The Last Train to Nowhere
The gun was safely nestled in its velvet lined box, stowed under the seat of a man whose ticket was neatly stamped Mr Albert Schaeffer.
The gun, with its filigree scrollwork and pearl inlaid handle, had belong to Mr Albert Schaeffer, but the man occupying seat 12B and in possession of the train ticket of the same name, on the express train from Vancouver to San Jose was not him.
The man in seat 12B closed his eyes and leaned his head against the plush chair back and tried to forget about Mr Albert Schaeffer, former owner of the antique gun now in his possession. He sat, trying to focus on the soothing repetitive drone of the train moving along the tracks, clicking and clacking. But the sound couldn’t erase the image of Mr Schaeffer that seemed to be indelibly etched onto the back of his eyelids.
Mr Anson Boxlightner, for that was who the man in 12B really was, had never killed anyone before. Not until Mr Schaeffer. And so he had also never been on the run, having stuffed Mr Schaeffer’s corpse into the underbrush, the thorny scrub that ran alongside the railway, in the dark of night. He made sure to dump Mr Schaeffer’s body far away from the station or interchange outpost – in the middle of nowhere, where people would be unlikely to stumble upon the body. He had considered briefly removing Mr Schaeffer’s clothes, then though against it and left his dark brown suit on, hoping it would disguise him even more crumpled within the dried brown branches of his final resting place.
Mr Boxlightner tapped his foot nervously against the box under his seat, feeling better knowing it was there and it was safe. He ran a hand across his forehead. There was the tiniest squeak, the sound of someone sitting down in a leather upholstered chair. He opened his eyes and a scream like a shot erupted from him. The seat opposite, which had been empty the entire trip, was now occupied by a thin man with gold rimmed glasses that glinted with the sun. The stranger was sitting very stiffly at the edge of the chair, leaning forward slightly towards him. Anson stifled his startled scream just before it garnered too much attention from fellow passengers. He was thankful, yet unnerved, that the car he was riding in was relatively empty.
The slim man smiled a thin, crooked smile. “Apologies, Mr Schaeffer,” he said offering a hand. Anson took it with a sweaty palm and shook.
Schaeffer. He thinks I’m Schaeffer! Whoever this is doesn’t actually know Schaeffer. Anson broke out in a cold sweat all over as a chilling thought occurred to him. But whoever he is, he knew Schaeffer was supposed to be on this train and in this very seat! He tried to feign ignorance and confusion.
“I’m sorry, Mister…?”
The thin man sat back abruptly in the chair as if someone had pushed him forcefully, a look of puzzlement racing across his face, followed quickly by what Anson thought was wariness, or perhaps suspicion.
“Surely you can’t have forgotten who I am!” The man said in a raised whisper.
Anson rubbed his head, hoping it looked like he was disoriented from having being woken from a nap.
“I’m sorry, I’m not fully with it right now, you caught me off guard, and woke me.”
The man seemed to relax slightly. “Of course, I’m sorry Mr Schaeffer. I didn’t mean to surprise you. I shouldn’t have come when you were resting, but,” the man took a watch from his pocket, glanced at it and slid it back, “this was our agreed upon meeting time.”
Anson tried not to look so surprised, and he glanced at his watch. “Oh! Is it?” he made a show of looking at his own watch. Two o’clock. “Oh yes, two o’clock,” he said, as if he knew a shred of what was going on. He looked at the stranger in the seat opposite and waited, nervously and expectantly.
The man looked back at him, calm and composed. “So.” There was a pause. “Do you have it?”
A jolt of fear went through Anson. Have it? Have what?
His mouth echoed his thoughts. “Have what?”
The man across from him looked irritated and leaned forward again, elbows on knees, decreasing the space between them. Anson wished he wasn’t in the chair, he couldn’t move away.
“The gun, of course, what else?” the man whispered in a harsh rasp.
“Ah,” Anson nodded as if understanding. “Of course.”
The man visibly relaxed once more. “I’m glad to hear it. So why don’t you give it to me.”
Give it to him? But who on earth is he?
“But how am I supposed to know you are who you say you are? You haven’t even told me your name.” Anson hoped this would make the man reveal himself to him, and maybe he would be lead a bit out of the dark and into the light.
The train whistle blew suddenly, long and loud and sharp, and both men jumped at the sound.
The man regarded Anson a long moment. “I am Shaw. Robert Shaw.”
The name didn’t ring any bells for Anson, and so he waited, hoping Robert Shaw would continue. He didn’t.
“If I’m giving you the gun, I need to confirm that you are indeed Mr Shaw,” Anson said. Who on earth is Robert Shaw and what does he want with Mr Schaeffer’s gun?
Shaw sighed and drew out his wallet from the back pocket of his pants, and took out a card. “As you may know, Mr Schaeffer, I don’t usually do this. People usually remember they are meeting with me and don’t require proof that I am who I say I am.” He laughed, an odd sound that caused Anson to shudder involuntarily. Mr Shaw handed the card over, almost reluctantly. It was thick, and smooth. Good quality. There was a small black and white photograph in the top right corner. It was most definitely of the thin man with the glasses that sat opposite him. The rest of the white card was taken up by his name, and underneath that a statement: the solution to any problem.
Anson glanced up and saw Shaw smiling at him, one side of his mouth twisted up in a lopsided smirk.
“The solution to any problem?”
Shaw laughed loudly, and then with an embarrassed glanced to the passengers in the seats around them, lowered his voice again. “Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, in my line of work, you don’t want to overtly state what you do. It would scare away the clients.” He chuckled, softly this time. “Don’t you think the solution to any problem is apt?” Shaw looked at Anson, and Anson resisted the urge to look away.
“Problem?” Anson repeated dumbly, not knowing what else to say.
Shaw smiled. “Yes, I get rid of people’s ‘problems’,” he bent his fingers into quotes. “Would you say that is the job of a,” he lowered his voice another register, “hired gun such as myself?”
A cold bead of sweat rolled down between Anson’s shoulder blades. Hired gun?
He handed Shaw back his business card. “But what I don’t understand, Mr Shaw, is why a hired gun, like yourself, is wanting hi-, my gun.”
Shaw looked at him again. “My, the nerves of all of this must really be getting to you Mr Schaeffer, if you don’t remember our arrangement. You said you were unable to pay me what my usual fee is to rid you of your particular problem, so we agreed that you would give me your antique gun as collateral instead. And I would like to see the aforementioned gun, to see if it is indeed worth my time ridding you of your pesky little problem.
Problem? Anson wondered what on earth could have been Schaeffer’s problem that he hired a hit man to take care of. His mind whirled and without much thought, his foot pushed out the cherry wood box from underneath his seat. It was engraved with initials. A.L.S. Anson wondered what the L stood for. He leaned down and picked up the box, running a hand almost lovingly across it. It was a beautiful box. He flipped the catch on the lid and opened it. He had only quickly glanced at it after he had finished disposing of Mr Schaeffer, and in the darkness of the night and the feeble flickering of his lamp, he hadn’t seen it clearly. He stifled a gasp. It was the most beautiful gun he had ever seen. He turned the box on his lap towards Mr Shaw. Surely this would be more than enough for him.
“Magnificent!” Shaw whispered reverently. “This is more than sufficient for me to carry out what you want from me, Mr Schaeffer. Trust me when I say that Mr Anson Boxlightner will no longer be problem for you.”