Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway - Chapter 7

Police Surgeon, Dr Alastair Stanton, stood drying his hands with a rough cotton rag.

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

“Mr Kane – you must forgive me, I was not expecting you...”

Kane stood there, hat and walking stick in hand. Horse had been right. There was something that didn’t quite add up about this case. Kane had been walking back to Parliament House, but then the idea had come to him in a flash. Thus, he had decided to pay an impromptu visit to the Police Surgeon.

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“I am sorry to inconvenience you, Dr Stanton...”

The cheerful Police Surgeon smiled: “No inconvenience whatsoever, Mr Kane. As you can probably divine from the ‘rigorous’ washing of the hands, my present task is to ascertain the cause of death of the body in the next room. The word ‘rigor-ous’ in that context is, of course, a pun – and thus is held to be the lowest form of wit...”

Kane forced a smile and nodded. The doctor continued:

“A lady, possibly in her mid-thirties. Initial thoughts: overdose of laudanum, Mr Kane. All too frequent these days, I regret to say. Fascinating none the less. Would you care to see the body?”

Kane’s abhorrence at the prospect manifested itself as a shuddering shake of the head.

“Quite understandable, my young friend. To each his own, I suppose. Now: you wished to speak to me?”

Kane got straight to the point: “The boy – Johnny Campbell...”

“Of course, the eleven year-old ragamuffin. What of him?”

“That is precisely it, sir. When you previously described him, I believe you used the words ‘cheeky chappie’...”

“I possibly did...”

Kane stammered somewhat now: “And how...how could you establish that from a corpse, sir?”

The doctor smiled and nodded: “You would be surprised, Mr Kane, the information available from a body, even one so young. Oftentimes it is the absence of distinguishing features that tells the story. For example, with Master Campbell, it was obvious that this was a boy who had been cosseted for a long period, most likely by his mother. The signs were fairly clear in this case: a tad over-fed, no bruising that one might associate with strenuous or sporting activity.”

Kane nodded as the doctor warmed to his theme.

“Also, the clothing tells the same story. Spectacles found in the rear pocket. One of the lenses was cracked. But the thickness of the other demonstrated that this boy had significantly poor eyesight. A little book-worm, perhaps...”

Kane interrupted: “You will forgive me, doctor, but none of this was in your report.’

Stanton nodded: “Of course not. The report was an enquiry into the cause of death. It would have been an odd report into a cause of death that narrated a pair of broken spectacles in a child’s back pocket...”

Kane nodded. Everything that the doctor said was correct, but...

“Doctor Stanton, I do not gainsay what you have told me, but – and I say this with no disrespect intended – you have not answered my question, sir”

At this, the doctor began to laugh: “Oh, Mr Kane, I had, for a moment, forgotten your occupation. The Advocate. The lawyer who asks the penetrating question.”

Stanton himself had been called to give evidence in court many times, principally in relation to likely causes of death. He was not offended by Kane’s more direct approach.

“You are correct, sir, that I have not answered your question. How did I know that the lad was a rapscallion?”

Kane nodded: “That was essentially it, sir.”

“Because, Mr Kane because I was informed thus.”

“By whom doctor?”

“Well, by the police officers and railway guard who brought the boy’s body here. But what I find most curious, Mr Kane...”

“Yes?”

“Is why this boy and his fate have become so...so popular?’

Kane narrowed his eyes: “So ‘popular’, doctor?”

The doctor put the handkerchief back in his pocket: “Apologies. I assumed you knew, sir. I was visited by two gentleman this morning asking all of the very same questions that you have. If you give me a moment, I think they left their cards. I’m sure that I’ve put them in an envelope here somewhere.”

*****

Dragging a dead body up three flights of stairs is surprisingly easy. Dragging a body that is not dead, but is dead drunk the same distance is considerably harder, care bring taken not to bang that drunken head on the stone steps. This distinction was not lost on Mr Horse as he walked backwards, holding the mountainous Jocky Johnson underneath the arms and lugging the enormous, unconscious imbiber up the narrow, dark stairs of the tenement building.

Horse stopped for breath on the first floor landing, and gently laid that large body down onto the stone floor. He took the opportunity to have a proper look at his burden. A face shaved this morning by the look of it, so probably fit for work at that time. Has he wet himself? The crotch area was a darker blue than the surrounding trouser. Hands like shovels. A big, big fellow. It struck Horse that Jocky Johnson could probably carry Horse up those stairs – and under one arm, too – with greater ease than Horse was dragging Johnson now.

Another flight to go. Horse exhaled hard. Dead drunk. Dead weight. Horse walked up backwards, lugging the load. One flight to go. Step up. Step up. Step up...

And when Horse reached the top, he placed the body once more on the stone floor of the landing. He knocked on the green door.

No reply. Just the same scurrying inside as before. Horse intensified the knock. He started banging now. The door remained shut – but the black door beside it creaked open very slightly and horse could see the anxious face of the old lady who had spoken to him some minutes before. A tremulous voice: “Is that you, Patrick?”

Horse answered: “No my dear. It’s just me what was talking to you not ten minutes ago.”

The lady stared down at the sleeping body on the stone floor of the landing. “I see you found Jocky, then.”

Horse nodded: “Many thanks for your help, madam. I just needs got get him inside now.”

The old lady nodded: “Well, keep knocking. I heard Jessie not two minutes ago pulling up the pulley.” And with that, she closed the door.

Horse took that as his cue. He banged again on the door: “Jessie? Jessie? Are you in? I’ve brought Jocky home...”

Nothing for a good ten seconds. Then Horse heard the sound of a large key turn in the lock. And the door opened. And there, folding her arms, stood the unhappy figure of Jessie Johnson.