Chapter 8

            After all that, I took a day or two off, just pottering round the house. It was doctor’s orders, so he could be really sure I had recovered from that bang on the head. I didn’t tell Joan about my conversation with Charlie Fry, but of course she sensed what was on my mind – her instinct is usually unerring. So, the next day, we were eating lunch – some kind of fish, I think, or something. I can’t quite remember, and it wouldn’t be tactful for me to admit that to Joan, when Charlie rang up to see how I was. Of course, he also clued me in on the latest developments, in so far as there were any. Joan picked it up right away what we had been talking about, and as soon as I hung up she nailed me down.

            “So, dear, what’s the latest on the falling guard? Who’s the prime suspect? Or is there one yet?”

            I told her all about our discussion. Her reaction was, as usual, positive.

            “So now at least you have a suspect. Three suspects, if you count the fireman and guard of the rocket train. That’s a step forward over not having anyone at all to point the finger at.”

            “Actually, Joan, it’s only two, not three. The guard, a man called Jerry Jessop, is in the clear. Charlie had been trying to follow up all three men to see if they had an alibi for George Carey Night, and Guard Jessop does. He was guard on a goods train from Newcastle to Birmingham at the vital time. So he’s out. For the fireman, Danny McAlpine, we don’t know about him yet. And the engine driver is a real puzzle. Apparently he left British Railways altogether and we don’t know where he is, not yet. Charlie has got Inspector Barrett on the job, and they’re both together, working late on it, but nothing so far.”

            “So he left B.R.,” mused Joan, thoughtfully. “That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? He was a trained professional, and where else would he find a job as an engine driver? Now that we’re nationalized, B.R. is the only railway company there is. I suppose he might end up in a marginal job in some yard somewhere, let’s say driving some little shunting engine back and forwards around the Liverpool docks, employed by the Harbour Board, but that would be an awful let down for an engine driver on a real railway. And even if he’s left the Central Region, do you think he could get a driver’s job with any of the other Regions?”

            I was quite clear on that one.

            “Not a hope, Joan. You know how it works. Each Region has their own people, working first as cleaner, then fireman, then driver. The drivers are all local people who have worked their way up the local ladder to the footplate. You don’t get outsiders coming in to take over the top jobs the local men have been trained for and are waiting for. Even if he did apply for a driver’s job with, say, the Southern Region, they’d at least want some sort of references, and what good would it do him for us to tell them, ‘Oh yes, he’s the man who wrecked the Northern Scot and an ICBM, both at once?” No, Joan, it’s strictly No Go.”

            Joan nodded. “And, of course, he wouldn’t even know the road, would he?”

            “True, indeed.”

            Driving a train is not like driving a car or lorry. A driver cannot just drive it anywhere at all. He has to know that particular line, know where all the signals are and what they refer to, what are the speed restrictions, and so on. Only when he has learned it thoroughly is he allowed to drive a train over it. And, of course, our ICBM specialist would know nothing of the lines of, say, Paddington or Waterloo. So he couldn’t do a bunk there as a refugee from the Central Region. No way!

            The phone rang. It was Charlie again with the latest.

            “Frank, we’ve got him. He’s employed as an engine driver by the London Midland Region.”

            For once I was speechless. This is what I had just said was impossible. He couldn’t be! And the London Midland, the biggest Region of them all, with main lines running out of Euston and St. Pancras to cover half of England; before nationalization it used to be the old LMS, London Midland and Scottish, a giant that, I had once seen reported, actually had more men on its payroll than the entire British Army. After a few moments I recovered my voice.

            “Charlie, are you sure of this?”

            “Oh yes, Inspector Barrett got on to it, I’m not quite sure how, but I have it here on a form with his name on it, employment, engine driver, employer, L.M.R. That’s what it says. That’s where he has been for the past two years, hiding from the Shambles, I suppose.”

            I just managed a polite “Thank you,” and staggered back to our dining room. Joan, of course, wanted to know what had happened, and so I told her that the impossible had actually occurred.

            Joan echoed my own words. “Are they sure of this?”

            “Yes, Inspector Barrett got on to it, and they even have some written confirmation. Employer, L.M.R., London Midland Region.”

            “But why would they ever have taken him on?”

            “Why, indeed? Unless it was his name. You know, his name was Bertie Driver, so officially I suppose you could call him Driver Driver. Anyhow, the next job would now be to find where he was the night George Carey made the Ulsterman late.”

            Gathering up the plates from the table and heading for the kitchen, Joan glanced back over her shoulder.

            “And that night, was it a Thursday?”

