Pat Walker had a single seat for her journey to Valladolid from Burgos. She placed her bag on the rack and glanced through the window at the police presence on the platform. According to the posters, a tourist had been attacked two days ago near this station. There was no description of the attacker, but Walker had taken no chances and changed her style, even though the hat didn’t suit her and the sunglasses looked out of place on someone so pale. She had work to do before things became serious.
On time, the train pulled out of Burgos – Rosa de Lima station. The carriage was full of families with small children, who were sleeping or playing with toy cars, racing them on the seats, windows, and tables. Walker pulled out her book and started to read. The assassin in the book was preparing well and seemed to have thought of everything. Walker hoped she had.
This was not her normal territory, her normal terrain, and she was nervous for this reason alone. Too many things were out of her control, almost all of them the people around her, the innocents she hoped wouldn’t be in the way when the time came. Too many things, too many people, way too many people. She had no means of truly defending herself, should the need arise. Walker wasn’t used to that; she didn’t even have a phone to call in a friendly drone to help. She smiled, as she was enjoying the nervousness this engendered. Deep inside, she knew she would do a good thing, a very good thing, for those who couldn’t defend themselves against bullets, for those who couldn’t understand others who kill just for pleasure and not for need… a gentle tap on the shoulder brought her back to the train carriage from her thoughts.
“Excuse me,” said a voice, a voice speaking English as a second or perhaps even a third language.
“Yes,” replied Walker, “can I help you?” She looked into the eyes of a young Spanish man wearing a bright orange shirt and blue corduroy trousers. Walker could speak other languages too, but few of them would be useful in this country, on this continent. Most of them were dialects of one language.
“Yes, senora, I am sorry to bother you, I think you were thinking about your book, it must be interesting.”
“Oh, it is,” said Walker, “it is, but I am a writer myself and I was savouring the prose and the writer’s ability to transport me, the reader, to a particular time and place.”
“What type of books do you write?”
“I am writing a book about travelling on the wonderful Spanish railways,” said Walker. “I am so impressed by them, especially as they were built during a time when the economy wasn’t doing so very well.”
A child started to cry just behind Walker’s seat. The young Spanish man glanced behind him and then turned back to Walker.
“Could I trouble you?” he said. “My child has lost his Ferdinand Alonso Le Mans toy under your seat, could you please look for it?”
“Of course,” said Walker, “there was me babbling on about railways and your boy has lost his toy, which is far more important, hold on a moment.”
Walker put her book down, placing the bookmark carefully at the right page, and then got down on her hands and knees to look under her seat. She saw the grey car wedged between the seat and the wall of the compartment. She took out her Swiss Army knife, selected the corkscrew, and deftly hooked the car’s open window with the curved metal point.
“There you are, I hope I didn’t scratch the bodywork,” said Walker leaping to her feet from a kneeling position and handing the car back to its grateful owner.
“Thank you,” said the young man. “Where did you learn to do that with so much control, that was remarkable.”
“Oh, that,” said Walker cursing herself for showing off her suppleness in such a public place. “I trained as a gymnast, specialising in floor exercises, so that sort of thing still comes as second nature, even though it was many years ago.”
“I understand,” said the man. “Thank you, I will let you read your book.”
Walker smiled and sat down. On your next exhibition of physical prowess in public, she said to herself looking at her reflection in the window, get up more slowly and use one leg at a time. I hope no one was watching you perform your tricks, especially as you were wearing a hat and shades inside a train carriage! You are supposed to be undercover. Time to recycle the shades and hat, plus the blue-and-white striped top. Buy some others.