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Authors: Gordon A. Kessler

Tags: #Action, #Adventure, #Thriller

Knight's Late Train (10 page)

BOOK: Knight's Late Train
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Chapter 1

Slaughter in the Yards

9:00 PM MST


Specks and I scrambled under the tarp that halfway covered the snowmobiles as the Blackhawk passed over the train. I peeked out when the chopper slowed as if those inside were inspecting our helicopter resting atop the flat, two cars ahead. The mercenaries’ helicopter soon moved on.

What a curious site it must have been for them, even wi
th Rillie aboard; our crashed helicopter on a flatcar, with no one inside. I hoped Rillie and her cohorts figured Specks and I had been thrown from the wreckage and were killed.

While t
he train slowed considerably, I pulled a Mag Light from the utility pocket on my right thigh and turned it on under the tarp. We then fueled the first two Arctic Cats in the dimness. As Slaughterhouse’s lights grew closer, the Blackhawk helicopter landed about a quarter mile away next to the main line in the middle of the train yards. We’d probably go right past them.

“Keys?” I
asked. “I have no idea how to hotwire these things.”

Specks said, “
I do.”

‘You do’ means you will, right?”

“Nope. Means I won’t
. You can unplug all the wires to the ignition switch and pull start ‘em, pretty easy.” He felt under the cushioned seat of the snowmobile he stood beside. “But won’t even need to do that because they usually keep the keys right here.” He pulled out a ring with two keys on it.

I smiled at him,
checked under the seat of the Arctic Cat beside me and found its keys, as well. “The shippers make these things damn easy to steal.”

“They’re lazy, complacent — and

orking low under the tarpaulin, we loosened the tie-down restraints from both snow vehicles and threw the chains to the side. Then we fired up their engines to let them warm up for about sixty seconds and raised the edge of our canvas cover to let out the engine fumes. I took a moment to warm my bootless and bloodied foot on the exhaust, thankful my appendage was still covered with a wool sock. Those wooden track ties had beaten both my foot and my hand up pretty good, but I didn’t seem to have any broken bones — of course the evening was still young.

While massaging my near frozen
and bloody toes, I peeked through the small hole in the tarp and saw numerous tracks branching off from ours. We’d just entered the yard limits and were less than a half mile from the center of Slaughterhouse Yards.

cutting the engines, still underneath the cover, I asked my companion, “How many workers in the yard?”

Specks thought for a moment. “There are four switchmen, if they’re working. They operate two remote control switch engines.
Two laborers fuel and service the locomotives at the fueling station, and a couple of car inspectors are out there somewhere. Most of the time, they’re hiding out at the east end in the inspectors’ shanty.”

I nodded. “
You got a cigarette lighter?”

“Yeah,” he dug it out of his pocket and
was about to light it up. “A Bic.”

“Not now,” I told him
, the smell of gas heavy under the tarp. We’d both been splattered with the gasoline — Specks’ arm had been nearly drenched. “Let me borrow it.”

He handed the lighter
to me. “When I give you the word, start your engine and go without the slightest hesitation. Head for the yard office, but be sure it’s safe before you go inside.”

“Compared to what you and your daddy’s put me through over the past few days, this
sounds fun,” he said. “But watch how you land that sled on the rails and lookout for any moving freight cars, too. An active train yard at night is one of the deadliest places on this ol’ Earth. You’d be surprised how those train cars’ll sneak up on you.”

Roger that,” I answered, hunched over while peering through the small, torn hole. “Be careful.”

Specks answered, “Fare the
e well!”

I flashed back to when I was little, and Doc and I would leave Specks after they let me ride with them on the train. We’d throw different catch phrases back and forth until Doc got tired of it and pulled me away.
I told him like I was once again that six-year-old, “Keep your powder dry.”

“Don’t let ‘em catch you with your pants down,” he replied.

“God speed,” I told him.

He said,
“See you later, alligator.”

mañana, iguana.” I told him.

“Keep fighting the good fight,” he said.

I told him, “Live long and prosper.”

He said, “Don’t let the back door hit
ya where the good Lord split ya.”

“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,
” I said.

He said,
“Break a leg.”

“Probably will,” I finished as the train cars’ steel wheels
sung in an eerie, loud shriek.

Now it was time
to raise holy hell.

