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The Life of Sidney Carter

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            The moment Inspector Sullivan saw Father Brown approaching, dread filled the man. He would never admit it, but Father Brown had, in fact, become a valuable asset in many cases involving murder. That didn’t mean the poor Inspector didn’t loathe seeing the man at crime scenes. One of these days, Father Brown was going to turn up dead, and that would forever weigh on his conscious.

            “Not a murder this time, Father Brown,” Inspector Sullivan waved the priest off. “Just a simple case of passing away in her sleep.”

            “Ah, yes, Mrs. Blythe,” Father Brown nodded at the house. “Poor woman has been ill for some time. I’ll make sure to give her last rights. But I was actually hoping you might be able to assist me with something.”

            Inspector Sullivan thought he might be having a stroke. Did Father Brown just ask for a favor?

            “Sid has fallen ill,” Father Brown went on when the Inspector failed to answer. “You see, Lady Felicia gave me a call to see if I had Sid was helping me with a case, and when neither of us knew where he was, I popped over for a visit to Sid’s trailer with Mrs. McCarthy. Poor Sid has a terrible fever, and Mrs. McCarthy doesn’t believe his trailer is in proper condition to house someone as ill as Sid is. I was hoping, that perhaps, you could help us move Sid from his trailer to the presbytery. Seeing as you have a car. But I understand if you don’t have time.”

            Sidney Carter was a very interesting person, to say the least. When Inspector Sullivan had first come to Kembleford, he had taken note of those people who had a record so he might know what to look out for. But to his surprise, Inspector Valentine had something to say on this particular record.

            “Poor kid was shipped here after the bombing in London,” Valentine had said. “His caregiver at the time passed away shortly after he came to us, and we didn’t have Father Brown here at the time.”

            “What does Father Brown have to do with a thief?” Sullivan had questioned.

            Valentine had laughed. “Absolutely everything. You see, Father Brown may have a tendency to meddle, but he cares very much for the people of Kembleford. In all honesty, Sullivan, I’m not sure how much of Sid’s ‘record’ is actually true. Poor kid, forced on the streets of a strange place. The criminal underground took him in because the previous priest couldn’t be bothered. If Father Brown had been here, I have no doubt that Sid would have had a far better, far kinder life. As it was, the previous priest had a terrible habit of blaming children for anything wrong that might happen in his church. Specifically orphans like Sidney Carter. But in all the time I have known the boy, he has done everything in his power not to disappoint Father Brown or Lady Felicia, his employer.  His thefts as of late have only ever been what other people tend to throw out. You keep an eye on him though. He has a terrible habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, never to any fault of his.”

            Sullivan had taken to observing Sidney Carter after that talk. Watching. Waiting. Poor Sid Carter did in fact have a habit of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it had taken him a while to realize that Sid did have favor with many people. Trespassing on private property? The landowner reveals that they don’t mind so long as Sid shares any hunting he gains. Stealing people’s trash? The former owner admits that Sid could find a better use for it, and the poor boy needs the money. Sid suddenly comes into money? Oh, lay off, Inspector. Lord knows poor Sid needs the money and he’s too ashamed to ask for donations.

            “Doesn’t Lady Felicia have a car?” Sullivan asked the priest with a confused expression.

            And that was what had Sullivan the most confused on this situation. Lady Felicia cared very deeply for the former thief, and often vouched for him. Even bailed him from prison. They were close friends from what the Inspector could gather.

            “Yes, but Lady Felicia called because Sid was supposed to get her from a friend’s house two towns over,” Father Brown nodded thoughtfully. “She managed to get the train, but the car is currently at her house, and neither I, nor Mrs. McCarthy know how to drive.”

            “That does provide a problem,” Sullivan nodded, closing his notebook and tucking it into his pocket with his pen. “Alright, hop in. But you’ll own me one, Father.”

            Father Brown gave a pleasant smile and left his bike in the capable hands of Mrs. Blythe’s daughter and her husband, who promised to have the bike by the presbytery door when sometime today. And then they were off.

            Sidney Carter looked like death warmed over.

            He was pale and sweating, a cool cloth was on his head, but it was clearly almost dry. The trailer itself smelled of sickness. Sullivan resisted the urge to cover his mouth, not wanting to offend anyone. And…and where had Mrs. McCarthy gotten the hazmat suit from?

            “Ah, Father,” Mrs. McCarthy greeted brightly. “And Inspector Sullivan too. Poor Sid hasn’t been able to keep anything down, but I finally got him to sip some water. We’ll have to see if it comes back up. I took the liberty of deep cleaning poor Sid’s house. Don’t worry, I threw nothing out just yet. I know how much little trinkets mean to Sid. I simply have a pile of things to clean. Poor boy. He’s got quite a few bloodstains on his floor too. All those times he’s been attacked.”

            Sullivan frowned, trying to remember all the times Mrs. McCarthy was talking about. It made his stomach churn.

            “Do you think we could move him?” Father Brown inquired.

