It was a wet, gray Friday afternoon. The raindrops were fat and lazily made their way over roofs, through eaves, down gutters and into my collar. It was only four o’clock, but already the clouds had claimed dominion over the sky, blotting out any chance of the beautiful, scenic views I had hoped for.
My friend Mr. Brooks and I boarded the train at Union Station in that weather. Already slightly disappointed by the climate, we were further shocked to discover the size of the “sleepette” we would be occupying for the next 14 hours, as the train would make its slow journey to Chicago.
“Are they serious with this? Damn, that’s the last time I trust those stupid virtual 360-degree tours they do on websites. This place had to be designed with Mongolian contortionists in mind,” I said.
“This is so not James Bond,” came Mr. Brooks’ reply.
The room, (if it could be called that) was tiny. It had two seats, facing each other, and when the time came for sleep, they could be rearranged to form a bed. Then, another bed would be lowered from the ceiling for the “comfort,” of the second person. There was no room for our luggage, no room to spread out and no room to have a hand-to-hand fight with a villain.
For you see, Mr. Brooks and myself were on that train for one reason and one reason alone…to solve a murder! Wait, that’s not right, we were on that train for two reasons and two reasons alone…to get really sloshed and to solve a murder! Maybe in that order!
With our resolve steeled, even after our dismay in the sleepette, we gallantly made our way to the observation car, to assess all future murder suspects and to get some beers in the café on the lower level.
While sipping on our beers, Mr. Brooks and I decided to make our presence and mission known to Gus*, the guy running the café.
“So Gus,” I said, keeping my voice low and steady, while looking around to make sure there were no interlopers in the vicinity. “We’re here today to solve a murder mystery. Got any murders going on in this train that we should know about?”
“Not really,” he said. “Usually they’re suicide mysteries. People are always throwing themselves on the tracks to get run over. It’s a shame.”
“Hmmmm, not really much of a mystery there Gus. Mr. Brooks and I could solve that in 45 minutes. No, we’re looking for a real challenge,” I told him.
“Well, if the lights suddenly go off for a brief moment, then come back on to reveal a dead body, I’ll let you guys know.”
We thanked him then continued on our way to memorize the faces and mannerisms of all of the passengers on board, (and also to get our flasks of bourbon we had left in our room.)
Fueled by booze and righteous zeal, we spent hours meeting people who would either end up being the murderers, or the murderees. And we let them know that if they planned to do any killing and/or dying, then they’d have to deal with our formidable cunning and brainpower.
There was the elderly Australian couple with a full-sized sleeper room, (meaning those bastards had a toilet and sink and enough space in there for an air hockey table) who were on their way to Chicago to fly out to California for sightseeing.
There was the French couple who spent the majority of time in their sleepette, talking to nobody and shooting Mr. Brooks and I dirty looks whenever they could. I’m not sure why though; we tried playing French music as loud as we could to show friendship and to extend the olive branch of camaraderie. It’s not our fault that French music as so many damn accordions in their songs.
There was the family of four whose names all started with J and who spent most of their time in the dining car, playing card games and generally acting like a happy and well-adjusted family unit. They were the most suspicious of all.
Then there was the hot religious chick with her equally religious husband, who would engage in verbal sparing with Mr. Brooks and myself about the validity of religion in this secular age and if creationism should be taught in public schools, (the answers are: none and no.)
This list of potential criminals was long, about ten or eleven car’s worth of suspects. We had our work cut out for us.
Smash cut to 7:30 that evening. Already three hours into our trip and we had only made it about 60 miles. It would have been disheartening, but considering that we weren’t taking a train because we were in a rush, we weren’t worried. Instead, our reservation in the dining car was being called, so we made our way through the shifting and rattling corridors to our table and the waiting repast.
As we sat down, I couldn’t help but notice who else was sharing that mealtime with us. The aforementioned Australian couple, a shady-looking father/son combo who spoke is hushed tones and stared at us every few minutes, Gus, our car porter Albert and other sinister looking characters. The car felt like a powder keg of tension and drama. One false move could make the place erupt into a maelstrom of violence and murder.
Three bites into my N.Y. strip, it happened. Suddenly, the lights in the car went out and stayed out. Uh oh, I thought to myself, it’s going down now! I grabbed hold of my flimsy plastic knife, knowing that if anybody were to attack me, I’d at least be able to almost break his or her skin with a spastic slash of my weapon.
I then readied myself in a defensive stance, my back to the window and my feet shoulder-width apart, prepared for any awesome chase scene that might end up on the roof of the car.
After what seemed like a full 25 seconds, (but was actually five seconds shorter) the lights in the car came on and everybody’s eyes swiveled to the table where Mr. Brooks and I sat. Looks of pleading mixed with fear of what just happened, reflected in their pupils.
We sprang into action and inspected the car for any possible dead, or dying bodies. Sadly, there was none, and we all returned to our dinners, safe in the knowledge that a horrible crime had been averted that day due to the diligence of Mr. Brooks and myself.
Little did we know of the horrors that were to come later that evening…in Toledo.
*All names have been changed to protect the innocent. Or simply because I couldn’t be bothered to remember their names.