The Body in the Belfry
During her years spent in New York City, Faith Fairchild was convinced she had seen pretty much everything. But the transplanted caterer/minister's wife was unprepared for the surprises awaiting her in the sleepy Massachusetts village of Aleford. And she is especially taken aback by the dead body of a pretty young thing she discovers stashed in the church's belfry. The victim, Cindy Shepherd, was well-known locally for her acid tongue and her jilted beaux, which created a lot of bad blood and more than a few possible perpetrators -- including her luckless fianc�, who had neither an alibi nor a better way to break off the engagement. Faith thinks it's terribly unfair that the police have zeroed in on the hapless boyfriend, and so she sets out to uncover the truth. But digging too deeply into the sordid secrets of a small New England village tends to make the natives nervous. And an overly curious big city lady can become just another small town death statistic in very short order.
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January 15, 1990
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Excerpt from The Body in the Belfry by Katherine Hall Page
The Body in the Belfry
Faith Fairchild, recently of New York City, paused to catch her breath. Benjamin, her five-month-old son, was sound asleep, securely strapped to her chest in his Snugli. Her aching shoulder blades and the fact that she had been focusing on the worn path beneath her feet instead of the autumnal splendor to either side reminded Faith that Benjamin was definitely getting a bit too chunky for this mode of transportation. She straightened up and looked around.
It was New England with a vengeance: riotous orange and scarlet leaves beneath enormous, puffy white clouds suspended in a Kodacolor blue sky. A calendar maker's dream. And of course brisk, clean air as crisp as a bite of a McIntosh apple just off the tree.
Faith hated McIntosh apples.
She walked up the Belfry Hill path a bit farther to a small clearing, which gave her an unobstructed view of the Aleford village green far below. She sat down and sighed heavily.
Her life was becoming terribly quaint, Faith thought. Time was when "village" meant "the Village" and "town" was up or down. And when did she start using phrases like "time was"? She let another sigh escape into the pollution-free landscape and longed for a whiff of that heady combination of roasted chestnuts and exhaust fumes that meant autumn to her.
There wasn't even any litter in Aleford, she mused wistfully as she hummed a few bars of "Autumn in New York" softly to herself so as not to awaken Benjamin. Memories of the angry looks she used to hurl at offenders tossing candy bar wrappers on the sidewalk were conveniently pushed to a far corner of her mind, a corner somewhere near Lexington and 59th Street.
She stared fixedly at the green--so very green and like a tablecloth spread out for a tidy picnic. She blinked and wondered, not by any means for the first time, how Fate could have plucked her from her native shores and placed her in this strange, wholesome land.
But then Fate had nothing to do with it. It was plain old love and not a little of plain old sex. All in the seductive shape of Thomas Fairchild, a New Englander born and bred, and, to make matters worse, a minister.
For Faith, the daughter and grandaughter of men of the cloth, who had sworn all her life to avoid that particular fabric, was the village parson's wife. It had been and was a terrific surprise. Not at all what she had had in mind for her life.
Benjamin gave a tiny burp and Faith welcomed the slightly sour, milky baby smell that, delighted as she waswith her infant, she knew only a mother could love. She stroked his soft cheek and cooed, "You sweet boy, you."
Hitching him up farther on her chest to a possibly more comfortable position she added, "My darling benign little growth." Faith was fond of outrageous endearments and the Snugli always reminded her of those trees with the bulges growing to one side, so obviously not a part of the original trunk.
A trunk in Faith's case more like a sapling's. Faith was as slender now as she had always been, despite a pregnancy punctuated by voracious cravings for H&H bagels with Zabar's herring salad, which her mother kindly supplied. Her mother had also supplied Faith's big blue eyes. Her father's family was responsible for the blond hair, which she wore in a blunt cut that just touched her shoulders. She was neither tall nor short. In fact she looked like a lot of other women, and people had a tendency to greet her warmly in the street, only realizing that she wasn't "Nancy" or "Jill" when they were actually face to face. But when they were, they always looked twice--an act that had never displeased Faith. Just now the despised New England air had given her complexion a rosy glow, which matched Benjamin's, and she looked beautiful.
Faith frowned and resumed her climb. She was annoyed with herself, all these Victorian sighs. But it was hard not to think about what was wrong, and she was drawn to her misgivings just as one's tongue irresistibly searches out the sore place in one's mouth to see whether it still hurts and of course it always does.
