This Case Files story is the second in a series written by creative writing students at York St John University. The students’ inspiration came from real-life crime stories, objects in our collection or their own imaginations. To immerse yourself in the world of mystery and detective fiction, take a look at our Mystery on the Rails exhibition. Tune in next week for the next Case Files story.
By Gabrielle Moy
A gap in the curtains let the sun creep in; the same curtains that John Finnigan’s wife had hung all those years ago, when she had wanted to brighten up the house. The lemon and lime flowers on them gave John a headache but he couldn’t bring himself to change something his wife loved so much. The morning daylight beamed directly onto John’s face, awakening him from the slumber he was so peacefully in. He lay for a few moments staring at the artex ceiling. Thoughts and worries whirled round his head at hurricane speed. Today was going to be the day John went to visit his daughter in London. Despite the anxieties of going past the corner shop, he knew it was something he had to do.
The train screeched into the station and stopped with a halt. As it did, John spilt his travel mug of coffee over his shirt; red on this particular day. He muttered under his breath with anger: “Bloody trains, why is the world in such a hurry?” Passengers wandered by, looking with confusion and some in fright at the lonely old man muttering to himself. John looked out of the window and watched them all rush off in separate directions while trying to pat down the coffee which would inevitably stain his beloved shirt.
Chloe Martinez got on the same train as John that morning. Her suitcase was too heavy for her to lift onto the train, so as usual she batted her eyelashes and gave a girly giggle and thank-you to any of the willing men stood on the platform. They flocked like seagulls around someone’s chips to be her knight in shining armour. Her hands, still tanned from the holiday she had just returned from, clung to her Starbucks cup. Written on the cup, next to her name and order in black permanent marker, there was a phone number with the name James written underneath. She thanked the man for helping her onto the train with another giggle and a thank-you whilst sipping on her decaffeinated skinny latte and went to find the seat her management company had booked for her.
“Anna, hi! I’ve just got on the train babe so give me about two hours and I’ll be there.” The man in the seat next to her sighed as she spoke. His shirt was covered spilt coffee. Chloe smiled in the hope that he would cheer up at the very sight of her. After all, that is what most men did. If they were not aware of her reality television status it was just because they wanted to talk to her and were perplexed by her sheer beauty. Instead the man just sat there, his travel mug in hand, blankly staring out of the window as the train jolted and begun once again onto its next destination.
A phone rang on the opposite side of the table to the coffee-covered man and the extremely tanned woman. Despite the passengers on board being shoved together like cattle, Dave Jenkins dispersed his spreadsheets across the table as if no one else was there. Highlighters, pens and folders made their way into the personal space of his fellow table occupants as the train set off. “Dave Jenkins!” he exclaimed with importance once the ringing phone was picked up. He loosened his tie from around his neck.
‘Can you get me boardroom ‘A’ ready Sandra, I should be about two hours. Hopefully the client will not have arrived by then. If so, get them some refreshments.” Dave almost barked when he spoke, the aggression noticeable to other passengers as he commanded orders to the anonymous character on the receiving end. Chloe and John looked up, the papers scattering further and further across the table like a table cloth. Highlighters began falling from the table as the train gathered momentum. Dave did nothing but continue to bark down the phone. Dave’s job was all he lived for. The increased power he felt as he climbed the career ladder did nothing but ensure he worked even longer hours and travel even further every week. This was why just two years ago his wife Karen had upped and left him and moved south with a painter and decorator she had met in the pub, subsequently getting pregnant with his child.
His hand was free from a wedding ring and as Chloe realised this she looked him up and down and smiled to herself. He looked as if he was the kind of man who could afford the particular diamond ring she had set her eyes upon.
Esmerelda Spencer lent down from her book and collected the fallen highlighters from the floor and delicately placed the pens in Dave’s line of vision. She sat back in her seat and picked the book back up from the table. ‘Meditation for the over-50s’ read the cover. As she flicked back and forth between pages her silver and jet rings clinked together. Her face shone with warmth and pure joy as she read the book, despite sitting on the crowded 10.05 service to London King’s Cross.
