It happened one November night in the town of Bury St. Edmunds. From Hardwick Heath to the Tollgate, from Eastgate street to Gibraltar Barracks the snow lay soft as make up on the cheek of a bride; the streets shone with the glory of their magical veil.
Constable Bull was feeling very pleased with himself. He had been passing the Rose & Crown when he was invited in for just a pint or two of “community policing”. Well just a few pints, friendly like, while discussing the that matter of the stolen charity box. He had successfully apprehended the villain redheaded; well they more or less ran in to him. His reaction slamming him in to the wall of the Elephant and Castle was pure policeman’s instinct. Left a fair old dent in the sign that reads “no chip shop parking”, that his noggin did!
For this swift deed the lock-in had declared him a hero and “what policing needs”, and the Royal British Legion would doubtless be pleased that the poppy money would be returned to them. So to turn down a pint was impossible Constable Bull didn’t customarily drink on duty, for Duty was everything to him, but tonight duty demanded eight pints were downed even if he was in uniform.
He was pleased that he had a little tipple for the snow was still gently pattering down across town and the Traverse would be treacherous to traverse, so he chained up his bike (so many villains about these days) and rolled unsteadily out in to the bright night of moon varnished snow.
He was just a little unsteady after eight pints, and weaved unsteadily up Whiting Street, veering from kerb to kerb. He almost fell into the narrow lane that leads up passed the 6th Bury Scout Hut, but caught his footing and staggered on up by Model Junction to the Corn Exchange. Pausing outside England’s smallest pub, The Nutshell he slipped sideways and gravity bore him gently down Abbeygate Street.
It was just as he slid in to Angel Hill that he realised that he was alone in town this evening. Almost always late-night revellers like himself could be found winding their weary way home, but not tonight. As one who was lawfully employed about the business of the law he should not be sozzled tonight so the absence of a cloud of witnesses struck kim as a blessing.
It was at that moment that contrary to all normal custom his police radio crackled to life. Of course he had only had a few drinks, but being on duty they might not see it his way. And since he recovered the stolen money the lads at the station had been calling him “ a hero” but not in a nice way. They were just teasing him suggesting, that maybe he was taking policing a little bit too far by actually apprehending villains? Inspector Harris called him Judge Dredd and he was not entirely wrong at this moment Constable Bull felt positively invincible, but that could be nothing more than the beer. Meanwhile the radio shrilled and he staggered over to the illuminated sign and responded.
Grabbing at the radio he muttered a few words trying to keep it brief. He had no desire to reveal how much he’d taken on. Just Brenda, trying not to laugh as she relayed the task. ‘A member of the public’ (nutcase) had seen something. He thought he misheard the mild mannered telephone operator. No, the call was clear. Someone had claimed to have see a puma or a panther or some such creature lolloping down past the Dog and Partridge and heading across Chequer Square. He was to take a quick look then head straight to the station: the Inspector wanted a brief word.
A giant cat in Bury? What nonsense! Of course, he’d read about the supposed big cat in Flempton. And Eriswell, West Stow and Lackford actually – but such critters lived in Thetford Forest. He’d be as likely to meet Black Shuck himself as meet a panther in Brentgovel Street. What would they eat?
Still he was more than capable of checking this out. And so he turned his footsteps towards Athenaeum Lane, thinking that perhaps he should just back to the station and get have a coffee. Inspector will never notice if he gets a coffee and a couple of polos. He decided to head straight back, ignoring the stray kitty, by the Norman Tower and through the Great Churchyard.
As he walked passed the martyrs monument he glanced at the higgledy piggledy tombstones gorgeous in their moonlit shroud of ice. And then a bench, sheltered by a tree and clear of snow. He sat for a moment to collect his thoughts, and startled awake as a voice cried out close by…
It sounds like German. “Godne æfen!” Bull leapt to his feet, and peered around yelling “what you up to there boy. Who are you, are you lost?”
At that moment he suddenly noticed the great silvery dog, watching him, with a somewhat cocky look. Looking straight at him with great blazing eyes, a rather shaggy wolf like Alsatian. Big enough to be a threat even to a well built constable? Probably. He stepped back and almost fell over a grave and just for a moment he shivered. There was something unquestionably Lupine about this animal.
The wolf (for such it was) finally tired of this. “Salve! Me adiuvāre potes?” the wolf politely enquired.
Constable Bull did not know whether to reply or not. The hallucination was talking to him. Why he swore it was as if it was the very dog speaking? “I don’t speak Latin!” he mumbled apologetically, and immediately felt ridiculous.
His eye alighted on a memorial plaque on the wall of the charnel house “Sacred to the memory of Henry Cockton, author of Valentine Vox…” A Victorian comic novel about a ventriloquist, he did not – of course. Ventriloquism. Not talking dogs!
He would lure the joker out by playing along. “What you doing running around the graveyard at this time of night doggy, where’s your master?”
The wolf looked at him with the look one gives to imbecilic humans deficient in all civilised manners, concentrated hard, and blinked. Then it sat up, put its forepaws together and bowed it great hairy head, jaws trembling in pious prayer.
PC Bull had just started to tiptoe away when the wolf looked up and called out “Ah the Gift of Tongues! Xenolalia and Glossophalia!”
“I’m afraid I am not musical either. And I have no idea what you’re on about” replied the bewildered police officer. He sat down heavily on the bench. The cold air would soon sober him up?
There was suddenly a strong and pleasing aroma of violets. It is not exactly what you associate with wolves. You expect really them to have more breath that smells of Pedigree Chum. The night grew ever stranger.
