Simon Brett

Mrs. Pargeter's Pound of Flesh

Chapter One

‘Eleven stone three pounds.’ There was only a hint of intonation in the girl’s voice as the digital display of the weighing machine settled. It was an intonation that could have inspired guilt and the resolve to slim in a susceptible person.

Mrs Pargeter was not such a person. ‘Yes, that’s about right,’ she said comfortably in her cockney-tinged accent as she stepped off the platform.

‘There are a few other measurements we take for all new arrivals at Brotherton Hall,’ the white-uniformed girl, whose plastic name-badge identified her as ‘Lindy Galton’, recited from a much-repeated script. ‘Bust, waist, hips, obviously, and height…’

‘Why, you haven’t got any treatment that can change people’s height, have you?’ asked Mrs Pargeter curiously.

The girl coloured. ‘Well, no…’

‘Good. Because the only ones I’ve heard of to do that are decapitation and the rack, and I don’t think either is a recommended health spa practice, is it?’

Lindy Galton looked at the older woman uncertainly. She wasn’t used to such behaviour from new arrivals. Plenty of them made nervous jokes about their outlines or proportions as they mounted the scales, but few demonstrated this kind of comfortable good humour. And few, come to that, accepted with such equanimity the confirmation that they were overweight. By definition, most arrivals at a health spa are dissatisfied with their bodies; yet this new woman, this plump and white-haired Mrs Pargeter, seemed to inhabit hers with tranquillity and even delight.

The friend, though, a frizzy natural blonde in her late forties, who was even now stripping off her Brotherton Hall towelling gown to step on to the scales, reacted in a much more traditional way. ‘I’m afraid there’s rather a lot of me,’ she giggled as she shook off her flip-flops. ‘Mrs Cellulite, my oldest daughter calls me.’

This woman, ‘Kim Thurrock’ according to the details on Lindy Galton’s clipboard, had a much less serious weight problem than her friend, but it worried her a lot more. Abstractedly, Lindy noted a roll of fat above the knicker line, some flabbiness in the thighs and upper arms, but no worse than on the average female body that has survived forty-eight years and borne three children. Lindy spent her working life looking at such bodies and had never been judgemental about them, even though few compared to her own finely tuned and finely toned instrument.

The health spa — latest incarnation of many for the splendid eighteenth-century Brotherton Hall — only accepted female ‘guests’. And the owner of Brotherton Hall, Mr Arkwright, insisted that all his female staff had perfect bodies. This was not for his own benefit — Mr Arkwright was punctiliously correct in such matters, never guilty of the mildest verbal sexism or ambiguous pat on a passing buttock — it was simply a marketing ploy.

Mr Arkwright knew he ran a business founded on guilt and envy; and he knew that the perfect physical condition of his female staff was bound to stimulate both in his customers, leading them to spend more time and money in pursuit of comparable excellence. Mr Arkwright had been called many things in his varied career, but never a fool.

Mrs Pargeter looked at her friend, giggling self-consciously on the platform. Even though nearly twenty years her senior, Mrs Pargeter had always felt a great affinity to Kim. The younger woman’s husband, known universally as ‘Thicko’ Thurrock, had been an associate of the late Mr Pargeter, and the two women had met frequently at functions connected with the business.

Mrs Pargeter spent a lot of time at the Thurrocks’ tiny house in Catford. Contentedly childless herself, she had taken great interest in the arrival and development of the Thurrocks’ three daughters, and was always enthusiastically welcomed at the house by the family’s poodles. She had found Kim’s company and sympathy invaluable when Mr Pargeter died.

There had always been a bond of willing obligation between the two women, and so when Kim Thurrock let slip the fact that she was worried about her weight, Mrs Pargeter had been only too happy to fix up the three days at Brotherton Hall.

She had also been fully prepared to fund the visit. The late Mr Pargeter had left his widow lavishly provided for, and she was always happy to help out a friend in less comfortable circumstances.

As it transpired, however, payment at Brotherton Hall was not required. Mr Arkwright (known at earlier stages of his career as Ankle-Deep’ Arkwright from the habit of dipping his toe into a great variety of endeavours) was another associate of the late Mr Pargeter and, once he had recovered from his delight at hearing from his former boss’s widow and understood her request, would not hear of — indeed, was deeply offended by the suggestion of — any money changing hands.

‘After all your husband done for me, Mrs P,’ (in moments of emotion the manicured syntax with which he greeted visitors to Brotherton Hall might occasionally lapse), ‘it’s the very least I could do for you. Stay a week, stay a fortnight, stay a month, bring all the friends you’ve got! Be my pleasure to look after you.’

So once again Mrs Pargeter had had reason to be grateful for the late Mr Pargeter’s most precious legacy — his address-book, a compendium of contacts which could procure a surprising range of unconventional services.

She was particularly glad to be able to help Kim, because of the younger woman’s unfortunate circumstances. These were only in part financial. Her husband, Thicko Thurrock, was a man of great warmth and gentleness, but it was not for nothing that he had earned his nickname. While benefiting from the wise tutelage of the late Mr Pargeter he had been well protected, but, with the death of his mentor, soon found himself mixing in less savoury areas of business and with less savoury associates.

It was from then only a matter of time before something went wrong. Something did, outside a branch of the Halifax Building Society in Clerkenwell, and Thicko Thurrock was invited to spend seven years as a guest of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second (though not at Buckingham Palace — and the invitation’s RSVP had not offered the option of refusal).

Mrs Pargeter had watched with increasing admiration the effort Kim Thurrock put into keeping the family together during her husband’s unavoidable absence; but it was clear as the end of the seven years drew near that Kim was increasingly uneasy at the prospect of Thicko’s return.

The minimum of probing had identified the problem. There was nothing basically wrong with the relationship — the couple still adored each other — but Kim Thurrock had totally lost confidence in her continuing sexual attractiveness. No amount of reassurance could persuade her away from the conviction that seven years had changed her into ‘an old boot’ and that her husband, on his return to the marital nest, would take one careful look at what was on offer there before immediately walking out to shack up with a twenty-year-old.

Mrs Pargeter had tried every argument she knew, the main one being that Thicko wasn’t that kind of man, but to no avail. Kim’s self-esteem had sunk too low to be resuscitated by logic. More extreme measures would be needed.

It was at this point that Mrs Pargeter had thought of Ankle-Deep Arkwright and Brotherton Hall; and, from the moment she mentioned the idea, she knew she had found the right solution. Kim positively sparkled at the prospect, perhaps not only of losing weight but also of having a break from pampering three small girls, and even of being a little pampered herself.

As Mrs Pargeter looked at her friend giggling girlishly on the weighing machine that Sunday evening, she felt the warm glow of having done the right thing.

Chapter Two

Вы читаете Mrs. Pargeter's pound of flesh
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату