“You! You did this!” The Conductor accused as fire burned in his eyes.
A mocking grin splayed across the Chief Engineer’s face. An unsettling feeling gathered at the bottom of Tommy’s gut as the pieces started to tumble into place. Thomas Rice was indeed just the right height to have been the attacker. He alone had full access to the train. It was no wonder he hadn’t been surprised when they shared the news of the man’s body.
He already knew.
“I must hand it to you, gentlemen. I didn’t expect anyone to catch wind of any of this. I suppose you want to know why. Why did I kill Allan Pence?”
“Does it matter? You’re a murderer, and you will pay for your crimes,” the Conductor stated vehemently. Tommy glowered at his great-grandfather with a hatred that pulsed through every part of his body. He felt gutted and robbed.
“Why?” The question came off of Tommy’s lips softly, painfully. Surprised tears were in his eyes. He felt betrayed. The horror of the Rice legacy was unfolding right before his eyes and it was worse than he could have imagined. Thomas Rice smirked at his question.
“It’s simple, really. He had to die. He had to die so achievement could be fulfilled. He was a piece to a much grander puzzle.”
“Nonsense!” The Conductor yelled. His words echoed off the windows and swayed with the train as it moved around a curve. “No one is simply a piece. You took a man’s life. You are a murderer.”
The words bounced off the Engineer like flies.
“I am an entrepreneur. You see, Allan was one of my colleagues. He and I worked together in San Francisco where we were part of a cutting-edge field of scientific discovery in pharmaceuticals.” Disbelief clouded Tommy’s face, and he could feel the Conductor’s own confusion.
“Don’t be shocked. If you were an Engineer as long as I have held the position, you’d have sold out to another job, too. Besides, I didn’t start working on The Daylight because I enjoyed the long hours. No, this was a means to an end—cheap, reliable, and covert transportation of my cargo.”
“You’ve been using The Daylight for your evil schemes?” The Conductor bit at him.
“I’m not evil. I’m adaptive. But, carrying on. A year ago, Allan discovered a rare type of plant in his travels to South America. He often ventured down there for the Company’s sake—for discoveries and ideas. Oh, and what he brought back was a beauty. It had the properties of a pathogen, dispersing a vaporized oil which caused rapid decomposition in nearby prey. And once its prey succumbed to its fate, the plant roots would receive the nutrients from the decaying remains. Truly, truly remarkable.”
Tommy could not believe what he was hearing. The man before him was not human. How could he be related to such a monster? He felt guilt and anger crawl up his throat.
“Your plant obviously did not stay contained. Already, two men have become infected on board this train,” Tommy said vehemently.
Delight played across the Engineer’s face.
“Fantastic! I was hoping it would commence quickly, but not this fast. Remarkable. Truly remarkable. If my calculations are correct, that would mean everyone on board will soon be experiencing symptoms as well. And then when they arrive in San Francisco, the true enterprise begins.”
Tommy’s pulse pounded in his ears. His worst fears were confirmed. Everyone was infected. Those words sent a chill up his spine. He looked at the Conductor, who had reached the same despairing conclusion.
They were infected, too.
“You’re a monster!” Tommy bellowed. Hatred for Thomas Rice coursed through his veins.
“Oh, hardly. I’m quite merciful. After all, there’s a cure for what is happening,” he stated nonchalantly. “I am cured, myself, and the Company I work for will be ready to administer it in San Francisco for a reasonable price,” he stated with a smirk.
“You are going to infect hundreds—thousands!”
“Yes. That is the hope. It’ll make the Spanish Flu look like the common cold, but Morpheus Pharmaceuticals will provide the hope and cure everyone desperately needs. Unfortunately for yourself, you won’t be alive to see how wonderfully everything unfolds.” The Engineer lowered his arms from across his chest and brandished a syringe that glinted sharply in the passing light. Tommy knew what was inside was not medicine.
“All I want is the antidote that you found. Give it to me.” Tommy could feel the weight of the syringe in his pocket.
“I thought as much. Which is why I found it convenient that your dog was snooping around,” Thomas Rice said as the sleeper beside him opened. A man was thrust forward who was too cowed for Tommy to see his face. A second man stepped out of the room and Tommy immediately recognized the face of the second man who’d found the body. Unlike the other bagman, he had no sign of illness. But, that wasn’t what caught Tommy’s attention. It was the young man who had his arms held firmly behind his back.
