gas taps, wishing she would get electricity installed. The light those lamps gave out was feeble – hardly enough to read by – and the fumes irritated my throat and eyes almost immediately. Mr G had thought it dangerous to propel electrons into his home but I didn’t think his goddaughter agreed.

  ‘You look lovely,’ March Middleton said, ‘so tall and elegant and that hair – I would give a thousand guineas to have your golden crown and still have a bargain. Show me your arm.’

  I rolled up my sleeve for her to inspect the stump of my left forearm with all the appreciation of a connoisseur. ‘It is quite slow healing. Does it still hurt?’

  ‘When it’s not itching.’

  ‘And you have a phantom limb,’ she said sympathetically.

  ‘How did you know that?’

  ‘Y
ou put it out to support yourself on the back of the chair when you leaned over before you remembered.’

  ‘I still try to pick things up with my hand sometimes,’ I admitted.

  ‘I know it was a much smaller injury but a mesmerist helped me when I lost my toe.’ March Middleton laughed softly. ‘What a crowd we make, you and I plus Mr G without his eye.’

  ‘Is the mesmerist still working?’ I asked.

  ‘Oh no, dear.’ Aunty M’s eyes twinkled. ‘He treated me when I went to visit him in the condemned cell.’

  ‘The last man I visited in jail tried to throttle me,’ I told her. ‘He very nearly succeeded.’ I put my hand to my throat. ‘But how are you feeling?’ In her guardian’s lifetime the chair she was in belonged to him exclusively but when he died she took it over, rather – she had explained – than have strangers sitting in it. I must have been one of the very few children ever to have climbed onto the great man’s lap and almost certainly the only one with the temerity to call him Uncle G. I took a wooden chair from the round circular table so that I could sit closer to her.

  ‘I am well.’ March waved my concerns away. ‘Everybody fusses around me but I wish they would not.’

  I hope people fuss around me when I’m coming up to eighty, I thought but said, ‘You don’t look especially well. Have you seen a doctor?’

  ‘The worthy Dr Picaday comes every day.’ March coughed chestily. ‘He tries to confiscate my cigarettes. He even tells Jenny to pour away my gin but I know too many horrible ways of murdering people for her to obey that instruction.’

  I laughed. ‘Shouldn’t you be in bed?’

  ‘I was thinking the same myself until Picaday ordered me to it.’

  March Middleton had never been a one for obeying commands, and I doubt she would have survived long if she had in what was even more of a man’s world than I had ever known.

  ‘Perhaps you could have a little rest later.’ I put a hand on her thin arm.

  ‘Perhaps.’ My godmother wrinkled her brow. ‘I am a little out of touch but only a little. Inspector Franklin still visits most weeks. You have had a difficult time, Betty.’

 
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