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 The Curate's Egg

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Posts : 1447
Join date : 2013-08-24
Location : Over the rainbow

The Curate's Egg Empty
PostSubject: The Curate's Egg   The Curate's Egg EmptySat Aug 31, 2013 3:07 pm

The Curate’s Egg – A British expression derived from a famous Victorian cartoon in ‘Punch’ magazine, meaning something which has a mix of good and bad qualities.

The Kid flicked a greasy lump from his arm.  “Heyes, everyone’s lookin’ at us,” he muttered under his breath.  “We’re covered in corned beef.”

“Stop complaining.  You got us roped into the stupidest plan in the world.  Blowing up the building wasn’t going to harm a photograph in a safe.  Why didn’t you just get me to open it?”

“I didn’t have time.  When Clara blurted out that Clarence was bein’ blackmailed by ‘Seth the Butcher,’ and he’d gone to sort it out once and for all.  I just reacted.  How was I to know that she meant a real butcher, and that it wasn’t a nickname?”

Heyes took off his hat, shaking gobs of fat from the crown.  “You’re fooling nobody.  It’s Clara you’re interested in protecting.”

“Clarence’s a man of the cloth now, and he’s made good under a false name.  His past is bein’ held against him, so he thought he’d use his old skills and blow the evidence to smithereens,” the Kid paused, “besides, it ain’t fair on Clara to be forced into marryin’ someone she doesn’t want, just to save her brother from jail.”  

“Yeah?  Well, it’s a good job he went straight because he’s useless as an explosives man.  The butcher’s shop is a burning wreck and Seth still has the photograph,” Heyes dusted more chunks from his shoulders “and if we hadn’t jumped into those storage barrels out the back we’d all be in jail.  Dear God; it wasn’t bad enough that there was meat flying everywhere, we had to sit in it too.”

“My first thought was to save Clarence.

“Kid, the whole problem here is that you didn’t think; not with your head anyway.”  He indicated across the road with his head and shooed away the delighted looking dog slobbering at his boots.  “Let’s go for a drink.  I need to work out how to sort this mess once and for all.”


“Mr.  Roebuck?  Seth Roebuck?”  The butcher smiled at the dark eyed man in the brown suit.  Heyes continued.  “I’m an assessor for the Pearl Mutual Insurance Company.  I believe you made a claim?”

“I sure did.  You got here real quick.”

Heyes smiled casually, trying to disguise the urgency to complete his mission before the real insurance agent turned up and thanking his lucky stars that Roebuck had been boasting of his coming windfall in the saloon.  “I was in the area.  Now, why don’t you tell me what happened?  This place sure is a mess.”

Seth bristled indignantly, shifting his braces over his expansive belly, the light catching his bald pate.  “My business was blown up.  This is my home and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.  There’s just the lack of a woman’s touch, that’s all.”

Heyes arched his eyebrows.  “The house or the owner?”

Seth wobbled his jowls indignantly, increasing his resemblance to a constipated bulldog.  “Men outnumber women ten to one about here.  It ain’t so easy to find a wife.”

Heyes nodded.  “Sorry.  I guess being a married man; I take things like that for granted.”

“Well, I hope to be part of that club soon.  There’s a real sweet, little girl in town I’ve been wooin’.  I can’t wait for the day I carry Clara over the threshold.”

Heyes slipped into his best poker face to avoid giving an indication of his views on Roebuck’s ‘wooing’ techniques.  “So you’re sure she’ll say ‘yes,’ then?” he queried.

Roebuck nodded.  “She’s been real skittish, but I think I’ve managed to break down her resistance at last.”  He mopped his constantly clammy forehead with a grimy handkerchief.  “This time next week I’ll make an honest woman of her.”  

“I’m sure that this time next week she’ll be a very happy woman.”  Heyes smiled.  “I hope she’s not after the insurance payout.  You want to be careful; you don’t want a wife who only wants you for your money.”

Roebuck gave an unsavoury smile.  “Oh, I’m not worried.  Clara ain’t the type to marry for money.  She’s as pure as they come.  Her brother’s a Catholic Priest, you know, I met her as part of the congregation.  The money’s just a little sweetener for her.  She’s suddenly got a whole lot keener.  I’ve won her over at last.”

“Good for you,” twinkled Heyes.   “Now, can you find your original insurance schedule?”

“It’s in the safe down at the shop.  It’ll be fine.  The safe’ll withstand anything other than a direct blast.   Come on.”

Heyes looked shocked.  “Walk about smoking remains in my suit?  It’ll get ruined.  Can I wait here?  I have some paperwork I can get on with while you find it.”

“But you’ll need to see the shop anyway, won’t you?”  

“Not until I’m sure you’re covered, I won’t.”  Heyes shifted a stack of dirty dishes aside and sat at the table.  “I’ve been caught like that before.  I once ruined a pair of five dollar shoes wading through a flooded basement only to find the policy had expired.  Go get it.  I’ll be waiting.”  


