‘So this bus will take me to Ripley Castle, right?’ Celia announced to the driver as she boarded his vehicle at Harrogate Bus Station.
‘Nope,’ the driver said.
‘But it says here it does,’ Celia said, brandishing her schedule in front of him.
‘Not this bus, love.’
‘But… Oh, this is insufferable,’ she said, turning to the passengers waiting in the queue behind her for support. ‘I’ve got to be at Ripley Castle in half an hour and they just don’t give me enough time to get from A to B. I’m a successful crime writer, not some sort of explorer or roving reporter. I should be sitting at my desk, not doing all this traipsing over the countryside. Some modern marvel this number 36 bus is, I don’t think.’
She turned back to face the driver, glowing with indignation.
He fixed a weary set of eyes on her, as if he had seen it all before. ‘But this isn’t the 36, love.’
‘What?’ Celia looked down the aisle at the rather ordinary seats filled with more people who, a little like the queue behind her, were regarding her with an air that suggested that they were not in any way on her side.
‘You want that one,’ the driver said, pointing to the black and red bus in the adjacent bay. ‘The one with the tinted windows and “36” written on the sides, back and front.’
‘Thank you so much,’ Celia said, throwing her cape over her shoulder in a gesture that she hoped recovered the dignity she had ceded. ‘It’s not terribly clear, though,’ she said, turning once more to elicit the support of the crowd.
‘Better get a step on, love,’ the man behind her said. ‘It’s just about to leave.’
Celia managed to get on the right bus just as the doors were closing.
‘I shouldn’t let you on, madam,’ her new driver said. ‘It’s dangerous to alight while the doors are closing.’
‘I’m awfully sorry,’ Celia said, flustered. ‘But I’m the number 36 bus writer in residence for Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and I’m late for an appointment at Ripley Castle.’
‘Are you, now?’ the driver said.
‘I’ve got this, you know.’ Celia flashed her week-long, access-all-areas bus pass as if it somehow proved her credentials.
‘Right you are, madam.’ The bus driver revved his engine and engaged his gears. ‘Now, we really must be pushing off, if you don’t mind.’
Celia took a seat at the top of the bus and checked her phone.
@ThatCeliaF is on the #36Bus this morning, getting your stories. Give her a wave! This is her: http://bit.ly/1mo2m4e
Celia took a look around her. The bus was quite busy, but – slightly disappointingly – no one was waving, or even particularly noticing her.
At that moment, a Direct Message came through, also from Laura.
Celia, any chance you can use your social media a bit more? Ta Lx
Narrowing her eyes, Celia composed a message.
Marvellous time: Writer in Residence on #36Bus. Jaw-dropping Harrogate Baths a.m., Wildly exciting Ripley Castle p.m. All on bus. #Honoured.
The electronic display screen at the front of the bus told her that her stop was coming up. As she stepped to the pavement she was greeted by a bucolic village setting – a memorial cross, a little art gallery, a pub called The Boar’s Head and rows of cottages built in the local stone, which managed to be simultaneously warm and rugged.
Even in the cold, sleeting greyness of the afternoon, Celia couldn’t help admiring the scene. It would have looked lovely on a summer’s day.
Drawing her dashing cape around herself against the biting wind, she followed the signs to the Castle, past a shop promising world famous ice-cream (not today, thank you, Celia thought), and into the castle entrance, where she was once more dismayed to find Colin the photographer standing outside the gift shop, finishing a cigarette. Despite the cold and the wet, he still had what appeared to be slippers on his feet – footwear that Celia had to admit was only marginally less suitable than her own Louboutins.
‘There you are love. Mike the chief exec.’s given up waiting. He’s in his office and says to go and find him.’
‘Well, really. I’m only twenty minutes late.’
Colin shrugged. ‘He’s a busy man, love.’
In high dudgeon, Celia strutted along behind him as he led her past some flowerbeds full of valiant pansies and into a stone building.
‘That writer, to see Mike, love,’ the photographer told a secretary.
‘I can speak for myself, you know,’ Celia hissed at him, as the secretary slipped off to find Mike.
‘Oh, I can see that, love,’ Colin said, and Celia felt a sudden, hot burst of anger, an almost uncontrollable urge to hit him very hard indeed.
But just at that moment, Mike the chief exec. came out of his office, and Celia melted. What an utterly delightful man he was. The kind of man who wore a suit exceedingly well. Just exactly Celia’s kind of man.
‘Celia Fairweather,’ she purred, taking his proffered hand. ‘Delighted to meet you.’
‘Pleased to meet you too. Ah,’ Mike said, glancing at his wristwatch. ‘If we get a step on, I can get you on one of our guided tours with Dorothy.’
He swept them away down a series of behind-the-scenes kitchens and offices. ‘As well as the tours,’ he said, as he ushered Celia along a corridor, ‘we’re a venue for weddings and suchlike. A house like this presents quite a financial burden for the family, so they have to find ways of making the place work for them.’
‘Are they still in residence, then?’ Celia asked, her ears pricking up.
‘They live upstairs. Sir Thomas and Lady Emma with their four children, those who haven’t flown the nest yet, at any rate. The Ingilbys have lived on the same site for over seven hundred years. It’s one of the few places in the whole of the UK that can lay claim to such a length of legacy. It came to them as part of a dowry originally.’
‘A bit of a curate’s egg of a dowry, I should imagine,’ Celia said, laughing charmingly.