I have everything anyone could possibly want, she told herself sternly. A darling baby who sleeps through the night; a wonderful husband who fortunately doesn't. Good food, good health, and a pretty little house, maybe a mite too much like an illustration for Mosses from anOld Manse, but as parsonages go, a jewel. No damp and plenty of working appliances.
This wasn't a question of physical well-being. She had never felt better in her life. This was a mental sore spot. And the worst possible kind. She was bored. And not only bored, but homesick.
The parish, as well as the whole town, had welcomed her warmly, but there were few women her age who weren't working and those were busy with hearth and home. Faith was pretty busy with these things herself. Benjamin took up more time than she would have believed possible for one small infant. She didn't begrudge it, but at the same time he wasn't exactly a scintillating conversationalist. Tom was around more than many other husbands--the parish office was in the church, which was in turn a mere stone's throw away from the parsonage, if one had been inclined to throw stones at the church, that is, and Faith had not reached that point.
She wasn't actually unhappy, she told herself. Yet there was an insistent, insidious whisper murmuring in the porches of her ears that nothing had ever happened in Aleford, at least not since 1775, and that nothing ever would. Especially to Faith.
She stood up and shook a mental finger at her pathetic weaker self. The whole thing was absurd. Things didn't just happen, one made them happen. Sure, it was easier in New York, but she had to start looking at Aleford as a challenge.
Her steps assumed a firmer character and she realized she was almost at her destination, the top of Belfry Hill and the reconstruction of the original belfry erected for the Bicentennial. Inside the wooden structure, which looked like the top of an old schoolhouse without the bottom, was the reconstructed original bell. The bell that had sounded the call to arms on that momentous April morning. Now it was solemnly tolled for only three occasions:the death of a president; the death of a descendent of one of the original Aleford settlers; and the alarum for the Patriot's Day reenactment of the skirmish. A very serious bell.
While all of this was of mild, and possibly even mildly increasing, interest to her the longer she lived in Aleford, Faith was not on a historical pilgrimage. She was headed for one of the benches inside the belfry that the town fathers and mothers had thoughtfully provided for weary tourists. The benches were solid and had supported the Bicentennial hordes without a crack. Now they were used by occasional visitors, but more frequently by the inhabitants of Aleford. Faith liked to sit and eat her lunch here while gazing out the doorway to the town below. From the hilltop, the church, with its tall white steeple surrounded by prim clapboard houses and brick sidewalks, reminded her of those tiny wooden villages in gold mesh bags she and her sister, Hope, used to get in their Christmas stockings.
Today she had one of her favorite sandwiches tucked in the pocket of her Girbaud jeans--a pan bagna with ripe tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, tuna, and a little olive oil on her own homemade bread. She felt more cheerful just thinking about it and as for the sighs--the ennui, the restlessness, the lack of someone to give her a really good haircut--well, she would just have to cope.
Besides, there simply wasn't any choice. Some people wore their hearts on their sleeves. Tom Fairchild wore his on his face and Faith had only to picture this charming visage with the slightly off-center nose to know that there was no place he might go to which she wouldn't happily go along. She might be homesick, but there wasn't a blessed thing she could do about it.
Blessed? When had she stopped swearing? She sighed before she could help herself and continued up the steep path.
Faith Fairchild, n�e Sibley, had not only been bred in Manhattan, but born there. Faith's mother, a capable and beautiful woman with the deceptively simple name of Jane, was descended from several of New York's old families, the branches of the tree heavily weighted with Stuyvesants and Van Rensselaers. She had married an impoverished divinity school student on a sudden uncharacteristic romantic impulse and accepted the role of minister's wife, but gently and firmly refused to leave the city. It would have been impossible to consider giving up its many amenities--Carnegie Hall, the MOMA, the Metropolitan, Bergdorf's and Balducci's--even for God's work. Jane was sure there was plenty for God, through Lawrence Sibley, to do in New York and no doubt she was right.
Jane Sibley was a real estate lawyer specializing in litigation involving new construction, of which there seemed to be ever increasing amounts in the city.
When Faith, and then Hope, one year younger, were born, Jane had stopped working briefly before firmly putting her little Frizon-clad feet back into place. There were no more babies after Hope, which Faith attributed in part to her mother's understandable aversion to the name "Charity," "Chat" for short. The first three girls in generations of Sibley families were always named "Faith," "Hope," and "Charity," after a pious ancestral trio. Boys were named "Lawrence" or "Theodore," nothing for short, after equally distant kinsmen.
