The Secret

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My book of short stories THE JACK LOCKWOOD DIARIES is free right now, you can download a copy here

This is another one, to give you a taste:

“Would you believe it of a vicar? Long dark hair, she had, short skirt, too much make-up, and driving his car into the vicarage drive at two in the morning! Well I ask you, she weren’t going to discuss the Bible with him, was she?”

Maggie Prior, who runs the mini supermarket in the village, is the eyes and ears of the community, and this latest gossip had been relayed to her from a ‘trusted friend’. I’d only popped in to buy a loaf of bread, and she’d pinned me in conversation for ten minutes already, avid to tell me about the sexual antics of our new bachelor vicar, who’d only moved into the vicarage a month ago. I’d met the Reverend Robin Gargle a couple of times, and he’d seemed an agreeable enough character to me.

“I mean, don’t you think it’s scandalous, Jack? I know we live in immoral times, but surely a vicar should set an example. Not a patch on dear old Revered Partridge, with his gammy leg and his wife and four daughters. You know where you are with a married vicar.”

“Well thanks, Maggie, I’m in a bit of a rush—”

“Don’t forget your loaf, Jack, nice and fresh this morning. Mind you, I know a thing or two about what goes on in that bakery—”

I managed to escape at last, then remembered I had to pick up my car from the garage.

“Have you heard about Robin, our new vicar, the dirty devil!” John, my mechanic friend, said, leering as he rubbed his hands on a rag. “Two women in one night he had apparently! Seen cavorting up his front drive, arm in arm with a blonde and a redhead, neither of them with many clothes on, flashing their bits, and he was fondling them right there in public, for all to see! No shame at all!”

“You can’t condemn the poor bloke—”

“Condemn him?” John boomed. “I’m jealous of the bugger, me! Couldn’t half do with a bit of action myself. Funny, when I first saw our Robin I reckoned he weren’t exactly a ladies’ man, bit limp-wristed if you know what I mean. But seems like he’s got a good bit of lead in his pencil after all.”

The rumour amplified, as rumours do. The other people I spoke to around the village all told me their versions. Robin’s sexual antics varied from three-in-a-bed romps to wild drug-fuelled orgies in the vicarage back garden, involving black leather masks, chains and whips. Somehow, the quietly spoken bespectacled rather shy man I’d met in the Dog and Duck pub a week ago didn’t seem at all like this sexy monster, but as someone once told me ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk’.

I came across Robin later that day in the Dog and Duck and we fell into conversation. Just as when I met him before I found that I liked him. He was nice, interested in my work, and he told me all about the parish he’d had before this one, where he’d been able to help young people find work and started a club for the elderly. As we talked I noticed that Rose, the rather buxom barmaid who was known to have regular flings with all and sundry, was staring at him in a particularly earnest way, and when he paid for his beer her hand rested a little longer than necessary on his, and she leaned forward to talk right into his ear. He responded to her flirting by blushing slightly and beaming at her, apparently tongue-tied. When he’d extricated himself from Rose, he told me that the vicarage had a damp problem and did I know a builder. I’ve been a builder myself, so I offered to go and take a look.

At the vicarage I soon discovered the problem—an overflowing blocked gutter, which I cleared, and Robin was overcome with gratitude, wanting to pay me, but of course I couldn’t take money from a new friend, especially a likeable guy who’d just been telling me about his schemes to help the homeless in Canterbury. He seemed like one of those gentle types, considerate, sensitive and thoughtful, always thinking of others. It crossed my mind to warn him about the ridiculous rumours circulating about him, but I decided it would be cruel and actually pointless, because it was already too late. Best just to let things lie, and hope that no one told his bishop about his alleged antics. Talking to Robin who, quite frankly, didn’t seem the most macho man in the world, I couldn’t believe there was any truth in the rumours. Especially when he showed me his Shirley Bassey CDs and his collection of dried flowers, and told me how he couldn’t bear to wash his woollen jerseys in the machine, they had to be hand-washed, to preserve the freshness of the fabric. I rather agreed with John at the garage, that, while he was undoubtedly a decent bloke, he probably didn’t have any lead in his pencil.

But I discovered I was wrong when I washed my hands in the bathroom and discovered a black bra and knickers hanging up to dry.

I decided to tackle the subject head on. “So your girlfriend comes to stay sometimes does she?”

“My girlfriend? Oh no, Jack, I haven’t got a girlfriend.”

“But in the bathroom, I saw the underwear.”

“Oh!” The smile lit up his face. “Oh no, they belong to Amy Golightly.” He laughed to himself and did a little pirouette on the carpet. “Wait a minute, I’ll explain.”

He went out of the room and returned, wearing a long dark woman’s wig. Then he handed me a flier for a poetry festival at a nearby town. Top of the bill was Amy Golightly, whose face beneath the dark wig was undoubtedly Robin’s. Amy’s raunchy risqué rhymes was the beginning of the description of her act.

“You see, Jack, in my job I just can’t afford to risk any kind of scandal,” he told me. “It just wouldn’t do for a vicar to stand up in front of people and read poetry, someone might report it to the bishop and I’d be in big trouble. So I go in disguise. For the evening I’m Amy Golightly, and the poetry I read can be as risqué as I like. I dress up in Amy’s clothes so I can really feel I’m in the part.”

So the mystery was solved. It was Robin himself who’d driven back to the vicarage, and in the dark and with the wig, lipstick and female clothing, anyone would assume he had a woman visitor.

As I drove home, I realised that if I scotched the rumours by telling people the truth, that the vicar dressed up in drag and read out raunchy poems, his reputation would be irrevocably tarnished—in fact it was the kind of thing that could probably get him sacked, or at least merited an article in a scandalous newspaper, which would utterly ruin his life. Far better to let the rumours die down and hope that no one ever found out the truth.

The following morning I realised I’d left my screwdriver at the vicarage, so I drove over there early, on my way to town, hoping that Robin would be up.

The door was answered by Rose, the free-with-her-favours barmaid at the Dog and Duck. Her hastily donned dressing gown allowed a generous view of the top part of her bosom, and from her tousled hair and lack of make-up it seemed clear that she’d just got out of bed.

“Hello, Jack. Robin said it was okay to answer the door to you—we recognised your car,” she said, giggling and fluttering her eyelashes. “But please, please, Jack, don’t tell anyone about Robin and me. You see, in his job Robin has to be discreet—he can’t risk his reputation.”

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