On repeating his question – “I wish to speak to Constable Wilson. I do not know his Christian name...” – they began to chortle, none too subtly (and up their blue serge sleeves).
The police sergeant resolved the issue: “Begging your pardon, sir, but asking for a PC Wilson in this office...you’re as well going to Dublin and asking if there’s anybody there called “Murphy’...”
Kane shook his head. He did not quite understand. The sergeant continued: “We have seven PC Wilsons here, sir: Angus Wilson, Barnaby Wilson, John Wilson Senior, John Wilson Junior, John D Wilson (no relation to either Senior or Junior) Charlie Wilson and Hamish MacLean...”
“‘...known as ‘Wilson’, sir. Now – which one would you like to speak to?”
Mr Horse had been throttled before, but – it struck him there, as he was struggling for breath in the Johnson’s sitting room – never with such ease.
Jocky Johnson stood, one hand on Horse’s throat, lifting Horse off the ground, so that the inquisitive visitor had to stand on his tip-toes. The giant was stooped over Horse now, his nose almost touching Horse’s face and Horse could smell the rancid breath of Johnson’s consumption of that day’s beer and gin.
The giant was angry: “So what’s this with you poking in that neb of yours, eh? Who sent you? I’ll crush yer heid like a grape...”
Jessie Johnson joined in: “He was here tae snoop, Jocky. Askin’ a’ kinds of questions about the boy...”
The giant stared into Horse’s (increasingly blue) face: “The boy? What has he done noo? Are ye fae the polis...?”
Horse attempted to answer these various questions, but this was proving somewhat difficult with a constricted windpipe: “I...I...”
Jocky Johnson let Horse drop to the floor and stood over him, waiting for a response.
Horse rubbed his neck, breathed in and out for a moment – to see if the windpipe was still working – then began to answer (in a slightly hoarse voice): “What is the matter with you, Jocky? One minute, I’m buying you drinks down at the Doric, the next minute you’re trying to kill me...”
Jessie Jones, on hearing this location named again, turned her wrath against her mountainous husband: “Aye! The Doric? The Doric??? I’ve telt you never to go back there. Thone barmaids...I’m telling ye...thone…thone dollymops!”
Horse saw his chance: “I assure you madam, your husband was the soul of restraint when it came to Isabel and Rosie (“Isabel” and “Rosie” , the barmaids, had been – at various times – no strangers to the closing-time charms of Mr Horse in that same Doric Tavern).
Jocky Johnson’s head was empty of words but he seized on Horse’s account to douse the flames of his wife’s volcanic ire. He pointed to Horse lying on the floor: “Ye see! He was there! There was nothing in it, hen. Nothing...”
Horse saw his opportunity. He got up from the floor and brushed himself down. “Well thank you very much for a nice cup of tea, madam, but I’ll be square with you, next time I see your husband in the pub getting scammered, I’ll let him get hisself home...”
Both the giant Johnson and his wife seemed chastened by this apparent rebuff and said nothing for a moment.
Time to go
“...so, if you’ll excuse me...”. And with a conspicuous exhibition of faux indignation, Horse drew himself up to his full height, gave the husband and wife a short bow, walked out of the sitting room, into the hall, opened the front door, walked into the landing – and then ran down the stairs.
Had Horse not been in such a rush to vacate the tenement, then he would have heard a frail voice behind a door on the top landing asking: “Is that you, Patrick?”
The desk sergeant was confused, but – for the time being, at least – remained polite with Kane: “So, sir, you’re looking for an officer called ‘Wilson” but ye dinnae ken whit one?”
Kane gave a feeble laugh: “I apologise for the apparent confusion on my part, sergeant. I had not expected such a plethora of namesakes in the building...”
The sergeant looked annoyed now – Kane’s last sentence was a little too rich for his understanding. He leaned forward across the raised desk and stared at Kane below: “Maybe you should come back another time, sir, when you ken what you’re on aboot.” He indicated all around himself: “As you can see, sir – we’ve got work to do here.”
Kane thought for a moment, then: “I apologise, sergeant. It concerns the child who fell from a train carriage. On the Edinburgh Dalkeith line..”
The sergeant thought for a moment: “On the Innocent Railway?”
“That’s the one sir.”
The police sergeant laughed to himself: “You’ll have a job finding that officer sir – weans are aye falling off those trains...”
“But this one was killed.”
“He’ll no’ be the first...”
It struck Kane at that moment, that the more that he learned about ‘The Innocent Railway’, the less ‘Innocent’ it seemed to become.
The sergeant asked: “When did it happen? The death?”
“Last week. The boy was eleven.”
The police sergeant looked behind himself and started to shout towards the door at the rear: “Angus! Angus – get out here!”
At that point, PC Angus Wilson popped his head out of the door: “Sergeant?”
“That bairn that died on the Innocent Railway...”
“The one last week – was that on your watch?”
PC Wilson shook his head: “No – I mind that. It was John and John. They took the wean’s body to the infirmary.”
The sergeant turned back to Kane: “So, sir – you’re looking for John Wilson Senior and John Wilson Junior.”
“Thank you. Now – can I speak to them?”
The sergeant shook his head: “No, sir.””
Kane raised his eyebrows: “And may I ask why ever not?”
“It’s their day off, sir. Back tomorrow.” The desk sergeant studied the sheet before him: “John Junior will be here first thing tomorrow from seven, and his father starts at two. Do you want to leave your card?”
'Edward Kane and the Innocent Railway' continues in The Scotsman on Monday