The Woman On The Platform

a story
violencestrong language
2018-10-10 15:44:28,
2021-03-16 18:13:33
show more info


There was something missing.

Arthur Grimwall stared at the blackboard until the words blurred themselves into a single haze of chalk. Frustrated with himself, he felt each chirp of the clock’s hands pulsing in his temples, urging him to think, think! Every minute he wasted away in front of this board was another minute a murderer walked free through the streets of Argenstrath.

"If I’d just had more time at the morgue...” he muttered to himself, “I'm sure I'm missing something…Harriet, where's my chalk?"

When his secretary didn't respond, he glanced over to the empty desk.

"Detective," the Captain's gruff voice chimed in from the not-so-empty doorway of Grimwall’s office.

"Where is Harriet?" Grimwall asked, forgoing a formal greeting.

"She resigned. That was three weeks ago, Arthur."

Grimwall had known Captain Hadleigh since they were bobbies together many years ago, and Grimwall knew before his friend even uttered a syllable that the coming conversation would not bring good news.

"How's it going?" the Captain asked, gesturing to the board.

Grimwall’s heavy sight was enough of a response.

"The press is getting restless. People want answers, Arthur. They don't feel safe in their homes. Did you interview the nurse again?"

Grimwall waved a dismissive hand at the thought, "I can't waste my time with that, what I do need is for you to tell the Chief of Medicine at the hospital to let me use the facilities after-hours. If I-"

"The murder weapon was found in the nurse’s home, she has no alibi. How could that possibly be a waste of time?”

“I already told you it’s not the nurse. She’s too poor.” 

“Couldn’t that be motive?”

“That’s not what the victim’s body told me. The killer used poison from the desert scorpion, not exactly something easy to access in this large a dose.”

The Captain raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have time for this. All we need is a confession and --"

“Anyone can confess to a murder, Charles. Maybe they truly committed it… or maybe the interrogating officer just said the right words, salted the right wounds. But a corpse doesn't have pressure points, it can't be can’t lie.”

Captain Hadleigh  grimaced, obviously finding the talk about cadavers distasteful.  "Look, I'm getting a lot of heat from above to get this thing wrapped. I know you have all your queer experiments -- and truly, you know I find them amazing, Arthur -- but now is not the time for them! If we don't end this thing and keep the bosses in Gearford happy, both of our jobs will be at stake."

"My job is to catch murderers, Charles, not to appease the Suits."

"Just get me a damn confession, Detective! And soon. I’ll have Ms. Winston hire you another secretary, if there’s a soul left in this city who will take the job!"

The nostalgic warmth Grimwall felt upon seeing his former partner evaporated swiftly with the Captain’s departure. The detective had barely turned his attention back to the board when he was interrupted by another officer, a young sergeant who was flustered and out of breath.

“Who are you?”

“Stempleton, sir. They need you at the train station. Detective. Murray found a woman on one of the platforms. Dead. She’d been there all day, sitting at one of the benches.”


Stempleton nodded.

“Very odd. Can you fetch that case over there?” Grimwall asked, gesturing to what seemed to be a large suitcase across the room. Stempleton picked it up as the Detective rushed passed him.

“Good,” Grimwall shouted, “Bring it along.”

“But, I’m just a--”

“And be careful not to drop that, Stevenson, it’s expensive!”

It was well known among the officers of the Argenstrath Police that Arthur Grimwall was a great detective -- great enough to forge his own department in Argenstrath, the first of it’s kind dealing exclusively in homicides -- but it was equally well known that he was an unpleasant and peculiar man to work with. Detective Grimwall had a lengthy procedure which he required any first-responding officers on a murder scene to follow meticulously. A failure to comply meant a month of  walking overnight beats in Dune at best and at worst an opportunity for early retirement. 

Constable Ashford was no stranger to Grimwall’s particular methodology, and while he didn’t necessarily understand it, Ashford had plenty of practice over the last several months to perfect the routine. It was particularly difficult this time, mid-day at the train station when people were beginning to get curious. Ashford was thankful to finally see the black police carriage arrive.

Grimwall was one of the few detectives left on the force from before the Revolution. Approaching his mid-forties, he hid his thinning hair under a bowler hat almost as well-worn as the lines on his face that gave him his ever-present, disapproving frown. Grimwall was grave-faced as ever as he approached Ashford with  a nervous bobby in tow.

“Over here, Detective,” Ashford said and led them both away from the restrained crowd of construction men to an empty platform. It was one of the oldest platforms at the station, and only two days prior had been closed down for refurbishing. “We’d better hurry before the sun gets too high.”

Grimwall scanned the scene: there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about the old platform except for the presence of a steam shovel on the tracks instead of a train. No damage, no signs of violence. It was completely deserted except for the three officers and a woman, who sat perfectly still at a bench a few yards away.

“Excellent posture,” he noted with a smirk, and ignored the uncomfortable look the two younger officers exchanged. He turned to the bobby carrying the large case. “Ashford, has anything been moved?”

“No, sir.”

“And you’ve made sure nobody has touched the body?”

“Not a soul since I arrived, sir.”

“Good. And --”

“I’ve already begun a list of men working construction on this platform, and all guards and station workers who have been on the premises in the last thirty-six hours. Shall I give it to Detective Murray?”

“Yes, thank you,” Grimwall said. “Good work, Ashford.”

Ashford nodded, grateful for the dismissal. He felt pride in the Detective’s appraisal, but he wasn’t keen on a career dealing with the dead. 

Grimwall turned his attention back to the bobby who was accompanying him. “Can you set up that camera, Simpson?”

“It’s Stempleton, sir. And yes, sir, I believe I can fig--”

“This is time sensitive, son.”

If the Sergeant said anything further, Grimwall did not hear him over the rushing of blood in his ears as his focus tunneled in on the wooden bench and the woman: just over five feet tall, average build, her posture immaculate except for her head slumped over, as though she were looking down to read something. She could have been sleeping, had her lips not been a pale blue beneath red lipstick and her eyes not been open and glossed over. No blood, no obvious wounds of any kind. Her dress was the muted grey-blue and well-worn, mended along the cuffs several times with different kinds of thread. There were black smudges -- ink --  on the tip of of her right ring finger and along the edge of the same hand. Her hat and shoes -- the right shoe had a smudge of chalk-like substance on the back -- were a similar grey-blue, both also well worn. Her scarf, however, was brand new, made of bright red silk and she wore powder on her face as well as color on her cheeks and lips, conflicting with her otherwise unassuming attire.

Though the powder hid it well, there were was purple bruising under her eyes.

There was suitcase on the ground next to the bench, her right hand resting on it, as though she were simply waiting for the train and suddenly decided to cease living. But why would she wait on a closed platform -- she wouldn’t, of course, somebody put her here after-- 

“Grimwall!” a shout from Detective Murray shattered Grimwall’s concentration. With a frustrated sigh, he abandoned his examination.

“I need you to take photographs of this body, every angle, anything you can see that may be of interest. Do not -- under any circumstances-- touch anything,” Grimwall ordered the bobby, who had just finished putting the camera together.  He looked unsure, but nodded and hung the camera strap around his neck.

Detective Murray stood several yards from the scene with a weary-looking man in dusty coveralls. Grimwall approached the men, frowning forcefully with the hope that his annoyance would etch itself into his features as severely as he felt it. Murray ignored his colleague’s foul mood as he introduced him to the short, stocky man who couldn’t stop looking at the woman seated at the platform.

“Roy Sanders. He’s the foreman for the crew refurbishing this platform. He was the last person on site last night.”

“I see,” said Grimwall. “And there was nobody else with you?”

“Yes, sir,” Sanders said. “Jus’ one of my mechanics. He stayed late tryin’ to fix our steam shovel. The rest o’ my men left about an hour before sunset. Platform’s been closed off to the public for days now, nobody’s down here last night ‘cept us, I’m sure of it. Not by the time we left a’least.”

“So nobody saw you leave the platform?”

“No, sir. Met the cab driver up at the front of the station.”

“And were you the one to discover the woman?”

Sanders nodded his head, “I's the first one to show up to the site, always am.”

“Can anyone confirm the cab you ordered?” Murray asked.

“I don’t know. Look, Detective, I got a family, I’m not in the business o --”

“It won’t be necessary,Sanders,” said Grimwall. “I don’t think you are responsible.”

Sanders looked relieved and Murray both confused and annoyed.

“I will contact you if I have further questions. Leave your name and address with Ashford just in case,” Grimwall dismissed the foreman, who gratefully left the scene.

“With all due respect, Detective, The procedure manual dictates that we thoroughly and in a timely fashion question all--”

“When that manual actually catches a murderer, maybe I’ll listen to what it has to say,” Grimwall grumbled as he turned back to the crime scene, “until then I’ve got work to do.”

Detective Grimwall didn’t have to look at Murray to feel the anger that the young detective was exuding. He didn’t have time to answer tedious questions, though. It would be mid-day soon, and he needed as much time in the morgue as he could get.