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Vicar and Policeman
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With the end of the Cold War, spy thriller writers can no longer write about Soviet-American enmity. Everyone knows that. But what about detective writers who set their stories in the English countryside? How will the absence of any police force in rural areas affect them...?

The vicar was hard at work on his sermon for next Sunday when there was a ring at the front door and shortly afterwards the maid came in to say that there was a policeman to see him.

“A policeman!” cried the Rev Arthur Thrimble. “Goodness, how exciting! Show him in!”

The door opened.

A policeman came in.

Thrimble didn’t think he had seen him before.

But then, nobody had seen a policeman round the village of Lower Eliot for a long time.

“Come in, officer. Can I offer you a cup of tea? No, you’re on duty, aren’t you? You won’t be allowed to. What a shame. Now, how can I help you?”

“It’s about the village fete,” said the officer.

“Alas - you’re too late!” said the vicar. “We had it two weeks ago. All over now. You could have entered the tug of war, I suppose. But there’s always next year ....”

“I was reading the notice in the village shop window,” said the officer, “in which you said how much you had made from the fete.”

“Yes,” said the vicar. “I always like to let people know.”

“You will be glad to hear,” said the officer, quoting from a notebook in which he had written down the words of the sign, “that this year we made a profit of £45,000.”

“It was a good year,” said the vicar.

“Last year you made £800. It is a significant advance.”

“Weather was very bad last year,” said the vicar. “We even had to cancel the tug of war.”

“I am just curious about this year,” said the policeman. “Do you think I could have a look at the breakdown of the figures?”

“Of course,” said the vicar, pulling out a jumbled box and retrieving a crumpled piece of paper form it. “All here. Guess The Weight of The Cake - £13.50. Coconut Shy - £33. Breaking Plate Stall - £29.50. Fun Run - £42,000. Plant Stall - £75. Hoopla....”

“Just a moment,” said the officer. “Did you say Fun Run - £42,000?”

“Yes, I did,” said the vicar breezily. “Tremendously good entry this year. Very popular. Lots of people. And ... it was sponsored ! That’s it. It was sponsored.”

“Just a moment,” said the officer, squinting at the sheet of paper. “That’s not what it says here. It doesn’t say Fun Run - £42,000. It says Fun Bank Raid - £42,000 !”

“Does it?” said the vicar. “Oh, yes, so it does. How strange. I wonder why it says that?”

“Three months ago,” said the officer, “the last remaining branch of Barclay’s Bank in the area closed down. On the final full day of business a motley crowd of protesters gathered in a good-natured protest inside the bank, mostly dressed in fancy dress. Most of them left in an orderly fashion, but three of them, one dressed as a clergyman, stayed behind and produced guns and proceeded to rob the bank.”

“How awful!” said the vicar. “You’d think the police would have arrived and arrested them.”

“You can’t always get to the scene of a crime as quickly as you would like,” said the officer, tight-lipped. “Barclays Bank are not the only ones closing down branches. The police are doing it too.”

“So is the Church of England,” said the vicar. “Times are very tight.”

“So tight that you have to go out and rob a bank?”

The two men eyed each other.

“I’ll put it to you straight,” said the officer. “Either you hand me the money back, and I take it back, no questions asked, no recriminations, or I take your fingerprints and invoke the full majesty of the law.”

“Hold on, hold on,” said the vicar. “I’ll tell you a funny thing. We haven’t seen a policeman round here for years. Then suddenly you turn up. I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Yet you’re very familiar. I think I’ve seen you somewhere else before.”

He leant forward and took the policeman’s hat off.

“Of course! Jimmy the Pigman! Long time no see!”

The “policeman” leant forward and took off the vicar’s glasses and dog collar, then his wig.

“Fatty Hardwick, as I live and breathe! What brings you out here?”

“Same as you,” said the vicar. “Fresh fields and pastures. I heard that there were rich pickings in the country. I was right. In any case, you can’t have the money. I gave it to the maid this morning to take to the bank.”

“Do you mean,” said the “officer” slowly, “the woman who let me in? And who, I couldn’t help noticing, had such a remarkable resemblance to Kathy ‘Thousand Faces’ Hornby, the mistress of disguise ?”

“Good God!” said the “vicar”.

They rushed out. But they were never to see the money or the “maid” again.

The Independent March 30th 2000