The Kid looked down at the photograph of the two men posing stiffly beside an attractive, young brunette on a chaise longue.  “So that was Harvey Metcalf.  I never did meet him, but I did see the lawmen posin’ with his body in the newspaper.”

Clara blinked huge, china blue eyes at him.  “I never stopped worrying about Clarence.  I was so happy when he came home and we were able to start again.  I thought we had put it all behind us until Seth came along.  He’s Harv’s cousin, and had a copy of the only picture of the infamous Metcalf and Muphy.”

“He’s very religious.  He turns up at almost every mass,” added Clarence.

The Kid tossed the picture into the fire, watching the flames grab the curling edges, before consuming it in a hungry orgy of incandescence.  “Well, it’s gone now and hopefully there are no more copies,” he grinned across at Clarence’s worried face.  “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw your face on top of a dog collar.  Father Clarence O’Rourke.  That’s a far cry from the Sticky Murphy who laid low at Devil’s Hole.”

Clarence shrugged.  “I was young, stupid and greedy.  Seeing what happened to Harv made me see sense.  I thank my lucky stars I bumped into you two.  I was at my wits end worrying about Clara.”

“Well, Heyes got the picture for you.  Now we need to make sure that the butcher’s in no position to start tellin’ the law what your real name is.  You don’t need anyone diggin’ into your past.”

“But how?  All he’s got to do is speak up.  If they start investigating Clarence, he’s finished,” wailed Clara.  “I really think we should just run away.”

“Well, that’s still an option, but Heyes has a plan.  Let’s try that first.  You don’t want to spend your whole life running, do you?”


The Kid stood with his arms folded alongside Clarence, forming a burly wall of muscle behind the petite blonde woman knocking tentatively on the butcher’s door.  His initial delight at seeing the woman he coveted faded at the sight of her steely-eyed henchmen.  Seth shuffled uncomfortably before he pulled the door open.  “Clara?” his voice rang with uncertainty.  “It’s great to see you.”

“Is it?” she barked.  “Can we come in?  We need to get this over with.”

Seth’s bloodshot eyes darted over to the Kid.  “Who’s he?”

“An old friend.  You want to talk about a wedding?  Let us in?”

Seth narrowed his eyes and stepped back to allow the little deputation to enter.  Clara pursed her lips, glancing around at the dereliction and neglect.  The burly man scuttled over to the range, rapidly folding away the wooden clothes horse festooned with grey long johns and a butcher’s apron covered in bloodstains.  He hurriedly whipped a shirt from an armchair before slapping its lumps into submission, raising billowing clouds of chocking dust.  “Please, take seat.”

Clara crinkled her nose in disdain.  “I’d rather stand, thank you.”

“As you please, Miss Murphy.”

“I keep telling you!  My name is O’Rourke, not Murphy.”

Seth shook his head.  “Nope.  Harv sent that picture home to his ma and I kept it when she died,” he darted a look at Clarence.  “It says who they are on the back, in Harv’s own hand.  You can’t argue with that.  It’s the same writin’ as he wrote to his ma in.  That’s the same as Harv tesifyin’ from the grave.”

“You see we have a problem,” Clarence cut in.  “My sister and I moved around a lot.  My pa was a journeyman labourer.  We spent our lives moving from town to town.  There isn’t really anyone who can testify that I’m not Sticky Murphy, but then I suppose there’s nobody who can testify that I am either.”

“Except for my picture,” Seth sneered.  “Well, Clara?  What’s it to be?  Marriage or jail for your brother?”

The Kid reached into his jacket and pulled out a photograph.  He stared down at the little sepia group with a smile.  “I got a copy of that picture.  Harv’s wife was a beauty, wasn’t she?  I read in the paper that she died in childbirth.  Sad, real sad.”

“You knew Harv?” demanded Seth.

The Kid gave the man his most cherubic look.  “Never saw him in my life, except in the papers.  This is the O’Rourke’s’ version of the picture.”

Seth puffed out his chest triumphantly.  “Well, that proves it.  Why would they have copy of that picture if they weren’t involved?”

“I was a young curate when Mrs. Metcalf needed comfort in her dying days.  She wanted me to see her son.  It was important to her that someone somewhere saw him as a man and not just as some kind of desperado.”

Seth snorted.  “Yeah?   Well, why’re you in it then?”

Clarence stretched out an arm and took the likeness from the Kid.  “Me?  I think you’re mistaken.  I’m not in this picture.  See for yourself.”

The little group watched the jowls start to tremble before Seth’s face turned puce.  “No!  This just ain’t possible.”

Clarence flicked a look at the Kid.  “I told you.  I’m not Sticky Murphy.  That picture proves that I’m not.”

