Chapter 16

            In fact it wasn’t Charlie Fry that was my next port of call. It was Joan. She was asking me what I thought of the various choices for the new living room wallpaper, and I think she felt instinctively that my heart was not fully in the discussions. Changing gear, she rapidly adapted to the necessities of circumstance, and asked me how I had got on on my trip to Sheffield. I told her the whole story, my discussion with Inspector Barrett and my discovery from the two drivers.

            “So, Joan, it seems absolutely clear now that Mike was not on the parcels at all, not for the bit between Leicester and Vinley. And that’s quite independent of anything he says about the parcels having run non-stop when we know it didn’t. There are no excuses about him having mistaken the date, or anything else. He can say whatever he likes, the fact is he was definitely off that train and only got back on it because of its unscheduled, enforced stop.”

            All this was a bit hard for Joan to digest, about an acquaintance who had, on various occasions, been a guest in her home and at her table. Unerringly she put her finger on the weak spots that had already been drummed into me by both Charlie Fry and Inspector Barrett.

            “First, there’s no proof, or evidence, that he killed these two people. It sounds as if he did, but only because of a manufactured alibi that collapsed and anyway we haven’t found anything pointing definitely at somebody else. And you still don’t know what the original motive was. So even if this isn’t exactly a whodunit, we’re still landed with a whydunit and a prove-he-did-it. And it doesn’t seem to me that much progress is being made towards either of these.”

            It was hard to argue with that.

            “Well, I’ll drop in on Charlie Fry and cue him in on the latest, and he can pass the word on to Barrett if he think it’s worth it. Or, since this is really more in his line, maybe I should speak directly to Barrett. I’ll think about it.”

            That wasn’t quite the way Joan saw it.

            “Frank, if you’re thinking about talking to Barrett, why don’t you ring him now? You can’t rely on getting him just whenever you call. He may be out, or whatever, chasing criminals through the streets of Nottingham. You may have to keep on calling him, so you might as well start.”

            I wasn’t really too eager to do this, I can’t honestly say why, but it was hard for me to argue with the logic of it, so I picked up the phone and gave it a try. And on the first try I actually did get Barrett. First time lucky. As well as I could, I summarized for him my adventures (they were now yesterday, but still very fresh in my mind), and arising from the indisputable fact that Mike Sullivan had not been anywhere that he said he was at the vital time, and had probably been lying through his teeth. Barrett welcomed the information, but again emphasized that it was one thing to prove that Mike could have done it, but another to prove that he actually did. Still, he was as forthcoming as, in the circumstances, he reasonably could be.

            “Yes, Mr. McMullen, that certainly is a step in the right direction, and I can only once again thank you for your help. It really does look as if your Mr. Sullivan could go with a bit of investigation. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific about it, but until we have something more definite to go on there isn’t much I can do about it. We need hard facts, firm information, solid evidence we can follow up and build on.”

            Reluctantly I tried a mild criticism.

            “What about the murder of Larry Fineman? Of course everybody is equal in the eyes of the law, but as General Manager of the Line his death is, let’s say, more notable, more sensational than the guard. And yet I get the impression not so much attention, or investigation, has been paid to it.”

            Out of the retriever came a heartfelt sigh.

            “Ah yes, and I told you why. It’s a featureless killing compared with the other, harder to get a grip on.”

            “Yes, I know, but have you, say, examined his office, just in case there is something to be found there? It was somewhere around there that he was killed, and the office has been closed, unused ever since. There might be some evidence there, perhaps?”

            Another sigh.

            “It’s a long shot, and I told you how we are overstretched. Maybe,…”, and finally Inspector Barrett spoke with clear and firm decisiveness, the personification of the man in command.

            “Anyway, thank you, Superintendent McMullen, for your help and interest in this case. Good-bye.”

            Click, and he was gone.

            I turned to Joan, who was putting things away in the fridge.

            “So there it is. I’ve told him all about it, but I don’t think I got very far. He’s so busy with this threat to the pub he can’t do much for us. Reasonable enough, I suppose. Our murders are over and past, while he’s trying to stop a whole lot of innocent people being killed in the future. It’s just bad luck the two things coming at the same time.”

            Joan slammed the fridge door, looking thoughtful.

            “So what are you going to do, Frank?”

            “I don’t see what I can do. So I’ll go in to my office and carry on running the railway. I can work on some of the things that came up yesterday in my talk with the Yardmaster at Eccleshall Yard.”

            “Frank, I think you should be careful. If Mike Sullivan really is the killer, and I think it looks like it, you’re working almost alongside him at Central Station, and I don’t like it. I don’t like you being alongside a murderer, particularly when you have been poking around and digging up evidence against him. It’s asking for trouble. Please, Frank, please do be careful.”

