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  • Jennifer Mueller

Free Read! One Ticket to Murder Australia 1931


Celia Croft ran to catch the train as it pulled out of the station. She was late again. Always late to work, but that was work. Celia had always expected to be early when she had to be nowhere in particular other than on vacation. The rail car was in chaos as everyone headed to Kuranda for the holiday. Every compartment was full as she made her way down the aisle, her first class ticket a rare treat. Finally the very last one had a few seats free across from a young couple. She, dressed in a fur coat that alone cost more than a month's wages. With Kuranda a famed honeymoon spot, it didn't leave much doubt as to why they were making the trip.

"Sorry to intrude, but this is the last one with room."

The woman blushed at being caught kissing and tried to wave off the imposition. "No. . . No problem at all," she said with a voice as smooth as slow poured molasses.

"Are you from around here?" The man asked in a valiant attempt at taking the focus off his blushing companion.

Celia was busy putting her bag up over the seat though. "Hmm. I work in the office at one of the gold mines."

"We're up from Brisbane, been on the train for two days already. Honeymoon."

"Never would have noticed," Celia replied and the man grinned at her, wide.

"I'm George Barbour and this is my wife Linda," he smiled over at Linda with the mere mention of the word wife. Ah, young love.

"Celia Croft." she announced.

"We'll go get a drink in the bar car. Let you get situated in peace. We've left the station. There shouldn't be too many more looking for seats."

And with that she was alone, a whole first class compartment to herself. Celia spent her nights crowded in a flat with two other secretaries from the mine. With few roads, even 90 minutes away to Kuranda was a luxury.

After the short stop at Freshwater, George and Linda returned to find Celia sleeping, a sorry state of affairs that a train was quieter than her flat. Opening her eyes at the noise, she caught them kissing again. Rising, Celia pulled down her bag and found the book she was reading. There was a jolt as the train began climbing the hills at Redlynch heading for the rainforest at Kuranda, knocking Celia backwards as she was putting her bag back in the overhead compartment. Her bag, as well as Linda's, toppled to the floor. Linda's bag exploded, the compartment covered with clothes. Celia quickly put her bag up and bent to help clean up.

"George, where is it?" Linda screeched.

"Where's what, darling?"

"The necklace your father gave me." George's face turned white as a sheet. "I had it wrapped in my new dress so it wouldn't get lost. Right here in the pocket." Fine silk had unfurled at their feet, so fine the weight of a fly would mar the line of the pocket.

Regardless of the worth of the clothes, they tore through the pile tossing silk in the case willy-nilly. With the floor clear, nothing revealed itself. On hands and knees, George crawled to the farthest searching corner under the seats.

He was pale as a sheet. "It's not here. You're sure it was in that dress pocket?"

"Yes, of course, George. I was going to wear it at the hotel with this dress," Linda cried as she pulled down her other bag ransacking it for some sign of her necklace. Her tears answer enough.

George rushed out of the compartment grabbing an attendant flying past. Linda chewed on a perfectly manicured nail as she watched George gesticulating wildly. After a moment he stood there, jaw gaping. Celia rushed out following Linda.

"George, what's wrong?"

"They . . . They just found a man dead, two compartments down."

Linda put her hands to her mouth. "That poor man. Going on vacation and to just drop dead."

"No, he was stabbed," George blurted out.

Not wanting to do it, but unable to resist, they made their way down the aisle. At an earlier stop, a handful of people had departed, leaving the train somewhat emptier. The Conductor leaned over a man in a brown suit, blood all over the floor.

"No one saw anything?" Celia asked. "The compartments were absolutely full when I came on board."

The Conductor shook his head slowly. "Many headed to the grandstand car just after we left. I found him when I came back by. He was here by himself, alive, just before we left."

Celia found herself mesmerized that it had happened at all. She had seen a few accidents while working at the mine, but to see a man killed on purpose. Then she saw it, clutched in his hand, something sparkled as the train jostled in the sun. "What's that in his hand?" It couldn't be as easy as that could it? A necklace stolen and a dead man with it in his possession.

Linda gasped as the Conductor opened the man's hand. There was a diamond and emerald brooch. "That's part of my necklace that's missing! Emerald and diamond Art Deco, my father-in-law gave it to me at our wedding."

"Then that's one mystery solved," the Conductor announced.

Linda stood her full 5'3. "No, this is the slide on the necklace. The choker itself was made up of emeralds banded with diamonds. You could take that part off for a brooch and the necklace came apart into two bracelets. That trinket is nothing compared to the cost of the necklace itself."

"Forgive my language but damn." The Conductor rasped. "We get to Kuranda station in an hour. After that they could vanish into thin air."

The Conductor handed over the brooch piece and George took Linda back to their compartment, out of sight of the dead man. The sounds of her sobbing filled the car.

"The killer couldn't have gotten off in Freshwater, could he?" Celia muttered.

"No miss, he was alive when we left. Fifteen tunnels and thirty-seven bridges on this stretch make it hard to jump off without killing yourself right off."

Celia tried hard not to let the idea get to her. "Then I'm sitting here with a killer?"

The Conductor sat back on his heels finally looking away from the body. "Well yes, I suppose that would be the case."

"You said everyone went to the grandstand car?"

"Yes, miss."

Celia never was one to sit around while things turned to mayhem. "Then I'll go see what I can find."

"Miss! I can't let you do that."

"But you said yourself that when we get to Kuranda and the train empties, the person could just walk away. The dead man stole out of my compartment. There isn't room for me to move elsewhere. Do you expect me to go sit here while the man that killed him maybe tries again?"

The Conductor rasped out a sigh. "Be careful then. It's not like I can really stop you."

Celia made her way to the grandstand car just as they went over a bridge. She tried not to think of the fact that she was dozens of feet off the ground held up by nothing more than twigs. She could have done without the Conductor mentioning all the bridges; her fear of heights didn't like hearing that. The grandstand car was filled with two rows of seats facing the windows giving grand views of the rainforest as they sped closer toward Barron Falls and Kuranda. Every seat was filled, everyone in their best, rich and poor alike.

"Here miss, you can have my seat." A man announced starting to stand. It was obvious he was working class. His clothes might have been nice but no one that had much money spoke the way he did.

"No, I'm fine." Fine as long as she could turn away if they went over another bridge.

He smiled at her. "Sure is hot weather were having, isn't it?"

"I know. I can't believe that my compartment mate insists on wearing her fur coat just to show off."

For a moment he sat back and looked at her. "I know you, don't I? You work in the office at the mine."

"Sure do."

"Daniel Fielding."

"Celia Croft."

Daniel looked between the door and her for a time. "Is it true there was a murder on the train?"

At the mention of murder people in car turned toward her. "Two compartments down from mine, yes. A man was stabbed."

"Any idea why?" a stranger asked.

"Part of a stolen necklace was found with him. Other than that who knows."

"Theft, as well as murder! The attendant hadn't mentioned that." A woman cooed with delight, American by the sound of it. "I never would have guessed that such a short little train ride would be so exciting. Did you see the body?"

"Alice, stop."

"What compartment?" another woman asked.

Celia turned to face her. "Hmm, I'm in 10 so it must have been 8." Several gasped.

"Mattie, it's that man that joined us. He didn't want to come with us here to see the views," came a man's voice from the far end. His family numbered five if the kids at the window were true to coloring that matched the man.

Celia would have sworn the grandstand car emptied in an instant with people rushing to gawk, the American woman especially. The family stayed and Celia fought her fear of looking out the window and headed over to them.

"Do you know his name?"

"Randall, stop that," Mattie called. "What, oh the dead man? I think he said it was Gerald Barraclough. What did he say he did again, Carl? Oh right, he had just returned from America or England, never said what he did. Nervous fellow. Randall, I'm warning you, stop it this instant."

"Nervous?"

Mattie screeched another warning but did nothing to back it up. "Always looking out in the hall, eyed the children like they were ready to steal the shoes right off his feet. We should be reaching Barron Falls soon, the children are anxious to see it. They'll calm down then."

"I don't think you can see it from the train," Daniel replied and the children moaned their disappointment. The moans were soon drowned out as the others returned.

"They refused to let us see," the American woman announced dejected.

"She means they moved the body. There was nothing left to see," her husband added.

"I suppose I should head back to my compartment now, seeing it's full here."

"I said you could have my seat," Daniel offered starting to rise.

Celia let a wry grin form. "I'm afraid I'm rather scared of heights. With all those windows it's more than I can take when we go over the bridges. I'll just pray I can get back between cars when there's solid ground beneath me."

As the train pulled into the Barron Falls station, Celia could see attendants looking out on each side of the tracks to see if anyone was departing. No one wanted a killer running free. At Kuranda the killer could get off the train and never be found. Celia didn't really want a killer running free on the train either. She liked not getting killed herself.

The Barbours were kissing of course when she opened the door to compartment 10.

"Oh, we thought you would stay in the grandstand car until we reached Kuranda," George stammered, both of them blushing this time.

There was only one option, to lie. "Too much talk of murder. Thought I would get packed up ahead of time so I don't miss seeing anything. I don't get many vacations."

The Barbours were busy whispering in each others ear, as she gathered her coat, purse, book and such. When the train pulled to a stop, only 90 minutes had passed since they had left Cairns and now a man was dead. But she was still on vacation alone. Taking her bag, Celia followed the Barbours down the hall to the door off the train. Packed in like cattle, they were stopped as the police stood on the platform. Sweat was already starting to slid down her back, and there was Linda Barbour wearing a fur coat. Why would someone wear a fur coat in a rainforest? Why would someone wear a coat at all . . . it was summer and the wet season. Even the snooty American who seemed richer than sin wouldn't show off like that if it meant sweating through her expensive clothes. Then Celia saw the Conductor rasping his goodbyes to each passenger as they disembarked. The Barbours were on the platform and a line of people behind her.

"Good day to you, miss. No trouble befell your curiosity, I see."

"What if the man killed was the owner of the necklace?" Celia hissed quietly.

"What?"

"Check out the Barbours please. Ever since we left, she's been wearing a fur coat and it has to be 95 degrees out. Why would you wear a fur coat?"

The Conductor's massive white eyebrows knit in the middle. Suddenly he looked up at her. "I never even thought of it. There was a telegram in Cairns about thefts all along the line to Brisbane. You'd wear a fur coat if you were hiding that it wasn't yours. It wouldn't fit in your bags." He rushed off and the crowd of policemen kept her from leaving the train. She was front row to see an emerald and diamond necklace being pulled from an inside pocket of that fur coat. It wasn't the only thing either. Jewelry emerged from all sorts of pockets.

"Are you here alone?"

On the platform, Celia spun around. She hadn't heard anyone come up to her in all the commotion of the Barbours being arrested. It was Daniel. "Yes."

"I thought you might like to go see the falls together. I always hate seeing the sights alone."

Celia smiled. Her holiday might not turn out so bad after all. "I would love to. But only if you join me for dinner after. I hate eating alone."

#writing #fiction #australia #freeread

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