'I locked the door behind me,' Mrs Phear said in a flat voice.
'She choked on a nut, that's all. The footboy was in the lobby all the time and saw no one. Is he trustworthy?'
'He's nothing but a child. He heard nothing?'
'The walls are thick.'
Candle in hand, Jesus moved about the room. Mrs Phear waited, with hands folded and eyes cast down.
He pointed at the ceiling, to the great room above. 'I cannot afford to disappoint Frank Oldershaw. Not him of all people.'
'I suppose he would not take the girl like that?'
'What? Dead?' He stared at Mrs Phear.
'I told you, she's still warm.'
'Of course he would not.'
'But would he notice?'
'Dear God, ma'am, yes - I think he would. He's not so far gone. Besides, that's where the sport of it is for them, the struggle. Believe me, that's what they brag about afterwards in their cups. That and the blood on the sheet.'
'Are you sure it cannot be contrived?'
Jesus shook his head. 'Not the struggle. And not with her face like that. I tell you, it would not answer.'
Mrs Phear kneaded the hem of her cloak. 'So do you tell him he must wait?'
'He's mad for it, ma'am. He's not used to being crossed. We cannot cool his ardour with a Barnwell drab even if we could lay our hands on one at this time. When can you find me another such as this?'
'In a month or so, perhaps. Even then it would not be easy. Not so soon after this.'
Jesus said, 'He's worth more than the others put together. But I cannot tell him she's dead. I must say that she was terrified at the prospect before her, and stole away in the night.'
'There's another difficulty,' Mrs Phear said. 'What do we do with - with that?'
Jesus turned and looked back at the white body on the white bed. Suddenly time accelerated. Event stumbled after event in a disorderly rush. He heard a raised voice outside and footsteps. The door handle turned. He tried to reach the door, to hold it shut, but the bed and the dead girl were in his way. Mrs Phear whirled towards the sound with surprising speed but her skirt snagged on the corner of the table and the door was already opening before she had freed herself.
Frank Oldershaw was swaying on the threshold. His face was red and his waistcoat was unbuttoned. 'Ah, there you are, Philip,' he said. 'I am on fire, I tell you, I cannot wait another moment.'
He caught sight of Mrs Phear and her unexpected presence made him falter. But he was too drunk to stop altogether and the last few words tumbled from his mouth in a dying whisper. 'And where have you hidden my sweet little virgin?
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...