Detective Shadowvalt flicked his tail restlessly from side to side, his trench-coat flapping with it. Coming into churches always gave him the creeps – too many items that could be used to hurt or to banish him. And old churches like this, their grey stones soaked in a thousand years of faith and desperation, they were the worst.
Its secret sanctification to Hell only just took off the edge.
He ground his cigarette out beneath his hoof, was amused to see a look of outrage cross the face of the Reverend Green’s husband. What sort of person suffered such a petty feeling when his wife was freshly dead in front of him? Or wore a brown jumper and slacks, for that matter? Sometimes humans were just too funny.
Shadowvalt peered down at the body in its priestly vestments. Bullet hole in one temple. Brains spattered across the pews. Gun in hand. Could it really be that simple?
‘Um, excuse me?’ The grey-haired lady was Mrs Welby, the head of the local Women’s Institute. Apart from the Reverend and Mr Green she was the only person on church grounds when the death took place. She was apparently fighting down fear in favour of an old-fashioned calm. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Hell takes care of its own.’ Shadowvalt glanced at both humans. Neither seemed shocked at his claiming a shared allegiance with the late Reverend Green.
‘Like gangsters take care of their own?’ Mr Green’s voice was hollow, broken.
‘Sometimes.’ Shadowvalt lit another cigarette, waved PC Griddlenotch in from the back of the church. ‘Let’s deal with the obvious possibility first.’
Griddlenotch had a sniffer imp on a chain, the little creature’s skin shifting from green to a sickly brown as he led it down the aisle. The constable stood picking one of his noses while the imp sniffed around the body, its skin changing once more, this time to a glaring yellow.
‘That means it smells fear,’ Griddlenotch said, yanking the imp back as it starting gnawing on the corpse’s ear.
‘Not depression?’ Shadowvalt asked.
‘Depression’s more a sort of blue-grey.’
‘Not suicide then.’ Shadowvalt wasn’t surprised. Handguns weren’t easy to come by in middle England. There were far easier ways out.
He turned to Mrs Welby.
‘What were you doing on church grounds at ten at night?’ He leaned forward, deliberately exuding a cloud of sulphur to keep her off guard.
‘Flower arranging,’ the old lady replied. ‘For the Harvest Festival.’
Shadowvalt nodded towards the half-assembled arrangement on the pew beside her. It was riddled with poisonous berries, bound in tangles of Japanese knotweed.
‘That’s a dark sort of arrangement,’ he said. ‘Only an expert flower arranger could pick them so well.’
‘Thank you dear.’ Mrs Welby smiled.
‘And only a minion of my dark master would make those choices.’ Shadowvalt watched her face fall before continuing. ‘How senior were you in the local cult? Second in line? Making you the leader now, I suppose.’
‘Please.’ Mrs Welby fell to her knees, hands held out in front of her. ‘You’re right. Take me. Take me away to Hell to face our dark master.’
Shadowvalt took a deep breath. If there was one thing he hated more than a sycophant it was a stupid sycophant.
‘You do know that the fate of His loyal minions is different from that of murderers sent to the Pit?’ he asked. ‘Some people operate the racks, others are strapped to them.’
‘Oh!’ Mrs Welby smoothed down her floral print dress, eased herself arthritically back into her seat. ‘Then it wasn’t me. I was in the vestry, making offerings of blood. You can ask by demonic supervisor.’
Shadowvalt turned to Mr Green. He was staring in despair at his wife’s corpse, his face pale, hands trembling. Unlike Mrs Welby, who now seemed fascinated by the bloody sight, he was clearly in shock.
‘How long have you known that your wife was a Satanist?’ Shadowvalt asked.
There was a pause while Green realised that someone was talking to him and then looked up, blinking as he processed the question.
‘Since yesterday,’ he said at last.
‘It’s still sinking in?’
‘You believed didn’t you Mr Green?’ Shadowalt asked. ‘In what she preached publicly, the Christianity she claimed to hold dear?’
Green nodded again.
‘How did it feel, knowing that her heart belonged to someone else?’ Shadowvalt leaned in closer, staring into the man’s eyes.
‘I could cope,’ Green said, tears running down his cheeks. ‘When I thought that she loved God more than me, I could live with that. But this… Him… You…’
His face turned from sorrow to rage. He jerked to his feet, glaring at Shadowvalt.
‘This is sick! This is wrong! This is not the woman I loved!’
‘So you argued, and then…’
‘Yes!’ Green practically spat the word. ‘She betrayed me. She betrayed him. And so I… So I…’
He looked down at his dead wife. Sorrow once more crumpled his face.
‘Oh God, I killed her.’
He sank back into his seat, sobbing like a child.
Shadowvalt had his answer. He turned and walked off up the aisle.
‘Wait!’ Mrs Welby called out after him. ‘Aren’t you going to arrest him?’
‘A Christian kills his secret Satanist wife, in a church, with a weapon of modern secular industry?’ Shadowvalt laughed bitterly. ‘This one will be a complete jurisdictional mess. I’m leaving it to the locals.’
He lit a cigarette and, with a huge sigh of relief, stepped out of the church and into the night.
* * *
Demon Detective Shadowvalt fights more unholy crime in ‘The Suspicions of Shadowvalt’ and ‘The Faces of the Fallen’, both in my collection By Sword, Stave or Stylus. It comes out on Monday and is available to pre-order now on Amazon and Smashwords.
Picture by Michael D Beckwith via Flickr Creative Commons.