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Authors: Gordon A. Kessler

Tags: #Action, #Adventure, #Thriller

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BOOK: Knight's Late Train
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It’s preferential to be the one choosing when to have a confrontation, and I decide there’s no better time than the present.
We face off three feet from each other.

Big Deal says, “Don’t push your luck, Knight. Big Deal’s fast and deadly. Big Deal’s trained with SEALs.”

I’ve never liked braggarts of any kind, but especially the ones with unwarranted boasts and empty threats. I’d trained with SEALs and about every other Special Forces counterpart in the Free World — as well as a good part of the not-so-Free World. Most are great guys and gals. This prick isn’t.


Big Deal SEAL
?” I ask. “You mean like you can balance a beach ball on your nose?” There I went with the circus reference, again. Must have been the atmosphere these clowns created. I tell him, mocking his third person, “Well, you’re a
big dud
to
E Z
— a
no
deal, a
pompous
little
deal, and E Z’s about to make you a
done
deal.”

I reach quickly and twist his nose.

He tries to block, but way too late, and my hand is back at my side before he reacts.

He frowns. “What the…?”

With one foot, I raise his left pant leg high enough to shove his sock down to the top of his loafer with my boot toe, and I’m flat-footed before he knows it.

“What the hell’s wrong with you,” he says and raises the disheveled foot to pull his sock back up.

Rillie is chuckling. Chic is rolling his eyes. Even Dye shakes his head.

While his left foot’s in the air, I do the same to his right sock.

“What are you…?”

He adjusts his right sock, his jaw clenching.

While he’s on one leg, I poke him in his glaring eyes with my fingers, like Moe, and I give him a Curly chuckle.

He stumbles back and rubs his eyes. “You’re mental.”

I step up and slap his forehead with the heel of my hand.

He tumbles over the corner of his desk, but catches himself before he falls flat.

I ask, “Want more?”

“Screw you,” he blurts, stepping out from behind his desk, and gets into the pugilist’s
on guard
position. “Fight like a man!”

I strike, slapping his face, and my hand’s back at my side before he swats at it.

He shakes it off. “Asshole!”

“Name calling?” I tongue cluck at him. “Stinky feet.”

“Listen you prick,” he says.

I strike again, my hand going past the side of his face this time, and I yank hard on his left earlobe. “
You listen
, pee-pee pants.”

His block misses again. But he comes back and takes a wide swing at me.

I duck, grab his arm, and spin him around so that his back is to me. After giving him a reach around, I unbuckle his belt and yank his pants down to his ankles in an instant.

Then, I step back. “Didn’t your mama tell you
to always put on clean underwear, poopy head?”

He turns
, face as red as a tomato. In annoyance, his first step becomes an awkward lunge, and he falls at my feet.

If Rillie wasn’t watching, I might have pissed on his head.

When he grabs at my ankles, I hop and land, my feet atop his hands.

“Now what,
Little
Deal?”

He’s struggling. He’s wearing stained white boxers with little hearts and sheep on them.

“That’s got to be embarrassing. Can’t run crying to your wife this way — can you,
aunt bugger
?” I think I’m rather clever. I hear some chuckles from the onlookers, and I’m pleased they get my double entendre.

He’s so frustrated, he’s near tears. “She’s my aunt by marriage!”

I don’t take the time to figure out how that works. “Aunt-wife — by marriage?” I shook my head. “I don’t think I want to play with you anymore.” To Chic, I said, “I’m hoping we’ll be back by early evening with Doc and Specks. Will you still be here?”

“Me? Oh, yeah.
Storm’s got us locked up tighter than a bull’s ass at fly time. None of us are going anyplace until the roads open back up. We’ve already been here for three days. Second and third shift can’t come in, and we can’t leave.” He looked at Big Deal and Officer Dye. “We’ll all be here. Just not sure we’ll all still be alive.”

Chapter 5

Snowb
lower Down

3:00 PM MST

 

We
took off west from Slaughterhouse Yards before it got any
uglier
and battled the same gusty, fifty-knot crosswind as before in the Bell helicopter.

All we had to go on was that my father and Specks had entered dark territory coming bac
k toward Slaughterhouse, and no one had reported hearing from them since. I figured we’d follow the rail west and pass through dark territory to its western limit. If we hadn’t found the missing snowblower by then, we’d return the same route while doing a more careful and extensive search on the way in. Surely they wouldn’t be hard to find — after all, it was a railroad-track-confined locomotive consist we were looking for.

