|Publisher:||Thames River Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Keith Redfern is currently retired and living in Ipswich with his wife, Rosemary. He is the author of ‘First Day Back’ (2010), which tells the back story of one of the characters in ‘Apportionment of Blame’.
Read an Excerpt
I could still make out the shape of neighbouring rooftops in the failing light. I considered putting on the lamp, but realised I could see outside more clearly without it. Anyway, it felt more atmospheric in the gathering gloom and it would do no harm to keep the electric bill as low as possible.
Stretching out my legs, I pushed against the desk and sent myself and the swivel chair pirouetting across the office. I was now sufficiently skilled at this manoeuvre to reach the filing cabinet with one deft scoot on the carpet; well, all right, vinyl.
Where was Joyce? She should have been here ages ago.
I looked at my watch once again. How long was it since I called her? Long enough for her to have caught a train to London and taken the tube to my office. Even allowing for the vagaries of the Circle Line, two and a half hours should have been plenty.
I began to rub the ends of my fingers roughly through my hair in an attempt to massage some wakefulness into my skull. It didn't work.
It was four thirty and almost dark. The day had been as busy and unrewarding as usual; then the note arrived.
A messenger in a black crash helmet thumped up the stairs to bring it.
"You Greg Mason?"
"This is for you."
And then he was gone.
The message said: 'IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW SHE DIED, LOOK UNDER THE BENCH BELOW THE FRIENDS MAGN OLIA'. It was all in capital letters cut from newsprint. But what could it mean?
Clearly it referred to Helen, no one else had died. But how did anyone know I was looking into her death?
And what bench, and what about that friend's magnolia? It didn't make any sense.
As soon as I had told Joyce, she said she would come up and join me.
"We can work this out together," she had said. "Two heads are better than one."
Certainly this head wasn't making much progress.
I looked round the office, but saw no inspiration there, just a stack of shelves above the filing cabinet, all empty; a cane chair and a desk that had looked perfect in the shop, but now seemed to fill the room.
All the walls were bare - about like my brain at the moment -but at least the white emulsion was still reflecting some light from outside, what little there was.
I tried to persuade myself that this was what detective work was all about; that I was the famous investigator, waiting to solve another case of international mystery and intrigue. Greg Mason, the good guy, the clean living idealist, struggling to fight injustice in an unjust world.
Who was I kidding? I was twenty-five, in a cheap, cramped room above an Indian restaurant, waiting for something to happen. Or, more precisely, waiting for someone to arrive.
I looked at my watch again and felt pretty useless, just standing there, waiting.
My eyes caught the first signs of a star in the darkening sky and I spent several minutes trying to work out in which direction I was looking and which star it was, before I realised it was an aircraft coming straight towards me. Some detective.
The sound of a car, moving very fast and getting nearer, pulled me out of both my reverie and my chair and I went to the window, my gaze aimed along the street. As the car reached my building I thought I heard a door slam and more out of curiosity than anything, I craned further forward to look down in front of the ground floor.
My first thought was to be glad I had not turned on the light. My second thought froze my stare. A body lay, bent like a horseshoe, against a concrete lamp standard.
I didn't want to look, yet I couldn't avert my eyes and the stare remained fixed till I couldn't really see at all.
My mind was telling me this sort of thing doesn't happen. My mind was lying.
As the focus returned to my eyes I suddenly realised who I was looking at. I'm not sure how I knew. I suppose it could have been her clothes, but some sort of instinct in me was certain; gut-wretchingly certain, and I didn't want to be. My immediate reaction was to go down and check, but something stopped me.
Perhaps whoever got Joyce was waiting for me, too. What could she possibly have done to have caused this? We'd only just started this investigation.
I was suddenly scared. Scared of what might happen to me. Scared of what I would have to tell Joyce's parents. Why wouldn't she listen to me and let me work alone?
I had to think. I should have thought before, but who could have expected anything like this? Staying in the office wouldn't do any good, but nothing would do Joyce any good, now. Oh God! What should I do?
Whoever had dumped Joyce was probably waiting just round the corner, waiting for curiosity to draw me out. They must have known I'd heard them. They probably intended that I should. No real detective would walk out into a possible trap, but I had to know for sure who it was and I couldn't leave Joyce just lying there, so I decided.
Leaving the office door open an inch, I was soon down the two flights. My soft, black shoes made no sound, and when I reached the outer door I stopped and opened it slowly and carefully. I couldn't see anything obvious to worry about, but I knew how many windows there were in that street. There could be someone behind any one of them, or peering round one of the buildings, and if they were looking for me, I would make a sitting target under that street lamp.
There was a shallow, covered area between door and pavement and I eased myself out and stood, side on to the road, my back against one wall.
I strained my eyes to see, but detected no movement, so I repeated the procedure on the other side edging my back against the doorway. Still nothing.
So, in for a penny, I crouched low and launched myself across to the street lamp and then stopped, eyes closed, expecting something violent to happen, but nothing did; nothing at all. It seemed unnaturally quiet.