“Excuse me, can I plug my phone in? I am expecting a phone call any minute,” Chloe gestured towards the plug socket John had positioned his coat upon. He gave a nod and a sound that resembled a yes. Chloe would plug her phone in anyway, however her management told her to always be polite as you never knew who could be working for the Daily Mail. Esmerelda looked up as Chloe spoke. “These young people and their technology,” she thought, her inner monologue obvious in her facial expressions as she continued to flick back and forth in the guide she was reading with such enjoyment.
Esmerelda didn’t know who Chloe Martinez was. She couldn’t even remember the last time she watched the television. Her life consisted of teaching others yoga in retreats across the country. She was off one train and onto another all the time. The array of library books and ‘how-to’ guides falling out of her mesh bag accompanied her wherever she travelled. They were the closest thing to a relationship she would ever have. Nothing else in the world required commitment from Esmerelda apart from her books and yoga and that was just the way she liked it. As she looked back up again Chloe had started stacking various makeup palettes onto the table in front of her. Dave continued bellowing down the phone as if everyone on the train was some form of employee who needed to know specifics about data analysis and boardroom meeting times.
Once again the train jolted, sending the possessions of the occupants of the table flying onto the floor. The dirty white sign of the current station met the window as the passengers looked out to count how many stops they each had left. John sighed once again. He looked at his watch after the sigh and then sighed again. It would be at least another two hours before he made it to London.
As another stop passed, the crowds of people on board the train began to increase. Children could be heard screaming, “Are we there yet?” as mothers tried to reassure them that it wouldn’t be long. The trolley filled with overpriced crisps and biscuits rolled up and down the carriage several times, with everyone trying to avoid eyesight with the poor, smiling woman pushing it. No one ever seemed to buy anything. All the while the four occupying the table closest to the door in carriage D carried on with activities that now to each other seemed the norm.
Dave was highlighting the various spreadsheets still dispersed across the table. This was a trait the other three were willing to accept as they kept themselves within the confines of their small portions of table. Esmerelda stared at Chloe with sympathy. She felt for her as she applied her makeup. “No one should ever be made to feel as though they need to wear that much makeup,” her inner monologue once again whirled around in her head as Chloe picked up product after product and dabbed it onto her already bronzed face. Meanwhile, John sat in his seat, clutching his now empty travel mug, staring out of the window. For the first time since he could remember he was outside of the village in which his beloved Francine had died. He felt unsafe and unsure as the confines of his house became nothing but a memory from earlier this morning when he had left them. He longed for the warmth of his chair which was dressed with the blanket Francine had so lovingly knitted while she was in hospital. John glanced at the fellow residents of the table. They were so far removed from anything he had known for the past four years.
The train carried on its journey, shooting through the vast countryside. The greenery and houses that it passed just a blur to the passengers as the speed grew and grew. The array of cities just appeared miniscule in comparison to the destination.
The glass door connecting the carriages had been sliding back and forth throughout the entire journey. Something which the always-calm Esmerelda could have done without as she worked on implementing a technique from her book which would ensure those travelling would remain calm throughout. The glass of the door shattered after the train departed its fourth stop, accompanied by a man.
His figure made its way through the smashed glass. Everyone watched him after his act of vandalism. He began to walk up the aisle. The activity of the train had come to an eerie standstill. All the attention was on the figure proceeding down the aisle. He had reached the door at the other end of the carriage and with that he took a sharp turn on his heels and began heading back to the scene of his destruction.
“Excuse me, sir,” the poor woman who had wheeled her trolley past the table just moments ago had abandoned it and was walking towards the figure as he anonymously and aimlessly strolled around the carriage. A smile was still plastered on her face. She spoke with a Mediterranean accent. Dave and Esmerelda both placed down the activities that they had been so engrossed in and turned behind them to watch what they thought would be a young woman trying to take control of the train. Once again, Dave’s stationery fell off the table as the train navigated a sharp bend. It rolled in the direction of Chloe’s foot and despite her unwillingness to do anything for others, the Daily Mail and her manager crossed her mind again. “You never know when someone could be watching ready to put it into the national press,” her management had said to her when she signed the contract a few months ago. Chloe wanted to be known as reality television’s good girl and make herself known in order to launch her dream singing career. With this in mind, despite being mid-tweet, she leant down and grabbed the highlighter from the murky carpet.
