Millie Mead had an air of significant superiority about her. Sat before her was a woman of middle years, a tourist to the village of Fekenham Swarberry, who had ventured forth from Tadworth, Surrey seeking the rustic tranquillity that graced the oft-overlooked Dorset quietude. Millie’s joy at having a captive audience, one with whom she could regale with all her gathered knowledge, gave the bakers wife a glow, an aura that illuminated her anomalous appearance.
Her hair crowned her head with an aberrant halo of, let’s be kind here, sable, that gave her hawkish features, along with her gaunt frame, the look of a cotton bud, one used for waggling in the old lughole. Below this ambush of daylight was a pair of small eyes that provoked thoughts of porcine perception. If the size of the globes led one to dismiss these as being too insignificant to lend themselves to perceived perfection then the nose that forged itself beneath them more than made up for the former’s lack of magnitude. Her nose, prominent, pronounced and proud put forth on the woman’s dial in the same manner as the Sphynx that lay in the sands of Egypt. It was, not to labour the point, massive. The nostrils of which could conceivably harbour small mammals. As the penultimate feature, her lips puckered like the sphincter of a stoat greeting her conical-shaped chin which seemed to cup the rest of her face within its funnel. If having a large nose is a prerequisite to sniffing out gossip then having a sphincter shaped mouth is the logical step to spreading the gathered shit.
Conversely, the woman sat before her, one Veldermire Halfinch, handbag by her side, was a plump pudding of flesh with chins that waddled when she spoke. Not that she was speaking now as her eyes had a vacant look not dissimilar to when a rabbit is caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. This aspect no doubt had been brought on by the duration of the diatribe her companion was delivering. Fascinating though it was the single focus of its content was the inhabitants of said village she had undertaken to travel to. Before the visitor, set squarely on a small round table that nestled between her knees, was a glass filled with an amber fluid, an amontillado. It stood glistening in the firelight untouched. Next to it were three empty glasses consumed to anesthetize the poor woman’s aching brain from the constant stream of her companions verbosity. Conversely, Millie Meads three glasses were also empty as was her fourth.
‘Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the Bentwhistle’s. Well, as you know, the gentleman, I use the word generously, is the landlord of this ‘ere pub. His long-suffering wife, more on that in a mo, is the woman behind the bar with the raven black hair. She’s of Italian stock you know. Her name’s Lupini which is her own but her hair, not to be indiscreet ‘cos that is one thing I’m not, comes out of a bottle. She’s as white as the driven under all that dye.’
Up in heaven God and the archangel Gabriel are playing Backgammon. Upon hearing Millie’s definition of herself the almighty rolled his eyes skyward whilst Gabriel rolled the die around his fist. ‘I don’t know what Peter will say when he meet’s that one,’ said God. Gabriel threw a double six. ‘That she defies description I would have thought.’ Gabriel replied.
God studied the board. ‘I have long considered sending that woman upon her death downstairs.’
Gabriel sat bolt upright his face aghast. ‘You think she is a sinner?’
God laughed. ‘Not at all.’
‘Then why send her downstairs?’
‘Think of all the mischief she would cause Samael,’ responded God, ‘hell in a handbasket.’
Back on the mortal plane, specifically The Frog and Radiator, Fekenham Swarberry, Millie Mead was continuing a litany begun some minutes ago.
‘Rosebud Clever, the daughter of Dirk and Morticia Clever, him a painter and decorator from Wick; Desiré Plonk widow of Septimus Plonk who spent more time inside than out which ‘o course is the very opposite of Arthur who spent more time in Desiré than out; Lollipop Winkyflaps wife of Ruddle, mother of Delphinium who also fell under the spell of his wayward member. Mother and daughter unbelievable eh?; the sisters Finklepratt who more often than not shared the same bed with Arthur during Sunday Mass; Cornflower Twinset whose husband chased Arthur Bentwhistle from Arkenfelt armed with garden shears ‘aving caught the pair of ’em covered in radish sauce ‘n little else. Now that’s a distance of four mile. See what jealousy can do for you?Anyhow, my glass is empty. Think I need a refill. You alright? I won’t be a tick.’
The woman remained seated as Millie bustled off. Less bustled more hustled as she jemmied her way through the packed public house that was The Frog’s constant state. She arrived back ten minutes later pleased to see the tourist waiting to hear more of her historical recollections and contemporary news bulletins. As Millie sat down she thrust another glass of amontillado onto the table in front of her. Now there were two full glasses
‘Treat’s on me,’ said Millie smiling appreciatively at having such an attentive audience.
The fire fluttered as the door flew open as family Hamfist entered the pub. They bundled over the threshold in sandwich formation. Elton, the smaller of the twins at six feet ten thundered in first. His ginger hair all a bristle with matching fluff protruding from his cauliflower ears. He was followed by his mother Madge whose bottom formed a shelf upon which beer glasses could be stood. Next was the father of the brood, Will whose hair colour had been an investment to his offspring even if it was now in fast retreat. Finally, looking like a matching bookend if a little bigger, came Noddy large like a troll from Grimm’s Tales. He stood, in stocking feet, not that he ever wore said hosiery, seven foot to the inch. No one in the pub took much notice. What is strange in other communities is perfectly acceptable in Fekenham Swarberry.
