Crime Contemporary Drama

Inspector Bruford is an hour early for his midday appointment with a temporary concierge at Springhope Mansion Flats. The letting agent has deployed the replacement caretaker to cover Mr Winston‘s duties whilst he’s helping the police with their enquiries. The inspector jabs his nicotine stained forefinger at a metal button labelled Estate Office. The intercom reacts to the assault with an insolent bleat; bzzzzz!

The Victorian apartment block looks less shabby than he remembered it yesterday evening. A modest communal garden at the front displays diligent care but little affection. A four metre long flagstone pathway from the street leads to the main door; either side are two broad lawns. The recently trimmed grass and bordering privet hedges are the extent of the owners’ horticultural aspirations.

At this time of the year, the apartment block’s newly refurbished windows afford welcome insulation for residents, however the fabric of the building tells a different story. The extensive mossy growth below the ground-floor windows suggests untreated dampness, and the darkened sandstone facade bears the sooty remnants of the city’s industrial heritage.

There is a burst of static. “Springhope estate office,” a voice crackles. “Can I help you?”

   “Inspector Bruford, C.I.D.,” he says, leaning towards the speaker. “Is that Mr Helmsford?”

   “I’ll buzz you in,” says the voice. “I’m the second door on the right.”

The electronic door release screeches with the ferocity of a nest of disturbed hornets. The door creeps shut behind Bruford as he proceeds through the lofty hallway. He passes the yellow and black police tape at the bottom of the steep spiral staircase. A crime scene assistant is still working in the building and the residents are required to use the rear service lift to go upstairs.

   Old Mrs Bertram’s body was discovered here last night and a witness statement suggested Mr Winston, the concierge, was involved in her demise. He was questioned briefly in his office and then taken under caution to Stewart Street to be interviewed for the record. 

Rosalind Morgan, the neighbour who gave the statement, said she was entering her third-floor flat when there was a scream in the stairwell from two floors below. She peered over the banister rail on her landing to see the old lady falling backwards down the twenty unforgiving steps outside her home. A figure wearing a dark blue jacket and trousers followed her down the spiralled staircase and disappeared from view. Rosalind dropped her shopping outside her front door and ran down to help. She passed Mrs Bertram’s flat on the first floor and noticed the door was wide open. Regardless, she continued downward and found Mrs Bertram in an awkward heap where the staircase meets the ground floor corridor. Her limbs looked disjointed and her neck was askew.

   According to Rosalind, Mr Winston was already taking care of the old lady. She suggested calling for an ambulance and he said he was onto it. Beside him, on the cold flagstone floor, his mobile phone was ringing; he was waiting to be connected to the emergency switchboard. Mrs Bertram failed to respond to the couple’s best efforts and she was recorded as unconscious by the paramedic who attended the scene half an hour later. Despite the expertise of the emergency team, when the ambulance arrived at the Gartnavel Royal Hospital, they couldn’t detect a pulse. She was declared D.O.A.


Mr Winston had an alternative version of events. In his statement, he said that Rosalind Morgan told him about Mrs Bertram’s accident. He was in the kitchen area, out of sight of the reception desk and oblivious to the incident on the stairwell. The concierge was embarrassed to admit his radio had been playing loud music. As a result, he had heard neither Rosalind calling for help nor her footsteps dashing through the office. It was a wintry day and having just come inside from the rear garden he was preparing a hot beverage. When Rosalind encountered him, by the boiling kettle, he was still wearing his navy wool jacket over his regulation white shirt and black trousers. His mobile phone records confirm that he made the call for help and the duration of the connection was fifteen minutes. Mr Winston had to hold the line to be connected, give incident details to an operator and then wait to speak to a paramedic who assessed the level of response required. 


A police patrol car arrived outside Springhope Mansions while the medic’s were attending to Mrs Bertram. The two officers gauged the incident and notify their supervisor. Mr Bruford is on duty and arrives within the hour to take statements from Rosalind and Mr Winston. 

There are no suspects, although questions are being asked about why the CCTV system isn’t switched on. The first officer, PC Adams, is compiling a list of visitors from Mr Winston and his colleague, PC Jamieson, is trying to find the power source for the security video recorder. The second officer has traced the mains cable down the wall from the metal barred window and whilst he is on his hands and knees he notices a silver necklace with a pendant. It’s by the skirting board, in the far corner of the office behind the reception desk. 

Mr Winston can’t account for the jewellery. 

   “Prima Donna’s not my style,” he says. “A bit too girlie for me.”

It’s the wrong thing to say and a bad time to say it. PC Adams confirms that Mrs Bertram’s flat has been compromised, and it looks as though a robbery has taken place. The forsaken accessory has now been transformed into a first exhibit. Mr Bruford picks up the trinket with the end of his pen and drops it into a clear plastic bag.

