Dreadnought Page 46

As she threw herself inside, letting the door slam shut in her wake, she found herself staring at three drawn rifles and a pistol, all of which lowered upon recognizing her. “Mrs. Lynch,” sighed the captain, whose pistol sagged at the end of his hand. “What are you doing back here?”

“I need a word with you,” she said. “In private, in the next car over. Please. It’s urgent,” she emphasized in such a way that she prayed he’d be intrigued and not suspicious. “It’s about Cyrus Berry, and the last car. There’s a problem, Captain.”

They knelt there facing each other at opposite ends of the gold-​reinforced car. Most of the stray sheets of paper had been contained, but a few still fluttered wildly, and one got sucked out a window as she waited.

He came to some decision and said, “Fine.” He stuffed the gun into his belt and staggered over to meet her, saying, “Hobbes, you’re in charge without me.” Then he took her by the arm with one hand and opened the door with the other.

Together they navigated the windswept, bone-​cold gap with grunts and waves, handholds and curse words. Finally they stood on the passenger car’s platform, ready to dive back inside to the relative quiet of that vessel, but she stopped him from opening the door. She put a hand up behind his neck and drew his face down close to hers, so he could hear her and she wouldn’t have to shout quite so loudly. “Before we go in there,” she said, “Cyrus Berry is dead, and Mr. Purdue has killed him. The Texian saw the whole thing happen, and the doctor did, too.”

His eyes widened just as hers narrowed against the wind and darkness.

She continued, “Mr. Korman is just inside this next car. He demanded a word with you. He’s on this train on Republic business, not Confederate business, and I think he’ll tell you the truth.”

The captain made a face that said he feared she overestimated the Texian’s purity of motive, but he took the door handle anyway, lifted the latch, and let them both inside.

Horatio Korman was sitting splay-​kneed on one of the padded benches, his gun on the seat beside him—not a threat, but a notice that there was absolutely a gun, and simultaneously an advertisement that he was not brandishing this gun. He looked up from under his hat, the shadows from the train windows curling across his face in thick gray squares that offset the black of the car’s interior.

“Captain MacGruder,” he said. He did not stand as Mercy and the captain slunk over to sit across from him on the compartment bench. “As you know, my name is Horatio Korman. As you don’t, I’m a ranger from the Republic of Texas. And you, sir, have one hell of a problem on your hands.”

“It’s a pleasure,” the captain said without looking remotely surprised about either of these revelations. “Now, what the hell is going on?”

“Your sweet blond private is dead and draining in the caboose, shot and killed by Purdue, who you don’t appear to have much control over. That little fiend is holed up back there, and I think he’s got orders that come down from a higher rank than yours.”

In the same unhappy, flat tone, the captain said, “Your assessment of the situation is just about right.”

“You’ve almost got the Rebs run off, now, haven’t you?”

The captain didn’t answer for a moment. All three of them were holding still and quiet, listening to the reluctant patter of bullets, fewer and fewer, coming from outside. Finally he said, “I believe that situation is under control, yes.”

“Good. Because—”

“Good? Now, you wait here a minute, Ranger Korman. I know damn good and well where your sympathies lie, and I want to know—”

“No, you listen to me, Captain,” the ranger said, escalating the interruptions. “Right now I’m on the side of whoever can get me to Salt Lake City fastest and safest. For all your talk and bluster of this being a civilian train, we both know that ain’t the case. I’m here on a duty that doesn’t have diddly-​squat to do with your war.”

The captain said, “I can’t say I believe you. Somebody on this train has been sabotaging the ride by bits and pieces, and somebody has been feeding the Rebs information ever since we pulled the civvies on at St. Louis.”

“And you think it’s me?” Korman asked, patting himself on the chest. “Son,” he said, even though the captain was probably older than him, if only by a few years. “I’ve got better things to do with my time than to slow up a train that I very badly need. And, anyway, you can quit worrying about your spy. He’s dead.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It was Berry, don’t you get it? That boy may have hailed from Ohio, but he had heartstrings that went a lot farther south. You’re just lucky he wasn’t any better at spying. Blame it on his youth, I suppose. Did he know about the gold you’ve got in that next car?”

MacGruder flung a glare at Mercy, but she folded her arms and ignored it.

