When Mary opened the door and Kippie first laid eyes on Sister Enid, she thought that the old nun was dead. Her eyes were closed and her face wore a look of wrinkled tranquillity. Her hair was as white as freshly driven snow* and her flesh was not much darker. [*Before an eskimo has peed on it. Sorry, that’s not very politically correct. Before an Inuit has peed on it.] Her face had so many lines that it looked as if someone had peeled the skin off, screwed it up, and then stuck in back on. It was a face that had lived.
Although, deep down, Kippie knew that the nun could not really be dead, her police training kicked in and she started looking for signs that the old woman was still in the land of the living. A voice in the back of her mind intoned: “Whatever you do, don’t move the body!”
In front of the nun sat a china mug, a large pink rose emblazoned on the near face. A slight purple discolouration on the inside indicated that it had been used recently: a blackcurrant drink by the appearance of things. This was supported by the slightly shrivelled tea bag in the bin and the purple stain slowly spreading into the wastepaper below. The bag looked a little damp, revealing that it had been immersed until quite recently.
Kippie’s gaze now drifted from the desk to Sister Enid herself, looking for vital signs such as the gentle rise and fall off her chest. As she checked for any indication of a slight pulse on the side of Enid’s neck, Kippie noticed the thin black cables. They emerged from under Enid’s hair, running over her collarbones before joining together just above the silver and cobalt blue pendant that hung from her neck. The wire then snaked down her grey cardigan, across the left arm at the crease of the elbow, and then up to a small stereo sat on the window ledge.
Mary cleared her throat. “Ahem. Sister Enid?”
The old nun did not answer, but continued smiling peacefully. Kippie could now see her foot tapping under the desk at one hundred and twenty beats per minute, plus or minus a few. Mary frowned and waved her hand in front of Enid’s closed eyes, hoping to elicit some kind of response but got none. Seeing this, Kippie tapped her friend on the arm and pointed to the stereo.
Mary smiled and nodded. Placing her left index finger over her lips in a signal to stay quiet, Mary reached across Enid with the other hand and gripped the headphone lead as it left the stereo. She winked mischievously at Kippie and then gave the lead a quick tug.
The stereo speakers sprung to life with guitars, drums and a scream of: “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
Noticing the change in sound, Sister Enid opened her eyes. Spotting her visitors, she calmly and serenely reached over and hit the button to stop the CD, which obligingly span to a halt with a gentle whir.
“Rage Against the Machine,” she said nodding towards the stereo with a gentle smile. “Aren’t they wonderful?!”
Far from her original fear that the old nun had snuffed it, Kippie could see that Enid’s eyes sparkled with vitality. She may be over eighty years old but here was a woman who was in no hurry to shuffle off her mortal coil.
“Now girls,” she smiled warmly, “what can I do for you?”
Mary returned the smile. “This is WPC Evans, Sister Enid. She’d like some information from you.”
Enid’s eyes narrowed quickly. “I won that stereo in a raffle. That’s why I don’t have a receipt!”
“WPC Evans is a former pupil,” explained Mary. “She needs some information about Patrick Edwards.”
Enid cogitated for a moment. “That name rings a bell,” she nodded thoughtfully.
“He was a caretaker here,” Mary told her.
Kippie stepped in. Mary had laid the foundation but this was her investigation. “He retired about three years ago?”
The wrinkles across Enid’s brow changed configuration briefly and the sparkle in her eyes seemed to dim momentarily before flaring back to life with a vengeance. Her smile was like opening the blinds on a really sunny day.
“Oh, I remember Patrick!” she beamed. “Lovely man. Liked to be called Tricky or Ricky or something. Possible Dickie, like Sir Richard Attenborough.” She leant forward and winked. “Now, there’s a man I’d jump on if not for my vows of chastity. He’s yummy. Did you see him in…”
Kippie cleared her throat gently.
“…oh yes. Patrick. Where was I?” She sat back. “That’s right. I wouldn’t let him shorten his name. St Patrick was always my favourite, you see. Reminds me of when I was a girl in Galway.” She made a brisk movement with her hand. “I loved the way he drove those snakes into the sea.”
There was a faraway look in her eye for a moment, before she visibly drew her concentration back to her office. “That was St Patrick, of course!” she laughed. “Not our Patrick. No, we don’t have any snakes here.”
The words had barely left her mouth before she clamped it shut with her hand, turning wide-eyed to Mary. “I’m sorry, dear. I wasn’t thinking.”
Mary trembled slightly but managed a reassuring smile as Enid patted her hand. “That’s okay.”
Kippie’s heart-rate increased slightly. At last, she seemed to be getting somewhere. “Our last known address for him is the cottage here. Do you have any address on record for where he went after he left here?”
“Oh, I doubt it dear.” Enid told her, quite cheerful once more. “I’m afraid they’re not much interest to us once they’re gone. Especially the men. Sister Millicent makes sure of that.”
Kippie retrieved her notebook and pencil from its usual spot in her left breast pocket. “Any relatives that you’re aware of? Did he ever bring anyone to formal occasions, anything like that?”
“No. I don’t think so.” Sister Enid reached past her and pushed the door shut.
She leant forward and continued in tones bordering on conspiratorial. “To be honest, Patrick wasn’t all that popular round here.”
“Yeah,” Kippie nodded and glanced sideways at Mary. “So I gather.”
“I liked him, and I know Mary did too, as did Jo and a couple of the others. But the powers that be were never too happy with some of his, how can I put it, more secular pastimes. The marijuana thing was just the last straw. I think that Sister Millicent had been looking for an excuse and was glad to see the back on him.”
Sister Enid straightened and touched her forehead, belly, and each breast to make the sign of the cross. If Kippie wasn’t mistaken, Sister Enid’s expression had hardened slightly.
“Well, um, would any of the others have stayed in tough with him?” she pressed. “In your opinion?”
Enid considered this for a moment. “I shouldn’t think so, dear.” She stiffened. “At St Mildred’s, we don’t tend to associate with the likes of him, you see,” she added loudly.
Kippie could take a hint, even if she did not understand it. She put the pad and pencil back and took out a small business card, which she handed to Enid. “Thank you, Sister. If you think of anything that could help us find Patrick’s address, please be in touch.”
Sister Enid took the card and dropped it in her in-tray. “Of course. Always happy to help the police is St Mildred’s. Now, unless there’s anything else, my dears, I must ask you to go. Got exams to mark, you see.”
“Of course,” echoed Kippie. “Thank you for your time.”
She turned and opened the door, revealing Sister Millicent in all her icy glory.
“Got what we came for did we, Evil Evans?” the headmistress asked with poorly concealed venom.
“I think so,” Kippie told her. “Your staff have been very helpful to my enquiries.”
Sister Millicent glared from Sister Mary to Sister Enid, the latter of whom was now typing away industriously at her computer whilst humming the school hymn quietly. “Good. Then you’ll be happy to leave. Police uniforms do get the girls overexcited so. I do not like the girls getting excited.”
This was not news to Cerys Evans.