The Cedar Cage – Robert Greenfield
From the author of bestselling Samphire Coast
comes a new noir mystery thriller
“Robert Greenfield’s cleverly crafted thriller is a real page turner – original and compulsive.” – Christopher Warwick, Royal Biographer and broadcaster
The boathouse had been built by an Edwardian aristocrat – from a single cedar of Lebanon – as a retreat, maybe even a cage, for his glamorous American bride. But in 2008, just weeks after moving into this dream home, Bertie starts to feel uneasy about living inside someone else’s fantasy.
Obsession takes hold when he becomes convinced that a carpenter, commissioned to fulfil Lord James Newton-Grey’s vision, was murdered in the boathouse. His investigations immerse him in a sinister web of family secrets, as tangled and treacherous as the Norfolk marshlands that lie beyond his windows.
Bertie’s own dark past plays tag with the present, driving him to the edge of madness, when he is forced to confront a chilling truth about himself – delivered by an unexpected visitor on Christmas Day.
Readers of The Cedar Cage – like its characters – must make up their own minds: is Bertie’s strange, unquenchable imagination running riot … or has something genuinely supernatural been at work?
THE CEDAR CAGE IS CURRENTLY SITTING AT No.2 ON THE JARROLD BESTSELLER LIST
We headed the camper for the car park at the Blakeney Hotel, my other signal hot spot. Cheeky, perhaps, but I needed a Wi-Fi connection for my laptop, and we’d learnt the security password – ‘twitcher’, lowercase – from a veteran birdwatcher in the public bar. I was online in moments, typing ‘Skipper Wood obituary’ into the search bar.
We regret to announce the accidental death, which occurred on Thursday 10th April 1913, of Mr Skipper Wood of Stiffkey, master carpenter and Olympic athlete.
His widow, Mrs Beulah Wood, reports that the craftsman had been attending to adjustments at the cedarwood boathouse he has lately constructed, for Lord James Newton-Grey, on the Samphire Hall estate. Falling, in the course of repairs adjoining the first-floor landing, Mr Wood regrettably severed his carotid artery with his own saw, and expired at the foot of his own stairway through catastrophic loss of blood. He was just 28 years old.
Coroner Mr George Bishop recorded a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’ on the deceased, whose Olympic gold medal at Shepherd’s Bush in 1908 brought him fame far beyond his native Norfolk.
His children Archibald, three years old, and little Pearl, one year old, were permitted among the funerary celebrants at the church of St John & St Mary in the Parish of Stiffkey.
It was hard to imagine how an athlete, a dextrous craftsman to boot, could have suffered such a clumsy accident. Falling downstairs on to a saw seemed intrinsically unbelievable, until I made a chilling connection: Luke on his hands and knees, a few days into our tenure at the boathouse, vainly scrubbing at a cloudlike mark ingrained on the cedar planks at the very foot of the stairs. So Jud had been telling the truth.
A cacophony of birdwatchers, returning from their safari to the headland, gathered annoyingly close to my van, banging on about sighting some rare pipit. I climbed over into the kitchenette, pulling down the blinds, to concentrate on my furtive research. Skipper Wood’s story, I found, had been printed and reprinted, over several weeks, before his star faded into obscurity, eclipsed by the coming Great War.
On returning to the boathouse I made for the foot of the stairs, where the supposed accident had happened nigh on a century ago, hoping the spot would have more to reveal. But something about it made me shudder.
‘Calma, Roberto,’ pleaded the little voice, back on duty with a vengeance, it seemed. I tried to pull myself together, put the past behind me, where it belonged.
“Sod it,” I sighed, “I’ll be dead myself if I don’t get this place together for Luke’s return.”
For the first time since our arrival at the boathouse, I sat down to work, at the post-war steel desk Luke had bought for my fortieth birthday. Under the marvellous sea-view window, it fitted our front bay as if one had been made for the other. I flipped open my laptop and loaded Vectorworks, the nifty software package I’d always relied on to show clients my vision for their buildings and living spaces, rendered in whatever finish they desired. Now I was both designer and customer, I fancied a room-by-room tour through the skeletal structure of Wood Feels. I’d fed in the dimensional data months ago: line-by-line the X-ray of the building came back to life on the screen.
Luke and I both wanted to preserve the authenticity of the boathouse. I tinkered with a few cosmetic changes only, and was plotting a rewire of the archaic electrical system, when a chill came down. Freezing the screen on ‘save’ a moment, I went to get fuel from the log-pile outside the kitchen door.
“Jud,” I gasped, “What are you doing here?”
