'The N. H. & H. R. Railroad Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives, and lovers, in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies are deployed to use their wits and expertise against a select bunch of train criminals.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Note:— Stuss, card game, variant of faro.
Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.
The main railroad serving Delacote City, N.H.,—The New Hampshire & Hudson River Railroad—had its terminus, loco sheds, and freight facilities at the aptly named Delacote Station on Kruger Road. Many local trains, and some heavier fancier units as well as humble freight trains, used the station; most importantly the New York Highflyer and the slightly less prestigious but even more elegant Delacote Dreamliner, it's final destination Chicago, Illinois.
As with most important modes of transport—ocean liners springing to mind in this context—the bona-fide passengers were often infiltrated by grifters, gamblers, loan sharks and fraudsters, not forgetting lowly but highly active pickpockets and ordinary thieves; a long haul on the Dreamliner or Highflyer often leaving some irate passengers far less well-off at the finish of their journey than they had been at the start.
This sad state of affairs, at last percolating through to the associated boardrooms in question, finally brought to life the business-men in suits sitting round the expensive polished teak tables in said rooms.
"Hawkins, what in hell's all this I hear about grifters an' dead-beats on the Dreamliner?"
Mr Godfrey Mackeson, President of the N.H. & H.R. and proud of it, had a bone to pick.
"As you can see from our monthly report on passenger numbers, throughput, and, er, opinions of quality delivered by the Company, as re the latest available figures—"
"—get on with it, man."
"—er, the end result being that many passengers have recently made it known, in no uncertain terms, in language of a wholly unnecessary nature in my opinion—"
"—Hawkins, what the dam' hell'd I jes' request o'ya?"
"—oh, ah, yessir, well, they want something done about the whole sorry set-up, and fast—is what the passengers are telling my interviewers." Henry Hawkins, General Manager of the Company under discussion and well he was often made to know it, sighed wearily—internally, of course—and tried to soothe the savage breast, as often before. "I've already had discussions with my Under-Managers, both Freight and Passenger, and the common concurrence is—detectives, undercover, of course."
This last was too much, as often before, for the President who, in his turn, sighed—this time out loud as was his wont and privilege.
"Hawkins, how many times have I desired, even pleaded with ya, to modify yer dam' language when in my presence?" Godfrey's expression taking on that of a particularly hard done by basset hound. "I ain't never, as I've often asserted in public, bin ter a University; thereby failin' ter gain that high-rollin' expertise in fancy talk thet you have—so jes' give it ter me in words I kin understand. Everyone knows well enough I started out in business in the '90's o' the last century, shootin' horse-thieves, bank robbers, an' general low parties o'thet natur'. Now I'm President o' this here railroad I means ter go on as I started. Detectives, yer say? If'n it weren't fer certin' wishy-washy Laws an' modern moral codes o'lookin' at sich, I'd be on one o'my trains myself, packin' my ol' six-shooters, an' devil take anyone gettin' in my line o'fire, too. Detectives, OK, it's a deal—who's the best? Man nor woman, I doesn't have a preference, first class quality bein' the only thing I looks to."
As a result, four days later, the two best private detectives in New Hampshire found themselves with free passes for a weeks' journeying on the hopelessly prestigious Dreamliner; doing undercover work to clear out, root and branch, the unwelcome percentage of the passengers aboard said train.
"Darlin', what d'ya suggest? The yellow cotton, or the light blue shot silk?"
In their condo, on a cold morning of September 1934, in the Collister Building, Casemount Street, The Heights, Delacote City, Alice Drever was hovering over her wardrobe contents undecided, as was often the case, about her apparel. Both she, and Fiona Cartwright her loved partner in every sense of the term, had just two days ago received their remits and instructions for what might well turn out to be their biggest binge as detectives so far in their respective careers; and one, at least, of the duo was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
"Good Grief, does it matter?"
Fiona, long time inamorata of her partner, growled deep in her throat; this sort of thing being almost a ritual when Alice worried about her appearance in High Society, or what she firmly thought passed for such.
"—listen, gal, I loves yer t'bits, as I've often said out loud a'fore; but, God, can't ya make up your own mind about what dress ya want ter wear? Is it so dam' hard t'make a decision?"
"If One wants to make an impression—not just turn up lookin' like a passing stenographer—yeah, it dam' well is." Alice firmly putting in her place the lady asserting such common-place views. "The Dreamliner's packed t'the gills with the High an' the Mighty—the Movers and Shakers, y'know. One has t'make an impression of One's own, y'see."
