Mrs Pargeter liked having a nice garden to look out on from the windows of her mansion in Chigwell. But the idea that she should ever personally do anything to make that garden nice never occurred to her. Gardening, she had always thought, was a dull and dirty occupation, a task that other people should be paid to do. Her attitude was similar to the way she regarded cooking. She could cook, but she'd always much rather go to a restaurant. Mrs Pargeter had never felt any obligation to do things she didn't want to do.
In this attitude she had been encouraged by her husband. The late Mr Pargeter had not spoiled his wife, but he had been a strong believer in pampering her. Never quite able to believe his luck in securing such a jewel among women, he had seen it as a welcome duty to protect her from the harsher aspects of existence. For example, he never troubled her with the details of his professional life. He had no time for men who brought their work home with them. For him, this approach had the advantage that, if she was ever asked about her husband's business activities, Mrs Pargeter could, with complete honesty, deny any knowledge of them. And, on the very rare occasions when someone might question the legality of some of his transactions, she could, in all innocence, say she didn't know what they were talking about. She was very proud of her role as keeper of the late Mr Pargeter's flame.
Her husband's death had, of course, caused her great anguish but, being a woman who looked for the positives in any situation, she concentrated more on her good fortune of having been allowed so long to spend with such a man, rather than the negative aspects of widowhood. She did not anticipate—and certainly didn't search for—any further romantic developments in her life. Instead, she focused on a strong group of friends, many of whom had been business associates of her husband, and did her best to further the late Mr Pargeter's works in the charity sector.
Mrs Pargeter was a woman who knew her own mind and, by dint of charm rather than coercion, usually managed to get her own way.
Though essentially an urban creature, she had adjusted relatively well to living in the mansion in Chigwell. Essex was, after all, her home county and, so long as she got into central London at least one night a week for some pampering at Greene's Hotel, life was quite acceptable.
There was a sentimental association about the place, as well. Mr Pargeter had bought the plot a long time ago, with a view to their building on it a home for their peacefully shared retirement. That peacefully shared retirement, sadly, had not happened, but the house had happened. In charge of its construction had been a builder known as Concrete Jacket, who over the years had done quite a lot of contracts for the late Mr Pargeter. The quality of his work could not be faulted, though his timekeeping could. He had a recurrent problem with miscarriages of justice, which led to his being unable to ply his trade for extended periods. Some of his clients took a dim view of his absence from their jobs for sentences of up to three years and were not persuaded by his assertions of innocence.
Mrs Pargeter, whose nature was instinctively to believe the best of people, had always shown more sympathy for his misfortunes. Concrete Jacket had just suffered from a very long run of bad luck.
It was a beautiful June morning and the outlook through the French windows at the back of the Chigwell mansion had rarely looked better. The plot had been chosen shrewdly by the late Mr Pargeter because it was not overlooked, and the garden sloped down to a small copse which hid the urban sprawl and muted the sounds of Essex traffic. It would not be imagined by people who did not know the area that such tranquillity could be found so near the metropolis.
The house's name was a tribute to its purchaser. The late Mr Pargeter's first name, rarely used by anyone other than his adoring wife, was Lionel, and so she had dubbed the place 'Lionel's Den'. Had she been the kind of widow who needed constant reminders of her husband's absence, the name would have done the trick. But, though Mrs Pargeter led an active and varied life, she never for a moment forgot about Lionel.
She was a woman who liked a substantial breakfast and, had she been at Greene's Hotel, would have indulged in every variation of the full English. When in Chigwell, however, she restricted herself to several cups of excellent coffee from the most up-to-date Italian machine. It was not just her resistance to cooking that prompted this abstinence. It was also an extension of her charity work. Going out for an early—and large—lunch at one of the nearby hostelries represented a contribution to the local economy. And ordering herself a particularly expensive bottle of wine with the lunch was, to Mrs Pargeter's mind, an act of pure altruism. What better could be done with money than to spread it around among the less fortunate? She knew that pubs were suffering in adverse economic conditions. And she'd always favoured charities which encouraged people to work, rather than just handing out grants.