by Ruth Dudley Edwards
This story was originally written as a party piece for the Magna Cum Murder conference some years ago, and to the author’s surprise it ended up in the Oxford Book of Detective Stories.
“Can it be Father Brown?”
The little black-clad figure sitting in the hotel foyer nodded.
“My God,” said the Magna Cum Murder fan. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t quite know,” said Father Brown. “It is a mystery or a miracle. Two very different ideas, but they are of course in their spiritual essence and simplicity essentially the same.”
“I can see you haven’t changed,” said the fan. “I never did understand what you were driving at.”
“That is because the truth so often makes little sense.”
“Yes, yes,” said the fan hastily, “but metaphysics apart, is there a rational reason for you being in Muncie?”
“Metaphysics and reason are supremely rational.”
The fan was beginning to shift restlessly, when a whirlwind arrived, scooped the little priest into her arms and cried, “Kathryn Kennison, Father. I just knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
The fan nodded. “Now I understand. I have heard of this from other guests. You find yourself in Muncie without having any real idea why you’re here, except that Kathryn Kennison seduced you over the phone?”
“Perhaps seduction is a concept which…” began Father Brown, as Kathryn Kennison replaced him tenderly in his chair and bounded away to embrace another arrival–
“…is inappropriate when applied to a priest?” interjected the fan.
“Alas, my son, that is not the case. Are priests’ gods that they cannot be seduced?”
“Yes, but I had thought such talk distasteful to a priest of your generation. You knew nothing of sexual scandals of the kind which grip the ecclesiastical world these days.”
The little head shook. “You never understood, did you? Spending so much of my life in the confessional box, I knew all the sins of the world. Who better than a priest knows the secrets of the human soul?”
“So you’re unshockable?”
“No, I am not. That delightful young woman understood that, which is why she asked me to come here to solve the Bobbit case.”
The fan clutched his head. “The Bobbit case?” he asked wildly. “The John Wayne Bobbit case? What is there to solve about the Bobbit case?”
“Everything in the world and nothing in the world,” said Father Brown simply, as he picked up his umbrella and glided away towards the lift. “But the good God may help me to reveal the truth at lunchtime on Saturday.”
“So what happened?” asked the fan’s wife when he rang her on Saturday evening to report. “What did he say?”
“That Lorena didn’t do it.”
“Father Brown did it?
“No, silly. Bobbit did it.”
The fan’s wife’s incredulity rendered her momentarily incapable of speech. “Why would he cut off his own…?”
“Because he wanted to be rich and famous.”
“So why didn’t he admit he’d done it?”
“Because he would have got a bad press. It isn’t something with which one should collude.”
The fan paused to consult his notes. “Remember Deuteronomy? ‘He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord’ Even in this secular age, Father Brown points out, men believe emasculation renders them outcasts. Therefore they can’t admit to “out-casting” themselves, as it were.”
The fan’s wife, who had little patience with her husband’s hobby, raised her voice. “You’ve brought this crazy idea, you schmuck? Why did Lorena admit to it, then? Not to speak of driving wildly round the country with the missing part.”
“She thought she’d done it, you see. Apparently, she’s very, very absent-minded, she’d had a few drinks and when Bobbit shouted. “Look what you did, call the hospital!” she panicked and made off with the evidence.”
“I cannot believe,” said his wife grimly, “that even you, whose brains are addled with mystery stories, should have been taken in like this by a man of 140 in a dog-collar.”
“It must be true,” said the fan simply. “Fictional detectives are always right.”
The fan’s wife spoke very slowly, through gritted teeth. “You mean that because Father Brown doesn’t really exist, his explanation is correct?”
“Exactly,” said the fan. “That’s metaphysics.”
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