"One will be gettin' shook, right enough, if this foolishness goes on much longer." Fiona making her position crystal clear. "Oh God, the shot silk; it sets-off yer figure ter advantage—in my view, at least."
Alice here showing her appreciation of this compliment by the simple act of ceasing to lean over the bed strewn with items of her dress and underwear and instead step over to plant a kiss on her lover's right cheek, all was forgiven and peace and tranquility once more permeated the bedroom.
"You don't think the shot silk's a mite figure-hugging fer a public train journey, does ya, honey?" Alice reverting to type in half a breath.
"Get dam' dressed."
"OK, sweetie, if'n ya puts it like that."
On first boarding the Dreamliner, sitting at its berth in Delacote Station on Platform 7, the detectives were introduced to real luxury for the first time in their lives. Not faux luxury, such as is offered by the interiors of new cars, with that over-powering new car smell; nor that of ocean liners, who tend to do things on a grand scale tending to take away from the overall effect; or those movies of De Mille, where he appears to let loose all the treasures of the Indies; but real down to earth true luxury, where tins of Beluga caviar are the least of the condiments on the dining-tables in the restaurant-car.
Even the interior walls of the carriage corridors were lined with real polished teak, the metal fittings looking suspiciously like real silver, though Fiona had her doubts. The glass in the doors of the public compartments was shielded by curtains of real silk, while their bench seats were covered in high quality dark crimson leather. The framed pictures on the walls above the heads of the passengers also being true watercolours.
In the private compartments luxury took on an even higher quality, as the ladies soon discovered on retreating to their own such haven. Inside, the walls were lined in dark walnut, while a deep-pile carpet almost swallowed their feet as they crossed to the large curtained picture window. There were no benches, but single armchairs with soft seats and cushions of fine needlework. The associated small bathroom also had silver taps and other fittings, while the tissue-wrapped soap gave off an aroma of the highest quality French perfume. Alice, at least, was ecstatic.
"Darlin', I'm gon'na live here for ever—it's wonderful."
Fiona sighed heavily, knowing from long experience how hard it was going to be prising her paramour from the clutches of even implied luxury, never mind the real thing as here.
"Don't get too set in your ways, doll; we got'ta leave the train, jest like all the other passengers, on arrival in the Windy City."
"You tryin' t'spoil my day, even before we've started, lady?" Alice taking the road of righteous contempt at this endeavor to pour cold water on her dreams. "Anyway, while I have the chance I'm gon'na enjoy every iota of this experience. Say, is caviar an entrée, or a dessert, lover? Just askin' 'cause I don't wan'na commit a faux-pas at lunch or dinner."
"God, I don't know—"
The answers to Alice's culinary questions came half an hour later, as they sat down to a light lunch in the restaurant–car just after leaving the Station for pastures new. Without even being asked the resplendently attired waiters, both male and female, came round with tiny crystal dishes containing minute quantities of a pasty black gooey mixture.
"Looks like tapioca that's gone off; an' what's with these dinky spoons?"
"They're mother-of-pearl, ducks."
"Al, y'remember, years since now, when I said I'd tell ya when ya were beginning t'sound like a particularly annoyin' six year old? Well, now's one o'those times."
"Come on, ol' gal, swing with the beat, for goodness' sake." Alice showing her own sarky side. "You're beginning to sound like my Mother's old chaperone at elegant evenin' soirées an' rout's o'similar nature—that party bein' capable of taking the art of disapproval to heights never before, or since, scaled by human-kind."
Fiona, mystified, found herself at a stand regarding this comment.
"Al, is that an answer to some question as yet unasked, or are ya just wittering, as is yer usual wont of an afternoon?"
"Spoons, mother-o'-pearl fer the takin'?" Alice endeavoring to bring the conversation back on track, as it were. "Why?"
"Good Grie—OK, I can do this." Fiona admitting defeat, and taking the nearest escape route available. "Hey, miss, a moment."
The waitress so acknowledged, though laden with two full soup plates, still paused to attend to the customer—they, of course, always being in the right.
"Sorry t'hold you back, but something important's come up." Fiona smiling encouragingly, which was perhaps unwise considering the resulting aura this generally conveyed to unsuspecting witnesses. "My friend here, not bein' in the know o'these sort'a details, wonders why this here caviar's served with mother-of-pearl spoons?"
