Simon Brett

Mrs, Presumed Dead

Mrs Pargeter #2

1988, EN

A second case for the intrepid Mrs Pargeter – sixtysomething and a little bit more. She has moved to a prosperous housing estate, but something rankles about her new neighbours. She soon learns that the estate might be perfect for social climbing, but it’s also perfect for murder.

? Mrs, Presumed Dead ?


The murderer looked down at the body lying neatly in the middle of its polythene sheet, and indulged in a moment of self-congratulation. It had really been remarkably easy once the decision had been made. The polythene sheet over the thick carpet had been a bonus, no great surprise that it should have been there, considering all the packing of the last few days, but nonetheless a bonus. Not only would it minimise the likelihood of detection, it also fitted in with the murderer’s instinctive fastidiousness.

In the event, there had been little mess. The woman on the polythene sheet lay in a posture that could at a cursory glance have been mistaken for sleep. Properly surprised by the suddenness of the attack, she had gone to her death with the docility which, to outsiders, had characterised her life.

Only a close inspection would have revealed the thin red weal of bruising on the stark whiteness of her neck. And the curtain of reddish hair would have had to be lifted to uncover the livid face with its startled eyes and its engorged tongue parting puffy lips.

The murderer, secure in rubber gloves, dropped the stretched cricket club tie on top of its victim, then wrapped the convenient polythene around the body and sealed it with sticky tape. Like that, the corpse lost its last residual connection with humanity and became just another package ready for removal, along with the tea-chests of newspaper-wrapped china and the stout cardboard boxes full of ornaments, which waited in obedient rows along the wall of that sitting-room.

Surprised by a flicker of anxiety, the murderer’s eyes darted to the large picture window, but the thick Dralon curtains were reassuringly closed. They had been expensively tailored for the space and admitted no sliver of light to the outside world. No one else on the estate could even know whether the lights were on or off.

The anxiety gave way to the return of self-congratulation. Yes, it really had been remarkably easy.

And necessary. Regrettable, but necessary. The risk of discovery had been too great, and once that risk had become known, ordinary human considerations had ceased to be relevant. A kind of mechanistic change had come over both of them. From that moment they had ceased to be people, become abstract figures, archetypes – murderer and victim.

Even now it was done, the situation remained clinical, objective. In the murderer’s mind there was no guilt, only a process of logical assessment, of working out the odds against being detected as the perpetrator of the crime.

And at that moment those odds seemed comfortingly long. Yes, in with an excellent chance of getting away with it.

Bolstered by this thought, the murderer’s mind now felt ready to address that problem which has always proved a much greater deterrent to homicide than any moral or religious qualm – how to dispose of the body.

? Mrs, Presumed Dead ?


Smithy’s Loam was a development of six executive homes which had been built some five years previously in the outer commuter belt of Surrey, and whose history was interchangeable with that of many such executive estates. Its developer had bought up a dilapidated Victorian rectory, obtained planning permission with the help of a fellow member of the Rotary Club who happened to be on the local council, demolished the rectory and divided its three acres into six plots tastefully scattered around a central green. To give these outer- suburban dwellings with their pale new brick an air of rustic permanence, he had sought out an appropriate name and, prompted by someone’s vague recollection that there might have been a forge on the site before the rectory, had dubbed the development Smithy’s Loam. Then, having made a killing on the project, he had taken early retirement to Tenerife, where he proceeded very slowly and pleasurably to drink himself to death.

In the five years of its existence Smithy’s Loam had seen a good few changes of ownership. Though the houses were well up in the market, four-bedroomed dwellings whose comfortably accelerating prices excluded most first-time buyers, the sort of people who bought them, rising executives in their thirties and forties, were vulnerable to sudden moves. Keeping themselves on the upward graph of success depended on seizing their opportunities when they arose, taking on new jobs, being transferred at short notice to new areas. So the appearance of removal lorries in Smithy’s Loam was not an unfamiliar sight.


What was unusual, though, thought Vivvi Sprake, as she looked out of the front window of Number Three (“Haymakers”) across the immaculate central green to the lorry outside Number Six (“Acapulco”), was for the new residents not to be present when their furniture was unloaded.

For that was what appeared to be happening. Without, as she kept telling herself, being nosy, Vivvi kept a fairly close eye on what went on in the close (oh no, mustn’t call it a ‘close’ – Nigel said ‘close’ was common). And she was sure the new resident hadn’t arrived yet.

She ran through the sequence of events. Theresa Cotton, when she had come round to say goodbye on the Monday evening, had said she was just about to leave. On the Tuesday morning her removal lorry had arrived at the unoccupied house, been loaded with its contents and set off on the long journey North to the Cottons’ new home. And now, on the Wednesday morning, the new resident’s belongings were being unloaded into ‘Acapulco’. But the new resident herself had not yet put in an appearance.

Somehow this upset Vivvi’s sense of tightness. Removal firms were so unreliable, surely most people would want to be on the spot to see that things were put in the correct places? Anyway, being around and making endless cups of tea for the removal men seemed to Vivvi an essential rite of passage, a necessary part of the process of moving into a new home. The new resident’s absence disturbed her. It opened up the possibility that there might be other ways in which the newcomer would not conform to the usages of Smithy’s Loam. And to Vivvi, herself always working so hard, at her husband Nigel’s insistence – so many things are so difficult when you marry an older husband – to do the right thing, this prospect was doubly irritating.

By half-past twelve the new owner of ‘Acapulco’ still hadn’t turned up, though the removers seemed to be down to the smallest items and had the air of men about to fold up their final blankets before going off to the pub. Vivvi sighed with annoyance and went into the kitchen to make herself a cottage cheese salad (Nigel was also concerned that his Mark Two wife shouldn’t let him down by becoming fat).

But she brought her meagre lunch through to the front room and while she watched an Australian soap opera – a minor enough vice but nonetheless one she would not have admitted to under torture – she kept glancing across towards ‘Acapulco’. The removal lorry by now had gone, but there was still no sign of the owner’s arrival.


When the moment did finally come, Vivvi nearly missed it. At a quarter past three she had had to leave for one of the regular punctuations of her day, collecting her two children from school, and half an hour later, as she swung back into Smithy’s Loam, she saw a large black limousine parked outside ‘Acapulco’. Its uniformed driver, his

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