By Donald Harry Roberts
Samantha Bleck watched the world chug by slowly. She was lost in a dream that fit nicely into the scenery just past the window. The book in her hands was her own, a murder mystery she had written that somehow fit perfectly into this strange journey to nowhere. It was like her imagination was coming true and as if somewhere aboard the train was a killer ready to play out the scene she had written in chapter three. She wondered if her book could have been a premonition, but how could that be since she had decided to take the tour on a whim.
She started pacing the cars eyeing every passenger, whispering notes into her voice recorder, describing people that had been in her story. The only one that didn’t fit was the Conductor. Her conductor had been short, a little chubby, and all smiles, and not too bright. This one was tall and gaunt with a shock of grey hair and piercing blue eyes, that at the right angle and with a glint of sun flashed through the spectrum of fire red.
“I must be going mad.” She whispered but smiled realizing she was prone to allowing her imagination to run wild when a story idea popped into her head. Still it was uncanny how her characters came to life.
Samantha was just about to find her way to the observation deck when a scream ripped through the dining car and a dozen passengers ran to one of the corner tables, exactly the way it had happened in her Rudolph Merchant novel, The Murder Of Elisa Montero.
Her mind reeled. I was impossible. She ran to the table. Face down in her lunch was a red headed woman wearing an orange flowered sun dress, Elisa Montero, same…same…same… A knife stuck in her back, an ordinary steak knife.
“Murder. Cold blooded murder. It can’t be. Not exactly the way I wrote it.” Samantha gasped.
“No one ever believes what happens on the Train is real, not until they find themselves caught in the mist and cross over the trestle of dreams.”
Samantha turned to face the voice. It was the Conductor.
“What are you talking about? This is a tour train to the Valley Of Dreams.” Samantha argued.
The Conductor growled, “Is it? Are you sure? Can you imagine that it might be the wrong train you boarded and this is the train tour into madness?”
The train jerked. Samantha started. She was sitting in her seat watching the world of forest roll by slowly. The train was rounding a long bend and just behind them she could see the bridge…which in the brochure had been called The Bridge To The Valley Of Dreams. “The Valley of Nightmares.” She uttered with a little shiver.
When she had another look at a different angle she gasped. “It looks old and broken.”
The Conductor frowned and said, “It is unusual for passengers to see the old bridge.”
“What old bridge?” Samantha shot back.
“Oh. Well, before it was repainted.” The Conductor replied.
Samantha looked at the bridge again as it disappeared around the slope of the valley. It was new and gleamed golden in the sun. But as it vanished behind a veil of mist. Then she looked up to see the Conductor strolling away.
“Weird. I must have dosed off.”
Detective Sam Wakes shot Lassiter Leeks a passing glance like any passenger would do. Leeks nodded and even managed a smile. He didn’t recognize Wakes for what he was. That could prove helpful. “Maybe I can get close enough to have a drink, talk about the tour; keep close.”
Lassiter Leeks turned his eyes toward the window. He was doing everything he could not to look nervous. He wanted a drink. A double. He wanted to forget he was a killer, a cop killer. He wanted to stop thinking that everyone that looked at him was a cop. The guy who just gave him a quick glance couldn’t be a cop. He looks like a thug, but maybe he wants to look that way. But how could they know I would be on this train?
Sam Wakes found a seat next to a kid, at least the guy looked like a kid, but he wasn’t. He was cop, a good cop but new to the detective game. Sam said, “I want you to look like a cop. Make sure Leeks thinks you are a cop. I am going to give you a hard time. Hopefully it’ll make Leeks think I am a friend. He is going to put up a fight. I don’t want it to happen on a crowded train.”
“Do you mean he’ll use a gun?” The other detective replied.
“I am sure of it. He’s got a gun under his arm. It’s a big one.” Sam warned, then stood and walked away, past Leeks again.
Detective Constable Barness stood from his seat and strode slowly past Leeks. He let his jacket fall open revealing the badge hooked to his belt. Lassiter Leeks’ eyes flashed fear but he managed not to panic. “They don’t know what I look like. They can’t.”
When the constable was gone Leeks got up and headed for the lounge car. Now he really needed a drink and he really needed to be close to a door. If he had to, he could bail out. The train was not going fast. He had planned to jump anyway.
Leeks found a table near the door. He sat down. A few seconds later the guy who looked like a thug joined him.
The Conductor came to the table. He said quietly, “I suggest you both hold off in your drama. Something could go very wrong if you don’t.” Then he moved on.
“What do you think the screwball meant by that?” Sam Wakes asked his table mate.
“Beats me. This whole trip has turned out weird. I didn’t know it was a tour and I can’t figure out why no one has asked me for a ticket.” Leeks responded curiously.
“Well I agree, and that conductor doesn’t act like a conductor. He’s more like a jail guard.” Sam said.
“What do you know about jail guards?” Leeks interrogated.
“Too much. Too damn much and I know cops when I see them too.” Sam offered.
“Yah. Some are dumb. One just flashed his badge at me. I don’t think he meant to. His coat just sort of fell open. And there he is.” Leeks said and nodded at the young man entering the lounge car.
Episode Three coming in December
Opal Writers Magazine