“Dude, sorry to startle you at this hour…” he replied unconvincingly. He appeared somewhat agitated, and evidently saw the same emotion in my own face. “Didn’t mean to shock you about Skipper Wood earlier.”
“Well, I survived,” I retorted, trying to appear nonchalant at the prospect of a stranger lurking outside my door in the twilight.
“Cool, no harm done then?”
“No, Jud, no harm done.” As we eyeballed each other I found myself wondering if he was planning to show me more tattoos, further inky clues about Skipper’s story, perhaps. “Anything else I should know?”
“Ah, man.” He stroked his beard nervously.
“Would you like to come in for a drink? There’s a bit more to tell, eh?”
“No, it’s getting’ dark, I’ve got to get back to Wells. See you out on the marshes some other time.”
Again he turned on his heel, this time heading up the wooded track towards the main road. Blimey, I hope he didn’t think I was chatting him up? And suddenly I felt stupid and reckless, inviting in a complete stranger who might, after all, have acquired his strange idioms and intricate body art in some stateside penitentiary. Once again I took my keys and cruised round the boathouse, checking all entry points like a prison janitor.
“So where were you, my big butch guard dog?” Boo shrugged his shoulders and trotted, like a show pony, in the direction of his bowl. Dinnertime. I lit the woodburner and slumped into my favourite club chair –distressed tan leather, shabby chic, squashy – and it was not long before I drifted off. I found myself back at school, in the carpentry shop: clamped in a vice was a tiny leg made of cedarwood, and shavings twisted round me in long curlicues, tentacles ready to strangle me. The workroom was stifling: sawdust clogged my windpipe and I felt myself spluttering for air.
And then… vigorous sawing so audible, the smell of cedar so palpable: it was as though Skipper Wood was still at work on the boathouse, and whistling a grating tune that seemed all too familiar. Boo darted about. At the foot of the stairs he froze in a trance, gazing skyward into ether. Kangaroo-like, on his hind legs, he jumped up to acknowledge some other presence. The room went Baltic cold. The fire in the woodburner died in an instant.
Boo yelped, ran to his basket cowering. I leapt over the side of the armchair, to comfort him and myself at the same time. Terror had me in its grip.
Then the fire was raging afresh, as if a switch had been flicked. The room was light again, and warm. I jolted from sleep, disorientated, unable to tell how much of this had been nightmare. I was on the floor, moist with sweat, alongside Boo’s basket. He was quivering as whippets do when stressed, leaving me even more bewildered.
‘Calma, Roberto. Ci sei solo tu.’
I’d forgotten that tag line of the putto’s, ‘There’s nobody here but you’. Yes, his advice had reassured me in the weeks and months following the violation of my childhood safe place. But this time it was misplaced: the enemy was within.
Robert Greenfield was born on 26th October 1959, the youngest son of Gerald and Irene Greenfield, and lived in Chingford on the fringes of Epping Forest. He has two older brothers Tony and David, and an adopted sister Sandra.
Following the sudden death of his mother when he was just 6 years old, Robert moved with his father to the West End of London.
Sadly for Robert, his father remarried a few years later and his second wife subjected Robert to years of verbal abuse which had a devastating effect on him, lasting well into adulthood. However, in the 1970s this ‘wicked stepmother’ was divorced and Robert later gained a wonderful new Chinese stepmother. During this decade he also attended The London College of Fashion, graduating with a degree in fashion design/tailoring.
After leaving college Robert worked in fashion retail, living in Florence for a time, where he produced his very first clothing collection.
During the following decade Robert enjoyed much success with his own design label (Robbie Maxwell), and he was one of the privileged few overseas designers to be invited to exhibit at the very prestigious ‘New York Designers’ Collective’ for his fall/winter collection in 1985.
Following a stint with a large American corporation in New York, Robert returned to London, where he concentrated on freelancing for major international sportswear brands and well-known men’s fashion labels.
Robert was once dubbed: ‘Britain’s answer to the Italian Look’. A slew of well-known pop stars and sporting stars were often spotted wearing his designs.
During the 199Os Robert left the fashion business, and went on to become a well-respected interior designer, with one of his first major projects being the renovation of a fashionable London Mews house previously owned by film star: Sean Connery.
In 1994 Robert met his partner, Michael Bell, on a blind date, and in 2000 they sold their stunning Muswell Hill property to embark on a new life on the North Norfolk coast.
The rest is a remarkable history, with Robert’s first book Samphire Coast chronicling this epic life changing experience that was to reveal some many twists and turns into an outcome that they could never-ever have imagined.
The Cedar Cage is now available from Amazon or via the publisher’s web site