Author: tbelshaw (page 2 of 7)

Murder at the Mill. An Amy Rowlings Mystery

Chapter One

The shard of winter sun burst through the mass of black cloud like an archangel’s lance. The heavy snow that had fallen overnight, enveloped the thick layer that already covered the town, making the roads and verges indistinguishable from the pavements. January, 1939 had announced itself in spectacular style.

Amy Rowlings shielded her eyes as she trudged through the thick, white blanket, stepping into footprints made by earlier travellers in an attempt to keep the snow out of her ankle-high winter boots. Another day spent at her machine at Grayson’s Garments factory wearing cold, soggy, woollen socks, was something she could well do without. Locals called the factory, The Mill, because it produced cotton fabric back in the 1800s, nowadays the workforce spent their days manufacturing women’s clothing; anything from underwear to winter coats. Ahead, Mildred, a fellow machinist, tripped on a hidden kerbstone and fell headlong into a drift that had covered the short privet hedge that lined the pavement. Before Amy could reach her, she picked herself up, and cursing, turned through the huge, wrought-iron, gates into the factory yard, where the snow had already turned into a slushy mess by the hundred pairs of feet that had tramped over it when the night and day shifts changed over.

As Amy approached the gates, a car pulled up on the opposite side of the road, and a late-twenties, man, wearing a grey mackintosh, and a black fedora, opened the rear door and slid out in one movement.

He swore as he realised, too late, that the snow would cover his patent leather, brogue shoes, and looking up to the heavens, trudged around the front of the car before nodding to a uniformed policeman standing at the ornate, snow-tipped, iron gates that guarded the forecourt of Wainwright and Sons Builders Merchant. The policeman wiped his runny nose on his sleeve, shuffled his booted feet, and blew into his hands.

‘Cold one today, Sir.’

The man in the mac nodded and examined the police constable as he would an object left behind at the scene of a crime. The uniformed colleague stamped incessantly in the snow, his bright red cheeks and chapped lips told him he’d been there for some time.

‘Report, Davies, and make it snappy.’ He pulled his unbuttoned mackintosh tightly around himself and tied off the belt.

‘Reported robbery, Sir. Estimated at three o’clock this morning. No suspects. We don’t even know how they got in. Two men attacked the watchman, tied him up and took away the cash tin. We don’t know exactly how much was in it, but apparently, the company takes about a hundred pounds every day. Because they don’t close until after the banks, the money is kept on the premises. They bank it every morning.’

The officer stamped his feet again and blew into his hands.

‘What do you mean, we don’t know how they got in?’

‘Well, Sir, there were no footprints.’ He turned to the gates and pointed. ‘The two pairs of prints, you can see, belong to myself and PC Watkins.’

The detective rolled his eyes to the dark sky. ‘What about round the back?’

‘They can’t have got in that way, Sir. The building is tied to a twenty-foot wall that separates it from the railway. There are only two ways in and out of the premises, and they are both accessed from here.’ He pointed across the yard to a red-painted door at the front of the building. ‘That one, and the side door where the goods are delivered and collected. But, as you can see, they would have to get through the gates to reach either one, and, as I said, there are no footprints. Apart from ours, that is. Two sets going in and one set, mine, coming back out.’

‘Where is the night watchman now?’

‘He’s inside with PC Watkins, the lucky so and… Sorry, Sir. Watkins is St John’s Ambulance trained, so he’s provided a little bit of first aid. The watchman wasn’t badly injured. He’s got a black eye and split lip. He managed to free himself and ring the police at about six o’clock. Do you think he might be in on it, Sir?’

The detective sighed.

‘I have no idea, Constable. I haven’t spoken to him yet.’

‘No, Sir, of course you haven’t. Sorry, Sir.’

He stamped his feet again and shivered under his heavy navy overcoat.

‘Oh, for God’s sake man. Go and sit in the car. Tell the driver to come out to take your place for half an hour. His name is Hodges.’

The policeman nodded gratefully and scurried around to the black Ford as Amy carefully crossed the road.

‘Has there been a burglary?’ she asked.

‘The detective swivelled on his heels to face her.

‘I’m not at liberty divulge that, Mrs…Miss.’

Amy smiled.

‘Oh, I wasn’t trying to get any information that might help a criminal.’ She smiled again, showing off a perfect set of teeth. A whisp of blonde hair loosened itself from beneath her hat and wafted in front of her eyes. She brushed it away with the back of her gloved hand. ‘My name is Amy Rowlings and I work at Grayson’s over the road.’ She pulled up her sleeve and looked at her men’s style, leather-strapped wristwatch. ‘And, if I don’t hurry, they’ll dock me a quarter of an hour’s wages.’

Amy turned away from the detective and began to make her way back, treading carefully in the footprints that she had made originally.

‘I didn’t think you were attempting to assist a criminal, Amy Rowlings,’ the policeman called after her. ‘I’m Detective Sergeant, Bodkin. I’m sorry I was a little abrupt just then.’

Amy stopped and looked back over her shoulder. The man was in his late twenties and handsome in a rugged sort of way. He took off his hat and gave her a curt nod. His hair was thick, dark and was in need of a good cut. He had two days’ worth of stubble on his chin and the bags under his brown eyes, told her that he hadn’t been sleeping well, or for long enough. His coat had fallen open revealing a creased, white shirt with a badly starched collar, a pair of wide, striped braces, held up his baggy, black trousers that bunched around his ankles.

Unmistakeably a single man, said Amy to herself.

He smiled and his tired face lit up.

‘Don’t worry about being a few minute’s late… Miss, erm… Rowlings, was it? I’ll tell your boss you were helping me with my inquiries.’

Amy laughed.

‘I’d get more than fifteen minutes docked if they thought you’d been questioning me, Detective. I’d be given my cards. They’re a suspicious lot over there. They think everyone is stealing from them.’ She thought for a moment. ‘A lot of them are, as it happens.’

‘No need for the formalities,’ he said, smiling again. ‘Everyone calls me Bodkin.’

She raised a gloved hand and waggled her fingers at him.

‘Well, Mr… sorry… Bodkin, it’s been nice chatting but I really should be going in.’

‘Please don’t rush away. I’ll tell them you’re helping me with this case. I’ll say you’re a vital witness.’

‘Ooh, that will get them all talking in the canteen,’ replied Amy. She brushed the errant hairs away again. ‘As it happens, I can help you with the case.’

‘You can?’ Bodkin took a step towards her. He smiled again. ‘And what would you know about my crime scene, Miss Rowlings?’

‘They got in via a skylight.’ Amy pointed to the snow-covered roof where footprints were clearly visible across the gently sloping, snow-covered roof.

Bodkin swivelled around in the snow, stared at the roof with his mouth wide open and shouted to the policeman sitting in the back of the car.

‘Davies!’ he yelled.

‘It’s not his fault,’ Amy said to the back of Bodkin’s head. ‘You can’t see the roof from that side of the road and it would still have been dark when he arrived.’

Bodkin turned back towards her.

‘There are no street lights,’ she pointed out, quietly.

Bodkin appraised the roof again. The trail of footprints led across the roof from the still-open skylight, to the adjacent building.

‘Looks like they got to the roof via the fire escape,’ said Amy, pointing out the obvious.

Together, they walked the thirty yards to the entrance of Harrington’s timber yard. Any footprints made on the forecourt had been wiped out by the twenty or so staff that worked there.

‘Stay back, please, Miss. This is a crime scene; I have to protect the evidence.’

Amy ignored him. ‘I’m not going to steal your precious footprints, am I?’

She marched onto the forecourt and crouched down at the bottom step of the fire escape. Bodkin leaned over her to examine the steps himself. Two separate sets of prints were clearly visible, one much larger than the other.

‘Blimey, those are big feet,’ she said.

Bodkin laughed. ‘That’s a hell of a clue. There can’t be too many men in this town with feet that size. They must be a size twelve.’

‘True,’ replied Amy. ‘But that is assuming the criminals live locally.’

‘All right, Miss Marple. It’s time you were at work. I’ll get Davies to guard the evidence.’

The detective gave orders to Davies and the policeman muttered to himself as he trapsed through the snow to take up his position guarding the fire escape.

Bodkin walked Amy over to the factory, they came to a halt at the staff entrance.

‘Could you tell your foreman I’d like a word please, Miss Rowlings? I’ll explain the situation to him.’

‘Call me Amy,’ she replied with a quick smile. ‘And, it won’t make any difference, they’ll still stop me the quarter hour.’

 

 

Sad Lisa. Chapter Three

Sad Lisa

Chapter Three

Adam, once one of the beaten, church poor, had no serious religious beliefs, and had only attended church (for a friend’s wedding), once since he had left school, so he spent the rest of the morning reading a copy of Thomas Hardy’s, The Mayor of Casterbridge, that he had found, damp, but still readable, on a seat in Hyde Park, earlier in the summer.

At around 1.00 PM he heard the loud chatter of children as the Parsons family returned from church. He got to his feet and hurried across the room as he heard someone rap on his door. He opened it to find Mr Parsons standing in the hall.

‘Mr Sears, I feel I have to apologise for the behaviour of my children earlier today. They have been instructed not to disturb you by running up and down the hallway in future.’

‘They were playing,’ Adam said with a smile. ‘I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest, quite the opposite in fact. I always find something joyous in the sound of children’s laughter.’

Mr Parsons nodded, and smiled back.

‘I’m so glad you see it that way, Mr Sears. They are confined upstairs rather too much and they do tend to expend all that built up energy every chance they are given. They visit the park twice a week but I fear that is not enough to let off the steam that builds up.’

‘They are welcome to play in the corridor at any time, Mr Parsons,’ replied Adam. ‘Rest assured, I will never be annoyed by their presence.’

Mr Parsons nodded again. ‘Oh, by the way, if you spot a cat around the area, could you let us know. Our pet, Mr Dickens, appears to have disappeared again. It’s a regular occurrence, so I’m not particularly concerned, but the children do worry about him. He’s not supposed to go into the street but he manages to slip out sometimes, usually when the children aren’t as observant as they promised they would be when we allowed them to take the creature in. He’s a big furry ball of a thing. Mostly ginger with a white flash on his chest.’

‘I’ll keep my eye out for him,’ Adam said, looking to the staircase where Veronica and Catherine waited with hopeful faces.

Mr Parsons turned away.

