Cherringham - Cliffhanger
Cherringham - Cliffhanger
1. A Jolly Day Out
Will Goodchild pulled up in his eight-seater minibus right outside Huffington's, and checked his watch: 07:58 precisely.
He waited before turning the engine off - the day's weather forecast was just finishing on the radio. He listened carefully while scanning the sky for signs. So far so good - deep blue sky and light wind.
But he knew that his whole schedule for the day depended on clement weather.
"And most of the Midlands can expect sunny intervals with just the odd chance of a shower later..."
Perfect! he thought, turning off the engine. Nothing there to dampen the enthusiasm of my little band of walkers, for sure.
He climbed out of the driving seat, pausing for a second to enjoy the early warmth of the May sun, then walked round to the back and unlocked the rear double doors.
Even now, some two months into his new venture, it still gave him a thrill of pride to see the perfectly stencilled words on the vehicle: Goodchild's Heritage Tours - Personally Guided Walks through Cotswolds History .
Business so far had been positively booming - indeed, he was booked up right until the end of the summer.
At last it seemed, amazingly enough, that he'd found a way to make a living out of his passion for Cherringham's history. Much as he enjoyed writing books and pamphlets for the local tourist board, the meagre fees hardly covered his rent.
He pulled the doors wide, leaned into the van and opened the crate containing the special walkers' backpacks, each one embossed with the Goodchild Tours logo.
"Morning Mr Goodchild," came a woman's voice from behind. He turned - to see Katie, one of the young waitresses from Huffington's, carrying a bakers' tray filled with wraps and sandwiches.
"Ah, Katie, wonderful timing," he said, taking the tray from her and resting it on the floor of the minibus. "No problems with the order?"
"Should all be there," said Katie. "Lunch for eight. The gluten-free and the vegan choices all marked. Cakes in the foil packs. Today's special - chocolate walnut. Think you said no nut allergies, so good there. And still warm!"
"Sounds delicious," said Will. "See you tomorrow, same time?"
"I'll be here," said Katie. "Beautiful day for a walk - do wish I could come with you!"
"Full house today," said Will. "But I'm thinking of doing some one-off Sunday specials in the summer - get a few more locals involved."
"Count me in," said Katie.
"I certainly will."
"Bye then," she said, and Will watched her head back to the little café which was already filling up with Monday-morning customers. He turned his attention back to the lunches.
Ten minutes later, and he'd labelled and packed each backpack with the correct lunches (as requested on the detailed email he had sent to his guests), water bottles, a quality Silva compass, maps, notes and finally - the new purple waterproofs (though with luck they wouldn't be required today).
He checked his watch again - 8.20. Ten minutes to rendezvous time.
He took out his clipboard with the names of this week's walkers.
An odd mix - but on the evidence of last night's drinks at the hotel, not a bad one. No obvious awkward customers and no peculiar behaviours that he felt were beyond his handling.
He ran through the list, putting faces to the names. First, the four Americans who had all elected to stay in the Bell Hotel: Danny and Julie Klein, and Steve and Melissa Arnold. Ah yes . Danny: the real estate man, all slick, shiny, with a laugh like a big dog barking. And Julie: his wife, rather weak smile, stupendously unfit, and clearly long-suffering.
That could be a bit of a problem.
Then their good friends Steve and Melissa. Steve: retired apparently, morose-looking, and a tad