The blow, when it fell, was lethal and very painfully so to others.
Tim Richards and Jane d'Arcy met at a party in 1959. He was twenty-three and she twenty –one. He was six foot tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed. She was eight inches shorter, red-haired and green-eyed. He was working as a stock-jobber at the London Stock Exchange and she at Kew Gardens having recently graduated with a degree in botany. She was not far behind in horticulture and arboreology.
There was no immediate attraction but they kept meeting again, gravitated towards each other and finally fell in love. They rented and then bought a house in Fulham where they produced a son, Peter, and eighteen months later a daughter, Erica.
In 1986 the London Stock Exchange 'Big Bang' took place whereby, among other things, the differentiation between stock-jobbers and stock-brokers disappeared. Tim, having become rich, decided enough was enough. He and Jane moved to Gloucestershire where they bought a medium-sized and charming Victorian house. It had three acres at the back facing south-west and Jane transformed it into a beautiful garden. It kept Tim fit.
Their life over the next ten years was idyllic. Not only were they still deeply in love but Tim was able to indulge his hobby of racing and Jane, despite her garden, became enthusiastic too. As a result they formed a syndicate with three other people and bought a filly. It was far from being destined to be a champion but it did manage a number of wins and places. It certainly added to their excitement at the race meetings where it was running.
They also bought a couple of hunters and rode. Tim did not hunt but Jane did with great enthusiasm and verve. In the summer Tim played cricket for the village and they both played golf, mostly together.
Then it happened. Jane had gone into Gloucester to do her weekly shop. She had done the supermarket and was going via the bank to meet Henrietta Phillips for lunch. They had been to school together and had been friends ever since.
There was a queue at the traffic lights. A very noisy and powerful motorbike accelerated to get to the front. It lost its grip on the wet road, slid and took Jane straight through a plate glass window. She was killed immediately. So was the motorcyclist.
Tim naturally was devastated. Erica was there within six hours of hearing the news to look after him and they were a great comfort to each other but she could not stay indefinitely. She had a husband to look after and school holidays were looming. Henrietta was there for him too. Not immediately but as soon as Erica had to leave she visited him daily and made sure that he was feeding himself properly. She also gave him the odd reassuring and comforting hug.
There was Betty Tomlinson too, another of Jane's close friends. They had ridden and played golf together. In addition Betty was another keen gardener. She was also a widow of some two years. She did not give Tim reassuring and comforting hugs but made up for it with her warm friendliness and preparedness to listen to Tim moan. He tried not to but every now and again his emotions got the better of him.
Peter and his wife, Petra, also did their stuff. They visited every four or six weeks and made Tim come to visit them too. They had twin boys aged eleven and Tim delighted in them whether at home or cheering them on at sporting events at school.
Naturally, Tim missed Jane badly. He kept up with his racing and golf but did not really enjoy hacking on his own. He had to though to keep both horses exercised. He considered selling Jane's but could not bear the thought, at least not at that time. It was the evenings that got to him, no loved one to talk to or commiserate with. The dogs were a comfort. Antigone, the Irish Setter, was clearly grieving for Jane but Sophy, the wire-haired dachshund, after initial sorrow, gloried in being Tim's 'one and only bestest dog'. Tim enjoyed it but acknowledged to himself just how self-centred dachshunds could be. It was a life: no more.
Some six months after Jane's death he received a letter. The postmark was Gloucester but there was no return address or date. It read:
Dear Mister Richards
I am the mother of Rick Waters as killed your wife and I am very very sorry. I am a single mum and never wanted him. I tried to do my best for him tho but he became too diffcult to handle. When he got the job at the garage he never gave me any money. I got a job at the supermarket as a check out and that and benefits keeps me going.
I been thinking about you and you losing your wife and felt bad. If it helps I would be happy to be your housekeeper for just board and lojing plus a bit of spending money like 25 quid a month.
If your interested my phone number is --.
Tim was nonplussed. On the face of it, it was a genuine and sweet letter. On the other hand, it was a begging letter and, frankly, he owed nothing to the mother of his wife's killer. He decided to take no notice of it but he did not throw it away.
He mentioned it to Henrietta.
"Drop it! She's out to sponge off you," was her reaction.
Betty was less adamant. "Why don't you arrange to meet her? It'd give you a chance to suss her out and see whether she's genuine. Watch your step though if she turns on the sex appeal."
"That's not going to work!"
"No, Tim dear. Just watch out for the 'poor little orphan girl' act."
Tim shook his head. "I'm not into being a sugar daddy," he grinned.
"No fool like an old fool," riposted Betty.
They both laughed.
Tim still dithered though. He rang Erica.
"I don't see anything wrong with it, Daddy. In fact, it could work out pretty well. You'd be looked after, fed and watered, the house kept clean and tidy and you'd be able to do your thing. It's just a question of whether the two of you fit."
