Rugby Cafe Writers have launched a writing project, inspired by Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. We are creating a fictional set of characters living in a small block of flats in North-West London. Each meeting, someone in the Cafe Writers is challenged to write 300 words (maximum) about one of the characters, bearing in mind what has happened to them in previous weeks. The contribution must end with some kind of cliff-hanger to be resolved by the next writer.
This diagram shows the layout of the fictional flats. The first part of the story introduces Klara in Flat 1. The remaining characters have yet to be introduced.
LOFT APARTMENT ?
|Flat 6 – Genevieve and Dmitry Lebedev.||LANDING||Flat 5 – Dr Elinor Cartwright|
|Flat 4 – Margaret Muldoon||LANDING||Flat 3 ?|
|Flat 2 ?||LOBBY||Flat 1 – Klara Gleibnitz|
Chapter One by John Howes
Thursday was bin day. So Klara knew one thing, at least. A helpful notice had been pinned to her door when she moved in. It was addressed to ‘Miss K.Gleibnitz’, but signed, rather mysteriously, ‘the committee’. Amongst other useful nuggets of information were a few vaguely threatening reminders. No pushchairs or bicycles to be left in the downstairs lobby. No wet umbrellas – and the playing of musical instruments after 10pm was strictly forbidden.
It had been a trying day for Klara. The removal people were an hour late and there were copious intakes of breath when they’d spotted her mini-grand piano. Temporary traffic lights on the Finchley Road had made parking a nightmare and, worst of all, she couldn’t find a single teabag for her afternoon cuppa.
Still, she was in. Thrapston Mansions was the rather flattering title of her 1920s-built art deco home: three storeys of flats with a loft apartment, and all within striking distance of St John’s Wood and Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Klara was a petite woman in her late fifties. A man once said she was unremarkable looking but with a remarkable mind. This hadn’t bothered her a bit. Better that way round.
She sighed and looked around her. Books sat in piles waiting for their new home on her fabulous white wooden shelves. The piano, after putting up quite a struggle, waited mutely in the corner for the soft touch of her fingers. Things could be worse. It was time for a break and, well, a coffee would have to do.
She put her feet up and picked a book at random from the top of the pile. Aah, Jane Austen, she thought.
But as she opened its delicate leaves to the first page, she was interrupted by a knock at the door. First it was soft and repetitive. Then it became more urgent, louder, on the verge of being deafening.
Chapter Two by Christine Hancock
“Please, I need help.”
It was a woman’s voice, and it sounded desperate. Klara opened the door but prepared to shut it if threatened.
“Please come, they’re causing problems again.” The woman paused and peered at Klara. “You’re not Mr Blenkinsopp.”
“I’m sorry; was he the previous tenant?” Had they mentioned a name? Only that he had left suddenly, which was why this flat had become available at short notice.
“Oh dear, Mr B was always helpful when I had problems.” Frowning, the woman glanced over her shoulder towards the stairs then back at Klara. “Who are you? Can you help?”
“I’m Klara, I’ve just moved in.” She held out her hand.
“Margaret Muldoon, but everyone calls me Margo. She clutched at Klara’s hand and pumped it several times, then turned it and bent her head to study the palm. Alarmed, Klara tugged to regain possession, but the surprisingly strong fingers only squeezed tighter.
“Hmm, you might do.” Margo’s grip loosened but retained its hold of Klara’s hand. Dark eyes studied the new arrival at Thrapston Mansions.
Klara returned the inspection. Margo had long grey hair, streaked with white and, in her opinion, in need of a good comb. It was held back from her face with a scarf, dark blue with silver stars that glittered, even in the low wattage of the lobby light bulbs. Klara intended to bring that matter to the attention of “the committee”, whoever they were.
Margo wore what could only be described as a dressing gown, or a reject from some Egyptian souk, a swirl of competing colours.
“I live at number four, upstairs, on the other side.” She gave another glance towards the stairs. Somewhere a door slammed. “Come with me; I’m sure that between us we can deal with them.”
Chapter 3 by Kate A.Harris
‘I’ll grab some shoes,’ Klara said and Margo pulled her multi-coloured dressing gown belt tightly around her ample waist.
Klara found her flat black shoes and hurriedly put them on before Margo could see her untidy apartment, littered with packing cases. Then she carefully locked the front door with her newly-cut key.
‘There I’m ready. Thanks for waiting.’ Klara followed Margo.
‘Where are we going? I haven’t met anybody yet and don’t want to upset people.’
‘Follow me. We are going up two flights of stairs to Flat 6, directly above my flat. Here we are. Look at the rubbish around the door. You can see how they eat with filthy takeaway cartons and dozens of empty plastic coffee mugs. It’s not good enough. They are lowering the standards of Thrapston Mansions,’ said Margo taking a deep breath and allowing Klara to reply.
‘Yes, it’s a terrible din and 11pm. It’s too late for that deafening racket. Call that music?’
‘Now you can see and hear the problem. It’s every weekend. They are contravening the rules as laid down by The Committee. Be warned they are not nice people!’