Faced with a mere member of the uneducated hoi-polloi the waitress, skilled in these kinds of delicate tete-a-tetes, came up trumps like a trooper.
"Metal spoons, even silver, will impart a certain metallic after-taste, if used, ma'am." She vainly trying to restrain herself from pointing her chin in the air as she conferred this vital information to the common cit. "Caviar bein' so delicate, by nature, y'see. So mother-of–pearl does the job without damaging the delicate form of the caviar. Anything else, ma'am?"
Left to themselves once more Alice leaned over to peer questioningly at the small dish in front of her, glanced at Fiona, then bravely took the bit between her teeth and tasted the concoction with delicate demeanour.
"Uurgh, tastes like fish eggs—dam' salty fish eggs. I don't like fish eggs. Auurth!"
"It is fish eggs, that bein' what dam' caviar is; didn't ya know sich, lady?"
"No, I didn't—thought it was some kind'a pulped fish, like kedgeree without the curry."
After lunch, which had passed-off smoothly after its rocky start, the ladies finally determined to go about their contractual duties—apprehending villains.
"Let's tour the whole outfit, fer starters." Alice giving of her best, after a fine repast which had included duckling and new potatoes with wine. "How many carriages on this here motivated snake?"
Having freshened up in their bathroom and locked the door of their compartment behind them Alice and Fiona were at a crossroads.
"Well, that depends which way ya go, doll." Fiona standing in the long corridor by her amour. "We're almost in the middle of the train, goin' by the plan on that leaflet in our compartment, which ya obviously didn't notice—some detective."
"Har-har, lover, so—how many?"
Faced with this on-going determination Fiona cracked under the strain.
"Oh, seven carriages that-a-way," Pointing to her left. "and another five behind your back, that-a-way."
"Jay-sus." Faced with this conundrum Alice shrugged her bare shoulders, in a highly becoming manner from her partner's point of view. "Which way's the engine?"
Fiona stood looking down on her lover, wondering whether to merely shake her head or come out with a wisecrack; then gentle love took over.
"Which way d'ya suppose, detective? Use your brains, an' eyesight, an', indeed, yer entire body—this whole machine shaking like a bartender making a mixed cocktail."
"It could be—"
"Which way's the smoke goin'?"
"Oh, yeah, I get you; that's deep thinkin' right there."
On making this remark Alice leaned across to press her cheek against the glass and peer out the corridor window nearest her, craning her neck and head in order to glance along the length of the moving train.
"OK, I got you; it's in that direction." Alice nodding to emphasise her point. "So, let's go in this direction,—follow me. By the way, what exactly are we lookin' for?"
Trailing behind the lady she loved most in all the world, Fiona sorted through the index of criminal activities, and persons, she had ready stashed in her memory.
"For starters we got'ta divide it in'ta two." She nodding to herself, Alice being in front and not looking back. "The grifts, an' the grifters."
"Fine, I acquiesce in that statement."
"Har, ya been readin' that magazine again, lover?"
"There's a third point we got'ta take in'ta consideration."
"Oh, ya think's so? Spit it out, I'm all ears."
"We got private compartments in some carriages; then there's the public corridor-carriages, with bench compartments." Alice now on a roll. "Then there's the real public compartments, like the restaurant-car, the lounge-car, the smoking-car, an' the Conductor's and luggage-car. Me not countin' the actual engine nor water trailer, or whatever the dam' you call sich."
Taking time, as they reached the door at the end of their carriage, to digest this Fiona accepted the general tenor of the items raised.
"Suppose so." She then reverting to type herself. "Tender."
"What? That's nice o'you. What did I do t'deserve that, though?"
"No, no, the trailer behind the engine, that holds the water—it's called a tender."
"Huumph, an' here's me thinkin',—look, you open this connecting-door, it's too tight for my weak arms."
Always a troubadour where her partner was concerned Fiona stepped forward, achieving the requested action with all the grace and style of Douglas Fairbanks, because she could.
"OK, a public compartment-carriage—that's good, we can peer in each as we slope past." Alice giving the subject all the expertise of her long career in crime. "Never know who you'll set eyes on unexpected, y'know."
The Dreamliner, having as it did aspirations above its actual social level, was built on the European model—particularly the British. Several of it's public carriages did not conform to the usual American nature of such—open carriages lined on either hand of a central walk-way with short bench seats, everyone crowded in hugger-mugger. Instead it followed the British standard of a corridor, on the right, with separate closed compartments along its length, seating from six to eight in total on two long benches upholstered in leather facing each other. The private compartments in other carriages remained the standard type.
The public compartments had sliding doors out into the corridor; the top half of which were glass, curtained on the inside for extra privacy—but being public these were hardly ever closed so persons walking along the corridor only needed to glance sideways to see the whole compartment, and its inmates, through the glass as they passed by.
"Fancy we'll find Spanish John doin' his thing on this trip?"
"What brings him t'mind, gorgeous?"
"Oh, only he's the best card-grifter in New Hampshire." Alice well knowing of whom she spoke, having caused him to holiday in the Big House on no less than three separate occasions in the past. "He's a nice guy, too."
"Sich not holdin' ya back from sendin' him down for another stretch, if given half a chance, ducks?"
The next compartment but one yielded treasure.
"Hah, wha'd I say?" Alice in ecstasy as she set eyes on the man in person. "Spanish John, doin' his thing like a champ—got the cuffs ready, lady? I'll go in first, I wan'na take him down like a—like a—like a shark with a purpose in life."
Instead of taking her partner at her word, which would have been simply fool-hardy, Fiona merely motioned with her gloved hand through the compartment door glass, gaining the wanted attention of the felon under discussion in a second. He, seeing his game was up before it had actually started, groaned inwardly, made his excuses to the three men he had hoped to fleece like innocent sheep, and came out into the corridor to face his destiny like a hero.
"Jee-sus, how many times's this, then?" He speaking with a rich Connecticut accent. "Al, don't ye get bored with sendin' me on holiday, at all. It's beginnin' t'get borin' from my perspective, y'knows."
"What can I get ya on, John?" Alice being in total command of the situation as they crowded together in the narrow corridor. "What's the rap—ye haven't done anythin' naughty yet; far's Fay an' I can see, anyway's."
"So—so what's the con?" John finding himself a little at sea.
"How'd ya like ter be our nark?" Fiona making this proposition of a whole new career for the chancer with a straight face and cool tone. "An active life, new horizons, interesting people, an' the possibility of good remuneration. What say?"
Spanish John looked from one lady to the other, mystification writ large on his features.
Alice came to his rescue with an analysis of their present position, and his future prospects.
"It's like this, pard; we here, Fay an' I, are on this jaunt at the behest o'the rail authorities to put paid to all those nasty little inconveniences to the passengers such as you represent—"
"—hey, easy with the compliments, lady; ye'll turn my head in a dam' minute."
"—so's Fay's come up with the brilliant idea," Alice undaunted by her subject's lack of interest. "that if you don't wan'na spend the next year feelin' like a sardine in a tin can y'can join us, an' make a merry party."
"Oh, God," John seeing he had only one reasonable course open to him. "what is it? Somethin' awful, I'm sure, knowin' you two dames."
By this time they had negotiated the length of the corridor, leaving John's erstwhile victims in their compartment unknowingly better-off than they surely would have been in two short hours more. The next carriage, the connecting-door opened by John for the ladies like a gentleman, proving to be a lounge-car they found a table with side-benches and sat round to discuss life, adventure, and the subtle art of fleecing innocents.
"Who else's on this train, John?" Fiona coming to the point with no further elaboration. "Tell all."
Literally caught between Charybdis and the other place John hemmed for a while; finding this had no effect he swiftly changed to hawwing, but this producing a less than enthusiastic expression on Alice's cold features he gave in and sang like a crow—blackbird—jay—whatever.
"How'd I know who's on the dam' train?" His last defence being that old chestnut, not knowing. "What am I, a crystal ball gazer, or what?"
Alice was ahead of the game here, too, however.
"Listen buster, if'n you don't want t'spend the rest o'the journey in the Conductor's caboose in chains an' get handed over t'the boys in blue at the Chicago terminus, start givin' out with the daily news, preferably hot off the press." She following this message with her standard sneer No.2, just to make sure the message was received in due course.
"Hey, easy gal." John, finding that his seat on the tight bench did not allow of a fast escape, merely shivered before recovering. "OK, OK, what d'ya want ter know?"
"Simple, how many other grifters, apart from yourself, are cluttering the coaches on this here train, is all." Fiona grinning like a Cheshire cat the while, beckoning for a passing waitress as an afterthought. "Yeah, three Cokes, one with plenty o'ice, thanks."
Seeing all his exits firmly closed John took the only path remaining.