“Sam?” One of his eyes was almost swollen shut as a bruise started to darken around it. A trickle of blood fell from a busted lip, and pain shimmered noticeably across his face.
“Don’t do it!” That was all he could get out as the man behind him pulled on his arm. Sam howled with pain and Tommy reflexively took two steps forward.
“Nuh uh uh. Step any closer and Sam here will get the full dose. Just like the good ol’ Doctor, he’ll be dead in under a minute.” Tommy froze as fear rooted him to the carpet. “All I want is the antidote. Give it to me, and he’s yours.”
“No, Tommy!” Sam tried to shout. The bagman yanked on his arm as a sickening pop resounded throughout the train car. Sam screamed, but was cut short as a piece of cloth was fitted over his mouth.
“Well, well. Isn’t that funny, eh Conductor? Seems Officer Perkins and yourself share the same name,” the Chief Engineer said nonchalantly.
Tommy’s heart stopped as realization plummeted in his gut. He turned just far enough to see the Conductor’s face. The man was staring forward, with loathing burning in his eyes. Eyes that were the same color as Tommy’s.
“Alright. Time’s up. I guess Sam has to die.”
“No!” Tommy shouted as he whipped his head back around. “I’ll give you what you want,” he said angrily. His hand slipped into his pocket as he pulled out the antidote. “This is it, right?”
“Right. Give it to me,” the Chief Engineer said with a snarl.
“Okay,” Tommy said as he took a couple steps towards Sam. “But, you have to let Sam go. You can have me instead.”
“Such bravado, Officer. You must hold this bagman in high regard,” the Engineer said with disdain. Tommy looked straight at Sam whose eyes wore pleading and pain.
“He’s my friend. My best friend,” Tommy said steadily. “Let him go and take me instead. That is our one and only move,” Tommy said cryptically. He glanced over at Sam whose eyes were wide with agony and revelation. Sam’s head dipped slightly as he acknowledged Tommy’s comment. Tommy extended his hand which was closed around the syringe as he offered it to the madman. The Chief Engineer’s eyes widened with glee. He glanced over at his henchman and gave him a curt nod. In response, the man pressed into Sam which caused another ripple of pain to shimmer on his face as his feet moved forward.
They were about ten feet away. Tommy still had his hand extended and deep down he knew that there was no way the Chief Engineer was going to let any of them live once he had the antidote. His only hope was that Sam got his message.
Five feet away. Sam’s head was down as the man continued to hold him in an armlock. Tommy could feel his pulse begin to quicken.
Sam looked up with a sly grin.
There was a sudden flurry of motion as Sam followed through with his move. Before Tommy could see if he was successful, however, his attention returned to the Chief Engineer who was advancing towards him with the needle raised above his head. Tommy was completely caught off-guard as the man—with wildness in his eyes—closed the gap between them with a few strides. Tommy held up his hands to shield himself as the needle came hurtling down.
With a grunt, Tommy was shoved sideways as a push came from behind. He crashed into the swiveling seat on his right as stars exploded in front of his eyes. Tommy tried to shake the dizziness out of head as a sharp pain radiated up and down his shoulder. When he finally regained himself, he saw the Chief Engineer and his great-grandfather rolling on the floor as they were locked in a fight. Tommy’s eyes darted over to Sam who was scrambling backwards as fear etched itself across his face. The bagman loomed over him with a baton in his hands and raised it to strike. Tommy glanced back to his great-grandfather, who was now underneath the Chief Engineer. The needle was mere inches away from his beet red face. He knew he could only help one of them.
Tommy jumped on the bagman’s back. The assault caught the man off-guard as he crumbled to his knees. Swiftly, Sam delivered a kick to the man’s face that produced an immediate cracking noise. The man’s whole body went limp as his head slumped to the floor.
“You okay?” Tommy asked Sam in between breaths. Sam nodded. Tommy whipped back around to behold his great-grandfather’s fate. Thomas Rice was on his knees, his chest heaving and perspiration dripping from his chin. His hair was disheveled and he’d lost his hat. There was an ugly bruise across his jaw that ended with a cracked, broken lip.
His hand was on the needle, and the needle was buried in the Chief Engineer’s chest.
“Remarkable. Truly remarkable,” the man gasped. The man’s body convulsed suddenly before becoming still and quiet.
The Chief Engineer was dead.