Seth turned the picture to the room, jabbing a sausage-like finger at the portrait.  “That’s me.  How’d you get me in it?  I wasn’t there.”

The Kid did his best to look confused.  “How could anyone put somebody in a photograph who wasn’t there?  Do you know, Clarence?”

“Beats me.”  I study the bible.  How would I know anything about all this modern stuff.  I look deep inside for the truth.”  

Clara stamped her foot.  “Seth, this stops now.  Blackmail is no way to find a wife.  I’m not marrying you, so go away and leave us in peace.”

“We’ll soon see about that.  I had my safe brought up from the shop today.  I got my own copy.”

He rushed out if the room, only to reappear looking even more harassed, clutching a postcard size image.  “This just ain’t possible. How?  I never posed for a picture with Harv in my life.”

The Kid shifted his weight onto one leg.  “The camera never lies, Mr. Roebuck.  That’s your face in both copies and that was locked in your safe.  You said it yourself, the writing on the back is as good as Harv testifyin’ from the grave.  The way I see it, it takes a real lowlife to try to force a woman to marry him.  You put that with the photographic evidence, I reckon the law won’t have a problem believin’ you’re an outlaw on the run.”  His face dropped into a cold smile.  “But if they ain’t gonna deal with you, I will.  I don’t hold with your marriage plans.  This stops...  Right now.”

“Who are you?” Seth tried to bluster through his nerves to present a front of confidence.

“That ain’t as important as who the law thinks you might be, Mr. Murphy.”

“My name is Roebuck.”

“That picture says different,” the Kid tilted his head and gave the man a hard stare, “and the law’ll have that ten minutes after your next marriage ‘proposal’ to Miss O’Rourke.  I’m keepin’ a copy to make sure of that.”


“Do you think we’ll hear from him again?” Clara’s sleek, blonde hair caught the sunlight.  

Her brother handed her a cup of tea and patted her shoulder affectionately.  “I’ll ask the bishop for a transfer.  I’m so sorry to put you in that situation, Clara.  We’ll move on.  I don’t know what we’d have done without you two.”

Heyes shrugged, a smile twitching at his cheeks.  “I enjoyed it.  I’ve never studied photography before.  It was fascinating.  Who knew you could take part of an image and superimpose it on another?  You do it by fading out the exposure and the second scene is faded in by increasing the exposure from zero.  It's basically a photograph of a photograph with bits added on top.   Apparently it’s one of the flim flams fake psychics use to make ghost pictures.”

“But what if that’s not enough?  What if he comes back?  Clarence’s past won’t withstand too much scrutiny, despite what we told Seth.”  

Heyes gave Clara a mysterious smile.  “Well, I think I can help you there,” he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a photograph.  He folded his arms with a satisfied glint and watched the collection of curious faces pouring over the picture of a line of young priests.   “Look on the far right, then turn it over and read the name.”

Clarence pointed at the young man at the end of the line.  He had a shock of black hair, a round face and fat cheeks which had yet to drop into jowls.  He turned it reading out the copperplate inscription on the back.  “Class of ’69 leave the seminary,” his finger traced along the line of names, stopping to punctuate one with a jab.  “Father Seth Metcalf!?”  
Clarence sucked in a breath of surprise and stared back at the young face smiling out at him.  “It’s him.  It is!  He’s a priest pretending to be a butcher?”

“It would seem so,” grinned Heyes, “and he’s using a false name, and lying about his past.  My guess is that he did something pretty bad.  You don’t usually keep a photograph in a safe unless you either want to protect it or hide it.”

“So, he’s not going to want folks diggin’ into his past either?” queried the Kid.  “You didn’t change this one too, did you, Heyes?”

Heyes shook his head.  “Nope.  I swear I didn’t.  He’s got a past, we just don’t know what it is.”

Clarence ran his hand distractedly through his straight, blond hair.  “A priest.  What are the chances of that?”

“You did tell us that he was a regular attender at mass,” replied Heyes

“His real name is Metcalf?  Do you think he stole like Harv?” demanded Clara.

“Who knows?  Whatever it was, he’s none too keen on anybody finding out, so it’s a good back up to my doctored picture.”

“I’ll write to a friend to see what he can find out,” mused Clarence.  “You can’t trust anybody these days, can you?  The parish priest is an ex-bank robber and the butcher is a clergyman gone wrong.  We’re all as bad as each other.”

“Are we?” asked Heyes.  “What’s all that about the celebrating in heaven when a sinner repents?”

“D’you think there’s as big party downstairs when a churchman goes bad?” chuckled the Kid.

“It all goes to show that there’s good and bad in us all, I guess,” murmured Clarence thoughtfully.  “At least I’ve got a theme for my sermon on Sunday.”

“Sorry we’ll miss that.”  The Kid grinned.  “We’ll be gone by then, but I don’t want to go to heaven with all those good folks anyway.  I want to stay with Heyes.”
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