‘Come along, girls. Mr Sears will let us know if he spots the escapee.’ He patted both girls on the back. ‘He’ll turn up, he always does.’

Adam closed the door and returned to his book.

While visiting the bathroom during the afternoon, Adam thought he heard a baby crying. He turned off the tap, waited for the drain to empty, then cocked his head to listen. The sound came again, faint, but clearer. Adam paced the bathroom pushing his ear against the marble tiles, here and there. He wondered what was on the other side of his bathroom wall. He paced out the distance from the back wall of the bathroom, past a short open space to the kitchen, then through the sitting room until he got to the doorway of the apartment. He opened the door, stepped into the passage and paced out the same number of steps, towards the back wall.

‘Ten paces short,’ he said, as he reached the painted brickwork at the end of the hall. Adam looked to the right and noticed a door, set into the panelling below the staircase. The glossy door was not locked and he opened it and stepped into the dark recess beneath the stairs. Adam squinted into the gloom and saw another door, this one much more substantial. He stepped forward and turned the handle but the door was locked. Adam retraced his steps and returned to his sitting room where he picked up the bunch of keys from the mantel, that his landlady had given him. He had taken the front door keys from the bunch so that he wouldn’t have to carry the unwieldy ring of keys in his pocket.

Adam carried the keys back to the door in the stairwell, selected one of the larger keys and inserted it into the lock. Luck was with him; he turned the key and heard the lock click open. Adam twisted the handle and pushed open the door. Daylight filled the stairwell and Adam blinked a few times as his eyes became accustomed to the light. After a few seconds acclimatisation, he stepped out through the doorway.

Outside, he found himself in a short, high walled garden area. To his left was what he assumed was the extended wall of his bathroom. In front was a paved area with an ash-pit dug into the left side. Facing him, cut into the high wall, was a roughly-painted, wooden gate that showed at least three layers of faded, flaking, paint that has been applied over the years. Along the wall, at the left-hand side of the gate were three, dented, metal dustbins. To his right was an iron built, timber-treaded stairway that led up to the back door of the apartment above. On the third step sat a large ginger cat. It stared at him through narrow, green eyes, flattened back its ears, and hissed.

‘Mr Dickens, I presume,’ said Adam with a laugh. He held out his hand in what he hoped was a cat-friendly gesture. Mr Dickens ignored the offer of a petting, leapt down from the step and ran into the house. Adam looked around his surroundings again, then followed the cat, locking the heavy door behind him.

Temporarily blinded by the darkness, Adam felt his way along the right-hand wall until he found his way back to the stairwell door. He stepped into the bright hallway, decided to leave the door ajar in case the cat was hiding in the dark, and walked back to his sitting room. As he entered the room, he saw the ginger cat watching him carefully from the dining table.

‘There you are,’ said Adam, aloud. He walked slowly around the table so as not to alarm the animal, stepped into the kitchen and returned with a small piece of sliced ham, which he pulled apart and laid on the tablecloth. Mr Dickens looked at the ham, then at Adam, and remained where he was. Adam backed away and sank into an armchair. He pointed towards the tiny pieces of ham. ‘Eat,’ he said.

The cat sniffed the air, then padded across the tablecloth and began to tuck into the unexpected treat. Encouraged, Adam got to his feet, walked slowly to the table, and made what he hoped was soothing noises. Mr Dickens turned his head towards him, then returned to the food.

Adam decided not to risk a clawing by attempting to pet the cat and instead took a step back. The cat ate another sliver of ham, then became stiff, its ears flattened against its head, the hair on its back stood on end. It stared at the open bathroom door, hissed twice then began to growl.

Puzzled, Adam looked to where the cat was staring.

‘It’s alright, puss, there’s nothing there.’

The cat obviously thought otherwise, and still growling, began to back away, never taking its eyes off the bathroom. When it reached the edge of the table, it turned and leapt in one movement. With a swish of its tail it hurtled out of the still open door.

Adam took one last look at the bathroom, shook his head, then turned and walked to the hallway. On the stairs was Catherine, she cradled a still-wary Mr Dickens in her arms.

‘Did you have him all the time?’ she asked accusingly.

‘Of course not,’ replied Adam, trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice. ‘I found him out on the back stair, near the ash pit. He must have got into the yard when the dustmen came and couldn’t get out again.

Veronica seemed appeased.

‘Well, in that case, thank you for finding him. We were getting worried.’ She ran her fingers through the thick fur on the side of the cat’s head. ‘You’re a very silly cat, going into the yard. There’s nothing there for you, not even a mouse.’ She grunted as she got to her feet lifting the heavy cat. ‘Let’s get you some dinner, you must be starving.’

‘I gave him a little bit of ham,’ said Adam. ‘Not much though, so he should still want his dinner.’

Veronica began to climb the stair. ‘Thank you for rescuing him,’ she said, without looking back.

Adam returned to his flat, picked up the two, tiny pieces of ham that Mr Dickens hadn’t eaten and took them into the bathroom where he dropped the meat into the lavatory and pulled the chain, flushing it into the drains.

Adam put the kettle on the kitchen stove and made tea, adding milk from the pan he had boiled earlier that day. He carried the tea tray to the big table, placed it in the centre and sat down facing the bathroom, wondering what the cat had seen to make it act in such a strange manner.

