This story was supposed to come out as a loose parallel to the Lewis story What the Sergeant Saw: The Sad Case of Allison Bright, unfortunately it stalled out and left poor Lewis hanging around the vestibule waiting for Morse to arrive and get things moving for quite a long time. Fortunately, our Sergeant Lewis is a patient man…
It was also supposed to be another light, nostalgic look back, but stories have their own ideas.
What the Sergeant Saw: The St. Oswald's Murders
Based on Service of All the Dead with credit to Colin Dexter and Julian Mitchell
Chapter One: A Mass Murder
Sergeant Robbie Lewis of the Thames Valley CID was on the scene before either Dr. Max DeBryn, the home office pathologist, or Chief Inspector Morse, the senior officer in charge, arrived. That was the usual order of events, especially when the call came on the evening. Such calls would find Lewis at home while Max would be out at some social do and Morse…he'd either be enjoying some choral society's big evening or an opera or—well, Lewis didn't like to admit it, but there were times he was certain Morse finished his glass of Glenfiddich and favorite recording before he slipped into his coat to head out for the murder scene.
Lewis was still new enough to the CID that he viewed each new case with enthusiasm and anticipation. Especially now that he had hooked up with Chief Inspector Morse. Unless it was his night to watch the kids and he had to scramble to find someone to take over for him before he could leave the house, not much slowed him down on his way out the door to a crime scene.
Sometimes, though, when he saw what awaited him when he arrived, he wished he'd dragged his feet or maybe even called off sick. This night was certainly one of them.
A spooky, dreary, old mausoleum of a church, lit by flickering candles and not much else. Its cavernous chambers echoing with the sounds of a brand-new widow weeping and carrying on in a way that should have filled him with pity but instead left him irritated and wishing he could send her away. And a body grotesquely lying in the vestry; an ornate, cross-shaped knife plunged deeply into it with blood seeping darkly from the wound, and the smell of death mingling with the dusty, crypt-like smell of the old church.
He'd attended Sunday school a bit in his younger days back home, but his family had never been overly religious. He and Val were even less so. He probably wouldn't have been all that comfortable in any church, but certainly not in this one. So there was that, and then there was the body. He might not have been a religious sort, but a murder in a church, what was meant to be the house of God…and the murder weapon being what it was…it was all enough to dampen a man's enthusiasm for the job.
The church was huge, but carved up into cramped nooks and crannies full of religious statuary and furnishings that left little enough room for a man to move. Lewis squatted over the body, careful to not disturb the scene in anyway, chewing his pencil and trying not to feel claustrophobic in the close quarters.
When Max finally arrived, he had to squeeze past the sergeant to get a look at the body. "Who it is?" he asked on his way.
"Harry Josephs," Lewis answered. "That's his wife outside," he added though the doctor had probably managed to figure that out for himself with all her caterwauling.
"Widow," Max corrected him absentmindedly as he looked over the dead man. Used to being corrected by Morse, Lewis took the implied criticism quietly. There wasn't any use in defending himself or in trying to keep up. He was a plodder, capable but slow. He wasn't clever or brilliant like Morse nor well educated like Max and the others. He'd made it through school, but it had been a struggle. Bookwork and memorization had not come easily for him; and written work had all too often been a nightmare. He'd left that all behind him with a sigh of relief only to discover that a good deal of police work was much like school. Even more so now that he was working with Morse. The benefits of being partnered with the best detective in the Thames Valley far outweighing the humiliations and irritations of being frequently treated like a frightfully slow schoolboy, Lewis had become quite adept at letting criticisms and corrections roll over him like water off a duck's back.
The difference between wife and widow must have hit Mrs. Josephs about then because her distressing weeping gave way to ear shattering screams. A beat late, as though the sound had gotten off in a horror movie, Morse threw open the door and made his appearance. His welcome arrival quieted the widow's screams and meant the investigation could really get started.
