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“But Father Brown said…”

Sullivan’s fists clenched tight around the steering wheel as he guided the police car around a tight corner and pulled in sharply outside the post office.

The look on his face, as he turned to face his sergeant, must have been thunderous since it silenced Goodfellow immediately.

“I’m well aware of what Father Brown said,” he almost growled. “Just as I’m well aware that one of these days, he’s going to meddle too far and pay for it.”

Though he doubted the threat of consequence, whatever it might be, would put a stop to the stubborn cleric’s sleuthing. Even finally carrying out his threat of arresting the man hadn’t discouraged him; Sullivan was almost at a loss as to what would.

Brown’s persistence was perhaps the most frustrating issue Sullivan had ever faced in his career, and the priest’s almost miraculous streak of luck in avoiding both injury and defrocking was perhaps to blame for him thinking he was, indeed, invulnerable.

Sullivan, in moments when he’d been worn down to a dull edge by turning up at crime scenes to find the black garbed padre there before him with his nose firmly inserted in police business, almost believed the same.

But this might be the day it proved a false conclusion.

He got out of the car, and tried the door to the post office; the handle turned but the door remained shut, locked. The sign he could see on the other side of the glass had been turned over to show ‘closed’.

Peering inside, Sullivan could see no sign of anybody, but he doubted Miss Davis would have deserted her station; when he had questioned her earlier about the sudden deaths of some of the Kembleford villagers, her bearing had reminded him of an especially severe governess who put the efficiency of her small establishment above all else.

No surprise, then, that all the victims had been people who had somehow interfered with the orderly running of her domain.

She would loathe him for this, he thought, and then slammed his elbow through the glass.

Once he’d reached in to unlock the door, he and Goodfellow made short work of searching the premises; the woman wasn’t in the post office, or the small domicile attached.

But she didn’t appear to have fled; her suitcase was still under the bed and her closet still held her clothes.

Someone as organised as Miss Davis would not simply have taken to her heels with only the outfit she was wearing and the money in her purse; Sullivan, though he had scarcely interacted with her before this inquiry, had learned her well enough to know that, at least.

But as to where she might be….

He stood in the middle of the post office, pulling together all he knew from the evidence, the interviews, trying to think the way Miss Davis would.

Father Brown, no doubt, would have come to some bizarre conclusion which would mystifyingly prove to be…

Father Brown. Who’d made as much of a pest of himself in this very establishment as he had been in this (and every other) investigation.

Who’d roped in the perennially judgemental Mrs McCarthy (and it was bad enough that Brown risked his own wellbeing by involving himself in risk laden interference, but unforgivable, in Sullivan’s opinion, that he put his friends in danger as well) to be as much of a nuisance as possible.

All, he suspected, to draw Miss Davis out, provoke her.

Since the woman wasn’t here, he feared they’d succeeded. After all, Miss Davis held efficiency above all else and had shown no hesitation in eliminating anyone who proved to be a disruption, and was clearly insane enough to believe she could simply kill to preserve the orderliness she demanded and then continue on as if nothing had happened.

And if she perceived the priest and his associates as a threat to that, Sullivan had no doubt she’d deal with them accordingly.

“Telephone the presbytery,” he told Goodfellow as he ran to the door. “Warn the Father that he might receive a visit from the postmistress and he’d do well to keep everyone inside and lock the door.”

“Inspector?”

Sullivan was in the car; he paused long enough to roll down the window.

“You stay here in case she comes back,” he said, and then turned the car around and started up the hill towards St Mary’s.

++

It took a few minutes only to arrive there, and Sullivan hastily parked the car before heading straight for the church.

The doors were open, unusual for this time of day; as he approached, Sullivan could hear the indignant tones of Mrs McCarthy, but there was fear there, also.

And then, with the almost preternatural calm of the criminally insane, he heard Miss Davis’ response, laying out almost emotionlessly her complaint against them and how she planned to rectify the issue.

Sullivan crept forward, and peered around the door.

Davis had her back to him, limiting what he could see, but from the way the housekeeper was edging in front of Father Brown but at the same time leaning away from the other woman, she had to be in possession of some means of threatening them.

He risked moving closer, keeping as quiet as possible, and knew Father Brown had seen him, couldn’t have failed to; but the priest kept his focus on the dangerous person in front of him, allowing the inspector to continue his approach.

