Beach Day by Rodger Bliss
December 2019
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Another Max Gaetanno Mystery

Hans Groaner walked onto the platform and scanned the length of the train.

The Orient Local had never been as classy as the Orient Express. Nowadays, it was just a decrepit piece of junk held together by spit and baling wire. It made every local stop between Paris and Istanbul and was only for the extremely patient or the extremely broke. Hans was both. As a disgraced Interpol agent, he was going nowhere and not in any particular rush to get there.

“Hello, Groaner.”

Hans glanced up to see a familiar looking conductor examining his ticket. “Don’t you recognize me?” the man asked with an evil smile. “I’m Bella Barstool. Two years ago, I was half-owner in an export firm. That was before my partner paid you to falsify records and get my export license revoked.”

“Ah, yes. Barstool.” Groaner barely remembered. “Well, it’s good to see you working again. No hard feelings?”

“Of course not,” Bella purred and ushered him onboard.

Groaner edged his way down the narrow corridor that lined the train’s private compartments. An attractive woman was just maneuvering her luggage into an empty compartment. She bore an uncanny resemblance to– Oh, no!

“Hi, Hans.”

Vera McClurg had once been on rather intimate terms with Groaner, though not entirely by choice. They met years ago when he was compiling data on international bank fraud. Vera thought it might be a good idea if he left her names out of the reports. Groaner thought it might be a good idea to spend weekends together at a Paris hotel. Everything came to an abrupt halt five years ago when Hans felt he could no longer hide Vera’s criminal behavior.

“So,” Hans stammered. “Out of prison already?”

“Good behavior,” Vera said icily and swept inside.

Before Hans could reach the sanctuary of his own compartment, there was one more old acquaintance waiting. Sir Morris Darling stood by an open corridor window, trying to decide which smelled worse, the train fumes or the train upholstery. “Why, if it isn’t Groaner?” he said, his eyes meeting Hans’.

As a con artist of the highest caliber, Sir Morris had been in the Interpol files for decades. One of Hans’ few real achievements had been to spearhead Darling’s capture and conviction. “Out on good behavior?” Hans asked weakly.

“Out on a jail break.” Hans couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

The murder was discovered by a second conductor on a lonely station just west of Venice. Detective Max Gaetanno arrived on the scene and determined the salient facts.

“We’ve narrowed down the time of death,” he said, referring to his notes. “There’s a particularly bad section of track they just passed over. Half an hour of the roughest ride you’ll ever experience on a train. It had to be sometime during this section that Hans Groaner was attacked with a savagely sharp ticket punch.”

“That’s my ticket punch,” Bella Barstool admitted. “I left my jacket hanging on a corridor hook. Someone must have lifted it from the pocket.” Bella saw their gaze drift to a gash on his right wrist. “During the time in question, I was in the toilet, having a little drink. I accidentally fell against the sink and cut myself.” The inspector checked the basin and found traces of blood.

“I was in my compartment writing,” Sir Morris said as he showed the police a neatly written five-page letter. “To my dear mother, the Countess.” An inspection of the letter proved that Morris had indeed written to his mother– a cleaning lady in Hoboken.

“I was in my compartment the entire time,” Vera testified, “doing my nails.” As she nervously stuffed her hands into the pockets of her Dior dressing gown, the inspector noticed a wet patch on her robe front. In the middle of the wet patch was a stubborn red stain that had refused to come out.

Max immediately realized that one of the three alibis was not believable. Who do you think he suspected was lying?

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2 guesses to Another Max Gaetanno Mystery

  • Sir Morris would have found it exceedingly difficult to write a letter during the roughest part of the trip.

  • Dude

    Nailed it, Jimmy Barcus.

    No one could have written a neat, five-page letter during such a bad stretch of track. Sir Morris had obviously written the letter earlier and was using it as an alibi.
    Vera’s alibi is plausible. If she had been trying to do her nails, the polish might have spilled, leaving the red stain on her robe. Plus, her manicure might have turned out so badly that she would try to hide her hands.
    There is also nothing wrong with Bella’s alibi. The gash on his wrist could easily have been caused by the train’s violent rocking. And, as he said, anyone could have taken his tool– and punched Hans Groaner’s ticket.

    Max would be proud. You are today’s winner.