Here is a little excerpt from my next Radwinter novel, ‘Earthquake’… the main character, Thomas, is working at home when he gets a phone call:
I was concentrating completely on the ins and outs of some legal papers for a client and didn’t register my phone was ringing. I answered it rather more loudly than I meant to and there was silence then the sound of laboured breathing…
Good grief, don’t say I’ve got a heavy-breather… Hello? I said rather firmly and sternly ready to finish the call and block the number.
“Good morning… is that Mr. Radwinter….” And the voice, man or woman I couldn’t tell, faded away, then started again. “My name is Shsh Shshsher…”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
“Shsh Shshsher… A friend at the golf club suggested you might be able to help me…”
When I was working as a proper solicitor in a practice in Strand, I had a dear old gentleman who always asked for me to assist in his matters and business, usually changing his will which was a bit of a hobby of his. When our firm amalgamated with another and moved their head office to Castair, I was effectively given the sack; however my kindly old gentleman insisted that I continue to handle his affairs and more than that, recommended me to a lot of his friends at the golf club. The golf club gang, as I call them, are my best clients, and are nearly all nice people and also quite wealthy.
As well as the usual conveyancing, enduring powers of attorney, wills and even a couple of divorces, they have asked me to help them on several intriguing ‘investigations’, for example a missing woman, a mysterious Moroccan and a sinister Tibetan Lama.
“I will try my best Mr. Shshsher…” I couldn’t ask him again for his name, having tried to work it out three times. “Perhaps we could arrange a time where we could meet, or maybe I could call on you… what sort of business do you wish to conduct?”
There was another yawning pause before Mr. Shshsher replied that he would have to discuss that with me… he wasn’t sure I could help, he wasn’t sure anyone could help, but his friends had recommended me highly… He gave me his address, a place I didn’t know over on the other side of Strand, and we agreed I should call the next day at eleven.
The house was quite gloomy with dark red bricks and dark wooden beams; there was a great big chimney on the tiled roof, almost out of proportion with the size of the house and I remembered reading about Tudorbethan when I was looking up about this area. Something to do with the Arts and Crafts Movement… and as I was thinking this I pulled on the bell which was like a metal rod thing and there was a clang inside. The door was large and studded with nails and had black iron hinges…
It was actually a bit creepy; the bay windows were heavily netted and there seemed to be no lights on to illuminate the dimness… what was I letting myself in for? I expected the door to open with a creak and a wrinkled retainer to be standing there… well, the old chap was certainly wrinkly but I guess he was Mr. Shshsher, because he said ‘Ah, Mr. Radwinter do come mumblemumblemumble…”
We shook hands and I was relieved his skin was normal and not cold and slimy as I’d somehow feared… honestly… I shouldn’t think so much, really I shouldn’t…
He led the way through with a shuffling gate into the back part of the house. The old place was very dusty and a bit untidy, but not in a desperate way; I was led into a study which had French windows leading into the garden. It was a room full of light and it looked like something out of a film set for a mad professor; there were piles of books and papers everywhere and the walls were lined with bookcases containing more books and the occasional odd object. A stuffed owl stared at me.
“I seem to be in a bit of a muddle here, Mr. Radwinter, I’m afraid murmurmurmurmurmur…”
He was a nice old chap and now we were in a room which was a bit brighter I could see him better. He had long white hair flowing down over his collar which looked as if it was velvet. The jacket itself was buttoned up the front and looked really, really old-fashioned. He looked like someone dressed for a part in the latest TV adaptation of a Dickens’ novel.
He found a chair for me to sit on which seemed a little wobbly, I’d have to keep still, I didn’t want to break what appeared to be an antique piece of furniture. He sat behind the desk and told me he no longer played golf, his legs had given up, but he often went to the club for lunch, and several of his acquaintances had mentioned me when he had told them about his muttermuttermutter… he was looking in a drawer of the desk, and his voice disappeared into it.
I was going to have to invent a hearing problem if he didn’t speak a little more clearly!
He eventually drew out an old box file very battered and worn. He put it on the desk and then began to look through, all the time giving a sort of burbled conversation which I wasn’t sure was addressed to me so I just gave a hmm-hmm sort of noise every so often.
He pulled out a small scrapbook which he passed to me, opened at a page; I thought at first it was a contact sheet of pictures like we used to get at school when the photographer came in and took pictures of us in our uniform.
Mr. Mumble had passed me this book and there were twelve separate pictures of girls in a school uniform. None of the girls was smiling, although some had a sort of happy expression, or at least a pleasant expression, others of them were totally impassive, one looked slightly cross and a couple looked rather sad… They all looked the same age, probably about fourteen or fifteen, and they all looked very similar… they were all Chinese or Japanese or Korean… I couldn’t tell, and they all had short black hair with a fringe.
“Who are these girls, sir?”
I didn’t like to turn the page to see what was next in the book and I was definitely a little mystified by it all.
“One of them is my mother, can you guess which?”
Crikey! What a question!
If you haven’t yet read any of my four Radwinter novels, or my other books, here is a link: