Return to the Tracks

Impasse – Chapter Nine

When the detective came to, he was sitting in the back of a patrol car, an emergency blanket spread over him. The car was running, hot air from the heater blowing into the back seat and crinkling the thin, metallic material across his shoulders. The cold grasps of air from the outside were blocked partially by the chief, leaning on the edge of the door frame. “Farva, you with us now? What were you doing in there? You’re lucky the power wasn’t on.”

“I… wasn’t thinking, Chief.”

“No, you weren’t. I thought it was weird that your car was still here,” Schultz huffed. “It’s fortunate the serviceman from the touring company showed up early. I was letting him look around. Just by luck, he decided to check out the fridge in that kitchen car there.”

“Travis…” Farva mumbled.

The chief shook his head. “You’re thinking about him? You might have seen, we cleaned up after the scene he caused. It’s a shame, but like I said, nothing you could have done. It’s just as much my fault, sending him off inside.”

Farva pushed the blanket down and leaned forward, allowing his hands to catch the heat directly from the vents. “Why… how did he manage… what he did?”

Schultz stood up and clicked his tongue. “How should I know? Is that what you were in there for? Farve, this is out of our hands. The coroner is going to make the call, the cause of death. Best we can do is make sure his family isn’t going to go through it too hard.”

“The train isn’t right,” the detective muttered.

The chief grasped the car’s door frame hard, leaning in close. “The only thing that isn’t right is you. You’re just going to end up stepping on people’s toes if you can’t learn to stop, stop trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to deal with. You think you’re some big, brainy TV show detective ’cause you have a badge and a fancy jacket? You were lucky I was able to negotiate enough money for you at city hall. Let you stay in the force, fancy title and all. You ID transients who OD or freeze to death in back alleys, nothing more. I need your mind on things that will actively help us out, especially with all the bullshit we’ll be dealing with from here on out.”

Farva grasped his hand hard, allowing the feeling to return to his fingers little by little. The chief yanked open the driver’s door and leaned in to twist the keys off, killing the idling engine with a sputter and a shake of the car. “You warm enough, now? Get back in your own car and head back home. Get some sleep. Spend a night at home like a normal person. I want you fresh tomorrow morning. Got it?”

Farva yanked the mylar blanket off and twisted himself to the door. His legs wobbled just slightly as he found his balance. The chief slammed the door behind him and stood, unmoving, as he trotted back to the Lincoln parked on the other side of the road.

Through the frosty glass of his windshield, he could see Schultz making his way back to the train. Farva dug around for his keys in the deep pocket of his jacket, pulling them out and shoving them into the ignition. The car cranked whinily, once, twice, three times. Another twist of the keys gave the same result even after a few pumps of the gas pedal. He yanked and spun the window down, offering him enough space to poke his head out and look for the chief once more.

A cloud of his breath dissipated out the window. The chief had already disappeared into the train. What if he ends up like Travis? Like… me. The two of them. I need to go.

Farva pushed out the door, shutting it quietly, window still down. He made his way quickly up the road and the berm, under the guard rails, watching the frosted-over windows for any movement. His feet tread carefully over the rocks, attempting to stay as quiet as possible, as he retraced his steps. Down the tracks, up the stairs of the caboose, through the doors, and finally in a straight shot through the series of train cars.

The detective pushed carefully through the doors in the case that the chief or the technician was beyond. He came across the galley kitchen once more, just as he had left it, including the rack of knives, all as he had last seen them. His heart beat harder with each car he traversed, the next door possibly the one with the other two men.

His chest was tight as he opened one final door, only the coal car and locomotive beyond. Striding across the gap, he found himself between the two tall hoppers. While finding his footing, a small clack entered his ears.

Looking back, he found the hollow end of a pistol pointed his way, chest height, held in the chief’s tight grasp. Schultz’s eyes were cold and hollow, looking right through him, his skin pale. Farva held his hands up the best he could in the tight space. “You don’t want to do this chief. My car… won’t start. I… promise, I wasn’t back here for any other reason. Just… put the gun down.”

A metallic dragging and scraping came from the other side. The technician, eyes fixated like the chief’s, had stepped out from the cabin, a long wrench in his grasp over his shoulder. “What is wrong with you two? Listen to me!”

The chief inched forward, the pistol unmoving in his stiff grasp. The trigger was pulled. The detective felt the sharp, sudden feeling of the bullet piercing his side. The floor creaked under the technician’s movement. He swung the wrench, but it was too late to feel the pain from its contact with his skull.

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