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Murder on The Canadian

The agonizing sound of a woman's scream hurls Tom Austen into the middle of a murder plot on board the sleek passenger train The Canadian.  Who is responsible for the death of lovely Catherine Saks?  As Tom investigates the strange collection of travellers who share Car 165, he gets closer and closer to the truth . . . and then without warning, he is suddenly face to face with the killer, and his own life is threatened in the most alarming possible way.
 

"In Murder on The Canadian there is excitement from the start; the first dozen pages produce a bomb, a 'deadly enemy', a drunk and a beautiful woman . . . there are plenty of suspects to lay false trails, and the action moves as fast as the train."
                                                                  Times Literary Supplement
 

 
Chapter 1
 

The package was ticking.

 

         A bomb.  Yes, Tom was sure it must be a bomb.  He studied the plain brown paper, then leaned his head close.

 

         Tick. Tick. Tick.

 

         Frightened, Tom looked around the crowded railway station.  What to do?  If he yelled "Bomb!" it might cause a panic, a rush to the doors in which women and children would be crushed underfoot.

 

         Again, Tom studied the package which had appeared mysteriously beside his suitcase minutes ago when he'd gone to the washroom.  It looked innocent, but the ticking meant it was deadly.

 

         Tom spotted a man in a conductor's uniform across the station.  He ran forward, pushing through the crowds of people waiting to board the train, and grabbed the man's arm.

 

        "Please, sir," he said, panting, "please come quickly!"  The man looked down at Tom with huge blue eyes magnified by thick glasses.  "What?" he said, cupping a hand around his ear.

 

        "Help!" Tom said, afraid to shout there was a bomb.

 

         The man shook his head.  "Can't hear you, sonny.  Station too noisy."

 

         The conductor lost interest in Tom and returned to writing on a pad.  For a wild second Tom thought he should get out, save his own life, then he snatched the conductor's pad and ran.

 

         "You little devil!" the man shouted.

 

         Faces turned, staring at the flash of Tom's red hair as he darted past, the conductor close behind.  The man was a fast runner and had almost caught Tom when he reached his suitcase.

 

         The package was gone.

 

         Impossible.  Tom grabbed his suitcase, looking behind it for the missing bomb, and then the conductor grabbed Tom.

 

         "You little brat!" he shouted.

 

         Now everything was confusion. The conductor tore his notepad from Tom's hand; excited people pushed close to watch; a dog began to bark, and Tom found the bomb.

 

         In the hands of Dietmar Oban.  Yes, Tom's rival held the package, a wicked grin on his face as he pushed close among the crowd of onlookers.

 

         Tom had been tricked, and now he knew that the ticking "bomb" was really just an old alarm clock.  Feeling stupid, Tom looked up at the angry conductor.

 

         "Please, sir," he said weakly, "I can explain everything."

 

         "I'll have the police on you!"

 

         "Yes, but. . .”

 

         From above, a loudspeaker boomed: "All passengers board the train."  The onlookers hesitated, hating to leave the excitement Tom had caused, then turned and shuffled away.  The conductor's huge blue eyes stared down at Tom.

 

         "No more trouble, sonny, or you'll end up behind bars."

 

         "Yes, sir," Tom said.

 

         He watched the conductor walk away, then whirled to grab Dietmar, but he was gone.  Shaking his head, Tom picked up his suitcase and started toward the platform doors.

 

         Happily, the excitement of the coming trip returned quickly to Tom.  Reaching the platform he found a thrilling scene.  Redcaps rushed past with piles of luggage, the loudspeaker buzzed with announcements, and porters in white jackets chatted together as passengers hurried by.

 

         But the greatest thrill of all was the train.  Huge, hissing steam, its stainless steel body gleaming under the platform lights, The Canadian lay like a giant along the tracks, waiting impatiently to hurl itself forward into the coming adventure.  Tom shivered with the beauty of the train.  He wanted to stand and stare, but the diesel's whistle blasted and he hurried to the nearest car.

 

         "Ticket, please," a porter said, the words whistling through a gap between his front teeth.  Tom studied the man's face, hoping he would be a friend on the trip.

 

        "I'll take that, sir," the porter said, reaching for Tom’s suitcase and leading the way up into the car.  They pushed inside through a door marked Sherwood Manor, passed some tiny roomettes, then walked along a corridor with a row of blue doors.

 

        "What's in there?" Tom asked the porter.

 

        "Bedrooms," he answered, "for folks with money.”

 

        Around a bend they came to seats facing each other in pairs.  The porter shoved Tom's suitcase under a seat.

 

        "This is your place," he said.  "When we leave Winnipeg, I'll pull these two seats together and make them into a bed.  Have a pleasant journey, Mr. Austen."

 

        Tom smiled at the porter, then looked across the aisle at a man and woman who sat in another pair of seats.

 

        "Hello, young fellow," said the man, whose thumbs were hooked inside wide suspenders, "where you bound?"

 

        "British Columbia.  I'm going to spend the summer with my grandparents."

 

        The woman held out a large tin.  "Have one of my cookies?" she asked, smiling at Tom.

 

        "Yes, please."

 

        "Your friend ate four."

 

        "My friend?"

 

        "The boy you're travelling with." She pointed under Tom's seat.  "There's his suitcase, beside yours."

 

        "Oh no," Tom whispered to himself, afraid to look.  He knelt down beside the suitcase, and shuddered when he read the label: Dietmar Oban.

 

         The woman was beaming as Tom stood up.  "Such a nice boy," she said. "A bit thin, but my chocolate chip cookies will soon build him up."

