The Last Passenger: New Excerpt

From bestselling author Charles Finch, check out a new excerpt of The Last Passenger, the third and final in a prequel trilogy to his lauded Charles Lenox series.

CHAPTER ONE

On or about the first day of October 1855, the city of London, England, decided it was time once and for all that Charles Lenox be married.

Lenox himself didn’t even necessarily disagree. He lived a happy life as a bachelor in the passage through Mayfair known as Hamp- den Lane, but for the first time had reached a stage when he could admit that a wife might settle his days into a still more contented rhythm. Nevertheless, the city’s vehemence in its new convictions about his future came as a surprise.

On the second Tuesday of the month, at an  evening  salon  at Lady Sattle’s, a footman discreetly handed him a note:

Mary Elizabeth Sharples

Throw into fire                 

He studied this epistle for a moment. He knew the handwriting. He looked over at Mary Elizabeth Sharples, holding a tiny glass of almond brandy across the room, a violet shawl around her shoulders.

She was a handsome woman in her third London season, Kentish, immensely rich, and also a fair four or even five inches above six feet tall—and, of greater significance than any of that, was helplessly in love with the gentleman standing next to her at just this moment, Mark Blake. It seemed doubtful that Blake himself knew anything about it. Lenox had been familiar with him at Oxford. He was a virtually penniless fellow of good birth, so short in stature that there were carnival rides to which his successful admission would be an uncertain matter, and whose only subject of conversation, whose exclusive interest, was Dutch silver.

He did have a fine head of gleaming black hair, however;  that had to be owned.

Lenox glanced across the room toward his friend Lady Jane. It was she who had passed the note by the footman. She was now in the midst of an animated conversation with her husband, James, and two gentlemen from his regiment in the Coldstream Guards.

He managed to catch her eye, however, and she returned his gaze queryingly.

Lady Jane and Lenox had known each other since they were children. She was perhaps a year younger than Mary Elizabeth Sharples, and a good ten inches shorter. She was a plain but pretty person, with dimpled cheeks, kind gray eyes, and hair that fell in soft dark curls. This evening she wore a wide blue crinoline.

He crossed the room toward her, an icy pewter cup of punch in hand.

When she was just loose from the group’s conversation, Lenox said, “Hello, Jane.”

“Ah! Hello, Charles,” she said innocently.

Lenox leaned close. “Shall I really throw her into the fire?” “Excuse me?”

“I will do it if you insist, but I feel people would notice. I am almost sure.”

Lady Jane looked at him crossly. “What are you talking about?”

He consulted the note. “You write, Mary Elizabeth Sharples,” he said in a quiet voice, though the lady in question was some thirty feet away. “Throw into fire.”

A look of wrath came onto Jane’s face. “The note, you fool.

You’re to throw the note into the fire.” “Oh, the note!”

“Yes, the note, as you very well know.” “I was going to eat the note,” he said. She shook her head. “How I hate you.”

He smiled. “I could ask her to marry me in front of all these people and it wouldn’t make a whit of difference, Jane. She is going to marry Blake, whenever he stops talking about sterling cow creamers long enough to notice that it is possible. I imagine they will be transported to the church in a carriage of Dutch silver.”

“I think her a very agreeable person,” said Jane stiffly, not just yet prepared to laugh at her suggestion. “And I am not at all convinced that her affections are as settled as you say. But you may suit yourself.”

Lenox held up the note. “I must go to the hearth, now that I understand your meaning. Be good enough to watch my back please. For enemy action.”

“I hope you fall into the fire,” she said, and turned back to her husband and his friends.

So it had been for weeks, mysteriously. Ancient, distant, respectable cousins had dropped in on Lenox after years of silence, mentioning their friends’ grandnieces. Peers from his schooldays delicately proffered their sisters. Even his close friends, Lady Jane, for instance, and his brother, Edmund, seemed to think he was in desperate want of a wife.

Part of it was no doubt that the season had just begun. After the long summer, in which those who could mostly retreated from the city into the clearer air of the countryside, all had returned, and every night there was a different salon or ball. The next night these same people would be crowded into Mrs. Wilcott’s immense ballroom in the guise of either “lions” or “lambs,” however they chose to interpret that directive. (Lenox hadn’t chosen. He dreaded it.)

Still, this was his sixth autumn in London, and the assaults upon his liberty had never been this concerted or numerous.

