Tony put his hand into the unsealed envelope, addressed to ‘The Rev P. Smitham’, and took out a folded piece of paper, headed ‘Healey and Brown, Estate Agents and Surveyors’. It was an invoice for rental of a garage at an address at Waratah Court in Sisulu Close. Tony decided a visit was logical, and looked at the large bunch of keys hanging from a hook near the front door. Would one of them fit? If not he would have to hire a locksmith.
He climbed into his little Korean car and drove to Sisulu Close, which led off the main Brighton Road and was lined with of 70’s cubed flats.
Waratah Court was indistinguishable from the blocks on either side. The garages were behind, and Tony drove along a dirt road, parking in front of them, the nettles rustling as his wheels crushed and pushed them aside.
The number on the invoice was ‘three’. Tony examined the lock on the third garage, which was small with the number ‘57’ embossed on it. He looked at his keys, and was pleased to find a small bronze coloured one with the same numbers. He twisted the key. The lock moved, but did not open. He fiddled with the handle but could not open the door.
‘Oi mate, let me do it,’ said a voice. Tony turned round and saw a small shaven-headed man standing nearby. He moved towards the door, carried out a manoeuvre involving the handle and the key, and pulled the door up, revealing a row of filing cabinets. The man chuckled,
‘I’m the only one here can open these things. That’s why most of the residents don’t park their cars in them. Ta-ra.’ He ambled off.
The cabinets were not locked and Tony went through the drawers one by one, examining files of papers containing sheaves of minutes of parish meetings and accounts. As he was thinking his task was a waste of time, he came across an orange folder with the name ‘World Travel’ written on it in thick block capitals; it was the name Penny had mentioned.
The file was thick as a telephone book. It contained orders for large camper vans, with detailed specifications for conversions. Tony pored over diagrams of the internal parts of the vans. The invoices were for sums exceeding £40000 and letters acknowledging cheques from ‘Africhurch Limited’
Another file was full of correspondence from Travel Agents, and some complimentary letters from satisfied customers.
There were four cardboard partitions in the files- red, blue, green and yellow, each were marked with a title. There was a yellow folder with ‘Funding’ marked on it - empty .The cardboard was slightly torn as if once full of papers.
Tony went through the contents of the cabinet, listed all the files and summarised their contents.
Most concerned church matters, but there were several for the holiday company. The clue to the mystery was in the missing papers .How had Smitham financed the substantial purchases? He put everything back, locked the garage door and drove the short distance back to the vicarage.
Penny arrived at 6.30 pm on Tuesday, smartly dressed in a red dress with a low cut top.
She kissed him on both cheeks.
Tony caught a whiff of expensive perfume as he dragged his eyes up to meet hers.
He ushered her into the lounge, where she sat on the beige sofa.
‘Let me pour you a drink; do you like wine, or would you prefer something soft?’
‘The wine would be lovely, thank you Tony,’ she said.
As he poured her drink Penny leaned forward, exposing the top of her breasts - a light shade of brown, and slightly freckled.
‘What made you decide to go into the church?’ she said.
‘I was brought up in a religious atmosphere and really never considered anything else-at least until I went to university. You know what it’s like-drinking, sex, fun.’
Penny looked hard at Tony.
‘But you were still ordained. It must have been more than just parental influence.’
‘It was. Although I sinned, and discovered the pleasures of the flesh, I decided that the church was where I could be useful. The God I worship is not the one I thought I knew when I was growing up. I hope this one forgives my peccadilloes. I’ve settled down too. I found drinking made me ill, and as for the other sins…’
‘I can control them.’
‘That’s admirable,’ said Penny. ‘Now I’d like to explain more about what I’m after. London is an enormous information centre. If you know where to look you can find out most things. Some of it’s just gossip, but you do get the odd gem. I think I’m on to something. I’ve been following the activities of the Boeremag, which is a reactionary and thoroughly evil organisation dedicated to restoration of white domination of South Africa. Your curate Smitham-the rumour is he had something to do with it. Why or how I don’t know. I‘ve collected a lot of evidence about the Boeremag, and I would like very much to see if I can find a definite link.’
She reached over to her briefcase on the floor. Again Tony had a view of her cleavage, and swallowed.
‘Here, I have some photos.’ He leafed through them.
‘These are pretty gruesome. Where did you get them?’
‘Oh, here and there,’ she said.
‘These bodies, they’ve all been mutilated. Their faces….’
‘I know, I’m sorry, but I need you to realise I’m serious.’ She was sitting next to him now, her knee touching his.
‘May I have another glass of wine please?’
Tony moved from the sofa and returned with two glasses. He was glad of a drink . He sat down, but at the opposite end of the sofa from Penny.
‘I’d very much like you to go through them with me, to show me if any of the injuries look like Smitham’s. It would help if you sat closer.’
She wriggled nearer to Tony, as she showed him each photograph.
