The Vicar of St. Dunstan's Ep. 13byNigel Debonnaire©
Clarissa Clyde-Walker is a master manipulator, unlike the rest of the kind folks of St. Dunstan's. Many are interested in Clarissa getting some non-fatal comeuppance, including someone unexpected. There are rather intense scenes after Clarissa goes to the Recreation Room, so if you're not into S/M you may want to stop there and rest assured the Vicar will get what he wants and Clarissa will get more than she wants.
Jim Lefebvre, a building contractor and long time parishioner, finished his inspection of the fallen section of the Vicarage roof. Percy Witson and Stan Dover managed to put a tarpaulin above the cave-in to keep the rain out, but any significant wind from the wrong direction would blow it away. Jim was a short, dark-haired man in his late thirties wearing a business suit with matching tie and shirt, and his pens were in a pocket protector. He scratched his head, blinking several times, and walked downstairs without a word. Percy, Stan and I followed him as he descended, and Jim didn't stop until he reached the kitchen at the bottom of two flights of stairs. Then, he looked at me, looked at the other, then back at me with an anguished look in his eye. "This should never have gotten this far, gentlemen, never, ever. I can't fathom how you two morons let things slide. This roof should have been replaced ten years ago. Reverend Stokeley was a miser having you two eejits patch things together year to year, and you obviously didn't let your current Vicar know what you were doing."
Percy and Stan stood meekly with their hats in their hands, looking at the floor. I asked them: "Did you know that this was going to happen?"
Percy didn't look up, but mumbled: "Well, yeah Vic, but we din't think it would be so soon. Stan and me done a good job holding things together and if we din't have that storm last week, and then this morning's before we could patch it up, then she would'a been fine, just fine."
Stan nodded his head. "Sorry Vic, we should'a gotten over sooner yesterday. We let you down."
"Vicar, it's a miracle that roof didn't cave in completely ten years ago," Jim broke in. "Now you've got no choice. I'll have to make my report to the Local Council, and you'll have to get going fast to repair it, or this house will be declared uninhabitable and you'll have to move out lock, stock and barrel."
My glance at the Miracle Workers was not returned. "What do I need to do now?" I asked Jim.
"Well, you've done what you can, you'll have to keep a close eye on it, and pray that we don't get another storm like last night's for a while. I'll do you a bid to replace it, we'll get the licences, and get things going fast since you have your arse hanging out, so to speak. I'll fax you the bid after I get back to the office and work things out; if you want to call a Vestry meeting tonight or tomorrow, I'll come by and lay things out for you."
"All right, Jim. Thanks for coming around so quickly. We'll be in touch." I shook his hand before he left; Percy and Stan were ignored.
I turned to them. "All right, go back up and make sure it will hold off everything short of a hurricane before you do anything else. Do you know the weather forecast for the next few days?"
"No Vic, haven't had a chance to check it out," Stan said brightly.
"Well, you will check it out everyday from now on, and you better pray that we're due for some unseasonably dry weather until we can get this thing taken care of, do you make myself clear?"
"Get to work." They bounded up the stairs without a backward glance, and soon I heard a duet of hammering from the attic. I retreated to my study and Tallis masses to quench the flames of my anger until I got the fax from Jim's company. Looking at it twice, I got my Scotch bottle out and downed two shots neat before I hit my speed dial.
Mary answered on the first ring. "Well, Vic. What's the story?"
"We need to get the Vestry together tonight if we can. It's worse than I thought."
"How bad is that?"
"£18.000 to 20.000."
"Shit. I'll get the calls going."
"Thanks, Mary. I owe you."
"I have some ideas for repayment of that debt, but business before pleasure. Later, luv."
"Bye." With everything else, £25.000 would be more accurate. I didn't need the Vestry meeting to tell me what the situation was: we didn't have the money, the diocese was short of money for lending to parishes, and I wasn't in the Bishop's favor right now. Sure, they'd give us an emergency loan, but their attitude would be awful. Even with my personal leverage on Bishop Delacroix, the repercussions would be lasting. Bishop Delacroix was close to retirement and there was no inkling who his successor might be.. If it were Archdeacon Tommy Hughes, I would be in deep trouble carrying a debt with the Diocese, and get all the blame for incurring it. Hell, I could find myself back in Kansas.