As she leant and looked at the floor, a noise cracked in the air. Before Chloe had time to look up, John grabbed her arm. They had not spoken since she had asked to use the plug socket almost an hour ago. There was something comforting in the way he had grabbed her arm, it was as though he was looking after her. Then a piercing scream took away from the sound of the crack. Positioned central in the carriage was the same woman that not two minutes ago, had been talking and walking full of life. Her unresponsive body lay on the floor in the middle of the carriage. Blood seeped out of her chest and through the train company’s uniform around a name badge that read ‘Carmella’. Esmerelda begun to lift herself out of her seat.
“Sit down.” The dark figure stood over Carmella’s body as blood continued to flood across the carpet towards passengers’ bags resting on the floor. His voice was deep and held power over the 45 people frantically panicking on the train. Esmerelda threw herself back into her seat. Those accompanying her on the table turned themselves toward her. She shut her eyes and breathed slowly in through her nose and out through her mouth counting to ten as she did so, a tip which she had just read in her book yet did not realise she would need to use so soon. It was then Esmerelda noticed. “He’s got a gun,” she whispered as the other three intently starred at her. Despite the deafening crack of a gun and Carmella’s deceased body, the mention of a gun confirmed all theories whirring silently through the train carriage.
“I’m going to phone my manager.” Chloe picked her phone up off the table. “Tell her I’m going to be late because some woman has been killed.” The way in which Chloe spoke made this incident sound like an everyday occurrence and that she frequently phoned her manager with stories of death and murder. A silver ring met her screen and slammed it back to the table.
“You will do no such thing young lady, or it will be you laid on that floor alongside her.” Esmerelda spoke harshly to Chloe. She was not usually like this. All her breathing exercises and mantras about remaining calm left her head at this moment. No amount of slow breathing and remaining calm was going to keep Esmerelda alive. The man’s trainers were now stained with the blood of Carmella as it gushed from her chest along the floor towards him. He looked down to the floor and back up again, directing his attention to the table which the four were sat at. Then he leapt over her body and continued his journey up the train.
On the side of the carriage closest to Carmella’s body, the train guard attempted to walk through the door. The sound of the train skidding along the tracks had allowed the other carriages to be unaware of the catastrophe taking place in Carriage D and he was simply doing his job and making sure all passengers had the correct ticket. The sound of the automatic doors opening bellowed through the carriage. The man’s back was turned to the door as he made his way to the table yet this sound alarmed him and once again he twisted on his heels. Without any haste or thought he lifted his arm. The crack sounded once again. The train guard hit the floor between the automatic doors.
The gun was again safely tucked back into his hoodie pocket, the silver handle poking out at the eye level of all the passengers who, 20 minutes earlier, were just on the journey from Newcastle to London King’s Cross. They thought they had no troubles apart from getting to the station in time for the things they had planned when they got off. What the passengers were embroiled in now was a case of life or death. Exactly eight minutes after the man had first entered the train his figure met the eye line of the occupants of the table.
“I’ll let you into a secret, shall I?” his face was still sheltered by his hood with only the husky deep tones of his voice giving away the fact he was human. “I can’t possibly murder everyone on this train. I’ve not come prepared.” He gave a snigger when he made this comment. “So you’re going to decide out of you four who’s head this bullet belongs to, whilst I wait on this chair.” The man pointed at the chair to the left of Chloe. He sat down and began to tap his fingers on the table – a countdown to the moment one of them was going to die.
‘”He’s got to be kidding,” Chloe gave her girly giggle again but it had an underlying tone of panic.
“You would think so, clearly the guy’s got some problems.” For the first time since barking down the phone Dave spoke up. There had been no thank-you for the times people had rescued his stationery from rolling under the multitude of chairs however now he spoke.
“Well what do we do? I don’t know you, and I don’t want to make stupid decisions, that let’s be honest, impact the rest of us.” Esmerelda whispered to the group in order to ensure the man did not hear any of the decisions being made.
“Can we not get off this train? Like surely if I ring my manager they’ll get someone here.”
His fingers continued to tap on the table as the four went back and forth between themselves.
“Well all I’m going to say is I’m going to London to meet with my agent and decide on my first single. I’ve got a lot going on.”
The way Esmerelda felt about Chloe’s comments once again reflected on her face as she sat opposite her. She rolled her eyes and breathed in and out again counting to ten with her eyes shut. The choice to remain calm did nothing but panic her more as it was drowned out by Chloe making endless pleas to the others to keep her alive as she was supposedly about to become a star.
All the while John sat silently in his chair. He did not want to speak as he thought of Chloe’s aims of becoming famous and his thoughts of Dave as well sitting with his spreadsheets in front of him. “He must be important,” John thought. He then looked at Esmerelda. There were small parts of her that took him back to Francine. She was evidently a kind-hearted woman and so calm in a time of panic. The three sharing the predicament with him had so much more ahead of them than him. His wife had died four years ago and since then his daughter Jenny had moved to London and started her own life. ‘Why do I need to be here and let those die?’ This thought kept playing in John’s mind.
“What do you think?” Esmerelda had labelled herself spokeswoman of the table and as John looked up from his lap they all stared in his direction. His heart began to beat faster and faster as the anxiety of having to make the decision rose in his mind.
“Um, I…I think maybe it should be me.” He glanced at each person’s face as the words hesitantly left his mouth. The tapping of the man’s fingers on the opposite table continued repeatedly. It was getting louder and more aggressive by the second in a way that signalled time was almost up. The lifeless bodies still lay on the floor. Coats had been laid over them. The train kept going through fields and rushing past stations in smaller towns. Those in the carriages either side looked through the glass of each door into the crime scene that Carriage D had now become. Looks of horror were painted onto each passenger’s face. With the four occupants of the table the look was something different. The expression was of frantic panic.
“No mate, don’t say that. I’m the one sat here working myself to the bone and for what? No kids, no Mrs. My life isn’t worth a lot since she left me. The job… it always came before her, what a mistake.” Dave reeled his life story off as they looked him up and down. Dave’s hair was not yet grey and his beer belly still not developed from the hours he put in at the gym on an evening. He had his whole life ahead of him yet the thought of life without love sunk him into the deepest depression. Chloe nodded as he made the case for his murder. She agreed with every word.
“You’re only a young man, if anything it should be me. I’m older, I have lived more of a life and experienced the world more.” The calming tones of Esmerelda’s voice took hold on Dave’s self-pity speech. The conversation continued as Chloe sat silently picking at her false nails while the other pledged cause for the anonymous murderer to take them. There was no intention in her mind to begin saying why it should be her. She knew it was not going to have to be.
The man continued to sit in the chair parallel to Chloe. He was still tapping his fingers. With the last finger tap, his hand smacked the table and he burst from his chair. The hood still hung over his face that had not yet been seen by anyone. His figure lurked over the table as those who sat at it looked up towards him. He was not a particularly tall man, not one that in the norm would command presence over so many people. As he arose from the chair, those on the train had looked towards the table also. The secret he had told them hadn’t been loud enough to hear, yet there was huge anticipation for his next move.
He reached into his pocket. His hand clenched firmly onto the gun as it was brought back into sight of those it would be used against. “Have we got an answer then?”
The four strangers all sat at the table in front of him. This morning they had not known each other. They still didn’t. The gun was raised level to the head of one of the members of the table. Sweat dripped from their brow as the cold metal touched their temple. The rest of the passengers turned their heads away. No one on board wanted to witness a third death. The train carried on shooting through the countryside, ten minutes away from its final stop.
The crack that had been heard twice before sounded for the final time and Esmerelda let out a scream.
Chloe’s body tumbled to the floor.