Impasse – Chapter Five
There was a rough hand on Farva’s bare chest, shaking him awake. “Your phone is ringing, big boy.”
The detective shot up, pushing the hand and covers off and yanking himself to the edge of the bed. “Don’t touch me,” he grumbled, stealing a glance back at the dark, curly-haired woman.
She stuck her arms over her breasts and slid off the other side of the bed, standing and making her way to the bathroom with heavy steps. “You know, you’re the second asshole I’ve slept with in this town. You get off, roll over, and suddenly decide you’re too good for girls like me. Go to hell, I’m moving on, the lot of you.”
“I’m sorry,” Farva held his face in his hands.
“Yeah, right. I hope that’s your wife calling.”
The detective pushed himself off the edge of the bed, bending his stiff back to pull the phone up out of his nearby slacks. He flipped it open to answer the call. “Chief?”
“Took you long enough,” Schultz huffed at him through the phone.
“I know that, Farve,” he said back, attempting a slight amount of compassion. “But you know how things are. Can you come down to Second? By the tracks. Something pretty odd we got down here, I’ll tell you.”
“Yeah,” The detective answered tiredly, dragging the discarded pants across the floor with his foot. “Yeah, give me some time to get dressed. Won’t be long,” he finished, clacking the phone back closed.
The dark woman sauntered out the door, fully dressed, as the detective got himself together. The headlights of her vehicle glared in the window as he finished putting on his shoes, the keys to the motel in hand. He made sure to drop them in the metal box outside the office before he made the necessary call.
Sounds like something is up downtown, so she’ll believe me that I’ve been working. I’ll just leave a message for when she wakes up. The phone rang, once, twice, closing in on the answering machine taking over. And then the phone picked up. “Hello?” The woman answered.
Farva pulled the phone from his ear to double-check the number he had called, regardless that he had heard the voice belonging to his wife. Her voice came through the speaker once more before he forced himself to answer. “Hey. I’m sorry if woke you up. I know you have work in the morning…”
“No,” She answered tiredly. “Well yeah, I do have work. I was up getting some water and using the bathroom. Something… must be up if you’re out this late. I mean, the bars have been closed almost an hour now.”
“I haven’t been at the bar,” Farva answered quickly without thinking, then glancing back to the dim motel sign flickering on the corner of the lot.
“I don’t care if you were or not,” she answered, her true feelings hiding behind the words. “I’d just like it if we could spend some nights together.”
“You don’t owe me an explanation for this. I need to get back to bed.”
“The chief called me downtown. This is just gonna be something small, I bet. I should be home for breakfast time.”
The silence on the end of the line dragged on. “You bet. Let’s hope it is something small. Goodnight, Robert.”
The phone clicked before he had a chance to respond. Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he made his way to his car.
The wind blew hard that night, rocking his wide car back and forth as he rode through the dark, silent streets towards the place the chief had called him to. There was a train on the tracks, stopped, high beams and police lights illuminating it. The detective’s heart skipped a beat. He sat in the old Lincoln, engine still running, lights on, and unlit cigarette resting in between his lips. The mustached and uniformed man eventually marched up to his car, tapping on the glass of the driver’s window.
“Farve?” The chief’s voice was muffled through the glass.
The detective twisted the keys, turned off the car, unbuckled himself, and pushed out the door. “I’m sorry. Just thinking.”
Schultz had his arms crossed. “Save some attention for the task at hand, Farve.”
The detective shook his head, blinking at the lights cast on the fine paneling of the train car blocking the crossing. “The train stopped.”
“Good attention to detail, Einstein,” The chief sneered, walking forward with his hands in his pockets. “I guess you can tell it shouldn’t be here, right on the damn crossing.”
“This… isn’t right.”
Schultz glared back, looking Farva up and down, finally into his eyes. “You haven’t been drinking? You don’t see all there tonight.”
The detective glanced about at the two patrol cars. Up beyond the crossing, the guard rails still down, another officer was scanning the edges of the tracks by flashlight. “Where are the passengers? The driver?”