It took a miracle to get a majority of the Vestry to turn out on a Friday night, but we did it. Jim Lefebvre came by with a detailed account of the damage the fallen roof caused, and his estimate of the work for repair, along with a timeline if he could get started right away. After he left, Fred Bayless took the floor: "Jim's right: Percy and Stan have been duct taping things together for a decade and it's a miracle it hasn't caved in sooner. It's November, and we need to get it fixed right away. Don't know where we're going to get the money, but I'm sure the Vicar can come up with something; he's come through for us before. In any case, I think we need to go forward in faith: let's get the work started early next week and surely the Lord will come up with the funding by the time the work's done."
They voted to start the project unanimously without knowing where the funding was coming from. I could hardly believe the inane smiles on their faces; what the hell were they thinking? Mary gaveled the meeting over, and they filed out quickly to get back to the Pub. Shaking my head, Mary and I closed up the Undercroft and went back to the Vicarage for a drink. The temperature was already several degrees cooler than ususal with the hole in the roof. Two large Scotches weren't helping, and Agnes bounced in from the University into my sitting room where Mary and I were commiserating.
"Hello Gran, hi Vic. What's happening? It's so cold in here."
"The roof caved in today, luv. Right over this room, in fact. Just got out a Vestry meeting about it: we've got to raise £25.000 right away."
"But what about the recent fundraising? We did very well, didn't we?"
"Yes, and most of that leftover money went into endowments, " I said. "It's my fault: I should have saved out more of Lucinda's gift as a rainy day fund."
"Don't blame yourself, Vic," Mary said, laying a hand on my shoulder. "We have a good operating reserve; there's no way anyone would have enough to cover something like this."
"Why not put an insurance claim in?" Agnes asked. "This is just the kind of thing. . ."
"If it was the Church, we'd have the money tomorrow. Reverend Stokeley didn't see fit to put the Vicarage on the insurance plan for some odd reason, and the Diocese won't cover it, either."
"That's strange," Agnes said.
"That's what I thought when I read over the policy this afternoon after Jim Lefebvre left.," I said. "Stokeley must have saved some money on premiums that way, and Niall tells me he never liked the Vicarage and rather hoped it would fall apart some day."
Mary blew out an incredulous puff of air. "The bastard Stokeley. I always knew he was a selfish bastard. And a stupid git."
"Well, I feel like an idiot for discovering all this six years after I got here. I thought I'd understood all the paperwork when I came here, but this is the first time we've had anything like this happen. I trusted Tweedledum and Tweedledumber to know what they were doing maintaining the place, and I trusted that we were covered against any calamities." Mary put her hand on my shoulder as my head bowed down. Agnes came over and kissed my forehead, stroking my cheek.
"Ladies, I think I need some time alone tonight. Probably need to drink a lot more Scotch and think. Tomorrow I need to make some phone calls to the big donors."
"It'll be a shorter list than usual," Mary said, "Lucinda's back in the hospital and they have her sedated pretty well. Harry Caldwell is on a business trip to Turkey and Syria, and Fred Titterington is on a Mediterranean cruise on a private yacht with no specific date to return. Looks like you'll have to call the Colonel."
"Forget that," I said, "I went shooting with him last week, and he left for an African safari yesterday. There's only one name on the list, and I'm afraid of what the price for that money might be."
Mary shuddered. Agnes was puzzled: "Who would that be?"
"She gave you money? That selfish bitch?" Agnes asked, incredulously. I took a big gulp of my Scotch.
"The Vicar had to pay a great personal price to get her contribution last time," Mary continued. "And there's no telling what she might ask for something like this. She'll know she has leverage, and it won't be pleasant. Not to mention, the Bishop's daughter is her personal friend, and she could easily drop the wrong word in the wrong ear."
Agnes' eyes bugged out. "Holy fuck."
"That's about right," I snapped. "We can certainly get a short term loan until Lucinda recovers, or one of the others gets back to the country, can't we?"
"Yes, we could," Mary said. "But you have to get the Bishop's permission to borrow money, don't you?"
"Ah, yes, I forgot. Perhaps I could borrow it personally?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe we could get Cherie Goodson at People's Bank to push that through, but she's as malicious a gossip as Clarissa, cut from the same cloth. You'd do just as well getting Jim Lefebvre to let you pay off in installments."