After two cups of tea and a wasted half hour, Adam decided that it was impossible to understand cat behaviour, and laughing to himself, pulled on his jacket, went out into the quiet street, and made his way to the Dog and Duck for dinner.

The three-course meal cost nine pence, twice as much as he used to pay at the Furling public house in Paddington. The meal consisted of a thin, beef soup, mutton, potatoes, cabbage and gravy, followed by a sweet, lemon pudding. At the Boar restaurant, just up the road, the cost for a similar meal would be a shilling. Adam decided that a shilling was too much to pay for his evening meal on a regular basis, and that he would eat at the Dog and Duck four nights a week, have restaurant food on Saturdays, before visiting the music hall, and dine at home on the other two nights.

Adam remained in the bar of the pub, drinking a decent ale, until eight o’clock, then made his way back home, breathing in the still clean, summer evening air. At midnight, the destructor, a huge furnace built to burn household waste, would start up at the refuse disposal yard and heavy industry boilers and ovens would be relit, ready for the new working week.

It was a relatively short walk home. When he arrived, Adam decided to sit on the top step of the stairs outside his apartment building to watch the world go by. With a full stomach and two pints of heavy beer in his stomach, he was as happy as he had ever been.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. Chapter 2

Sad Lisa

Chapter Two

Adam slept well on the first night in his new home. He woke early on Sunday morning and took a brisk walk through the almost empty streets. In his former lodgings, the streets would have been almost as busy as a weekday, with many children of the less well-heeled spending the early morning of the Sabbath scouring the gutters and pavements for tiny pieces of coal that has been missed by the Saturday evening search patrols. Some scoured the back yards of food shops for half-rotten potatoes, a few, bad smelling leaves of cabbage or a crust of stale bread.

Later, the streets he now walked would be littered with children heading off to Sunday School before meeting up with parents at the church for their regular Sunday morning service. All of the children in Adam’s new, more affluent area, walked to church in their Sunday best clothes to be given bible tuition and made to repeat the Lord’s Prayer and the ten commandments before listening to a guest speaker. Sometimes it would be a vicar from a neighbouring parish, sometimes a fiery, American preacher, and sometimes, more interestingly, a missionary, fresh back from Africa with tales of man-eating lions and crocodiles the length of an omnibus.

In Paddington, Adam’s previous district, only the children of the religious poor attended Sunday School. The church official in charge of the poorest of the poor handled things in a very different manner. Unruly children were dragged unceremoniously to the front of the room and beaten with either a thick leather strap or, if the offence was considered blasphemous, a three-foot cane. Threats of hell and damnation would follow the children out of the hall and into the streets where the cursing and fighting would begin anew.

Adam counted three public houses and two, small but well looked-after, restaurants as he surveyed his new neighbourhood for the first time. The chalked-up blackboards outside each establishment showed prices for two or three course evening meals. Even the pubs seemed to have a reasonable menu. They were all twice the price of a meal in the eateries less then half a mile along the road, but he knew he would be enjoying a far superior meal and would have less chance of a seriously upset stomach during the night. Following the recent licencing restrictions, the pubs in this district at least were not allowed to open until 12.00 PM while all of the shops were closed and shuttered, as people adhered to the strict, Lord’s Day rules.

Adam switched from the cobbled streets to the pavement as the private hire and privately owned carriages came onto the roads and walked back to his new apartment at a brisk pace, lifting his hat or nodding to the few fellow citizens who were taking the chance to exercise in the almost deserted streets and the smoke-free air.

Adam had precured a small loaf, some butter, a lump of cheese and an onion on the previous afternoon and when he returned home, he made a pot of tea and sat down to enjoy the first meal in his new abode. Outside, in the hall, he could hear the sound of children’s laughter. He opened the door and looked out to see two girls aged between nine and eleven, wearing smock dresses and lace-up boots, along with a red-faced, wheezy boy, some years younger, sporting a checked knickerbocker suit, acting out a game of tag up and down the long corridor. They stopped dead as he appeared in the doorframe. The older of the girls looked particularly shocked.

‘Shut the door, mister,’ she begged, and began to back her way along the polished wood panelling that lined the bottom of the staircase. She held out her hand to the other girl. ‘Veronica, quickly now, come here.’

Never taking her eyes from Adam, the younger girl edged towards, who he assumed was her sister. She grabbed at her wrist and together they ran up the first three steps to the turn of the stair.

‘Don’t be afraid, children.’ Adam held out both hands. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ He turned to the boy who stood, mouth agape, only three feet away from him. ‘You’re not afraid of me, are you?’ He smiled and crouched down so he was at more or less the same height as the boy.

‘Stanley! Get yourself up here… NOW!’ the older girl commanded.

Stanley looked from Adam to the girl then back again, but remained glued to the spot.

‘Stanley?’ Adam spoke softly. He held out his hand towards the child. The movement seemed to wake Stanley from his stupor, and he spun around on one foot and hurled himself up the steps.

Adam straightened, and held out his palms again. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. Please, don’t be afraid.’

‘It’s not you we’re scared of,’ said the younger of the girls. ‘It’s what’s insi—’

‘Shh, Veronica,’ the older girl put her finger to her lips, ‘you’ll entice her out, then we’ll all be for it.’

Adam looked puzzled. He half turned and pushed the heavy door, open wide.