Mrs McCarthy unfortunately was not quite as in control of herself, and glanced directly at him.

Sullivan barely had time to duck into one of the pews before Davis swung around to see who was behind her.

He held very still, hoping she wouldn’t come closer to check; like this, he was ill placed to counter any attack, especially if she had a gun.

But she clearly couldn’t see him; when she continued to speak, he risked raising his head to see she had turned away again.

From his new position, he saw just how she planned to carry out her threat; she had a letter opener in her hand, aimed towards her captives, and Sullivan hoped Brown wasn’t tempted to try and disarm her or do anything as foolhardy.

It was clear, now, that Miss Davis had murdered at least four people since she’d taken over the management of the post office and he had no doubt she could easily increase her tally to five or six if further provoked.

That was her aim, anyway, and Sullivan slipped out of the pew as Father Brown continued to try and delay their intended fate.

But Davis was done with his attempts; she raised the letter opener, ready to strike, and Sullivan knew he was out of time.

“Stop!” He dove forward as he cried out, hoping to startle her enough to gain the seconds he needed, but perhaps she had known he was there after all, because she turned around with no hesitation and when she lashed out at him she was fast as a snake.

Fire tore through Sullivan’s shoulder as the letter opener stabbed into his flesh; he staggered back, tearing it from her hold, and only then did her stoic veneer crumble.

She screamed like a harpy, and turned back towards Father Brown and Mrs McCarthy, and lunged at them, hands raised, fingers hooked like claws.

Sullivan acted on instinct; he staggered more than jumped forward, but he was still able to grab hold of Davis before she could reach her intended victims.

The pain in his shoulder almost left him senseless; it was like a crowd roaring in his ears and drowning out everything else, but he knew if he let go of the postmistress she would likely harm the Father and Mrs McCarthy.

He held on, and pulled her away from them, and pushed her down to the cold stone flags of the chapel floor.

Managed to grab hold of his handcuffs and lock them around her wrists.

He had to take a breath before he could caution her, and he was sure he stumbled over the words, but then it was done and though she cursed and wailed, she was no longer a threat, not restrained.

Sullivan sagged back, all strength suddenly gone, but he didn’t fall back as he expected, didn’t slump to crack his head open on the floor.

He found his backward motion halted by a solid warmth behind him; arms reached around to hold him steady, and he heard the familiar voice of Father Brown in his ear.

“Best if you don’t move, Inspector,” Father Brown said. “Just rest against me; you’ll be alright.”

Sullivan realised he was panting and not down to the exertion of fending off Miss Davis’ attack. He glanced down, ignoring the priest’s attempt to prevent him, and realised there was still a letter opened sticking out of his shoulder, and the front of his suit was soaked dark with his blood.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,” Mrs McCarthy said. She was kneeling next to him, a white cloth in her hands. “Don’t you dare move.”

He wasn’t at all sure he could, even if Miss Davis somehow found a way out of those cuffs and came to attack them again; his thinking felt oddly muted, slow, and he found himself wondering if the fabric Mrs McCarthy held was an altar cloth.

He doubted it, especially when she pressed it to his shoulder, around the object poking out of him.

Father Brown was stronger than he looked, because he held Sullivan still when he cried out and tried to pull away; the pain, deep enough to drown him before, was suddenly a thousand times worse, as if a bomb had detonated in his shoulder.

The last thing he heard was the priest calling his name before he knew nothing more.

++

According to the doctor, Sullivan had both Father Brown and Mrs McCarthy to thank for his life; without their timely intervention, he would surely have bled to death right there in the presbytery, the last of Miss Davis’ victims.

Not that he wished to be ungrateful, but he met this news with some annoyance; Mrs McCarthy would likely never let him forget it, and he could only imagine that Father Brown would presume this meant he could insert himself into any future enquiry of Sullivan’s with impunity.

It would be impossible to keep the priest’s nose out of police business going forward; not, he had to bitterly admit, that he’d had much success in the past so it should be something he was used to.

Still, when the doctor was satisfied he was up to visitors, he was somewhat surprised to find that Father Brown had been waiting outside his room.

Shoulder still hot with pain, feeling nauseous between it and the pills the nurse had ‘encouraged’ him to take as pain relief and a prevention of infection (he hoped they were more successful at the latter than they had proven for the former) he felt little up to dealing with the priest at that point.

Still, since he apparently owed Brown his life, he could hardly dismiss him.