Staying close to the ground I shuffled round to look at the face. It was Joyce all right and she was breathing, but harshly and she had a tape stretched across her mouth. Well thank God - at least she was alive. "Joyce," I half whispered and half shouted.
"Joyce. Can you hear me? Are you all right?"
What a stupid question. Yes, of course she's all right. She makes a habit of lying curved around street lamps in the early hours of darkness.
There was a note, safety-pinned to her coat. I tore it off, screwed it up in my hand and pushed it into my pocket.
Crouching down next to her I felt her forehead - it seemed warm. I wanted to pick her up, but recalled all the advice I had heard about not moving people too soon in case there were broken bones. So I felt along her arms and legs. They felt relaxed and I could detect no strange shapes or twists as might have been expected if something was broken.
"Mmmm. ... mmmm?" Joyce tried to speak.
I was so surprised, I jumped forward from my crouch and banged my head against the lamp standard. As I rubbed the bruise, I could see Joyce beginning to unravel herself.
She felt around the tape and gingerly began to peel it off.
"What exactly were you doing?" were her first words.
"What do you mean, what was I doing? I was trying to find out if you are all right. What did you think? That I thought this was the ideal place for a furtive grope?"
"No. Of course not, stupid." She tried to smile and failed. At least the attempt took some tension out of the situation, but not much.
"Well, are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Are you all right?"
"Of course I'm all right," she said unconvincingly.
Then, as if realising exactly how she really felt, she said: "Well I will be when my head clears." I took her by the arm and helped her to her feet. "What happened to you? Where have you been? Can you walk?"
My questions came pouring out.
"I think so. And I'm not sure what happened."
"Come on then. Let's get back inside out of sight, before someone starts asking questions."
I helped her across the pavement and into the doorway, very relieved that apparently no one had seen us.
Back in the office, Joyce lowered herself into the chair - my chair, but I just stood and looked down at her, feeling rather helpless.
"So what happened?"
"I did what the note said," Joyce said.
"And I went to the right place."
"What place? What are you talking about?"
"Just a minute." She was rubbing her hands across her face where the tape had been and I could see that she was trembling.
"Would you like a drink?" Useless question.
"What have you got?" She looked up.
"Coffee. But it's real," saying this to justify the inadequacies of my office provisions. Philip Marlowe would have produced a bottle of Bourbon and two shot glasses from his filing cabinet.
I fiddled about with the kettle and a little steel cafetière, putting in two hefty spoonfuls of ground Colombian.
Eventually I turned, leaving the kettle to boil.
"Now, if you are up to this, what place did you go to? Where have you been? You didn't say you knew where to look."
"I didn't know until I was on the train. Just as I was dozing off, it hit me. Right across the road from Euston Station is Friends House. I used to see it when I was going back to school after weekends at home."
"What does it mean, Friends House?" I asked her.
"They are Quakers. Friends are Quakers. It's the Religious Society of Friends."
"I thought they were something from centuries ago. But I think I know where you mean."
"I don't know anything about them. Just what Friends means, and that was all I needed to know."
I heard the water come to the boil and turned to pour it on the grounds, replacing the top of the cafetière before finally sitting on the cane chair against the wall, where I sat looking at her. She was looking more relaxed and I was grateful she appeared not to be harmed in any way. All I could see was a slight red mark across her face where the tape had been.
"What are you looking at?"
"Nothing, except to check that you are OK."
I realised I had been staring at her, those deep, blue eyes and that wonderful heart shaped face. Trying to cover my embarrassment I turned back to the coffee, pushed down the plunger and poured the dark brew into two mugs.
"Do you take milk or sugar?"
"Well, thank goodness for small mercies."
I gave Joyce her coffee and sat down again with mine.
"So what did the note mean? All that about a magnolia and a bench?"
"There's a garden at the end of the building."
"This Friends' House place?"
"Yes. I used to go and sit in the garden sometimes, if I was too early for a train, and there is this huge magnolia tree, with a bench right underneath it."
"And you went to investigate on your way here?"
"Yes. I thought it would save time."
She blew on her coffee and took a tentative sip, but decided it was too hot.
"It was all very well organised."
But she paused. And I waited.
"When I got there it looked like it always does. One or two people sitting eating sandwiches, or dozing. It can be quite peaceful there, despite the traffic noise.
"I walked round to the bench and I could see a piece of paper pinned underneath it. It must have been when I bent to get the paper, someone had been waiting. No, wait. It was two people, because one grabbed me and the other put the tape over my mouth. They rushed up before I could do anything about it. Then bundled me out through the back of the garden and into a car they had waiting."
"That must have been terrifying."
"Yes. It was." She sipped again at the coffee, deciding this time she could cope with its temperature.
I remembered the note in my pocket, took it out and opened it up. 'YOUR NEXT!' I read out loud in what little light there was from outside.