‘Indeed. And if you talk to Sir Thomas he’ll tell you all about the bad parts. Place this age, you open up something to do a job and you find five more things need doing. He once gave me this word of advice: “If someone offers you a castle, best to say no”.’
‘Might Sir Thomas be available for a chat?’ Celia asked. She liked meeting gentlemen with titles and houses.
‘Oh, I’m afraid he’s in London at the moment.’
‘Here we are.’ Mike opened a door from the service corridor onto an altogether different scene of dark wood, tapestries and paintings. ‘And here’s our Dorothy.’
A woman approached them, leading, with the air of a kindly headmistress, an elderly couple. ‘Dorothy, this is Celia Fairweather, Writer in Residence at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Is it all right if she joins you on your tour?’
‘Of course,’ Dorothy said. The elderly couple looked impressed that their guided tour was being so blessed. Celia found this most gratifying and smiled graciously at them.
‘And I’m Colin Tupplethwaite,’ Colin said, waggling his camera at the couple. ‘Freelance press photographer. Come to do a few snaps.’
‘Oooh,’ the female part of the couple said. Celia was irked to see that she seemed more impressed with Colin’s presence than she had been at her own.
‘Well then,’ Mike said. ‘I’d better take my leave.’
‘You will see us later, though?’ Celia said, taking hold of his hand.
‘Of course,’ Mike said, shifting his feet. ‘I’ll show you the gardens.’
‘I look forward to it immensely,’ Celia purred, and, very gently, she tickled his palm with her ring finger and gave him a little wink.
The tour progressed. Celia had to admit that, like Christine back at the Baths, Dorothy was an excellent guide. She even showed a lot of patience as Colin blundered around ‘snapping’ Celia taking notes – or, to put it more accurately, doodling – in her Smythson.
But, despite Dorothy’s panache with the storytelling, Celia found her mind wandering, brewing up a scenario of elderly paying visitors disappearing as they wandered around the country house of a resident titled family – a family perhaps reluctant to open their doors to the public, but who had to do it in order to cover the maintenance costs of their inheritance; a family with dark, dark secrets; a family who may have a wayward, angry scion who lurked in the shadows, charming loner tourists to his lair; a family where the father turned a blind eye to his son’s crimes, his justification being that they, the family, found themselves invaded, under duress…
Dorothy led them round a corner, almost bumping into a tall, blond, healthy looking young man.
‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry,’ the young man said, blushing.
‘Ah, and here is an actual Ingilby,’ Dorothy said, beaming.
‘Yes. I’m the little son,’ the young man said, shaking everyone’s hand. ‘Very good to meet you.’
‘Not so little,’ the anorak man said, looking up at him. Indeed, in Celia’s estimation, he must have been at least six-five, and he had the air, she noticed, of a lanky, blond Prince Charles, all good manners and diffidence.
‘No. He’s hardly what you could call little!’ the anoracked woman agreed.
‘You should see the others!’ the young man said, and everyone laughed except Celia, whose musings on evil sons had been completely dashed. How on earth could she make something dastardly up about this charming young man and his family?
It would be wrong, and potentially libellous. She had been, after all, once bitten on that front.
So Ripley Castle was going to be useless for inspiration. She might as well walk out right there and then and get the bloody bus back to the hotel bar.
But if she did that, she’d miss out on her appointment with Mike. So she stuck the tour out to the end, not listening to Dorothy but instead gazing out of the windows at the lake and imagining what she might soon be getting up to in the shrubberies that framed it.
When it was over, Colin headed off, saying he had to get back to Harrogate for a function that evening. Happy to have a chance to be on her own with Mike, Celia set off to find him for her tour of the gardens. However, when she arrived at his office, his secretary said that he sent his apologies, but he had been called away on entirely unavoidable, urgent business.
‘Oh well,’ Celia said, as gaily as she could muster through her disappointment. ‘Tant pis!’
As she made her way out of the castle she consoled herself with the thought of the roaring fire in the hotel bar. Another day had nearly passed without an iota of inspiration for her crime story. So she was really going to have to rely on @RiponOff44’s tall tales about the number 36 bus. From the look of him, he was the kind of guy that would come up with the goods, though, unlike Mike. And, if truth be told, however charming Mike was, from his photograph, @RiponOff44 was in a different league altogether.
Yes. Tomorrow was going to be a corker of a day. She could feel it in her waters.
As she waited at the bus stop, a grubby, ancient Astra drew up, splashing her legs with a sleety puddle. The driver leaned over and opened the window, letting out a gusting stench of stale chips, cigarette smoke and unwashed body. It was Colin the photographer. She had hoped she’d seen the last of him.
‘Want a lift back to ‘Arrogate, love?’ Colin said.
Celia peered inside his car, which was more of a wheelie bin than a means of transport.
‘Oh thanks, awfully,’ she said. ‘But I have to take the bus. Research, don’t you know.’
‘Suit yourself,’ Colin said. He rolled up the window and roared off in a manner that made Celia even gladder that she had refused his offer.
Thanks to what the bus driver later informed her were roadworks, she had a half hour wait at the freezing Ripley bus stop. So when she returned, limp with damp, to the hotel, she headed straight for the bar and downed a large brandy before barrelling through to the dining room where she had a three course meal, two bottles of Bardolino and another large brandy with her coffee, all of which she charged to her room and, therefore, to the festival.
As she tipsily tucked herself into her big bed, she got another Direct Message from Laura:
Celia, can you please tweet today?
Drunkenly lying on her back, barely able to focus on her screen, Celia composed her witty riposte:
@LauraTOP I am not your social media whore, bitch.