He was, after all, an unusual match. It was true that he had a good deal to recommend him. He was a slim, eligible young man of twenty-seven, always well dressed, with a thoughtful face, hazel eyes, a short hazel beard, and an easy smile. In his manner there was a simplicity that perhaps derived from his background in the Sussex countryside. He had been born the second son of a baronet there—sometimes a tricky position—but was fortunate enough to have means of his own. He had a good character, lively, happy friendships, and a family respected on both sides.

What’s more—though perhaps he did not see this for himself, bound like all men and women in the intense, confused impressions of his own inner world—he was an appealing young fellow. It was hard to say precisely why. Perhaps primarily because he was that most fortunate creature, from whatever class one might pick: the child of two parents who loved him.

“Lenox!”

He had just tossed Lady Jane’s note into the fire, and now turned. It took him an instant to place Robert Dudding, a fashionable clubman of roughly forty-five.

They only knew each other remotely. “How do you do, Dudding?” said Lenox, surprised at the enthusiastic greeting.

“Oh, fine, fine. I had a bad Goodwood, you know. After that I stayed off the turf. Dull without gambling, life. But a decent summer still. See here, though—I particularly want to introduce you to my sister’s ward. Miss Louise Pierce, this is Charles Lenox.”

Only then did Lenox notice a young woman standing next to Dudding. He bowed to her.

“How do you do?” she asked, curtsying. How indeed?

Many hours later, as he rode home in his carriage alone, it occurred to Lenox that Dudding’s friendliness was the best representation yet of this unexpected new element in his life.

He would have felt by no means sure of the man’s handshake even three months before. Dudding was a snob, and Lenox, though he had nothing to be shy of concerning his parentage, was something of an odd figure, ever since, upon his graduation, he had come to London and taken the unexpected step of becoming a private detective.

It was a decision that had, whatever his connections, immediately disqualified him from certain parts of the best society. Bad enough that he should work in some field other than the clergy or the military, traditional realms of the younger son—but outrageous that he should become . . . well, what? Nobody seemed sure. At times, Lenox himself was least sure of all. It was a profession he was designing on the fly, like a railroad thrown down a few desperate ties at a time ahead of the train.

His motivations had been complex. A mingled desire to do right and to do something unique, a sense of adventure, and an unbecoming kind of inquisitiveness to be sure—all alongside, crucially, a fundamental and irresistible fascination with crime. Murder was his own version of Dutch silver. His interest in it was intense and long-lasting, galvanized when he was a boy by penny magazines and consolidated, since he had arrived in London, by a serious and comprehensive study of all the endless, multifarious crimes that occurred here.

He was convinced that it was a subject worth close attention. Most people were not. Men and women who would have eagerly solicited his good opinion had he chosen to remain utterly idle, living off his income and staring at a few hundred hands of whist a week, had cut him again and again in the past few years, some even going so far as to bar him from their doors.

Their stance wasn’t universal. His friends remained staunch, and the great majority of people didn’t have the energy to care much, viewing him more as eccentric than ruined. But men like Dudding, conscious at every moment of status . . .

The only thing Lenox could think was that there must be some shortfall of unmarried men this year.

As he stepped out of his carriage at home, he sighed. At times he wondered whether this profession was even worth his time. The fact was that his progress as a detective had been halting: one or two notable successes, but also long periods of stagnation, and the derision of his class and of Scotland Yard. A less stubborn person might have given the folly up.

But if he kept at it—would it not be nice to return to a comfortable hearth, bedecked with a lady of sweet disposition and aspect, and perhaps even one or two small humans, playing blocks in that mood of intense concentration he had noticed in the visages of his friends’ children?

“Graham?” he called, entering the house.

“Good evening, sir,” said Graham, the house’s butler, standing up from a chair in the small alcove in the front hall, which served as his version of an office. “A pleasant evening?”

Graham was, though a servant, one of Lenox’s closest confidants, a compact, sandy-haired, gentlemanly person of about Lenox’s own age, attired in a subtly faultless suit of clothes.

“I was married off twenty times or so. Other than that it wasn’t so bad.”

“I’m glad to hear it, sir,” said Graham, taking Lenox’s cane and hat. Lenox looked at the grandfather clock. It was past midnight. “I know you must be tired, but what do you say to ten minutes on the Claxton case?”

This was a peculiar death in Nottingham that they had been studying.

“With pleasure, sir,” Graham said. “Mrs. Huggins has left tea on the warming plate. And there are cheese-and-pickle sandwiches at your desk, sir, in case you didn’t have supper.”