            So, determined to be careful, I started up the Morris and once again hit the familiar A60. All right, not exactly right away. Joan wanted me to look at her book of wallpaper samples. It was a big book, like a ledger, and we held up various sheets of various patterns against the living room wall, and I made, I hope, intelligent comments on them. So, what with the wallpaper, Barrett, and one thing or another, it was mid-afternoon when I pulled into my parking space at the station, and even then I didn’t go straight up to my office, but trod the well-beaten path to, you’ve guessed it, the office of Charlie Fry.

            I told him all the story of yesterday’s activities. His reactions mirrored those of Inspector Barrett and my wife, that’s to say, “This is no proof” and “Don’t go near Mike.” Easy to say, not always easy to do, since we worked in the same building. As for the issue of proof, my drive along the A60 had given me a thought I could at least mention, purely as a trial.

            “Charlie, we’re short of proof, aren’t we? So why not ring Major Brown, see if he’s over the shingles yet, and maybe he could send a man in a white coat and driving a green Vauxhall to follow Mike around for a bit? The idea was to push me into doing something silly, so maybe it might work with Mike even if it didn’t with me. I’d nothing to hide, but he has, so with him it might pay off. Worth a try, maybe?”

            Charlie fiddled with some papers while he considered the proposition.

            “I won’t say no, Frank, it might work. Not perhaps in the very way you suggest, but in principle the aim is to put pressure on him and get him to make a false move. It’s an idea.”

            On that we parted, and I went upstairs to my office. The door was open and inside, surveying operations, stood Dozie, looking like Queen Victoria playing the role of an indignant Boadicea. What she was surveying was a young man who introduced himself as Detective Sergeant Moody, and a uniformed constable who simply smiled and offered me a sort of mixture of a half-nod and half-salute. They had apparently been crawling round my office looking for clues, so it looked like my phone call to Barrett had after all produced immediate results. They’d had time to get on with the job thanks to my being delayed first by the selection of the wallpaper and second by my visit to Charlie Fry. Now, however, they had just about finished.

            “So how did you get on?” I asked Moody.

            “Oh, a couple of things, sir. Have you noticed this?”, pointing to a corner of my desk.

            I bent to take a closer look, following the pointing finger. It was pointing at the chip knocked off in the woodwork, the same one that had previously been pounced on by Charlie Fry. I replied with a little white lie.

            “Yes, I did notice that, just the other day. It does look like new damage and I wondered about it. Indeed, I wondered if it had anything to do with the case, and, if so, what.”

            Moody didn’t immediately reply, but moved to his next point.

            “I see you have a very nice fireplace here. I don’t suppose you need it very much, with the central heating radiators over there?”

            It was indeed an imposing fireplace, installed when the building was new, and before they had central heating. I never used it now, and had always thought of it as purely decoration. Moody duly continued.

            “I see you have all the fire irons here too, sir, hanging on that brass stand. Let’s see, now, you have tongs, a little shovel for the ashes, a brush for the hearth.”

            I couldn’t see where all this was leading us, so Moody duly led me.

            “Now it seems to me, sir, that with a set like this there’s something missing. Shouldn’t there also be a poker?”

            “A poker? Yes, of course, there was one, hanging on that brass stand.”

            “Quite so, sir. There’s even an empty hook here on one side, as if that’s where the poker should be hanging. So where is the poker?”

            So much for my insisting that nothing was missing from my office after the burglary.

            “It’s gone. Don’t ask me where, I’ve no idea. I never noticed it till now.”

            “Like that splintered chip knocked off the corner of your desk, sir? Never mind, they may not be related. By the way, what was that poker like? Big and heavy, would you say?”

            “Big and heavy,” I agreed, my mind at last catching up with the point of the questions. “Big and heavy enough to be very suitable for hitting somebody over the head with.”

            “Yes, sir, and if that somebody then fell down he might even fall against your desk and knock that chip off it; perhaps with his head, or maybe somehow the poker did it. But either way it does seem to indicate that something was going on here, some kind of struggle, wouldn’t you say, sir?”

            There was no dodging it.

            “It means almost certainly this is where Mr. Fineman was murdered. The burglary was here, and we know he was killed somewhere along this corridor. So this must be it.”

            It had been bad enough to realize that every day when I had parked my car alongside that crippled brake van he had been dead inside it and I had walked by within feet of him. Now he, my boss, had been bashed over the head, murdered, in my own office, while the potential killer – indeed, the almost certain killer – had all that time not only been working with me but even eating dinner in my own house, with Joan and I. This is the sort of thing that takes some getting used to. Sergeant Moody, for the sake of completeness, filled in the picture.