The crime scene investigation team arrives at the location to see Mr Winston being handcuffed and escorted from the premises by PC Adams. PC Jamieson is tasked with remaining at the location to secure the flats and maintain order on the premises until a replacement concierge can be located. He’s in for a long night. It’s not the reward he expected for discovering a potential link that could confirm a chain of events. 


Bruford introduces himself to Mr Helmsford and gets him up to speed with events on a need to know basis. He requires entry to Mrs Bertram’s flat and has to make his investigations before the dusting team move in and disturb her possessions. Mr Helmsford has been contracted to oversee the apartments until further notice. He’s an agency professional and has used his time this morning to secure the premises and check the elderly CCTV recorder. Mr Helmsford’s examined the unit and discusses the possibility of mechanical failure. According to a label under the chassis it hasn’t been serviced for eight years, and it sounds like an old tractor when it’s turned on. Bruford insists on reviewing the archived videos, but he’s frustrated when they both discover that it hasn’t been recording for three weeks.

The inspector’s next request is to gain entry to Mrs Bertram’s flat. Mr Helmsford is more than happy to oblige. He grabs the master keyring with the full set of keys from the security box and they leave the office together.

Half way up the steps, Bruford remarks on the lack of a handrail on the wall of the stairwell. Mr Helmsford pauses for breath and wafts his hand up the ascending flight of wedge-shaped flagstones. “Tell me about it,” he says. “How silly is it to have a rail in the centre of a spiral staircase where the steps are at their narrowest?” 

Bruford twists his pursed lips to one side. 

   “It’s an accident waiting to happen. I’ve seen it time and again and do they take any notice?”

Bruford shakes his head and sniffs in agreement as Mr Helmsford fumbles through his collection of keys.

   “This wouldn’t have happened if they’d put up something to hold on to,” he says, as he finds the correct key and unlocks the door. “It’s shameful, is what it is.”

Bruford slips under the police tape and steps inside the flat. The concierge departs, still muttering to himself and cursing the management.

The inspector doesn’t need to switch on any additional lighting to search the apartment. The interior has a warm and light atmosphere due to its southerly aspect and high ceilings. Each room is cared for and well maintained, in a homely fashion. That is to say, you wouldn’t choose to have open-heart surgery on the kitchen’s work surface, but then who would?

In the reception room, there are shelves full of books and porcelain ornaments in a glazed cabinet. The walls are decorated with photographs and gilt framed pictures. Was the old lady a painter? He’s looking at an unassuming canvas of ballerinas practicing their steps in a glass-walled studio. There are six paintings of a young girl, or is it girls? He’s not sure if it’s the same one. The use of the oil paint is competent and suggests more than a hobby or a Sunday pastime. 

   The bedroom is tidy except for the dressing-table and double bed. A drawer has been removed, its contents spilled on to the bed and the empty carcass discarded on the floor. The objects covering the quilted bed-spread aren’t incongruous in themselves, it’s the mess that’s out of place. There’s a polished wooden box amongst the effects, its lid is snapped back, and it’s upside down. There are photographs of Mrs Bertram and a young woman in a garden. In another shot, the two women are caught smiling and laughing together. It looks like they’re in a restaurant in town? Are they celebrating somebody’s birthday? It’s New Year’s Eve in another one; there are gold balloons emblazoned with 2222. No, maybe that’s 22 and 22. A birthday is more likely. Bruford looks closer. Those aren’t numbers on the balloons, they’re birds with long necks; geese or some such? More pictures of the couple, this time in front of a Christmas tree. They are in a high ceilinged reception room surrounded by relatives or friends of the family, possibly? The jumble of pictures on the bed are mixed up with handkerchiefs and stockings, and assorted personal items. There is one image that catches Bruford’s eye however. It’s that young woman again, but with her hair rolled up in a chignon. He’s spotted a detail that makes him stop short. He lifts the photo with a clean pocket cloth and transports it to the window for a better look. Around her slender white neck is a silver chain that is pulled in a vee shape by the weight of an elegant pendant in the shape of a “2”. It’s a swan.

Behind him, he hears metal scrapes and a lock rattle as Mrs Bertram’s outer door opens. Light footsteps cross the polished floorboards in the hallway and continue their approach over threadbare rugs in the reception room. The bedroom door handle turns. The wooden panel swings ajar. It’s Rosalind who pauses in the doorway. She’s still clutching the apartment key in her hand. 

“Hello inspector,” she says.

“Miss Morgan.”

“Mr Helmsford said I’d find you up here. Is there anything I can do to assist you?” 

The End

December 19, 2020 00:44

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Wow Howard! Such an amazing story you wrote! I am really impressed by it! :)


Howard Halsall
01:47 Dec 22, 2020

Hello, Haripriya. Thank you for taking the time to read my story and giving me such positive feedback. I appreciate that very much. :)


No problem! I had a great time reading! :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Keshena Booker
00:03 Dec 24, 2020

Very well done!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.