The Conductor turned around wearing angry disappointment across his face. Tommy followed him out into the wind and back towards the lounge car. Sam, too, followed in step behind Tommy. Tommy’s mind worked over the conversation in disbelief. How could it have gone so horribly wrong? None of it made sense. Tommy was so numb that he didn’t even see the ground hurtling past. Before slipping inside, Tommy looked back over his shoulder. The wind whipped his hair around his head and lashed at his eyes. The door to the Engine was shut firmly behind them and Tommy was walking away from his only opportunity to make a difference in the legacy of his family. A voice screamed inside of him, begged for him to go back, urged him to try harder.
The door to the lounge car opened, and Tommy followed the Conductor inside. Sam clapped the door shut behind them with a resounding, and final clang. The three men entered into a train car bubbling with conversations as dozens of commuters conversed with each other. Tommy felt a stabbing pang of sadness for them. None of them were aware of what was about to happen and Tommy was helpless to stop any of it. He leaned up against the bar and put his head in his hand.
“Utterly ridiculous!” the Conductor yelled as he slammed his fist into the polished wood. The bartender glanced up at him with a flash of disdain. “What a supremely difficult man to deal with,” he continued with venom.
Tommy’s head swam with confusion and dismay. If Thomas Rice didn’t relent, they were all doomed. How could Tommy stop this from happening? He didn’t know the answer.
“What a tool,” Sam said spitefully as he sat down next to Tommy. Even though Sam’s opinion was spot on, his assessment only made Tommy more frustrated. “Still don’t think we should storm the Engine and take it by force?” Sam asked hopefully.
“No, Sam. We have to figure this out without making him look like it was his fault. Taking it by force would indicate that there was no other way,” Tommy said. Sam recoiled and smirked at Tommy.
“You still want to protect that man? Even after what you just saw and heard?”
“Yes. He’s my family.”
“Yeah? So? You really want to be associated with him that much? Why does it even matter?”
“It just does, Sam. I’m sorry that I can’t just forget about it. I’m sorry you think I’m not like all the other cool, normal kids in the world who can just move on. Because I can’t,” Tommy said heatedly.
“I never said anything about being cool, so calm down. We weren’t even talking about that.”
“We’re always talking about that,” Tommy shot back.
“Whatever. Go and sulk at the back of the train. It’s not my fault that you turned into a train-loving nerd who wets his pants every time he gets above three feet.”
Tommy never felt himself rise out of his chair nor did he feel his fist close around Sam’s shirt collar. He was just suddenly standing up and had Sam suspended off the ground like he was a rag doll. The young man looking up at him with eyes wide and face drained of color wore a mask of terror.
“Tommy?” At the whisper of his name, Tommy senses started to crawl back into focus. Slowly, Tommy lowered Sam back to the floor.
“Are you gentlemen okay?” The Conductor said cautiously. Tommy let go of Sam’s shirt and turned to face the man speaking.
“Yeah. We’re fine,” he said hoarsely. The Conductor scrutinized him silently before speaking.
“I think we’re on our own. If the Chief isn’t going to help us, we’ll just have to figure this mystery out ourselves,” the Conductor declared. Tommy felt hope pour over the coals of fiery anger burning inside his chest. Maybe there was still a chance he could prevent this disaster. If they found the culprit, or at least a shred of evidence that was compelling enough to stop the train, maybe—just maybe they’d all get out alive.
“How far are we from San Francisco?” Tommy asked. He had to get his bearings. He had to know how close they were to destruction. The Conductor pulled a pocket watch out and flicked it open with a twist of his wrist. Out of the corner of his eye, Tommy could feel Sam’s hatred burning into him. Tommy could still feel the anger coursing through his veins. A small part of him felt sorry, but the largest part of him knew that Sam had it coming.
“We departed at 8:10 this morning and have been traveling four and ten hours. This puts us just outside Edgewood.”
“How far away from Pit River Bridge?”
“Hmm,” he began from beneath his mustache as he leaned towards a window and peered outside. At the pace we are going, I’d say a little over an hour. Why do you inquire?”
Tommy thought through his answer.
“Let’s just say we are under a deadline, and we have about an hour to solve this crime.”
The Conductor looked at him incredulously.
“Just trust me. We need to move fast. I think we need to find out more about our Doctor. Who was he? Where was he staying on this train? Is there a manifest we can look at to find out where his baggage is being held?” The questions came fast and hot off his fears.
“Great questions, Harold. I think that’s a solid heading. Our first order of business should be to check the manifest. Right this way,” the Conductor provided as he led Tommy away from the bar. “The baggage car is the next car down,” he said over his shoulder. “And the manifest is hanging on the wall just inside the door.” Tommy nodded his head and followed obediently. The Conductor opened the door to the outside and for a second, Tommy lost sight of him before he too exited the lounge car.
When Tommy entered the next car, he found the Conductor already leafing through a clipboard held in his hands. Tommy watched him find the right page as his finger traveled up and down looking for the right listing information.
“Aha! It says the good Doctor came aboard with a single carry on and a suitcase. It says he also purchased a personal bunk, so I assume his carry on would be at the location of his bunk. His suitcase, however, would be right…” The Conductor moved to his left as he walked the rows of suitcases and belongings all tucked neatly on shelves and on racks. “Here?”
The Conductor pointed at an empty slot. Tommy’s brow furrowed.
“Where is it?” Tommy asked.
“That is a good question. It should be right here.”
“Do you think it was misplaced?”
“I wouldn’t believe so. All of the luggage is carefully handled and categorized. We take our passengers’ belongings quite seriously,” he said with a hint of pride.
“Then why is it not here?”
“That I do not know. But, any movements of the luggage have to be approved prior to them being rearranged. Which means the change should be noted right here…” His voiced trailed off. Tommy watched as his eyes narrowed and his mustache twitched.
“What does it say?” Tommy asked. For a moment, the Conductor was silent.
“It simply cannot be,” he said at last. The look he flashed at Tommy made Harold’s brow furrow in confusion. The Conductor’s mustache twitched unevenly and his knuckles gripped the edge of the clipboard with a tightened grip.
“May I see?” Tommy asked in his deep, gruff voice. The Conductor hesitated, but then reluctantly extended the clipboard out so that Tommy could look. It took a second for Tommy to find the scribbled and cramped handwriting which noted that the suitcase was to be moved to an undisclosed location. Out next to this was a signature which was much larger than the small inscription as if the person wanted to proclaim his authority to make this decision. The name made Tommy’s heart sink down into his stomach.
It was the signature of Thomas Rice.