Andrew Martin grew up in Yorkshire. He has written for the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday and Granta, among many other publications. His highly acclaimed first novel, Bilton, described by Jon Ronson as 'enormously funny, genuinely moving and even a little scary', was followed by The Bobby Dazzlers, which Tim Lott hailed as 'truly unusual - a comic novel that actually makes you laugh'.
In praise of The Necropolis Railway, the first Jim Stringer adventure, the Evening Standard said 'the age of steam has rarely been better evoked', while the Mirror described the book as 'a brilliant murder mystery'. This was followed by The Blackpool Highflyer and The Lost Luggage Porter. The next books in the series Murder at Deviation Junction and Death on a Branch Line were shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Novel Award and in 2008, Andrew Martin was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. The sixth book in the series, The Last Train to Scarborough, was acclaimed as 'thoroughly engaging and entertaining' by the Sunday Express.
Praise for the 'Jim Stringer, Steam Detective' series:
'The best sleuth that 200 years of the railways have ever produced.' Independent on Sunday
'Superior potboilers.' London Review of Books
'Finely honed crime novels with plotting as precise as a Swiss watch.' Daily Express
'Page-turning, confidently written - this series is, er, really building up a head of steam.' Observerby the same author
Bilton The Bobby Dazzlers
In the 'Jim Stringer, Steam Detective' series
The Necropolis Railway
The Blackpool Highflyer
The Lost Luggage Porter
Murder at Deviation Junction
Death on a Branch Line
LOST LUGGAGE PORTER
faber and faber
First published in 2006 by Faber and Faber Limited Bloomsbury House, 74-77 Great Russell Street London wcib 3da
This paperback edition first published in 2007
Typeset by Faber and Faber Limited Printed in England by CPI Bookmarque, Croydon
All rights reserved © Andrew Martin, 2006
The right of Andrew Martin to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otheriuise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
6 8 10 9 75
I would like to thank PC Kevin Gordon of the British Transport Police (who would certainly not approve of some of the police behaviour here described); Mike Ellison of the North Eastern Railway Association; Nick Wellings, Marine Steward of The Brighton Circle; Michael Sanders; James Freedman 'The Man of Steal' (stage pickpocket); Peter Cox of the UK Immigration Service; Andy Hart of the SNCF Society; the left luggage staff at York station; Steve Earl; Dr P. Nockles of the Methodist Archive Centre at the University of Manchester; Mr M. G. Stewart; Ron Johnson and Clive Groome, train drivers.
All departures from historical fact are my responsibility.
In York Station, the gas lamps were all lit.
It was a wide, grand place. Birds would fly right through under the mighty span, and that roof kept most of the rain out too, apart from the odd little waterfall coming down through gaps in the glass.
I was on the main through platform on the 'up' side - number four, although it was the number one in importance, and crowded now, as ever, and with a dark shine to all the polished brass and the black enamel signs, pointing outwards like signals as you walked along: 'Gentlemen's Waiting Rooms First Class', 'Ladies' Waiting Rooms First Class', 'Refreshment Rooms', 'Left Luggage', 'Station Hotel' and 'Teas'.
No lost-luggage place in sight, however, although I knew that York, as the head station of its territory, did boast one, and that practically any article left on any train in the county came through it.
Wondering whether it was on the 'down' side, I stepped on to the footbridge, into the confusion of a hundred fast- moving railway clerks, all racing home towards supper and a glass of ale. A goods train was rumbling along beneath. It was a run-through: dirty, four-coupled engine with all sorts pulled behind. I leaned out from the footbridge to take the heat and the smoke and steam from the chimney: the soft
heat, and the sharpness of the smell ... I'd heard of blokes who gave up the cigarette habit but one whiff of the smoke and they were back at it. .
Half a dozen banana vans came towards the end, the rainwater still rolling off them, and finally the guard, leaning out of his van like a man on a boat. A telegraph boy came trotting over the bridge, and I put a hand out to stop him, thinking he'd know me as a Company man like himself but of course he didn't, for I was in ordinary clothes. The kid pulled up sharpish all the same.
