This is an extract from my forthcoming novel, Walking Into Trouble that will be available on 30th June. It’s a cracker…
Chipping Campden to Stanton – 10 miles
“Where is he?” Martin Connolly peered back towards the pub they had left fifteen minutes before. “Talk about shite timing.” He pushed himself further under the gable, peering up at the heavy drizzle. “Fucking marvellous start.”
Peter Hopkins stooped to retie his boot laces and to hide his own irritation. “I shouldn’t have mentioned Di.”
“Oh don’t be a tit. He’s not sulking; he just wanted a piss. Oh, come on, Rebo!” He jammed his hands under his armpits and continued muttering.
“You doing The Way?” Peter looked up at the speaker. He was a broad-shouldered, squat man about fifty in tweed jacket and apparently oblivious to the rain, given the way he allowed it to run off his bare head. The lilting educated Scottish tones reminded Peter of his great aunt and grim teas on the annual visit north.
Peter stood, smiling. “Yes. Eventually, when our friend appears.” He indicated the slate-grey sky. “He’s probably decided to give it a miss.”
There was a brief silence as the man smiled at Martin, as if expecting him to respond. He then looked back at Peter. “You know Chipping Campden?”
Peter shook his head. “Not really. I was here, maybe ten years ago. It was lovely as I recall.”
“Yes, it’s better when the sun is out. Those old almshouses are quite something, then.” The man made a dismissive sound with his tongue. “It’s dreich now, but it’ll be as bonny as a widow’s welcome later, you’ll see.” He rubbed his hands, seeking warmth it seemed. “Are you staying in Cold Ashton? My brother-in-law is the publican there and ―”
“Here he is. At bloody last.” Martin grabbed his pack and heaved it onto his shoulders. As he yanked the straps tight, he said to the interlocutor, “We’d better be off. Wouldn’t want to pass up the chance of walking in this splendid rain.” He stepped out from his shelter and headed towards Chris Reyborough, their companion.
“Well, off you go and enjoy yourselves.” The older man turned for the shops; Peter watched him go, his mood apparently changed now Martin had dismissed him. Peter felt for him; he was probably just trying to cheer them up. They probably looked bloody miserable. The man slowed at the first shop; his stoop made it look like he was battling a strong wind.
Peter lifted his own pack. Maybe they should call it off. Piss awful weather and then I go and say completely the wrong thing, he thought. Why did I have to mention Diane’s hatred of the rain? Mind you, Chris’ reaction – a face like thunder – seemed a bit extreme, even in the circumstances. He felt the straps dig into his bony shoulders, very aware of the knots across them shoulders tightening. He eased his neck in a circle and shook rain drops out of his hair. Why hadn’t he thought about a hat? Him the organised one, too.
Now he was close enough, Peter saw Chris had pulled his hood so tight around his face, only his beaky nose and top lip peeped out. It was as if he wanted to hide from more than just the rain. Peter narrowed his eyes as he squinted up at the thick clouds and rubbed his hands together, to generate warmth. “Shall we begin?”
Martin stamped his feet and looked distracted; Chris kept his gaze on the market hall. Neither seemed inclined to get going.
“Everything alright?” Peter tried not to sound anxious. Surely he wasn’t having second thoughts, too?
Finally, Martin pulled at his pack straps again, causing more flesh to bulge out the sides. “Yeah, let’s do this.” He was a bear of a man, tall like Peter, maybe six foot two, but unlike Peter he had bulked out over the last few years, a combination of lifting weights and ingesting pints. Peter glanced at Martin’s stomach, straining against the waterproof and wondered if he would ever be able to put on that much weight. Physically, they couldn’t be more different, he thought, him dark, verging on the saturnine, while Peter was pale tending towards the anaemic.
Martin clapped Chris on the shoulder. “Petes was right. She’d have hated it, this rain.” He let Chris go and Peter noticed Chris turn away slightly so the little of his face showing was now hidden completely from view. “Knowing her, she’s sitting on a cloud and laughing like a drain.”
Peter felt the energy being sucked from him. Typical Martin-therapy. If in doubt, do the one thing most likely to piss someone off. He checked the map in its protective case and took a couple of steps down the road. “Ready?” He made an expansive gesture. “The Cotswold Way awaits!”
Still Chris didn’t move. Peter wondered if he should say anything, encourage him to get going. His gaze seemed to have become locked on the market hall. It was ancient and built of the famously buttery Cotswold stone and would be, Peter surmised, impressive in the dry; right now, the ancient sides looked damp and cold and as uninviting as the road leading out of town. Peter glanced back, towards the high street and the buttoned-up shop fronts, their narrow facades hardly welcoming anyone. “Shall we touch it?”
“What?” Chris looked round, his face displaying something more than the question deserved.
“It’s the official start. The market hall. Maybe we should touch it.”
From over his shoulder, he heard Martin mutter, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, we’re not playing ‘it’.”
Peter started to reply when he caught sight of Chris reaching forward and putting a hand on the brickwork. He left it there, his eyes closed. Peter moved next to him and copied his gesture. On the spur of the moment, he said, “For her.”
Chris’ head turned sharply and he stared at Peter.
Peter felt sick. He’d misread things again. He looked at Martin, whose expression suggested he was equally confused. Meanwhile, Chris pulled his pack tight to his chest and set off at a fast pace, passing Martin without glancing at him.
Peter joined Martin as they studied the fast retreating back. “That went well.”
Martin started walking. “He’ll be fine. How far is it?”
“This morning, today or overall?” Peter squinted into the thickening drizzle.
“You always over-complicate things. To the end of the bloody road. I don’t think I want to go any further if this monsoon keeps on.”
Peter felt a chill seep into his shoulders. Why was he such a stupid idiot?