Recent Titles by Deryn Lake from Severn House
The Apothecary John Rawlings Mysteries
DEATH AND THE BLACK PYRAMIDTHE MILLS OF GOD
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First world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2010 by Deryn Lake.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
The Mills of God.
1. Police â England â Sussex â Fiction. 2. Vicars, Parochial â England â Sussex â Fiction. 3. Serial murder investigation â Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-099-9Â Â Â Â (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6834-3Â Â Â Â (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-243-7Â Â Â Â (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For N.C.C. who was there when I desperately needed him
My grateful thanks are due to Inspector Paul Cave for all his help over police procedure. The mistakes are entirely mine!
And to Dr Wojciech Kasztura who somehow transformed into Dr Kasper Rudniski.
t was, thought Nick, peering through the windscreen of his somewhat battered red Peugeot, a very oddly shaped village. A High Street ran down the middle from which sprawled off, rather like the tributaries of a river, streets and alleyways going in all directions. To the north stood massively built Victorian houses, the former country homes of merchants and shop owners, now mostly divided into flats, though one or two still remained in the hands of the wealthy. There were a dozen or so of those and then the High Street proper began. Truly ancient houses lined it, all, Nick supposed, with a fascinating history. One in particular caught his eye, a massive Tudor building, heavily beamed on the exterior, now turned into a pub and called The Great House according to the sign which swung to and fro outside. Visions of a brimming pint flashed through Nick's mind which he firmly put away until later.
Opposite The Great House stood the beautiful church, lying back from the High Street, a few steps leading up to the path which went to its massive oak door. Much as he would have loved to have ventured inside, seeing it for the first time as
church, the place of which he had become the incumbent, Nick shelved the idea along with the pint. Ahead of him rumbled the removal van, driven all the way from Manchester this very day with himself following gamely behind. He had risen at five that morning and had been on the motorway more or less non-stop ever since. To Nick it felt as if his whole life had changed dramatically when he had finally pulled away from the run-down working-class parish where he had been acting as curate. Born in the south of England, he was now â at the age of twenty-eight â returning; returning to take up a new parish in Sussex, in the quaint and historic village of Lakehurst. With a smile which threatened to break into a broad grin, the Reverend Nicholas Lawrence headed for the vicarage.
The removal van had pulled up outside already and the team of four men had got out and were surreptitiously having a fag before the work of unloading began.
âAll right, Reverend?' said the foreman, hiding his cigarette behind his back.
âFine, thanks,' Nick answered. âWe made good time, didn't we.'
âEarly start, Guv. It always pays. Now, have you got the keys?'
Nick looked stricken. âNo, but the churchwardens should be here any minute. I phoned Mrs Cox on my mobile when we stopped at Clacketts Lane.'
But even as he said the words the stick-thin figure of the lady in question, complete with an unbecoming felt hat, appeared and hurried up to Nick.
âOh, Reverend Lawrence, I'm ever so sorry to be late. I just had to pop in on old Mrs Meadows and she does keep one talking so.' She smiled gaily at the removal men, who had hastily put out their fags and were now standing somewhat ill at ease. âI'm sure you're all looking forward to a nice cup of tea. I've even brought the kettle.'
She rootled in the shopping basket she had over one arm and produced a bunch of keys, selected one, and opened the vicarage door.
âWelcome to your new home, Vicar,' she said, as Nick stepped forward into a house redolent with age, with charm, and with a sweet warm smell about it.
But he hardly had time to take it in because Mrs Cox was heading purposefully for the kitchen, pulling an electric kettle from her basket and saying, âWho's for tea then?'
Nick, who only had tea without milk and preferred Lapsang Souchong, muttered a half-hearted sound of agreement and went through the house and out into the garden. It was beautiful. Roses tumbled everywhere, climbing the ancient brick wall and growing, richly and profusely, in the borders. There were other flowers too, fuchsias and dahlias adding their colour to the loveliness of late summer. Nick, with a sigh, realized that he was going to have to take up the spade to help keep the place looking as appealing as it did at the moment.
âTea's ready,' called Mrs Cox from the kitchen and the vicar reluctantly went indoors.