'Any idea where Lost Luggage is, mate?' I asked.
'Down there, chief,' he said.
But he was pointing to Left Luggage - the one on Platform Four.
'No,' I said. 'Lost.. . Lost Luggage.'
The lad took a step back, surprised.
'Lost Luggage is out of the station, chief’ he said.
'Not too far, I hope,' I said, mindful of the teeming rain.
'Over yonder,' he said, putting his arm out straight in a south-easterly direction. 'Out the main exit and turn right. What have you lost, chief? I'll keep my eyes skinned.'
'Oh, nothing to speak of.'
'Right you are,' said the kid, who was now eyeing me as if I was crackers, so I said:
'Fact is, I'm down a quantity of Railway Magazines . . . Brought 'em in on a train from Halifax, then left the buggers on the platform, I think.'
'Railway Magazines?' said the lad, 'Blimey! I should think you do want 'em back!'
Evidently the kid is a train-watcher, I decided, not just an employee of the railways, but keen on 'em too. I nodded to him, then walked out of the station and turned right, going up Station Road, which went over the lines that had run into the old station, the trains proceeding through the arch that had been cut into the city walls. The building of those lines had been like a raid on the city made forty years since, but York was a tourist ground, an Illustrated Guide sort of place; jam-packed with the finest relics of old times. It had its looks to consider, and had fought back against the dirty iron monsters, with the upshot that the new station had been made to stand outside the city walls, with its fourteen platforms, its three hundred and fifty-odd trains a day, the great hotel with its two hundred rooms hard by.
From the highest part of Station Road, I looked at the miles of railway lines coming out of the station to north and south, spreading octopus-like. For a moment there in the rain blur, the scene looked just like a photograph, but then one goods engine out of dozens began crawling through the yard to the south, proving it was not. The engine rolled for ten seconds, then came to a stand. It had been like a move in a chess game, and now the rain came down and everybody on the North Eastern Railway fell to thinking out the next one.
The Lost Luggage Office was on Queen Street, which was half under the bridge made by Station Road. Before it, came a part of the mighty South End goods yard, which lapped up to Queen Street like a railway flood, and before that came the Institute, from which came a beer smell that decided me to put off my enquiry for a moment. I turned into the Institute, where I passed by the reading room - where the fire looked restless and the sole occupant slept - and walked through the long billiard hall towards the bar at the far end, reaching into my coat pocket as I did so.
'How do, love?' said the barmaid, reading the warrant card in my hand: 'Be it remembered that we the undersigned, two of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the City of York have this day, upon the application of the North Eastern Railway, appointed James Harrison Stringer to be a Detective with and upon the railway stations and the Works of the North Eastern Company.'
'That's smashing’ she said, when she'd left off reading.
Only railwaymen could get a look-in at the Institute, and I was a railwayman of sorts, though not the right sort.
I put the card back in my pocketbook, and ordered a pint of John Smith's. Outside, the raindrops hitting the tops of the windows had a long way to fall. There was electric light in a green shade over each of the tables, darkness in between, and only one game in progress. The blokes playing looked a proper pair of vagabonds.
A copy of the Yorkshire Evening Press lay on the bar, and the barmaid passed it over to me. It was open at an inside page, from which one article had been neatly snipped. The barmaid saw me staring down at this hole, and she pointed to the glass cabinet, where the article had been pinned. It was headed 'The Twinkling Wanderer', and gave the news that the planet Mercury would be visible from York between 7.16 and 8.57 that evening, just as if it had been timetabled by Bradshaw. 'No difficulty should be found in picking out the planet’ I read, 'as no other object in the sky has sufficient lightness at that hour . ..'