‘There’s no one here but me. See for yourselves.’

The girls looked at each other, the older of the two stretched her neck in an attempt to see past him. Adam stepped into the hallway and stood to the side so the girls had a clear view into his sitting room.

‘See? No one. I live here alone.’

‘Catherine, Veronica. Come along now, let me brush your hair, it’s almost time for Sunday School. Is Stanley with you?’

A tall, slim woman in a grey pleated skirt and a light pink, frilled-collared blouse, descended the stairs. Spotting Adam, she paused, then held out a slender hand towards the children. ‘Come now, we don’t want to be late.’

She began to turn away but stopped as Adam spoke.

‘I’m Adam Sears,’ he said quickly. ‘I appear to have frightened your children. I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.’

The woman smiled thinly.

‘I’m Felicity Parsons,’ she replied. Her face became softer. She ushered the children upstairs then walked elegantly down the stairs to the hallway. She held out a gloved hand. Adam took it as gently as he could.

‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ Adam said. ‘I’m new to the district, I don’t know anyone around here. I’m sorry we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Mrs Parsons replied, stretching to look over Adam’s shoulder and into the sitting room. ‘I hope you last a little bit longer than the previous tenant… previous three tenants, that is. No one seems to stay here long. It seems that just as we get to be on speaking terms, they disappear on us.’

‘I met Mr Parsons last night, he told me the same thing,’ said Adam. He looked back into the apartment, a puzzled look on his face. ‘It’s a lovely place, I really can’t understand what’s wrong with it for the life of me.’

Mrs Parsons patted his arm and walked quickly back to the staircase.

‘Let us hope you never do, Mr Sears,’ she said.

 

 

 

 

Sad Lisa. A ghost story. Chapter 1

Sad Lisa. A ghost story based on the Cat Stevens song. Unedited and seen as written. Part two will be along soon.

 

SAD LISA

by

T. A. Belshaw

Adam Sears sat at the heavy-oak dining table and for the umpteenth time that week, wondered how he, a young man of just twenty-one years, with limited prospects, had managed to acquire such a comfortable apartment in such an elegant house, in this much sought-after district of London.

The room was tastefully decorated with a cornflower patterned wallpaper. The furniture, including the dining table and a drop-leaf side table, was made from sturdy oak. An almost new, oriental style, blue/grey rug, sat on the floor and the bay window was framed by heavy, dark-grey, velvet, curtains.

Adam got to his feet and walked across to the open, sashed-window. Outside, the well-heeled Saturday afternoon crowds strolled the pavements.  Ladies, resplendent in summer hats, walked arm in arm with their heavily moustached, stiff-collared, male companions. Hanson and Landau carriages, pulled by a single or pair of horses, clattered across the cobbled street. Come autumn, the view would be restricted by the heavy smog that would hang in the air like a thick coverlet, but for now, with the sun high in the smoke-hazed sky, he couldn’t imagine a place he’d rather be. Adam stood for five minutes,  wallowing in the spectacle, thinking again how very fortunate he had been to find such a pleasant place to call his home.

Adam was an accounts clerk, working for Lorimar’s Bank. His shiny coat and frayed shirt collars were an embarrassment to him, especially out on the streets of such a genteel district. He felt the eyes of the privileged on him as he climbed the three steps from the pavement to the front door of his residence. Most took him for an Insurance salesman, visiting a client, or a butler to a rich tradesman, returning from running an errand. He was determined to improve his station, Mr Robbins, the branch manager had told him that if he worked hard, he could earn a substantial promotion in the next five years. Old Mr Armitage, the senior clerk, was seventy and had begun to struggle with his sight. Adam had designs on his job, and with it, the extra fifty pounds a year.

He had found the apartment after noticing a poster in a ground-floor window as he passed by on the omnibus. The first evening he just noticed the ‘for rent,’ headline and he had travelled home, daydreaming about what it must be like to live in such a pleasant neighbourhood. The following night, a Hanson cab had lost a wheel and the omnibus came to a halt right outside the building, so Adam had plenty of time to read the entire advertisement.

‘Apartment to let. Furnished, with private bathroom and kitchen. 10 shillings per week. Professional gentlemen only need apply. Deposit and references, required.’

Adam read the poster three times, then got up from his seat, left the omnibus and walked quickly up the steps to the front door of the residence. He brought down the brass, lion’s-head knocker three times and stepped back as the door opened. In front of him was a woman of about forty years. She was smartly dressed in a blue skirt and white frilled blouse. Her greying hair was tied in a tight bun, but wisps of it had escaped and lay across her frowning, forehead,

‘May I help you?’ she asked.

‘It’s about the, umm, the… advertisment… in the window. I’m not sure I read it correctly.’

The woman looked him up and down, took in his much-repaired shirt and coat, his scraped brown boots, then half closed the door. ‘The stipulation is, professional gentleman,’ she said.

‘My name is Adam Sears, I work for Lorimar’s Bank, I look after the accounts of our more affluent clients,’ he said hurriedly. ‘If the apartment really is for rent at ten shillings a week, I can easily afford it. I’ve just had my salary increased.’

The woman looked at him suspiciously. ‘Where are you living at the moment?’

