The platform surface is loose underfoot and littered with errant bits of coal that have escaped from their storage bins. Nervously, I kick at a dew-wet weed that creeps out of the gravel. Damn and blast. Now I have to get my best boots and spats cleaned afresh.
It has been years since any train stopped at this backwater station. Now, in the early morning summer sunshine, birds twittering in the surrounding trees, it is the perfect discreet location for our clandestine meeting. I’d almost prefer an overcast winter’s morning for the grim deeds afoot.
From behind me a shrill whistle splits the peace before a pall of acrid smoke and steam envelop the platform as a goods train, like a marauding dragon of fable, thunders past at upwards of twenty miles per hour. I turn away from the monster, as much to shield my identity from the driver as to prevent the choking vapours from filling my lungs with its sulphurous poison.
Out of the miasma strides a man I presume can only be Frank. Undoubtedly a nom de guerre, but he comes highly recommended. At least he has dressed appropriately for the task, wearing a morning suit and top hat.
We have little to say to each other, other than to finalise the details. We draw close and in a low voice, I give him his instructions.
“You’ll go to St. John’s Church at eleven and kill the groom. In front of everyone. It has to be visible and bloody. This envelope contains the £100 we agreed. There’s another £100 afterwards. That’ll teach the swine to choose someone else as his best man.”
He takes the envelope and tucks it in his jacket pocket. “St. John’s at eleven?”
I am not sure whether he is repeating my words in confirmation or whether he is uncertain of what I said.
“Yes. Eleven. In three hours.” I pause briefly, re-evaluating his clothing. “Your attire. You seem…ready. How did you know?”
“Ha-ha! You must be Ernest?” he says, apropos of nothing.
“How the devil would you know that? I’ve never told you my name.” I’m starting to get a little concerned. I’d been told he was good, but how on Earth has he divined both the perfect dress for the occasion and my name?
Ignoring my questions, he starts laughing. A big belly laugh that I find both infectious and disconcerting. He holds out his hand to brace himself on my shoulder, so earth-shaking is his roaring hilarity. His smiling eyes, damp with mirth, look into mine.
“What’s funny? Are you mocking me, sir?” I demand.
“No sir, not in the slightest.” As he speaks he reaches into his jacket and pulls out a curved razor, flips it from its hinged ivory sheath, and draws it across my throat in a single elegant movement. “You see, I truly am the best man for the job.”
© 2018 Lee Stoddart
Lee quit the corporate world to write spec-fic and horror. He was twice shortlisted and published by the HG Wells Short Story Competition.