Tommy looked up into the shadowy face of the Conductor who wore a look of deep concern, and controlled confusion.
“That’s all,” Tommy related. The Conductor pursed his lips and leaned up against the open door.
“Most peculiar. And most alarming. It seems that our doctor was in grave danger. This much is evident from this friend of his. The only question is why. Why was he in danger?”
“It must have something to do with this,” Tommy offered as he extended the syringe. The object felt strange in his grip—slippery and unreal.
“Ah, yes. The antidote,” the Conductor said somberly as he took the syringe from Tommy’s hand. He rolled it over in his own palm, studying it from each angle. “But for what exactly is this an antidote for? Why it could be anything. From measles to the common cold. What ailment does this syringe remedy?”
“Whatever it is for, it got him killed,” Tommy said in a tone so cold that it surprised him. The two of them were silent. The only sound was the steady chug of the train as it continued onward on its path towards destruction.
“Such a dreadful mystery we have on our hands, Harold. I cannot make head nor tails of it. Why would this,” the Conductor held the syringe into the light, “bring about such a terrible demise? And what about the syringe that killed the dear Doctor? Was it too an antidote?”
Tommy started to pace, Harold’s feet moving back and forth in the cramped sleeper. His mind was working faster than the train wheels chugging and squealing rhythmically in the background. A thought pricked his mind and he looked back down at the letter in his hand.
“M used a word—unleashed.”
“Yes? Go on.”
“What if Doctor Pence wasn’t on this train to get away from someone?”
“What do you mean, Harold? Surely you see that he was fleeing for his life from this dreaded Morpheus Pharmaceuticals?”
“I thought that at first, but I don’t believe that’s the whole picture. The friend in this letter—M—he makes it sound as if Doctor Pence was on a mission. That he was on this train to prevent something from happening, not to escape the clutches of some evil corporation. When I think of an antidote, it makes me also think of a cure. The letter suggested that this was one of only a few, which means that it could not have been the antidote that killed Doctor Pence. That must mean it could only have been—”
“—A disease. Yes, Harold! That must be it. Why did I not see it sooner? But what disease would be powerful enough to kill the good Doctor so quickly?”
Tommy’s face grew cloudy. He hoped he wasn’t right about his worst fears.
“A powerful one. One that could be harmful for more than just Doctor Pence.” The Conductor gave him a quizzical look.
“Whatever are you saying, Harold?”
“I don’t know. I just have a really bad feeling about this. Do you think he was successful?”
“Successful? We hardly know what he was here to do, Harold. What standard do we have to measure the success of a dead man?”
Tommy could feel the frustration begin to unsettle him. So many things didn’t make sense! He sat down on the teetering mattress and put his head in his palm.
“Would it help if we started from the beginning?”
“Maybe,” Tommy said resignedly as he shrugged his shoulders.
“Why was Doctor Pence in the back of the train? Was he hiding?”
“No,” Tommy said evenly. “Like I said, I don’t think he came on board to run away. He must have known he was being hunted.”
“If that is true, then perhaps his purpose was to be in the back of the train all along.”
“What do you mean?” Tommy asked.
“The crack in the door,” the Conductor conveyed as he closed the door halfway, “is wrong. If somebody was trying to break into this sleeper car, then he would have used some sort of leverage to pry open the door. This damage, however, indicates that the destruction occurred from the inside of the sleeper and not from the outside.” Tommy was beginning to get a clearer picture in his head, but the dots weren’t connecting.
“So, I believe this room was staged.”
“Staged? You mean it was faked. Made to look like somebody came in here like a bull in a china shop?” The Conductor’s brow wrinkled together like newspaper at Tommy’s phrase, but he continued.
“Yes. Like a bull…in a shop. I believe Doctor Pence hid the antidote so that somebody would find it, but not someone who was searching with haste.” Tommy was beginning to understand.
“You’re saying that he did this so nobody else would look?”
“Precisely, my good fellow. I’m just speculating, but I feel like his attempts would have sufficiently thrown anyone off the trail.”
“But why? And how did he get to the back of the train? If he had a grand plan, how’d he end up dead?” Tommy asked with slight annoyance. He felt like all their thinking out loud was wasting through the precious time they had left.
“Assuming he knew he was targeted, he’d have tried to get his assailant alone. The best place for this would be in the back few train cars where few individuals would be traversing. There he could prepare an ambush and take his pursuer by surprise. With the crowbar he had in hand, he would’ve made easy work of his foes.”
“Except that now he’s dead. I guess his ambush didn’t work,” Tommy said bluntly.
“Right. I think we should still show him some respect, Harold. He was, after all, a doctor,” the Conductor scolded. Tommy felt the child inside of Harold’s body cloud with guilt.
“Sorry…So, what are we missing? I still don’t see how any of this can help us find the murderer. Would anyone have been in the back cars? Maybe someone saw the killer and could identify him.”
“No, unfortunately. We aren’t running full capacity, and the back two cars are largely empty save for some cargo we’re carrying to San Francisco.” Tommy wracked his brain for something, anything, that might be helpful. As he sat on the edge of the bed, he felt defeat creep into his chest. This was how it was going to all end—without answers. In the end, the Rice legacy would still be just as marred and empty as the cars at the end of the train.
“Wait,” Thomas stated as an idea formed in his mind.
“You said there was cargo?”
“Indeed, yes. What are you getting at?”
“What if Doctor Pence wasn’t in the back car trying to ambush somebody? What if he was trying to get into the cargo, instead?”
“Yes. Yes! That does put more pieces of the puzzle together. If Doctor Pence was trying to pry open one of the crates, then he wouldn’t have heard somebody coming up behind him. And that someone could have easily pulled his head back and injected him with the needle right under the chin!” The Conductor said breathlessly.
“Which means that we’re not looking for someone short after all. Rather, someone at the least a head taller than he was,” Tommy provided.
“Good point. But, most importantly, we know where we must go next.”
“Yes. Doctor Pence was trying to get into one of the crates. Which means that it’s exactly what we’re going to do. Even if it costs me my job,” the Conductor stated with a fire kindling in his eyes.
“Lead the way,” Tommy said with a grin.
Without further ado, the Conductor turned and started off.