Authors: Barbara Taylor Bradford
The last of a
fleet of ambulances were making their way to area hospitals with the injured.
They had to travel on narrow, rarely used country roads, which offered the only
access to the remote site. The more seriously injured were helicoptered to the
nearest trauma centers.
A giant crane,
brought in to right the overturned train cars, was lumbering through a barley
field, crushing the early crop.
investigators from the NTB, AMTRAK, the FBI, as well as the National Guard, plus
dozens of state police, were milling around the scene. The local police were
trying, mostly in vain, to keep the burgeoning press corps at bay.
on the entire Northeast Corridor had been suspended, with the usual
consequences. There were traffic jams on the roads, and crowds at the airports,
as stranded passengers searched for alternative transportation to their
destinations. Experts were trying to work out a route for trains that would bypass
the crash site, but that could take days.
list was long and disturbing: eleven dead, fifty-four injured, twenty seriously.
The missing passengers, Fiona Chambers and Luke Thompson, were being credited,
by those on the scene, with saving nine passengers who had been trapped in the
ill-fated first-class railcar. These acts of heroism took place before the carriage
had plunged over the cliff into the Delaware, with Luke and Fiona presumably still
There had been
reports, unsubstantiated as of yet, of two people jumping, or falling, from the
car as it hurtled toward the river. But it was feared that even if the two had
survived the force of the fall, the cold swirling waters of the Delaware would
have swept them away.
The outside temperature
had dropped to forty-two degrees, typical for this part of the country in
April. Hayley, wearing only a light jacket, was oblivious to the cold as she
hiked through the barley field. She was heading toward the site of the
accident, using the tracks made by the crane.
taken as long as she thought it would to find the place. She had made it here
from the Tunnel in a little over two hours. Once she was across the bridge from
New Jersey into Pennsylvania, all she had to do was point the car toward the
lights that swept the night sky. And let the GPS do the rest.
Reaching the actual
crash site was another matter entirely. There were road blocks everywhere, and state
troopers were turning the cars of the curious around. But a little thing like
law enforcement was not going to keep Hayley Martin from finding her friend and
the man she loved.
It was on the
drive that she had finally admitted to herself that she did love Luke. She
always had. She also decided she was going to tell him so. Why had she been so
coy, pretending not to care, telling everyone who would listen that she and
Luke were just friends? Why was she waiting for him to make the first move? This
was 2013. Women were allowed to go after what they wanted.
When she saw
the road blocks ahead, Hayley abandoned her car, and set out across the fields in
a jog. She was glad she had pulled on jeans and sneakers before leaving New
York. The ground was soft, and bristles from the crushed crops scratched at her
ankles. Finally she had the good sense to tuck her jeans into her socks.
As soon as she
was closer to the crash scene she slowed down, straightened her jacket and
walked ahead of the big crane, ordering people to make way, to move aside, in a
very official manner.
a railway employee, and said she must confiscate his flashlight to lead the
machine in. She claimed hers had been lost in the field.
Armed with the
long, official-looking torch, she made her way through the wreckage to a
cluster of officials who appeared to be directing operations. In the chaos of
the moment, it was difficult to tell who belonged and who didn’t. Hayley put
her talent for disappearing in a crowd to good use. No one challenged her, or
even seemed to notice she was there.
What she swiftly
learned chilled her to the bone. Fiona and Luke had been on the train when it
went over the cliff. So far, three more witnesses had come forward, reporting
that they saw the two jumping free of the car. But the consensus was that whether
they jumped, fell, or went into the water with the train, what officials were
now calling a search and rescue mission would soon become something else. A
quest to recover the remains of the two passengers from the unforgiving
A team of
divers from the Coast Guard would go into the river at first light. A search
party made up of police officers, National Guardsmen and volunteers would be
deployed to search every inch of the shoreline on both sides of the river. If
no one was found by afternoon, they would commence dragging the river. Barges
were being brought in to raise the train carriage once it was located.
Her heart in
her mouth, Hayley extinguished her flashlight and faded away into the night to
say a prayer. It was something she hadn’t done in a long, long time. But at
this moment it was the only thing she could do.
only sounds in the darkness were the rushing of the water and the whirring helicopters
upriver. They were circling over the spot where the train carriage had gone
into the Delaware.
to the skin and shivering, was on her knees on the rocky shore. “Please, please
let me rest, just for a minute.”
“You’ve got to
keep moving.” Luke lifted her to her feet, but she seemed to have lost the
ability to move her legs. “Try to walk, Fiona. I’ve got to get you to some
place where you can get warm.”
“I’ll just sleep
till Tuesday,” she promised groggily.
A cold fear
He knew, from
covering disasters around the globe, what the signs of hypothermia were, and
Fiona was exhibiting a number of them. She had been delusional for a while now.
A person could die very quickly, he knew, especially after immersion in icy
water. He had read that some of the people after the
only fifteen to twenty minutes before hypothermia began to shut down their
Luke picked Fiona
up off the ground, put her arm around his shoulders, and half-carried her down
the stony riverbank. “Try to move your feet,” he urged. He too was shivering,
and not very steady on his feet either.
“We walked for
two days,” she whispered. “Nobody’s home.”
“It just seems
that way,” he whispered, humoring her. “We slept, or passed out after we got
out of the water, I don’t know for how long.” He started moving again. “That’s
why the helicopters didn’t see us. Just keep going,” he said, dragging her
along. “I know we’ll find a fishing cabin, or a lean-to, or something. This is
a big fishing river. Come on. Just a little farther.”