            “I hope so,” Mrs. McCarthy nodded, looking determined as she removed her goggles. “This trailer is stuffy as it is, and not fit for a sick young man. It best to get him to the presbytery, and then I’ll come back to finish cleaning later. Right now, this boy needs healthy air, rest, and some of my soup. Come along. Let’s get him comfortable.”

            Sid didn’t wake once as they drove to the presbytery. Father Brown seemed a bit worried, and Mrs. McCarthy seemed to fuss over every little thing. It had Sullivan questioning why the two weren’t taking him to the hospital.

            “Sid has always hated hospitals,” Father Brown pipped up, as if reading Sullivan’s mind. “He watched his mother die in one, and as a child, Doctors always turned him away because he could never pay. Many feel shame now for how they treated Sid, but Sid can’t bring himself to go back. In part, I believe it is the way people treated Sid as child that taught him there is no God. He lost faith because everything seemed to turn on him.”

            Sullivan swallowed, thinking of how everyone seemed friendly with Sid. And yet, despite their currently friendliness, he keeps so many at arm’s length.

            “He seems rather close to Lady Felicia,” Sullivan pointed out, still racking his brain over every encounter he had with the former thief.

            “And they would, too,” Father Brown nodded, a fond smile on his face. “Lady Felicia is about 12 years older than our dear Sid, and she grew up with six older brothers. It was shortly after she married Mr. Montague that she took in Sid.”

            “I still remember the day,” Mrs. McCarthy chuckled. “Father Brown was still in the war, so he didn’t get to see the exchange, but it was quite the show. The priest at the time, Father Xavier, had slapped poor Sid clean across the face on a Sunday. No one knows what Sid did to make Father Xavier so angry, but Lady Felicia was not having it. She stormed right up to the priest and told him off. Gave him a sold piece of her mind. Lord Montague would have adopted the boy right then and there had Sid not been so insistent that he didn’t need anyone.”

            Father Brown was clearly trying to hold back his laughter and failing tremendously. Sullivan wasn’t sure if this meant this was Father Brown’s first time hearing the story, or if Father Brown just found the whole ordeal funny.

            “Well, mind you, Lady Felicia wasn’t just going to let the boy starve,” Mrs. McCarthy huffed indignantly. “She didn’t let herself be deterred by his attempts at charity either. Why, she waltzed right up to him a few days later and gave him a job without a second thought. I wouldn’t be surprised if she taught him everything she knew about mechanics and driving. And the first time Lord Montague went on one of those ‘long business trips’, Sid didn’t leave her side. Neither has ever thought of anything sexual, and I’m fairly certain that she sees him as the younger brother she always wanted. Maybe even a son, poor woman.”

            “I did find it odd that lady Felicia never had any children,” Sullivan voiced, his brain still wiring.

            “Inspector,” Father Brown’s voice was calm and calculated. “Lady Felicia is infertile. She can’t have children of her own.”

            Sullivan’s eyes widened and he nearly missed the turn. Much to Mrs. McCarthy’s protest as she tried to save poor sick Sid from slamming into the window.

            “Oh.”

            It sounds like a squeak. Even to his own ears.

-----------------------------

            Sullivan thought it only right to stop by later that night and make sure Sid was doing better. He was welcomed in by Father Brown with a pleasant smile on the other man’s face. The house itself smelled wonderful, and Mrs. McCarthy could be heard bustling about the kitchen.

            “Dinner’s almost ready if you’d like to stay,” Father Brown offered politely. “I’m afraid Sid is asleep right now, and Lady Felicia might have drifted off too, but I was about to go check on them.”

            “Thank you, Father,” Sullivan accepted the invitation politely. He was rather hungry, and Mrs. McCarthy was supposedly one of the best cooks in Kembleford. “I’d appreciate it.”

            He was quickly guided to the kitchen where Mrs. McCarthy greeted him warmly and handed Father Brown a bowl of fresh water and a new rag for Sid. The smell of dinner itself made his mouth water.

            “Lady Felicia isn’t the only one who has trouble leaving Sid’s side,” Mrs. McCarthy huffed, though rather amused, as the man scurried up the stairs. “When Father Brown came back to Kembleford after the war, he made it his goal to meet anyone and everyone here. The first day he met Sid, the poor boy hid behind Lady Felicia the whole time. Father Brown made it his personal goal to befriend Sid with any means necessary.”

            “I can’t see Sid being afraid of Father Brown,” Sullivan confessed, eyeing the stairs. “They always seem so close.”

            “Neither could I if I hadn’t seen it myself,” Mrs. McCarthy agreed. “But Father Xavier was ruthless, especially on children. I was his secretary first, you know. And there are things that man did that I wouldn’t even dare tell Father Brown. I wrote several letters to the Pope and Bishop myself, and even many of the Sisters did what they could to bring the Bishop and the Pope into the injustice of Saint Mary’s. We were all greatly relieved when Father Brown came back. The Bishop had promised him the position back once the war was over. But Father Xavier was hard on all of Kembleford, especially Sid.”