"Who's aboard this ol' ship, eh? Lem'me think a'whiles."
"Not for too long, John." Alice laying out the terms of the conference as the waitress returned bearing three cokes in tall glasses, hers being the one with excess ice. "We don't wan'na be arriving in the gangster capital of the world jest as you start spreading the good news. Cough it out, big boy."
Finally cornered John gave in with a good grace.
"Well, there's yer usual card-sharps,—Little Willie Gray, he can lay a marked deck out with the innocence of a seven year old. Then there's Carrie Bailey—"
"—Queen of the bottom-card deal!" Fiona had these experts filed away in her brain for easy reference. "She'll make a mint."
"—then we have the honour o'the presence of Big Harry Cairns—"
"—Jeez, the top of the tree!" Alice being impressed, Cairns having an East Coast wide reputation.
"—yeah, too right." John paused to muse a while. "That's all for the open card play grifters—those that sit round a table in the lounge-cars, milkin' passing cowpokes an' farmers from the sticks, an' sichlike."
Both Alice and Fiona now felt they were approaching the big game of the territory now under investigation.
"What about the closed games; those takin' place in private compartments where the general crowd's excluded?" Fiona coming down to business.
"Pete Dilkison's aboard the Dreamer as we speak—I knows, 'cause I watched him haul his case into a carriage." John nodded, sure of this newsworthy item. "He's got one o'those private compartments—God knows what goes on inside, when he's organised a handful o'gulls ter strip t'the bone via cardplay."
Alice was up for this problem in etiquette.
"The Big Boys of the boardroom at the N H and H R have given us carte blanche." She smiled winningly at John, resulting in his going paler still. "We don't need actual evidence of naughty shenanigans, all we needs is the players t'be aboard this here rolling stagecoach an' we can collar 'em straight an' true. The Conductor's in on the game, too—him bein' above an' beyond reproach in course of his havin' been investigated down t'his cotton socks, previous."
Fiona nodded at this, grinning in her turn, not a good morning for John.
"He's got enough handcuffs t'restrain an army; an' there're three extra, big, redcaps in his carriage t'help with customers who might be opposed t'sich."
"So, who else?" Alice bringing John back on track.
"I think—now don't take this as gospel, 'cause I ain't sure, me jest havin' caught the merest glimpse as the train pulled out'ta Delacote Station—but I thinks Morena Mallesby's aboard, as we speak."
Now this information did set the detectives back on their seats, and for good reason.
"Jee-sus, she screwed thirty-five thousand dollars out'ta a cattleman in Delacote jest six month since, result of her expertise at stuss." Alice whistled sharply, thus making several passengers in the lounge-car look round at the trio with interest. "An' only escaped persecution, an' prosecution too, because there was no evidence, an' the fool of a bilked idiot didn't press charges."
"Well, er, there ya go." John feeling a philosophical answer necessary.
"Who else?" Alice now hot to know, draining a mighty gulp of iced coke and instantly regretting it. "Aargh, aauurrph."
"Ya OK, darlin'?" Fiona coming to the aid of those in peril by heartily slapping her inamorata on her back.
"Jeez, lay off—I will be if you stop tryin' t'beat me t'death, gal."
"Yeah, er, yeah—as I was sayin'," John continuing as the near tragic incident reverted to a mere coughing fit. "there's quite a few bozo's on this here train, t'day. Account o'there bein' so many loaded guys, an' some ditto dolls, aboard, y'see. The one brings the other, like bees ter pollen."
Fiona and Alice sat looking at their companion, neither having ever suspected Spanish John of a romantic nature.
"—er, yeah, so, names?" Alice unfeelingly gripping reality by the short hairs again.
"Samantha Clareton's aboard, in a private suite." John racking his brains for more pearls of wisdom. "She's sole heir t'her daddy's shipping line, loaded t'the gills with greenbacks—any amount o'grifters'll be after part o'her, given half a chance. Wouldn't be surprised if they flocked round her like buzzards at a dead sheep."
"Oh well, we'll know where t'find her, whenever." Alice waving aside this unimportant news. "What about real criminals? You know, people out ter steal people's pearl necklaces or the family jewels, or whatever."
This question brought John to a stand, he not having a panoramic knowledge of his fellow jailbirds in New Hampshire.
"Can't say—I doesn't know everybody who's bent in the state, do I?"
Alice had been scribbling merrily in her notebook this whole while, and now glanced at her paramour with a raised eyebrow.
