Dreadnought Page 56

“He pulled it out. Oh, sweetheart,” she told him uselessly, “you shouldn’t have pulled it out!” Not that it would’ve made much difference if he’d left it in. The big artery had been cut and he’d bled out fast. All the needles and thread in all the world couldn’t have saved him, unless maybe he’d gotten cut lying on an operating table. But probably not then, either.

Tankersly said, “Ma’am?”

“Be right with you,” she told him, and she pulled Enoch Washington’s body out of the way, back behind the last row of seats where he wouldn’t trip or distract anyone. Then she returned to Pierce Tankersly and said, “I’m here, I’m here,” in a breathless voice that he certainly couldn’t have heard very well. “Let me look,” she said. “Let me see.”

“Is it bad?” he asked. “When the window blew”—his lip was trembling, maybe with cold, maybe with fear—“it caught me in the face.”

“Can you see all right? Blink your eyes,” she told him.

He obliged and she said, “Already I can tell it’s not so bad. Both eyes look fine.”

“Then why can’t I see? Everything’s all blurry!”

“It’s blood, you daft fellow. The cut’s along your forehead and—no, put your hand down. I’ll take care of it in a minute. Head wounds, they bleed something awful, but your eyes aren’t hurt and you’re not bleeding to death, and those are the big things right now.” She began patting and cleaning him where she could, and she gave his good hand a rag to hold up to his forehead. “Lean back,” she requested. “Lean your head back against the wall so you’re looking straight up at the ceiling, will you do that for me?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, “But how come?”

She said, “Because . . .” at precisely the moment she whipped the long piece of glass out of his palm. “I didn’t want you to watch me do that.”

He squealed and gasped at the same moment, giving himself hiccups.

“I knew it’d smart.”

“It’s gushing! Like Enoch!” he said with panic.

“No, not like Enoch. There’s nothing in your hand that will make you bleed like he did,” she promised. But she did not add that he’d cut some muscles, and surely some tendons, too, and the odds were better than fair he’d never have the correct and proper use of all the fingers ever again. “This isn’t so bad,” she said it like a mantra. “Not so bad at all. I want you to do something for me,” she said as she took a rag and balled it up, then stuck it in his hand and wrapped some gauze around it.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Sit on it. Put it under your thigh, right there. The pressure’ll make the bleeding stop.”

“You’re sure the bleeding’ll stop?”

“I’m sure the bleeding’ll stop,” she said firmly. “But it might take a few minutes, and I don’t want you to get all scared on me. That knock on your head needs some pressure, too, and that’s what your good hand is for, just like you’re doing now. Keep your head up, and keep that rag held on it just like that. When it’s dry, I’ll stitch it up for you. You just sit here, and stay out of trouble. I’m going to check on Mr. Howson.”

“He going to be all right?”

“Hope so,” she said, but that was all she said, and she didn’t make him any more promises.

She didn’t make it back to Mr. Howson either, though she could see him reach up with one hand to scratch a spot behind his ear, so he was clearly still breathing and kicking. Someone called out, “Nurse!” She didn’t recognize the voice, but when she turned around, she saw Morris Comstock holding up one of his fellows by the shoulder and one arm.

“Coming!” she said, and she scurried forward, only noticing when she did not hear the crunch of glass that there was far less underfoot. Over at the far end of the car, Cole Byron was scooping and scraping the floors with a set of burlap bags, collecting the glass and shoving it into the rear corner where the body of Enoch Washington rested.

She approved, and would’ve said as much except that Morris Comstock was calling for her again, and whomever he was holding was utterly slack. She helped the soldier lower his comrade down onto a row of seats, but she shook her head. “He’s dead, Mr. Comstock. I’m very sorry.”

“He might not be!” Morris shouted, and there were tears at the edges of his eyes, either from the wind or from the situation, she couldn’t say.

She said, “He took a bullet in the eye, see? I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she repeated, even as she felt at the man’s neck to make doubly sure that all the life was gone from him. “Help me move him, over there with poor Mr. Washington.”

“You want to just toss him in a corner?”

“Should we leave him here, taking up space and getting in the way? I’m sorry,” she said yet again. “But he’s gone. Help me, help me take him over there and we’ll remember him later.”