“Well, if you aren’t quick to catch on,” Schultz praised tiredly. “All gone, the lot of them. Like they were never there. At least, there are no signs of anyone leaving on foot, why they would abandon their fancy train in mass doesn’t make sense either. But we haven’t gotten a chance to give the interior a proper look-at. I want you on that, Farve.”
The detective froze. “I don’t think… me being here would make a difference. I can… I can find out who we need to call to get the train moving again.”
Schultz sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not able to offer you a choice, at least not right now. I was first on the scene, so I’m stuck filling out the reports that you’d be given otherwise. That’s our compromise, Farve. You know very well that if it weren’t for me pulling strings, there wouldn’t be the budget to pay someone with the title of Detective, a small town like this.”
Farva bit at his lip, then held out his hand. “Looks like the power’s off. I didn’t come with any of my gear, I need a flashlight at least.”
“That’s the spirit,” Schultz smirked, yanking the gear from his belt. “Just take notice of anything out of the ordinary. Some reason why the lot of them bailed somewhere. You might start down at the far end.”
Heavy knurled handle of the flashlight in hand, the detective crossed under the guard rails, over the ballast stones, and down to the end of the train where a thin set of stairs led up to the car.
They hold all the extra cargo and luggage in here. There’s no reason for this to take longer than this needs to. The beam of the flashlight flickered off and back on, but the room was clear and lit up for long enough. The fancy suitcases belonged to people, those who boarded the train for its journey. They were gone, for whatever reason, but their belongings still remained. They left without heed for their things.
The doors between the cars were unlocked. The detective proceeded without delay, nothing more than the bare minimum on his mind. Why do I know this place? The long galley, the tight tables of the dining car, the rooms made up for the guests, they all look familiar. Was this train on TV some time? If the train had power, it would be infinitely easier to look around.
Farva continued on, silently shining the beam around the walls and carved wood fixtures, passing over the couplings between the individual cars. There were cheaper-looking rooms near the beginning of the train, obviously closer to the noise of the locomotive. The following door before the next car was mounted with a sign reading off in a fancy typeface: No Guests Beyond This Point. The staff car.
There was a buzzing on the detective’s hip, the muffled ringer following. I forgot to put this away when I parked, didn’t I. When he was safely across at the next car, his senses begged him to answer it, barely glancing at the number calling before putting it to his ear. “Hello?”
“I can’t sleep,” said the voice belonging to his wife.
“I’m sorry,” Farva said lowly, shifting the flashlight in his opposite hand for a better grip.”
“No. No, I’m sorry. I figured… I would just call and leave a message. Just in case you didn’t make it home before I left for work in the morning. Didn’t… expect you to pick up. I should—“
“Don’t hang up. I have the time.”
The silence dragged on. Is she still there? He almost took the phone from his ear to check the call and the signal, but the voice finally returned.
“You are working, right?” She asked with uncertainty.
“Down at the train tracks, yeah,” Farva said, marching extra slowly past the tight bunks and privacy curtains of the staff quarters. “This train… it stopped. Right on the tracks on Second. The chief has me… just mapping things out.”
“Oh. Are they going to be able to move it? A lot of people head across there during the day.”
“I suppose so,” He said back absently.
The wife hummed. “Since you’re out so late, make sure to get a form to report your overtime. We could use the extra money to pay down the bills after all.”
“I will,” Farva answered, knowing that the chief and his secretary down at the station would always stall and deflect requests of that sort, eventually causing him to forget or move on. “You said… you wanted to leave a message?”
“Oh,” her voice cracked. “Just wanted to say that I love you, and miss you and that we should plan a night out. So that… you can… should plan ahead to make it home early some time during the week.”
The detective nodded along with her words. “Sure,” he muttered. I can’t promise that, though. Finally reaching the end of the rail car, something caught his eye; a metal breaker box, glaring in contrast to the old-fashion decoration of the rest of the train. “Oh, found something.”
“Yeah?” The woman’s voice perked up.
“The breakers for the train here,” he said, shoving the flashlight between his neck and shoulder and tugging on the metal latch to reveal the heavy switches inside. “I’ve been running around on just a single flashlight in here.”