“Of course he knew about it. You saw him in there, propped up on it, shooting out at the meat-​baskets and their riders.” But something in his voice betrayed an uncertainty. “At least, I thought he was shooting. Maybe he was picking bats out of the sky. Goddamn.”

The ranger went on. “Did he know about whatever’s in that back car?”

“I doubt it. But to think, I just sent him back there, giving him every excuse in the world to bust it open, find out, and spread the word around.”

Mercy said, “You told me you didn’t know if it was bodies or something stranger. If you ever said such a thing in front of him, he would’ve passed it along, don’t you think?”

“I’ll tell you what I think, Mrs. Lynch,” the captain said. “Rumor’s had it that you were in league with the Texian all this time. I tried to look the other way—”

Before he could hard-​boil his sentiments into an accusation, she blurted out, “I’m from Virginia. I worked at the Robertson Hospital in Richmond. That’s the only thing I ever lied to you about. My husband was Phillip Lynch, and he died in the Andersonville camp, and I’m on my way to see my daddy.” Though she sat beside him, she slid her legs around so she could face him. “It’s the same for me as Mr. Korman. We just need to get west. Neither one of us would’ve done anything at all to slow this train or harm it. Neither one of us has anything to do with spying.”

Her words hung in the night-​black air. Between the three of them, they gradually realized that no one was shooting anymore, except far away, and in what could only be described as a retreat.

As one, they rose up and went to the train’s south windows and pressed their faces to the panes where the glass hadn’t broken. Mercy said, with honest relief, “Look, they’re leaving!”

And Korman said, “Thank God.” Then he turned to the captain and said, “You, and me, and her—” He indicated Mercy. “We’re in this together now.”

“How you figure?” he asked.

“Because we’re all three being betrayed by somebody. I know my word won’t mean much, but let me tell you this: I knew one of the boys who led the early raid that didn’t go nowhere. They were just scouting, you knew it the same as I did. But I shot ’im a telegram back in Topeka, trying to get a bead on what’s going on here, and I’m hoping for a response in Denver. As a gesture of good faith, I’m willing to share that with you, and send that fellow a warning to leave the train be.”

“And why exactly would you do that?”

The ranger gritted his teeth and said, “All I want to do is get to Salt Lake City. This train will get me there faster than any other, and it’s in my best interest to see it arrive in one piece. Don’t be dense, man. I’m trying to help.”

The men stared each other down, until Mercy interjected, “Fellas, listen. All God’s children got a job to do here, and all any of us want is to head out west and to mind our own business. But I think we need to mind someone else’s business for a bit.”

The captain asked, “What do you mean by that?”

And she said, “I mean, I think we should find out what’s in the back of this train. Because if it’s a bigger secret and something more important than a few tons of gold and a whole passel of land deeds,” she let this information slide casually, “then Mr. Purdue is just about the last man on earth I trust to be in charge of it.”

“You’re suggesting that I disobey orders.”

“You were suggesting that Cyrus Berry do the same,” she countered, “when you sent him back there. You want to know; you’re just afraid to find out. But whatever’s back there, Purdue is willing to kill for it—and he’ll kill his way up the chain of command, I bet. Whatever it takes to sneak his treasure up to Boise.”

In the absence of bullets spitting every which-​a-​way, the train slowed from its breakneck pace into something more ordinary—not leisurely, but not straining like the engine was gobbling every bit of fuel it could burn, either. The silence that followed, without anyone shooting and without anyone in the passenger car at all, was broken only by the unrelenting wind whistling through the broken patches in the glass.

But off in the distance—terribly far away, so far that they couldn’t have seen it clearly even if the sun had been out—a tiny glimmer raced along the horizon line. And from that same position, miles and miles away, the cold prairie air brought a rumor of a tune, one long note held high and loud like the call of one train to another.

Mercy asked, “What’s that?” and pointed, even though they were all looking at the same thing, the same minuscule glowing dot that sailed smooth as a marble along some other path, somewhere far away.

Horatio Korman adjusted his hat, jamming it farther down on his head to fight the pull of the rushing air, and said, “Unless I miss my guess, Mrs. Lynch, I’d say that’s probably the Shenandoah.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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