Adam thought quickly. He didn’t want her to know he was renting a tiny attic room in a run-down part of Paddington, so he answered, ‘I live with my aunt in Marylebone, but she is increasingly, frail and is moving to the coast for the sea air.’

She looked him up and down again, quite taken by his piercing blue eyes and the handsome face that was almost pleading with her to accept his word.

‘Lorimar’s Bank you say? Well, I’ll need a reference.’ She stepped back and opened the heavy, black-glossed door. ‘Come inside and take a look. I will require a month’s deposit in advance, plus the current month’s rent.’

Adam’s jaw almost hit his chest when she opened the door to the apartment and showed him around. This was pure opulence, considering the conditions he was living in at present.

‘And, and, it’s definitely, ten shillings a week, the rent won’t increase after the first month, or so?’

‘Ten shillings it is and ten shillings it will remain until the day you leave, or can no longer afford to pay. She looked him over again and sniffed. ‘Defaulter’s deposits are non-refundable,’ she warned.

‘I have to ask, why is it so cheap? I mean, my friend is paying the same amount to share a couple of dingy, rooms in Balham.’ Adam turned a full three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. ‘This is beautiful.’

‘I just want it let, instead of sitting idle,’ she said. A look of annoyance crossed her face. ‘No one seems to stay very long. The last two tenants left without notice, leaving all their belongings behind them. It seems to have a history of short term, tenancy. I only bought the house a couple of years ago and it has been rented out six times during that period. The rest of the apartments in the house have settled tenants, some have been living here for years.’ She shrugged. ‘Anyone would think the place was haunted.’

Adam laughed nervously. ‘Well, if it is, I don’t care.’ He looked around the beautifully decorated sitting room. ‘As long as I don’t have to pay its share of the rent.’

The woman smiled at the joke. ‘I’m Mrs Prendergast. I live just up the street at number forty-five, you’ll find me there most of the time if you need me for anything… like paying the rental deposit, or settling the monthly account.’ She narrowed her eyes, her mouth so tightly closed that her lips almost vanished. ‘Due on the first day of the month, every month,’ she added.

Adam offered his hand. Mrs Prendergast looked at it, then turned away.

‘We’ll leave the formalities and niceties until the contract is signed, shall we?’ She showed Adam to the front door and watched him onto the top step.

‘I’ll bring the deposit and the first month’s rent around tomorrow after I leave work. It will be about this time of day,’ he said.

He turned away and walked to the pavement before turning back to face her.

‘You won’t let it to anyone else before I come back?’

‘A chance would be a fine thing,’ she muttered under her breath before looking directly into his eyes. ‘The apartment is yours, Mr Sears,’ she said, firmly.

***

The following night, Adam, carrying a large, battered case containing everything he owned, arrived at Mrs Prendergast’s house. She showed him into a neat study where she studiously counted out the money he placed on the table. Adam handed her an envelope containing a reference from his employers, which stated that to the best of their knowledge he was of good character, was a diligent, trustworthy employee with some promotional prospects, and earned a salary of one hundred and seventy pounds per annum.

His new landlady read the document through a pair of narrow-lensed, reading glasses that she picked up from her desk. Satisfied, she turned to a tier of small, gold-embossed drawers, opened the top one and produced a bunch of keys. She handed them to him with a warning.

‘If you lose them, replacements will have to be paid for. I only keep one spare set and that is for my use. I may let myself into the apartment from time to time just to see if you are looking after it. I will inform you when I mean to do that.’

Adam almost ran back to his new abode. He rushed up the steps, keys in hand but as he reached out to insert the largest of them into the lock, the heavy, black door opened.

In the doorway, stood a tall, bearded man wearing a dark suit and a black top hat. He smiled at Adam and stood aside to allow him entry.

Adam put down his case and blushed as he noticed the man take in its battered condition. He held out his hand and smiled.

The man took it and smiled back.

‘Henry Parsons, at your service,’ he said.

‘Adam Sears. I’m your new neighbour.’

Henry’s smile was little more than a grimace. ‘Well, Adam Sears, I hope you last longer then the last tenant. He was here for less than a month. The one before him was only here for two.’

‘I don’t understand it,’ replied Adam with a puzzled frown. ‘The apartment is beautiful, and it’s so cheap, why would anyone want to leave so quickly?’

Henry shrugged and walked back to the door. ‘Perhaps the ghost of Sad Lisa has something to do with it,’ he said quietly.

Adam looked puzzled again. ‘Ghost… Sad Lisa? Who is Sad Lisa? he asked.

‘You’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.’ Henry stepped outside closing the door firmly behind him.

 

Unspoken 2. Chapter 4

Unedited. This preview is for readers to become familiar with one of the main characters of Unspoken Part Two

The name Martha means, The Lady, or Mistress of the House. Her sister is called, Marjorie, which means, The Pearl.

 

Chapter Four

Martha

Martha lay on her side, her turban-covered head nestled into the deep pile of down pillows. Her bedside clock read four-minutes-past-seven.

‘Late again,’ she said under her breath.

She rolled onto her back and studied the thick crack in the ceiling that she was sure had spread further over the last few days. She would have liked to get it fixed but the young man she had booked to give her a quote had looked like a bit of a rogue builder, although he claimed to be a member of the Master Builder’s Federation. Martha didn’t believe a word of it, there were a lot of rogues about these days. At one time you could get a local builder who would take pride in his work, knowing that if he messed up, the word would quickly get about, but now, all the trades seem to come from a minimum of twenty miles away and they wouldn’t give a damn about receiving a complaint. Just look at that Rogue Traders program on TV. The country was full of cowboy builders.