Margo thumped on the door of Number 6. Nobody answered. She took off her shoe and banged even louder on the door.
‘Come on, answer this door!’ Margo shouted.
Slowly the door began to open, just slightly to reveal a scruffy, unshaven young man. Behind him a slender woman, scantily dressed in a diaphanous, low-cut dress who pushed him into Margo and Klara.
The woman spoke: ‘Who are you lovely ladies? I’m Genevieve and this is Dmitry Lebedev. It’s his flat. He is Russian and doesn’t speak any English.’
Dmitry and Genevieve roughly grabbed Margo and Klara and dragged them into Number 6.
‘Whatever is that funny sweet smell?’
Chapter 4 by Chris Wright
The Russian was short but strong and both ladies were swept into a man-cave.
Girls barely in 90s clothing on motorcycles on the wall where Klara would have had a Constable print or a London street scene: a sofa of burgundy leather; books on black shelves to the ceiling behind it. A collection of favourite beer bottles displayed on a low shelf, a laptop, big speakers, but no TV. A scent of engine oil?
Observing Dmitry, Klara saw him as a Bacchus figure minus horns and goat feet, contrasting with the dryadic Genevieve with long brown hair and green eyes.
“Loud was it, Babes? Dmitry loves his AC/DC, full volume”.
“That is what we wanted to talk about”, stated Klara firmly.
Genevieve responded, oblivious, “All that macho blaring while in your school uniform… hilarious.”
Was Genevieve on something? Pupils normal, face pale but attractive; late twenties.
Genevieve turned to Dmitry, “им не нравится шум.” Klara knew the word “shum” meant noise.
“Ха-ха! Тогда они возненавидят это …” Dmitry laughed, stood up and beckoned toward the guests.
All the Thrapston flats boasted spacious kitchens big enough for a 6-seater dining table. Klara and Margo followed Dmitry into the Kitchen with Genevieve hovering behind them .
A Triumph motorcycle was on the menu, almost cooked with just the petrol tank to fit, the floor a mess of rags and spanners; even a hydraulic jack.
Klara wondered about Dmitry’s plan to get the bike out of the flat.
“Steve McQueen!” he sniggered.
“We live on takeaways because we can’t use the kitchen, Dears. Somebody say Just Eat?” still seeming a little zoned out.
“The Committee won’t like this,” Margo muttered and collapsed in a heap, unconscious, just missing the only chair.
Chapter 5 by Fran Neatherway
Klara rushed to Margo’s side. “Quick, call an ambulance! She may have hit her head.”
“Oopsie.” Genevieve giggled. She threw a glass of water in Margo’s face. “Don’t worry, dear. She does it all the time. She’ll come round in a minute. If you’re bothered, Number 5’s a doctor.”
Dimitry turned back to his motorbike and picked up a spanner.
Klara ran out of the flat, across the landing and rang the doorbell, several times. The door opened and a tall elegant blonde stood in the doorway, holding a pencil and looking annoyed.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late,” Klara said, “but it’s an emergency. Margo from number 4 has fainted and Genevieve opposite said you’re a doctor.”
Dr Cartwright stared very intently at Klara as she spoke. She picked up a pad of paper from a hallway table and started to write, then thrust the pad at Klara, who was wondering if all the inhabitants of Thrapston Mansions were mad.
PhD IN ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES
GENEVIEVE PULLING LEG
Klara felt like an idiot. “I’m so sorry. I only moved in today. Klara Gleibnitz, Flat 1.”
ELINOR CARTWRIGHT, the woman scrawled. She pointed to her ears and shook her head.
Klara turned red, realising that she’d been had: Elinor was not a medical doctor and she was deaf.
MARGO FAINTS ALL THE TIME!!!!!! Elinor wrote.
“I’m really sorry to have bothered you. Please come and have a cup of tea with me when you’re free.”
From number 4, the engine roared. Klara had to flatten herself against the wall as Dimitry, on the motorbike, shot out of the flat and down the stairs, shouting, “Yippee-ki-ay!”
Genevieve followed him more sedately. “Margo’s fine, she’s gone back to hers.” And she was signing to Elinor as she spoke. Klara was miffed.
Chapter 6 by David J. Boulton
That much for a pizza? Klara wouldn’t be doing that again. Thrapston Mansions must be in a more expensive area than she’d realised. She was just opening the box when she heard someone at the door.
He pushed his way in… well not quite… Klara would have preferred their conversation to have been conducted across the threshold, but somehow, he was standing in her kitchen.
“You’ve been visiting upstairs.”
He was every inch the petty official; instantly recognisable, bristling with authority. As he leaned forward she could smell the stale sweat.
Paranoia was not a psychiatric symptom where Klara came from; it had been a necessity for survival during the first twenty years of her life. Only when the wall came down, and she moved westward did she learn she could live without it, but suspicion of authority still lurked, beneath the civilised surface of her life, ready to spring to her defence.
“Wer bist du?”
Her native German appeared unbidden and served to discommode the pushy little man.
“Who are you?”
Klara’s sudden switch disorientated him further.
“I’m… Chairman of the Committee,” he replied, speaking very slowly, as if to a foreigner, leaving him off balance as she continued in her perfect English.
