Dreadnought Page 57

After a few seconds, he answered with a string of words muttered in Spanish. Mercy had no idea about a bit of it, but he was talking, and that was progress.

“Inspector Galeano? Can you hear me?”



“Yes,” he said this time. “Yes. I’m—” He sat up and swooned slightly, but recovered and patted himself all over. “Where is my gun?”

“Can’t help you there,” she told him. “How’s your head?”

“My face . . . hurts,” he said, trying to frown, stretch his cheeks, and wrinkle his nose all at once.

“You’ve busted your nose, but if that’s the worst you get out of the day, we’ll call it good, all right?”

“All right,” he said, but he repeated the phrase as if he wasn’t sure what it meant. His eyes were scanning the glass-​covered floor.

“Your gun,” she said, guessing what worried him. “Is that it, over there, under the—?”

He saw the spot she indicated and said, “Yes!” before she could finish. And he threw himself up and off the recliner before she could stop him.

“Watch for the glass!” she yelled, but she’d already lost his attention. He was crawling back up to the window, checking his ammunition and readying himself for more. “Watch for the glass,” she said again, uselessly. It was everywhere, and it wouldn’t do anyone to watch out for it, because there was simply no avoiding it.

Mercy scanned the car for a porter and didn’t see one. She had her backside to the forward door when it opened and Morris Comstock stood in its frame, calling, “Mrs. Lynch!” at the top of his lungs.

“Coming!” she said, rather than ask what precisely he needed. No one ever hollered her name without needing something.

When she rose, she was nearly sick to her stomach, from the incessant motion and the blood all over her hands—with powdered glass sticking to her skin and drying there—but also from the sight of the Shenandoah, because she could now see that she was looking at its two rearmost cars and the engine was pulling ahead of the Dreadnought. On her way to assist Mr. Comstock, she leaned her head around and saw that, yes, the southern engine had passed the northern one; and as she watched, the Rebel craft leaped on the tracks with a burst of speed, as if some final gear had been engaged and this . . . this was the fastest it could move. Even if it couldn’t keep it up long, it didn’t have to.

She said, “Oh God,” and Mr. Comstock took her by the elbow and said, “I know!”

Back once more through the windswept breach, and back once again into the first passenger car, she came face-​to-​face with the captain, whose old head wound was bleeding again—or else he’d come by a new one, near the same spot. He said, “The inspector!”

He meant Inspector Portilla, who was facedown and being addressed by Lieutenant Hobbes, who was trying to turn him over and wipe away whatever blood he found. Mercy said, “Let me see him!” and rushed to his side. His uniform was scorched, cut, and tattered, and a large hole was pulsating just above his heart, toward the center of his chest.

All the wounds had been like this so far—all the men were firing out the windows, which gave them cover below the shoulders . . . and gave the men on the other train an open target at everything above them.

“Inspector!” she said, and drew him almost into her lap. “Inspector!”

He didn’t answer, and his eyes were rolling, not fixing on anything. “Help me,” she said to Morris Comstock, but suddenly he wasn’t there—so she looked around and saw Cole Byron, who met her eyes and darted to her side. “Help me,” she said. “Gently; we have to move him gently.”

Together they did so, retreating to another sleeper compartment and stretching him out. She tore at his shirt, popping the buttons and revealing a chest with a smattering of salt-​and-​pepper hair and a hole the size of her fist. “Jesus Christ!” she exclaimed. “What hit him?”

Cole Byron said, “I think they’re mounting antiaircraft over on the Shenandoah.”

“If they aren’t, they might as well be,” she said. Upon fishing around in her satchel, she realized she was out of rags. Undaunted, she reached for another curtain, yanked it down, and tore it up. The porter followed her lead and helped with the tearing. As she stuffed one wad of thick wool fabric into the wound, she tried to talk to the inspector, even as she was increasingly convinced that the cause was lost and they were about to be short one tall, light-​skinned Mexican.

The wound’s pulsing became erratic and jerky. She could feel it ebb and surrender under her hand, where she held the balled-​up curtain rag firmly in the wound, just in case there was some miracle imminent and the bleeding might be contained. But no miracle was forthcoming. The heart stopped altogether.

More antiaircraft shells went splitting through the car, and a splatter of someone’s blood shot across her face in a red, hot streak.

“God Almighty!” she shrieked, and came up to her knees shouting, “Who’s next? Who just took that hit?”

