By Ahmed Latif
It was a sunny day but there was nothing beautiful about it. Harold called me out to Cartwright Station just on the edge of the city, in the part of the suburbs we’re supposed to call quaint. I arrived and found this heaping mess of misery thrown into my lap; thrown by Miss Fortune herself, what a dame!
“Good Morning Frank.” The good thing about mornings was that I could still look forward to another lonely night.
“We’re at work Harold. At least do it for the civilians.”
“Sorry. Detective Cartwright.”
“Alright Officer Cartwright, let’s start with the victim.”
I followed him to the dining car on one of the fanciest trains I had ever seen; must have been one of the recent models, 1933 or 1934. I know trains; I am a train detective after all.
“This is Mrs. Mary Cartwright. She said that she was robbed when they went into the Cartwright Bridge tunnel. They took her purse when the train stalled in the tunnel.” Harold was so happy with himself; I wondered what that must feel like.
Mrs. Cartwright was a woman rapidly approaching fifty, stern-looking yet with a discernible beauty. She reminded me of a librarian a lonely teen might watch from behind his grim mystery novel.
“Mrs. Cartwright, can you please tell us the contents of the purse?” I asked in a manner as not to offend her delicate midtown sensibilities.
“Nothing, it was empty!” She said in a voice stained with years of smoking. It reminded me how much I would like to smoke right now!
“Nothing? I don’t understand Mrs. Cartwright; you told Officer Cartwright you were robbed. Robbed of what? An empty purse?”
“The purse was a family heirloom and had great sentimental value but I keep my valuables in my luggage when I travel. And they are back in the luggage car.” She sounded offended at the implication that her purse was worthless.
“Thank you for clarifying Mrs. Cartwright, Officer Cartwright will ask you a few more questions for the report.” I walked up to the next table in the sparsely filled dining car.
“What do you do Mrs. Cartwright?” Harold asked with a hint of actual interest.
“I am a legal secretary at Cartwright, Cartwright, & Cartwright.” I was wrong about the librarian.
“Is that the law firm on 34th and 87th?” I asked wondering if she worked with oily defense lawyers.
“No, it’s the one on 52nd and Cartwright.” She answered while becoming sterner by the second.
“Oh I know that one, the corporate law firm; real fancy stuff.” Harold said, intent on demonstrating his small town roots.
Harold wanted to keep talking but I pulled him and said “Where’s the engineer?”
“Right.” He said to me. “Thank you” he said to Mrs. Cartwright as he led me to the front of the dining car. He pointed out that the man dressed as the train engineer was in fact the train engineer, Ronald.
“This is Mr. Ronald Cartwright, he is the engineer. He was up in the front when the train stalled.” Harold seemed like he was introducing two friends that never met but had heard so much about each other.
“What happened Mr. Cartwright?” I asked slightly suspicious of the obese, balding, and mustachioed man.
“The engine room was about to overheat so I decided to slow us down but that didn’t help much, sir. So I decided to stop for less than a minute, not even a minute, sir. I didn’t really think about whether we were in a tunnel or not, sir. I am terribly sorry for any inconvenience or trouble this may have caused any passengers, sir.” I didn’t like him already but he wasn’t in on the mess; too stupid, too fat, too bald, and too mustachioed.
“How long have you worked on the rail?” I asked sweating him a bit, just for sport.
“Six months sir, that’s how long I have been with Cartwright Northeastern Rail. Before that I was with The Southern Cartwright Rail for seven years, sir. I left after the gold mine crash in San Cartwright, sir.”
“Hmm… A real tragedy I heard.” I said as I walked away towards the middle of the dining car while remembering the crash that caused it to rain gold in San Cartwright for two weeks. No luck involved, the gold killed everything in sight, apparently soil and plants were suffocated by the gold; I guess Mother Nature is ironic as well as cold-hearted; what a dame!
There was a woman in the very back of the dining car that caught my eye. I mean did she ever; what a dame! I started walking over; I was going to question her but for all the wrong reasons. Then we heard a shrill scream coming from the first class car. I ran past the femme fatale to see the commotion. I was flummoxed as soon I saw. Harold bumped into me from behind. It was the magnate and owner of Cartwright Corporation, Becker Cartwright and his face was buried in a bowl of soup. “What happened?”
One of the sharply dressed slightly effeminate gentlemen answered me. “We thought he was napping but then I tapped Father to wake him and he fell into his soup”
“Becker Cartwright is your father?” I asked weary of how these uptown folk don’t like to show emotion even in moments like these.
“Yes, I am Ellis Cartwright. We were all travelling to our estate in Cartwright County.”
“We all?” I asked gently as I did not want to lose my job.
“Yes, Father and I were accompanied by my older brothers, Harper, Hunter, Caleb, and Blair.” He introduced the other sharply dressed effeminate copies of himself in the car.
“The whole Cartwright clan, huh?” I said and turned to Harold. “Officer Cartwright, please find out if there is a doctor on board.”
“Thankfully, you were already present, detective” said Harper Cartwright, the oldest and heir apparent.
“First Mother Dearest dies on a train then Father Dearest. I fear I might never be able to ride the train again” said Hunter Cartwright, Honorary Chairman of Midwestern Cartwright Rail.
“Control your emotions gentlemen! All men meet this fate” said Caleb Cartwright, the ruthless Cartwright Stock Exchange investor. Blair Cartwright, the family playboy, said nothing. He just sat by his window seat, smoking his cigarette and leaving the ashes straight on the table, because a rebel never needs an ashtray! Harold came back with someone who looked like he would be a doctor.
“This is Doctor Walter Cartwright. Head of Cartwright General Hospital in Cartwright Park” said Harold, once again happy with himself.
