“So, let me get this straight. We’re just going to waltz up to someone who doesn’t even know us and convince him that we aren’t crazy and that he should stop the train?” Sam asked in a tone laced with incredulity. The two of them had been managing snippets of conversation as they followed the Conductor from car to car. Some of the cars were congested and full, such as the one they were now standing in, and this allowed them to carry on conversation. The Conductor was a few feet away, helping a family get their luggage down from a cubby above them.
“Yes. He’s going to believe me. Trust me,” Tommy said in an attempt to sound convincing. Their holdup as the Conductor took the time to aid the family was making Tommy anxious.
“Dude, he’s only going to believe us if he’s crazy, too. No way he’s going to listen to two teenagers.”
“Watch who you’re talking about, lad. I just so happen to be an older, wiser gentleman,” Tommy said as he poked out his chest.
“And I just so happen to be The Terminator. Let’s face it, we’ll probably have to take the train by force and make sure it gets stopped.”
Tommy snorted. “Oh, yeah? And how are we going to do that? With your karate skills that you were boasting about? You were in karate for like, what, a month? You only know one move.”
“It’s a pretty good move, hot shot. It beats being a walking stick bug that the wind might carry away,” Sam said nastily.
“Again, need I remind you that I am now an Officer of the Law who could probably snap you in half if I wanted to,” Tommy boasted.
“Doesn’t change who you are underneath, Tommy.” Tommy didn’t respond. Sam’s last comment stung more than he thought it would.
“Right this way, gentlemen,” the Conductor interjected as he dabbed at his forehead with a white handkerchief. Tommy and Sam dutifully followed as the Conductor led them from train car to train car. The walk to the front of the train was taking longer than Tommy had hoped. He knew convincing his great-grandfather was going to be difficult, but he didn’t want to even be close to the Pit River Bridge. The longer it took them to get to the Engine, the closer their impending doom approached.
The Conductor led them through the narrow hallways of the sleeper cars, through the luxurious lounge car which was completed by a half-moon bar, and through first class car where the chairs swiveled for the commuters so each passenger could look out the window at the sprawling, breathtaking Californian countryside. They slipped past commuters walking about, and dodged children running up and down aisles.
Tommy did not see any of it, though. Instead, he was lost in his own head as his mind worked frantically. He recalled every bit of research he had combed through in his hunt for information about The Daylight. He knew this was the trip from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco. Altogether, it was a fifteen-hour trip, but Tommy had no idea how long the train had already been traveling, nor how close the train was to its ill-fated destination—the Pit River Bridge. The only one who knew was the Engineer.
The idea of meeting his great grandfather was a strange concept. But, in light of all the other factors swirling around his head, the weight of this reality had not yet settled into his thoughts. A part of him, getting smaller and smaller with each step, still believed he was dreaming. The Conductor led them out of the final train car and into the wind. It tossed Tommy’s hair across his face as they made their way past the coal and water tankard—known as the Tender. Tommy could hear the 3500-gallon chamber of water sloshing around. Ahead, steam and smoke billowed out of the engine car as it was captured and whipped away by the wind. It curled around the two men as they walked, coating them in gummy vapor.
The Conductor stopped and started to fish around in his pockets. The wind howled menacingly and attempted to pull Tommy off of the train. He clung on breathlessly, completely unsure of his footing. He looked down at the ground screaming past in a sickening blur of colors. Tommy knew that he was going to fall. He knew he was going to be sucked under the bone crushing wheels. He could feel them slicing into his body like he was paper.
“Dude? You cool?”
Tommy’s attention snapped to his right. Sam was looking at him with a bewildered expression. He nodded his head towards Tommy’s left and Tommy followed his gaze. The Conductor was standing at the Engine with the door wide open. Tommy tried hard to ignore the scenery flashing past and tried his best to not think about what falling off the train meant as he edged his way to the open door. Hastily, he entered the Engine.
The engine room was loud and hot as the GS-2 locomotive pounded its way down the railroad, converting hundreds of gallons of water into useable steam. It was a marvel of technology for its time, but Tommy did not have time to enjoy the design. Instead, his attention turned to a man who was hard at work maintaining the speed and progress of the Daylight—the Chief Engineer. His right hand was on the Johnson Bar—a valve which controlled speed—and his left was on the brake. Even from behind, Tommy could see the man’s gaze darting from gauge to gauge in a never-ending practice of interpretation, foresight, and discipline.
Tommy’s breath caught in his throat. This was his great-grandfather. He couldn’t believe it. What would he say to him? Would his kinsman know it was Tommy behind the eyes of an adult? Tommy felt both nervous and excited at the same time.
