police office. I watched the Chief's face as he spoke. It had been scorched by the sun in the Sudan, pounded by heavyweights in his army boxing days, and set about by whisky and baccy smugglers in the docks of Hull, where he'd had his start on the force. Consequently the Chief's face was irregular: no two photographs of it looked the same, and it would have been hard to draw.

Presently, Wright came wobbling back over, and he was not only drinking but munching at something. I saw the carton in his hand: liver capsules.

'You ought not to be drinking if you've liver trouble,' I said.

No reply from Wright, who just eyed me for a while.

'Here,' I said, 'any idea what the Chief's got in hand for me?'

He looked sidelong, and I knew he knew; but to old man Wright, information was valuable, which is why he was forever asking questions and why he hardly ever answered them.

'Why do you want to know?' he said presently. 'Do you have the wind up?'

Behind him, the Chief was approaching with papers in his hand.

Chapter Five

The Chief handed me one of his small, bitter cigars, which meant 'down to business'. He never gave a cigar to any other man in the office. He lit his, and lit mine. As he did so, I eyed the documents he'd put on the bar top. The top-most ones were cuttings from newspapers.

'Why are you mentioning this to me now, sir?' I said. 'Nothing else for it,' he said, and gave a quick grin – a very quick one. 'I want you on to it day after tomorrow.'

That meant Sunday. The wife would just love that, what with all the work we had to do about the house. But this was the Chief all over. He liked to keep his men on their mettle. He had many times taken me for a drink-up in the middle of the working day, so I ought not to have been surprised that he should talk shop in the middle of a 'do'. But there was a look on his face I didn't much care for: a kind of excitement. How much beer was he shipping? He passed over the first cutting. It came from the 'Public Notices' page of a Leeds paper.

MISSING, Mr Raymond Blackburn of Roundhay, Leeds. Aged 30, 5ft Win high, medium-large build, brown eyes, dark hair. Last seen at the Paradise Guest House, Scarborough, on 19 October last, and has not since been heard of. Any information to be addressed to the Inspector of Police, Roundhay, and the informant will be suitably rewarded.

'Know the name?' said the Chief.

'No. Why do you ask?'

Old man Wright was lying down on the stage. It looked pretty final.

'The same notice has been posted in the Police Gazette the last few months… Have you not seen it?' The Chief was rocking a little back and forth, eyeing me quite nastily. 'Blackburn was a fireman,' he said.

'On the North Eastern?' I asked, because other companies ran into Leeds besides ours.

The Chief nodded.

'On 19 October last year, he fired a passenger train into York from Leeds New Station. It was meant to be taken on to Scarborough by another crew, but the fireman booked to take over from Blackburn was off sick, so Blackburn stayed with the engine and took it all the way through with the second driver. It was a Sunday, and Blackburn's train was about the last one into Scarborough station. The engine was needed next day in York, so the driver ran it back that night with another York bloke who was waiting in Scarborough after an earlier turn.'

'Why didn't Blackburn go back with them?'

'Because he knew he wouldn't get into York in time for the last Leeds connection.'

'Well then… he could overnight in York.'

'But he chose to do it in Scarborough.'

The Chief was eyeing me; I glanced down at the newspaper clipping.

'Paradise,' I said at length. 'It's a good name for a rooming house.'

'It might be,' said the Chief, blowing smoke and grinning at the same time, 'and it might not be. It just depends what it's like.'

'And you want me to find out?'

The Chief looked away, saw Wright on the stage, looked back.

'Of course it's odds-on he made away with himself,' he said. 'All his belongings were left in his room except the suit he wore. He was a gloomy sort, by all accounts. He probably just went off in the night and jumped in the sea.'

'But then the body would have been washed up?'

'Not everything that falls in the sea off Scarborough is washed up,' said the Chief,'… thank Christ. Now our lot in Leeds have been looking into the matter with the Scarborough Constabulary.'

'And what have they found out?'

'Fuck all,' said the Chief, who then removed a bit of tobacco from his front teeth and said again, 'Now…'

But this was followed by silence, as the Chief again eyed old man Wright, who was sitting up on the stage now, looking somehow like a little boy. The Chief was looking daggers at Wright; he then fixed me with the same evil stare, as though Wright's behaviour was somehow my responsibility.

'It struck the Leeds blokes', the Chief continued, 'that they ought to send a man to stay over at this house, and see how things stand, and to do it on Sunday so as to get the Sunday lot of guests.'

'Why have they not done it then?'

'Well, they've been a bit short-handed.'

The Chief had softened his tone now. He was so variable in his speech that you did wonder whether fifty years of hard drinking and blows to the head might not be catching up with him.

'I see,' I said. 'And that's why they've taken five months to get round to the idea?'

'What brought it on was that the house has started advertising for railway men again.'


'In the engine shed at Scarborough. Other places beside.'

'If they're posting adverts in the engine shed they must be on the List.'

There was a list of private boarding houses close to stations that had been approved by the Company for taking in railway men on late turns. Sometimes the Company paid the boarding houses directly; sometimes the railway blokes paid out of their own pockets and claimed the money back later.

'They were on it all right,' said the Chief, 'and they've never been taken off it.'

'How many engine men had gone there before Blackburn?'

'None. He was the first.'

'So you might say that, so far, no railway man has gone to the Paradise guest house and survived to tell the tale?'

'Well,' said the Chief as once again the smoke spilled from the sides of his grinning mouth, 'I'm hoping you'll be the first. You see, the Leeds blokes thought it'd be quite a clever stroke to send a copper who could make on he was a North Eastern fireman – just to see if there was anyone in the house who might have a grudge against the Company, or against railway blokes as a breed. Only they don't have any men who can fire an engine.'

Silence between the Chief and me; he dropped his cigar and stood on it.

'You're a passed fireman, aren't you?' he said at length. 'You fired engines until you ran that loco into the shed wall.'

I was not having that.

'It was my mate who ran it into the wall. He'd jiggered the brake. I just happened to be standing up there when the consequences of his error became manifest.'

'I like your way of putting that,' said the Chief. 'You'll turn up at the house with just the right amount of coal dust and muck on you, just the right engine smell.'

'It's customary for engine men to have a wash when they've finished a turn, sir.'

'Yes, well don't be too thorough about it. I've a driver all fixed up for you,' said the Chief. 'He's just the man for the job.'

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