Tag Archives: Whilforber Hill Terminus

We call it research, Mr. Flyre

Here is what I wanted to do last week: I wanted to find out about Nagspeake’s train station. It’s this crazy Art Nouveau structure, all luster-finished glass and dark metal, old leather benches with brass nailheads, mosaic floors–and if you believe the most common story about it, it was ordered from the Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue by the city of Nagspeake sometime before 1900 and completed in 1903. There’s also the school of thought that says it was ordered out of the D&M catalogue sometime before 1900 by the city of Magothy Hill, thirty miles west of Nagspeake. How it got to its present location at the top of Whilforber Hill would make a great story for this column–or so I thought. I guess it depends who you talk to, and if you talk to Augustus Flyre, the guy in charge of the Terminus, it extra-super wouldn’t. It would just be me being nosy, and nobody has time for a nosy Parker, which marks officially the first time I have ever been called that.

In my defense, about twenty-two people have suggested I write about the Terminus since I moved here. It’s something of a favorite local story, one that both entertains and does civic duty these days, as it’s often trotted out by dissatisfied citizens to demonstrate the audacity of yesteryear, and how we’re just a bunch of whiny buggers nowadays. (Also in this category fall the Righteous Murder stories, but I’m still too new in town for the majority of Nagspeakers I meet to bring those up in polite conversation.) Figuring the Chief Conductor of the Magothy Terminus would be, if anything, even more excited at the prospect of talking about this favorite bit of Old Nagspeake history, I made my first order of business to seek out Augustus Flyre.

“I got nothing to say to you reporters.”  It was not the welcome I expected. My protestations of non-reporterhood fell on deaf ears (or rather one deaf ear and one that just wasn’t interested). “Don’t care, don’t know, don’t bother me. I got nothing to say. You reporters are trouble.” “Okay, Mr. Flyre, but I’m not a reporter. Wilmer Cobblebridge sent me from the NBTC. He said to ask you about the Magothy Hill story.”

It turns out Willie Cobblebridge and Augustus Flyre aren’t as close as Willie thinks–Willie thinks they’re bridge pals and Mr. Flyre thinks that’s less important than the fact that Willie took a girl to his senior prom that he had no business dating because she had broken Flyre’s heart in grammar school. Evidently he quietly, secretly hates Willie and only plays bridge with him because he loves bridge so much. So my introduction didn’t get me much in the way of points with him.

As Chief Conductor, Augustus Flyre (Willie calls him Augie but the second I laid eyes on him I knew this man would wish ill on me in every way he could think of if I presumed to call him Augie) has three basic responsibilities. 1) He runs the Magothy Terminus itself and acts as a liaison between the city of Nagspeake and the owners and operators of the Magothy and Whilforber rail line (which includes scheduling, ticketing, safety, and various other things that were fired off at me like verbal bullets too fast for human hands to record); 2) he runs the Iron Pony Museum, a railway history attraction on the Terminus grounds; and 3) he manages the local fulfillment of Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue orders because they all arrive by railway shipment. He has one full-time employee, a bicycle messenger named Linus Mirrock; for larger orders, of which there are many, he hires local freight agencies. Between the three jobs he is, as he explained to me, “too goddamned busy to waste time with goddamned reporters.”

I don’t know what finally made him agree to talk to me. It might just have been the fact that I kept showing up, but I suspect it was something else: the turning point came when I finally suggested maybe I’d just contact Deacon and Morvengarde directly ((by every account I’d heard, of course, the Terminus itself was ordered from D&M, who, not being located in Nagspeake, presumably keep actual permanent records without burning them every twenty-five years).  Mr. Flyre blanched. “Why would you do that?” The question sounded genuine, and tinged with a little bit of concern, if not actual fear. “Because I figure they keep actual permanent records without burning them every twenty-five years,” I said. “Come back tomorrow,” Flyre said after a long pause. “Lunchtime.” Then he disappeared without further specifics, so I showed up at 12 only to endure ten minutes of lecturing because Flyre actually takes his lunch at four p.m. on the cafe car of the Bayside Brougham, which has a one-hour layover at the Magothy Terminus every day between three-thirty and four-thirty. Evidently the cafe server on the Brougham makes (and here I quote Mr. Flyre) “the only perfect John Collins”. (I said, “You mean a Tom Collins?” and Flyre said, “I do not.”) So, with four hours to kill I walked the unpaved cowpath from the Terminus to St. Whit’s Asylum (which is another story) and back in time to present myself precisely at 4 p.m. only to find out the three-thirty train was running late. It actually wasn’t until five p.m. that we sat down on the old wooden stools at the tiled bar in the dining car of the Bayside Brougham so that Augustus Flyre could rip into me again.

“You reporters all think you have a right. You think you have some kind of…some kind of right,” Flyre muttered as he watched the gaunt bartender pouring his perfect Collins. Somewhere in here is when he flung the nosy Parker accusation, which I maintain was unnecessary under the circumstances. “Look,” I said, “there’s plenty of people who want to talk to me about the Terminus.” I’d pretty much given up insisting I wasn’t a reporter. “What’s the deal? Why are you the only person in Nagspeake who doesn’t?” Then I caught him scoffing at the gin gimlet the bartender set down in front of me (which turned out to be exceptional, matched only by the ones made with Annabelle Bechamel’s heirloom gin) and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being scoffed at for my drinking habits. “And why don’t you want me to call Deacon and Morvengarde?”