Only last week, old Mrs Hardy a few houses down the lane had been told by a ‘passing builder’ that the roof of her old bungalow looked in danger of collapse. After an inspection he blew out his cheeks, shook his head and told her it couldn’t be repaired for a penny under ten thousand pounds. The silly old woman had agreed to have the work done, but luckily her son came over to visit at the weekend and he had brought in his best friend, a builder himself, to have a look. Finding no fault, he suggested they ring the police. Mrs Hardy’s son, who was no saint himself, was reluctant to get them involved, so he just rang the number on the card she had been given, and cancelled the job, warning the builder that he was onto him and he shouldn’t show his face around the area any time soon.

Martha scratched an itch just below her right eye and looked towards the door.

‘Marjorie, where in God’s name have you got to?’ she muttered.

She shook her head and thought about the meeting with the solicitor later that day. With just the tiniest, and long awaited, bit of luck she so thoroughly deserved, she wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of repairing a crack in the ceiling ever again. She could afford to get the modern equivalent of Sir Christopher Wren to do the job if she felt like it. An unexpected mention in her late mother’s will could mean she would never want for money again. The old girl had been loaded when she died. The big, old farmhouse she had lived in and the couple of acres of land around it, must be worth at least three quarters of a million pounds these days. Then there were the proceeds of her land sales over the years. The farm had once boasted a hundred acres but Alice’s astute selling of parcels of land had netted her a fortune over the years. She had invested a lot of the money in London property and stocks and shares. God knows how much those assets were worth now.

‘About time,’ she said loudly as her sister, Marjorie, entered the room carrying a rattling breakfast tray.

‘I’m sorry, I, well, I dropped the pan with the eggs in and had to cook some more, by the time I had cleaned up, the tea was getting cold so I had to make another pot.’

‘I hope the eggs are properly cooked today.’ Martha scowled at her sister. ‘Yesterday, they were so undercooked they resembled mucus. How many times do I have to say, boil them for three minutes and twenty seconds, precisely.’

‘Yes, Martha, I’m sorry, but the handle of the pan was hot and—’

‘Just give me the tray and stop wittering,’ Martha scolded.

Marjorie pulled open the thickly-lined curtains to allow the early morning sun to light up the room.

‘It’s a nice day for an inheritance,’ she quipped.

‘Don’t count your chickens just yet, Marjorie,’ replied Martha. ‘You know what the tight old so and so was like. Remember the time I went cap in hand to her when Roger claimed a quarter of this house in the divorce court? She wouldn’t give me a penny to help me out of the mess.’

‘It was good job I had some savings, wasn’t it, Martha?’ Marjorie walked stiffly across to the bed and sat on the corner.

Martha coughed on the piece of toast she had just put into her mouth.

‘Don’t go digging up all that again. You’ll never let me forget that for once in your life, you helped me with something, will you? Put another record on, Marjorie, I’m fed up of hearing that one.’

‘I’m sorry, Martha,’ said Marjorie, quietly. I won’t mention it again. I might not need to after we’ve been to the solicitor today though. I didn’t think we’d get a penny from Mother, but we’re both mentioned in the will. I fully expected her to leave everything to our Jessica.’

Martha put the crust of the toast back onto her plate and sliced the top off one of the eggs with a knife. Inspecting the consistency of the yolk, she nodded, and dug a teaspoon into it.

‘Well, if we are the main beneficiaries, don’t you go throwing your share about. I’ll find some nice, safe investments for you. And, watch out for fortune seeking men. You would be taken advantage of far too easily.’

‘I’m seventy-six now, Martha, I don’t think any men will be interested in me.’

‘You’d be surprised, Marjorie,’ said Martha bitterly. ‘If I can get caught out, there’s little hope for you.’

Martha finished her egg and decided the quality wasn’t quite good enough to warrant eating the second one. Instead, she poured tea into a delicate china cup, poured in a small amount of milk, stirred it gently, and took a large sip.

‘At least the tea is made properly,’ she said.

Marjorie got to her feet. ‘I’d better get on with running your bath.’

‘Leave it for twenty minutes, I don’t want to bathe on a full stomach.’

‘Yes, Martha,’ replied Marjorie.

‘You can get in after me.’ Martha ordered. ‘We’ll share the water. Our gas bill was enormous over the last quarter.’

Marjorie walked to the door. ‘I’ll come back for the tray when you’re in the bath, shall I?’

Martha nodded, picked up another piece of toast and bit into it.

‘Off you go then. Make sure the kitchen is properly cleaned, I don’t want to be stepping on bits of egg shell when I come down.’

 

When Marjorie had taken away the breakfast tray, Martha got out of bed, removed her nightgown and slipped into a striped bath robe. Removing her turban, she studied herself in the dressing table mirror, running her fingers through her sparse, white hair before holding a hand mirror behind her head. Cursing the latest, seriously expensive, but useless, scalp cream, she walked quickly to the bathroom where she dampened her hair in the sink before rubbing a generous handful of the supposed miracle, steroid cream, onto her head.