‘See them there?That’s the Hamfists. The whole kit ‘n kaboodle.‘ stated Millie. ‘Mother, Father and the two sons. That big ‘un, the one last in, is Noddy. Got a bit of a limp now due to his getting a right kicking some while back. Must have been a whole bunch ‘o ruffians to hurt ‘im ‘cos he’s a mighty big fella as you can clearly see. All seven foot of him. But what’s really queer about Noddy, and I use the word with advisedly, is ‘e’s ‘omosexual! Would you believe a fella like that bowls from the pavilion end?’ Mighty strange if you be askin’ me.’
The woman wasn’t asking but continued to sit staring steadfastly at Millie.
‘Now where was I? Oh, yes, Arthur Bentwhistle. Him and his philandering ways. You wouldn’t think it of him, not to look at him I mean. Got a nose like a root vegetable stuck to his face. Still, he manages to pull the women. Can’t see it meself. Anyways, Not so long ago he had an affair with the barmaid. She’s left now and gone t’ work at ‘The Soft Parlour,’ that’s a bordello right here in Fekenham. Best place for her if’n you ask me. Her name is Delore’s Dewhip. Should’ve heard them when they went downstairs t’ change a barrel. It was more than a keg ‘o beer what Arthur was humping if you get my drift.’
Millie sipped at her drink the swirled the liquor around the glass.
‘Suppose I should tell you about Elvis Linkthorpe, he’s our vicar and Verity Lambush. Now then, she’s retired but used to be the headmistress at Fekenham High. That woman has had more men, women as well, or so I am told, than that wife of Emperor Claudius, that Messalina. Well now, she, bites like a black widow or so I like t’ think, had a fling with the vicar. Can you imagine that? Shagging the clergy? ‘Twas a case of him plunderin’ her passions in the pulpit, of “Tasting her choice fruits.” ‘Course, nothing good come of it, she had an illegitimate offspring. That’s the one sitting over there, Cybil Lovelock. She don’t come in here that often, Verity that is, unless it’s with her husband. A big fella, not as big as Noddy of Elton Hamfist but big enough. Handsome man too although he is American.’
At this point, Millie shivered then wrapped her hands around her shoulders, arms across her contourless breasts. ‘Is it me or has it gone a bit cold in here? Shalln’t be a tick. Just going t’see if the fire’s burnt low.’
Of course, she wasn’t a bit cold but as excuses go it was a grand invention. Happy as she was to have such an amiable audience attentive to her words, the gossip in her soul needed to see if, what and most decidedly who was in the Frog with her.A quick glance about gave her sufficient data. Rose Buckshot was resting her head on her partner, John Tuck’s shoulder whilst seated with the couple were Tom Coppernob and his partner Violet Springheel. The men had one pint each of Widows Whiskers, the girls half pints of same. John Tuck had a pockmarked face scarred during his teenage years when acne covered his visage like a pizza topping. He bore a striking resemblance to Robert Mitchum if you screwed your eyes tight. Tom, John’s best mate defeated comparison with Hollywood stars as he looked more like a tractor tyre that has seen too many roads and far too many miles.
Mrs Crustywinkle, Brigadier Largepiece’s cleaner and half-sister to Urpington Crust III, sat alone sipping at a small brandy. On the table next to her Ruth Crabtree and Neil Beefshanks – a couple. At the bar, seated on a tall stool was the short and stocky figure of Terrence Humshaw his bandy legs bent at right angles. Casting her eye further around the room Millie could see Martha Horncluff hand in hand with Ernie Stalworthy. Iris Itchypit, the cook at Apple Crust retirement home; Norbert (Nobby) Micklethewaite chatting convivially to Mavis Mufftickle; lock keeper Ted Sandpip hunched forward with his head nearly pressed against his friend, Maurice Tinkercuss brow. It was busy but as busy as some nights. Happy with what she saw Millie returned to her new friend who sat waiting for her return. Oddly, Doctor Kettle, who had only popped in for a quick half, was bending over Veldermire with Arthur Bentwhistle by his side. Upon seeing Millie the Doctor asked her gravely, ‘How long has this woman be sitting here like this?’ It was a question aimed at Millie but the answer came from Arthur.
‘Came in, the pair of ’em, a little before seven thirty.’
‘Right,’ said Kettle looking at his watch, ‘so she’s been sitting here for over two hours as it is now nine thirty-three. When was the last time she spoke to you?’
Millie looked perplexed. ‘Well,’ she stammered, ‘I don’t rightly recollect her ever speaking. No, tell a lie, when I asked her what she’d like to drink she said a sherry so I bought her an Amontillado.’
‘What time was this?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘It was a quarter of the hour, about seven forty-five,’ interjected Arthur, ‘I took the drinks over t’ the table.’
‘So you have sat talking to this woman, this unresponsive tourist, for nigh on an hour and forty-seven minutes. Did you not think it odd she never once said anything in all that time?’
‘Not really, I was too busy talking.’
‘This poor woman,’ said Doctor Kettle, ‘passed away about an hour ago.’
‘She’s dead?’ whispered Millie.
Arthur Bentwhistle’s words were the last the village gossip heard before falling to the floor in a faint. ‘You finally did it Millie. Talked someone to death.’