Laura had arranged an almost inhumanely early start for the Wednesday, whereby she had to be at the Harrogate Turkish baths for nine o’clock in the morning.
As Celia stumbled around her suite, gathering her things for the day, her phone pinged.
1pm. Thursday. Can’t wait. #36Bus #haircurlingtales
Was he, Celia thought to herself, smiling as she doused herself in her Thierry Muegler perfume, just a little keen? Well, why not? Her own profile picture – taken ten years earlier and heavily retouched for use on Twitter as well as all her books – was drop dead glamorous, so she couldn’t blame him if he was. And he was absolutely gorgeous in his photo.
She was extremely excited at the prospect of meeting him.
Looking forward! If the #36Bus #haircurlingtales don’t cut the mustard, I’m sure we can find other ways of curling my hair.
Oh, you are one naughty lady But the #haircurlingtales will cut your mustard well and good.
Celia shuddered with excitement. Thinking that she must groom and pamper in anticipation of something happening, she slipped her swimsuit into her handbag. Laura had scheduled a two hour meeting with the manager at the Harrogate Baths, but Celia reckoned she could get it over and done in fifteen then spend a little time relaxing in the heat, getting her skin all soft and glowing for the following day.
‘I’ve come for a meeting with the manager,’ she told the girl behind the desk in the reception area. With harp music playing softly in the background, a pervading aroma of essential oil, and comfortable sofas scattered around, It had more the air of an upmarket spa than a council-run Turkish baths. Glancing at the price list, Celia wondered if perhaps she might be able to also fit in a massage before her next appointment, which she had noted over another Full Yorkshire at her hotel was at Ripley Castle, halfway between Harrogate and Ripon.
‘And who shall I say is here?’ the girl asked.
‘I’m Celia Fairweather, writer in residence at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.’
‘Oh, hello, Miss Fairweather,’ a comfortable-looking woman said from across the other side of the reception area, where she was talking to an older couple in anoraks. ‘I’m afraid the manager is off sick today, so we’re going to treat you to our history tour of the Baths. Do come and join us. I’m Christine.’
‘How long’s the tour?’ Celia asked.
‘Ooh, just over an hour normally. Depends on how many questions you ask,’ Christine said, and the couple at her side laughed appreciatively. ‘Come and sit down love, and I’ll get started. You’ll need to take your – um, coat is it? – off, because it’s very hot indeed inside.’
Reluctantly, Celia stepped over towards the small tour group, shed her dashing cape and sat, a little apart, on a rattan cube. An hour-long tour. It would take her at least forty minutes to get to Ripley castle on the bus, so her pamper plan looked like it was now completely out of the question
‘Now then,’ Christine started. ‘Until the 1800s, there was actually nothing in this part of Harrogate. It was just very unpleasant down here, very smelly, and it was called Bog’s Field.’
Despite her irritation at having her me-time taken away from her, Celia couldn’t help but be drawn in by Christine, who was a natural storyteller of the kind that made her actually rather jealous.
As Christine led Celia and the anoracked couple through the progressively hotter, gorgeously tiled rooms, she told them that she had worked in the baths for over thirty years. She had started out as a ‘scrubber’, one of the three women whose job it was to keep the place clean and hygienic, and had graduated over the years to guide. Also – and this made Celia even more envious – in all that time she had used the Turkish Baths at least once a week. Her skin – Celia noted with a sly, sideways glance – was as soft and plump as a baby’s.
With its dome, arches, intricate patterning and luxurious rest-beds, the Turkish Baths looked so enticing. When Christine mentioned that there was a three hour open session immediately after the tour, Celia entertained the thought of telling Laura that she felt poorly and, instead of haring off to Ripley, spending the afternoon lazing away in the heat and the plunge pool. But it was hopeless, of course. Word might get back, she didn’t dare get into the festival’s bad books, and she needed the money. Badly.
So, while she learned a lot about Victorian bathing habits and the physical benefits of subjecting the body to extreme hot and cold in succession, the only actual effect on Celia’s skin from her visit to the Harrogate Turkish Baths was that it turned very pink with the heat. Even a little blotchy, if the truth be told.
‘Has anyone ever died here?’ Celia asked, hopeful for material. The idea of a murder in the Turkish Baths was rather attractive. Blood over the tiles, a body floating in the plunge pool, perhaps an extremely well disguised ex-husband locked in the steam room….
‘Not as far as I know,’ Christine said, looking rather oddly at Celia. ‘They did shoot that Agatha Christie film here, though. You know, the one with Vanessa Redgrave about when she disappeared. Agatha, I think they called it. Not that we have any records of Miss Christie actually visiting us, and, of course, she would have used an assumed name anyway.’
‘Indeed,’ Celia said, her spirits sinking.
‘We do have two ghosts though,’ Christine offered.
‘Really?’ Celia said. But she had lost interest. The supernatural left her cold. Crime was about people doing bad things to each other. Introduce a ghost and you’ve got genre confusion, and that didn’t ever sell books.
‘How fascinating,’ the anoracked man said.
‘But we haven’t got time to hear about ghosts, though, have we?’ Celia said. ‘The hour’s nearly up and I have to get to my next appointment.’
‘I suppose we’d best be getting on, then,’ Christine said.
‘Yes we had,’ Celia said, markedly looking at her watch.
‘Sorry about that, sir,’ Christine said.
‘That’s quite all right,’ he said. ‘It’s been a marvellous tour.’
Christine led them back to the reception area, where a crowd of people now populated the sofas, sports bags at their feet.
‘Ah, my Turkish Bath session,’ Christine said to Celia and the couple. ‘Excuse me please, and thank you for coming. I do hope you enjoy the rest of your Harrogate holiday.’
It might look like a holiday, Celia thought. But no one except the poor writer understands the bloody hard work it all is, coming up with stories and characters all the time. Narrowing her eyes at the waiting bathers, wishing them ill for having the luck to be spending the next three hours in heated luxury while she had to get on the bloody bus again, Celia shrugged on her cape and stepped outside onto the cold pavement, where a rather vicious, pointed sleet had begun to fall.