"Always best to throw light on the scene if you can," the chief inspector said, and they all blinked against the sudden brightness of the lights as though God had just pronounced, "Let there be light." Lewis hadn't realized how dark and shadowed the scene had been, and he wondered why the lights hadn't been up for the church service. Seemed an odd way to conduct God's business, what with the whole 'I am the light of the world' thing and all. Of course, this whole situation was odd.
Odd and grotesque as Morse's blanched face and pained expression clearly showed when he glanced down at the dead man. While Max and the rest of the investigative team patiently waited for the questions they knew were already forming in Morse's mind, the chief inspector took a moment to keep his supper down. The questions, when they came, were brief and quiet as though hushed by their surroundings.
The first—"Well, Max?"—was to the pathologist who seemed no more inclined to chattiness; he answered it concisely with, "One very fierce blow. Death instantaneous."
The chief inspector had to almost clamber over the pathologist's back to squeeze past Lewis in order to address his second question—"What happened?"—to the pale, stunned organist who Lewis probably should have shooed further away from the murder scene but hadn't.
The organist, Paul Morris, began to stammer his way to an answer, "Well, nobody actually saw it, but erm..."
"It was right at the end of the service. Mr. Josephs had just brought the collection back here to the vestry," Lewis, who in the normal order of things would have been the recipient for that particular question, cut in.
"There was...a tramp at the service. He even took communion," Morris said. And that bit of news sent Lewis running out to put in the call and start the ball rolling after an elderly vagrant known as Swanny.
He returned in time to hear Morse say, "I shall never understand these religious types."
Max's answer was quick and unsympathetic, "That's because you have no soul, Morse."
"If you were a vicar would you slit open your letters with a cross of Christ?" Morse demanded.
Lewis slipped back to his place at Morse's side as Max said, "It's pretty high, St. Oswald's. Pretty spiky."
"So, that's what they mean by the 'beauty of holiness'," Morse retorted and Max grimaced in return. Lewis chose to ignore their verbal sparring. He knew that the pathologist and detective were actually rather good friends regardless of the terse and often-antagonistic quips the two exchanged when their paths crossed professionally. Still, safest by far to keep his mouth shut, especially when, as now, he had only a vague understanding of just what they were on about.
The crime scene photographer announced, "All finished, Sir."
"Thanks," Morse said. Though the chief inspector was capable of social niceties out amidst the public, he rarely saw the need to mess about with them amongst workmates. Noting that thanks, Lewis thought Morse might be in a more tolerable mood than usual.
If so, it didn't extend to his sergeant. "Lewis, go through his pockets, will you?" Morse asked and walked away before he would have to watch Lewis dig through the dead man's clothing. Lewis would rather have left the task to forensics or Morse himself (not that that was likely to happen), but…well, a job like theirs, someone had to do it.
"Just a minute, Lewis," Max said before the sergeant could get down to it. "Hold this for me." He handed Lewis a plastic evidence bag; Lewis could guess what was coming before the pathologist added, "Close your eyes now." The sergeant couldn't help turning his head slightly away, but he didn't close his eyes. He knew he was better off looking rather than putting himself at the mercy of his mind's eye. It wasn't the sight so much as the sounds and smells that were likely to send him fleeing to the nearest bog if he let them catch him unawares. Better to see them coming.
He held the bag out to receive the murder weapon. It was smaller than it had looked jutting out of Harry Josephs' chest. Smaller and lighter, but it was still…somehow wicked. Too large to be an innocent paper knife, too sharp, too long, too bloody, and far too deadly. Even after the pathologist took the bag from him, Lewis felt as though his hands had been tainted with Josephs' blood. He glanced down at them almost expecting to see them covered in it.
The job frequently brought the detectives into contact with a good deal of blood and other bodily fluids. And, yet, they almost invariably walked away clean; their suits so untouched by the gore that they could wear them again without a cleaning if the thought of where they'd been wasn't too much for their wearers. Scene suits when they came several years later, wouldn't come to protect the cops from the muck and gore they might pick up at the scene, but to protect the scene from the contamination the detectives would carry to it with them.