Father Brown sat down next to the bed, and Sullivan found himself looking at the door, expecting the sudden appearance of his usual cohorts.

Brown smiled. “I didn’t think you were up to the well meaning ministrations of Mrs McCarthy.”

Sullivan knew he shouldn’t be surprised that Brown was so astute, but he was surprised at the man’s consideration; their relationship could hardly be described as cordial, and there had been moments (on both sides, he was willing to admit) of shocking pettiness.

But perhaps the fact that Davis had tried to kill all three of them in the church had led to a cessation of hostilities...for now.

He tried to sit up, but his shoulder protested loudly; Brown got up, and helped him sit forward enough so his pillows could be rearranged, and then the priest supported him as he sat back against them.

“Well meaning, yes,” Sullivan said, and then trailed off, aware it would hardly do to say anything that could, even unintentionally, amount to criticism.

“The doctor says you should be released tomorrow, but that you mustn’t go back to work for at least a week.”

Sullivan grimaced. Yes, the doctor had said that, but there were reports to be typed up, other crimes to be investigated, and order to be preserved.

Not that he didn’t trust Goodfellow, or the other officers, but his place wasn’t sitting bored and in pain at home.

It was in his office, doing his job.

“Ah,” Brown said, and Sullivan sighed. Clearly a lot of what he’d been thinking had shown on his face.

“I’ll be perfectly fine to return to the station,” he said.

Brown gave him a look. “Perhaps I should have brought Mrs McCarthy after all.”

There was a veiled threat there, prompting Sullivan to scowl at him. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, Father, without the intervention of Mrs McCarthy. I’ve been doing so for years.”

“Well, she’ll want to make sure,” Brown continued. “Her Christian duty. I’m sure you’ll get used to her coming by the station, and making sure you’re eating, and taking any medication, and not overdoing things.”

Sullivan could imagine; he would likely see the woman more than Goodfellow, the normally redoubtable sentinel that stood between his office and the rest of the world.

The sergeant would not last a moment before the onslaught, and Sullivan found himself actively dreading the sheer intensity of caregiving he would be subject to over the coming days.

“You’re threatening an officer of the law,” he said, but he sounded beaten already, and Brown had the gall to look innocent.

“Inspector, I would never,” he said. “But we all know just how much Mrs McCarthy likes to feel needed.”

Or make herself, he thought, accepting it was somewhat uncharitable of him, especially considering she was one of the people responsible for him lying in a hospital bed and not the mortuary.

“Very well,” he said. “I suppose a few days of rest might be possible. But I won’t require Mrs McCarthy’s assistance.”

He didn’t miss the sly look he received from the priest, one that clearly said there was as much chance of him avoiding the housekeeper over his period of convalescence as there was of him becoming the next pope.

“And I’ll have Sid come and pick you up,” Brown said.

Sullivan started to sit forward, temper sparked despite the pain sapping his strength. Oh, no. Enough was enough.

“Absolutely not,” he started, and then the pain flared up.

He became lost to it for a moment, and then strong hands were easing him back and he felt a delicately cool touch against his forehead.

“I hardly think you’ll be able to drive, Inspector. And without you there, I imagine that Sergeant Goodfellow and the rest will be busy; you don’t want to distract them from their duties to come and drive you home, surely?”

He was being manipulated and knew it; Goodfellow would probably be there within moments of his inspector being released from hospital and might be just as much of a mother hen as Mrs McCarthy if Sullivan let him get away with it.

But it wouldn’t do to have them seeing him so vulnerable; bad enough anyone had to, yet better Father Brown than any of his men. Confidence in a leader could be so easily eroded.

“He’d better keep his mouth shut,” Sullivan said. “Or I will get out and walk home.”

Brown grinned, happy without being smug, that he had won; there was almost relief there as if he had expected a fiercer contest which made Sullivan feel he had somehow underrepresented himself.

Or, perhaps, he could leave battling with his religious nemesis for another day.

“Perhaps I’ll come along,” Brown said.

Sullivan groaned. He had a feeling, by the time his recovery was complete, that he’d have spent more time in the company of Brown, Mrs McCarthy, Carter and Lady Felicia than he would likely be able to endure.

Still...it was better than the alternative and, as he’d reminded himself, he was alive because of them.

But he meant it; if Carter opened his mouth even once, made just one irreverent comment or even grinned at him, he would jump out of the car and take his chances on foot.