It’s now possible to travel by train all the way from Yiwu in eastern China to Barking in East London.
The train will take about two weeks to cover the 12,000 mile journey, carrying a cargo of clothes, bags and other household items. It will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before arriving at Barking Rail Freight Terminal.
(BBC’s 10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week)
The final few miles were travelled at almost walking pace, as always seems to be the way with train journeys. The train clanked past sheds and warehouses, past sidings with single carriages on them, past the back gardens of small suburban houses. At last a platform appeared alongside, and the train slowed even more before finally, with a jolt and a huge burp of steam, the Orient Express came to a halt at Barking Railway Station.
The door to the dining carriage opened and a small man stepped out and hurried from the station. He stopped and looked around in confusion, then spotted a blue lantern with the word “Police” on it outside a small building across the road.
Sergeant Wright was on duty behind the desk when the man came in. He hastily moved the Daily Mirror to one side and looked at the newcomer, taking in the obviously dyed black hair, the astonishingly polished patent leather shoes, and the extraordinary moustache, carefully combed into a point at each end. The tune from the Go Compare ad popped unbidden into Wright’s mind and would, he knew, be there for some time. He sighed.
“Can I help you, sir?” he said. “Lost, are we?”
The man drew himself haughtily up to his full height, which didn’t take very long. “I do not get lost,” he said. “I am Hercule Poirot.”
Wright raised one eyebrow.
“The great detective,” hinted Poirot.
“Never heard of you,” said Wright. “You’d be surprised how little time we spend here following the career of French detectives.”
“Belgian!” snapped Poirot. “I am Belgian!”
“Ok,” said Wright. “Same sentence as before, with the word ‘French’ changed to ‘Belgian’.”
“But how can zis be?” exclaimed Poirot. “I thought that I was famous throughout Scotland Yard. Which, by the way,” he continued, looking around, “is a lot smaller than I was expecting.”
“Ah,” said Wright. “This may be the cause of the confusion. This isn’t central London. This is Barking.”
“What!?” said Poirot, because sometimes the word ‘pardon?’ just isn’t strong enough.
“We are in Barking,” repeated Wright.
“Where’s Barking?” said Poirot.
“Well, it’s here,” said Wright, accurately though not very helpfully.
“Then where’s London?” asked Poirot.
“About nine miles away,” said Wright.
“What’s the point of that?” said Poirot. “Why have a 12,000 mile journey that ends up nowhere near its destination?”
“Search me,” said Wright. “Perhaps the company’s been taken over by Ryanair.”
Poirot massaged the front of his forehead, just where he reckoned that his little grey cells would be. “Very well, you will have to do,” he said. “It’s murder. On the Orient Express.”
“I’d say it is,” said Wright. “Two weeks of cellophaned sandwiches and drinking coffee that tastes like burnt vole from cardboard cups.”
“No,” said Poirot. “Well, actually, yes, but that’s not what I meant. I mean someone was killed on the train. We found him stabbed in his room.”
“That’s terrible,” said Wright, getting to his feet. “I’ll just get my notebook, and then I’ll start taking statements.”
“Zere is no need,” said Poirot. “I have solved the case.”
“Really?” said Wright. “Who did it?”
“Everyone,” said Poirot.
Wright smiled. “You’re wasted as a Belgian detective,” he said. “You should have joined the KGB, they had a very similar approach to apportioning guilt as you do.”
“It’s true,” said Poirot. “The man that they killed was an evil man, and the twelve of them acted as both jury and executioner.”
“Then we’d better hurry,” said Wright. “They’re probably getting away.”
“They aren’t,” said Poirot. “I have them under arrest.”
“How?” asked Wright.
“There was a cargo of clothes on the train,” said Poirot. “It included 11 policewoman fancy-dress outfits, and I used the handcuffs from them.”
“I thought there are 12 suspects,” said Wright.
“There are,” said Poirot, “but once Colonel Arbuthnot saw Princess Natalia in the policewoman outfit he opted to stay voluntarily. So now we can take them into custody and lock them in your cells.”
“Cell,” corrected Wright, “and even then I’ll have to move my bike.”
The two of them looked at one other. “The thing is,” said Wright, “this is a small market gardening town, the nearest thing we get to crime is when someone belittles someone else’s marrow. I spend my days here stamping passport applications and handing out leaflets about hosepipe bans. Plus it’s my lunch-break in twenty minutes. I’m not sure I want to arrest twelve people about a murder that didn’t even take place here, in fact we’re probably not sure which country you were actually in when it happened.”
Poirot sighed. “You’re probably right. I’ve been stuck on a train for twelve days now, wearing these ridiculously painful shoes, and I’m just so tired. Plus I have to be in London this evening, I have tickets for The Mousetrap. And they did, after all, kill an evil man.”
“So we’ll let them go?” said Wright.
“Very well, ” said Poirot, “though I do feel they should face some punishment.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Wright. “The next train back isn’t until midnight. They’ll have to spend the day in Barking.”