But Fiona was
non-responsive. Her face was taking on a bluish hue. It was a bad sign. He walked,
or rather staggered, another fifty feet, searching the shoreline for any sign
And then he
saw it, and his heart lifted.
put her down on the ground gently and ran up the bank. Sure enough, there, nestled
in some trees, was a tiny cabin. It was made of plywood and tin. And held
together by God knows what. But it was standing. He could get them out of the
chill wind, which hadn’t stop blowing.
Luke pushed hard
on the piece of plywood that served as a door. It opened with a creak. He felt
around for a light switch but there was no such luxury here on the river. There
was, however, a Coleman lantern. He discovered this when he tripped over it. Thankfully,
the battery still had some life left in it.
He held the
lantern up and looked around. There was a cot, some old grey blankets, and a homemade
fireplace fashioned from half an oil drum. To him, the place was as beautiful
as the Ritz. And it would save them.
He ran back to
the riverbank to find Fiona unconscious, lying on the rocks. “Hang on, Fiona.
Hang on!” he shouted in her ear.
He scooped up her
limp body in his arms and carried her to the cabin. After putting her on the
cot, he quickly stripped off her wet clothes. Then he grabbed every blanket he
could find and wrapped them around her.
Her lips were
blue and her skin clammy. She was shivering violently. He checked the little
fireplace but it held no wood and there was no time to search for any. Fiona’s
breathing was becoming shallow.
He thought a
moment, then stripped off his own wet clothes and slipped into the cot next to
her. He wrapped the blankets around them both and held her close to his body,
giving her what heat he could. He rubbed her back, her arms, and her legs, needing
to get her blood flowing.
five minutes he began to feel the warmth their two bodies were generating. Five
minutes longer and her breathing became more even. His arms were aching but he
wouldn’t stop. The color was returning to her face and body.
Suddenly her eyes
fluttered open. She looked up at him, not comprehending who he was or what was
happening. Then she smiled at him and promptly fell asleep in his arms.
He looked at
her face, her perfect, beautiful face. Very gently, he kissed her on the
forehead. He rested his head next to hers, holding onto her as if never to let
Luke was asleep too.
the hell is my jacket?” The crane operator was angrily searching the cab of his
rig. “My damn hat is missing too.” He turned to his crew gathered around
drinking coffee from a thermos. “Okay, who’s the comedian?”
Hayley was a
few yards away, with the volunteers who, with members of the National Guard,
were milling around, waiting for the search to begin. She was clad in a red-and-black
plaid jacket four sizes too large for her. A wool hat was pulled down to her
eyes. She slipped deep into the middle of the crowd, and out of sight of the
jacket’s angry owner.
She took out
her cell phone and hit redial, expecting to go to voicemail once again.
Miraculously, Mikey picked up, home no doubt from a night of drinking and
gambling, and God knows what else. And on her money.
there. What are you doing up so early?”
“Did you just
get home, you creep? Did you have fun with my money? Or rather the money you
stole from me?”
hurt. “What are you talking about? I’d never steal from you! You’re my sister!”
until I see you. Meantime, did you forget that Luke and Fiona went over a cliff
last night? That they're probably dead?”
“You did! You
forgot! You shit! What is wrong with you? Are you hanging around with Eddie
not. I learned my lesson last time.”
, because your lips are moving. I need you to do something
for me. Call Professor Chambers, Fiona’s dad. You’ll find his number in my
address book in the apartment. Tell him I’m at the crash site, and I’ll call
him the minute I know something.”
“You call him,
Hayley. He doesn’t like me.”
of Ethics not
you? What a surprise. Call him and I might not kill
She hung up
quickly before he could make another excuse. She couldn’t bear to be the one to
tell that kind and loving man that his only daughter was most likely dead.
The first red
streaks of dawn were beginning to filter through the night sky. The colonel in
charge of coordinating the searchers addressed those gathered.
“We are ready
to move out. Remember your orders. Stick to the paths down to the river that have
been cleared for you. We don’t want to have to stop our search, to pull you out
of the drink. You’ve each been given an area to search, and issued a whistle.
If you see anything, and that includes train debris, clothing, shoes, tracks,
body parts, anything at all, give two long blasts on the whistle. Got it?
. Touch nothing. Do nothing. Wait until help arrives. If it is a
false alarm, you will hear three short blasts, three long. That means keep searching.
“Yes, Sir!” the
guardsmen answered in unison.
Hayley was too
busy praying for a miracle to respond. She tried to shut out the words, but all
the talk of broken bones at impact, and death by hypothermia, crept into her
consciousness, despite her efforts to stay positive.
the whistle that hung around her neck and followed the first group of searchers
toward the riverbank. She would not listen to the so-called experts. They didn’t
know Fiona and they didn’t know Luke. They would find a way to survive.
her way down the path to the riverbank, which the National Guard had cut out of
the tangle of undergrowth. The hill was steep and the river far below. She pushed
down the thought of her two friends falling…falling toward the brown swirling
water below her.
her. I could have had a hand in this, she thought. I sent all those hateful,
envious, angry feelings I had about Fiona out into the universe. If they were
found alive…She corrected her thought.
they were found alive
there would be no more negative thoughts from her. When Luke was found alive
she was going to tell him she loved him, that she had loved him since she was
eight years old.
And she was
going to apologize to Fiona for pretending he was just an old pal. Maybe Luke
thought the same thing. Hayley was always one of the boys when she was with him.
Perhaps he never knew how she longed for him to take her in his arms. It was
time for her to dare to speak the truth.
But first she
had to find them.
reached the bottom of the hill, she checked the directions to the area she was
assigned to search. How they could end up so far downstream she had no idea,
but search she would.