  *  *

The train is slowing
, the freight car couplers hammering together, again and again.

Through my peephole, I see we’re stopping a little closer than I’d hoped
to the fueling station and the mercenaries from the helicopter. Although their chopper is on the other side of the fuel pumps, several of the men are standing near the inbound track we’re arriving on, as if they’re inspecting the train, possibly looking for hazmat cars that might fit their needs for their
train to Denver.

Behind them lay six bodies — the switchmen and laborers, I figure.
We finally halt directly in front of the five armed men, two of them wearing RCL control belts used to operate remote control switch engines from the ground.

Our adversaries are eyeing the leaking tank car
in front of us as I tell Specks, “Now!”

I start my engine
, but give Specks an extra second.

As he
shoots from under the tarpaulin and soars off the flatcar, I throw the lit Bic onto a pool of gasoline that’s formed next to me on the wooden deck. It ignites and the fire shoots directly to the ruptured tanker. The entire side of the steel-shelled freight car is immediately engulfed.

I fly off the
flatcar on my tracked vehicle, but take the long route away from the yard office to draw attention away from Specks. With a snow-throwing turn in front of the small armed force, they don’t know whether to run for cover from what will soon be a tremendous explosion, or to raise their guns to shoot me. In the next second, they’re covered with dirty snow, and I’m already thirty yards away from them, my throttle to its limit, driving parallel beside the tracks.

The ensuing explosion nearly knoc
ks me off my snowmobile, and radiating heat scorches my back through my thin jacket.

I’m nearly
100 yards away when I turn onto a yard crossing and look back. Flaming pieces of the steel gasoline tank car rain down around the fuel station as the tanker’s seventy-foot-long shell rockets through the air in a spectacular, explosive display. The conflagration roars like Niagara. The huge, wild firework twists and flips and cavorts like a NASA missile launch gone bad. Witnessing this incredible sight, my first thought is,
Oh, my God! What have I done!

I’m l
ucky diesel fuel doesn’t catch fire as easily as gasoline and none of the flaming shrapnel has directly impacted the fueling pumps, fixtures or tanks. With innocents quite possibly nearby, so far I’ve been fortunate.

But the
eight-foot-diameter, flaming steel cylinder hurling 200 feet above the train yards isn’t done — it
come down, and soon.

hat else should I expect? I mean, really — how long can I count on my luck holding out?

The rocketing tanker is
coming straight at me.

Chapter 14

Baby, You’re A Firework


I have the Arctic Cat engine wrapped tight, shooting between the train-car-laden tracks that allow me only one direction of travel — directly away from the violently rocketing tank car.

My rearview mirror is full of the
huge fiery projectile as I speed toward a small shack, probably the freight car inspectors’ shanty Specks had mentioned. At fifty feet away, my intention is to shoot past the shack, then across a clear section of track to my left and out of the way of the maniacal tanker. But my right skid catches a piece of rail partially buried in the snow, and I’m thrown from my snowmobile as it vaults sideways, tumbling until it crashes into the freight cars beside me.

I fall onto the icy snowpack and slide into the shanty’s door, knocking it down, then fly wildly over it to the middle of the small room. I land atop a table between two railroad
ers playing cards, and it flattens underneath me.

he freight car inspectors’ eyes bug as they stare down at me, and the shanty roof is ripped from the walls in a fire-filled hell above us in the next second. The tank car has tumbled over us, and the small shack has been spared in the middle of the demon-possessed tanker’s bounding path.

Eyes still popping, the three of us in the room watch as the shanty’s back wall falls away, and the feral tanker finally strikes a tall light pole, splits and stops just past it.
All of us stunned, before we can react, the high, large lights and the pole they’re mounted on fall onto the collapsed wall only a couple yards away in a loud crash.

As the smoke, dust,
snow and playing cards settle, I smile at my two new acquaintances, a middle-aged woman and man, both wearing undone heavy coats and hardhats.

whatya playing, hearts or spades?” I ask.

The woman answers, “

  *  *

The large m
an with the yellow hardhat helped me up.

I introduce
d myself, “E Z Knight,” and held out my hand.

He shook it, as did
the woman.

“I’m Buck Shot, car inspector. And this here’s my cousin Birdie Shot.”

