The Mistake

Impasse – Chapter Six

Rough, long nails and scrawny fingers dragged across Farva’s scalp, pulling him awake suddenly. He recoiled from the smell, stale smoke from a cigarette. The platinum-haired woman was sat up beside him in the bed, getting what she could from the last bit of a glowing ember. She ruffled his hair one last time and pulled her arm back. “Did I wake you?” She asked with a raspy voice through creased lips. “A lot of my customers like that, getting their hair played with once in a while. Men usually aren’t on the receiving end of stuff like that.”

“Was this a smoking room?” Farva rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed, glaring at the floor.

“I dunno, hon, you booked it. And you were smoking like a chimney when you pulled up anyway.”

Farva shoved his face in his hands and shook his head. “I need to get out of here.”

The older woman made a loud puff on the remaining cigarette and let the smoke out her nostrils. “Well, I’m sorry my company couldn’t be more comforting to you, hon.”

The detective glanced back. “No, it’s not that. Something came up… it’s… work… a work thing.”

“Sounds convincing.”

“I promise… it’s not. It’s just… what was it? Downtown? Why do I feel like something is wrong?”

“Something is wrong, you’ve got that right” the woman sat up, pushing the butt into the ashtray on the nightstand. “But I don’t want to be the one to spell it out for you.”

The detective’s slacks, folded on the chair by the window, vibrated and chirped with a call. Farva took no time in pulling out the phone and flipping it open. “Hello?”

“Sorry to call you at a time like this, Farva,” said Schultz on the other side of the line.

“No, don’t worry, I’m up,” he said lowly, glancing back across the room at his company.

“Good, and it sounds like you’re nice and sober too. Or am I wrong?”

“I’m quite fine, chief. Something’s come up?”

“I need you down by the rails on second.”

“The train?”

“The-“ Schultz stumbled. “Yeah. How did you know? One of the other boys call you?”

“I’ll be down there. I won’t be long.”

The cold air from outside flooded the car, windows down, trying to flush out the smoke and old perfume smells from his clothes. Barely stopping at the stop intersections, Farva kept feeling at the phone in his pocket, hard up in deciding whether or not he would call the wife to explain his absence. If I call her to let her know now, she’ll expect that I call her other times I’m out. Even if it is for work.

By the time several possible situations had crossed in and out of his mind, he was already at the tracks, the patrol cars there flashing and shining their lights. The fancy passenger train sat on the tracks, dark, stretching from one end of his vision to the other. Schultz was in the street all of a sudden, hand up in a motion to have the car just before the closed crossing.

The chief was at his door, arms crossed as the Lincoln sputtered to a stop. “You sure you’re okay to work tonight?” He asked before any other formality could cross his lips.

“Just tired, chief,” Farva sighed, eyes still studying the train.

“Slap that sleep outta your eyes,” Schultz muttered, supporting his back in a stretch. “’Cause your expertise is actually going to come in handy tonight.”

“I’ll be fine, chief. Train’s stopped, huh?” The detective asked plainly.

“Don’t push it, Sherlock. Yeah, that’s it. The big issue, mystery really, is that there’s not a single soul left on that train. And we don’t know where they might have gone. And because it’s on our doorstep, we’re going to be the ones having to explain to the touring company, the rail authority… the feds… who knows? At the very least, we have to start the paper trail to prove we did the best we could.”

“I understand. I… I can look around the tracks maybe.”

Schultz smirked. “Nice of your to volunteer, but I need you looking around the inside. Making sure there were no signs of struggle, foul play, whatever it might be that caused the guests and staff to abandon the train.”

“Pretty dark.”

Schultz already had the heavy flashlight off his leg, with its knurled handle pointed the detective’s direction. “You’ll have this at least.”

Farva took up the light but hesitated to push the rubberized button. “There should be some emergency power or something. Might make it easier to look around.”

“If you find something like that, that’s fine. But don’t disturb anything that might be suspicious. Hell, you know enough about crime-scene bullshit. You’ll find the caboose open, the main doors don’t open unpowered from the outside. Get to it.”

The rear car was unlocked as told. The shelves inside were packed neatly with boxes and crates and luggage, held tightly in place by elastic straps. Despite his premonition, neither a breaker box nor a set of batteries were there to be seen in that part of the train.

The handle of the door to the outside and the second car opened without any complaint. The space above the coupling felt larger than it actually was, especially when attempting to cross without looking down. I’m glad I don’t have to cross these when the train is moving, but it probably wouldn’t be going that fast in the first place. It would be better to have the lights on for this, regardless.

The train cars were dark, but their purpose clear even through the beam of the flashlight. The bunks were tight in the following car, intended for only the hard-working staff. The kitchen car smelled of food and had pans soaking in a narrow sink. The dining car tables had small droplets of wax from the candles that had burned down just slightly. The bedrooms of the guest cars contained random articles of clothing, strew on the feet of beds or the backs of chairs, and had divots in the down pillows where people had laid their heads. In the observation car, a sweatshirt hung over the back of one of the wide benches. People had been aboard at one point, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, at least through the beam of the flashlight. I need the lights on. Why?

Farva trudged through the last remaining cars before finally finding pause at the coal car, looking upon the cold locomotive just beyond. I… shouldn’t move beyond here.