Martha had always been envious of her mother’s shoulder length, chestnut curls. When Alice was young, people used to compare her to the Hollywood actress, Rita Hayworth, and indeed, there had been a remarkable likeness. Martha wasn’t as fortunate, she hadn’t been exactly unattractive when she was young, but she could hardly be classed as a beauty. Her hair had always been straight and thin, almost lank. Even in old age, Alice, her mother, had managed to keep a full head of hair, she had even retained some of her natural colour until she was well into her sixties.

Martha assumed she got her looks, and her hair, from Frank, her father, who had died somewhere in the Atlantic the year after her birth. Maybe she got the hair problems from Frank’s mother, Edna, was it? How was the hair gene passed down? She doubted it was a matriarchal thing, after all, her daughter and granddaughter both had dark, healthy, heads of hair. She decided to blame it on Alice anyway. They had always hated each other. There was talk of her mother practicing witchcraft in the attic of the farmhouse. Perhaps she had placed a curse on her first born, or simply used toxic chemicals when she washed her hair in the bath when she was a baby. Alice was capable of anything.

After bathing, she returned to the sink and rinsed out the sticky cream with fresh warm water, then she returned to the bathroom, calling to Marjorie on the way.

‘The bath’s all yours, be quick, the water isn’t too hot.’

In the bedroom, Martha pulled on a black and grey checked skirt and a white, silk blouse before opening a hat box that sat on the dressing table. She took out a steel-grey wig and pulled it over her patchy clumps of hair. She sat for a few minutes, tugging it first to the right, then the left, then the back. Finally satisfied, she applied a dab of rouge to her cheeks and went downstairs to the lounge where she turned on the radio and listened to the latest international news program. Radio 4 and the BBC TV news were her only source of information. She had cancelled the newspapers to save money some years before.

A few minutes later she heard Marjorie come down the stairs and five minutes after that, her younger sister walked into the lounge carrying a tray laden with Martha’s favourite china tea service. She was wearing a maroon skirt, a cream blouse and a navy cardigan.

‘I thought I’d use the best china as it’s a special day,’ she said.

Martha pursed her lips, looked Marjorie up and down, then shook her head.

‘You aren’t going to a solicitor’s office dressed like that, surely?’

‘What’s wrong with it?’ Marjorie looked down at her chest.

‘It’s not really fitting for the occasion is it? We’re attending the formal reading of a will; we’re not going to a coffee morning at the Women’s Institute.’

‘I… I thought.’

‘Don’t think, Marjorie. It seldom works out well for either of us.’

Marjorie looked confused. ‘What should I wear then?’

Martha sighed. ‘I’m not your dresser,’ she said, testily. ‘Wear the black knitted suit you wore to Mother’s funeral. That will look much more business-like.’

‘The hat had a veil on it,’ Marjorie protested.

Martha slammed her hand down onto the dining table making Marjorie jump.

‘Then don’t wear the bloody hat.’

Sniffling, Marjorie left the room.

‘And don’t take all day about it,’ called Martha. ‘Nicola is picking us up at eleven.’

Marjorie’s tear-stained face appeared around the dining room door.

‘Why are we leaving so early, Martha?’ She sniffed, pulled a handkerchief from the sleeve of her cardigan and wiped her nose. ‘The appointment isn’t until one-thirty.’

‘We’re going to have a look at our old home, Marjorie. I want to see what state the outbuildings are in. I’ve got big plans for that place.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Unspoken. Book Facts

Unspoken, my new novel, spans three generations over 80 years, but the events at the heart of the story, take place during a period of just ten days.

The Louise Wise Interview


I have conducted an author’s interview with the wonderful author, Louise Wise on her writer’s blog, where I talk about the writing process and how my new novel, Unspoken, was created.
Thank  you, Louise. I’m really pleased with it.

From the author of UNSPOKEN, @tabelshaw reveals all! #sagas #womensfiction #historical #fiction #mustread #bookrelease

 

 

 

 

Signed Author Copies of Unspoken.

What a week it has been. The first paperback copies have been bought from Amazon, the eBook is picking up a lot of interest and now has SIX 5* reviews on Amazon and TWO 5* on Goodreads with the promise of many more to come.

In October, I have a blog tour organised and in November, a one day blitz by a team of bloggers worldwide. In September I will be featured in the Ilkeston Life newspaper.

Today I heard from Reedsy that one of their top reviewers is going to give an editorial review for Unspoken and I’m seriously looking forward to reading what they have to say.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I am expecting my first batch of author copy, paperbacks to sign and send out to readers. I only ordered ten to see how they go but I’ve already had requests for more than that so I’ve placed another order which will be delivered by Amazon in the coming days.

If you would like a signed copy, the cost is £7.99 plus £3.00 postage to anywhere in the UK. International postage rates will, of course, be higher. You can order one from me via my Facebook Page, or leave a comment on here and I’ll get in touch via email.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has shown interest in Unspoken, especially those who supported me through a very tough, last few years when writing novels was the last thing on my mind.

To any future buyer, could I please ask a favour. All authors in this day and age need help to become a success and by leaving a review, no matter how short, on Amazon and Goodreads you will show to others how highly you rated Unspoken and this might encourage them to read it too.

Thank You.

Trevor.

T.A.Belshaw

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