The Somme Stations (Jim Stringer Steam Detective 7) by Andrew Martin

By Andrew Martin

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It was hardly there. It was as if he’d drunk some brown Windsor soup about a week before and not washed since. The Night Station Master, Samuels, had a campaign against it, said it put off the passengers, that Dawson should either shave or let it grow out. But Dawson paid no mind. He was his own man. That said, he didn’t take against the man with the topper. ‘Sorry, guv,’ he said. Topper hadn’t heard him, since he was being pestered by his wife in the carriage doorway: ‘But I want a change of magazine’, she was saying.

The wife was gathering up the bulbs, not satisfied with the run. ’ No reply. She threw the bulbs again – another roll of the dice. She looked up and said, ‘What are you going to do, Jim? ’ ‘And is this man Gordon joining up? ’ ‘Well he’s got a railway to run. ’ ‘Audrey? ’ she said, brushing her skirts and rising to her feet. ’ We walked over our lawn, which was too big, and stood before our house, which was likewise, but rather tumbled-down. At first we’d rented it, but the wife had insisted on buying it, which she managed at a knock-down price, her perpetual aim being to keep up with the other socialist ladies, who were all rich.

According to the Yorkshire Evening Press, we kept thrashing the Germans; they kept reaching ‘the limit of their effort’, and yet our men would keep dying. Something was amiss – the Chief had told me as much himself. I decided to scout him out, and as I stepped out onto platform four, a train came in and I caught a small shower of condensed steam. Our little girl, Sylvia, had a word for this: a ‘train cloud’. Not a rain cloud, but a train cloud. She was clever with words. The fireman, leaning off the footplate, gave me a grin, which might have been by way of apology.

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