“Dr. Cartwright, please see if there is anything you can do for Mr. Cartwright.” I commanded in a very commanding way.
“And any answers you can provide will be a great help to everyone. Once again thank you for your time Doctor” added Harold to undermine my commanding-ness. I walked past Harold and Dr. Cartwright, back to the investigation at hand and back to the dining car to get some eye candy. And there she was, right where my eyes left her, what a dame!
“Excuse me Miss, I was wondering if you saw anything before Mrs. Cartwright’s purse went missing.”
She answered me coldly and she knew I loved it. “I am sorry Detective …”
“Cartwright, Detective Frank Cartwright.”
“I am sorry Detective Cartwright, I didn’t see anything. We were moving then we stopped in the tunnel underneath the Cartwright Bridge because of the brake problem. Then the spinster Mrs. Cartwright screamed.”
“I did not scream you two-bit hussy!” Mrs. Cartwright looked both incensed and familiar with her beauty.
“Mrs. Cartwright, do you know …?” I asked hoping to attach a name to this vision of a dangerous angel.
“Nancy, Nancy Cartwright. Charmed.” She introduced herself straight to my heart.
“No, no I do not know her but I can tell, just look at her.” Mrs. Cartwright said while trying to compose herself. But I followed her advice and boy did I ever look at her; I think even she enjoyed it. I asked Miss Nancy, “Miss Cartwright, do you know Mrs. Cartwright?”
“No, I only met her today.”
“Right, but you already knew her name and that she was a spinster.” I said inquisitively, then I turned to Mrs. Cartwright, “you are one right?”
“A spinster?! No! Unmarried? Yes! But is that a crime or is stealing someone’s purse?” She said in another uproar.
“What happened back there?” Miss Cartwright asked changing the topic.
“Old man Becker Cartwright croaked” I said trying to win the favour of Miss Nancy. And boy did she ever look intrigued by this little tidbit of information. Mrs. Cartwright on the other hand seemed to be as cold to hearing this as she was to everything else. It felt like they knew each other and were desperately trying to distract me from asking any questions.
“Miss Cartwright do you like trains? Are they a hobby of yours? Because as you could imagine I am a bit of train enthusiast.” I said all fake and well-mannered.
“I am afraid I don’t know too much, Detective, outside of my area of expertise” she said with the appropriate amount of delicateness.
“And what, pray tell, may that be Miss Cartwright?” I inquired in a voice that was cynical to me and polite to everyone else.
“I am a singer, cabarets, clubs, the sort.”
“A hussy!” accused Mrs. Cartwright.
“That is really interesting Miss Cartwright, because you said the train stopped because of a brake problem, how did you know that?” I said as I reverted back to my disenchanted and bitter self. I realized that dames like her come packing a warning; but what a dame!
“The engineer told me” she said.
“Really? Because he told me it was overheating? What is going on Miss Cartwright?”
“Okay, okay, so I wasn’t even in this car when it happened, I was in the front with the engineer; falling hopelessly in love.” She said hoping this will end the inquisition.
“Falling alright” I said and gave the Engineer the indication to come here. As the Engineer made his way towards Mrs. Cartwright, Miss Cartwright and myself we were joined by Dr. Cartwright, Harold, and the Cartwright brats.
“What’s the verdict?” I asked.
“I am sorry Detective, there was nothing I could do. He had a heart attack.”
Harold added with his uniform hat removed, “Detective Cartwright, would you like me to notify the Coroner’s office to send someone down to fill an official death certificate and notify the press?”
“The press, those vultures!” The first words out of Blair Cartwright’s mouth.
“There is no need; we have an official doctor and head of a hospital here.” Harper Cartwright elbowed his way into the conversation. He was trying too eagerly to convince me.
“All hardly necessary my good man, we have our own Mortician, Dietrich Cartwright. He manages all of our familial affairs” said Caleb Cartwright. He was talking like it was another normal business transaction and did not even acknowledge that his father died a few minutes ago.
“Yes, Detective, I concur. I believe there is no need for another examination, I would be more than happy to help you close this case” said an oddly sweaty Dr. Cartwright.
“Case? This isn’t a homicide Doctor” I said to Dr. Cartwright. “This isn’t a witch hunt for who is hiding women in the front car.” I said to the Engineer. “This is a robbery of an empty purse.” I said to Mrs. Cartwright, sitting with lips pursed at her table looking straight in front of her. “Thank you all for your cooperation. Harold, let’s go.” And I started walking off the train.
Harold followed in a panic, “what is going on Frank, there is a mess in there why are you just leaving?”
“Precisely because there is a mess, isn’t it obvious you fool?” I asked hoping that the simple Harold understood but knowing fully that he never does.
“No! It looks like you’re abandoning an open robbery case, leaving a dead body, and an engineer in violation of railway rules.”
“Don’t you get it Officer Cartwright,” I tried to be formal “Cartwright wasn’t robbed; she staged it to get us on board because they needed a dummy cop to dump this mess on. Cartwright and Cartwright aren’t having an affair they staged it to stop the train. Cartwright didn’t die of a freak heart attack. Cartwright, Cartwright, Cartwright, Cartwright, and Cartwright killed him. They probably paid off Cartwright and Cartwright and even Dr. Cartwright. They probably knew Cartwright from Cartwright, Cartwright, & Cartwright. But I bet you anything Cartwright masterminded it all. This is way up there and a lot of heads will roll! Not mine!!”
“I don’t understand.”
“It was all Cartwright!” I tried to make it clear one final time.
“I still don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Well, where are you going?”
“To get an early start on drinking tonight.” I said full of wit and whimsy as I walked away.