 

CHAPTER TWO

Two nights later, Lenox sat in his study, playing chess with his next-door neighbor, Lord Deere. This study was a large, high-ceilinged, rectangular room that overlooked the street from just a few feet above it. At the other end of the chamber a fire burned in the grate; books and small paintings lined the walls.

It was a rare night away from the social round, made possible by a thunderstorm—and not just any thunderstorm, but a hard one, almost moralizing in its intensity. A whipping rain was falling across the ancient gray stones of London; water flushed days of autumn grime from every narrow fissure and channel in the cobblestone streets, eddying around clots of fallen leaves until it loosened them all at once. An October storm. The last stale heaviness of summer heat being rinsed clean away.

“One of the troubles with cinnamon toast is that the edges never have much cinnamon on them,” said Lord Deere.

Lenox glanced over the board, irritated. He liked Deere, and loved Deere’s wife, Jane. But he was about to lose, and it had been extremely close this time, too. “One of the troubles? What are the others?”

“Where to begin. It doesn’t dunk well.” “Doesn’t dunk well.”

Deere grinned. “In tea.” “Doesn’t dunk well in tea.”

“No, it falls to bits immediately.” He gestured at the board. “Rather like the little triangle of pawns you set up around your king.”

“That’s a very dishonorable comment, if you ask me,” Lenox replied darkly, staring at the board.

“I am detestable in victory. Everyone must have his flaws,” said Lord Deere in a cheerily philosophical tone, munching a piece of the cinnamon toast with what appeared, despite his objections, like great relish. In his other hand was a cup of tea, steam drifting upward from it in a loose coil. “Listen, why don’t we start over?”

Lenox was not prouder than the typical young man of good education, ample means, and a strong intelligence. Alas, even the average pride of such a specimen of person must be very high.

“That is the most cowardly offer I ever heard.”

Deere was a tall, thin man with fair hair and striking blue eyes. Somehow, in whatever the circumstances, he always looked crisp and tidily arranged.

He protested. “I was only hoping we might fit in another game!”

Lenox glanced at the gold carriage clock on his desk. After a hostile pause, he knocked over his king. “Fine,” he said.

“There you are, see?” “Hm.”

They began setting up the pieces, or rather Deere did, because Lenox had started hungrily eating toast and sipping his own tea.

He had never been a soul to hold a grudge, even in childhood, and before the pieces were up the last game was forgotten, replaced in their conversation with Lenox’s frank admiration for his opponent’s skill. Somehow he always managed to slip through the narrowest slivers of logic when they played, Deere. He might

be two important pieces down, yet invariably he found a way to recover his balance and best Lenox. Or so it seemed anyhow.

“Don’t forget that I am in the army,” he said, after Lenox pointed this out. “Much of our training is calculated for dire strategic situations.”

“True. I wonder if chess in the military is played to a higher standard than among us civilians.”

The young lord looked contemplative. “I could not promise you that. We have our share of dullards. I suppose all professions do.”

“Of course.”

“Indeed, I would wager many among the infantry would get the better of their officers. It’s a great hobby—they all have pocket boards. Handy when you are stuck on some hillside for a week with nothing to do.”

When Lenox had learned that Lady Jane had married a military man, he had been predisposed to look upon the gentleman as something of a cavalier, one of those soldiers who marry and then return home but rarely, glad as they may be when there.

But of course Jane—always the smartest person he had known— would never have married for less than true love, and Deere, as Lenox had very slowly and somewhat reluctantly learned, was a special sort of person.

He was entirely open with others, entirely generous; wanted to see only the best in them; above all, wanted to learn what they were like, what they loved, who they were. For instance, he delighted in Lenox’s profession, pressing questions upon him about it in a way almost no one else did. When he did travel, he brought home innumerable local objects, which he studied and collected with careful attention. He knew the names of flowers, grasses, trees, and stars. He especially loved dogs: He knew every breed, and though an earl, and thus entitled to be extremely haughty, would stop with anybody in the street who happened to be walking one for a long chin wag.

He was commissioned as a captain in the Coldstream Guards, a demanding position. He was away from home more often than not, but hoped that he would be here for a decent stretch now. (He was still awaiting new orders.) It was commonly agreed that he had a very bright future.

Halfway through the next game that he and Lenox played, there was a sharp knock at the front door.

