Rachel peered over the balustrade from the landing and watched
Celia walk slowly down the last few stairs and disappear into
dining room where the meeting was being held. Good, she was
alone. The master bedroom must be behind that half open door.
This was her chance to take a peep. Wasn't that why she was
Rachel found other people's houses irresistible. She hadn't
been invited to use the bathroom, but when Claire suggested that
Celia went upstairs, Rachel had been quick to follow. What harm
was there in that? She only wanted to have a quick look.
The other bedrooms were ordinary enough, a touch shabby if
anything, but the door which now stood ajar intrigued her.
`Supposing it creaks when I open it?' Would they hear it
downstairs? No; Rachel thought not above the rattle of teacups
She tiptoed across the landing and pushed the door open. It
was a larger room than she'd expected with elaborate curtains
an embroidered silk bed cover; photographs in silver frames, an
original painting or two. The carpet felt and looked
extravagant. The evening sun streamed through one of the windows
enhancing the patina of the antique furniture. The bed was high
and wide. On the whole Rachel approved.
`If I cross to the window will they hear?' Rachel could not
resist the temptation. `I must get a better look at that Cheval
mirror on the other side of the room, surely it isn't genuine!'
She slipped off her shoes, moved towards the window and glanced
into the garden as she went round the end of the bed.
`Aaah!'... she stifled a scream. She could not believe her
eyes. There it lay in a misshapen heap on the floor, half
covered by the draping counterpain. Her knees buckled. She
supported herself on the end of the bed, her hand to her throat.
She wanted to look away, to run, but her eyes kept returning to
the contorted, motionless shape by the bed.
Panic struck. She must get out of here. She wanted to run,
but was rooted to the spot. She couldn't take her eyes off it.
It kept on looking at her, staring, mocking.
`Go on, run,' it seemed to say, `They'll hear you downstairs
if you do. They'll know you've been prying, they'll think...?'
`No! They mustn't. It's nothing to do with me, I didn't...
I just.. came across it... '
She was suddenly on the landing, not knowing how she came
there. Had she run on heavy feet? Perhaps she'd sprung over
the bed, or leapt across the floor. What if she'd alerted the
people downstairs. Listen! Was someone calling? Was that a
foot on the stairs? Her heart was slamming in her breast like a
hammer. She was sweating. She'd only intended to take a
peep, instead she'd discovered somebody's terrible secret.
`Go downstairs before they miss you.' She said to herself.
Her hands went to her burning cheeks, she wiped her forehead
with the back of her wrist, took a deep breath and began the
descent of the stairs. Everyone's eyes were on her. Was Claire
there? She tried to see, without looking anxious. Would they
notice her disquiet? She looked flustered, she knew she did.
Lord knows she had reason enough...
`Everything all right Rachel?' Gordon had noticed! The game
was up. Now they'd all know she'd been snooping.
`Fine,' she heard her voice like an echo in her head.
`Tea or coffee Rachel?'
`Tea please Patience.' She hated tea!
`One more tea Claire.. for Rachel,' Patience's voice sounded
accusing. Why had she said
`Oh, how did we manage to miss Rachel?' There was irony in the
voice that answered from the kitchen. Damn her! She had
guessed. That was a guilty conscience for you! Claire was
guilty, there was no doubt about that but what could she do?
`Sit down, Rachel.' Gordon was offering her his chair. `It's
all right. I'm going into the garden for a quick smoke. Can't
give it up no matter how I try.'
Like a machine Rachel lowered herself into the chair. Like a
machine she took the tea from Patience, and all the time she
it was up there, spread-eagled on the floor, distorted,
unmoving. She shuddered and slopped tea in the saucer.
`Rachel I wonder if..'
`No Louise! Not now,' she snapped.
`Steady on! You sure you're all right?' Louise said kindly,
`I was going to ask if you'd come to our barbecue on Saturday.
Bring the children we shan't be late.'
`Yes, thanks, you're very kind, we'd like to; what time?'
Bang! Bang! Bang! Rachel sprang to her feet.
`Please sit down, so that we can finish the business in
hand?' The chairman was getting the meeting going again. `Now,
the question of membership....'
Discussion, suggestions, criticisms all went over Rachel's
head. She thought only of her dilemma. It was her duty to
report what she'd seen, but she wasn't keen that anyone should
know she'd been Nosy Parking. Another thought struck her. What
if Claire decided to take steps to silence her? She might, to
save her own skin.... After all she must know...
Rachel's mind raced, she must act now even if she was to be
branded Nosy Parker. Better safe than sorry. Perhaps no one
would ask how she came to find it when they saw what it was.
Somehow she must get to a telephone. If Claire ... well, things
could get nasty. Her heart pounded so loudly she thought someone
`Keep calm,' she told herself. `You've uncovered a crime in a
place you'd no right to be. The perpetrator of the crime doesn't
know you've seen, what you've seen, but she can't be sure.
be taking no chances. You must tell the police. You'll just say
you went into the bedroom by mistake, saw the mirror and ... no
woman can resist a mirror... and it was, lying there... just
lying there, it was horrible.'
It was so horrible Rachel began to wonder if she'd actually
seen it. Of course she had. That sort of thing wasn't
imagination. It had been there, half covered with the beautiful
embroidered bedspread, glazed eyes staring, and that fearful,
agonized expression. How? Why? What had possessed Claire to..?
`Now finally, any other business?' The chairman asked each
committee member in turn. Gordon wanted to know about claiming
expenses, Louise asked if members would make an effort to
more prizes for the annual raffle.
`Rachel?.. Rachel! Are you O.K.?' Rachel blanched, her lips
moved but no words came. `You're looking very peaky. Isn't she
looking peaky?' The chairman addressed the meeting and all eyes
turned on her. `Rachel are you feeling all right?'
`Yes, yes I'm fine. Really. No, nothing to say.' She pulled
herself together and was at once aware that not everyone was in
the room. `Where's Claire?' she asked sharply.
`Popped upstairs for something or another. Beg' pardon, Madam
Chairman, I've nothing to say either.' then Celia excused
and went out. Probably to the cloakroom, Rachel concluded. She
muttered something and followed. Here was the perfect
opportunity. This way Claire would be brought to book but nobody
need know about her own little misdemeanor. Rachel went up the
stairs, two silent steps at a time. She would catch Claire
red-handed. She pictured the culprit standing over the crumpled
heap in the bedroom.
`Claire Dear,' she would say, `Would you mind awfully if I
use the bathroom, the cloakroom seems to be occupied?' And then
horrified, she would see it, as if for the first time and insist
on calling the police.
Rachel reached the landing as Claire came out of the bedroom
closing the door behind her. `Were you looking for something
`Er, no er,' she stumbled `Just the bathroom please, Claire.'
`Why not use the cloakroom downstairs? Shall we go and join
the others?' Claire stood tapping her fingers on the banister at
the top of the stairs. `After you, Rachel,' she said, `Oh, and I
think these must be your shoes!'