            “I don’t think there’s much doubt about it. Your poker is certainly gone for good, and we now have found evidence of a sort at the scene of the crime. I’ll report all this back to Inspector Barrett and we’ll see what he makes of it, though, frankly, sir, I doubt if it will bring us much further forward. Anyway, I think we’re done here. We’ve already had a quick look a the other office, Mr. Fineman’s, but I don’t think there is anything much for us there. As I see it, he’d be passing this office as he was going along the corridor to or from his own one. This is where the burglary was going on, so he looked in here, and that was the end of it, for him at least. Well, we’ll be off now, and I must thank you for your co-operation.”

            The constable gave me another half-salute and they both bustled off, leaving me to explain to Dozie what had been going on and what it was all about. That was one of the two choices before me. And it was just more than I could cope with right now. So I fell back on the second choice, Plan B.

            Plan B was having a restorative Bass in the Refreshment Room. After two of them – well, I think it was two, but I might be wrong, it might be three, but I’m sure, or pretty sure, it wasn’t four – after that I was feeling much better, when I stepped out of the Refreshment Room on to Platform 4 and almost bumped headlong into Mike Sullivan coming the other way.

            So I confronted him, then and there.

            Well, you understand, it had to be done.

            It couldn’t keep on working on the same projects, in the same building, with a man like that, without having it out. It’s only sensible.

            So, standing squarely in front of him, I challenged him to come clean.

            I told him I now knew he had not been on the Oxford parcels at all, he had no alibi, and he had lied to all of us. I said I was speaking as an old friend and colleague, and I had to know the truth. Indeed, I was damn well going to know the truth.

            Mike did not say a word, and tried to dodge past me.

            No way!

            I grabbed him by the lapels. This had to be settled here and now, and I wasn’t going to let him go until it was.

            The platform inspector, who had been busy on the phone – there are telephones, for internal use, hung at strategic intervals along the platform – hurried over to us. No, he did not come as a referee trying to break up a fight. He had news for me.

            “The four o’clock from Mountroyal has failed at Leicester!”

            The four o’clock was the Pennine Pullman, our flagship service, the crack train of the day. Evidently the engine had broken down for some reason. It had got as far as Leicester and would then have to be replaced.

            “Right now he’s just passed Vinley.”

            Allowing for the time it took Leicester, with no advance notice, to find another engine that was already in steam and able to take over the train, this wasn’t too bad. The Pullman’s timings in the schedule were very tight, it was a fast train, and it looked as if whatever engine and crew had been put on as a replacement were doing a good job, if they were already through Vinley. Badly late, of course, but at least not losing any more time, and maybe even regaining a bit. Good going.

            The inspector finally dropped his bombshell.

            “‘City of Durham’s’ bringing her down!”

            “City of Durham!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I was thunderstruck. Of all possible engines!

            “City of Durham” was an old, an ancient locomotive, her day long past, but in 1908 she had achieved a world speed record for the London and Northern Railway when she was timed as reaching 107 mph with a mails special. She carried a brass plaque on the side of her cab commemorating her record, and when she was retired from service she went to take up an honoured position in the National Railway Museum at York. Some years later, somebody decided she could still run a bit, so she came out again back into service, and was sent to be based at Leicester. They used her mainly for light work, hauling local trains.

            To all railwaymen she was living monument to greatness. At Leicester the enginemen loved her, often coming in on their days off to polish her brass work and generally look after her as if she was a favorite pet.

            It is perhaps hard nowadays to realize the intense sense of group loyalty that filled the men who worked for the old London and Northern. Individual supervisors might be detested, but the Company, collectively, could do no wrong. And to-day, when our showpiece train had publicly collapsed, this ancient museum piece had stepped into the breach to save the honour of the Company.

            For that was how we saw it.

            At each end of the station, signal arms clacked up into the raised position, pointing to the sky, “Line Clear.”

            The word had gone along the line by telephone, and nothing, but nothing, was going to be allowed to get in her way as she made her run.

            Up under the roof the loudspeakers came to life.

            “Passengers on Platform Four, please stand back from the edge. Fast train coming through.”

            Usually at big stations you have to go fairly slow, but Nottingham Central was an exception. You could go through it pretty well flat out, like, say, Grantham.

            And she was going to do it.

