Death In The Rectory

Excerpt: Chapter One

Rain pelted down upon Father Justin as he scurried to catch a bus home after a long and tedious meeting at St. Nicholas’ Church in Westminster. He was exhausted and approaching the point of irritability and now to top it off, aside from having forgotten to carry an umbrella, the squall had filled the streets of central London with torrents of swirling water. He removed his glasses and wiped away the mist and droplets of rain so he could identify the bus shelter. Fortunately, it was the one he needed and he quickly slipped underneath the protection of the canopy. The hour was approaching midnight now and the sky was abnormally black.

In spite of the fact that it was only an eight-minute walk to Sloane Square, he decided to catch a bus as his feet were thoroughly soaked now and he reasoned that the short bus ride would at least get him out of the turbulent weather briefly. Justin stood in the shelter for only a short time before he could see a bus approaching. He strained to distinguish the number and soon realized that it was the one he wanted. He uttered a quiet word of thanks and relief. Scrambling onto the bus, he was happy to be out of the rain for however brief a respite. The driver was going more slowly than usual because of the inclement weather and poor visibility, but in spite of that the bus drew up to Justin’s Sloan Square stop in Belgravia just moments after he had taken a seat.

The walk from there was just a matter of a few short steps and he would soon be in the comfort of home. The thought of a hot cup of tea spurred him onward. The rain had not let up at all. As he stepped off the bus he was comforted that he was now almost at the Rectory and perhaps Nigel would still be awake and would like to hear all about the tedious evening meeting. He was often curious about church affairs and loved hearing all the details of the inner workings. Justin’s heart was warmed by thoughts of finally being at home and hearing Nigel’s calming voice and having someone with whom to share the dull events of the evening. It was always a delight to be able to chat with someone who was not another priest with all the usual clerical baggage and opinions; someone who had no ulterior motives and who was simply interested in, and willing to share another’s ideas and concerns.

Nigel was a delightful young man in his early twenties who was between jobs and was lodging for a time in a guest room in the Rectory. For the three months he had been there he had proven to be a very able cook and had an aptitude for keeping the house tidy—his way of contributing to the life of the parish. Nigel had worked in sales in a clothing shop and was well respected by the owner but because of the downturn in the economy it was necessary to reduce expenses and staff and he had to be let go. There had been talk of his coming back again if things improved but it did not seem to offer much hope. Nigel seemed to be continually seeking out other employment opportunities and poring over the advertisements in the London newspapers but nothing had materialized so far. He chose not to return to his family’s town in the north because employment opportunities there would be even fewer and he rather liked living in London and had some close friends in the city.

Justin was fond of Nigel and had known him since he became Pastor of St. John’s some ten years ago. They often chatted in the evening over a hot drink delving into parish matters and issues of politics and theology. Justin found their conversations stimulating, yet light and good-hearted. It was very therapeutic for Justin to have someone with whom to share the trials and tribulations of daily life. Nigel, too, found those moments vitally important. He had recently shared with Justin a situation that had been weighing upon his mind.

He had been to see his doctor about what he thought was a very minor problem—a slight ache in his chest, perhaps acid reflux or something of that nature—and the doctor had suggested that he have an electro-cardiogram just to be on the safe side. As it happened this test revealed that he had what was considered to be a minor congenital heart defect or murmur—nothing earth-shattering—but none the less, something that he should take into consideration. Nigel had been somewhat worried about it for several weeks and he was comforted to be able to talk about it with his priest and dear friend Justin. They discussed the situation until late one evening and explored issues of health and the related questions of the brevity of life and the deeper meanings of existence. It had been reassuring for Nigel to know that he had someone with whom he could share this bothersome issue. Justin was naturally interested and delighted that Nigel would share such a personal thing with him. He felt an immensely strong fatherly response to Nigel and was delighted to be able to be there for him. They came to recognize that Nigel’s medical prognosis was probably just one of those things that we all must wrestle with and eventually resolve to live with and accept.

As Justin approached the house he thought it peculiar that it was in total darkness and assumed that he might have missed the opportunity of talking with Nigel. He entered and flipped the light switch in the foyer but to no avail. There appeared to be no power, although he had noticed that other nearby residences seemed to be lit as usual, so it did not seem to be a power outage in the neighbourhood. He fumbled his way through the pitch-black corridor toward the back entrance where the kitchen was to get to the utility cupboard where there were tools and especially a torch so he could begin to unravel the power problem.

