I mentioned that I am now working on my next Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Earthquake’; I am about three-quarters way through writing the first draft… and I thought you might like to have a little preview.

The main character, Thomas Radwinter is meeting a new client for the first time; the old gentleman rang him but had such a whispery voice that Thomas couldn’t work out his name even though he asked him to repeat it three times.

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. This could have been a lovely home and it reminded me a little of my second cousin Lesley’s home, but hers is clean and bright and the pale wood work always gleams with loving polish. Mind you, she’s not often there, she’s spending most of her inheritance from her parents on cruises to almost every corner of the world… I believe she’s in Japan at the moment… no doubt when she returns she will bring another small gift for Kenneil… he has quite an array of little souvenirs from Aunty Lesley…

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. I hated it… I hated having my picture taken, hated the pictures that were taken. In junior school when I was mostly living with Sylvia I’d bring the wretched package home then take it back unopened; however once I was at secondary and Marcus was more involved, the nightmare started. I took the stupid thing back to him and he insisted on ordering a set of me looking like a red-faced, red-haired hamster with both cheeks stuffed with food – my cheeks weren’t really stuffed, they were just fat. In year eight one of my tormentors took the thing off me and my photo was passed around with everyone laughing at me… after that I made sure I was either away for the photographer or I ‘lost’ the blasted pictures…

But anyway… 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! Twelve similar looking teenage girls and a very elderly gentleman who was now sitting back in his chair, his fingers steepled together beneath his chin and what can only be described as a mischievous look on his face. I could see now that his face wasn’t totally European, something about the shape of his eyes and his nose… I wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t told me that one of these twelve lovely girls was his mother.

Was this some sort of test? Had he heard things about me from the golf club gang which made him think I might be able to help him in some other matter and he was testing me?

He made a funny squeaking noise and I realised he was laughing… OK… I gazed at the pictures…

©Lois Elsden 2016

If you haven’t yet read my other Thomas Radwinter books, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_6?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C138

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