The suspects gather in the Starlight Express dinner car, and it's up to Jessica to do some unplanned sleuthing before everyone's plans are derailed by death.
About the Author
Donald Bain, Jessica Fletcher’s longtime collaborator, is the writer of over eighty books, many of them bestsellers.
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Table of Contents
DEAD ON THE TRACKS
It did seem as though we were traveling at a snail’s pace, although this wasn’t a sudden phenomenon. I’d noticed since leaving North Vancouver that the Whistler Northwind was not about to set any speed records. But that was the whole point—wasn’t it?—a leisurely three-day journey on a classic train with every possible comfort, much like a luxury cruise ship, taking in the beauty and majesty of British Columbia. To go any faster would violate the very premise of the trip. And there were other passengers in the coaches up front, passengers who were unaware of the tragedy that had taken place in the car reserved for the members of the Track and Rail Club. Speed wouldn’t help Al Blevin, not anymore. Still, I knew what Callie was feeling. I’m sure we all shared her desire to reach Whistler and get away from the train, away from the dead body in the club car. . . .
OTHER BOOKS IN THE Murder, She Wrote SERIES
Manhattans & Murder
Rum & Razors
Brandy & Bullets
Martinis & Mayhem
A Deadly Judgment
A Palette for Murder
The Highland Fling Murders
Murder on the QE2
Murder in Moscow
A Little Yuletide Murder
Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch
Knock ’Em Dead
Gin & Daggers
Trick or Treachery
Blood on the Vine
Murder in a Minor Key
Provence—To Die For
You Bet Your Life
Majoring in Murder
Dying to Retire
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First Signet Printing, September 2004
Copyright © 2003 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Murder, She Wrote is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios.
Excerpt from A Vote for Murder copyright © 2004 Universal Studios Licensing
LLLP. Murder, She Wrote is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01069-3
For Abigail Kathryn Paley Brown
Thanks to naturaltraveler.com’s founder, and friend, Tony Tedeschi, for suggesting that the story be set in Vancouver and on a train into British Columbia, and for paving the way.
And our gratitude to:
Cathy Thomson and Bruce Stephen, and their top-notch staff, at Vancouver’s wonderful Sutton Place Hotel.
BCRail’s Jean Cullen and Elaine Drever and PR counsel Nora Weber.
Annabel Hawksworth, publicist for the splendid Top Table Restaurant Group.
Detectives Rob Faoro and Sean Trowski and Sergeant Bob Cooper of the Vancouver Police Department’s Homicide Squad.
The Vancouver Tourist Board’s Laura Serena and Kate Colley Lo.
BC Tourism’s Mika Ryan.
Whistler’s Danielle Saindon and Michelle Comeau, and Monica Hayes for her courtesies at the ski resort’s spectacular Westin Resort and Spa.
Patrick Corbett, owner of Hills Health Ranch.
Some liberties were taken for the sake of the story. All errors are ours.
Vancouver guidebooks claim that the corner of Robson and Burrard Streets has more foot traffic than any other intersection in Canada. From what I observed, that isn’t an overstatement. The streets were chockablock with people, overwhelmingly young. The city’s large Asian population was very much in evidence, although every ethnic group was abundantly visible in the shops that lined both sides of the street and in the mix of eateries with outdoor dining patios. There seemed to be a Starbucks on every corner, testimony to the Pacific Northwest’s love affair with coffee, and lots of candy shops, too.
Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of my favorite cities in the world. Poised on the tip of a peninsula, with the Coast Mountains smiling down on the advancing spires of skyscrapers under construction, it has all the eagerness and energy of a frontier town, which it was once and in a sense still is. It’s the launching port for myriad cruise ships that ply the inland waterways leading to an even newer frontier in Alaska. And it’s both the terminus and departure point for locomotives chugging their way through the mountain passes, exposing millions of tourists to the rugged beauty of Canada’s western provinces. I’d fallen in love with the city and its citizens’ sense of adventure and pleasure in nature two years earlier while on a book promotion tour and kept trying to find the time, and an excuse, to revisit it. Reggie Weems gave me that excuse.
