Two Trains in the Night
Author's Note: This story is a slight crossover between Columbo and Kolchak: The Night Stalker with the help of an OC. Hope you enjoy.
The interior of the train station was abuzz with people coming and going, getting ready to board trains, coming off of them, etc. But only one person in the station was underfoot, in fact he was slowly making his way under or around everybody's feet. Lieutenant Columbo had dropped his pen somewhere and was trying to find it. He held his unlit cigar in his mouth and crawled around on the floor this way and that until he found his pen rolled under a bench in the middle of the station. He stretched his arm out as far as he could reach and finally managed to grab it. He picked it up and put it in his pocket, score one for him; these days it was very rare that he managed to find the pen he'd lost, his wife should be surprised tomorrow when she didn't have to give him a new one.
Having found his pen, Columbo pushed himself up on his hands and stood up and straightened out his suit and his coat. When he stood up he realized that somebody had been lying on the bench he looked under. She looked like a teenaged girl though she may have been a little older; she had thin blondish tan hair tied back in a braid, she wore a white T-shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers and had a bag clutched in her hands, and a jacket folded up under her head as a pillow. He also noticed the camera case just under the bench and guessed that she was an amateur photographer or something of that sort. The girl was asleep and looked slightly pale and had her lips pursed tightly together. She looked, to Columbo anyway, like she might be sick or something.
"Excuse me, miss," he said.
The girl opened her eyes and looked up at him.
"I'm sorry to wake you up, are you feeling well?" he asked.
The girl rubbed her eyes and said only, "I'm waiting for a train."
"Oh yeah, me too," he said, "What time is yours for?"
"The 11:15," she raised her arm over her head and looked at her watch, "It's still not time yet."
"The 11:15," Columbo scratched his head with the hand that wasn't holding his cigar, "Where's that one going?"
"Chicago," she said as she sat up.
"Oh yeah," he said, "I'm waiting for the one that comes in at 11:30 from Tucson, uh," he took out his badge and showed it to her, "My name's Columbo, I'm a lieutenant with the police department, I'm waiting on an extradited suspect myself."
"I see," she said.
"Uh, if you don't mind my asking," he said to her, "Why're you going to Chicago? You going to visit someone?" he laughed slightly as he added, "You're not running away from home, are you?"
She laughed slightly in response and said, "I'm a little old for that, I'm 22."
"Oh I see," he replied, "Well I didn't mean anything by it, just that you look a little young to be out on your own at this time of night. Uh, you a photographer?"
"Somewhat," she answered.
"I asked because I noticed that case under the bench, that's a camera case, isn't it?"
"For an expensive type of camera?" he asked.
"Yeah, it was a birthday present," she said.
"Oh it was a birthday present, I see," Columbo said, and looked around for a minute before he said to her, "Uh listen, since the trains aren't going to be coming in for a while, would you like to go and get something to drink?"
"Sure," she said as she got up, "Got nothing better to do."
"They got a coffee machine here, do you like coffee?" he asked.
She shook her head, "I hate coffee, never touch the stuff."
"Yeah," he said, "You know the doctors say I should cut back on it myself, but you know, goes with the territory of being a policeman."
She went with him and they found a vending machine and Columbo got them a couple of sodas.
"Thank you," she said as she took the can from him.
"I don't know about you but I like it better in the can than in a bottle," he said, "The tops don't twist off too easily, and the plastic bottles…I think it tastes different in those, don't you?"
"I never really noticed," she replied.
"Oh yeah, well it's probably just me," he said, "A lot of times it's just me, I'm a weird person sometimes. At least that's what they tell me, but I seem to make a lot of people nervous."
"You said you're a lieutenant?" she asked.
"Oh yeah, homicide," he answered.
"And you've got a suspect being brought in on a train tonight?" she asked.
"Yes," he nodded, "It's kind of like a charter service, just him and five police officers from Arizona on the train, you know, they didn't want to take a chance on any civilians getting in the way."
"But they're bringing him to this station?" she asked.