I turned forward a page, then found the front page and read: 'Hotel Porter Found with his Throat Cut'. The article ran on: 'Late last night when the hotel night porter at the Station Hotel at York was called to go on duty, he was found in his bedroom with his throat cut. The unfortunate man, named Mr Richard Mariner, aged about 50, was found quite dead, and a razor with which the wound had been inflicted was also found in the bedroom.' That might turn out a matter for the Railway Police, I thought - the Pantomime Police, as I already knew they were called throughout the Company.
I looked again at the words 'throat cut'. The average man could read that and give it the go-by. Not if you were a copper, though.
The date at the top of the page was Friday 26 January. On Tuesday the 30th, I would report to the Railway Police Office on York Station for the commencement of my duties. I'd been sworn the week before at the York Police Court, and collected my suit as provided for in the clothing regulations. Detectives were allowed a plain suit and they could choose it themselves, providing the cost didn't overtop sixteen bob. I'd gone with the wife to the tailoring department of one of the big York stores for a fitting, and the design that we - by which I mean the wife - had settled on was a slate-blue mix twill; pilot cloth, 27 ounces to the yard, with Italian silk lining. I was now wearing it in ... and it was sodden from the day's rain.
Next to the bar were notices in a glass cabinet. The minutes of the North Eastern Railway's Clerks' Amateur Swimming Club were posted up there. Membership was not up to its usual standard, the locomotive department having for some reason dropped out. I wondered whether it was to do with the strike: some York enginemen had been on strike for the best part of a month.
I looked above the bar: 5.45 p.m.
I would drink my pint before asking after my magazines, and I would have ten minutes' study. So I left the Evening Press and, taking from my side coat pocket my Railway Police Manual, I sauntered over to one of the long wooden benches lining the room.
The book was set out like a police work dictionary, and I began at 'Accomplice' while supping at my pint. But the queer talk of the two snooker players kept breaking in. They were both weird-looking: something wild about them, but something half dead too. One had his black hair kept down by Brilliantine (or a superior sort of engine grease); the other's hair sprang up. But they had about the same quantity of hair, so I guessed they were brothers, and pretty close in age, too: middle-twenties or so. Brilliantine was making all the shots, although he wasn't a great hand at potting. Curly hair was just looking on.
'I like the red balls,' curly hair said, and a lot of spittle came with the words. 'I like them to stay up.'
'You're in luck then, en't you?' said Brilliantine, taking aim, and making another poor shot.
'Will I get a turn soon, our kid?' asked curly, who was evidently a bit cracked.
'You'll get what you're given.'
No sound but that of missed shots for a while.
'I have a glass of beer but no cigarette,' said the crackpot.
Brilliantine moved around the table, looking at the balls.
'Will I have a cigarette soon, our kid?' said the crackpot.
'How do I fucking know?' said Brilliantine, still pacing the table. 'It's nowt to do wi' me.'
The crackpot caught me eyeballing him.
'You all right?' he said, fast.
'Aye,' I said, colouring up a little at being found out spying.
'Keeping all right?' this funny fellow said, in the same rushed way.
'Topping,' I said.
'Still raining out?'
'It is that.'
Brilliantine looked up from the table, saying:
'Don't mind him. Lad's a bit simple.'
I nodded, made a show of going back to my reading. Brilliantine made a few more shots in the game he was playing against himself, then took out a tin of cigarettes and lit one, grinning fit to bust. He handed a cigarette to the younger one, and struck a light.
'I like you, our kid’ said the crackpot in his gurgling voice. 'Nice, wide smile ...'
Brilliantine played on for a while, and the idiot brother smoked. At last Brilliantine struck a red ball sweetly, and it went away straight towards an end pocket, or would have done but for the brother, who stepped forward, put his hand down over the hole and blocked it.
Brilliantine looked up sharply, saying, 'What are you playing at, you soft bugger?'
He walked the length of the table, and lammed out at his brother. As the lad went down, I stood up.
'Hold on,' I said to Brilliantine. 'That's an offence you've just committed.'
'Who are you .. . Talking like a fucking copy book?'
'I'm detective with the railway force,' I said, only half believing it myself.
