Somewhere beyond the forested hills, a siren's sombre tone rose above the cicadas.
John Reeves blew a cloud of smoke into the cold evening air, listening to the fire horn's distant echoes. Taking one last draw on his cigarette, he flicked it to the ground, crushing the stub beneath his heel. He had seen his fair share of carnage in the sixteen years since he'd transferred to field work, but this was a whole new level for him. Three miles of shredded steel and wreckage. Thirty-some-odd people dead. He could see the scrubs fishing body parts out of the creek below.
The blackened husk of the train engine sat several yards down the track. It looked to him like a colossal beetle, perched atop the rails on scorched circular legs. Reeves trudged towards it, rubbing his hands together in a futile attempt to ward off the chill.
A uniformed officer was making his way around the front as Reeves approached. John greeted him with a curt nod. “Evening, Sheriff. What have you got for me?”
The Sheriff squinted at him. “I've got plenty for you, don't worry. You must be the FBI fella they were going to send our way.”
Reeves held out the papers he'd been given. “Special Agent Johnathan Reeves. Are you in charge of the site?”
The officer nodded. “Yessir. Name's Arron Warren, or Deputy Sheriff Warren if that better floats yer boat. You'll be wanting to see the highlights, right?”
“Of course. The detonation site would be a good place to start.”
“Right. Over here then.”
As he stepped forward, the Sheriff caught his toe on a protruding bit of burnt refuse, barely avoiding a face-first tumble into the sooty soil. He caught himself and swore loudly, spitting on the frozen ground.
“This place is an absolute mess. Techies think it was some kinda IED, set to go off when the train ran it over. Ugly mess of hardware, from what we can piece together. The driver should'a seen it a mile away.”
Reeves consulted his hand-held device. “Speaking of the operator... seems his name was Eren Maxwell. File says he'd been running the train for twelve years before his... demise.”
The Sheriff squinted at something in the distance. “Yep, we used to be good buddies. Went to the same pub up in town, actually. Felt sorry for the old guy. His wife left him twenty years ago, took the kids and left town. Funny thing on that, they ended up dead, too. Blind-sided by a semi, if you can believe it. Sorta ironic, ain't it? With him and them going out like that, whole family, human pancakes!” He smacked his hands together and chuckled.
Reeves was not amused. Maxwell had been cocooned in the cab of the engine when disaster struck. It had largely protected him from the lethal carnage, but with six broken ribs, a punctured lung, and burns on ninety-percent of his body... He had died without ever regaining consciousness.
“Here we are.”
Reeves glanced up, following the Sheriff's outstretched hand. Despite the stress they had been put through, the rails themselves had sustained little damage, with the exception of the section indicated. There, the tracks were massively warped and pitted, and the left rail had snapped apart completely.
The Sheriff was still speaking. “The boys at the lab are going over the trace chemicals right now, but whatever this was, it wasn't your average homemade explosive. Tre-mendous force, but all in one place. One big bang, hop the train off its tracks, and momentum does the rest. With the rate of speed, and trees on both sides... pretty much paper in a shredder. Bomb must'a been military-grade stuff.”
“I see that. Did anyone other than the engineer survive the initial impact?”
“Doubt it. Some bodies still missing, but overall...”
The FBI agent was surprised. “Who's still unaccounted for?”
“Two or three of the doctors, one of the patients, too. We actually just found, ah, what's-her-name... Lianne! Yeah, that was it. Found her this morning, or, well, most of her. Forensics say that she was thrown right out of the window and into the ravine as the cars stacked up. She would'a been fine, 'cept the steel wheel carriage came down on her as she tried to run. Cut her right in half. They're still looking for her legs, actually.”
Reeves sighed. This was an unfortunate turn of events. His superiors had given him rather specific instructions, instructions he was now unable to fulfill. His next stop would be the morgue; recover the body he was after, get it to the lab before anyone else had a chance to examine it in-depth... or worse, cremate it. The sheriff would be no help here. Time to leave.
Almost as an afterthought, he asked, “Do you know which patient is still missing?”
The sheriff's brow furrowed. “No, um... no, wait, yes! Yeah, her name was... Elise or something. Lisabeth? Hm... dang...”
As casually as he could manage, Reeves asked, “Was the name Elinor?”
The sheriff's eyes widened, and his face broke into a grin. “Yeah, that was it. Elinor Lenoma.”
Reeves tried to think, tried not to show any sign of the impact the words had had on him. Blood was pounding in his temples, blurring the edges of his vision. It was impossible... one chance in a million... but if he was right, if his department was right, this was exactly how it would have played out.
“No sign of her in the wreck?”
“Nope, nothing. Some of the guys think a wild animal got her, dragged her off somewhere, or maybe she went in the water and the current carried her away. Our boys've been all up and down the creek bed, though. Nothing. Took us a bit longer than expected, actually. Some of our guys had to run out north to the big fire.”
“Yeah, the old Montgomery school building burned down. It's about fifteen miles from here. Anyway, there's a lot of ground to cover. She'll turn up, don't worry.”
As if on cue, Reeves' cell phone rang. With a gesture of apology to the Sheriff, he answered it.
“We've got her.” The caller was younger, maybe mid-twenties. Most likely an agent from another division; this was a business-only line.
“The patient. The girl, Elinor. We've got her. She's back at Elm Hope. Just walked in the door an hour ago. Heaven knows how she got there, but she's there now. Sullivan wants you on-site yesterday. What's your ETA?”
Reeves was already running, his dress shoes clattering on the gravel-covered earth.
“Ten minutes. For the love of Christ, don't let her out of your sight!” He clicked the phone shut, wresting his keys from his pocket mid-stride.
They had her. Alive.
Now they just had to keep her that way.