"Oh well we've got that all planned out," he said, "We've got a direct path leading to the exit and we've got five of our own men and three cars waiting outside, fewer risks that way."
"What did he do?" the girl asked.
"Well we don't know that he did anything yet," Columbo explained, "At least, not in connection to a murder. See we managed to get him extradited because on his way out of the state, he was in such a hurry to disappear before anybody could see him that he was involved in a hit and run, and we managed to link the getaway car to the one registered to him and have an eyewitness who saw him driving it. We have no real concrete evidence on this case though, just a bunch of little pieces and loose ends…but I think if you put all the pieces together, the picture becomes a lot more clearer, and the case gets a lot stronger." He did a double take and said, "I'm sorry, I'm rambling on…uh, I'm sorry, did you say why you were going to Chicago?"
"No, I didn't," she said.
"I didn't think you had, but I'm a very forgetful person at times so I like to be sure," he said, "You know they tend to look down on that when you're a lieutenant."
"Well, I'm going out to Chicago," she explained, "Because I have an uncle who works for a newspaper down there…and he's taking some time off for a few weeks, and while he's gone I'm going to see if I can get a job there myself."
"Oh I see," Columbo said, "I think that's always a great idea when families can work together in the same jobs. And that's why you're taking your camera with you?"
"My uncle is one of the star photographers for the paper, I'm going to have some big shoes to fill while he's on vacation," she explained.
"I see," he replied, "Well I'm sure you'll do very well. If I'm ever in Chicago, I'll be sure and check out the papers."
Columbo put his soda down and started searching through his pockets for a match. Not finding any, he turned to the girl and asked her, "Do you have a match?"
She picked up her bag, opened a side zipper and took out a box of blue tipped matches and struck one for him.
"Thank you," he said, "I'm always losing my matches, or my pens, every day my wife gives me a new pen, and something happens, I always lose them. She said I should have strings tied on all ten of my fingers, and my toes too."
"I see," she responded, "So what is it that this suspect of yours 'maybe didn't' do?"
"Well you see…" Columbo looked around briefly and asked, "Uh, can you keep a secret?"
"I'm going to be a newspaperman," she insisted.
"Yeah, well I'll tell you anyway," he said as they sat down on the bench, "About a week ago we found this guy dead in an alley…beaten up before he died, and one gunshot wound finally killed him. Now, this guy who I'm having brought in from Arizona was his business partner. It's to my understanding there was a…falling out between them on some big deal, like I said it's nothing concrete, but I put the pieces together and I think I'm getting a good idea of what the picture looks like." He held his cigar between two fingers and with his other hand, ran it over the side of his face, "But there's something about it all that doesn't quite make sense."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Well we've already figured that the body was dumped in the alley, he wasn't killed there…but during the autopsy, the medical examiner found these two small holes just above his collarbone, up around the neck here, a couple of puncture wounds that he sustained sometime during the struggle…not enough to kill him, but it's weird," he looked at her and slightly laughed as he said, "You'd think he was bitten by a vampire."
"Maybe he was," she suggested, "Do you believe in vampires, Mr. Columbo?"
"You know, I did as a kid," he said, "Boy I saw that movie Dracula when I was 9, and ooh boy did it scare me. We had bats that went flying all around the neighborhood once it got dark and I remember being so scared that one of them was going to bite me and turn me into a vampire." He laughed, and then he stopped and started thinking, "Hmmm, now that you mention that…I remember there was another vampire movie when I was a kid, with the same actor in it. Only the vampire wasn't real, this guy drugged his friend and stabbed him in the neck to make it look like a vampire had bitten him…but I can't remember what he used."
"Maybe he used a compass?" the girl suggested.
"A compass?" he repeated.
"We had them in school, those things for drafting, a sharp metal tip on one side, and a pencil on the other. Pencils can be sharp enough to stab somebody with, can't they?"