I
n ten miles, while scanning what little I could see in the storm, I spotted something that appeared to be a derelict structure through Rillie’s floor window.

“What’s that?
” I asked and pointed.

Rillie ha
d brought enough food for several meals, and she was taking out a couple of sandwiches and juice for our lunch on the go. She glanced about.

“You handled yourself
remarkably well back there.”

She was off the subject, her mind
seeming to wander.

“There,” I said and pointed
down at her floor window.

“I don’t see anything.
” She handed me a bottle of orange juice. “You know, when your daddy told me all those stories about you, I used to kind of fantasize. There just aren’t too many heroes out there in the real world, anymore. I was sure you couldn’t be as great as what Doc told me and what I imagined.”

A bit frustrated, I said, “Looks like a tower of some kind lying in the snow.”

“Don’t know,” she said. “Anyway, I was wrong. Back there at Slaughterhouse, you proved to be everything your daddy said and I’d imagined — and more.”

She seemed infatuated. I didn’t need that right now. At another time, I would have welcomed it. I quit listening to her and
flew in a slow circle.

“What are you doing?
” she asked. “It’s not them.”

“Yeah, but it’s not normal, either.”

We came in low. “It is a tower.” I noticed the large ball-and-dish-like receivers lying at the end of the steel-beam structure. “A microwave tower.”

“Must have blown over in the storm.”

“Odd,” I said. “They’ve had higher winds than this, up here. These towers are made to resist hurricane forces.”

“Probably old.
Finally quit resisting,” she said and handed me a ham sandwich.

We got back on our course, but
I still wasn’t convinced. These towers don’t just fall.

When I noticed
a second tower down in another fifty miles, I knew it wasn’t normal. But I didn’t mention it to Rillie.

At about ninety miles out, we entered what was considered dark territory for the WC
E railroad. The route snaked through valleys, between mountains and alongside iced-over streams. Visibility was poor but good enough to make out the ground and rail below us. The storm had pretty much blown itself out of snow and any sort of moisture, but the strong and gusty crosswind was still a bit hairy to fly through. I hated to admit it, but if the wind got any worse, we’d have to set down and wait until it let up. I hoped the return trip would be an easier run — especially if we’d found my father.

In another ten miles, Rillie spotted something.

“There! On the left,” she said.

We came in low, banked for a better view and passed over what appeared to be the burnt-out hulks of three linked locomotives and one tanker freight car
. Derailed a hundred feet from the burnt-up tanker were another ten that appeared relatively undamaged.

Rillie said, “It’s them! It’s Ol’ Wendy and her remotes.”

I was slightly relieved, but not too keen on the locos’ conditions. Then I noticed a long string of cars on a set out track about 500 yards away, so I turned the chopper toward them.

She asked,
“What are you doing?”

“I want to check those cars out.”

“Just set outs. They’re probably being stored there.”

“But they look like ore hoppers.” I asked, “You think they could be from the Mother Lode Express?”

“Could be, but why does that matter?”

We flew in close. I counted over three-dozen, open-top-hopper cars.

“It just seems odd,” I said. “Do you think Doc and Specks ran into the ore train or a hazmat?”

“Ore trains don’t pull hazmat. Hazmat trains don’t generally pull ore cars.”

I let it go, and we set down about fifty yards out on the first level but snow-covered ground I could find. Drifts were high, but the wind had cleared a significant portion of the tracks.

We bundled up and stepped out into an atmosphere that could have as easily been on an alien planet. The cold, frozen-snow-filled wind felt like fire on my eyes, nose and mouth and any other flesh exposed for even a secon
d.

Once inside the wreckage,
even with the windows knocked out, we found some relief from the weather. But a careful inspection revealed little — no bodies, no signs of life. Both a good and bad indication.

Scanning the inside the
snowblower cab, Rillie said, “With the wrecked locomotives derailed and fouling the main line, and that hazmat tanker all blown to hell, it looks like they ran smack into the local manifest train. Doc and Specks must have jumped before the collision then climbed aboard to ride back. I’ll bet they’re okay.”

“This was the manifest train? There are ten more tankers derailed to the west.”

“Manifest trains carry mixed freight. Especially through this passage, sometimes a considerable portion are tankers carrying LP gas or other fuels.”

I’m no railroader, but I’m naturally skeptical. “Hmmm.”

A moment later, I noticed some fresh scratches on the snowblower’s control stand. It was a message that seemed to confirm Rillie’s supposition. Scraped into the paint in six-inch letters, it simply said, “
We’re OK!”

Obviou
sly, the message was meant for any rescuers who might come across the wreckage before my father and Specks were reported found.

It just didn’t look right. “Is it possible they did this on purpose? Could they have
purposely
rammed the train?”

“That’s crazy. They’re lucky they weren’t killed,” Rillie said.
“Looks to me like we need to take care of ourselves and get back as soon as we can before they have to send out people to rescue the rescuers.”

I wasn’t so sure. Rillie was my railroad expert on hand, but I knew Doc. My father would have left a clearer message, if he’d had time.
Besides, I didn’t know whoever it was who scratched the words “We’re OK!” into the paint, I just knew it wasn’t my father.

Doc has
a lot of pet peeves. Since I was a little boy, one of the things he always insisted on I do was to always spell out “okay” and never write it like
he claimed
was an abbreviation —
OK
. He’d said that the American missionaries working with the Choctaw Indians back in the early settler days had borrowed the word from those Native American’s language. Their word “
okeh
” meaning
it is so
, was made into our word okay, meaning
all right
. Doc’s always been kind of funny about that sort of thing — people changing old practices, just to shorten them for no good reason.
Laziness,
he’d say,
Just to save two damn letters like it cost ‘em to buy consonants and vowels!

“I’m cold!” Rillie said, hugging herself. Her nose was red. “We don’t need to see any more, do we?”

I nodded. “Let’s get back.”

When we stepped out
of the cab, the wind blasted, nearly shoving us off our feet. No matter what direction we would be heading, being in the air during these kinds of gusts was not an option.

I
elevated my voice and told her, “Can’t fly in this. We’ll have to sit it out.”

I was surprised when she smiled. She took my
gloved hand, and we braved the wind past the locos. After trudging through fifty yards of mid-thigh snow, we made it back to the chopper.

Once safely inside, we had
terrific seats to watch the snow and wind, and the wind and snow, and more snow and wind.

“Reminds me of my first TV,” I told Rillie. “I’ll fire up the engine and turn on the heaters.”

“No, we have to conserve our fuel, don’t we?”

“We have half a tank. We can probably run the engine with the rotor disengaged for nearly an hour without the risk of running out of fuel before we make it back to Slaughterhouse.”

“But what if we have an emergency? What if we have to divert or run a rescue?”

“I’d say
this
is an emergency. It’s ten degrees out there, and we could be here for anywhere between an hour to all night before it lets up. I don’t want to operate the electric heaters for more than ten minutes without the engine and generator running.”

“So don’t.”

“Rillie, the coats will keep us warm for a while, but if we’re not moving, hypothermia could be a serious problem.”

She leaned over the console
and drew close, her eyes lazy, lips moistened, her cheeks red. “So we can move as much as you want.” She kissed me, and I kissed back. Her kiss was very nice. We held it for an extended moment, and then she pulled back long enough to check my eyes. Hers were wide and bright blue — her nostrils flaring with desire. She dove back in hungrily.

I reciprocated, trying to forget what Rillie said about her and my father having an affair. I didn’t want to think about that: the rubber girl tying herself in knots; Big Deal in a clown suit, balancing a ball on the end of his nose while
butt-ramming his aunt — and the bearded midgets … damn it — if these freak-circus mental pictures kept getting worse, I’d have to scratch my eyes out.

I did my best to wipe those disturbing images from my mind and considered what I was about to be involved with. Smokey had said a commitment wouldn’t be fair, but I’d agreed to “keep checking back” with her. I intended to do that, once my father was found, and he was safe and sound.

Rillie pulled back again. “You were a Marine, you know cold-weather survival.” She reached behind her seat and pulled out a thin Mylar blanket. “I think we need to take off our coats and clothes and get under this. Just in case we work up a sweat. We don’t want to be wearing wet garments. We’ll use the reflective blanket and our body heat to keep us warm.”

She pulled the thin-plastic, cold-weather blanket over us up to our necks. Then she started undressing …
me
.

I told
you that I was a dog. Most women seem attracted to me for some unknown reason. With me, women tend to cross a line they normally wouldn’t with most other men. It’s a gift — it’s a curse. Damn it, it’s so difficult being me!

I began undressing her.

BOOK: Knight's Late Train
5.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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