by Jane Finnis
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
Last day of my wonderful holiday in North Wales. I’m exploring on a small mountain railway train, winding among peaks and valleys. The scenery is stunning, fitful spring sunshine and showers making unexpected rainbows. And as for my fellow-travellers…
I noticed the pair as soon as I boarded the small, rather quaint carriage. An English couple in sensible but fashionable walking gear; he middle-aged with a flashy camera, she young and pretty and holding a map, which they were both intently studying. Typical tourists like me…until they spoke.
“Ideal, I’d say,” the woman answers. “All these little valleys, so remote and empty. There are hardly even any sheep about, let alone people. Heaps of places where a corpse could lie out of sight.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Maybe I should try not to listen; my friends tell me that if I have a fault, it’s being nosey, but really I can’t help overhearing, because they are sitting only a few seats away.
“Miles from London too,” the man says. “I told you the Snowdon area would be ideal. There, look, that tiny stream below us. No houses, just the stream.” He raises his camera and takes several photos through the window. “We could leave her under those trees at the bottom. Nobody would find her for weeks.”
“Months, more likely.” She makes a mark on her map. “Look, there’s even a bit of a farm track leading to it, so we can use the car. That’ll do very nicely.”
This gets weirder. They appear such an ordinary couple, and yet…I’ve even got the feeling that the man is vaguely familiar, though I can’t place where I’ve seen him before.
“Her clothes will be easy enough,” the woman goes on. “Jeans and an anorak, and we mustn’t forget to give her muddy boots. It’s got to look like a typical mountain accident.”
I’m feeling seriously uneasy by now, and glancing around I realize with a jolt that there is nobody else in our carriage. The others must have got out at the last stop, leaving me alone with…who are these people? Crazies? Criminals? Sick practical jokers?
The train slows, preparing to pull into yet another little station with a beautiful setting and an unpronounceable name. I stand up and move along the carriage, wondering whether to get out here, torn between anxiety and curiosity.
As I pass the couple they see me and seem surprised, but smile and wish me good-morning, perfectly natural and normal. Curiosity wins. I can’t leave now.
As I turn away the man heaves a loud contented sigh. “Good. That’s Chapter Seven more or less sorted out, isn’t it?”
His companion laughs. “Yes, it is. You know just for once you may actually meet your deadline and get this book finished on time. The publishers will be pleased.”
Chapter Seven…a book! Light dawns and with it realization of who the man is. Of course! He’s an author, and a famous one. Dane Delapole, whose detective stories are never out of the best-seller lists, and who’s on television so often you wonder when he finds time to write. I’m quite excited, because I’m a fan of his. I don’t recognise his companion, except she isn’t his wife, who sometimes appears on TV too. From the comfortable way they lean together, I can see they know one another well. Perhaps…but that’s none of my business.
Relief makes me bold. I stop by their seat and introduce myself. “Excuse me, but it is Dane Delapole, isn’t it? I must just say hello and tell you how much I enjoy your Inspector Purvis books.” I produce their latest paperback from my anorak pocket. “I’m halfway through one now in fact. I wonder…would you sign it for me?”
“I’d be delighted,” Dane smiles and autographs the book. I’m thrilled and can’t resist asking, “Do tell me, are you working on another book?”
“Is it going to be set in Wales then?”
They both smile, and he shakes his head. “Ah now, you mustn’t ask me for details. I never give anything away about a book till I’ve finished writing it.”
“I only wondered…I mean, I couldn’t help hearing you talking about hiding a body in a valley.”
They both burst out laughing. Dane says, “Oh dear! What must you have thought? Did you think we were planning a real murder?”
“I was a bit – well, puzzled, I admit.”
“How funny!” The girl laughs again. “Nothing so interesting, I’m afraid. But I’m afraid our lips are sealed.”
Dane changes the subject. “Tell us about yourself. It’s such a pleasure to meet someone who enjoys reading mysteries.” So I do, and we chat till the end of the line. He’s charming and amusing, and even interested in my own first efforts at writing. As we leave the train I take photos of us together, and give him my address, inviting him to drop in for a cup of coffee if he’s ever in Oxford. I don’t expect he will, but what a wonderful way to end my holiday. And I’ve got something that’ll really impress the writers’ group next week.
April 30th. I was right! The writers’ group at the library are truly impressed. We’d all been asked to take along some work to read aloud, and my piece on “My Easter Holiday” was a great hit. They’re all quite envious, even the teacher, and they’ve encouraged me to put my article on Facebook along with a couple of my photos. I did it there and then on one of the library’s computers, and now I’m home again and some nice comments are coming in already.
June 21st: The writers’ group will never believe this. Just as I got home from work my phone started ringing. It was the last person I expected.
“Hello, Jenny, this is Dane Delapole. Remember me? We met in Wales.”
I’m almost too astonished to speak, but I manage to burble, “Of course, Dane, I remember very well. How lovely to hear you.”
“I’m in Oxford with a couple of hours to spare, and I’d love to see you, and maybe take you up on your offer of a cup of coffee…if you’re free today?”
“You’ll be welcome any time. When can you come?”
“In about an hour, if that’s OK. Please don’t go to any trouble and don’t worry about giving directions. I know where you live.”
“Wonderful! See you soon then.”
I’ve rushed round giving the flat a quick dusting, putting out the best mugs, finding some biscuits. Now I’m just waiting, not very patiently, and half-watching the television while I catch up my diary.
The early evening news grabs my attention with an item from Wales: a woman’s body discovered in a remote valley near Mount Snowdon. The police think they know who she is but want to inform the next of kin before they reveal the name. All they will say is it appears she met with an accident while out walking, and she’s lain undiscovered for some time.
There’s the valley on the screen now, with its little stream and the trees at the bottom. I’m trying to convince myself I don’t recognize it, I don’t know anything about all this. But of course I do. And Dane Delapole knows that I know.
Is that why he’s coming to see me?
No, I’m being silly. Aren’t I? Surely this is just some crazy coincidence, isn’t it?
I must stop for now. There’s someone at the door.
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