"Why sure they could…but I don't think that would be it, the two holes are identical, and there's a difference in size to a metal tip and a pencil's…and if that were the case maybe the medical examiner could find traces of lead in the one puncture wound. No, it would have to be something else." And he went into a deep thought trying to come up with the answer.
The girl poked him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Columbo, but is it possible that the man was stabbed with a barbecue fork?"
"A barbecue fork?" he repeated.
"You know," she said, "With those two narrow pointed ends on them…we call them turning forks, use them to stir spaghetti with, but those could make a mark like that, couldn't they?"
"You know that's right, that's possible," he said, "So the next thing I'll have to do is get a search warrant for his home, and see if he's got one of those forks in his kitchen, if he does we can have it tested to see if there's any blood on it. Yeah, that's a good idea."
They looked at the big clock on the opposite wall and saw it was going on 11 o' clock.
"I better get going incase my train would be early," the girl said as she stood up, "It's been a pleasure talking to you, Mr. Columbo, I hope you catch your man."
"Thanks," he said, "It was nice talking to you too, Miss…"
"My name's Carla," she said, "Carla Kolchak."
"Ah, I'll remember that name if I ever come to Chicago," he said, "I'll write it down and…"
Carla opened her bag again and said, "Lieutenant."
"Eh?" he turned to her.
He saw that she had taken out a five-pack of brand new pens.
"Here, keep these and do your wife a favor," she said.
"Oh gee, thanks, that's really nice," Columbo said as he took the pens, "Say, these look pretty fancy."
"I like to refer to them as my own brand," Carla told him, "They're the only kind I write with."
"Oh I see, I notice you're not taking a typewriter with you," Columbo said, "You just take shorthand, or do you know speedwriting?"
"Both," she answered.
"Both, that's very good," he said, "Most people only do one or the other."
"Well also, I wouldn't need to take a typewriter for my reports," she explained as she reached into her bag and took out a tape recorder, "I have this."
"Say, now that's a great idea," Columbo said, "Get it all down on tape first and then write it up."
"That's what my uncle does, he has a habit of taking a little recorder with him everywhere that he goes," she said, "Unfortunately nobody really wants to hear what he has to say, so I guess he's just storing his tapes away as a time capsule or something, you know, wait until he dies and then let the world hear them."
"That's an interesting way to go about it," Columbo agreed, "What's your uncle's name?"
"Oh I see," he said, "The name doesn't ring a bell, but I'm sure he's a very good reporter."
"I've got to get going," Carla said as she zipped up her bag, collected her jacket and camera case and ran down the platform, "Goodbye, Mr. Columbo."
"Goodbye," he waved after her, "Good luck in Chicago, and thanks for that tip about the barbecue fork, I'll remember that…oh, and thanks for the pens!" Once she was gone, he looked at the five-pack and counted them one by one, "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday." Then he remembered the pen he'd found, took it out again and added, "Saturday." Then another thought occurred to him and he took the cap off one pen and examined its tip, before ultimately concluding, "No, I don't think that would be sharp enough to do it, and he'd need two of them…no, probably the barbecue fork. Let's see."
He pretended that he was the killer and pretended he was holding the fork in his hand high enough to stab the other man above the collarbone. "Yeah, that just might do it, otherwise…" he stuck his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and felt the distance between his eyeteeth and determined as he walked to the platform of his arriving train, "No, that would be too far apart, couldn't be a vampire, but probably was a barbecue fork."
He saw the train pulling into the station and was waiting patiently as he saw two policemen step off with the suspect handcuffed behind his back.
"Lieutenant Columbo?" one of the cops asked.
"Yeah that's me," he said, and took out his badge to prove it.
"Special delivery," the uniform told him, "One Mr. Edgar Donovan."
"Thanks," Columbo said as the man was handed over into his custody, "I'll take it from here." He turned and saw two uniforms from outside coming his way to assist. They got on either side of the man and they all started walking towards the exit.
"Well Mr. Donovan," Columbo said, "I don't know about you, but the long wait sure has made me hungry. Would you like to stop off somewhere first for some spaghetti, or maybe some barbecue?"