Even after the advent of crime suits, Lewis would still send his suit in for cleaning after the messiest crime scenes, because he couldn't help feeling tainted from the evil permeating the places of violent death in much the same way as he had felt Joseph's blood on his hands that day in St. Oswald's even though they were spotless.
Little wonder he hadn't been too eager to search the dead man's pockets before and was even less now, but he got to it. And it didn't take him long to lose his squeamishness in the excitement of the job. If, as they were supposing—or at least, as he'd been supposing up to this point. Who knew what flights of fancy were filling the chief inspector's head?—the churchwarden had died surprising a thief after the night's offerings, well, the thief had made a very poor showing of it and a very poor job. For according to the vicar, the offerings could have amounted to no more than a few quid, but there was over 200 pounds still burning a hole in Harry Josephs' pockets.
Before Lewis could decide just what to make of it, Morse was back with the organist and one of the women from the church service. Though Paul Morris had earlier stood in the vestry with them and, surely, if the body was someone other than Harry Josephs he would have said so then, they went through the formal process of identifying the body. It was somewhat unusual to show the body in situ to family and friends, but Morse must have decided that as they were all standing about anyway, there was no need to waste time.
Even though it meant there were two shaken, pale friends to weakly say, "Yes, that's Harry Josephs," Lewis was glad Morse had chosen them for the purpose and not the overwrought widow. It was difficult enough for the woman…what was her name? Ruth Rawlinson. Yes, that was it. Difficult enough for Miss Rawlinson to have to view the body. Lewis wouldn't have liked at all to be there to see Mrs. Josephs do the same. As hard as it was for her, Miss Rawlinson did the job, and Morse even seemed to recognize what it had cost her. He was gentle and supportive, even placing a comforting hand on her shoulder as he thanked her and sent her on her way. Morse could be that way with women sometimes Lewis knew. Those that didn't get his dander up but seemed a bit vulnerable like Miss Rawlinson. They triggered Morse's softer side.
Lewis wasn't so lucky in that regard either. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was just that sort of a night.
Watching the body being wheeled out of the church, the sergeant innocently told Morse, "It all seems pretty straightforward."
Morse growled back at him, "Straightforward perhaps, but pretty?" Lewis knew the chief inspector was right enough there even if he was nitpicking. There was nothing pretty about any murder, and this one was most decidedly not the exception.
Later, speaking of the vicar, Lewis mentioned, "Nasty for him, all this."
And got, "Nasty, Lewis? Nasty?" from Morse.
A bit later his righteous indignation over the futility of the crime came out in a less than diplomatic term for their murderer, and once again drew Morse's ire. "Lewis, you're in church!" Like Morse was any more religious minded than he was himself.
And then, Lewis was the one saddled with dragging the old Welsh tramp into the station for safekeeping in the hopes he'd eventually sober up enough to help them suss out their chief suspect. The man was so far gone he didn't know his own name let alone his fellow drunks'. Disgusted, Morse declared there was nothing more they could do that evening and went home to his music and his whisky. Which left Lewis the malodorous task of delivering Taffy to the duty sergeant before he could head off home himself.
Fortunately for him, his bad luck with Morse didn't carry over to his wife. She welcomed him home with a forgiving hug and kiss though he'd kept her from her night out with the girls when he'd been called away. She fried him up a late supper of eggs and chips while he told her of his evening.
"He's a right proper get when he wants to be," Lewis told her as she slid his plate in front of him.
She laughed and said, "And yet, you wouldn't have it any other way, now, would you?"
He scowled over at her a moment but then grinned. "Nah…I suppose you're right, Pet," he said. "Morse is Morse and there's nothing for it. I've had worse off of him and for all of that…he's still the best there is. I'll stick with him." And with that he tucked happily into his chips.