"This'll do to start, d'you think?"
"Yeah, sure." Fiona nailed John with a sharp eye. "John, we're gon'na let ya loose on this here train; but go easy, the first we see ya tryin' anythin' on with anybody, ye'll be in bracelets in the Conductor's caboose afore ya can draw two breaths—got that?"
"Yeah. What happens when we reaches Chicago? With me, I means."
"Oh, barring unexpected events, you can sail off over the horizon, far as we're concerned, John." Alice being generous. "Just as long as you keep your nose clean in the meantime, OK?"
"Yeah, yeah, thanks, I'm sure."
"What's the plan, then?"
The women were standing on the open observation platform at the rear of the end carriage, feeling the breeze in their hair and watching the track disappear in two curving lines behind the fast-moving train. No-one else, as yet, was on the platform with its waist-high guard rail.
"Oh, simple," Fiona replying to her lover with offhand ease. "We goes back through this whole dam' train, from this carriage t'the last one a'fore the tender—"
"—the Conductor's caboose, y'mean."
"—jest so, darlin'. That ways we should be able t'spot all those joey's John told us about pretty easily." Fiona nodded happily, the whole thing seeming easy as pie, at the moment. "We grab those as's up t'no good, visibly an' in public, so to say—"
"—what about those who ain't—doin' anythin' absolutely illegal as we passes them by, that is? Jest askin'."
"We leaves them be, for the time bein'—obvious, they ain't on this train for their health; sometime they'll have to break out an' go to it—"
"—an' we'll be waitin' our chance? Got'cher, babe."
"Glad ya have it all clear in y're head, Al."
"Ha-ha, just wait till the action starts, I'll be there for you, lover lady."
The rear coach was an open lounge, with soft leather armchairs strategically spread about, and more circumspectly screwed in place in their positions. The second carriage, going forward, was another lounge, but this time given over to the female contingent of the passengers. This had been achieved by using a corridor carriage and knocking all the compartments into one while retaining the corridor. This made an open private carriage, somewhat less wide than the next one, but suited to the private affairs of ladies who wanted some seclusion and peace.
Access was by single doors at each end of the coach, so Fiona and Alice simply used the door appearing on their right as they entered the carriage. Inside the lounge was already fairly well occupied; some six or so ladies in attendance. After a swift, expert, glance Alice whispered to her cohort as they walked through the coach.
"No-one John told us about here, lady."
"Yeah, no takers for the steel cuffs, I'm afraid. Let's see what the next coach offers."
They took the far door back into the corridor, stepping through the connecting passage to enter the third coach in line.
This was an original American open-seated coach; the passengers facing each other on leather upholstered benchs either side of a central gangway, large windows all down the length of the carriage on both sides; and here they came up trumps, thrice over.
"Jeez, look, Big Harry, large as dam' life."
"An' further down, in that red hat, Carrie."
"Is that—it is—see, at the far end, mon cheri? It's Morena, as I lives an' breathes."
Not wishing to frighten their prey, even though they were pretty certain none knew the detectives by sight, Fiona and Alice all the same took things quietly.
Harry Cairns had already fenced in a couple of dupes and seemed to be well into a game of poker, the cards spread out on a suitcase precariously balanced on two of the passengers' knees. He looked up innocently as the two ladies approached, and then stood looming over him.
He glanced at Fiona, looked more keenly at Alice, then got the message.
"Hi'ya, Harry." Alice beaming like a schoolgirl who had attained all her birthday wishes at one go. "What d'we have here? Why, a card game, takin' place in public without due permission. That there's a crime, laddie; but, o'course, you already knows that, don't you?"
"And you two are goin' t'do, exactly what about it?" Harry struggling to retain his composure.
Fiona took a long folded paper document from her left jacket pocket.
"This here gives my partner an' I all due authority on this here train." She moved the outspread document till it wavered in the air in front of Harry's nose. "See the signatures at the bottom? Yep, Inspector Jacob Fletcher o'the Fifth Precinct back in Delacote, an' none other than Mr Godfrey Mackeson his'self—Chairman o'the N.H an' H.R, to you."
Harry had put his cards, face-down, on the temporary table, leaning forward to take a really good look at the offered document.
"What does this mean, then, about this here game?" He regaining some of his usual easy-going attitude to life in general. "Ya gon'na give me a twenty dollar fine, an' tell me t'be a good boy in future? Then ya gon'na stand over me fer near on a day, whiles we heads t'Chicago?"