“Chief?” The Conductor said over the din.
The man turned to look at the newest members in his locomotive. He wore a look of consternation on a face wizened by years. His eyes were hooded, and Tommy recognized the blue and gold irises of his own though his had a touch of green in them. But, this was where the familiarity stopped. Generations of time separated Thomas Rice from Tommy to the point Tommy would never have been able to recognize him as family. Thomas Rice was taller and huskier than Tommy, too.
“Officer Perkins, this is our Chief Engineer. Please explain to him what has occurred.”
For a moment, Tommy was lost in silence and enveloped in revelation. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that he was now standing in front of the man he was named after. The Conductor cleared his throat which snapped Tommy out of his admiration.
“Yes, my bad. We have discovered a dead body on board the train. It looks like someone murdered him in cold blood,” Tommy tried as he attempted his best impersonation of a police officer. Tommy heard Sam snort in his ear. The look the Chief Engineer threw at him showed Tommy that he was failing. “Err, the suspect is more than likely still on this train,” Tommy said carefully, attempting to match the dialogue of the time and consciously aware that he had just blurted out “my bad.” The Engineer nodded his head. Yet, he did not seem at all surprised.
“When did you find the body?”
“Approximately twenty-five minutes ago.”
The Engineer did not respond. The corner of his mouth twitched and his eyes narrowed, but he remained silent amidst the roaring sound of the Engine. An uncomfortable silence fell between the four men which the Conductor filled as he stepped forward.
“What should we do, Chief?” Thomas Rice turned away and put his hand back on the brake and nonchalantly glanced through his gauges.
“We do nothing. The man’s dead. We can offload him in San Francisco.”
“And the murderer?” The Conductor asked in confusion and disbelief.
“We can inform the authorities and they can do an official investigation. That’s their job,” the Chief Engineer stated bluntly. Tommy’s eyebrows creased together in confusion. Why didn’t Thomas Rice seem to care? It didn’t seem right. This was not the man his grandfather spoke about fondly.
“Chief, you and I both know once we reach San Francisco the murderer will be in the wind. Besides, Officer Perkins here has plenty of authority to get the job done.” Tommy appreciated the sentiment, but knew this was not true.
Thomas Rice turned and looked at Tommy as if seeing him for the first time. The look of utter disregard and disdain made the blood in Tommy’s veins begin to boil. He locked eyes with his kin, and dared him to look away. The smirk on the man’s face told Tommy everything he needed to know—Thomas Rice was not an honest man and Tommy was named after the wrong person.
A rebellion rolled through Tommy like a thunderstorm. He wanted to tell this man he was a coward and fool who was condemning over a hundred people to their deaths. It seemed his reputation as incompetent was true after all. How could his grandfather not have recognized the ignorant fool standing in front of him? How could his grandfather have been so wrong? Tommy opened his mouth to speak—to in the least warn the man of what lay ahead.
“Sir, we don’t have time to argue. There are lives at stake,” Tommy offered weakly.
“Indeed. And what do you suppose? That we interrogate everyone on board? Do you have any idea how many passengers are on this train?”
“One hundred and twenty-seven,” Tommy whispered. The Engineer flashed him a bewildered look, but it was soon replaced with a smirk.
“Exactly! By the time you and your pets,” he said as he glanced over at the Conductor and the small man behind Tommy, “managed to question just a third of them, we’d be dumping the garbage and almost be on our way,” he said sarcastically.
“Then we stop. Stop the train and let us take our time,” Tommy pleaded. “Preferably, let’s stop it before Pit River Bridge,” Tommy suggested. He felt an odd sensation roll up his neck. He knew what was coming. It was a draining, exhausting knowledge.
“No. Absolutely not,” Thomas Rice said emphatically. “We are scheduled to arrive in San Francisco and we will do so on time.” Even as he spoke, desperation curled up in Tommy’s chest. What could he say or do that would reason with this man? How could he not see the tremendous danger they were all in? “And I will not let insolence and insubordination deter me from this endeavor.” Tommy felt the words on his tongue, hot and heavy and dripping with rage.
“You have to do something!” The Conductor shouted above the noise of the massive engine.
The Engineer turned to the Conductor with fury in his eyes.
“You are not in a position of authority over me! You are still two days away from becoming the Engineer of this train. You may be written all over this, but it holds no sway over me. Until then, you can crawl back to your post and hold the hands of our dear commuters. Tah, tah,” the Engineer said with a wave of his hand.
Tommy knew he needed to speak. He knew he needed to warn his family member, no matter how rude and foul the man was acting. But, he froze. His lips were shut firmly and anxiety clouded his thoughts.