‘You know I didn’t see the whole body. I heard the pathologist’s evidence though. These poor souls have been killed in a similar way.’
She grunted, and leaned across him to pick up a photograph, her breasts brushing against his chest.
‘Are you married?’ she said.
‘No, but I was engaged once, for two weeks.’ he said.
‘No girl friends? Lovers? Are you one of those gay vicars?’
‘No, no, although I don’t believe in discriminating against gays. Some members of the church are very out of touch.’
She leaned over and kissed him, full on the lips, holding his head in both her hands.
She kissed him again, this time opening her mouth and lingering.
‘This is….he said in a whisper.
‘Did your fiancée have breasts like these?’
Tony shook his head slowly as she unbuttoned his shirt.
He touched her breasts.
‘You can kiss them if you like,’she said
He began to kiss them, first gently then fiercely.
She began to remove her panties, revealing a mass of auburn curls. He was hard and she was caressing him.
Much later she lay back, her legs open. They lay on the couch for a while afterwards.
‘Not bad for a vicar’, she said, ’that fiancée of yours was a fool. She should have held on to you.
Where is Smitham’s accommodation?’
‘A few doors away. But there’s nothing there. There’s a garage he used for storage though. It’s full of filing cabinets. I’ve looked through his papers quite thoroughly.’
‘Yes, but I’m not sure I ought to be showing it to you.’
‘You didn’t mind showing me your -----‘and she paused, grinning.
It was the grin that persuaded him.
‘O.K. then, if you must. But I want what you see treated as confidential for the moment. It looks dangerous to me.’
‘You have my word,’ she said, still grinning. Then she frowned.
‘We’d better get dressed, there’s work to do. Do you have a photocopier?’
‘Yes, in my office.’
He drove her to the garage, where she scoured the filing cabinets, taking out the files she found significant. They went to the office and she began photocopying. He sat and watched her. Although he was concerned about Smitham’s activity, he was still feeling a post coital euphoria. He could do with someone like her in his office. Pity, he’d get such flak from the parishioners, even if he could afford her. At last she finished and together they carried the different coloured files back to Smitham’s house.
‘I’m really obliged to you, I’m going to look into this travel company and I’ll let you know what I find. Did you come across a finance file?’
‘No, that’s missing. Will I..’
‘See me again? I expect so.’ She made for the door, turned, and blew him a kiss.
After Penny had gone, Tony sat down and thought. He had just misbehaved in a way he had not intended or thought likely. He had always had normal desires, but his strong religious feeling had ensured that as a priest he had not become involved inappropriately with females. A wife would have been ideal, but as he had not met anyone he wanted to marry, he had been celibate since he had been ordained. He had been unprepared for Penny’s bold approach. Spiritually he thought he was fairly well developed. But when it came to animal behaviour, he was a novice. His bluff had been called. Penny must have realised he was attracted to her. She had taken charge and he’d let her see all the documents .He was a weak and vulnerable man.
He did what he usually did when overwhelmed by life. He prayed.
Penny was overjoyed with her success. Tony had been a pushover. She was used to attracting men, and the look in his eyes in Canterbury had told her that it would not take much to seduce this earnest man of the cloth. She rather liked the shy self–effacing type of man. He was also physically attractive, with dark blue eyes and well-shaped hands.
A few days later Tony was preparing a sermon-he was tempted to entitle it ‘The Sins of the Flesh’. He heard the ‘phone ring and a familiar voice announced,
‘Ever fancied Africa, South Africa?’
‘I haven’t thought about it.’
‘You free this afternoon?’
‘Don’t worry, you won’t be doing anything sinful, it’s business.’
Tony thought to himself, my life’s being taken over.
Penny arrived at exactly three p.m. She was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and very little make up.
Business, definitely business?
She had brought the photocopied papers with her and asked him to read them. They discussed the implications. Smitham had been involved in a smuggling operation. It was impossible to tell for whom. The only way to find out was to go on a holiday with World Travel.
‘What, you mean us-together?’
‘Don’t you want to know who killed Smitham?’
‘Yes, but I’m a vicar, not a detective.’
‘Ever heard of Father Brown?’
‘Of course, but he’s fictional.’
‘I do know that. Where’s your sense of adventure, you didn’t mind fucking me.’
Tony was not used to this sort of language.
‘That was different. I, I..’
‘You were raped then?’
‘Well no, but…’
‘Don’t be such a wimp. You mean to say you’re a brave man in your clerical drawing room but you draw the line at going out into the big wide world .You make me sick.’
‘If you can persuade me that we would achieve something, I’ll consider it’
‘That’s more like it .Now this is my plan:
We’ll book –separately, one of the three week treks which start from Mombasa and end in Cape Town. There is the option of a cruise through the Suez Canal organised by the same company. We’ll pretend we’ve never met before and play things strictly by ear.’