Giving a little nod, he completed this unusual order. Then he produced the ‘same again’ for Colonel Wicksteed and Mr Dawlish. “For you, Mrs Pargeter?”

They were all silent, waiting to have their unspoken conjectures confirmed or rejected.

“A vodka Campari, please.”

Miss Naismith was forced to admit that she would never have guessed that in a million years.

“And what about you?” Mrs Pargeter continued. “You have one with me, Kevin?”

Miss Naismith was thunderstruck. It was bad enough for Mrs Pargeter to offer a drink to one of the staff, but using his Christian name compounded the felony. Newth did not have a Christian name, except on official documents; so far as the Devereux was concerned, Newth always had been, and always would be, just ‘Newth’. The double affront deprived Miss Naismith of the power of speech.

“That’s very kind of you, Mrs Pargeter,” replied the barman. “I’ll have a half of lager, thank you.”

Oh dear, thought Miss Naismith. I may have to do something about Mrs Pargeter.

? A Nice Class of Corpse ?


The thought did not leave Miss Naismith during the evening. There was nothing specific she could fault in Mrs Pargeter’s behaviour at dinner or afterwards; it was the newcomer’s style that grated on Miss Naismith’s nerves.

Mrs Pargeter was too relaxed. She didn’t have the tentativeness – the deference even – appropriate to someone joining the select company at the Devereux for the first time. Rather than taking her cue from the others, she seemed determined to put the others at their ease. The fact that she was succeeding in this endeavour did not endear her to Miss Naismith. People should not, in the proprietress’s view, just walk into the Devereux and feel at home. They should start with a becoming reticence and spend a few weeks adjusting to the rhythms of life in the hotel. Then perhaps it might be appropriate for them to assert their own personalities.

Why, Miss Naismith recalled, even Lady Ridgleigh, used to a lifetime of command, had been subdued when she first arrived. It was only after a couple of months that she began to become peremptory.

But, even as she thought it, Miss Naismith knew the comparison was inappropriate. Mrs Pargeter was not peremptory. She was not unpleasant, not difficult. She was just very much at her ease, and very nice to everyone.

Which made her that much more difficult to deal with.

Miss Naismith brooded on this new situation as she mounted the stairs to her flat, converted from the hotel’s attic.

It was half-past ten. Days ended early at the Devereux. Loxton had dealt with the bedtime drinks orders, prepared the various trays of cocoa, Ovaltine, Milo and biscuits, and left the hotel for the small council house she shared with her invalid mother. Newth had provided Colonel Wicksteed with his nightcap of Famous Grouse, wiped down the counter and padlocked the grille of the bar. He would now be doing his round of locking up, before descending for the night to his bedsitter in the basement.

Miss Naismith poured herself a tumbler of neat gin and slumped on to her bed. She picked up the remote control of her television and switched on to the video channel. She had been rather looking forward to seeing what Newth had selected from the Video Library this time. He knew her tastes well by now, and the title on the cassette, Confessions of a Swedish Schoolmistress, did sound promising.

But it was some time before she could lose herself in the locker-room lubricities of the film. Mrs Pargeter was still on her mind.

If she were to remain at the Devereux, the new resident might have to make some adjustments.


On the floor below, in her room at the back, Mrs Pargeter reflected that, if she were to remain at the Devereux, the hotel might have to make some adjustments.

But nothing was insuperable and she did not envisage major problems.

She dropped off to sleep, as always, cheerful and confident, though without the expectation of sleeping very well. The first night in a strange bed, she always found, tended to be a little restless and broken. But she accepted this fact philosophically. It took a lot to upset Mrs Pargeter…

As anticipated, she did wake a few times during the night. Once she was woken by the sound of a door opening. She was not yet sufficiently familiar with the layout of the hotel to know exactly where the door was, but it seemed to be on the floor below.

She lay in the darkness, aware of the unfamiliar, half-heard rhythm of the sea, then she heard the opening of another door, the flush of a lavatory and, subsequently, a slight commotion, perhaps a small cry, from somewhere below. She wondered, without much urgency, whether she ought to get out of bed to investigate the noise.

But it was followed by silence. Only the sea swished distantly.

Then, as she drifted back to sleep, she heard a door close somewhere in the Devereux Hotel.


Had Mrs Pargeter been on the first-floor landing and witnessed the causes of these half-heard sounds, she would have seen Mrs Selsby emerge, blinking, from her bedroom at the front of the hotel and totter, as unsteady as if she were on stilts, towards the bathroom (a visit that these days she had to make more than once a night).

Then Mrs Pargeter would have seen someone else appear on the landing. That person was the only one living in the Devereux Hotel who kept a diary.

Mrs Pargeter would have heard the lavatory flush and seen Mrs Selsby move unsteadily out of the bathroom and start back towards her bedroom.

Mrs Pargeter would have seen the diarist suddenly move out of the shadows when Mrs Selsby reached the top of the stairs.

She would have seen the diarist push hard, and seen Mrs Selsby lift and launch forward over the staircase. She would have seen the thin old arms flailing, fragile as sugar-sticks, till the brittle body clattered to a halt in the Entrance Hall, its chicken neck snapped sideways, its thin-lipped mouth locked open and still.

But Mrs Pargeter saw none of this.

Nor did the other residents of the Devereux Hotel.

Except for the murderer, who looked down with satisfaction at the crumpled body, and returned to finish writing up that day’s diary entry.

? A Nice Class of Corpse ?


TUESDAY, 5 MARCH – 3.15 a.m.

It is done. It was even easier than I anticipated – no resistance, no commotion. I had been prepared for the possibility of an imperfect job, perhaps just of an injury and a tedious wait until she died of pneumonia, but I feel as confident as anyone who has not examined the body closely can be, that it worked first time.

The temptation to check that she was dead was strong, but I resisted it. There is no point in taking unnecessary risks. I am confident that I have achieved what I set out to do.

And how do I feel now that I am a murderer? Have I been struck down by guilt and remorse?

No. I feel the same as ever. A little angry with myself perhaps, that I did not think to resort earlier to this way out of my difficulties. And very exhilarated at the ease with which I did it.

To sum up – murder is easy and murder is effective. And, if ever the need arose again, I would not hesitate to commit a second murder.

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