The Claresby Collection: Twelve Mysteries
good enough for a solo! Lovely, Laura; you are blending in nicely.”

    They had moved on to “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, with Frank making only a couple more snippy comments at Martin, when Veronica came in. She waited until the singing stopped and then said,

    “Sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got to ask if any of you have seen Monty? His wife called me this morning. He didn’t return home last night.” She looked tired and took in the shakes of their heads and general mutterings of “no” rather despondently.

    “Did Molly say where he had gone last night?” asked Wendy.

    “She said he was slipping down the pub for a nightcap at about half past nine.”

    “Well, he didn’t come in for a drink last night,” said Martin, the landlord of the local pub which was Monty’s regular watering place.

    “I was going to ask you that,” said Veronica. “Well, Molly has called the police, Monty’s disappearance being so entirely out of character. Let’s hope he turns up fit and well.”

    “Would he have been over at the church yesterday?” asked Laura.

    “There wasn’t much going on,” said Veronica. “We had our coffee morning in the James Mortimer Rooms, but as far as I know everything was locked up after that and I don’t think Monty had any reason to come back.”

    The James Mortimer Rooms were a small extension on the northern corner of the church which provided a space for Sunday school and other church related events and incorporated kitchen facilities and toilets. It had been built about ten years before with a bequest from Laura’s own father. She now regretted that she had rather resented the money at the time, Claresby having been left in such a parlous state, and still thought the room spoiled the external harmony of the church, although it had been sorely needed. They trooped down and searched the room and toilets, but found nothing untoward.
     
    Choir practice having been effectively abandoned, the search for Monty was extended from his familiar haunts around the church to the short walk between his house and The Claresby Arms. The police arrived, at first gently inquiring, but gradually more insistent in their searches and questions; but there was no sign of Monty Howard. It was as if he had disappeared off the face of the earth. In the course of the next few weeks there was some speculation that he had “done a Reggie Perrin” and gone off to start a new life somewhere else, but this was largely dismissed. Then the story made the national news and press speculation included reference to the death of Veronica Dahl’s first husband and the fact that she had been referred to within the parish by the sobriquet, “The Black Widow of Claresby”. Then there was an interesting interlude when Strider was arrested on suspicion of murder.

    Wendy, sharing a glass of sherry before a Sunday lunch at Claresby filled in details of this incident.

    “The trouble started because Ian and his wife were suspicious of Strider. They can see his caravan from the farmhouse and thought he had been acting oddly the day of the disappearance, although they didn’t say how. Anyway, there were no lights on in the caravan that night and they were left with the impression that Strider didn’t come home on the Friday evening in question. Strider’s real name, by the way, is Arthur Dahl. Like everyone else, they suspected him of having a drink or drugs problem and just being an all-round dodgy character.”

    “I assumed he had a drink problem,” admitted Laura.

    “As a matter of fact, Phil has seen him a couple of times at the pub and he has only ever ordered lemonade. No, Veronica hasn’t been very confiding, but I gather that her brother has learning difficulties and is not really able to hold down a job. She has supported him since their parents died, but he refuses to move in with her – for some reason he is happier in the caravan. Veronica cooks him food and lets him use her bathroom; he’s

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