Tommy could feel the time waning down like a vice clamped around his heart. It took them nearly ten minutes to get to the back of the train. Sweat and worry had started to collect on his brow, and a knot was burrowed into his stomach. The Conductor pulled open the door to the last car, and Tommy followed him inside. A foreboding gloom hovered in the room and the air was thick and heavy. The body was still sitting upright against the back wall with the sheet draped supernaturally over it.
“Right this way. If I recall, I placed the crowbar right…here,” the Conductor stated as he pulled it out from between two waist high crates. Tommy’s eyes scanned the car, which was full of crates of an assortment of sizes.
“Where do we start?” He asked, knowing any time wasted was life itself draining away.
“Well, let’s see. These crates here,” the Conductor provided as he approached Tommy, “are produce. You can tell from the shipping label on the side.” The Conductor pointed and Tommy absentmindedly nodded his head. “And these are textiles. You can tell from the smell.” The Conductor continued to move throughout the train car, elaborating as he went. “And these…” He stopped. “These don’t belong here,” he said with a hesitant confidence.
Tommy felt his heart leap as he approached. The crates, five in all, were double stacked until they came up to Harold’s chest. Across the top of the wooden box was a set of black letters—MP.
“Morpheus Pharmaceuticals,” Tommy said as he pointed them out.
“Yes, perhaps. Only one way to find out,” the Conductor stated as he hefted the crowbar. “Step back, my friend,” he said evenly. Tommy took a quick step backwards and gave the Conductor his room. The man gripped the metal bar in two hands, swung his weight backwards, and then brought it crashing into the space under the lid. A resounding crackling noise filled the car, but the crowbar didn’t slide into the space. The Conductor repeated the motion, this time breathing a lungful of air out as he brought it surging forward. The result, however, was the same.
The Conductor looked at him sheepishly. Sweat glistened on his forehead which he cleaned off with his free hand. Tommy felt the awkwardness of defeat, but knew exactly what the Conductor was feeling. Tommy was never a strong, capable kid, and was prone to being teased with names like “Twigs,” or “Chopsticks.” No, he’d never possessed great strength, and probably never would.
Then it hit him.
“Let me take a swing,” he said with confidence. The Conductor seemed embarrassed, but didn’t argue as he heaved the crowbar into Harold’s strong grip. For once in his life, Tommy felt powerful. The Conductor moved aside as Tommy tightened his hands around the cold metal. He calculated his best angle, brought the crowbar back with a slight tilt towards the ceiling, and with an astonishing amount of strength, struck under the lid with a tremendous blow. The feeling of the tip of the crowbar sliding neatly into place brought accomplishment to Tommy’s lips. Without hesitation, he put all of his weight down on the bar. The car filled with the sound of splintering wood as shards and debris sprayed the air.
Tommy coughed on the dust swirling under dim lighting, as he batted his eyes clear. He dropped the crowbar at his feet and gripped the edge of the shattered lid. The wood was jagged and cut into his hands, but they didn’t quite belong to him, so he ignored the unpleasant sensation. With a final shove, he pushed the lid away to reveal its contents.
Tommy and the Conductor peered inside. At first, Tommy was confused and didn’t quite understand what he was looking at. Soon, however, everything came into focus.
“Syringes,” he muttered. The crate was full of empty syringes.
“Yes. There must be at least two hundred, if not more in this crate.” Something unpleasant started to accumulate in Tommy’s mind.
“How many crates are there?”
“Well, let’s see. There’s these four, and it appears to be another threefold stack over there. If my calculations are correct, then I count a dozen of these crates that I can see. There’s no telling what other crates are tucked away behind the rest of the cargo,” he provided. The train swayed, and Tommy felt his knees weaken.
“So, there’s over two thousand needles being shipped to San Francisco by Morpheus Pharmaceuticals?”
“It appears to be the case. Though, that’s not an incredible discrepancy. Pharmaceutical companies, after all, need syringes.”
“Somebody died over these. Someone who was trying to uncover the truth,” Tommy stated firmly. His mind was reeling as the implications started to knot together in his head like pieces of fabric finally being sown back together.
“What is the truth, Harold?” Tommy swallowed heavily. He had to be sure.
“Why didn’t they throw the body off the train?”
“I beg your pardon?” The Conductor tilted his head to the side.
“It’s been bothering me this whole time. If I were the bad guy—the killer—then I’d want to hide the evidence of my crime. Wouldn’t you?”
“I suppose so, yes. But, that is assuming the murderer is of average intelligence and had ample amount of time to discard of the body.”
“True. I didn’t think of that,” Tommy relented. But, he was confident he was onto something. He raced through every Hardy Boy book he’d ever read. There had to be some factor that could tell whether or not his theory was correct.
Tommy found it.
“Was the body warm?”
“What do you mean, Harold?”
“When you touched the body, was it warm?”
“Give me a moment to recollect.” The Conductor placed his hand on his temple and started to tap, as if pressing a button that would summon the memory. “I cannot say for sure, but I do not recall feeling anything but cold skin.”
“Aha! That means the body had been sitting there for some time—maybe even more than an hour. That would have given the killer a ton of time to get rid of the body. Yet, he didn’t.”
“Yes, I see your point. Maybe the culprit was afraid? Ashamed, perhaps?”
“I doubt it. I think he meant to keep the body where it was.”
“Why on earth would the scoundrel want his handiwork to be discovered? Do explain your reasoning, Harold. This old fogger is having a hard time keeping up.”
“It’s simple, really. You said that the cars were empty, and yet a body was found by not one, but two men. Then, you were informed.”
“Yes, but that is protocol. You must notify the Conductor of any sort of situations—alarming or otherwise,” the Conductor stated evenly.
“And I think the killer knew that. I think he wanted us to find the body. Wanted you to find the body.” Tommy said as he pointed at the Conductor.
“Me? Why on earth would I be a priority?” The Conductor scoffed. Tommy swallowed the knot clogging up his throat.
“Because you were someone who would most likely walk up and down the entire train.”
A thick, chilling silence settled between the two of them. The echo of his statement was punctuated by the shrill whine of the train as it hurtled down the tracks.
“That is a weighty theory, Harold. One that, if true, could spell disaster.”
“Agreed. And the bad thing is that the only way we’d know if I’m right was if it was too late.”
“Perhaps not. Maybe there is another way.” Harold’s eyebrows arched in response to Tommy’s confusion.
“What do you mean?”
“Would it not be best if we ask the Doctor?” The Conductor suggested as he tilted his head towards the direction of the back of the car. Tommy glanced down the row of cargo at the body of Doctor Pence. The sheet had shifted slightly due to bumps and jolts from the train, and the top of his hair was exposed. It almost looked like the Doctor was about to pull it off completely and announce that all of this—this whole nightmare—was a huge practical joke.
But, the body didn’t move. Tommy felt Harold’s feet moving as he and the Conductor drew up alongside the body. The Conductor gripped the sheet in one hand, and without hesitation pulled it away.
Both men gasped.