Impasse – Chapter Eight
The night was still cold and dark as Farva made his way back downtown, eventually arriving at the tracks down where the chief had called from earlier in the night. There were two patrol cars, their lights flashing and headlights facing the train stopped there on the tracks. The chief had set up a detour sign, pointing south to the other crossing down several blocks. Taking up the rest of the crossing road was an ambulance belonging to the regional hospital and the coroner’s white work van, an exempt sticker on its license plate, otherwise unmarked.
Farva parked far enough away to keep from blocking in the other two vehicles. Bundling himself up against the wind, he marched up the berm to the crossing and the rails perpendicular to the road. The slamming of a car door forced his eyes back. It was the chief, stepping out of his patrol car to join him.
Schultz shook his head, hands buried deep in his pockets. “Wish I could say. I had Travis go inside. Head inside the train here, that is. From all angles, it’s abandoned, but somehow it’s just ended up here for some reason.”
“I see that,” the detective nodded.
The chief eyed him in the low light. “The kid was just supposed to look for signs of anything strange in there. Now look what’s happened.”
“Strange things at work here.”
Schultz let out a low huff, his breath forming a wide cloud that was immediately sucked away by the wind. “Yeah, and we’re here to clean up the mess. There’s no signs of anybody else, I just don’t understand. But the kid ended up stabbed, bled out before we had the chance to come and check on him. Right there in the little train car kitchen, galley. Multiple times he was hit, right in the stomach, left with the chef’s knife sticking out from him. Damn it. Not a single wound on his hands, anywhere else. Like… he stabbed himself all those times.”
The surface of the road crunched under the movement of heavy tires behind them. They both looked back to watch the ambulance drive off back down the road, its tail lights glimmering in the dark. Inside the train, several sets of flashlight beams waved back and forth through the condensation-clouded windows. Not long later, the side doors were being forced open, the coroner and his partner stepping down with a long black stretcher hoisted between the two of them.
The chief shuffled back and forth, glancing at the body bag as it moved by them. “Listen, what I said over the phone… that this is your fault… this whole fucked up situation has nothing to do with you.”
“That’s not right,” Farva contradicted.
“Yeah, it could have been you in his place. But we couldn’t have seen something like this coming. Can’t change how it went down.”
“Damn it,” the detective muttered to himself. “What can I do?”
“I’d like to know what any of us could do, Farve,” Schultz slumped back. “This is beyond me, and as far as I’m concerned, out of any of our hands. The company who runs the train is having a technician come our way, some time tomorrow… later today, in the afternoon. Likely only to get it moving, but it’s better than nothing. The missing people, on the other hand… if the feds or whoever come our way, the best I can do is record every little detail. On top of that, it’s Travis’ family I’ll have to be dealing with. Lucky for you, you’re able to take a break from all the reports, detective,” he finished with a sneer.
Farva had his eyes locked to the train, head shaking. “Give me your flashlight, chief.”
“Huh? Now you wanna play ball?” Schultz huffed. “I told you, it’s out of our hands. Go and fuck off to whatever you were doing. I can’t bring myself to care right now.”
“Tomorrow…” Farva repeated. “When the company rep comes…”
“You want to handle that? Fine,” the chief rolled his eyes. “Go home and get some sleep before then, cuddle up next to your perfect wife.”
The detective sat in his car, far back enough from the scene, watching through the darkness as the chief continued about his business. I should leave before he does. Then I can come back after and get into the train. But how long is he going to stay here? The lights on the patrol cars finally shut off, but the dome light of Schultz’s car stayed on, testing Farva’s patience.
The detective’s head was suddenly heavy. He felt a drop of drool down his cheek. His arms had fallen down in his lap, leaving his body cold. As he wiped the spit from the side of his mouth, he realized that the morning light had crept up over the road and the tracks.
The windows of the Lincoln were completely frosted over. The ice crackled as he pushed the door open, the crisp air not much colder than the temperature of the car. His teeth began to immediately chatter.
The train remained in the same place, frosted over with tiny pale spikes. The only remaining sign of the others being there earlier that morning was the orange and black detour sign and several short cones blocking off the road to the crossing. A handful of cars, driven by those barely beyond the grasps of sleep, pulled past the blocked intersection and begrudgingly jerked their wheel in the direction of the service road.
The detective rubbed his hands together before shoving them into his pockets, slumping his shoulders to shield his front the best he could from the wisps of freezing wind. The road up to the tracks was icy, untouched by recent feet or tires. The bars for the crossing were still lowered, but the chime and flashing lights had been disabled from the service box not far off the edge of the tracks. While there was a break in the already dismal traffic, Farva jogged up the rock berm and down out of sight of the road to the caboose at the end of the train.