The young detective frowned. He wasn’t expecting anybody. Lady Jane—whom he would normally have suspected—was at the bedside of a friend in South Kensington, who had just been delivered prematurely of a son.

“I wonder who could be abroad in this weather,” Lenox said. “The devil knows.”

After a beat, Graham appeared at the door of the study. “Inspector Hemstock wishes to call upon you, sir.”

“Hemstock!”. Standing up, Lenox glanced at his friend. “You’ll have to forgive me, Deere. Graham, would you ask Elliott to get the horses warmed, please?”

This was the groom. “Of course, sir.”

Lenox held up a hand. “No. On second thought, don’t. But please show Hemstock in.”

“Very good, sir.”

He didn’t need to go out on a rainy night at Thomas Hemstock’s whim.

Deere knew something of Lenox’s business—indeed, it some- times seemed to Lenox that all of London did. “Not in the mood for a case?” Deere asked.

“No. I have rarely been busier.”

It was true. After long stretches of idleness in previous years— though he tried his best to stay busy during these, through an improvised course of self-instruction—at present Lenox had two cases, besides his conjectures from afar about the Claxton murder. Both were minor. Still, he was pleased to be occupied.

Graham returned with Hemstock, who had left his hat and his cloak in the hall but was nevertheless dripping wet.

As usual, he was in a state that you might certainly call jolly, if you wished to be polite—outright drunk, if you were blunter.

“Hullo!” he cried. “What’s this? Chess? Sport of kings, chess.” That was horse racing. No matter. “How are you, Mr. Hemstock?”

Lenox said, putting out his hand. He liked the inspector, taken all in all. “Much occupied this evening?”

“Yes! Thought you might want to come round with me, learn a trick or two. It’s a murder.”

“Whereabouts?” “Paddington Station.”

Some piece of ha’penny violence, Lenox supposed. A burglar, a gang member, a sailor. The motive probably petty vengeance or drunken ire.

“Unfortunately I don’t think I can. I have a guest, as you see.” Hemstock looked surprised. It was the first time Lenox had refused such an offer.

An affable, short, solid fellow, about forty, with a squashed face and an infectious gaiety, Hemstock was the worst detective Scotland Yard had. Indeed, the job belonged to him only because his late father had been one of the original Peelers, a figure of legend and lore, revered at the Yard. The son did little harm in his sinecure—if not, unfortunately, much good either. Lately, however, he had been allowing Lenox to solve his cases, under the guise of his “helping” the young squire, showing him “a trick or two.” Most men at the Yard despised the idea of Lenox’s amateur involvement in their work, but Hemstock had noticed that he could be useful.

“It’s a strange one,” the inspector said.

“Perhaps I could come in the morning and see you about it then,” said Lenox.

“Of course. Until the morning.”

“The morning. And I say, I am sorry. Thank you for stopping by.”

Hemstock had recovered from his surprise. “May be dry by then, eh? Or else we’ll soon be boarding the animals two by two. Any time after ten o’clock.”

He accepted a drink to see him on his way—a brandy, which vanished quickly—and left.

Deere, surprised, watched Lenox take his chair again. They were not quite close enough that he could ask why Lenox had declined. (If Jane were here, she would have done so without hesitation.) Instead they played out their muddled, unsatisfying third game.

The instant it was clear that Deere had won, the detective stood up.

“I’m sorry, Deere,” he said.

He called for Graham. “Sir?” said the valet—somewhere between a butler and a valet, really—appearing at the door.

“I’m sorry, Graham,” said Lenox, who was handing out apologies this evening at such a rate that he would soon run short of them, “but could you get the horses warmed after all? I think I must go to Paddington Station, or I won’t rest.”

“They are ready in front, sir.”

Lenox gave a look of surprise, then a rueful smile. “Thank you, Graham,” he said. “I suppose I am predictable after all this time under the same roof.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“Just give me my hat and my cane then, if you don’t mind. I bet I can beat him there.”

 

CHAPTER THREE

The storm only gathered strength during the short trip to Paddington. Lenox felt keenly for poor William Elliott, the raw-faced young groom, just seventeen, who sat atop the box of the carriage with the reins and whip in hand.

Inside the carriage it was tolerably dry, though water beaded at the joints of the door. Lenox’s view through the small windows was impenetrably dark. As they drove northwest on Edgware Road, he could just make out the ghostly pale silhouette of Marble Arch at one point. But that was all.