This was where Alice took centre stage, with a happy grin.
"Harry, you wicked old card-sharper, you; you're nicked, good an' proper." She actually gave a soft laugh out loud. "You didn't read the small print on Fay's document. All we needs is due evidence o'tomfoolery an' naughtiness, in any form or shape whatever, then we're free t'come down on you like the Assyrian on the fold."
"We got handcuffs an' chains up forward in the Conductor's caboose; an' those there who knows how t'use 'em t'best effect." Fiona giving out the technical details of his apprehension. "But if'n ya promises t'be a good boy we'll defer swathin' ya in ironmongery, if ya stays put in the caboose fer the rest o'the journey."
"Then what? In Chicago?"
"We hands you over to the relevant authorities—"
"—the boys in blue—" Alice being helpful.
"—who proceed to beat you about the head an' body with whatever charges relate to makin' a crooked poker game in a public place, t'the detriment o'the parties o'the other part—the same bein' what you're presently up to here, laddie."
At this juncture one of the hapless victims, sitting listening with an avid ear, came to life on his own account.
"Card-sharper? Ya tellin' me, an' Gerry here, this bozo's pullin' a fast one on us?"
"Big Harry Cairns, this bein' the said specimen in person, can deal from the top, bottom, an' middle, all in the same hand." Fiona explaining the facts of life to the two passengers. "He can shuffle t'suit his own needs like a saint; an' as t'the end result—the end result, boys, if Al an' I hadn't turned up in due time, would'a been ya both steppin' off this here train in Chicago poor an' penniless, down ter yer last copper cent."
"Harry never havin' played a true clean game o'cards anywhere, with anyone, ever before in his entire life, y'see." Alice supplying more details of the real world to the shocked victims. "He's a criminal through an' through, break him whichever way you will."
"Hey, that ain't nice!"
"But sadly true." Fiona acknowledging the veracity of her paramour's statement. "Lads, a word o'advice from someone who knows—don't play cards on a train with someone ye've never met a'fore. The same bein' jest simple-minded an' idiotic. Ya get me?"
"G-dd-m b-st-rd." The first man relieving himself of his feelings. "If'n you two weren't here, an' ladies t'boot, I'd right now be puttin' the leather in'ta this guy's supernumerary corporation, with great delight."
"Ah, well," Alice nodding in unison with the man's feelings. "We all have our crosses t'bear; meb'be next time, at least you'll recognise the ol' grifter then, eh? Think o'that."
Having put Harry into the hands of the Conductor, who was by arrangement hovering nearby, the women proceeded down the carriage towards their next, still unsuspecting, victim—Carrie Bailey.
Carrie had thick long wavy corn-coloured hair, resting in masses on her shoulders; dressed conservatively in soft grey, altogether she showed away as a small town school-mistress or similar functionary. Right now she had genteelly enticed a forty-something lady into playing some form of card game necessitating each dealing in turn, the highest winning. Carrie had just reached that point of instilling ill-founded confidence in her chosen victim, and was about to move to the next step—offering to play from then on for a merely nominal monetary sum per game. Then she looked up and realised she was caught between Scylla and Charybdis, on a particularly stormy sea.
"Oh God, 'tec's."
This sudden outburst of unrestrained language caught the lady on the other seat off-guard.
"Madam, please, such language is entirely uncalled for. Who are these persons, anyway?"
"Sorry t'interrupt, lady." Fiona coming it the genteel. "We need a word with this here specimen, jes' sit back an' enjoy the show—it all bein' fer your own good, actually, as you'll soon find out."
"Hi'ya, Carrie." Alice peering at the cards, then glancing at the surprised victim. "That last card she dealt you, ma'am, came from the bottom of the deck, if'n you didn't notice. But, o'course, you didn't notice—which is how Carrie, here, makes her daily wage."
"What, what, what?"
"She's a card-sharp, lady." Fiona making truth plain to see. "She was just about to hope you wouldn't mind playin' fer meb'be twenty cents a game from here on in, jest t'make it all more comfortable an' enjoyable a'tween ladies, y'understands. By the end o'the journey, in Chicago, you'd have been down, oh, forty or so dollars. That's Carrie's game."
"Well, I'll be—"
"Yeah, you would've, certainly." Alice coming back with needle-sharp accuracy, one eye on the culprit still. "OK, Carrie, the game, quite literally, is up. We're rail detectives; we got authority t'hold you in durance vile, an' we dam' well intend such; so let's go quietly, unless you want t'be roped like a steer with thirty pounds of iron an' steel about yer person. Conductor, another one, thanks."