He was forced the use of his bare, cracked, dry hands to grasp onto the freezing metal railing to climb the narrow stairs, then to turn the handle of the sole door there at the back of the train. It opened for him without resistance. The interior of the train car was painted with pale light through the rectangular windows, a sight he hadn’t managed to see before.
At least I don’t need a flashlight. But… what am I looking for? Nothing stays the same here. It keeps changing. To… throw me off. Or because… it can’t help but be different. What’s different, and what’s stayed the same all this time? Is that the key to this hell?
Farva looked about at the packed shelves and storage boxes and suitcases. He paused, pushing the image into his mind before making his way to the next door. The following car held the fancy, spacious rooms, with locking privacy doors. The following, cramped bunks, shielded by curtains for the staff. Beyond that, the dining room. This layout doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on? The car after was the viewing deck, its wide windows still decorated with swirls of frost.
The following car was dressed with stainless steel. The galley. The detective nearly walked forward without a second thought, but the memory of the chief’s report from the night before came to the front of his mind. This is where Travis… The floor was made up of thin metal plates, fastened down with smooth rivets. It had been cleaned, the room stank with the odor of bleach. Still, there remained hints of blood, clinging to the cracks between the metal plates and hardware and up at the adjustable feet of the cabinets. The rookie’s blood. He was stabbed… or he stabbed himself… with one of the knives.
The detective’s gaze found the magnetic strip where they were held between uses. A gap was left, where the makeshift weapon would have been held at one point. Did someone… something do that to him, or was he driven, himself, to take his own life? Was he trapped, like me? How… how many times have I been through this, now? If only there was a sign…
Farva took one last look at the hanging knives before making his way to the next door. Just as his hand found the latch, he heard the slamming of a car door somewhere outside. Who could that be? Damn it, my car is still out there. The chief would recognize it. Why would he be here? He’s going to rip me a new one if he finds me inside here.
The detective let his hand off the door and stepped back. Trying to get to the next car would get me seen. Which way? The observation deck is a no-go. What’s beyond here? His eyes darted back and forth between the two exits. At the far end, where he had come from, there was yet another door— the walk-in.
The heavy metal door with a latching handle led to the wide refrigerator. Cold air crept out across the floor as he yanked the fixture open. Still cold, even after all this time, but about as bad as outside. Without thinking further, the detective stepped in, allowing the door to close after him.
All light was suddenly cut off. Damn it, what am I thinking? Before he could retreat, the latch clicked with the sound of the door sitting fully back in its sealed frame. His hands ran across the cold, wavy metal, moist with condensation from the rising temperature. He found the mechanism on the other side of the latch, but it refused to budge.
With shoulder pointed at the door, he slid back as far as he could in the thin space and shoved himself forward. Ouch. The only result was a low smack and a lingering pain in his shoulder. He rubbed at his arm, leaning back against the metal shelf. It’s colder than I thought. He pulled the collar of his jacket close to his neck. Who was that outside? They might check in here. Or they might not. Damn it. My phone?
The detective found the bulge in his pocket. It had been turned off since the night before after the chief had called him. Holding the power button, it began to light up, chiming lowly. The home screen that eventually appeared teased a connecting message but conceded no bars of service. No calls, in or out. The tiny, dim screen was only enough to illuminate the damp boxes of vacuum-packed cuts of meat and wilting lettuce and half-empty bottles of sauces.
Farva’s teeth began to chatter. He slid down to the floor and held his knees toward his chest, hoping to cling to what warmth was left inside the insulation of the jacket. Jess bought this for me after I got out of physical therapy and got assigned this detective job. If only I could call her now… Death by hypothermia… will it start again after this? Will I be back to the start? Will… Travis be back? I haven’t fixed or recognized anything.
The feeling began to drain from his fingers, even tucked into fists, his eyes becoming heavier. Head throbbing, his breath came and went quickly from his chest, collecting in heavy clouds in front of his face.
The latch clicked. The light outside was blinding. The bleary shapes of two figures stood outside the door. “Farva?”
“Is that your man, the one whose car you pointed out?”
“Yeah. Farva, what the hell are you doing in there?”
The detective attempted to stand but could only manage to make it to his knees, pulling himself forward on numb hands. The chief and the other man pulled him up by his arms. “You can’t be serious. Let’s get him to my car, we can have the heater running.”