One day, he was helping her with the EU paperwork and they happened to get
onto what the land the nuns owned was actually worth.
“What do you mean what’s it worth?” asked Mr. Simbold.
“Well, the whole thing, I suppose. The farm, the house, the guesthouse, the
chapel...the whole place,” replied Sister Quiteria.
“Isn’t that a bit of an earthly question?” teased Mr. Simbold.
“Well, it’s a practical question,” said Sister Quiteria. “You know we may have to sell
or move some time.”
“Really?” said Mr. Simbold. “Surely not in the immediate future?”
“Well, it’s no secret,” said Sister Quiteria, “that we sometimes have a lot of difficulty
breaking even and that we rely in no small part on the sale of Mother Rosalinda’s
“But surely that’s very cynical? Not very Godly?”
“I know what you’re saying, Mr. Simbold,” she said, “but it’s up to God when he
takes each of us and I’m sure God would want us to plan for the future. If he
literally told us what to do all the time. there’d be no part for us to play, would
“I suppose not.”
“Of course the Mother House would help us out if it turned out we hit a sudden
financial shortfall—that is after all how we moved here in the first place...but
nevertheless, we do have to think if staying here is the best way to pursue our
“I think it is,” said Mr. Simbold.
“That’s because it’s convenient for you,” said Sister Quiteria. Mr. Simbold thought
this slightly rude. She continued. “I don’t mean that in a nasty way. We all seek out
what is easy. It is a beautiful and historical place here, but you must remember we
didn’t go into a Convent in order to own things, including the buildings themselves.”
Mr. Simbold gave her a look as if to say, “Are you having me on?”
Sister Quiteria gave Mr. Simbold a look as if to say, “Don’t be stupid. I’m a nun.”
“All I’m asking is...could you make some enquiries?”
“About potentially selling the building and grounds and what it would be worth on
the open market. I know it may seem an odd request, but Mother Rosalinda would
be very grateful. The thing is, you see, we don’t want to start a rumour in the
village or in the press...so things need to be tackled with some tact and diplomacy.”
“And you think I have those qualities?” said Mr. Simbold.
“Well, you are a politician. Aren’t you supposed to have them?” said Sister
Quiteria. “And you are a solicitor, so technically you’d know the paperwork if and
when we decide to sell.”
“Well, you can sell without a solicitor these days,” said Mr. Simbold. “What you can’
t do is sell without publicity. The moment you go to an estate agent, people will
know it’s on the market.”
Sister Quiteria smiled. “We may not be planning to sell the place to just any
bidder. We may already have another buyer in mind...another religious
community. With more members. The question then is knowing a fair price. In
which case we’d need someone to give us a fair valuation and to arrange
exchange of contracts. In my experience, a lot of things that seem complicated can
be made much simpler...so long as you have the right kind of help. Can’t they?”
“I suppose so,” said Mr. Simbold.
“Just keep it under your hat a bit. And we’ll keep things…”
“Beneath your veils?”
“Exactly. Now then, tea?”
Just then Father Baines ran into the room without knocking. Mr. Simbold was
pissed off. Baines had only just gone back out in the fields instead of hanging
round the shop skiving and moaning how he was better than the manure that
covered his boots. Mr. Simbold was about to remonstrate with him for not knocking
when he looked at him again. He was muddy top to bottom—he had obviously
fallen over. There was blood down his arm...but his coat was not torn. It was not
his blood. He was whiter than expected, even in the cutting wind outside.
“Come quick!” he shouted. “And call an ambulance.”
Somewhere on the Kent coast is a community of nuns whose
Mother Superior is obsessed by her paintings, but as her career
as an artist improves to previously unanticipated successes so
she slowly succumbs to cancer, creating a strange power vacuum
in the order. Then other nuns start to die in expected but
plausible, horrific farming accidents. Detective Inspector Vail is
bewildered despite many hours of reading the ACPO manual that
invites him to "Think MURDER".
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