He soon found the torch in the utility drawer and proceeded to see if he could locate the problem. A check of the trippers in the electrical box revealed that all the circuits were in the off position. He flipped several of them on but they immediately snapped back again. Going to the first floor he thought he should check to see if Nigel knew what had happened and to check that he was all right. Nigel did not respond to the rap on his door and Justin discovered that the door was unlocked and Nigel was not there. He noticed that the door to Nigel’s bathroom across the hall was closed. A rap on that door got no response either. Justin tried the door handle and found that it was not locked. He cautiously opened the door. Shining the torch around, he was horrified to find Nigel in the bathtub, naked and face down in the water. Dangling by its cord, which was still plugged in, was Nigel’s hairdryer—probably the cause of the power outage. Justin unplugged the hair dryer and rushed immediately downstairs to try the electrical trippers again. This time the trippers stayed in the on position and lights came back on. He rushed back to the bathroom to see if he could feel a pulse. He did not! He immediately fled downstairs to the telephone to call the police. Within ten minutes two police officers from the Belgravia Station arrived at the Rectory.

“Good evening gentlemen, I’m Father Martin.”

“Hello. I’m Constable Morgan and this is Sergeant Smythe.”

“Thank you for responding so quickly. I’m afraid we have an extremely serious situation here. I arrived home about a half hour ago to find the house in complete darkness and the power off. But before I go further perhaps you could come upstairs with me.”

Justin led the officers up to the first floor to Nigel’s room. Peering in they immediately assessed the situation.

“Have you touched anything Father?”

“Only the hairdryer cord. I unplugged it so that I could set the trippers and get the lights back on.”

“Good, and you haven’t touched anything else?”

“Only the door knob but nothing else in the bathroom—except I did feel Nigel’s neck to see if there was a pulse.”

“How did you happen to discover this scene?”

Justin reviewed the events of the evening and his trip home after the meeting trying to include everything that might be of importance with regard to his finding Nigel in the bath.

“All right. I’m going to call the Station for assistance because we are certainly going to need more help here.”

Justin left the constable for a few moments to give him some privacy for his call and when he had finished he explained to Justin what would be happening.

“Father, I’ve called headquarters and made arrangements for Inspector Graeme Ingram to join us. He will be here in perhaps twenty minutes. I’m afraid that this might go on for some time, but we must begin to deal with the scene before anything compromises the situation, and of course remove the body.”

Justin met the Inspector at the Rectory door when he arrived and ushered him upstairs to where the others were discussing the situation. Justin left them to talk and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Eventually, the three came downstairs and explained that the body would soon be taken to the mortuary and that things would continue in the morning.

Inspector Ingram said, “Father, considering the hour, once they have taken the body We’ll also go but will resume with things in the morning. I presume you will be able to be here then. Do you have morning obligations?”

“Yes, Inspector, I have Mass at seven in the morning, but would certainly be able to be available anytime after eight.”

“Good Father. Then We’ll be back shortly after eight then. And let me add that we are very sorry about the young man—I’m sure this is extremely upsetting.”

“Thank you Inspector. I’ll expect you in the morning.”

Justin performed his customary pre-retiring routine but on this occasion included taking a sleeping pill as he expected the events of the evening to haunt him. He sat mulling over the events of the day pondering how Nigel could have become distressed so much that he would take his life. At least, it did appear to be suicide. He could not quite imagine what other reason might account for Nigel’s death. There did not appear to be any signs of anyone else being in the house—of course, the police investigation was just getting underway and perhaps it might reveal new evidence. The Inspector had ordered the cordoning off of Nigel’s room and bathroom as they searched for clues. Thoughts of Nigel and this appalling situation certainly did press upon Justin. He was so fond of Nigel and his cheerful personality.

It was tormenting and troubling to contemplate why he might have taken his own life. Justin searched his mind and rethought recent conversations that might reveal hints of why Nigel might have been driven to do such a thing. His career situation could possibly have been a concern for him even though he never expressed that in any detail to Justin. He knew he had a pleasant place to be for the interim and was surrounded by people who cared for him. He seemed to keep himself busy with his continued search for employment as well as assisting with household chores and especially with his culinary endeavours. Finally, Justin crawled into his bed and tried to get at least a few hours sleep. Eventually, he drifted off into a somewhat fitful slumber fraught with strange dreams.