I answered, “Don’t tell me, they call your dads Big and Long.”

They glanced at each other. “How’d you know?”

“You two had better get out of here fast.”

“What the hell’s going on here, Mr
. Knight?”

“Some very bad people are trying to do some very bad things.”

Birdie asked, “Say, you Doc’s son?”

“Yeah, I’m Ethan.”

“Glad to finally meet you,” she said, shaking my hand again. “Doc’s told us a lot about you.”

“Yeah,” I said and smiled. “I’m sure he has.

I glance
d down at the large man’s feet. “What size boot you wear?”

“Fifteen. Why?”
He looked at the snow, blood and ice-covered sock on my right foot.

I wear a thirteen, but
beggars can’t be choosers. I asked, “Can I buy your right boot from you? I’ll give you $500 next time I see you — and give you your boot back, too.”

He was unlacing his footwear
before I finished. “Doc’s son don’t need to pay me for nothing. Your father’s the salt of the earth as far as I’m concerned.” He handed me the boot.

cousin passed him a couple of socks. “Better double up. It’s pretty cold without that roof and wall.” Then she gave me a pair to replace the ice ball I was wearing.

“Put a plastic trash bag over
your foot,” I told him, and then asked, “You have a vehicle?”

“Two buggies, a couple of Honda ATVs over there on the other side of those tracks.” He point
ed past the collapsed wall.

“Leave me one, will you? Then get away from here as fast as you can. Wh
at’s the nearest city?”

Slaughterhouse, the town,” Buck said tying off a white trash bag around his right foot. “It’s about three miles east. If the roads aren’t too drifted over, we should be able to make it without much trouble in the ATV. The county road graders will be out clearing the snow pretty soon now that the storm’s over, anyway.” He looked at his cousin. “But those army guys said to stay in here and keep our mouths shut. Said something top secret was going on out there. They took our radios and our cell phones, then they cut the phone lines.”


“Yeah, you know, walkie-talkies,” Birdie said. “But we didn’t tell them we’ve got a couple more out there in the ATVs.”

I said, looping the last hook on the boot and tying the boot lace. “Now let’s get outa here before something bad happens.”

That made
them raise their eyebrows.

We stepped over the smoking remains of the
car inspectors’ shanty and trotted to the ATVs.

While w
atching the Shots speed away, I unplugged the electric heater on my ATV and slipped inside the fabric and Plexiglas-covered cab of the small two-seater. I picked up the handheld radio and keyed the microphone as I fired the Honda buggy up and started toward the yard office. I figured it was nearly a mile away.

Hard Way to Sled Racer,” I said. “Come in Sled Racer.” I repeated my call twice before I got an answer.

“Sled Racer. You okay, Hard Way?”

“Foot’s a little cold, but okay. What’s your status?”

“In the yard office. For now, no one’s hurt here.
The bastards got me when I pulled in. You should know you got friends out there —”

He was cut off.

“Sled Racer, what’s going on?”

Rillie’s voice answered. “E Z,
why don’t you come in from the cold. I know how to warm you up real good. All you’re doing is getting some extremely bad folks very upset with you and freezing your sweet ass off in the meantime. You’re racking up quite a body count. The good news for us is that we don’t need all of them now — less slices of the big pie. Maybe I should be thanking you.”

My anger fired up. “Where
are my kids? Where are Doc and Mary? Don’t hurt them,” I ordered.”

“Settle down, E Z!” Rillie said. “Eve
ryone’s okay. They’re all safe. These people are professionals. They have no reason to hurt any of them … unless someone doesn’t start cooperating.” She paused. “E Z — that someone is

I didn’t answer
, realizing the worst thing I could do is to hear her demands. If I couldn’t hear her, she couldn’t give me an ultimatum. I wouldn’t get anything useful out of
, or whatever her actual name was. It would be one-sided demands from here on out.

I stopped my ATV and opened the plastic and canvas door. In the distance,
a locomotive revved and steel couplers knocked together. The mercenaries were switching cars, probably making up one hell of an explosive hazmat train for a one-way trip to Denver.

I keyed the microphone.
“This radio is no longer functioning,” I said.

As I
threw the walkie-talkie against the steel rail, I heard Rillie’s voice say, “E Z, don’t be a foo —!”

BOOK: Knight's Late Train
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