"With the way the building sector is right now, he might not be able to do that. Well, Monday we'll work both ends of that street and see what we come up with." I looked at my watch: it was 9:00PM, but it felt much later in the evening. "I need to crash after the way today's gone."
Mary came over and kissed me. "I'll call Cherie to sound her out tomorrow, carefully of course.. You talk with Jim. Good night, luv."
"Good night, Gran."
Good night, sweetie. Don't keep the Vicar up too late."
"I won't," Agnes and I saw Mary down to the door and watched her walk to her car. "Do you want to stay with me tonight? It's still warm in my apartment, and you look like you could use a friend."
"Thanks, Agnes, but I really need some time alone. Please don't take it personally. The guest room down the hall is a bit warmer, and with a couple of extra blankets, I'll be fine."
"All right, Vic, but I want to tell you a secret. Before she left, Mrs. Button had a hidden camera system installed in your Recreation Room; professionals put it in rather than Percy and Stan. If you have to 'entertain' Mrs. Clyde-Walker, you'll be able to–control the situation like you did with the Bishop's daughter. I know how to run it, and we'll have what we need to turn the tables."
I kissed Agnes hard on the lips. "That's the best news I've had today. You're such a bright gal." I looked in her shining eyes, and the invitation there, but my gas tank was absolutely dry between lack of sleep and stress. "Good night," I said before another soft kiss in dismissal.
"Good night, Vic," she said before reluctantly slipping out the door.
The phone rang around 9:00AM the next morning. I almost didn't want to answer it when the caller ID showed who the other person on the line was. Ever since that day that September a year ago, I had been dreading another conversation with Clarissa Clyde-Walker. Playing games always wears me out, and now was the time to get my game face on.
"Good morning, St. Dunstan's."
"Hello, Father Alfred. This is Clarissa Clyde-Walker."
"Good morning, Ms. Clyde-Walker"
"No need to be so formal, Alfred. A little bird told me that you are in some difficulty and need to raise funds quickly. I may be able to help you out."
"That would be wonderful, Clarissa."
"Excellent. Why don't you drop over to the house for tea and we'll discuss it."
"I'll be there around four."
"Excellent. It will be a brief interview, Father; I have a cocktail party to attend at six. I believe we can make our arrangements quickly."
"Very well. Until four, then."
I rang off and spent the entire day worrying about what she had in mind. Thank goodness I had a sermon on file that fit that weekend's liturgy: my mind wasn't focused on my job. Knowing her, it was surely nasty, surely something I wasn't interested in doing, and surely something that couldn't be discussed over the phone.
Arriving promptly, I was escorted into her sitting room by her butler Simon, who beckoned me to have a seat on the sofa while I waited for his mistress and poured me a cup of tea. Five minutes later, Clarissa Clyde-Walker made her entry, wearing a strapless blue sun dress over her long, thin body. Her flawless porcelain skin framed her fine cheek bones and the rest of her very subtle curves. Her long legs were bare and her feet in sandals. She greeted me and offered to pour me another cup of tea, which I accepted. We made small talk while she nibbled on a finger sandwich from a silver tea service, and commented on the unseasonable quantity of rain.
"Yes, the rain is doing wonders for my flower garden, although the polo pitch is getting rather soggy. My husband Percival landed a nasty crack on the head falling from his horse a week ago when his mount slipped in the mud; he just missed getting crushed by his horse." The last line was spoken with regret rather than worry.
"How is he recuperating?"
"Oh, he'll be out of the hospital in a couple of days or so. The doctor says he'll be fine."
"That is good news."
"Now Vicar, I understand you've had some problems with the water at your house."
"Yes, we have."
"And you're in desperate need to remedy the situation."
"Yes, I am."
"And I believe that £25.000 will cover the expenses?"
"Well, I don't want my Vicar to catch his death from the damp or have our fine Vicarage damaged by the ongoing flood. Contract with the builders; I will be happy to underwrite this project."
"Thank you, Clarissa."
She sat and looked at me coyly over another sandwich. "Are you not hungry, Vicar?"
"Tea is fine for the moment, Clarissa, I'm not hungry. I'm sure what you have to offer is superb, as always, but my appetite has never been robust."