The benefit of the weather was that they were virtually alone on the road; in only fifteen minutes or so they had made the journey.

“This will do,” Lenox called out when they were near the front of the station.

“Shall I wait, sir?”

“Please—but look, I’ll point out where.”

Paddington Station was new. It had opened just the year before, the design of a gentleman, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was reshaping the nation building by building, one of the most celebrated men in Victoria’s realm.

He had constructed Paddington as a long, slim rectangle—rather like Lenox’s study, come to think of it. You entered on one of the short sides, here on Praed Street, and were immediately a few feet from the station’s two tracks. (Many a tardy traveler had blessed Brunel’s name for this touch.) At the far end, which lay open to the city, the trains departed.

Then there were the two long sides of the rectangle. On the left was a series of rooms and offices. On the right, partially open to the air, was an ingenious carriage route that allowed taxis and wagons to pull up directly to the trains.

This lane was where Lenox directed Elliott. It would offer him and the horses at least a bit of warmth and dryness, he hoped.

Lenox alighted from the carriage and into the shelter of the awning in front of the Great Western Hotel, a new establishment, catering mostly to travelers, with a splendid and blindingly bright façade, as dramatic as a Scottish castle on this stormy night. A bellman glanced at him inquiringly, but Lenox declined his assistance with a wave that he hoped implied his thanks.

He studied the train station from the short distance across the street. It was desolate, no light stirring behind its doors. Lenox had checked his Bradshaw’s, the book of timetables every Londoner kept a copy of. The last train that evening had been expected at 10:14, and now it was past 11:00, which must mean the last travelers had long departed, most of them drying themselves by cozy fires, coats dripping in front halls humble and grand across the city.

He pulled out his pocket watch: 11:12, to be exact. He placed the watch—his late father’s, a battered and dented gold object—back in his waistcoat pocket and strode across the street.

Murder. He might act as if he had grown too grand for Hem- stock’s patronage, but he had still only ever been involved with two murders of any note—that is, which had taken longer than ten minutes to solve. Though it was doubtful this would be the third, his pulse nevertheless quickened as he entered the station.

His eyes took a moment to adapt. He made out the great curved roof that swept overhead, making the hall at once grand and intimate. All around were shuttered stalls, which during the day did a roaring trade in newspapers, tobacco, and various foodstuffs to be eaten on the hoof.

Soon he grew accustomed to the dark. Receding up the left interior side of the building was a long row of signs projecting out from the wall every ten feet or so.

Cloakroom                      

Gentlemen’s Lavatory   

Telegraph Office            

Parcels                           

Dining Room                 

Booking                         

For discretion’s sake, perhaps—certainly not for convenience’s—the last was women’s lavatory. It was near this distant spot, which Lenox took to be the scene of the crime, that he saw a small group of people, the only ones visible in the station, glowing by the light of at least two lanterns. They stood next to the only train left in the station. Lenox set out to see who they were.

Despite his footsteps, which he thought would have alerted them, they started when he said, approaching, “Good evening, gentlemen.” A craggy old man in a huge sealskin cloak took a step forward.

“Who’re you?”

There were three men. One was a police constable with a cherubic look, but Hemstock wasn’t among them. This was no surprise; the inspector was likely at a bar, taking his leisure. He was on duty until six the next morning and rarely rushed himself.

Lenox bowed his head slightly. “Charles Lenox, gentlemen. I am an associate of Inspector Hemstock’s.”

“Hemstock? Is he from the Yard?” “He is, sir.”

Lenox always avoided saying that he himself was from the Yard—when he could. “We sent the constable for him over ninety minutes ago,” the older man said.

“I have just seen Mr. Hemstock. He will be here shortly. In the meanwhile, may I ask the pleasure of knowing your name?”

“I’m Joseph Beauregard Stanley,” the old man in the sealskin coat said. “Late of Her Majesty’s Navy. Presently the stationmaster on duty.”

“There’s been a death, Mr. Hemstock says? Possibly a murder?”

One of the other two men snorted. Not the constable. “If it was anything else, I’d like to know what.”

“A violent death, then.”

“Violent, yes,” the man replied, as if the word could scarcely describe what he had seen. He wore a black frock coat and no hat. Anticipating Lenox’s next question, he went on, nodding at the train, “I’m the conductor of the 449.”

“This train.”

“Yes. From Manchester.”

“So you found the body?” asked Lenox. “I did. By chance, mind you.”

