Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 10

Odd, the things that strike you when you’re being throttled. As Mr Horse’s windpipe was being constricted, he had had the sudden thought: “It’s after ten o’clock in the evening. Where is the boy, Wally?” Not in bed. There had been a number of mattresses on the floor of that tenement bedroom where they laid out the sleeping giant – but the other mattresses had been unoccupied. In any event, given the loud melee that ensued, surely a mischievous eleven year-old boy like Wally would have attended – from wherever he was in the house – to watch the scuffle?

Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway. Illustration: Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane

It’s not too cold tonight, might as well sit at the foot of the stairs and wait. Maybe the lad will turn up...

*****

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Advocates Library never closes. The lamps are lit for Advocates all day and all night. Every single day of the year.

Frustrated by his failure to speak to either of the John Wilsons that day, Kane had repaired to the Library, just around the corner from the Police Office attached to St Giles Kirk.

After 10 o’clock now. Very few Faculty Servants on call to take his coat, hat and cane, but still ample (if stewed) tea in the pot in the Reading Room.

Kane sat down on a leather easy chair, reached into his bag and produced the papers from the Johnny Campbell case. He laid them out on the table before him. And of course the envelope that Dr Stanton had given him. In his haste to get to the Police Office at a reasonable hour to find (an elusive) PC Wilson, Kane had stuffed the envelope into his bag and had bid Stanton a hasty farewell.

The envelope was used and stained, and smelled of the same bleach and sweet decay of the dead-room (Kane decided not to dwell upon the possible nature of the staining). He ripped open the top of the envelope and shook out its contents. Two calling cards fell out of the envelope and onto the table. Kane picked up the first one. It read: “Jonathan Shepherd, Director, North British Railway Company”. The card had the address of an Edinburgh office. Kane picked up the second card: “John Malcolm, Senior Partner, Malcolm and Company, Edinburgh” with an address in the Edinburgh New Town. John Malcom, it was well-known, was an established solicitor for the great and good in Edinburgh and the keeper of many, many secrets for the old Edinburgh families. Kane had had brief – and not entirely pleasant – dealings with Malcolm during the case of the so-called “Parlour Maid Murderer”. It was not an association that he was anxious to repeat. But here was the question: if the boy’s death had truly been his own fault, then why were a company director and one of Edinburgh’s most high-profile solicitors so keen to examine the body?

*****

Mr Horse did not own a time-piece, but if the nearby church bell could be trusted, it was just after 10.30 in the evening when young Wally Johnson entered the common stair. Horse had never seen the boy and did not know what he looked like, but what were the odds that it would be a different eleven year-old coming home at that hour? Horse wasted no time and called out: “Wally?”

Horse had been sitting in the gloom of the stair and the boy had not seen him at first. Wallace Johnson was startled for a moment, then peered through the darkness and replied: “What?”

Horse responded: “And what time do you call this, then, son?”

The boy, gangly, assured, with the air of someone much older than his years, answered: “I don’t see what business it is of yours, whoever you are. Just get out my way, mister, or I’ll get my da to kick your arse.”

The reality of this prospect was not lost to Horse, and so the spinning began: “Who do you think sent me down here, Wallace?”

The boy was quizzical and cocked his head to one side. Horse rattled on:

“Your father – my good mate, Jocky – told me to wait down here for you, son...”

“What for?”

“He got pie-eyed and he’s lost his hat, he has. He says he wants you to go and get it.”

The boy laughed: “If he knows where it is, then he can go and get it himself..”

Horse assumed an eminently reasonable voice: “Ah – but that’s the thing. He can’t. He’s likely left it at The Doric, son.”

The boy gave a sly smile. He knew that the simple mention of that location had caused a great deal of heated discussion in the Johnson household. Horse continued: “So he asked me to wait down here to tell you to go to The Doric to get the hat back. You know, before your mother – Jessie – finds out that it’s missing.”

Wallace Johnson stood, considering the information, then: “The Doric. Will it no’ be shut now, sir?”

“I know the barmaids, son. They’ll still be cleaning up. Come on – I’ll chum you down...”

*****

“Mr Kane? Mr Kane, sir?”

Kane hadn’t realised it, but he had fallen asleep in the Advocates Reading Room. Long day. He was gradually aware of a gentle shaking of his shoulders. One of the Faculty Servants was trying to rouse him. He awoke with a very dry mouth: “Apologies, I was just...ah...just resting my eyes...”

The Faculty Servant nodded: “Of course, sir.”

Kane looked around: “I’m sorry, was I snoring?”

“No, sir. You have a visitor.”

A visitor? At this time? Kane looked at the long-case clock that sat against the wall. It was a quarter to eleven in the evening. A visitor? To Parliament House at that time?

“Who is it?”

“I didn’t ask, sir. I think that he’s a law agent. He asked if I could place something in your box, sir, and I happened to mention that I thought you were here in the Reading Room.”

“Where is he?”

“In the Hall, sir. I telt him to wait at the statue.”