Serial Saturday: Nightmare Engine of Doom Part 16 – Unfortunate Accusations

The porter’s announcement caused quite a stir in the club car, distracting most of the patrons from the sight of Enzo standing there holding a bottle upside down in his fist while its contents gurgled slowly out. I kept my attention fixed on him, though, watching him wrestle with the decision of whether to smash the bottle and come at me despite the new witnesses.

It was a woman rather unnecessarily and theatrically swooning at the table nearby that decided him, I think, for as she hit the ground he caught the sight of some exposed ankle out of the corner of his eye.

“Stand back!” he shouted, righting the bottle and setting it down before kneeling next to her. “Give her some air! I’ll loosen her corset.”

The woman came out of her faint with admirable alacrity, before Enzo could even begin fumbling at her clothes, sitting up suddenly enough to throw him back to sit heavily on the floor.

“By gad, sir!” shouted another patron, a heavy-set man with a bristly mustache. “What is this about murder?”

“We’ve found a corpse in the baggage car,” said the unarmed porter, shooting his companion a glare, “but it may be an accident, or simply a death by natural causes.”

The porter holding the pistol gave the other porter a disbelieving look, which I well understood, recalling the scene as we’d left it.

“Is there a doctor in the car?” asked the unarmed porter.

“A bit late for that, isn’t it?” Enzo asked, picking himself up off the floor.

“I am a doctor,” said a distinguished-looking, but bleary-eyed man sitting behind a glass of whiskey at the bar.

“I mean, if nothing else, maybe you start with asking about the doctor, not bursting in shrieking about murder, ease us into it, like,” Enzo continued. “You scared the women.” He gestured to where the woman had fainted, but she had already vacated the car, possibly because of the shocking turn of events but more likely to get away from Enzo.

The doctor tossed back his whiskey and stood. “Take me to the corpse,” he said to the porters. The three turned and left, and the rest of us in the car hunched over tables with our drinks, discussing events. As men will do in such situations, the others in the car began speculating as to the nature of the death, despite the dearth of information any of us (apart from Enzo and myself, of course), had. For some reason, Enzo encouraged this wild speculation, putting forth progressively stranger and stranger theories about how a man might come to be dead in the baggage car. He had just begun muttering darkly about the likely involvement of Presbyterians, causing the gathered men to nod and scowl at this perfidy as they drank, when the doctor returned.

He crossed immediately to the bar and ordered another whiskey, and had taken a sip before he seemed to feel the gaze of everyone in the room.

“What can you tell us, Doctor?” asked the heavy-set man.

The doctor took another sip of whiskey. “Well, I shouldn’t say anything. Patient confidentiality, you know. But I suppose the patient in this case is dead, and at any rate I should set everyone’s mind at ease. It was not murder, you see.”

“What was it, then?” asked the heavy-set man.

The doctor looked around in a conspiratorial fashion, then moved closer to the table where we were all gathered. “It is rather tawdry and shocking, I’m afraid,” he said, causing everyone to lean closer. “Have any of you ever heard of autoerotic asphyxiation?”

Enzo guffawed loudly, causing the doctor to glare at him over his spectacles. “I fail to see anything amusing about it,” he said.

Enzo blinked. “Well, you don’t have much of a bloody sense of humor, then. Funniest damn thing I’ve heard all day.”

“Dammit, Doctor, what are you talking about?” asked the heavy-set man. The doctor briefly outlined the mechanics of autoerotic asphyxiation, rather put off by Enzo’s frequent giggles I thought, and why he had assumed it to be the cause of death when he’d found Xavier sprawled amongst the luggage, strangled with a garter belt.

“And it all fits,” he said, leaning in closer and shooting a glare at the snickering Enzo. “One of the porters told me that earlier this very night someone burst into a ladies sleeping compartment and flailed about trying to molest them until they managed to drive him out. No doubt it was the same man, desperate for some outlet to his perversions when the first was denied him.”

This announcement caused a great deal of exclamations of righteous indignation. The doctor took a sip of his drink. “And the man was apparently armed, but dropped his revolver in the sleeping compartment. Fortunate for the ladies, I’m sure. It was that very pistol that the porter was carrying, you know.”

More grumbling and exclamations followed this announcement, and as it died down I noticed Enzo eyeing me with an irritating smile. “Well, all’s well that ends well,” he said. “An appropriately ignominious death for such a pathetic creature.”

“Hear hear,” someone shouted, and soon we were all drinking to Xavier’s death.

“I wonder who it was?” someone asked at last.

“We’ll know soon enough,” the doctor said. “The porters tell me that they intend to stop the train at the first opportunity, and turn the revolver over to the police. They’ll use that to trace the identity of the miscreant.”

Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on January 28, 2012.