Martha watched the deep red pool widen around her husband’s head. So much blood, she thought, it’ll stain the parquet dreadfully and Peter will be very…. She stopped short, realising that Peter wouldn’t be very angry about anything any more. No more shouting at her when he found imaginary dust on the dado rail, not to mention his raised fist when, yet again, she made the wrong dish for supper. No more discussions about what to watch on television. He always got his own way in that particular argument, she thought bitterly. She might as well have been invisible, the way he’d ignored her requests, always changing the channel halfway through a programme she’d been absorbed in.
Best of all, no more horrible, stinking cigarette smoke. It had crept into her hair and clothes, her lovely handmade cushions, even the curtains. She would be able to take that evening class in needlepoint now, she thought incongruously. After the way Peter had gone on when she’d first suggested it, she’d never broached the subject again.
She walked slowly down the stairs, stepping carefully over Peter’s misshapen body. He’d fallen very heavily and his head was at an impossible angle. She picked up the telephone from the hall table and dialled 999. ‘Ambulance, please,’ she said calmly into the receiver. ‘No, it’s not an emergency, I think it’s too late for that.’
The emergency services sent a police car to accompany the ambulance. Standard practice in the circumstances, said the nice young policeman who knocked on her door ten minutes later. Just in case foul play was suspected.
Martha was quite composed as she showed the paramedics into the hall, shrugging off their attentions. ‘I’m absolutely fine,’ she assured them.
‘Must be shock,’ she heard them say. ‘Keep an eye on her, she could collapse any minute. Make some weak tea with lots of sugar.’ They saw immediately that there was nothing to be done for Peter.
‘He must have tripped,’ they surmised, looking up at the staircase with its carved banisters and highly polished newel posts. ‘Maybe the carpet wasn’t fastened properly.’
The nice young policeman helpfully inspected the carpet and all the stair rods, stopping just below the top of the staircase, where it turned to meet the landing. ‘Hm,’ he said, kneeling down. ‘Looks like this one is loose.’
‘Oh, really?’ Martha asked innocently, twisting her handkerchief round her fingers.
‘So,’ continued the policeman, scratching his chin thoughtfully in the manner of a television detective, ‘if Mr Wainwright was proceeding down the stairs, in a bit of a hurry, perhaps…’
‘Oh, he was,’ supplied Martha, nodding ‘I’d just called him. He was rushing to catch the beginning of Countdown.’ She looked at her watch, as if the programme might still be running. ‘He didn’t like it so much after poor Richard Whitely died,’ she added sorrowfully. ‘Des isn’t quite the same, you know.’
‘Hm,’ the nice young policeman repeated. ‘Looks quite cut and dried to me,’ he said to the paramedics, ‘but I’d better let the Super have a look before you cart him off.’
Superintendent David Wallace walked into the hallway sucking a lollipop, much to Martha’s surprise. He looked like Kojak. ‘Trying to give up smoking,’ he explained. ‘Filthy habit.’
‘Quite,’ agreed Martha emphatically.
‘So, what have we here, then?’ he continued, stooping to examine the body. ‘No effort at resuscitation?’
‘He’d been dead a while when we got here,’ volunteered one of the paramedics.
Superintendent Wallace looked at Martha. ‘Did you see your husband fall, Mrs Wainwright?’ he asked gently.
‘Oh, no,’ replied Martha, not meeting his eyes. ‘I was in the kitchen, preparing supper. We were going to have a nice shepherd’s pie. I came running when I heard the crash, but it was too late, there was nothing I could do.’ Martha drew a soggy handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes. ‘I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him,’ she added tearfully.
The nice young policeman put his arm around her frail shoulders and led Martha into the sitting room, where Deal or No Deal was now showing.
‘Oh, I do like that Noel Edmonds, don’t you?’ she asked as she settled into her armchair.
‘Well, er…I don’t get to see much daytime telly, to tell you the truth.’
‘Is that so?’ asked Martha. ‘That’s a pity. I haven’t seen this programme for ages. Peter hated him, you see.’
‘Hated who?’ asked Superintendent Wallace as he entered the room.
‘Noel Edmonds, sir,’ said the policeman.
Martha sighed with satisfaction as she settled down to watch the television, hugging the remote control to her chest with glee. No more boring sport on TV, she thought. No more stinking cigarettes. She sniffed. The air smelt fresher already.
Heaving a great sigh of relief, she switched over to her favourite programme, Diagnosis, Murder. Thank you, Mr van Dyke, she giggled. After all, it was this programme that had given her the idea. The same method of despatch had been used in an episode only last week. Of course, she hadn’t wanted to rely on a loose stair rod alone. Oh no, this was far too important to leave to chance and besides, she had a couple of old scores to settle. To make absolutely sure, she’d given Peter a hefty shove from behind. She could still see the expression of utter disbelief on his face as he’d sailed gracefully through the air.