Members of the gang who had been hauling furniture from the van and taking it into the rooms for which it had been labelled appeared and helped themselves to copious amounts of sugar. Nick was handed a milky cup of brown liquid with a pallid biscuit languishing in the saucer beside it. He thanked Mavis Cox politely and bit into the biscuit which had a sweet almondy taste that did not appeal to him.
âAre you a keen gardener, Vicar?' said Mavis gushingly.
âWell, I haven't been but I can see that I'm going to have to make a start.'
âMrs Simpkins did a lot herself but I think Bert came in once a week to help her.'
âOh, that would be useful. Would you mention me to him?'
âOf course I will. So you're not thinking of getting married, then? No young lady tucked away in the background?'
âSo far, no.'
âWell, you might wed a nice village girl and please everybody.'
Nick went a little pale at the thought but continued to smile politely. He had lived with a cellist from the Manchester Philharmonic but she had left him after four years and gone off with a trumpeter. After that he had been ordained, had another girlfriend who had proposed to him before they had split up, and then, still single, he had been noticed by Bishop Claude and been granted his first parish. It was a great honour at the age of twenty-eight. And it had been a somewhat unusual choice. And for Nick himself it was the turning point of his life.
He took a mouthful of the cold tea, forced himself to swallow, then while Mavis's back was turned emptied the contents out of the window.
She turned on him a gleaming smile. âAnother cuppa? My old mum always used to say it was a life-saver. In fact she had just finished a cup when she passed away, bless her.'
Nick thought this remark rather contradictory but giving another of his extremely appealing smiles he shook his head.
âThank you, but no. I really have had enough.'
âYou're sure?' She looked round the room but the four removal men were already getting back to work. Nick was just going to give them a hand with the chests when a modulated voice called clearly from the hallway.
âAnyone at home?'
The vicar made his way to the front door to see a vision of yesteryear. A matinee idol, circa 1950, stood there. Dark hair swept back immaculately, very bright and twinkling blue eyes, a thin and small moustache, a dazzling smile, all combined to leave a lasting impression on whoever he was meeting.
âHow very nice to see you again, sir,' Nick said, holding out his hand. The other shook it firmly and warmly.
âSo glad you made the journey without disaster,' Richard Culpepper said. âLet us hope that this is the start of a long and satisfactory relationship. Both for myself and Lakehurst.'
âWell yes, indeed,' Nick answered, somewhat surprised.
âI would have called earlier,' Culpepper continued, âbut I have just returned from the studios.'
âAh,' replied the vicar, thinking it sounded very Hollywood.
âYes, I was filming a commercial.' Culpepper pulled a face. âFrightful stuff really but it does help to keep the money rolling in.'
âOh yes, I'm sure it does.'
âI started my career in the West End of London, you know, but things are so hard these days that I try to get work where and when I can.' He gave a vivacious laugh.
Nick smiled sympathetically.
Culpepper went on. âWhat I basically need is a part in a soap. Something to brighten the old bank balance. That would suit me down to the ground.'
The actor opened his mouth to continue but at that moment Mavis Cox reappeared.
âNow is there anything else I can help you with, Vicar?'
âNo, thank you, really. I'll be perfectly all right.'
âWell, I'll be on my way.' She gave Culpepper a smile that was merely a twitch of the lower part of her face.
âAs I was explaining to the ReverendÂ .Â .Â .'
Nick interrupted. âPlease call me Nick.'
âI don't think that would be quite suitable,' said Mavis, putting on a pious face. âI must address you in some correct way.'
âHow about Father Nick?' This from Culpepper.
âSounds good to me,' said the vicar.
Culpepper cleared his throat. âVery well. I shall put the word about amongst the parishioners.'
âGive my regards to Mrs Culpepper,' said Mavis waspishly.
âOf course I will. She'll be delighted.'
âGoodbye Father Nick. Just ring if you need me.'
Mavis turned and spied a neighbour across the road who glanced very curiously at the new vicar. Nick hastily bade farewell to Richard Culpepper and going into the vicarage, firmly shut the door.
The atmosphere of the beautiful old house overwhelmed him. It had about it a feeling of centuries of care, of generations of children born and brought up in it, of many people professing their simple faith, that God was good and kind and all was well with the world. On top of all this it had a superb smell; of ancient furniture polish, of flowers, of lovely and well-loved wood.