Murder on the Sunrise

The Mediterranean, 1938, 1:03 AM

The murder had echoed through the ship late at night and the ship’s passengers woke to the sound of a scream followed by the deathly thud and then silence. In an instance the sleepy steam ship Sunrise, once bound for Naples, was a murder scene, every passenger a suspect and somewhere onboard was a murderer.

The first to arrive at the crime scene had been James Kidd, the First Mate, who had gone charging down the wood paneled hallways. In his hand was the revolver he so proudly cherished from his time in the Royal Air Force during the Great War. He hardly looked intimidating and the pistol seemed diminished in front of the stained white shirt and black trousers.

“Stay back!” the young man had stammered. He looked at the body like an animal might look at a telephone. Like it was some foreign object that he could barely understand. The second one on the scene had been Doctor Jay Calloway. Attorney, Harvard graduate, American, ex-soldier and veteran of the Western Front. His room was two doors down from the crime scene but he had only heard Senor Castillo’s cries, as did the rest of the ship.

The body had been of Senor Hernando Castillo, an officer in the Republican Army of Spain and cousin to Jose Castillo, another Socialist and a Lieutenant in the Spanish National Police. One had to wonder what a Socialist was doing going to Italy, a country that made no attempt to hide it’s allegiance towards Senor Castillo’s opposition, the Fascist Nationalists. The perpetrator had used a candlestick from a nearby sconce and it now sat a few feet from the corpse. Its bottom covered with the Socialist’s blood.

Eventually more arrived to see what had woken them. Eric Arthur Blair, the English writer with the thin mustache and soft voice entered with Cyril Silver, the English businessman who had loudly told everyone at dinner earlier that he was very important and had several important accounts to attend to in Cairo. Abigail Turner had stepped up boldly to the corpse and looked over Senor Castillo for several moments before turning away with a scowl. The Scottish suffragette had despised Senor Castillo since he had drunkenly mentioned Women’s Suffrage was a waste of time. The only other American onboard arrived a few moments later from a room across from mine. Kent Allard had claimed he was a writer through no one had ever heard of him. He was young and had been living in Paris on his family’s wealth since the 1920s. He also seemed a little relieved to see Senor Castillo go. As well as insulting Women’s Suffrage, Senor Castillo had expressed his dislike for the Jewish people during the previous dinner and Kent Allard had left the dining room furious. I tried to explain to him that the Spaniard was just a little drunk but the young man seemed too hurt and brought his meal down to his cabin.

Rhys Gates was a lanky Manchester man who had avoided the conversation at dinner about what he did. He merely said that his father was a Butcher and Rhys was going to Cairo to join the French Foreign Legion. Behind him crept Marita Mola, widowed wife from Spain who was visiting her brother in Naples. That left one man missing. Ned Lowe, captain of the Sunrise, who was no doubt on the bridge. There were a few other men onboard. The cook and engineers were probably at their stations. It wasn’t a very large cruise liner.

“Good riddance!” Cyril exclaimed. “Let the Commie rot in hell!”

“That’s no way to talk about the dead,” Allard chided him. Cyril rolled his eyes.

“You should be agreeing with me young man! This man mocked your faith,” Cyril replied. Allard was quiet.

“I don’t like Communists just as much as you Mister Silver but that is still a dead man,” Blair spoke up. His eyes grew sad and he wiped his face “There are no Socialists or Communists or Capitalists when we die. Someone should cover this body.” Cyril merely grunted.

“Where’s the captain?” Gates asked.

“He’s on deck,” Kidd replied. “I can account for his location and he can account for mine, as well as the Helmsman.”

“This isn’t the Murder on the Orient Express,” Abigail snorted, dripping with contempt. All at once the gathered passengers spoke together.

“Quiet!” Calloway barked. The voices died down a little as some turned to me. Others still argued, notably Turner and Cyril. Jay banged his fist against the paneled wall and finally all the conversations died down.

“Mister Kidd, please inform the captain of what’s happened. Tell him that he is to radio what has happened when he is close enough to Naples,” Calloway quickly ordered. The young man nodded and relaxed his pistol. Jay turned his gaze to the rest of the passengers. “The rest of you, get dressed and wait in your rooms. I will go to you and interview you then lead you to the lounge.”

“Well surely all of this isn’t really necessary?” Cyril blubbered. “I mean only one of us is the perpetrator.”

“No,” he said. The lawyer paused for dramatic effect. “Every one of us is a suspect.”

“Well now hold on!” Cyril barked, his brow furrowed, before Jay could close the door. The passengers stopped before they returned to their rooms. Jay turned to face him. “Why should we trust you? Are you a detective or a police officer? How do we know that you didn’t do it?” Jay paused and shrugged.