Faith's father, a Lawrence, grew up in New Jersey, virtually another country for Jane, who was raised in solitary splendor, or rather "comfort," high above Fifth Avenue. She still felt more wary about crossing the Hudson than the Atlantic.
Lawrence settled into life in New York City, his adaptation perhaps hastened by the winds of change that swept away the old farms surrounding his father'schurch. The rolling meadows and gentle-faced cows, which had been his boyhood neighbors, were replaced by shopping malls and parking lots. In New York, he told himself, you knew where you were and no one, not even Donald Trump, would ever think of blacktopping Central Park.
As Faith and Hope grew older they were allowed to roam around the city on their own--a very carefully circumscribed part of the city, that is. They walked from their apartment to school--Dalton, and to various lessons at which they did not show any genius, but did not disgrace themselves either.
College followed Dalton as night the day. Both Faith and Hope returned to the city immediately afterward, but there the resemblance stopped.
Hope, when her turn came, burst meteorically upon the skyline and landed a terrific job at Citibank, began to dress for success, and bought a Bottega Veneta briefcase. Faith was still busy wondering what to do.
But when Faith finally hit upon her life's work, it satisfied her every requirement. No one at home would like it much and no one at home could do it. She was amazed that it hadn't occurred to her before.
Faith had always loved to cook, and from the time she was a little girl would happily mess about the kitchen inventing surprisingly good things to eat whenever her mother would let her. Now she started quietly taking advanced culinary courses, coming home a bit befloured and flushed from the hot kitchens. As no one asked where she was spending her days, she didn't say.
Later she went to work for one of the city's top caterers at a ridiculously low salary and started to dream of Japanese vegetable flowers and salmon coulibiac. At this point the family knew she was doing something with food, but assumed it was a hobby.
When Faith announced she was dipping into the small but adequate trust fund set up by her grandfather, "and mine own" she reminded them, to start a catering business, they were amazed. However, nothing daunted, she went forward and Have Faith was born. The rest is history, culinary and cultural. As soon as the initial confusion over the name was straightened out--people thought she was a new cult, an escort service for the guilt ridden, or, worst of all, a food service specializing in lenten fare--New Yorkers were vying for her services and she was a year ahead in her bookings. The fact that she had been at their parties as a guest added to the image. Now she supplied not only her beautiful self, but her beautiful food.
By the time Faith met Tom at a wedding she was catering, she had been featured in Gourmet, New York Magazine, and the Times.
Thomas Fairchild was in town to perform the ceremony for his college roommate. Tom had grown up in Massachusetts on the South Shore. His family was not particularly religious. They went to church every Sunday and the four little Fairchilds regarded it in much the same light as the invariable Sunday dinner that followed, or as playing baseball in the town league or doing well in school. This is what the Fairchilds did. Not with a lot of show, but solid and steady. This was what life was all about. The family had lived in the area for generations and Tom's father's business, Fairchild's Real Estate, had several counterparts: Fairchild's Ford in nearby Duxbury (Tom's uncle) and Fairchild's Market in town (Tom's grandfather and another uncle).
The wedding was a small one in an apartment overlooking Central Park, and if Faith had divined the past and present of the man hovering over the buffet when she went to check on the supply of saucisson en brioche,she might have approached with a little trepidation. As it was, all she saw was a terribly attractive, tall, handsome stranger. Always good qualifications. She liked his reddish-brown hair and figured she could get rid of the straggly mustache once she got to know him better. Nobody told her he was the minister and nobody told him she was the caterer. They started to talk.
They were still talking several hours later, huddled under blankets against the February cold, riding in one of those tacky, impossibly romantic horse-drawn carriages around Central Park. If Faith gave an embarrassed thought to what her friends would say if they could see her in one of these, it quickly vanished in the moonlight.
And there was a lot of moonlight.
The mustache came off the next day.
Tom gave Faith the Fairchild engagement ring, a tiny little diamond, when she came to visit him two weeks later. It was so sweet Faith thought she would cry. She made a mental note not to wear the more noticeable stone her grandparents had given her for her twenty-first birthday until they had been married a couple of months.
Then as he slipped the ring on her finger she realized with a start that she was not going to have her cake and eat it too. The cake being Tom and it, New York City. Not just Have Faith, but her cozy little apartment on the West Side, the first place all her own, and a social life that could be as dazzling as she chose. She also knew from experience that parish life was a goldfish bowl, however holy the water. Tom had told her the ministry wasn't like this anymore and she could behave as she wished.
He was a dear, of course, but Faith knew better.