Reggie had a successful insurance agency back home in Cabot Cove. He also had a hobby—trains. The large basement in his home was devoted to an elaborate model train layout, considered the finest in all of New England, and he was an active member of the Track and Rail Club, an organization of railroad buffs that held its annual meeting in different cities around the world. This year’s site was Vancouver, and when Reggie invited me to join the group on its journey, I readily accepted.
But it wasn’t just the lure of Vancouver that made up my mind. Each of Track and Rail’s annual meetings centered around a trip on a historic train. The highlight of the week would be a three-day journey on the famed Whistler Northwind from Vancouver up into the British Columbia interior, passing through and over glacier-carved canyons to the famous Whistler resort, then following the Cariboo Gold Rush Trail and Fraser River Canyon to a town called 100 Mile House, and finally arriving at Prince George, with overnight stays in hotels at each stop. I’ve always loved traveling by rail and am dismayed at how we’ve allowed train travel to founder in our country.
I walked for an hour along Robson Street, taking it all in, occasionally popping into a store to browse but leaving empty-handed. I was to meet Reggie shortly at the chocolate buffet in the Sutton Place Hotel, where we were staying. I considered pausing for a snack. It was six-thirty local time, nine-thirty back home according to my circadian clock. But I’d had a big meal on the plane, and the contemplation of facing twenty types of chocolate desserts in an hour was enough to stifle that urge.
I was on my way back to the hotel when the only unpleasant moment of the afternoon occurred. As I turned into the driveway, following a small group of people, a limo—black windows concealing its occupants—came around the corner and drew up to the hotel’s entrance. An elegant couple emerged from the car’s darkened interior, and the woman peered in my direction. A man walking in front of me did an abrupt about-face and slammed into me, almost knocking me off my feet. I kept myself from falling by grabbing the shoulder of a woman standing nearby. I had a brief glimpse of the man’s face because our collision caused him to come to a momentary halt. He was deeply tanned, with piercing, almost black eyes, sharp features, and shaggy, shoulder-length coal-black hair hanging over his ears. If I expected an apology, I was to be disappointed. He hurried away; all I saw was the back of him as he pushed through people coming out of a side door to the bar and disappeared around a corner.
“Jerk!” said the woman whose shoulder had kept me from falling.
“An inconsiderate one at that,” I said, brushing the skirt of my black-and-white shirtwaist dress. “Thanks for the shoulder to lean on.”
By the time I walked into the hotel, I’d put the incident out of my mind. Rude, inconsiderate people could be found everywhere in the world, even in a friendly, courteous city like Vancouver.
“Jessica! There you are.”
Reggie Weems bounded across the beige granite floor. The Sutton Place lobby was a handsome space, with its graceful chandeliers, huge vases of freshly cut flowers, and European artwork—which included magnificent large, original oils behind the front desk by French Impressionist Bernard Cathelin, who’d studied with Matisse. I’d commented on the paintings when I’d checked in and had received their provenance from the clerk along with my room key.
We’d flown in together from Boston that morning. Reggie had worn what he called his flying outfit: chino pants, multipocketed safari shirt—“My answer to a woman’s purse,” he’d told me—and loafers that could be slipped off and on easily, should security people at the airport wish to inspect them. For the buffet, he’d changed into a blue double-breasted blazer, a white shirt, a burgundy tie with tiny locomotives in gold emblazoned on it, crisply pressed gray slacks, and two-tone shoes. Reggie was a short man of slender build with a narrow face and a prominent nose on which oversized eyeglasses rested. He walked with a perpetual spring in his step. He was considered a bit of a dandy in Cabot Cove and was well liked throughout the community, although the fact that he’d never married occasionally raised inevitable but unwarranted speculation about his sexual orientation. Aside from an insurance client complaining over the terms of a claim settlement every once in a while, no one seemed to have a bad word to say about him.