'Give over,' said the bloke. After a space, he added: 'Prove it.'
I held up the warrant card.
'Means nowt to me,' he said. 'I don't know me letters.' He nodded towards the cracked kid, saying, 'How will he ever learn if I don't learn him? Smart table, this is - slate bed, best green baize. She'll not thank me for letting him put his grapplers all over it.'
He pointed along the hall towards the barmaid, who was looking on from the far end.
'It does not justify blows,' I said.
Nothing was said for a moment; then the bloke piped up with:
'Reckon you're going to nick me, then?'
I didn't know whether I was or not.
'Or would you let us off with a caution?'
That was a good idea.
I looked back at the nutty one.
'How's that cut?'
'Champion,' he said. There was a bright, brimming red line at his eye. 'You all right?' the boy then called out to me, 'Keeping all right?'
His affliction took him in such a way that he never uttered the first of those two questions without adding the second. At any rate, I ignored him.
A caution would meet the case, I decided.
'You are to be cautioned’ I said to Brilliantine, wishing I'd reached up to 'C' in my Railway Police Manual.
The bloke was chalking his cue.
I took out my notebook.
'Cameron,' he said, blowing loose chalk off the cue tip. 'John Cameron.'
'What's your brother's name?'
'Duncan,' he said.
I set down the date and then: 'I, John Cameron, having committed the affray of assault, have been cautioned by Detective Stringer of the Railway Force.'
'Sign here,' I said, passing over the pencil and the notebook, which came back with a great cross over the entire page, and most of what I'd set down obliterated.
'There's no need to look like that,' he said, 'I told you I didn't know me letters.'
I put the notebook away.
'Work for the Company, do you?' I said.
But he must have done, otherwise he wouldn't have been drinking in the Institute.
'Department?' I asked.
'Goods station’ he said, with the greatest reluctance. 'Outdoor porter.'
'And what about the lad?'
'Not up to working.'
'Well, if I see you scrapping in here again, you're for it’ I said.
I turned away and an arm was at my throat, squeezing hard. It wasn't Brilliantine. He was standing before me like a soldier at ease, with snooker cue in lieu of rifle, and seeming to grow smaller, to be shooting backwards in a straight line along the gangway between the tables. It was crazy but the thing that was amiss was of the order of a disaster: I could not breathe. The snooker hall was being shut off by a blackness coming from left and right above and below. But in the light that remained the man before my eyes was moving. He was cuffing the idiot once again, inches away from me, and miles away too.
'Now do you take my meaning?' said Brilliantine, as the air rushed into my mouth, and my lungs rose faster still. The idiot was back where he'd started from, on the bench, giving me a strange, sideways look.
'He's round the twist’ said Brilliantine.
'I'll bloody say’ I said, as I set my collar and tie to rights.
'Usually it's me that cops it. He ought not to take a drink. In and out of the nutty house like a fiddler's elbow, that bugger is.'
'Under the doctor, is he?'
'Bootham,' he said, meaning the York asylum.
He then went back to his snooker, with the idiot in position as before, holding his cue, waiting for the shot that never came.
As I saw off my first drink, and bought a second - to unstring my nerves - I couldn't help thinking that I'd been bested twice over by the pair. I sat back down, and carried on with my reading; or at least picked up my book and looked at the entry after 'Accomplice' which was 'Aiding and Abetting', but I had to keep a corner of one eye on the nearby loony, and couldn't concentrate. The brothers carried on their one-sided game until half-past six, when they walked out. By then I was looking at - but not reading - the entry for 'Arrest'.
I finished my pint, pocketed my book, and walked out of the Institute, skirting around the shadowy wagons in the goods yard that lay between the Institute and the Lost Luggage Office (which scrap of railway territory was called the Rhubarb Sidings, I knew), only to see a notice propped in the door of the latter office: CLOSED. Looking beneath, I read the advertised office hours: 6.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. I stood in the rain before that notice, and cursed the bloody Camerons.