Simon Brett

Mrs Pargeter’s Plot

Mrs Pargeter #5

1996, EN

Melita Pargeter, widow of much-loved crook Mr Pargeter, embarks on an escapade to prove the innocence of her beloved friend, builder ‘Concrete Jacket’, who has been arrested for murder. Someone has set him up – but who? Mrs P calls on her band of ex-cons to help her trap the real killer.

? Mrs Pargeter’s Plot ?


“And this, Gary, is where I’ll be living,” said Mrs Pargeter, as the limousine came to a halt by the gate.

“Very nice position.” The young chauffeur tipped his cap back and looked appreciatively up at the four-acre plot. It was still only a field, sloping indulgently down towards them. In a central position – surrounded by cement mixers, diggers and strapped piles of bricks – the foundations of a substantial dwelling were outlined by wooden posts and trenches. When it was completed, the house would command magnificent views over the valley below. Its outlook would be green, pastoral, with artlessly scattered clumps of trees in the folds of hills, quintessentially English.

“Never really seen you as a country person, Mrs Pargeter,” Gary went on.

“Don’t know till you try, do you? That’s true of everything.” The plump white-haired widow chuckled. “Might be just the thing for my declining years – little old lady devoting her life to breeding roses and bottling chutney.”

“Can’t see it.”

“Well, no, nor can I – not instinctively, like. But you never know.” The lids wrinkled round Mrs Pargeter’s violet-blue eyes as she tried to make the effort of imagination. Not achieving instant results, and not too worried by the lack of them, she moved cheerily on. “It’s only just over an hour from London, anyway. I can always escape when the birdsong and pure country air become too oppressive. Get back to my natural environment – where I can hear the birds cough, eh?”

“Suppose so, yes. I like the country,” said Gary, “that’s why Denise and me’ve moved out – but I reckon it might be a bit quiet for you, after the life you’ve led.”

Mrs Pargeter was imperturbable, as she smoothed down the bright silk skirt over her substantial thighs. “It’ll be fine. Anyway, it makes sense – economically. I’ve never wanted any of my money just to lie idle.” A little blush. “And it makes sense sentimentally, too.” She responded to Gary’s quizzical look. “My husband bought the plot years ago. One of his pipe dreams, this was. Always planned that we’d build a house here for our retirement, but… it was not to be.”

The chauffeur nodded soberly. “He was a saint, your husband, Mrs Pargeter.”

She indulged herself in a moment of dewy-eyed retrospection. “Oh yes. Yes, he was.”

“Mind you, can’t see him having found much to do in the country either.”

“There was a side of Mr Pargeter you never saw,” Mrs Pargeter reproved. “A quieter, less flamboyant side. A side that would really have responded to country life and country pursuits.”

Gary chuckled. “Huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’, eh? Well, I can believe he might have enjoyed the shootin’ bit, but…” In the rear-view mirror he caught the glacial violet-blue stare from his employer’s eyes, and the words dried up.

Further embarrassment was fortunately prevented by the approach from the opposite direction of a mud- spattered green Range Rover. “Ah, this’ll be Concrete,” said Mrs Pargeter.

The Range Rover stopped almost bumper to bumper with the limousine, and a burly man in a checked shirt got out. He had thinning ginger curls and skin the colour of the bricks that were his stock-in-trade. He came forward with hand outstretched to greet Mrs Pargeter as she emerged from the limousine.

“Bloody marvellous to see you, Mrs P. How’ve you been?”

“Great, thank you, Concrete. Don’t think you know Gary…”

The chauffeur, also by now out of the car, shook the builder’s hand heartily. “Never actually met, have we, Concrete… but I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Nothing bad, I hope?”

“No, no. Good news all round. Everyone who worked for Mr Pargeter said Concrete Jacket was a real craftsman.”

“Oh.” The builder shrugged modestly, “Well… always did my best.”

“People still talk about that tunnel you built under the Nat West bank in Chelmsford. And the safe deposit box you fixed into the side of Chelsea Barracks.”

The builder’s face turned a deeper brick-red. “Yeah, I was quite pleased with those, and all.”

“Best builder around, I heard.”

Concrete Jacket shrugged again. In spite of his embarrassment, he was enjoying this.

Mrs Pargeter’s next words, however, cut him down to size. “Best builder around – when you are around, yes.” Concrete looked aggrieved as she explained to Gary: “Trouble with most builders – they’re always away doing other jobs. With Concrete, though, he was always being put away after doing other jobs.”

“Did have a run of bad luck,” the builder conceded.

“Bad luck? You were in and out of prison like Lord Longford.”

“Well, yes, it was difficult. After your husband died, I got in with some bad company and –”

“It meant all the jobs you started kept having two-or three-year interruptions in the middle of them.”

“All right, I know. But that’s all changed now. Totally different. I tell you, now I’ve started on this house for you, Mrs Pargeter, nothing – nothing on earth – is going to interrupt it till the job’s good and finished.”

“I hope you’re right,” she said darkly.

“Trust me.”


They paced through the relief map formed by the foundations. Concrete’s steel-toed boots splashed unconcerned, while Mrs Pargeter’s high heels and Gary’s shiny black shoes negotiated the mud more circumspectly. As she looked around, Mrs Pargeter felt a little bubble of excitement at the thought of the house that would rise from these footings. It would be her dream home, her bolt-hole, a place that really expressed her personality. “So, Concrete, I just walk out of the sitting room here into the dining room here for an elegant dinner…”

“Exactly.” The builder was all smiles now he was back in her good books. “Not forgetting to pick up a nice bottle of plonk from the wine cellar.”

“There’s a wine cellar?”

“You bet.” He pointed to a square opening in the ground which was covered over by a couple of planks. “Your husband always used to say every house should have places where you can hide stuff.”

Mrs Pargeter smiled ingenuously. “Did he? I wonder what on earth he meant…”

Concrete Jacket went on, “And I can do the parquet flooring lovely so’s nobody’d ever know the entrance was there.”

Still looking innocent, she asked, “What would be the point of that, Concrete?” She moved forward, as if to lift up the covering. “Now I’d really like to see how –”

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