The Diamond Chariot

The Diamond Chariot by Boris Akunin Read Free Book Online

Book: The Diamond Chariot by Boris Akunin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Boris Akunin
    There were fewer people here. Standing some distance away, about fifty paces, was an express train – the one that had managed to slip across the bridge just before the collapse. The passengers were gathered in little knots beside the carriages.
    On the surviving section of the bridge and beside the water, men in civilian clothes, all dressed differently but all, nonetheless, as alike as brothers, were swarming about with a businesslike air. Among them Fandorin recognised Evstratii Pavlovich Mylnikov, with whom he had once worked in Moscow.
    A gendarme corporal in a wet, torn uniform was standing rigidly to attention in front of Mylnikov – it looked as if his report was already in full spate. But the court counsellor was not looking at the corporal, he was looking at Fandorin.
    ‘Bah,’ he said, throwing his arms wide, as if he was about to embrace the engineer. ‘Fandorin! What are you doing here? Ah, yes, you’re in the RGD now, they told me. Sorry for invading your territory, but it’s an order from the very top: investigate as a matter of emergency, involve all the contiguous departments. Got us up out of our feather bed. Go get ’em, they said, pick up that trail, you old bloodhound. Well, the part about the feather bed’s not true.’ Mylnikov bared his yellow teeth in what should have been a smile, but his eyes remained cold and narrowed. ‘When would humble sleuths like us ever see our feather beds these days? I envy you railway sybarites. I spent the night on the chairs in the office, as I usually do. But then again, as you can see, I got here first. Look, I’m interrogating your lads, to see if it was a Japanese mine.’
    ‘Mr Engineer,’ the corporal said excitedly, turning to Fandorin, ‘tell His Honour, will you? Do you remember me? I’m Loskutov, I use to work in Farforovaya, on the crossing. You inspected us in winter and you were well pleased. You gave orders for me to be promoted. I did everything all right and proper, just like we’re supposed to! I climbed over the whole lot myself, ten minutes before the express. It was all clear! And how could the enemy have crept through on to the bridge? I’ve got sentries at both ends!’
    ‘So it was completely clear?’ Fandorin asked to make certain. ‘Did you look carefully?’
    ‘Why, I … Just look at that …’ The corporal choked and tugged his peaked cap off his head. ‘By Christ the Lord! Seven years … You ask anyone you like how Loskutov does his duty.’
    The engineer turned to Mylnikov:
    ‘What have you managed to find out?’
    ‘The picture’s clear,’ Mylnikov said with a shrug. ‘The usual old Rooshian nonsense. The express train was travelling in front. It stopped at Kolpino and was supposed to let the special with the field guns go past. Then this telegraph clerk passes on a telegram: Carry on, the special’s delayed. Someone messed things up somewhere. As soon as the express has cleared the bridge, the army train catches up with it from behind. A heavy brute, as you can see for yourself. Should have shot across at full speed, as required, then nothing would have happened. But it must have started to brake, and the supports caved in. The railway top brass will be in for it now.’
    ‘Who sent the telegram about the special b-being delayed?’ asked Fandorin, leaning forward eagerly.
    ‘Well, that’s just it. No one sent any such telegram.’
    ‘And where’s the telegraph clerk who supposedly received it?’
    ‘We’re searching. Haven’t found him yet – his shift was already over.’
    The corner of the engineer’s mouth twitched.
    ‘You’re not searching hard enough. Get a verbal portrait, a photo if you can, and put him on the all-Russian wanted list, urgently.’
    ‘The telegraph clerk? On the all-Russian list?’
    Fandorin beckoned the court counsellor with his finger, took him aside and said in a quiet voice:
    ‘This is sabotage. The bridge was blown up.’
    ‘How do you make that

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