 

         What unbelievably bad luck, trapped with Dietmar Oban!  A beautiful trip ruined, but at least he could start it by getting Dietmar for that bomb trick.  Tom turned to the woman.

 

         "Which way did the dirty rat go?" he demanded.

 

         A frown crossed the woman's face, and she firmly closed the lid of the cookie tin before saying coldly, "To the dome."

 

         "Thanks."  Tom didn't know what the dome was, but it was no use asking the woman anything more.  Seeing a door in the end of the car, he went through it, crossed a narrow platform, and pushed open a second door.  In this car people sat drinking coffee at tiny tables; beyond them, a flight of carpeted stairs led up into darkness.

 

         Up into the dome?

 

         Tom climbed up cautiously, afraid of what the darkness might hold, but he relaxed when he found two long rows of seats surrounded by huge, curved windows.  Through these windows, he could see the lights of the station and, straight above, the night sky.  Neat!

 

         And there was a bonus: Dietmar Oban was in one of the seats.  Tom tiptoed forward, slipped into the seat beside Dietmar, and grabbed his arm.

 

         "You fink," Tom hissed, "I've got you."

 

         Dietmar jumped, and turned to Tom with wide eyes.

 

        "Take it easy, Austen, it was just a joke."

 

         "I ought to rub you out," Tom said, squeezing his rival's skinny arm.

 

        “Listen, Austen, I can give you a mystery to solve."

 

        "You're lying, to save your skin."

 

        "I'm not.  Let go of my arm, and I'll tell you."

 

        Tom hesitated, gave a final squeeze that made Dietmar wince, then let him go.  A mystery was better than revenge any day.

 

        "What is it?" Tom asked.  "Shake your news and pour it out."

 

        Dietmar laughed.  "You and your detective talk, Austen.  You sound nuts."

 

        "Just give me the facts, Oban."

 

        Dietmar pointed to a man sitting across the dome car.  "See that guy?"

 

        "Yeah."  The man's grey hair and dark business suit looked ordinary enough.  "What about him?"
        "Go sit beside him, and you'll see the mystery."

        Tom got out of his seat, walked along the narrow aisle and sat beside the man.  Wanting to avoid suspicion, he yawned and stretched his arms, then pretended to fall asleep.  He counted to thirty in his head, then opened his eyes in a narrow slit: there was a handcuff on the man's wrist!
 

 

        Tom gasped, and the man turned toward him, but Tom pretended to be mumbling in his sleep and began to snore gently.  He waited for the man to relax, then opened his eyes again.  Yes, a handcuff was attached to the man's wrist, then a short chain ran to a second handcuff, which was locked to the handle of a black attache case resting on the man's lap.  Tom could see a small combination lock on the case, but there was no indication of what might be inside.

 

        Tom pretended to wake up slowly, smacking his lips and stretching his arms, then he slid out of the seat and returned to Dietmar's side.

 

         "I saw that guy come up here," Dietmar whispered, "and I figured you'd want to investigate him."
         Tom looked suspiciously at Dietmar.  "You making fun of me?"

 

         "No, I mean it. I know you want to solve crimes when you grow up.  What is it you want to be?"
         "A gumshoe.  That's a detective, like the Hardy Boys."

 

         "Well, gumboot, now you've got a real puzzle on your hands."

 

         Tom shot a dirty look at Dietmar.  The most sarcastic kid in Queenston School, and here he was sharing Tom's train trip.  Still, he had found a good mystery to solve.

 

         "You know what I figure?" Tom whispered.

 

         "What?"

 

         "That guy's a jewel thief."

 

         Dietmar leaned forward to study the man.  "I think you're right.  He looks just like a thief I saw on a TV mystery."

 

         "He's got his tools in that attache case.  A skeleton key for opening bedroom doors and a blowtorch to open safes.  He's got the case handcuffed to his wrist so no one can open it accidentally and find out he's a thief."

 

         "What are you going to do?"

 

         "Keep him under surveillance.  He may be planning to rob some rich people during the trip."
         Music had been flowing like thick syrup from a speaker in the front of the dome car.  Now it stopped, and a man's voice came out: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  The Canadian is ready to depart.  We hope you enjoy your journey.”  More music, then the car shook as the big diesel engine started forward.

 

         “Look,” Tom said, pointing through a window at the front of the dome, “you can see the whole train.”

 

         Both boys stood up to get a better view along the backs of the stainless steel cars to the engine, which sent spurts of exhaust smoke into the air as it strained against the tremendous weight of the train.  Slowly, slowly, The Canadian rolled forward and then began to pick up speed.

 

         Ahead, signal lights flashed from green to red as the engine rumbled past, its steel wheels banging through a series of switches; to each side, rows of boxcars stood in black lines, beyond them the lights of the city.  Tom and Dietmar remained on their feet, looking out the big windows, until the train left Winnipeg behind and slipped into the vast darkness of the prairie.

 

         Tom trembled.  “It’s so black out here,” he whispered.  “It’s creepy.”

 

         Dietmar laughed.  “The great detective, afraid of the dark.”

         Tom blushed, and was about to slug Dietmar, when something strange caught his eye.  The mysterious man, hearing Dietmar say “detective,” had turned in their direction and now his eyes were staring at Tom.  Then, suddenly, he swung out of his seat and quickly left the dome, the chain at his wrist clinking softly as he passed the two boys.
 
 
 

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MURDER ON THE CANADIAN.Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton Wilson
All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in
any manner whatsoever without prior written permission except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
 

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