Lenox was curious about that statement, but said, following the conversation’s momentum, “Perhaps we had better have a look.” When there was a pause, he turned to the constable, a very young man, he saw now, who held the other lantern. “Good evening. Charles Lenox.”

“Rossum, sir,” said the lad in an accent conspicuously of the East End. Lenox would have laid a shilling coin that the boy had been born within hearing of Bow Bells: the traditional definition of a cockney.

“You were on your beat?”

“No, sir. I was round the Nimble Peacock on Chapel Street, sir, just by. Day finished. Enjoying a pint of beer. I only came at the whistle, sir.”

He looked a bit proud as he said this—not without reason. It had technically been his duty to answer the call of his fellow officer, but few of London’s constables would have taken the trouble on a dark and rainy night. The whistle usually blew to ask for nothing more than assistance with a drunken brawl.

“Well done, Mr. Rossum,” said Lenox. “I shall inform Sir Richard in the morning of how responsible you were in performance of your duties.”

Rossum’s eyes widened in his lantern’s light. Sir Richard Mayne was the head of Scotland Yard. “I thank you friendly o’ that, sir.”

Lenox nodded. Then he said again, trying to sound unrushed, “Shall we go and look at the body?”

“Hadn’t we better wait for the inspector?” replied the old stationmaster.

“The sooner the body is gone, the sooner your station is yours again, Mr. Stanley,” Lenox said. “I’m happy to wait if you wish, however.”

Stanley sighed. “No, I suppose you’d better go aboard.” He didn’t like the idea though. “I’ll let these chaps take you. It’s not a sight I care to see a third time. And someone must be here when the Inspector comes. If he ever does.”

They boarded the train single file, led by the conductor.

The 449 from Manchester had four passenger cars, it appeared. The conductor, whose name Lenox still hadn’t caught, took them to the first of them, the third-class carriage. This would have been the cheapest seat to reserve, its hard benches usually populated exclusively by men of the working classes. They traveled closest to the clamor and powerful, if not unpleasant, coal smell of the engine room.

The first-class carriage—quieter, much more expensive, and outfitted to a high standard of comfort—would be at the rear. It was in the first-class carriage that Lenox traveled, generally; Hemstock, by contrast, was a classic man of the second-class carriages, which occupied the middle two cars.

A funny place sometimes, England.

Both the conductor and Constable Rossum had lanterns, and it was by their light that Lenox saw the victim.

He was slumped on the last bench at the rear of the car. He looked young, his light brown hair combed back. His head leaned against the window next to him, as if he were asleep. He had, Lenox thought, a handsome face, clean and strong.

The other two made way for Lenox to go first. The fire from the lanterns danced in the glass windows. Moving forward he tried not to betray his nervousness—concealing it behind an intent gaze that took in the details of the carriage. But this was pointless. There was nothing to see, all the luggage gone, every seat emptied, the carriage cleaned even of the usual refuse.

At last he drew close to the body. He saw that the man was young, perhaps the same age as Lenox himself. He was extremely pale in the light of the lanterns.

Then Lenox looked down and saw why. It was no wonder the stationmaster hadn’t wished to come aboard again. The victim had lost a tremendous amount of blood, and even now remained in a desperate pose, as if trying and failing to hold in his entrails. His stomach had been slashed open.

A butchery of a murder. There was a sour, metallic smell in the air. Lenox turned back to the conductor and the constable, trying his best to be professional. “I take it nobody saw anything.”

“Only me,” said the conductor. “I had collected all the tickets from the seats before London, but I was missing my own return bus ticket, to get home. I came through to see if I had dropped it. ’Twas then I found him.”

“Did you clean the carriage? It appears spotless.”

“No—that would have been one of the station’s men. Probably tidied up my bus ticket along with everything else. But there is occasionally a drunken man asleep aboard the train. Whoever cleaned the car would have assumed that had happened here. Ignored him.”

“Despite the blood?”

The conductor shrugged. “It was dark and it’s the third class carriage. A quick tidy.”

“I see.”

Lenox thought for a moment. There was a great deal to take in, and, beginning with an inspection of the body, he noted it all with a pencil in the small leather-bound notebook he kept in his front pocket, each small detail.

Still, when he stepped down onto the platform again, some fifteen minutes later, it was not the inhumane manner of the murder that filled him with consternation. It was that for the first time in his young career, he had encountered a case without a single clue.

Copyright © 2020 Charles Finch.

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