“That’s my detective man…” came the dreamy voice. “I should… let you go… and get some sleep myself.”
Farva’s eyes passed over the printed labels beside the individual breakers as his wife’s words trailed off. “I’ll try to be home for breakfast, like I said. I… love you. Get some rest.”
The phone clicked closed and he shoved it into his pocket before reaching for the lowest breaker on the panel: Emg. Lights – Batt. Power. The switch flipped over to ‘on’ with a hefty clack. In the blink of an eye, dim red lights in the room illuminated, one bank at a time, in a domino pattern of flowing electricity and newfound assurance. Through the foggy window of the far door, he could see the faint glow of the other train cars making use of the limited power as well. This should get the chief’s attention. Though if this is battery power, it won’t last forever. I need to look for… anything and get out of here.
Two cars ahead was the locomotive, absent of the low emergency lights, cold after its long wait on the tracks. The detective held still to the heavy flashlight, illuminating the dark corners hiding out of the reach of the red glow. He began to trace his steps back through each car, looking for signs of something that would have caused the passengers and staff to depart midway through their journey.
People were here. A half-empty pack of cigarettes on a staff bunk. Coal dust footprints on the vinyl flooring. Open packs of sodas and water bottles behind the counter of the snack bar. Trash half filled, and a napkin fallen to the back corner of a seating area. Surely people were staying in rooms.
Before Farva could make it deeper into the reaches of the train, the emergency banks of lights flickered, once, twice, then cut out completely. Battery must be out. And I still haven’t found anything that helps this make sense. Is there even anything? This is a fool’s errand.
Following nothing but the flashlight beam once again, the detective crossed over to the next car, desiring only to reach the end of the train and descend once again. He found himself in the observation deck, the car fashioned with wide windows and benches, meant for looking out on the passing sights along the tracks. It’s quite fine that they would pass through here in the middle of the night. Nothing to see here. The darkness captured everything except for the strobing lights from the pair of patrol cars.
Farva’s pocket vibrated and sang once more. I can’t answer it now, I’ve already wasted too much time talking and not enough looking for whatever the captain hopes he might find. Ignoring the phone the best he could, the detective marched forward, heading for the next door. The handle stuck, unturnable, the door refuging to budge either.
Smoke found Farva’s nostrils, though not the sort he was used to. The ceiling grate at the opposite end of the car trickled winding clouds. He ran for the door at that end, hoping to find it unlocked, but the metal fixture instead burned with searing heat, untouchable by bare hands. The vibration in his pocket returned.
“Farve,” the voice called out before he could answer himself. “You need to get out of there.”
“Wish I could, chief.”
“There’s a fire. What car are you in?”
“The one with… the big windows,” the detective coughed, holding his sleeve to his face to ward off the billowing smoke. “The door… it won’t open.”
“I see it. The fire is already catching there. I’ll try to get you out of there.”
The dry planks making up the train car were like wicks for the flames, causing smoke to pour up from the cracks in the floor, waves of heat from the ceiling, and finally orange tendrils of flame from the corners of the boxy compartment. Farva backed himself into the far end of the car. The glare from a light outside cast against the window, and a figure danced outside frantically. “Farva! Farva!” the muffled voice called out to him.
The detective ducked towards the light, attempting to send the butt of the heavy flashlight against the glass. He struck the hard surface once, twice, and on the third hit, a faint crack made its way across the surface. The chief’s voice found its way to him once more.
“Get down. I’m going to try something.”
The detective ducked back. The seconds passed like days, but the sound of the shot broke the air in a fraction of a second. What remained in the glass was a round hole, chipped on all edges, but the remainder of the glass held firm. “Farve! Hold tight, we’ll try to get the door open, or try to pry the pane of glass down, or…”
The chief’s voice was becoming more distant as the fire spread, goaded on by the relief of additional oxygen from the outside, and the smoke replaced the breathable air, even in the low corner of the train car. The beam of the flashlight was, little by little, swallowed by the glow of the flames and curling of smoke through the air, the same smoke that choked his lungs, sucking what remained of his consciousness.