“It’s not convenient to talk just now,” she waved a hand in the direction of her pizza. “Make an appointment next time.” He was almost out the door “and I’ll not be spied on. Do you understand?”
Watching his retreat, she noticed a security camera covering the lobby. So that’s how he knew where I’d been, she thought; there’ll be one on each floor.
Back in the flat now, she abandoned the pizza and started searching. Klara had been under surveillance before. Those cameras outside were only the tip of an iceberg.
Chapter Seven by Oliver Pawsey
She spent over an hour searching for hidden listening devices or cameras.
She checked in the lightbulbs that were already in the flat and found nothing, not even dust. She even took a screwdriver to the plug sockets but to no avail.
If they were watching or listening, they were better at hiding it than she expected.
After her cold pizza (ham and pineapple) Klara retired. She hadn’t set up her bed yet and so was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a surprisingly spacious bedroom. It reminded her of similar nights from her youth. Vastly different times.
It was around 2am when she heard it… a drip… drip… drip… drip… With a huff she clambered out of her make-shift bed and began to investigate. First she checked the bathroom. The taps in there were bone dry, as were all the pipes.
She checked the taps in the kitchen as well, and they were also dry.
Perhaps she imagined it.
She let out a huge sigh and went back to bed.
She could hear it again, a slow and steady drip… drip… drip… she was so annoyed that she complained out loud to no one in particular.
“Where is that drip coming from?”
No answer of course. The flat wouldn’t give up its mysteries that easily.
She searched again and just as she was giving up, she found it – the radiator in the bedroom. A small but loud drip. Unable to deal with it, she put some earmuffs on and returned to sleep.
She was rudely awoken at 6am by a knock…
Chapter 8 by Pam Barton
“Oh, not again.” Klara had thought that she would have a quiet fresh start here, but this was the third visit in 24 hours. She opened the door to a complete stranger with a surprised expression at the sight of her in a dressing gown.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked.
“I live here.”
“No, Blenkinsopp lives here and he’s expecting me.”
“I’ve just moved in, and my only knowledge of Mr Blenkinsopp is that he was helpful.” Klara was feeling quite unnerved now and tried to close the door, but his foot was blocking the movement.
“Where is he?” The man was getting more agitated. “Has he left a message for me?”
“No. The flat was cleared before I moved in, and would you please leave? You could ask the building committee. They do the renting and should have a forwarding address.”
At this point, the figure of the committee man came into sight in the hallway.
“There he is, ask him.” The stranger turned, moving his foot blocking the door. As quickly as she could, she pushed the door, closing it with a feeling of relief. Too late to go back to bed, she poured a cup of coffee, only to be interrupted again by another knock on the door. This time, very warily, she didn’t open it, but called out only to hear the stranger who had called earlier.
He spoke quickly, apologising for the previous visit.
“Please let me explain. This is very urgent and you must help me. I have a life and death situation, please listen please.” He did indeed sound desperate, begging for help. “You see Mr Blenkinsopp was supposed to give me something and without it I’m in trouble.”
“I’m so sorry. I really can’t help. Maybe if you ask one of the other residents. They knew him and I was told he was very helpful.”
“No. He wouldn’t have let it out of the apartment. Let me look at least.”
“I’m sorry, I really am. Leave your telephone number and name and if I see anything I will let you know.
To be continued…
Those involved in the Writing Project so far:
1 David, 2 Chris, 3 Kate, 4 Christine, 5 Wendy, 6 John, 7 Simon P, 8 Maddy, 9 Fran, 10 Lindsay, 11 Simon G, 12 Oliver, 13 Pam.
The next contributor will be chosen by a random number generator until everyone has had a go. Then we start again. Other Cafe Writers are welcome to join.
FLAT ONE: Miss Klara Gleibnitz – plays a mini-grand piano. Likes to drink tea. Petite. In her late 50s. Has a “remarkable” mind. Keen reader of Jane Austen. Has just moved in to Thrapston Mansions. Wears flat black shoes. Spent first 20 years of her life living behind the Berlin Wall, presumably in East Germany. Flat’s former tenant was Mr Blenkinsopp.
FLAT FOUR: Margaret Muldoon – known as Margo. Dark eyes. Strong fingers. Wears “a dressing gown, or a reject from some Egyptian souk, a swirl of competing colours”. Long grey hair, streaked with white, held back from her face with a scarf, dark blue with silver stars that glittered. Faints regularly.
FLAT FIVE: Dr Elinor Cartwright. Phd in Environmental Sciences. Tall, elegant blonde. Deaf.
FLAT SIX: Dmitry Lebedev – Russian and does not speak English. Scruffy, unshaven young man. Short but strong. Rubbish around the door. Also in residence (?) is Genevieve – slender woman, scantily dressed in a diaphanous, low-cut dress. Long brown hair. Green eyes.
Chairman of the Committee – no name yet, no location. Petty official; instantly recognisable, bristling with authority. Smells of stale sweat.
Stranger – no name yet. Wants to retrieve something from Klara’s flat.