Come on Abacus. Think. Six guys, all of em lookin adept at takin out a Bull on his own, and then Raek, the guy who could probably take all of them on by himself smack in between us for the moment. My hands are still carrying my iron bracelets, and I ain’t even got a gun let alone a knife. I tried thinking back, but couldn’t rightly do so on accounta the sitiation. But I think this might be the worst fix I’d been in yet.
“Move aside, Raek.” One of em says his eyes steely and fixed on mine.
“We’ll do this. You needn’t bother yaself.” Another says as if he’s doing someone a great favor.
“We’ll do what shoulda been done when something like that entered our lives.” Came another.
“Come on, Raek. Just step aside. He’ll pay for what he’s done to Tibbits.”
“To one of our own.”
“To the best of us.” Now they was startin to sound like they was toasting wine to the dead one.
“Yes…” Raek was still blubbering over the lain out body of Tibbits, “He would have been first to receive his reward.”
I was looking around for anything that’d help. Nothing. Nothing but the train window. It was my only hope. Get out before they get in. I don’t know how fast a train gets goin but I’d fallen off my share of buckin horses, been shot off a few as well while they was runnin at full speed, so I just hoped it was something like that. I glance back at the pack, their mouths nearly salivating for my bones, and then I go for it.
I shoot to the window, pullin at the lock on the left. Unlatched. I move to the right.
“Raek! Get a move on, he’s makin a break for it!”
“Get up Raek!”
“Just move a little, come on you big shit!”
They were shouting all sorts of words at the big fella, and if’n he hadn’t just tried to kill me himself I mighta felt a stretch of sympathy for him. The right latch was tough, but it eventually shoved out, and I went to trying to get the window up.
“Raek! He’s a gonna jump out the train!”
“No! Don’t let that murderin son of a bitch get away!”
“Come on Raek, think of Tibbits and kill the one responsible! Just turn around and snap his chicken neck!”
I slid the window up, it seemed to stick every inch or so, but finally it was up high enough to squeeze myself out. I shoved my head and manacled fists through and started worming my way out into the open world skimming by. I push with my right leg, and then snap, I feel that big boy’s hand on my ankle and before I know it I’m right back in the train car, on my ass, and starin up at all them boys and their knives and pistols.
“We’re sending you back to hell Demon!”
“NO!” Raek said moving himself in between me and most of em.
“What in the Sam Hill is you doin, Raek?”
“You won’t be blamed Raek, just move aside, don’t worry about it anymore.”
“Yeah, we’ll avenge Tibbits for ya.”
“STOP!” Raek yelled slamming his fists to both sides of the compartment in one stretch. “Tibbits is dead!”
“We know that, and we intend to get the feller responsible for it his dues.”
“Yeah, Raek, so just…”
“I SAID STOP IT! Tibbits is dead! But the demon didn’t do it!”
I lay there lookin up at em, their eyes gone squinty, and each of em off me for a moment and on Raek instead. Can’t say it hurt my feelins none to have lost their attentions.
“Raek?” Began one, a worn black hat shading his grizzly features below. “You done lost your noggin? This demon put a spell on you boy?”
“We know Tibbits is dead,” started another that was a hair shorter than all the rest, but made up for it in his belly. “and we know you wouldn’a done a thing like that, so it musta been the Soulless one.”
Their eyes were fallin on me again. Rats.
“Look here fellas,” I broke in, “I ain’t done no man no wrong on this here steam engine. Truth of the matter is he gone to drain hisself and…”
“SHUT UP DEMON!” The short fella screamed as he reached his short arm toward my face.
“STOP!” Raek broke in grabbing the short fellas arm just before his fist hit my face.
“Don’t stop me Raek! I’m warnin ya, we’re gonna do this, and we’re gonna do it now!”
“NO!” Raek threw the short fella back where he tripped over Tibbits still-bleedin corpse and into the hallway. He then stood and pulled himself up to his full girth. The others backed off lookin none too happy bout it. “Someone on this train killed Tibbits. He’d gone to find a shitter and was gone too long. When he come back, this is how he came. It wasn’t the demon. So stop wasting your blood-lust on it, get out and find the one responsible.”
They looked at one another, the buldging in their eyes fadin a bit, and they looked ready to take their leave of our cramped cab.
“Where do we start? Which way he come from, Raek?”
I decided to chime in, after all, huntin things was more my specialty than any of theirs. “Might just want to follow the trail of blood out there. Figure it should take you to the area that Tibbits got done in.”
Their eyes fell on me again, the murder and disgust back in em.