Smiling broadly, she nodded. "It is a blessing we both share: it gives us slim bodies and energy that most people do not have. We should discuss appetites a bit more before we leave the subject."
"I rather thought you would." Here it comes, I thought.
"Very perceptive, Father, you do not disappoint. As before, there is something I want from you in exchange, and it has to do with appetites. Our previous interview, where we recreated our little Violette's adventure under your roof, was fantastic: it was all I dreamed about for months afterward. I would like to expand on that theme, if I could, but first I need to know which day you take off every week."
"Monday. After the weekend, I always need time to recuperate."
She looked at her diary, and nodded. "Excellent, I am free then as well. There is a fantasy that has tickled me fancy for ages: the Day of Agony. I understand that you have a basement room that you have fixed up as a workout room that includes a hot tub and an old prie-dieu?
"Yes, I do. I take it that you would like to come--inspect it on Monday?"
"Excellent, well done, Father. Monday will be the day. Unlike last time, there will be no script and no limitations. I would bring Simon along for safety reasons, however, he was so taken by your endowment last time that it took extensive deprogramming to relieve his fixation on your protuberance I trust that Mrs. Sterns or other reliable person in your confidence could–chaperone us?"
"Mary just left for the Continent to do some rather urgent business in Nice and Marseilles."
"Is Mrs. Button available?"
"She is taking care of her grandson's children in Cornwall. I have no idea when and if she will return."
She took another sip of her tea, her eyes sparkling with anticipation. "How about the young woman who recently moved into your housekeeper's quarters, Agnes Sterns? She's a student and presumably has some flexibility."
"Agnes attends lectures most of the day Monday, and has to practice for four hours in preparation for her weekly organ lesson the next day. I doubt that she would be available during the day. Mrs. Hazelton is in town and would be free."
Clarissa gulped. "Mavis Hazelton, the biggest gossip in the parish? The fat little cow with obscene udders and the voice that cuts glass? Surely there is another option?"
I shook my head. "Mavis is privy to many things she does not talk about. There are two other reasons you might actually prefer Mavis for our interview on Monday."
"And they are?" she asked incredulously.
"First, she is the most informed about the techniques we will be using, including safety, and would be the best to assist me."
"Granted. And the other reason?"
"If you truly want a day of agony, and her voice irritates you, why not be holistic and assault all your senses?"
She pursed her lips and thought. "Good point. We might as well set up a playlist of syrupy romantic ballads from Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, interspersed with the Cowboy music of your home country to help round things out."
"We'll see. I am curious why you want to come on my day off."
"You will have no appointments, and it will be understood if you do not answer your phone or your doorbell that day. You can even lock the doors of your house without suspicion."
"Security an issue?"
"I don't want Percival finding grounds for divorce, nor gossip reaching the wrong ears. My car will be parked in your parking lot, and I will enter the Church before coming to the Vicarage via the corridor from the Vesting Room."
"Very well, I'll swear Mavis to absolute secrecy. And the big question, why me? Surely you could find a secret lover who would satisfy your needs discreetly."
She smiled very prettily and sipped her tea, blinking several times coquettishly. "Because my fantasy focuses around physical abuse by a man of the cloth, by the way, if you can scare up a monk's robe I would appreciate it. Mostly because I have the leverage to force you to do it, and it amuses me: you would certainly not entertain me in this fashion of your own free will, but I can make you give me pleasure any way, any day I wish." Licking her lips after taking another sip, she continued: "And you are a very dishy man, Vicar. Such well developed muscles and such a generous endowment. The thought of you culminating the day by thrusting yourself deeply inside me and expending yourself gives me shivers of anticipation." She punctuated the comment with a delicate shake before returning to her avaricious look.
I stared at her blankly for several moments; she stared back with a steely glare of domination. "All right," I said at last. "See you Monday at 8:00AM"
As I made my way to the door, I took a deep breath. I didn't have the imagination to organize what she wanted. The things I did with Mavis were entirely her idea, and she made almost all the preparations. There wasn't enough time to read or surf the Internet, but there was someone I knew who did. First, I had to call Mary. .She wasn't home, so I went over to the Quilting room, and to my great fortune Mary and Mavis were both there. They were working on a small quilt for Jenny's incipient baby, but paused their work to greet me warmly with hugs and kisses. I asked them both to sit down.