Then in church the next morning she had subtly scrutinizedthe congregation and come to the conclusion that they looked like ordinary God-fearing souls who would mind their own business and let her mind hers. She wanted to believe. Later Faith and Tom, recalling this optimistic moment, had dissolved in tears of laughter, and other things too.
After the quick study of her fellow worshippers, she had turned her attention to Tom, who was stepping into the pulpit. His sermon was filled with common sense and occasional poetry. She got a lump in her throat and her heart was filled with nonsinful pride. She felt devoutly thankful. Thankful for Tom and thankful she had managed to find him.
She knew, she told herself that night in her bed back in New York, if it hadn't been Aleford, it would have been someplace very like it. Tom found it puzzling that she could even consider living in New York City. Nor would he raise a family there. Faith had often found this true of people who didn't live in the city. Very intelligent people, too. Surely they knew when one told them one had been born and raised in New York that that meant one had spent one's childhood there, and lived to tell the tale; but they continued to speak as though Manhattan and the five boroughs were inhabited only by adults.
In Tom's view, Faith and Hope were somehow exceptions. No other children had ever been raised there.
Another thing Tom was firm about was not using any of Faith's trust fund. He considered that it was for Faith's future (read lonely old age, widowed at ninety) and the children's. It wasn't that Tom didn't like money and what it could buy. He was as pleasantly hedonistic as the next parson--or lawyer or firefighter or anyone else. And he was happy for Faith to work and bring home "beaucoup de bacon." A sophomore year inFrance had left him fluent, permanently in love with the country, and prone to such expressions.
Faith agreed with him about the money--up to a point. She had replaced what she had initially withdrawn with Have Faith's profits and was happy to have the fund merrily accumulating "beaucoup de interest."
As for the trust, she decided to let the matter lie for the time being. Certainly they would educate their children well and then the darlings were on their own.
She had no intention of a frugal old age trying to make ends meet on a parish pension when her arms were no longer capable of beating egg whites in her copper bowl. The trust fund could make those golden years a little more golden, preferably somewhere sunny like Provence. But it was not something that concerned her now. She figured she had years ahead to convince Tom.
Meanwhile the only exception she was quite firm about was clothes. Faith could not see herself in Filene's Basement beating other women over the heads for a skirt from Saks that no one had wanted to buy in the first place; nor was she about to plug in a Singer and start running up tea gowns. No, she would pay for her own clothes and Tom, blissfully ignorant of what a little black dress cost these days, gracefully acceded. She would also be allowed to give him an occasional present, and it was her fervent hope to wean him away from Brooks and a little closer to Armani. Tom was heir to the Yankee pride in the longevity of one's wardrobe. He would gleefully point out articles of clothing from days gone by that Faith would have donated to charity years ago.
Now more than a year and a half later as the Tavern on the Green faded into the grass of the village green, she had Tom. And she had a baby.
Said baby wriggled against her and she felt inexplicablyhappy. So I'll get the business going again and meanwhile what better way to spend one's time than sitting with this lovely little brown-eyed bundle, she told herself.
Faith had reached the end of her journey and turned to enter the belfry. The doorway was low and she had to duck slightly. Sitting down, she reached into her pocket for the sandwich and put it on the bench beside her, while she started to unloosen the straps of the Snugli.
That was when she realized she wasn't alone.
In the dim light inside, she had not noticed that the bench against the other wall was occupied. Whoever it was was awkwardly slumped over in sleep. Faith stood up to leave. She would eat outside. Benjamin could be waking up any moment and would no doubt disturb him or her. Benj was not an easy waker and protested the abruptness of the transition from sweet dreams to rude awakenings with a particularly lusty cry. She took a step closer to the other bench as she went out and all at once several things became abundantly clear.
First, it wasn't a stranger. It was Cindy Shepherd, a member of the parish and in fact, President of the Young People's Club.
Second, Benjamin wouldn't disturb her. She was not sleeping. She was dead.
At least Faith assumed she was, since there was a kitchen knife sticking out of her motionless rib cage.
A kitchen knife that also impaled a single pink rose.
Having taken in all these details with the precision of a slow-motion camera, Faith suddenly covered Benjamin's already closed eyes with her hand while she moved quickly to the center of the belfry.
A murder had occurred and that meant a murderer. There was only one thing to do.
Faith grabbed the bell rope, pulled with all her might, and sounded the alarum.
THE BODY IN THE BELFRY. Copyright (c) 1990 by Katherine Hall Page. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.