"Not if I see you first!" I said angrily, screwing up the note and throwing it across the room.
I was aware that Joyce was staring at me, with a mixture of amusement and concern on her face.
"Is this how investigators behave whenever something untoward happens? I must remember to stay out of range."
"Well," I said inadequately, and moved to pick up the note, which I unscrewed and read again.
"I don't like being threatened."
Joyce sipped at her coffee and watched me.
"Can we put the light on?" she asked. "I can hardly see you in this gloom."
"OK. I'll pull the blind down first."
I crossed the little office and played with the right hand string to bring the light screen down across the window. Then I turned on the lamp. It didn't make much difference to the light level, but it did make the place feel a bit more cheerful.
I put both notes on the desk to compare.
"What did the note under the bench say?"
"I don't think it said anything. I think it was just a ruse to get someone out there, to put the frighteners on. It worked quite well."
She put the coffee cup down and began to rub her hands together in a nervous way.
"It terrified me."
"It should have been me."
"The result would have been the same."
"Perhaps so, but I'd rather it had been me than you."
"Well it wasn't, so there is no point in thinking that now."
I moved the notes round to read them again and read the first out loud.
'IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW SHE DIED, LOOK UNDER THE BENCH BELOW THE FRIENDS MAGN OLIA.'
"The writer isn't very well educated," I suggested. "Look, there should be an apostrophe at the end of Friends."
"Yes, I'm sure we'll solve this mystery by examining the vagaries of the writer's grammar."
"No. Look. The second note says YOUR NEXT. It's very common for people to spell it like that, and not as an abbreviation for you are."
"You actually think this is important?"
"Well, it's something. It's a start."
"But it hardly gets us any nearer to finding out what happened to Helen, does it?"
"It tells us her death was not an accident. Because if it was we wouldn't have all this fuss."
"Are you telling me that someone killed her?"
"Well, you must have had your doubts about her death, or you wouldn't have asked me to start sniffing round, would you?"
"No. But it was only that Helen was so careful. She had far more sense than to fall in the path of an oncoming train. It just didn't make any sense."
Joyce's half sister, Helen, had died at a level crossing on a rural railway line near the Essex - Suffolk border. It had been dark. The driver said he didn't see anything until she was suddenly right in front of his cab. He didn't have a chance.
The police had concluded it was either a tragic accident or that Helen had taken her own life, and the coroner, equally uncertain, had brought in an open verdict.
Joyce was not convinced by either of the police suggestions. That's why she had called me. Why me, you might ask.
We knew each other from school. We had done some of the same subjects at GCSE and gone on together to the Sixth Form College in Colchester to do some of the same A levels. So we were old friends. But only ever that, which some of my friends could never understand.
After school we didn't see much of each other. Occasionally during holidays, at pubs or clubs, but nothing regular. After university I had gone to work in the City, while Joyce had taken up her first teaching job in the Midlands.
"What do we do now?" Joyce asked.
"Let's start by going through what's happened. Then, perhaps, we might come up with some way forward."
I thought for a moment. There was no need to think for long.
"You called me to tell me about Helen. I went to look at the scene of the accident, talked to people who live nearby, then I went to talk to the police."
"Do you still think it was an accident?"
'No. Probably not. It's just an expression."
"All right. Then what?"
"The police were not very helpful, clearly not impressed that an amateur sleuth was getting involved. But they did say there was no evidence there had been anyone other than Helen at the scene. No footprints or anything."
"But the ground would have been frozen. It was very cold that night."
"Well, everything else happened today. Someone brought a note telling me about the bench and the magnolia. I called you. You went to look and got bundled off by person or persons unknown."
"There were two. I said."
"Yes. You did. And we have to assume that the whole palaver of bundling you off and dumping you here, was to give us a warning."
"To stop asking questions."
"Yes. The point is, I've hardly asked any questions yet. And then only out near the accident. So how come a note arrived
Joyce just sat and looked at me. What she saw was unlikely to fill her with confidence, as I was baffled.
"There has to be a link between the accident site and here," I considered.
"Well, I have no idea what that might be."
"No. Neither do I."
For want of anything else to do I picked up our two coffee cups and took them to the corner sink to wash them out.
"Was there anyone else in that garden when you were there?" I asked over my shoulder.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Apportionment of Blame"
Copyright © 2014 Keith Redfern.
Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This detective story finds Greg Mason on his first case, trying to discover the truth behind the death of a friend's half-sister. Was the death an accident, a suicide, or was it murder? The stage is set in London, and the surrounding area. Greg and his friend, Joyce, sift through the clues, which lead them into a web of confusion and doubt. Then an old family secret sheds light on a pivotal question about an inheritance. Keith has done an absolutely brilliant job writing a plot so thick, you need a knife to cut through it. Mystery, suspense, and a surprise ending; it's all here, not to mention the Queen's English. Written in a style parallel to Dashiell Hammett, you're going to love this tale.