Stepping back inside, the detective shined his light about the space, a bar, albeit only under its first impression. Instead of spirits and beer taps behind the shiny wooden counter were sodas and snacks and overpriced souvenirs ready to be purchased. A painting of a nondescript mountain on a canvas hung on the wall beside the bar, stretched on a heavy wooden frame… the hints of a hinge hiding on one side. What’s this now?

The detective pulled on the edge of the picture frame and swung it outward. Disguised beneath was the metal door hiding the train’s breakers. The switches matched up with each of the cars, plus a few extras, one of which was the one that Farva desired- Emg. Lights – Batt. Power.

Breath was held while he flipped the switch from off to on. Somewhere below the floor boards, there was a click of a solenoid or something similar, followed by the sudden wash of red light from the ballasts in the ceiling. Farva blinked slowly, allowing his eyes to adjust, while he flipped the flashlight off. The flashing of the patrol cars and their red and blue lights were harder to see outside the windows but were still there nonetheless. The windows themselves were already frosted over with condensation from the cold. But in the condensation were other marks.

They could have been seen as streaks of curious and impulsive fingers, pointing out sights and views passing by on the train’s journey, but they were more than that. If the staff was so meticulous, these would have been wiped down. The marks covered every window, full hand prints, greasy and stretched and streaked by pulling grasps. The detective ran his finger through them, confirming the side of the glass they inhabited. Were they trying to get out? This… at least… is something the chief needs to see.

The latches to open the sliding panes were old-fashioned and tarnished, but with enough leverage, they popped open. Pushing on the pane of the window was enough to have it slide up slightly, sufficient to push his finger underneath to wrench it open more. Maybe I can get the chief’s or one of the other guy’s attention. Then I can get the side doors open.

Farva’s hands made it out the window frame, forcing the moving pane up little by little. Just as he made enough space to fit his head out, his wrist caught on the edge of the jamb. He yanked his arm back, grating it once more against something sharp. In the dim red light, he could only see the rough slice and the dark liquid beginning to run from it. His legs went weak. Fuck. Fuck.

The flashlight dropped from under his arm. His feet shuffled, wanting to move in the direction of the door. He held tight to his wrist while shoving the door open with an elbow. “Help! I need help!”

The red light spilled out onto the ground from the train’s windows. The gravel crunched under the feet of the chief attempting to reach the detective and his calls for help. “Farve? Where are you? Hold on, I see you!”

The detective stood on the train’s landing, hovering over the coupling, the world moving back and forth beneath him. He attempted to inch his way down, but before his feet could find the ground, his body left the platform. The coarse gravel found him, stifling his fall with limited success. Still grasping hard to his arm, he heard the chief approaching.

“I’m bleeding. Don’t touch me!” Farva yelled. “Just… call the ambulance! I don’t want you to… you can’t…”

“I’ve got you. We have a first aid kit in the car, I got the boy getting it. Shit, that’s a bad cut. Hold on.”

“Don’t touch me,” the detective continued to cry. “You shouldn’t… get involved.”

“Hurry up with the kit,” Schultz yelled back, quick to attend once again to the detective. “Listen, we can get some pressure on the wound before the ambulance gets here. You know how backed up they can—“

Farva jerked away as soon as the Chief’s hands came near. “I’ve… got it. I’m… fine. My blood…”

“Damn it, Farve, I’m not letting you bleed out on me, not on my watch—“

“I’m goddamn HIV positive, Hank!” Farva shouted, foam at his lips. “If you get… if you’re not careful… I can’t have you end up like me.”

The chief sat back on his knees, glancing at the rocks beneath him for any signs of blood on the ground or his clothing. “Since when? And why am I just hearing about this?”

Farva’s hand could barely move as the warm blood dripped from his wrist and onto the ground before him. The world continued to shake, the pounding in his head louder and louder. “I got it from some hooker. Couldn’t tell you which one,” he said with a weak laugh. “A few months ago.”

The chief’s face, plastered with disappointment, could be seen in brief moments of the flashing police lights. “You’re sure?” He jerked back, looking for the other officer. “Drop the kit! Get the ambulance here as fast as you can! Go!”

Farva sat back, landing on his butt weakly. “I… I skipped town for a few days. When I told you I was on a trip with the wife. Told the wife I was working, got myself tested some place where nobody would know me or my face. They say… I’ve got… I forget… a few months before it goes full-blown… and…”

Schultz sat up. “Stay with me. Keep talking. Damn it, even some gloves…”

“And… I’ve only made it worse… since then… I’ve avoided her, I don’t want to tell her, pass it on to her. I’ve slept around, damn it, given it to… whatever strange women.”

The chief leaned down to catch sight of the detective’s drooping face. “Don’t think about any of that right now, you just focus on me and my voice.”

“I’ve… I’ve been through this before.”

“You’re not making sense, Farve. Breathe. Keep a good hold there.”

The detective glanced back up at the windows of the train, windows still glowing with the red emergency lights. “It… keeps repeating. But…I’m close.”

“Just hold on until the ambulance shows up. They have the protective gear to deal with… you.”

“Don’t… tell my wife, chief…”

Schultz shook his head. “If you stay with me, I promise not to. But you’ll have to tell her yourself. You understand me, Farva? You can’t lie to her like you’ve lied to me. You can’t. You can’t. You…”

Farva couldn’t help but closed his eyes, the chief’s voice fading.

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