The third, and last, of their perceived opponents sat at the far end of the coach, by now well aware her time was up, too.
"Miss Mallesby, how nice t'meet you, in such salubrious circumstances, too." Fiona making play with sarcasm to the nth degree. "The party's over, ducks."
"What've I done?" Morena giving back as good as she received, being mighty feisty by nature. "Far as I kin make out I done nuthin'."
"Fay, an' I here, jest don't like the cut o'your jib t'day, lady." Alice smiling cheerfully, at the thought of a good job in the process of being well done. "So you're dam' well nicked, anyhow. The Conductor has a delightful selection of steel hand an' ankle irons up forward in his caboose; you have the choice of partaking of such, or offering your word of honour—don't worry, it'll only last till Chicago—to be nice an' peaceful t'all an' sundry; in which case you can sit comfortably, an' engage in as many card games with Carrie Bailey an' Big Harry Cairns as you can handle. Up t'you."
"Quite." Fiona no way put out. "Conductor, here's another volunteer fer you're lodging's. Doin' well, ain't we?"
"As I came along from forward, just now ma'am," The Conductor smiling himself. "I saw the man you described to me, Pete Dilkison, escorting a lady whom I believe to be Samantha Clareton into his private compartment up in coach four."
"Did you indeed?" Alice grabbing her lover's arm and pushing her along. "That's good news, Mr Conductor, we're right on it, thanks. Come on, my sweet, this's too good t'miss, an' no mistake."
After Alice had rapped heartily on the compartment door it was opened reluctantly, and somewhat suspiciously, by it's owner.
"Hallo, Mr Dilkison." Fiona stepping forward to put her stout leather shoe firmly in place to forestall the door shutting before their conversation had begun in earnest. "Oh, hallo, too, Miss Clareton. One happy family, eh? I don't know what story he put across but Pete, here's, one o'the best fraudsters on the East Coast. Another hour an' I can surely tell ya you'd have been several thousand dollars-worth of shipping shares the poorer—that being his lay in life, y'see."
"But here we are, Fay an' I, come to your rescue like avengin' angels." Alice following her partner's romantic inclination in the way of story-telling. "As t'you, Sunny-Jim, two choices—handcuffs, chains, arm-locks, an' ankle steel; or a peaceful ride, along'a several characters o'your own persuasion, in the Conductor's caboose till reaching journey's end in the Windy City, where the boys in blue await your arrival with offers of accommodation in quarters wholly unlike these presently enfolding us. Get my meanin'?"
"G-dd-am, an' f-ck!"
"About what Al an' I duly expected; come on, lift yer feet, comfort awaits in the Conductor's caboose. Nice one, Al, by the way."
"Nice one back at you, lady. Doin' good; let's keep the run goin', shall we? Where to next?"
"Three big one's, an' seven small fry, as well as two pick-pockets grabbed in the passing?" Inspector Jacob Fletcher, sitting at leisure in his small untidy office in Delacote City's 5th Precinct two days later, was charmed with the whole affair. "Ya both certainly enjoyed your excursion t'the Windy City, an' no mistake."
"It was fun, I admit." Alice grinning all over her face. "You should'a seen those rail carriages, Jacob; luxury ain't in it—fabulous."
"She don't like fish eggs—I mean, caviar." Fiona spilling the beans without turning a hair. "But later, when we'd finished business fer the journey an' had time on our hands, she pigged out something awful on the champagne—I was embarrassed."
"I did not, that's a dam' lie, woman." Alice affronted as all get-out. "Don't listen t'her, Jacob. Two glasses, that's all I had—well, OK, three—but that was all."
"I believes ya." Fletcher laughing unceremoniously at the expressions on both his friends' faces. "Now go about your own personal business, if ya don't mind; I, at least, got things of an official natur' t'occupy me fer the rest o'the day."
There was a pause as the woman sat in their chairs on the opposite side of his desk, staring at him.
"That's ter say, beat it, the both o'ya bums—I'm tryin' ter work, here!"
"Oh-Ah, right, Inspector. Cheerio."
"Hope's ya breaks a leg chasin' thieves an' bank-robbers, Jake."
"Grrr, that there door was expressly built fer shuttin' as yer leaves; try it an' see, why don'cher!"
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.