            For there she was, still far off, but coming at us like a bullet. Normally, for so old an engine, she was limited to fairly moderate speeds, but whatever crew were on board her now had evidently decided this was both an emergency and a chance to see what she would do, and had opened her up, wide open. And before we knew it, she was upon us, running at an effortless 80 mph, her side rods a flickering blur, tearing into Nottingham Central like the racehorse she was, a string of brown and primrose coaches behind her, all Pullmans.

            At the South Box the signalman was out on his balcony, along the platform porters, shunters, inspectors, were waving their caps and cheering her on, a grand old lady carrying with her all the pride, honour and glory of the Company in its hour of need. Indeed, she was quite small, in comparison with out more modern engines, which only emphasized the whole picture.

            The driver opened his whistle and kept it going, a pure flute-like reply, while half leaning out of his cab, watching for his signals with his eyes squinting closed against 80 mph gale, and for a split second we could see a flash of flame as the fireman fed her another shovelful, to keep up the supply of steam. Now the coaches were whipping by us, their passengers presumably all unaware of the drama that was being played out up in front.

            And then she was gone, streaking through the station, and maybe even making up some of the lost time, on that very tight schedule.

            I’m sure you think I am playing this up, but I can assure you it really was like that. And I felt it more than most, for that old engine, “City of Durham”, had been designed and built by my own grandfather, on the London and Northern. He had designed her to run at speed with the main line expresses, and to-day I had at last seen my own grandfather’s engine running at speed, as he intended it to do.

            From a last look, as the Pennine Pullman rapidly faded in the distance, I turned aside.

            Mike Sullivan was gone.

            He had heard my accusation and made no reply.

            I really think nothing but “City of Durham” could have diverted me from him. But it did.

            Reluctantly, I came back to earth. For a while I browsed through the magazines at the bookstall, had another Bass to celebrate “City of Durham”, all the while wondering what was to be done about the various revelations in my office. Charlie Fry again, maybe? I tried his office but he had gone home for the night. So, apparently, had just about everybody else in the administrative wing. Well, I’d better follow them, and call it a day. I made my way through to the forecourt, where my parked car waited. A still, small voice within me put the hesitant question:

            “Are you really fit to drive?”

            That was easily answered.

            “Yes, of course, if I’m careful. If I had to I could climb up there on to the footplate and drive the Northern Scot, with three hundred and fifty passengers behind me, so do you think I can’t manage a Morris Minor?”

            As it happened, the debate came to an inconclusive end. I happened to look up and saw that the light was still on in the window of my office, indeed, the only one with the light on. I hadn’t been up there for some time what with my encounter with Mike Sullivan and so forth. Maybe Dozie left it on. Oh well, waste not, want not, I’d better go up and turn it off.

            That stairway has always been rather dark, and as I climbed it I vaguely wondered if we should get Maintenance to do something about it. I was on the top step when my foot slipped and I fell forward on to the landing. Nothing serious. I scrambled to my feet again and went along to my office. There is one nice armchair in it, so I flopped down in it to recover, and, if the truth be told, to reconsider the question of driving home. On the whole, maybe the 6.04 train out of Platform 6 might be a better idea.

            I wiggled my foot a bit to see if it was all right. It was, so down the stairs again and over to No. 6, just in nice time. When I got home and told Joan the whole story, she was if anything critical, not to say scathing. Indeed, she thought taking the train instead of trying to drive was the only sensible thing I had done all day.

            “So you actually told a murderer face to face what evidence you had against me, and then let him go without an answer, because you were watching your train! Is that what you call being careful? Frank dear, I think you had better call in sick for the next few days. Keep away from him. Don’t you realize what you have done? You’ve probably put yourself next on his hit list!”

 

Commentary by the Murderer

            This is getting just too much! After that confrontation on the platform I really couldn’t put things off any longer. And thank goodness he was distracted by “City of Durham” on the Pullman or I’d never have got away from him. As it was, it was easy enough for me, an engineer, to get hold of two nails and a length of wire. While Frank was fiddling around with the magazines and tanking up again (as if he needed that!), I banged in the nails at the head of the stairway and stretched the wire tight across between them, so that he would trip over it and fall headlong down the whole flight of stairs. It would be him, because everybody else had gone home.

            That’s the only thing that went wrong. I saw the light in his window still lit, and naturally thought he was in his office, upstairs. I didn’t know he was still down on the platform, so that when he did trip over the wire he was going the wrong way, going upstairs instead of down. Hence the very slight fall forwards on to the landing instead of a breakneck tumble right down to ground level. Of course I immediately removed the wire, which I would have done anyway- it was guilty evidence – and, would you believe my luck, he didn’t even know he had been tripped up, he thought he had slipped because he had been drinking too much. Even Joan thought so too!

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