The “garbage” Leon had stuck us with came in ugly 40 gallon industrial strength yellow barrels, and they were unbelievably heavy. The Duggans and I had dragged Hector into it just to see if he could lift one.
“That had to weigh close to 800 pounds, and there’s not much in there. And whatever it is, it’s liquid. Most of the barrel is just casing, you’d be able to tell if you could lift one alone.”
Hector looked happier than he had in a long time. Some might say it feels good to be the biggest and strongest and that’s probably true in some cases, but I think Hector just needed to be dragged out of his cage.
“It kind of reminds me of your mom.” said Dave.
“Yeah.” said Dan. “A lot of fucking grief for a giant fucking whore.”
“I could break both of you in half.” said Hector.
Dave and Dan looked at each other and laughed.
“Well you’ve already broken at least one person in half. Your mother. When you were born. You giant fucking monster.” said Dave.
Hector picked up Dave by the scruff of his neck like a kitten. Dan attacked his knees but he might as well have been attacking cement columns. Hector started laughing and dropped Dave. He looked at me.
“What the hell is inside? Shouldn’t we at least try to find out?”
“Your mother.” said Dan.
There were 300 barrels. That’s around 240,000 pounds, or roughly 120 tons, of whatever the hell this crap was in addition to all our other junk. The Crying Ghost might be The Crippled Ghost if she managed to haul herself through this trip. She was a relatively light train at around 600 tons fully loaded and she hadn’t been asked to carry much more than that in several decades. Compared to what I was used to she would run heavy, slow in general and fast coming out of rising inclines. I double checked the brakes and suspension on each of the cars and asked everyone to abandon as much useless garbage as they could. It’s never easy to get people to abandon junk, but it’s actually harder the more crap you have to cram on board. People see 300 enormous barrels and don’t see how dumping an old television or a few boxes of books or knickknacks could possibly help.
Leon’s contractors had already paid off the Albany-Rensselaer station. A flatbed car had been loaded and hitched right behind the locomotive. The original plan had been for Leon, The Duggans, and I to drive that one car and leave the rest of the train parked in Albany while we ran our little errand. The first problem with this plan was that Leon either didn’t know or wouldn’t tell us where the hell we were going. There wasn’t enough money to leave most of the train in the yard and the others at the campground indefinitely, and winter was coming. The second problem was that the flatbed car was rated for a maximum of 140 tons fully loaded. Combined with her own weight of 30 tons, our payload would put her around 10 tons over, and she was old, rusty, and generally dilapidated. Just enough maintenance and repair had been applied to get her through her last inspection. She fit right in with the rest of The Crying Ghost, too much so for comfort.
Whoever had loaded her had known this and left 20 tons worth of barrels, or 50 barrels, in the loading area. These would obviously have to be loaded into some of our other cars. When I explained the situation to Leon and the others they got flustered with me. I made a point of looking at Leon when I told them that this situation had nothing to do with me, that it was actually just a simple law of physics. If you can’t fit all of your contraband in one place, some of it will have to go in another, regardless of the personal inconvenience.
Aside from not caring what was in the barrels, most of the others would have rather risked their lives, or at least the lives of Leon, the Duggans, and I, than take their junk off the train and wait while we moved the fucking barrels. At least a dozen times, after at least a dozen circular arguments, another damn grounds crew yokel would repeat that we should just overload the flatbed car and take our chances. Getting rid of their garbage was just too much to ask. And they definitely weren’t going to wait around for us in the goddamn woods while we sped away with most of the train and with it, honestly, any good reason to ever return. In the end it was decided that it would just be stupider and easier to bring everyone along.
The Duggans and I finally got them to part with a few tons of their garbage by telling them we’d put it into storage. We dumped all of it into the Mohawk River. The Duggans said they knew a spot where no one would care, that in general no one would care, and if I cared so much about being arrested or the environment, why was I illegally hauling over 100 tons of toxic waste to god knows where? Of course it was toxic waste, what else could it be? Then we put the truck into a long term parking garage and realized that there was no reason to dump all of that garbage into the river, it would’ve been easier to just store it on the truck.
The only direct resistance to Leon and his barrels came from the Sweeney sisters. They were scared shitless of the barrels.
“Those barrels don’t look safe. They’re too yellow. They look too hard to break.” said Samantha.
“And what if they do break?” asked Sue.
“And if most of them are out here, away from where people sit, I don’t want one next to me!” said Sarah.
“Ladies, I assure you you’re being silly.” said Leon. “If you’d just listen to yourselves you’d see. What does it matter what’s inside the barrels or where the barrels are if they’re impossible to break anyway?”
“That’s not what we’re saying at all!” said Sarah.
“If it doesn’t matter where they are I say leave them here!” said Samantha.
Sue was about to say something but Leon moved his hands in a placating gesture.
“Okay, okay ladies.” said Leon. The sisters looked relieved.
“What we can do is leave you here and come back and pick you up once we’re done. Happy?”
The sisters looked horrified. Leon was right about one thing. They would never make it out in the world on their own and they knew it. Maybe because they knew it. They looked to me for help. I think they were as surprised as I was.
“Christ. These barrels are not indestructible. Nothing is. But they are tough. The Duggans and I tried to break one open with an ax and we couldn’t do it.”
“You did what?” asked Leon.
“We even shot it with Mike’s .22 and that barely left a scratch.”
Leon looked aghast. He was about to interrupt me again but I continued.
“We’re worried about what’s inside, too. Anyone who has to ride with them on a train or be anywhere near them has a right to be.” I stared hard at Leon. “But Leon is right in one way. If anything happens to the train catastrophic enough to break those barrels, whatever’s inside will be the least of our worries.”
Leon hardly looked satisfied and the Sweeney sisters looked more resigned than relieved, but I had bigger things to worry about.
Yet another aspect of this fiasco that disturbed me was our destination, which of course Leon had waited until the last possible second to tell me. We were heading into what’s referred to as a dead zone. When enough towns on a railroad line either die or switch to cars and trucks, that line is no longer profitable and shuts down. Typically, the other towns on the line that still relied on the railroad die, and this ultimately kills the nearby towns that switched to cars and trucks. The line is still physically there, in some cases for tens of years, but it is no longer serviced, and in many cases, there is no longer any civilization around it to serve.
There are several good reasons why it’s highly illegal to drive a train full of passengers and mystery cargo and at least one endangered animal on track that has been closed and left to rust for years. Leon feigned ignorance when he told me where we were supposed to go, but when I raised concerns about the switches still working and the switch operators going along with the route or even if they could, or if I might have to stop the train and make the switches manually, he told me not to worry, that he had been assured that it had all been taken care of, just like the flatbed car and the barrels. I was ready to murder him and he must have sensed this because he pressed a few thousand dollars into my hand, thanked me for putting up with everyone, and left me to puzzle over what I had gotten myself into.