            “How did Father Brown befriend Sid, then?”

            “Well, in all honesty, I believe it started when one of Sid’s criminal employers was murdered,” Mrs. McCarthy pondered for a moment. “Of course, Father Brown didn’t believe for a second that Sid was the culprit, but because Sid was covered in blood at the time, everyone else was convinced Sid had killed the man. Father Brown insisted on a blood test and Sid’s alibi of hunting proved true because the blood belonged to a deer Sid had killed. The butcher reluctantly admitted that Sid had sold him a deer that day too. Father Brown let Sid help him solve the case and then continued to ask for his help.”

            “So their friendship was built on murder cases?”

            “That was the start, yes,” Mrs. McCarthy agreed. “But I think what really sold Sid on Father Brown was when Lady Felicia invited him over to one of her charity parties. One of the guests was picking on Sid, and poor Sid was still a boy at the time. Father Brown had no problem gently telling the man off and might have embarrassed the man at the party entirely.”

            “So he befriended Lady Felicia and Father Brown because he saw them as protective and kind instead of harsh and abusive,” Sullivan nodded in thought. “I take it Sid never had that in his life.”

            “I’m afraid not,” Mrs. McCarthy pulled the dumplings from the oven and gave the pot of soup one last good stir. “From what we can tell, Sid’s father was never kind to him, and his original home life in London wasn’t much better. His father died in the war and Sid’s mother was ill. She died in the hospital and Sid was stuck out in the streets shortly before the bombing.”

            Father Brown came back down before anything else could be said, and he swiftly brought the bowl upstairs. Lady Felicia came down, looking entirely unkept as she staggered into the kitchen without her usual grace and missing a shoe.

            “Here you are,” Mrs. McCarthy placed a plate in front of them both, getting thank you’s from both. “Now I better go make sure Father Brown doesn’t end up spilling that soup all over Sidney. Enjoy your dinner.”

            Lady Felicia was already eating he dumplings before Mrs. McCarthy had finished, manners completely forgotten in the moment. It was clear she wanted to get right back to Sid. Sullivan had to guess that she knew Sid would be disappointed if she didn’t take care of herself.

            “I’m sure Sid will be fine,” Sullivan attempted as Lady Felicia only seemed to get more distressed as she ate.

            “I have no doubt he will be,” Lady Felicia agreed, aggressively cutting up a dumpling. “Father Brown and Mrs. McCarthy will take good care of him. Especially Mrs. McCarthy. She cares very deeply for him.”

            “I had noticed,” Sullivan agreed.

            “She was the secretary long before Father Brown returned, did she tell you?” Felicia questioned, finally allowing herself to slow down. “She’ll never admit it, but she was his caretaker before I stepped in. She couldn’t stop Father Xavier from hurting the poor boy, but she’d do her best to keep him away from that wretched man, and she would patch up his wounds. She always pretends to be offended whenever he swipes her scones, but it’s always playful. Their own little secret. Father Xavier used to demand the scones every Sunday, and she would always make sure Sid got a scone or two that he ‘stole’ whenever Father Xavier caught them. He’d never let Mrs. McCarthy claim otherwise.”

            Sullivan found his dumpling almost sickening, thinking that such a fowl man had once eaten this cooking. Key word being almost because Mrs. McCarthy was clearly a whiz in the kitchen. Still, to have been a priest that bullied children into becoming criminals to survive. It made Sullivan almost too sick to eat. Almost.

            “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me, Inspector,” Lady Felicia stood, dumplings gone from her plate. “But I am dreadfully worried about Sid. Good day, Inspector.”

            Sullivan didn’t blame her as she went upstairs. He simply finished his own dumplings, left a polite thank-you note with some money for medicine, and went on his way.

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            “Inspector!”

            It was a few days later, and Sullivan had to admit he was rather surprised to see Sid up and about.

            “I thought you might want this back,” Sid held out the money Sullivan had left.

            “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Sullivan feigned ignorance, despite the look the shopkeeper was giving them. “Did I lose it.”

            He mocked looking through his wallet, giving Sid a mock look of puzzlement when he, obviously, came up with the intended amount. Sid just looked irritated.

            “Listen, Inspector, I’m not some charity case,” Sid hissed.

            “I never said you were,” Sullivan cut the other man off. “And as I have no idea where the money came from, would you tell me where you found it?”

            “It was in my trailer,” Sid stared at the Inspector, eyes narrowed. “Mrs. M told me she found it there.”

            Bless Mrs. McCarthy, her cooking, and her ability to create a story.

            “Well, Mr. Carter, I would say you have someone looking out for you then, and that the money is yours,” Sullivan pushed the money and Sid’s hand away. “Have a good day.”

            Sid looked at the cash as Sullivan paid for his things and left the shop. The shopkeeper even gave him a bright, almost impressed smile, as he left. As he climbed into his car, Sullivan couldn’t help but smile as he noticed a smile creep up on Sid’s face.