The Mills of God (Nick Lawrence Mysteries) Online - Deryn Lake

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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.

ONE

It 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 his 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 – at the age of twenty-eight – 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.

‘All right, Reverend?’ said the foreman, hiding his cigarette behind his back.

‘Fine, thanks,’ Nick answered. ‘We made good time, didn’t we.’

‘Early start, Guv. It always pays. Now, have you got the keys?’

Nick looked stricken. ‘No, 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.

‘Oh, 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. ‘I’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.

‘Welcome 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, ‘Who’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.

‘Tea’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