“I suppose you’re right,” Jay said casually. “I could be the killer.” He paused.

“But don’t you suppose that the first thing a killer would do is try and shift blame from himself?” Jay asked. Cyril’s brow unfurled and his face reddened.

“And for the record, I’m not a detective,” Jay replied. “I’m a lawyer.”

An hour later the suspects were in the lounge and dressed. Captain Lowe and James Kidd personally made sure each suspect arrived at the lounge on time and remained in their room until Jay could fetch them. The fire in the small oak fireplace had long since died out but Kent put a new log on the fire and the wood paneled room lit up. People took places on couches or chairs and Cyril Silver took a place behind the bar where he sipped on a glass of McCutcheon whiskey. I took the farthest spot at the bar from him where Jay could review each and every file he had made up of the suspects.

“Well detective,” Cyril mocked. “How should we start?”

“I’ll mention each of you by name and you’ll explain what you were doing earlier while Senor Castillo was being murdered,” Jay explained. Cyril laughed.

“Sleeping I’d wager,” the man said with a chuckle before downing his drink. He quickly refilled his glass.

“Mister Lowe, mister Kidd says that he can account for your location. Is that true?” Calloway asked, ignoring Silver’s remark. He withdrew the small note he had made of those two and the few other crewmen. There wasn’t much about them. Both had served in the Great War, the captain had been a medic and James a pilot. The captain nodded.

“Aye, I was. James can account for me as well as the Helmsman, Roger,” Ned replied. “Mister Sheldrake, the cook, was playing cards in the crew quarters. If you want, I can fetch them.” Callow shook his head. No need to bring every man away from their ship’s duties.

“We last saw you at dinner,” Eric Blaire spoke up. “And you have men to cover the bridge for you. James and your Helmsman Peter. How do we know you weren’t stalking the halls of the ship looking for someone to beat?” Ned seemed upset.

“I have nothing against Senor Castillo,” the captain said defensively. “I don’t like Communists but I don’t want to kill any I meet personally. I’ve met so many people through this job, I’ve learned you can’t judge someone based on their politics.” The suspects looked to Calloway who nodded.

“Both James and Ned passed,” he confirmed. “But since you are eager to speak up Mister Blaire, let’s talk about yourself.” His note was larger, more complex. The man was a writer and had served as a Foreign Volunteer for the Republicans.

“You served in Spain a year before now and you mentioned several times that you have no love for Communists,” Jay said crossing the room to the writer. “You said to me earlier that you quit the volunteers. Perhaps you’re lying to us? Perhaps Senor Castillo was going to abandon the Republican cause and join the Fascists and you were ordered to kill him before he could do that. Or perhaps you two are collaboratively leaving. Maybe you’re spies bound for Italy to destroy the equipment the Italians send to their compatriots in Spain.” The writer seemed tense and shook his head.

“Of course not!” he snapped. “I quit the Volunteers months ago! I’m just going to Naples for holiday! I…I’m a writer for God’s sake, not some spy!”

“Can anyone account for Mister Blair’s location?” Jay asked the crowd, as the writer’s face got red with anger.

“I can,” Allard said meekly. All eyes fell on him. “I couldn’t sleep so I went to the cigar lounge, the one at the rear of the ship. I was trying to come up with something to write about and I thought the view of the ocean might help me. Mister Blaire arrived a few moments later and we talked. I mentioned how I’ve been having writer’s block for several months. You see I wrote a book, A Hymn for Carcossa three years ago and I need something good to follow it up or I’ll be on the streets.” The room looked back to Blair who nodded.

“He’s a good kid and a good writer,” the Englishman said with a smile. Kent nodded in thanks.

“What time did you last see him?” the lawyer asked. He tapped a pen against his lips.

“Eleven forty four,” Kent replied curtly. “It was when I left to go to bed and he did the same. We both snuffed out our cigars and locked the room. I even saw him go to his room.” Blair nodded.

“I saw them moving about,” said James. “I was walking up to the cigar lounge to have a cigarette myself when I passed them.” That accounted for Blair and Allard and double accounted for Kidd. Jay crossed their names from the list and turned to Abigail.

“Ms. Turner, you have a personal reason to dislike Senor Castillo. So, just as last time, can anyone account for Ms. Turner?” The room was silent and Abigail angrily looked to Marita.

“You and I were talking,” she said with a huff. “In the hallway, you asked if I had any Suffrage books or papers you could read.” Cyril chuckled and Turner gave him a dirty look. Marita, the quiet Spanish woman nodded.

