Exclusive extracts from OxCrimes — On 15 May, Profile Books will be releasing OxCrimes, a special anthology that includes 27 short stories by some of the world’s best crime authors. They include Mark Billingham, Ann Cleeves, Neil Gaiman, Val McDermid, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Fred Vargas and more. And, here’s the best bit – it’s all in aid of the charity Oxfam, which fights global poverty.
Here at Crime Fiction Lover, while we adore crime fiction we hate poverty too, so we’ve teamed up with Profile to bring you a handful of excerpts from the book. Every Friday for the next four weeks, you’ll be able to tune in and read the first 500 or so words of one of the stories in the book. Today we bring you The Ladder by Adrian McKinty.
DO NOT forget to grab yourself a copy of OxCrimes – £9.99 in paperback or £7.99 as an eBook, or we shall be very disappointed. Right, let’s hand you over to Adrian…
The Ladder by Adrian McKinty
Donald sighed as the university loomed out of the rain and greyness. All morning he had hit nothing but red lights and now, although it was green, he had to stop because a huge gang of students was crossing the pedestrian walkway in front of him.
It was rag week and they were wearing costumes: animals, Cossacks, knights, milk maids. Predictable and drab, the outfits had a home-made look and they depressed him. The students were laughing and some were actually skipping. It was raining, it was cold, it was November in Belfast: what had they to laugh about?
The traffic light went red and then amber and then green again and still they hadn’t all got across. He was tempted to honk them off the road but no doubt from hidden pockets they would produce flour and water bombs and throw them at him. He sat there patiently while the car behind began to toot. He looked in the rearview at a vulnerable, orange VW Microbus. Yeah, you keep doing that mate, he said to himself and sure enough a half a dozen eggs cut up the poor fool’s windscreen.
He chortled to himself, the mob cleared and he turned into the car park.
‘Jesus, is that a grin?’ McCann asked him when he appeared in the office.
He nodded.‘What, have you got a job offer somewhere?’ McCann wondered.
‘No old chap, I am doomed to spend my declining years with your boorish self and my cretinous students in this provincial hell hole of a city that is slowly sinking into the putrid mudflats from which it so inauspiciously began.’
‘If I’d known I was going to get an essay…’ McCann said, not all that good-naturedly. Donald took off his jacket and set it down on the chair.
‘Is this coffee drinkable?’ he asked staring dubiously at the tarry black liquid in the coffee pot.
‘Drinkable yes. Distinguishable as coffee, no.’
Donald poured himself a cup anyway, added two sugars and picked up the morning paper.
‘Before I lose interest entirely, why were you smiling when you came in? Some pretty undergraduate no doubt?’ McCann asked.
‘No, no, nothing like that I’m afraid. The students went after some hippy driving a VW Microbus, talk about devouring your own.’
‘Aye. I’ve seen that thing around. New guy. Been parking in my spot. Kicked his side panels a few times. Buckled like anything. It’s an original. Those old ones are bloody death traps.’
‘A windscreen covered with eggs and flour won’t make it any safer.’
McCann took out his pipe and began filling it with tobacco. Donald went back to the paper. ‘So what’s on the old agenda today anyway?’ McCann asked.
‘Nothing in the morning. Playing squash at lunch time and then we’re doing the Miller’s Tale after lunch.’
‘The Miller’s Tale? Which one’s that?’
‘Do you actually want to know?’
‘Well, not really I suppose,’ McCann replied, somewhat shamefaced. The hours passed by in a haze of tobacco smoke, bad coffee, worse biscuits and dull news from the paper. At twelve Donald slipped off only to be intercepted by a student outside the gym.
‘Dr. Bryant,’ the student began in a lilting voice and Donald remembered that he was a Welshman called Jones or Evans or something.
‘Mr. Jones how can I help you today?’
‘Uh, actually my name is–’
‘Yes, Mr. Jones, how I can help you? Come on. Out with it man. I’m in a hurry.’
‘Uhm, Dr. Bryant, I’m supposed to do a presentation next week on Jonson…’
‘Ben or Sam or, God save us, Denis?’
‘Uhhh, the playwright.’
‘They all wrote plays, Mr. Jones.’
‘They did? Uhm, well, it’s Ben. Yeah. And, well, the library doesn’t have the secondary sources, someone took them all and I don’t know what to do really. I tried to borrow them from the University of Ulster library but they’re out too. I’ve read all the primary stuff, but I want the secondary sources to do a good job.’
Donald felt a pin prick of guilt. Mr. Jones seemed like a nice, sincere, young man. One of the few good students. He was studying engineering but was taking English as an elective. Perhaps that explained his curious dedication. The BAs in English were all layabouts and druggies.
‘All right Mr. Jones come by my office at four today and I’ll lend you my own books, they should be sufficient for a half-decent presentation. You’ll be careful with them won’t you?’
‘Oh God yeah, thank you, thank you very much,’ the student said.
Donald arrived at the gym feeling unnaturally buoyant – two quite pleasant incidents in one morning. He showed his ID to Peter Finn the ancient security guard at the reception desk.
‘Afternoon, Dr. Bryant,’ Peter said in his rough country accent.
‘Afternoon,’ he replied curtly.
‘Going to give the wee muckers another hiding eh?’
To carry on reading click here.
© Adrian McKinty 2014
This extract from the beginning of ‘The Ladder’ by Adrian McKinty is taken from OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers published 15 May by Profile Books at £9.99 paperback/£7.99 ebook.
Note: With previous books OxTravels and OxTales raising over £250,000 since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s emergency Response pages here to find out more about how you can help.