            I stared at her, then fished out my pocket diary and confirmed it.

            “Yes, it was. But what has that to do with it?”

            I didn’t get an answer. Joan just smiled knowingly and the door closed behind her. I heard her bustling around in the kitchen for some time and eventually she reappeared with the dessert, rice pudding; rich, sweet and creamy – I’ve never understood why so many people are against it. I recurred to the main problem.

            “The London Midland Region! I just don’t get it.”

            “Perhaps you’re not thinking straight, dear. Try thinking instead of the Waterloo to Portsmouth Direct line.”

            “The Portsmouth Direct? But that’s Southern Region.”

            “Then think a bit harder, dear. Think Hampshire.”

            “Hampshire?”

            “Well, then, think Liss. Liss station, on the Portsmouth Direct, in Hampshire.”

            At least the penny dropped,

            “Liss. The Longmoor Military Railway. L.M.R. That’s what the initials on the form stood for. Not the London Midland Region, but the Longmoor Military Railway. Not very widely known, so no wonder Charlie and Barrett got it wrong. But of course, that explains a lot.”

The Longmoor Military Railway, at Liss, in Hampshire, was a sort of army railway that they used to train soldiers of the Royal Engineers in railway operation, so that they can handle one if they need to, overseas. And of course it wasn’t a part of B.R. I don’t suppose he should have got  a job there, not being in the army, but he must have slipped in under the wire somehow, probably insisting on his being a qualified engine driver. I don’t expect he told the army what he had done to their ICBM.

            “Joan,” I said, “You are wonderful. And now all we have to do is find out where he was on George Carey Night.”

            Joan smiled again.

            “Oh, I know that.”

            “You do?”

            “Yes. He was here in Nottingham.”

            I took a deep breath.

            “And I suppose maybe you know what he was doing here?”

            “Oh, yes.”

            She does like to tease me, but she doesn’t usually go this far.

            I capitulated. Unconditional surrender.

            “So what was he doing? Clobbering a guard on the Ulsterman?”

            “No. He was at the wedding of his daughter. She was marrying his old fireman, that man Barney – Something. They met when he and her father were working together on the engines. So now they both have alibis, driver and fireman.”

            I simply gaped at her, and, in a spirit of compassion, she decided that enough was enough, and it was time to come clean.

            “It’s all in the paper!” And she produced a newspaper that she had been hiding behind her back. I looked at it and there it all was, just as she had said. A full account of the wedding, right down to the detail that Driver Driver had come up especially from his job on the Longmoor Military Railway.

            “Joan, his is an old paper. Do you mean you had remembered about it after all this time?”

            “No, I only remembered when you gave me the name, Driver Driver. That tripped my memory, I knew I’d seen it somewhere. I think the newspaper was struck too by the double name, and that’s why they printed the story, as a human-interest piece. And I remembered I don’t usually buy that paper, but I bought it the day you gave me the lift into Nottingham. I went to the Lace Market and came back with you on the 2.12 train. And that’s a Fridays Only train, so what I had bought was Friday’s paper, which meant the wedding had been the day before for them to cover it. That the wedding Thursday, so I asked you if the guard affair happened on a Thursday. You said it did, so that meant they were both on the same day. And I thought I still had that paper in the kitchen, and I did. So there it is. Read all about it!”  

            I did, and it was all there, spread out before me. It did indeed mention how Driver Driver had come from the Longmoor Military Railway. That’s how she’d known. There was even a photo of the happy couple outside the church. At least they hadn’t come out under an arch of fireman’s shovels, but there was Driver Driver, duly identified. As for Barney Mc Alpine, the fireman, I couldn’t think of any alibi more impregnably unassailable than being on the wedding night with your bride. And there was the date on the paper. It was the right date, and, as Joan had just said, that meant the wedding had to be on the Thursday. And she had remembered that it had to be a Friday paper that she had, because she then got on to the 2.12 train, which only ran on a Friday.

            There was only one thing more for me to ask her.

            “Joan, dear, why did you keep that old paper all that time?”

            This time the smile became almost a wicked grin.

            “But I always do, Frank. I keep them for the bridge column. And then I take them with me when I go play duplicate bridge at the church on Tuesday afternoons.”

            I might have known it.

            There was nothing else for it. The rocket train crew were completely out of the picture, all three of them. I made for the telephone to call back Charlie.

            As I did so, I saw Joan open the cabinet and place on the table two glasses and our bottle of port.

            She surely deserved it.

 

Comment by the Murderer

            All I want to say about the way things are going now is what people often say to inquisitive newspaper reporters – No Comment!

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