The Dreadnought accented her sentiment with a round of volleys that rocked the Shenandoah, sending it swaying on the tracks at such a tremendous degree that as Mercy stood in the corner beside the corpses, she could see the holes that had been blown in the other train’s side. And she could also see that still, yes, again, and more, it had gained on them.

Risking her own neck, eyes, and hands, she went to a window by the rearmost door, and she looked out over the tracks between the trains and counted them. “One, two, three,” she breathed aloud. “Four. Just four sets.”

“Maybe eighty feet, at the outside,” Horatio Korman said. He’d been sitting there beside the door, on the other side of the aisle. “Maybe eighty feet between us and them. They won’t try to cross it,” he assured her.

She noted that his hat was back. It jerked and fluttered despite its firm grip around his skull. “You think?”

“They ain’t stupid,” he said, reclining and putting his booted feet up onto the seat beside him.

“They’re chasing this train,” she said, as if she could think of no dumber course.

“Again I say, they ain’t stupid. They need the gold, and they want the deeds so they can burn them. Last thing the Rebs need is fresh bodies to fight, when they don’t have any fresh bodies themselves. All they have to do is get ahead of us.”

She tore her gaze back and forth, between the Shenandoah and the Texas Ranger, one in frantic motion and the other the very picture of forced calm and resignation.

Mercy asked, “You think they’re going to do it? You think we’re all going to die?”

“I think they’re going to do it. And I’m pretty sure some of us are going to die. Fat lot of nothing I can do about it, though,” he said, settling his back against the northern wall of the passenger car. The cliffs zipped past behind him, only feet from his head, throwing off shadows and sparkles of light that glanced off the ice that made his face look old, then young, then old again.

“So you just . . . you give up?”

“I’m not giving up anything. I’m just being patient, that’s all. Now get yourself away from the window, woman. You dying won’t do anybody any good, either.”

She said, “I should go back to the other car, see how they’re doing.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it. Look out there; look at that train. They’re right up on us. Side by side, neither one of us with anyplace to make a retreat. Just these goddamned cliffs, and just this goddamn ice and snow in these goddamned mountains.”

Suddenly, Mercy did not care very much at all what the ranger recommended. She grabbed the door’s handle, since she was so close to it already, and she gave it a tug and threw herself outside, all alone, into the space between the cars. She pulled the door shut and half expected Horatio Korman to follow after her, trying to stop her, but he only stood—she could see him through the window. The way his arm moved, she thought he, too, was reaching for the latch, but either she was wrong or he changed his mind.

He mouthed, Be careful, and turned away.

She was careful, and it was a jerky shuffle from one car to the next, but she made it—faster this time, even faster than when he’d been pushing her along, helping her find the handholds.

She stepped inside the next car, and the wind came billowing up behind her, shoving her cloak over her face and flapping it up around her arms until she closed the door and leaned against it, catching her breath. “How’s everybody in here?” she asked in a hoarse shout.

Half a dozen voices answered, and she couldn’t sort out any given one of them. But she saw two men lying haphazardly over the seats, and half inside the sleeper cars. She immediately went to the fallen soldiers.

One was dead, with most of his face missing—and what was left was frozen in such a state of shock that Mercy wished to God she had something left to cover him. She pulled his body off the seats and drew him back to the corner to leave him there, just like she’d been leaving the bodies in the next car up. Then she reached for one of the sleeper car curtains and yanked it down, popping all the tiny rings that held it up in one long, zippered chain. She dropped the makeshift shroud down over him and went back to the second man, who was in much better shape, if unconscious.

It was Inspector Galeano, with a large red mark in the shape of a windowpane across his face. She didn’t know if he’d fallen or if the window had blown inward, but he was only coldcocked, and not otherwise in serious peril, or so Mercy ascertained as she pulled him onto one of the sleeper beds and gave him the once-​over. His prominent, stately nose was broken, but his pulse was strong and his pupils reacted in a satisfactory fashion to light and shade.

Mercy took a moment to wipe the drying blood off his upper lip, and then she slapped at his face, not quite hard enough to sting. “Inspector? Inspector?”

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