Mulhall column: Imagining a murder mystery on the Rocky Mountaineer
While on my morning walk last Friday, a Valley Taxi van passed me and a nearby group of safety-vest-clad Rocky Mountaineer employees walking west toward the train idling in the Devereux Road marshaling yard.
When the taxi pulled off on the shoulder, the side door slid open and the Mountaineer’s inspector stepped out, followed by a sharply dressed service attendant.
“A crisp August morning, my God,” he said to no one as he stretched his arms outward. Then he inhaled, perhaps dispelling the memories of last evening — the smell of room temperature IPA, and the shuffle of black silk as the service attendant shifted on her bar stool.
“Got a sleeper on that train?” I asked.
“You should have a sleeper, don’t you think?”
“We put our passengers up in the finest hotels,” he said.
“I see,” I replied, but he was already boarding the train behind the service attendant.
It’s a shame, really, that the Mountaineer has no sleeper. An unseasonal early winter storm, a retired police chief, a midnight scream, and you’d have all the makings of an Agatha Christie who-done-it.
Think about it. Maybe after a Thursday round of Moab golf, retired police chief Terry Wilson boards the Mountaineer for a scenic ride to Denver and a Sunday afternoon Broncos game just as KDVR meteorologist Chris Tomer issues an early winter storm watch for the central mountains.
The following evening, Wilson observes some odd happenings as falling sleet turns into a full-on whiteout.
While relaxing in his room somewhere between Bond and Kremmling, Wilson hears a scream from the next bedroom followed by an audible thud.
The sounds seem to Wilson to have come from the bedroom occupied by one Paula Schumer, Amy Schumer’s less annoying but nevertheless obnoxious cousin from Schenectady.
Wilson steps into the hallway to see the Mountaineer’s porter knocking on Schumer’s door.
A husky voice from inside Schumer’s room responds, “I was mistaken. Go away.”
As Wilson and the porter stand transfixed by Ms. Schumer’s preferred pronoun possibilities, an elderly woman in a nightgown taps the porter on the shoulder and tells him a strange Asian man just entered her bedroom and took her toiletries.
Later that same evening, when Wilson rings for the porter to bring a bottle of water to mix his Metamucil, the Mountaineer abruptly stops.
When the porter arrives, Wilson presses him for information about the stoppage. The porter informs him the locomotive is stuck in a snowdrift and it may be some time before help arrives.
After the porter leaves, Wilson gets ready for bed. Just as he’s about to turn out his reading lamp, Wilson observes a figure in what appears to be kabuki makeup and a red kimono shuffling past his window from the dining car.
Wilson shakes his head and gets up to draw the privacy blind. Then he gets back into bed and pulls his sleep mask down.
The next morning Wilson awakens to an insistent pounding on his door, which he opens to the sight of the porter, pale and long faced.
“Mr. Wilson, our conductor humbly requests your assistance,” the porter says. “There’s been a murder.”
“There’s no marshal on board, and the conductor says you were once a police chief. You may be the only person on the manifest with investigation experience.”
“Oh alright,” Wilson says, “lead the way.”
Wilson follows the porter to the next bedroom where Paula Schumer’s body lays clad in a fetching v-neck nighty and a red silk robe.
“I think she was stabbed,” says the porter, pointing to a thick red line just above the nightgown’s neckline.
Wilson sticks his finger in the wound and carefully eyes his reddened fingertip. Then he plunges the digit into his mouth and smacks his lips.
“Nope,” Wilson says to the now dry heaving porter. “Mmmmm, Strawberry. She’s in a sugar coma. Have the chef check the pantry for missing powder sugared jelly donuts. She’ll sleep it off.”
Or so that’s how I imagine it.
Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but one thing’s for certain: It’d never happen without a sleeper.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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