“Ma’am!” someone made a weak response, and it was Morris Comstock again—the first man she’d treated on board the train. He was clutching at a place on the side of his chest, and his hand was soaked with blood, and so was his shirt.

“Mr. Comstock!” She ran up underneath him, catching him as he came down from the window like a sack of potatoes. “Good heavens, look at you. Here we are again,” she said, right into his ear, since his head was slumping just above her breasts. “We’ve got to quit meeting this way. Tongues will begin to wag.”

He gave her a pathetic grin, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

She shook him, and lowered him to the ground—once more summoning the Pullman porter. Together they moved this man, too, to the sleeper car where the Mexican inspector had died, though Mercy noted that his corpse had been moved over to the corner . . . presumably by Cole Byron, though she hadn’t seen him do it.

“Mr. Comstock, please stay with me now,” she begged. He mumbled in response, but his words came out in no particular order.

The chest wound was bad, but not so bad as she feared; and when she looked back to the car wall where the private had been hunkered, she understood why. The steel on the car’s exterior had taken the brunt of some shell, but that shell had penetrated by at least half a foot, bashing into the torso of Mr. Comstock.

Mercy put her head down over his chest and stared, and listened—straining to hear the faint sounds of a ruptured lung over the sounds of a battle and a rampaging train all around her—but she didn’t catch any whispers of air coming and going in a deadly leak, so she almost felt a tiny bit optimistic.

She looked up and smiled frantically at the porter. “The wind’s knocked out of him, but he’s not shot!” The flesh around the tear was beginning to bruise, and it would be a nasty one, nearly the size of his head when all was blossomed and rosy. It was likely that a couple of his ribs were broken as well. She went to work covering the gash, cleaning it, and trying to hold enough weight down on it to make the bleeding stop.

A great pulse of fire came from the front cars of the Dreadnought; she heard it and felt it in every bone, in every muscle. She felt it in the veins that throbbed behind her eyeballs, and she clutched at the nearest seat back, squeezing Morris Comstock’s limp hand because it was something to hold, and the horror and the noise and the gunsmoke were more than she could bear alone. Even the porter had left her—she didn’t know where he’d gone, but at this point, she trusted that he had a good excuse. She only patted at Comstock’s sweat-​drenched hair, which was melting, having frozen into tiny, fluttering icicles while his face had been near the window.

And then. Like that.

As quickly as the shelling had begun, it ended.

Then there was no more firing at all, from either train, though the near silence that remained in its wake was no silence at all. It was the pounding of heads and the ringing of ears that had too long heard bombastic artillery fire, and could no longer process its absence.

Strangely, Mercy found this almost more frightening than the onslaught. She asked, “What’s going on? Captain MacGruder?” She looked for him and didn’t see him immediately, so she asked, “Lieutenant Hobbes, what’s happening?” Hobbes gave her a look that said he had no better idea than she did.

Then she noticed that the ranger had joined them. Even he looked confused. She asked him, too—“Ranger Korman?”—but he shook his head.

Then the forward door opened, and through it burst Mrs. Butterfield; and Mr. Abernathy, the blacksmith from Cincinnati; and Miss Greensleeves, lately of Springfield, Illinois; and Mr. Potts from Philadelphia; and Miss Theodora Clay, who looked exactly as homicidal as a soaking wet cat; all of whom were supposed to be fastened into the gold-​filled car as a matter of safety.

Mrs. Butterfield began screaming something about her rights as a paying passenger, but Mercy didn’t hear most of her tirade, because the conductor came shoving his way past the lot of them. Then she understood. He’d had the gold car opened (by force, no doubt) so that he could pass through it, temporarily leaving his attendants to guide the train. He was red faced and panting, and his expression was grim but rushed.

He said, “Look!” and he pointed out the window, and everyone saw—the Shenandoah had completely overtaken them and was quickly leaving them behind.

Captain MacGruder sized up the situation fastest, and asked, “What do we do?”

The conductor said, “There’s a tunnel ahead—about two miles up—and I must assume—”

“We have to stop the train,” said Lieutenant Hobbes, who had heretofore not led any charges, but had done an admirable job of following orders. This was the first time Mercy had seen him come to the front of the line.

Not caring who’d said it first, or who was in charge, the conductor said, “The ranger said it, and I believe it: they’ll blow the tracks, or whatever they’re going to do, as soon as they get enough of a lead on us to make it happen. So we’re stopping the train. We’ll defend it from a standing position, if we have to!”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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