“Who taught you to talk?” asked our hero, still peering in to the gloom waiting for the joker to reveal itself. In response the wolf padded over and held out a paw. Instinctively Bull shook hands, and then felt the warm rough tongue of the wolf as it licked him on the nose.
“You’re cold man. You need to be warm. We need to get you hot bread.”
The Constable laughed. “Oh, I’m all right, just for now. I always imagined wolves to be less, er, parental? You hungry?”
“I caught a partridge earlier; I could share a bit.” The wolf had now adopted an accent that was a little like the actor Peter Bowles, and that made it all the more terrifying.
Bull winced. “No, that’s okay. I think I’ll wait till breakfast when the cafe will be open” said the policeman, suddenly very sober indeed.
“Hmm, very well, if you are quite sure then we can proceed”.
“How can I help you sir?”
“Oh, that’s quite simple. It’s not me you could help. It’s my master. He’s lost something we need to find so that he can be about his business.”
“Your master I assume is a loquacious hedgehog? An opera singing sparrow?” PC Bull giggled at his own joke. Not sober yet.
The wolf decided against descending upon him like an Assyrian on the pull or whatever Byron’s phrase was: truth be told he had shamefully neglected reading the romantic poets. Instead of tearing apart the drunk cop he decided to stick with the facts.
“No, he is a saint.”
“I am sure he is very kind to you…”
The wolf sighed. “He’s called Edmund. This is his day, November 20th, or will be when the sun dawns. He was once interred in a golden shrine here, thanks i must note in part to my efforts in Hæglusdun wood. To be martyred by Danes is one thing, but that fox was going to make a snack of his head. I showed him!”
The wolf fluffed up with pride, provoking a shudder from the PC.
“Anyway Edmund’s relics survived a fire at the shrine, but then a bunch of sacreligious heathens who they called reformers…”
“Steady on! My great Aunt Caroline was a Garland Street Baptist!”
“Wrecked the abbey. And tragically while his bones were taken to France, his head was secretly interred here at the Abbey l, hidden by the heroic monks. They thought they were doing it for the best. Of course, it is somewhat inconvenient “
“I see and you’re saying that your Masters head is over there?” Bull waved a hand towards the West Front and the Abbey ruins. “And the rest of him is in France?”
“No, he standing behind you” the wolf dramatically raised a paw and pointed. Constable Bull turned his head and looked behind and to his utter horror saw looming over him a handsome young man, dressed in royal robes: a young man minus his head.
The glorious saint held out a pale and delicate hand to bless the frightened police officer. But all Bull could do was stare at the red mark where his neck ended. Instinct cut in and he bowed. “Pleased to meet you your royal highness.”
“He can’t talk” said the wolf. “He doesn’t have a head and he is technically in France and here; it is called bilocation. Have you never heard of it? I see not! Oh, that’s a shame — there’s also multiplication of relics. But that requires one to have the original to start with. If only we had his head, or could lay our paws on it, Edmund could have many heads as his cultus require. At least I understand that was the theory. I’ve never seen this achieved in practice.”
Constable Bull stood up and thoughtfully went to relieve himself behind a tree. In mist company this would normally cause him considerable embarrassment but both saint and wolf seemed utterly unbothered.
“So, what must we do?” he said on his return.
“That’s the spirit” said the wolf. “Acquire digging implements, then proceed to the burial spot, about two hundred paces east of the High Altar. Tough ground, my paws never made a mark in it.” The wolf winced at the thought.
And so it was that the wolf, the glorious king and martyr (murdered by pagan Danes in 870), and PC Bull set out to the West Front, and accidentally awoke Mrs W as they ransacked her toolshed in one of the most audacious burglaries ever conducted in this fair borough.
If only she and young Jemima Fletcher had been asleep; but the crash caused by PC Bull putting his foot threw the cucumber frame as he slung his not insignificant bulk over the wall drew both to their windows. Alas! The bright moonlight showed only the wobblesome arse of the PC with pickaxe on shoulder as he hurried away.
And so they came to the tennis courts, and the hard labour began. PC Bull finally broke the tarmac, and a good deal of effort later he was up to his neck in a deep pit, assisted by the furious scrabbling of the wolf.
“Think anyone heard us?”
The wolf stopped tongue lolling from his jaws. “No – and if they did, Edmund can deal with them like he did with Canute.”
Our hero decided not to ask and reveal his ignorance. He vaguely recalled saints could be quite irritable, though Edmund seemed a very nice young chap, all things considered.
Suddenly the pickaxe struck metal. A glint of gold, and the trio as one triumphantly plucked the reliquary from the soil. Edmund fumbled in excitement, and placed a head of golden curls still surmounted by a silver crown on his handsome shoulders: not a mark showed the join. “Film star looks” mused Bull to himself, and then gasped in shock as the saint carelessly hurled the empty golden casket in to the River Linnet.
“Thanks awfully” drawled the boy saint, “sincerely, much obliged, and just in time” and as he spoke PC Bull became uncomfortably aware of voices approaching. “Sun will rise soon – but I will intercede for you.”
And with that Edmund and the wolf quietly departed like ghosts at cock crow, even as Inspector Harris and Sergeant Southgate appeared at the edge of the pit. “You’re nicked… Bull?!?”
And those was how my friend John left the police, and became a lollipop man. And very happy he is, helping children cross the road, and from that day to this he has never touched a drop. And every November 29th he lights a candle for our towns saint, then drives to Stansted and catches a flight somewhere with a beach, in some heathen place where men have never heard of St. Edmund’s Day.
And that I am afraid is it: but you owe me a pint in the Bushel, and may good Edmund watch over you all…