"You don't think I'd be being unfaithful to Mummy?"
Erica laughed. "Oh, Daddy, don't be so silly. You wouldn't be taking her on as your mistress!" She giggled again. "Or would you?"
More laughter. "Well then, Daddy!" She sobered up and then went on, "Meet her and see how you get on. Can she cook reasonably? Does she come across as honest? Will she keep the house clean and tidy? Does she drive? Come on. You know as well as I. Meet her and see what you think."
"There's a good boy. Let me know how it goes."
"Cheeky girl. OK, Erica darling. I will."
Erica decided to add to the pressure and rang Peter. She explained the situation.
"Sounds good to me," opined Peter. "What's his problem?"
"Oh, you know Daddy. Propriety and all that and he actually wondered whether Mummy would have approved."
"That's what I said but rather more gently."
"It is a feminine characteristic generally speaking."
"And I'm a general. Peter, would you give him a bell and tell him you think it's a good idea as well? I'm worried that he'll go on fussing about it and do nothing."
"Don't you think Petra might do better than me?"
"No, Peter. It needs to come from his son even though I know he loves Petra."
"Yes, ma'am. Very good, ma'am. Bossy sisters!"
They both laughed and rang off.
Peter decided to wait for twenty-four hours. It would not seem that he and Erica were ganging up on their father.
"Hi, Dad! Are you planning to go to Wincanton on Thursday?"
"Hello, Peter. Yes, I thought I would but I'm not going for the whole day, just to see how Starlight does. I don't think she'll win but she might be placed."
"OK. She'll be running at two-thirty. My syndicate's got Speedy Girl running at twelve-fifteen so why don't we meet for lunch after that?"
"Sounds good. The rest of my lot are giving it a miss but I'll be there. If I don't see you outside, I'll meet up with you in the lunch tent. Will you book?"
"Yes, Dad. No problem. Hey! Erica tells me you're thinking of taking on a housekeeper."
"Yes but I still haven't made up my mind."
"Sounds a good idea to me. Anyone in mind?"
"Yes and that's what makes it doubly difficult: the mother of the little bugger that killed Mum."
"Whew! How did you come across her?"
"She wrote to me offering her services."
"That's pretty cheeky."
"Yes. That was my first reaction and Henrietta Phillips thought the same but Betty Tomlinson thought I ought at least to meet her before turning her down. So does Erica."
"So what are your thoughts now?"
"Confused. My first reaction was 'How dare you?' and then I thought that it must have taken a lot of courage to write that letter. She made it clear that, although she tried, there was no love lost between them."
"Hmm ... but you clearly think that her offer was genuine?"
"Not in as many words."
"Dad, I think you ought to meet her. I can quite understand that having anything to do with that little tick's family grates but, if she's genuine, she will do anything for you."
"Peter, the other thing that's worrying me is whether I'm being unfaithful to Mum just six months after her death. You know. I'm getting by and Betty and Henrietta are being enormously supportive. It's not as though I'm just living on ready-meals. To have another woman living in just seems a bit wrong."
"Yeah, I can understand that but I think you'll find there's a limit to Betty and Henrietta's support." He chuckled. "Unless of course they've got designs on you."
"I wouldn't be too sure. Betty's a widow and Henrietta's bored stiff with Arthur, not that I blame her. He really is a tedious old codger."
"Dad, believe me, you're on the market again and you might do well to take on a housekeeper that has no designs on you, who, because of her background, wouldn't dream of trying to bag you. Meet her. Interview her and then talk to Erica and me again if you think you need to."
Tim sighed. "OK, Peter. I'll give it a whirl."
"Good on you, Dad. See you at Wincanton. 'Bye!"
Tim wrestled with the problem for the next twenty-four hours. Of the four people he had discussed it with three were in favour of him at least interviewing this woman and yet he felt a revulsion about talking to anyone connected with Rick Waters. On the other hand, his mother clearly had no time for him. He heaved a big sigh, picked up the phone and dialled Ms Waters's number.
"My name's Tim Richards and I'm ringing in reply to your letter about your becoming my housekeeper."
"Oh! Um! I didn't really expect a reply."
"I can understand that but if you were serious I think we ought to meet and discuss things."
"Oh, thank you, Mr Richards. I'd like to do that."
Tim sensed sincerity.
"Well, I'm pretty free but you've obviously got a work schedule. Do you have any lunch times free?"
"Yes. The day after tomorrow. I get off at twelve-thirty."
"OK. Do you know the Penny Whistler?"
"I'll meet you there at quarter-to-oneish."
"OK. Thanks ever so much, Mr Richards."
"Not at all. I look forward to meeting you, Ms Waters."