“Ah, Jessica, how was your shopping expedition? I see you’re empty-handed.”
“I had a lovely walk, Reggie. How was your meeting?”
He scowled. “Not especially pleasant. The club’s board’s been having its differences and . . . well, that’s not of interest to you. Ready for a trip to chocolate heaven?”
I followed him to the hotel’s famed chocolate buffet, located in the elegant Fleuri Restaurant, its walls covered in rich damask, the tables graced with floral-print skirts. Three tables were laden with a variety of chocolate desserts waiting to be sampled and were presided over by a female chef in a white uniform, who described the delicacies on offer. It had sounded absolutely decadent to me when Reggie suggested it, but once I stood before the incredible array of artistic creations concocted by Sutton Place’s chocolate chef, I decided I was ready for a taste of decadence. I placed tiny portions of Sacher torte, hot chocolate soufflé, chocolate mousse made with Jack Daniel’s, and a chocolate crème brûlée on my plate—saving the chocolate pie, chocolate sorbet, and crêpes with chocolate sauce for another time—and carried it back to a table where Reggie, his selections already on the table in front of him, sat with four people to whom I’d been introduced earlier. Hank and Deedee Crocker were from Pittsburgh. Hank was an accountant; his wife was a florist—“I used to sell flowers but now I specialize in exotic plants. All the decorators love my shop.” Junior and Maeve Pinckney of Atlanta were, respectively, an auto parts dealer and a part-time real estate broker.
“Ah’m quite a fan of your books, Mrs. Fletcher,” Maeve said in a pronounced drawl. She was clothed like the quintessential southern belle, her dress a frilly white and yellow number that came up high on her neck. A pretty woman with a creamy complexion, wide hazel eyes, and full sensuous lips, she had a deft hand at makeup and an enviable metabolism, if the pile of sweets on her plate was any indication. “When ah heard you would be joining us on this trip, ah became absolutely excited,” she said, digging into a slice of chocolate mousse cake heaped high with whipped cream.
“Thank you,” I said. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I understand the train we’re taking in the morning has quite a history.”
That was a cue for Maeve’s husband to launch into a lecture on the Whistler Northwind and historic trains in general. Junior was a pudgy man with red hair, a ruddy face, and large, moist eyes. Like Reggie, he wore a blue blazer, but with a pink golf shirt and no tie. His plate was overflowing with chocolate goodies from the buffet, and his accent was decidedly south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“We’ll be in the Summit Coach,” he said. “The Pavilion club car next to it was built back in ’39 for the Florida East Coast Railroad. Only stainless steel car on the train, built by the Budd Company. Was known as the Bay Biscayne car when it was runnin’ between New York and Florida. BC Rail picked it up in 2000 after Amtrak sold it to a company in Nashville. They ran it as the Broadway Dinner Train.”
“How interesting,” I said.
“Junior’s quite an expert on old trains, Mrs. Fletcher,” said his wife.
“Please call me Jessica.”
“Hank and Deedee know a lot about historic trains, too,” Reggie said; I had a feeling he’d offered it to head off another of Junior’s speeches.
“How many trips have you taken on old trains?” I asked the Crockers.
“We’ve lost track,” Hank replied, interrupting whatever his wife was about to say. He was a nondescript middle-aged man with grayish skin and a hangdog expression that I would go on to observe seldom left his face. He spoke in a monotone, the barest hint of irony coloring his voice. “At least I have.”
“I think we’ve taken every trip since the organization was formed,” Deedee put in. She was a small, birdlike woman with sharp features and a cap of fine brown hair. Both of them were dressed informally, in navy slacks and matching Hawaiian shirts.
“Nineteen years ago,” Reggie offered.
“Are there that many historic railroads running?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” Junior cut in, resuming his animated lesson on railroad history.
We all listened politely until he stopped in midsentence and looked at a striking man and woman poised to enter the restaurant. It was the couple I’d seen getting out of the limo.
“Look who’s here,” Hank Crocker muttered, his tone not friendly.