AGATHA CHRISTIE SKETCH (RAILWAY TIMETABLES)/ MR. NEVILLE SHUNT

 

Cut to an upper-class drawing room. An elderly man lies dead on the floor. Enter Jasmina and John.

 

Jasmina: Anyway, John, you can catch the 11.30 from Hornchurch and be in Basingstoke by one o'clock, oh, and there's a buffet car and... (sees corpse) Oh! Daddy!

  

John: My hat! Sir Horace!

 

Jasmina: (not daring to look) Has he been...

 

John: Yes - after breakfast. But that doesn't matter now... he's dead.

 

Jasmina: Oh! Poor daddy...

 

John: Looks like I shan't be catching the 11.30 now.

 

Jasmina: Oh no, John, you mustn't miss your train.

 

John: How could I think of catching a train when I should be here helping you?

 

Jasmina: Oh, John, thank you... anyway you could always catch the 9.30 tomorrow - it goes via Caterham and Chipstead.

 

John: Or the 9.45's even better.

 

Jasmina: Oh, but you'd have to change at Lambs Green.

 

John: Yes, but there's only a seven-minute wait now.

 

Jasmina: Oh, yes, of course, I'd forgotten it was Friday. Oh, who could have done this?

 

Enter Lady Partridge. 

 

Lady Partridge: Oh, do hurry Sir Horace, your train leaves in twenty-eight minutes, and if you miss the 10.15 you won't catch the 3.45 which means ... oh!

 

John: I'm afraid Sir Horace won't be catching the 10.15, Lady Partridge.

 

Lady Partridge: Has he been... ?

 

Jasmina: Yes - after breakfast.

 

John: Lady Partridge, I'm afraid you can cancel his seat reservation.

 

Lady Partridge: Oh, and it was back to the engine - fourth coach along so that he could see the gradient signs outside Swanborough.

 

John: Not any more Lady Partridge... the line's been closed.

 

Lady Partridge: Closed! Not Swanborough!

 

John: I'm afraid so.

 

Enter Inspector Davis.

 

Inspector: All right, nobody move. I'm Inspector Davis of Scotland Yard.

 

John: My word, you were here quickly, inspector.

 

Inspector: Yeah, I got the 8.55 Pullman Express from King's Cross and missed that bit around Hornchurch.

 

Lady Partridge: It's a very good train.

 

All: Excellent, very good, delightful.

 

Tony runs in through the French windows. He wears white flannels and boater and is jolly upper-class.

 

Tony: Hello everyone.

 

All: Tony!

 

Tony: Where's daddy? (seeing him) Oh golly! Has he been... ?

 

John and Jasmina: Yes, after breakfast.

 

Tony: Then ... he won't be needing his reservation on the 10.15.

 

John: Exactly.

 

Tony: And I suppose as his eldest son it must go to me.

 

Inspector: Just a minute, Tony. There's a small matter of... murder.

 

Tony: Oh, but surely he simply shot himself and then hid the gun.

 

Lady Partridge: How could anyone shoot himself and then hide the gun without first cancelling his reservation?

 

Tony: Ha, ha! Well, I must dash or I'll be late for the 10.15.

 

Inspector: I suggest you murdered your father for his seat reservation.

 

Tony: I may have had the motive, Inspector, but I could not have done it, for I have only just arrived from Gillingham on the 8.13 and here's my restaurant car ticket to prove it.

   

Jasmina: The 8.13 from Gillingham doesn't have a restaurant car.

 

John: It's a standing buffet only.

 

Tony: Oh, er... did I say the 8.13, I meant the 7.58 stopping train.

 

Lady Partridge: But the 7.58 stopping train arrived at Swindon at 8.19 owing to annual point maintenance at Wisborough Junction.

 

John: So how did you make the connection with the 8.13 which left six minutes earlier?

 

Tony: Oh, er, simple! I caught the 7.16 Football Special arriving at Swindon at 8.09.

 

Jasmina: But the 7.16 Football Special only stops at Swindon on alternate Saturdays.

 

Lady Partridge: Yes, surely you mean the Holidaymaker Special.

 

Tony: Oh, yes! How daft of me. Of course, I came on the Holidaymaker Special calling at Bedford, Colmworth, Fen Dinon, Sutton, Wallington and Gillingham.

 

Inspector: That's Sundays only!

 

Tony: Damn. All right, I confess I did it. I killed him for his reservation, but you won't take me alive! I'm going to throw myself under the 10.12 from Reading.

 

John: Don't be a fool, Tony, don't do it, the 10.12 has the new narrow traction bogies, you wouldn't stand a chance.

 

Tony: Exactly.

 

 Tableau. Loud chord and slow curtain.

 

Voice Over: That was an excerpt from the latest West End hit 'It all happened on the 11.20 from Hainault to Redhill via Horsham and Reigate, calling at Carshalton Beeches, Malmesbury, Tooting Bec, and Croydon West'. The author is Mr. Neville Shunt.

 

Shunt sitting among mass of railway junk, at typewriter, typing away madly.

 

Shunt: (T.G.) (typing) Chuff, chuff, chuffwoooooch, woooooch! Sssssssss, sssssssss! Diddledum, diddledum, diddlealum. Toot, toot. The train now standing at platform eight, tch, tch, tch, diddledum, diddledum. Chuffff chufffffff eeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaa Vooooommmmm.

Cut to art critic.

   

Superimposed Caption: 'GAVIN MILLARRRRRRRRRR'

 

Art Critic: (J.C.) Some people have made the mistake of seeing Shunt's work as a load of rubbish about railway timetables, but clever people like me, who talk loudly in restaurants, see this as a deliberate ambiguity, a plea for understanding in a mechanized world. The points are frozen, the beast is dead. What is the difference? What indeed is the point? The point is frozen, the beast is late out of Paddington. The point is taken. If La Fontaine's elk would spurn Tom Jones the engine must be our head, the dining car our oesophagus, the guard's van our left lung, the cattle truck our shins, the first-class compartment the piece of skin at the nape of the neck and the level crossing an electric elk called Simon. The clarity is devastating. But where is the ambiguity? It's over there in a box. Shunt is saying the 8.15 from Gillingham when in reality he means the 8.13 from Gillingham. The train is the same only the time is altered. Ecce homo, ergo elk. La Fontaine knew his sister and knew her bloody well. The point is taken, the beast is moulting, the fluff gets up your nose. The illusion is complete; it is reality, the reality is illusion and the ambiguity is the only truth. But is the truth, as Hitchcock observes, in the box? No there isn't room, the ambiguity has put on weight. The point is taken, the elk is dead, the beast stops at Swindon, Chabrol stops at nothing, I'm having treatment and La Fontaine can get knotted.

   

 

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