“This is true,” the woman replied meekly. “We were in the dining room and Senor Castillo came in to get another bottle of Whiskey left over from dinner. That was the last time I saw him.” Jay kept his face straight but made a small mark next to Marita’s name. Most people had claimed they last saw Hernando at dinner. A few minutes ago Marita had said the same thing but this was new evidence that contradicted what she said earlier. This called her entire interview into question.

“Then I looked at the clock and it said twelve o’clock and I decided to go to bed but you stayed up to read,” Abigail said to Marita. “That was the last time we saw each other.”

Jay made a list of the prime suspects, those that had a reason to kill Senor Castillo. Eric Arthur Blaire and Cyril Silver had both said they despised Communism, Kent Allard and Abigail Turner both had personal reasons to hate Hernando and Marita had just gone against her statement.

“Mister Silver,” Jay said after he finished his note. He turned towards the older Englishman who seemed offended that the American lawyer would even consider him. “Can anyone account for you?” The man paused as his face got red and his bushy brown mustache quivered with rage.

“Well this is preposterous!” he shouted. The man set his glass down with an angry thud. “I mean why does it matter, huh? A man is dead. Yes it’s terrible but he was a Communist and a rebel who is dead!”

“So you’re happy he’s dead? You feel as if he deserved it?” Jay asked. Cyril was about to speak but closed his mouth as he realized what he was doing.

“I didn’t do it. I respect who did but I didn’t do it!” Cyril said finally. “Ask anyone here! Surely someone can account for me.” The room was quiet and Cyril got more alarmed.

“Come on! Someone must have seen me!” the man pleaded. “I was walking the deck after dinner to digest and to relax.” The crowd gathered looked amongst each other with a worried look. Cyril’s face got redder and he stepped out from behind the bar.

“You see I have trouble sleeping. Even at my home in England I need to spend a few hours before bed in the Library to relax. I’ve had trouble since I was a young man, after fighting in the Siege of Mafeking,” the older man explained. He pointed to Kidd. “I was walking around the port side of the ship and I saw you going to the cigar lounge!” Calloway looked to the First Mate who shrugged.

“It was dark, I might have seen you,” the First Mate stuttered. Jay made another note. Cyril and Marita were the only ones with flimsy stories. The room was quiet and the only sound was the cool gentle sounds of the sea outside and the hot crackle of the fireplace. Cyril pointed to Rhys.

“You! I talked to you!” the man exclaimed. “I walked around the deck for a few minutes, went to the loo to relieve myself and headed back towards my room. You were standing near the door to the passenger cabins smoking and I asked you what time it was and you told me 12:04.” Rhys nodded and held up his watch.

“That’s right,” he replied.

“Why didn’t you say that? Why didn’t you stick up for me?” Cyril demanded. Rhys shrugged.

“I thought it was funny watching you squirm,” the man said nonchalantly in his thick Manchester accent. The Foreign Legion recruit laughed and leaned back against a window. Cyril was about to say something before a stern look from Jay quieted him.

“That only leaves one person,” Jay said finally. He turned to Marita who stiffened. Earlier she had been slouching and spoke in a near whisper.

“Your story changed a minute ago and you were last seen at twelve o’clock and Hernando Castillo was murdered at one,” Jay said. “Was anyone out of their cabin after twelve?” Everyone said no.

“All crewmembers were in the crew cabin by that point,” Ned Lowe replied. “The Helmsman was at the wheel and First Mate Kidd here was also on deck. That was how he responded to the yell quickly.” Jay set his notes down on the bar and stepped closer to Marita.

“I’m going to give you one chance to explain yourself,” Jay said leaning in. “Or confess.” Marita was quiet. She opened her mouth to speak and then delivered a swift punch to Jay’s nose. The next thing he knew he was on the ground and Eric Blair and Rhys grabbed the Spanish woman who was holding a small military knife. But instead of resisting she slumped in their arms and cried. Jay recovered his footing.

“My husband… my Rodrigo, he died on the front fighting the Socialists and the Communists and the Anarchists. I was trying to forget his death, to remember our honeymoon to Naples but when I learned that a Socialist officer was onboard I…. I just could not control myself anymore!” she sobbed. All eyes fell on Calloway.

“Captain, lock Senorita Mola in her room and radio the authorities in Naples,” Jay Calloway said, wiping blood from his nose. “Tell them we’ve got a murderer onboard.”

……

The sun was rising over the eastern Mediterranean when the ship docked in Naples. A team of Italian police arrested Marita and would bring her to the Spanish Embassy. The passengers disembarked after them, all of them in better spirits then Marita. They laughed and joked, relieved after the events of the previous night and Jay took his leave of the passengers. As he walked through the docks he spied Rhys off to the side, speaking in hushed Italian to several men who handed him a small pouch.

Jay shrugged.