Blanch. Flyre retreated into his glass muttering something about his good ear and stop mumbling.

Here’s what I already knew. The big controversy about the Magothy Terminus is that supposedly it was ordered by the town of Magothy Hill, meant to be delivered and installed in Magothy Hill, and the night after it arrived in Magothy Hill, it disappeared. Poof. It turned up a week later (it, or a railway terminus exactly like it down to the cast-iron and carnival glass sign proclaiming it to be MAGOTHY STATION) thirty miles east of its intended destination, at the top of Whilforber Hill just outside of Nagspeake. What nobody seems to know is how it got there. In Magothy Hill, the story goes that it was simply delivered to the wrong location, an easy mistake to make in 1905 when Magothy Hill was a very small town and hardly on the map. Why didn’t they correct the situation? Because, said Ted Bilton, deputy mayor of Magothy Hill, it had already been built, and certainly I didn’t think you could just go and move a railway terminus, lock, stock, and barrel, after it had been built?…Well…did I?

Of course I did, because it was a more interesting idea, which is possibly the biggest indication that I have spent way too long in Nagspeake already. I certainly wasn’t going to tell Bilton that, though. Instead I got him to tell me how one went about ordering a railway station back in the day. It started out sounding a lot like ordering from Sears, Roebuck and Company: then, as now, Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue sells additional catalogues of plans for houses and other buildings. You could order the catalogues of plans for free, and for a small sum (back then it was fifty cents) you could then receive the plans for the structure of your choice. Your fifty cents were credited toward the purchase of building materials, which you also ordered from D&M. This is where it stopped sounding like Sears, Roebuck; the cost of your building materials included the services of a Certified Deacon and Morvengarde Architect and Builder Emeritus, who showed up along with the 20-40 thousand house pieces that needed to be put together. The A.B.E. handled all the subcontracting necessary to complete the house, and guaranteed the future homeowner the lowest possible prices on services–“by force, if necessary,” Mr. Bilton said. What did that mean? “It’s Deacon and Morvengarde, so I assume it means exactly what it sounds like,” Bilton said. “I’m quoting directly from the customer service promises in the catalogue.”

This is probably as good a place as any to remind readers who might’ve forgotten that Deacon and Morvengarde has always had a stellar customer service record but not always a sterling reputation among competitors or subcontractors…or basically anyone who isn’t a customer. Yet another good reason to turn to D&M, trusted since time immemorial, for all your needs. Every single one. Or else. Somewhere in here I started to formulate my new theory, and it was this theory that made me suggest to Augustus Flyre that I might call D&M. But back to the Bayside Brougham.

“It’s simple, of course. Whichever town got the rail terminus was going to survive. Whichever one didn’t was going to wind up like Magothy Hill,” Flyre said. (Magothy Hill is just fine, by the way; it’s hardly a dead town.) So why couldn’t Nagspeake just have ordered its own station? “Question of timing. Same time this was happening, railroads were popping up everywhere, and the stations that were built earlier had a better chance of being connection points in the grid that was developing, as opposed to stops along the way to those points.” So–not to beat around the bush–did Nagspeake steal the Magothy Hill station? Flyre gave me a withering look. “Of course it did. Why else is the station called ‘Magothy’ rather than ‘Nagspeake?’ I suppose you want to know how they did it,” he grumbled. I did. “Thing was built in five parts that came together clamshell-like. All of ’em were built on some kind of skids so you could position ’em right. So one night a group of fellows rode a couple dozen horses and mules down to Magothy Hill, cut all the power lines to the town so’s it all went dark, and just hitched the station up, in its pieces, to the pack animals and tugged it away over here to Whilforber Hill. Satisfied?” The last word was shot at me like a snarl. And of course, I wasn’t–this was the same story I’d heard from everybody and I’d been expecting some deeper look from Augustus Flyre.

“Mr. Flyre, I already knew all that,” I said. “Everybody knows all that. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me something new, something nobody else knows.” I took a stab in the dark. “Like how Deacon and Morvengarde was involved.”

That did it. Only this time, Flyre didn’t blanch, didn’t retreat into his glass, didn’t say anything for a long moment. He turned to the bartender and asked him to leave. When we were more or less alone, Augustus Flyre leaned in close and spoke in the nastiest whisper I’ve ever heard. “Listen. I don’t know who you are, or who sent you, and I don’t care who that idiot Wilmer Cobblebridge thinks you are, either. I haven’t kept my mouth shut for my whole life just to start vomiting answers up for you, whoever you are. Call Deacon and Morvengarde. I don’t care. Get Marcus Aurelius Deacon himself on the phone, for all I care, and see what he says. But you better be ready to watch your back for the rest of your life. And you better tell him you got nothing from me but what you already knew, or I’ll be one of the ones coming after you.”

Whoa.

I don’t know what I started protesting first, but in the end it didn’t matter. Augustus Flyre was finished with me.

After a few minutes the gaunt bartender came back and made Flyre another Collins. He pointedly did not refresh my gimlet. I left shortly after that. During the entire walk back to the platform where the funicular railway takes you back down to the slope, I had the uncanny feeling if I looked over my shoulder, Augustus Flyre would be standing on the platform, staring daggers into my back.

To be continued.

(From 16 September, 2008)