BY NINE this morning I should be sitting in a room full of people with crime on their minds. That’s so long as there isn’t an Agatha Christie-style murder on the 7.54am train from York to Harrogate…
The man on the train cannot quite remember when he began to feel like this. He looks across the flat fields bumping by the window, but their uneventful passing doesn’t help. Maybe it was that afternoon in the office a few weeks ago. The Friday that saw the end of everything. The man tries to close the thought down. Thinking about some things isn’t helpful. Better to look ahead, he thinks. Anyway you’re on a train heading for Harrogate instead of sitting in that office again; that’s got to be an improvement.
The train rattles and gives off an engine-fart diesel smell. The man is heading away from where he used to be. He doesn’t know the destination yet. No one seems sure where this journey will end. Well-wishers lined the tracks at the beginning. They still wish the man well but they aren’t around as much. The man doesn’t mind because that’s just the way things go.
He looks along the carriage. A few seats up ahead, to the right and facing in the opposite direction, there is a man without a face. Even without any facial features, he still looks unsettlingly familiar. “One of those executives,” the man thinks, grimly. He sees that the faceless man is holding a report. The man wants to stretch his legs but mostly he wants to see what it says the front of the report held by the man with no face.
He gets up and walks along, yawning exaggeratedly in the hope that this might be a disguise or a distraction. He peeps at what the faceless man holds and sees that is a report is for the No News For You Corporation. The title below the heading is How To Bury Journalists.
The man goes back to his seat, sits down and reaches into his black shoulder bag. He has never killed anyone before. He hadn’t thought the opportunity would come so soon. He thinks about what to do. He can still taste that overpriced cappuccino he bought on the station platform. A faint bitterness has stayed with him.
“I should do this thing,” he thinks. “Some things just should be done. There is a time and a place, now is the time and this is the place.”
As the man feels the cold curve of the gun’s handle, as his mind concentrates on the dark hole of his determination, the train pulls into Harrogate. The man lets the gun fall back into the bag. He has twenty minutes or so to get across town to the big hotel. Val McDermid is interviewing Sara Paretsky at nine and that should definitely be worth a listen. As the man gets off, the train shudders into motion. The carriages pull out of the station and the faceless man passes by. He must be off somewhere else with that scythe, the man thinks.
As he walks towards the Old Swan Hotel the man frets about his lack of action. Perhaps he should have pulled that trigger. Later that day he decides that he made the best decision. Safer instead to concentrate on fictional bullets.
Yes, it’s time for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival again, and I am heading over again and taking my ledge with me. That McDermid-Paretsky encounter certainly sounds good. Today’s events also include a 6.30pm talk entitled Yorkshire Pride, featuring among others Peter Robinson and Lee Child – the latter a surprising choice, seemingly, although the author of the Jack Reacher novels used to buy toffee in Harrogate as a lad, apparently, and later studied in Sheffield. That particular discussion is chaired by Hull writer Nick Quantrill, who was on a panel with me in York last month. Nick, author of the Joe Geraghty novels, told me he thought it was a joke when he first got the message asking him to chair this session.
After sitting next to Nick in that line-up in York, Man On Ledge is sure he will do well in that role today.
As for the lovely beer-washed festival of the bloody written word, that’s always criminally enjoyable.