“The demon’s right. Go, down the hall. I will continue to watch this one. Ketch.” He said to the short fella he’d thrown. “You go tell the Mayor what’s happenin. He should know about what’s happened to Tibbits. Diego, you go find a fella that works on this train. The more people that look for the murderin son of a bitch that done this the better.”
Them boys nodded, even the fella that got thrown, and they all went their ways. Four of em to the cars behind us, and two to the ones ahead. They was gone, and then it was just me and the fella that tried ta kill me before all of this got started. And no, it didn’t seem like a good time to ask a question, but I done so anyway.
“So, you wanna loosen these irons Raek? I’m a fair tracker ya know? I could help find the one that done this.”
“You will sit. And we’ll wait for the Mayor to come and decide what to do with you next.”
We sat there for a few minutes, him keeping his eyes on his dead friend in the doorway, and me with my eyes out the opened window and still thinking about tryin to squeeze out it afore Raek could stop me again. A few minutes of that and the Mayor finally squeezed his fat self down the slim hallway to our cab, Ketch just behind him.
“What’s this now? Oh dear, this is a fair tragedy. Indeed. And you say this Abacus is not responsible, Raek?” he said his eyes bearing down on the big boy across from me.
“No sir. He did not do this. Tibbits had gone to find a restroom and was gone some time, and when he returned this is how he came. Throat near slit, his blood just fallin out of it.” He was blubberin again, it seemed to upset him a lot to talk about it.
“Well now, guess we have a murderer on this here train. An accomplice of your perhaps, Mista Jones?”
“Ain’t likely. I’m a man to ride alone most times. The times I have ridden with another, the feller usually ends up either poisoned, hung, or shot. And one time a feller ended up marryin his horse…but that was just the once. That was a strange one. Anyway, no, I ain’t got anyone lookin out for me here, and I can’t see that feller comin back to help me, I did oppose the weddin and all.”
“Fair enough. The other boys are lookin for the one responsible then? That’s well enough. And you sent Diego to fetch a train man to let them know? Good good. The sooner we take care of this, the better I think. You’ve done well, Reak, and you’ll be rewarded soon enough. Just keep Mista Jones here. This may not have anything to do with him after all. Tibbits does have a temper, maybe he upset a man. Maybe we just got a cowardly man on board that gets his thrills doin such horrible deeds. If it is so, then it is destiny that we would be here to deal with such a man. So is the will of the word. That we should bring forth relief from such things simply by being present. I’ll remain here with you Raek, until a man of the train comes. This should be as officially handled as possible of course. Ketch? You go join your brothers and bring this wicked man to justice. Don’t let them get ahead and kill him before he’s had the word passed over him. This one will pay dearly for taking one of ours.”
“Of course, my Prophet.” Ketch said with a near curtsy and then he fled down the hall where the other boys done gone away to.
“Now now, Raek. Tibbits’ loss is a heavy one. Settle yourself now there. Just sit, I’m here to ease your suffering.” He sat next to me, squeezing me over toward the window, but too tight to squeeze out quickly. “We will ask for his return when the time comes. He can be returned to us, safe and sound, and he will be rewarded for his suffering in our greatest quest.”
This seemed to cheer Raek up a bit. His eyes finally lifted from his dead friend and on the Mayor now with child-like enthusiasm and blind faith. The Mayor himself just smiled at his sturdy disciple. And me, I was creeped highly by the weirdness of it all. Luckily the train man finally broke in to break up this odd moment and silence.
“Good god!” he shouted as he crested the area where Tibbit’s dead body lay. “I was told, but I didn’t know it would be this terrible.”
“Indeed.” Began the Mayor. “This is a most terrible incident. I would have you and any other able bodied man capable of dealing with such a thing here and ready to help. Can this be done?”
Surprisingly the man responded in acceptance of the Mayor’s orders. It was weird to me, but ain’t a bit of this was normal yet, so I really shoulda been used to it somewhat by now.
“I’ll fetch the guardsmen, there’s a couple of em always on a long ride such as this. There’s always a someone of questionable character on these here trains. Somehow, can’t be sure why or how, but somehow. I’ll get to it then, just don’t go touchin nothing here, they like everything as it was you know.”
As he made his way to leave, he met eyes with all of us in the car until his eyes fell on mine, and then he stopped dead. Silence filled the air cept for the clunking of the train beneath and the air flowin in through the still-opened window, a slight ear pearcing whine and a shudder followin. For a second, it felt like the man was gonna go for a pistol he wasn’t even carryin, but then the Mayor cleared his throat and broke the man’s gaze from mine.
“You were going to fetch the lawmen weren’t you?”
“Uh, yes, of coarse your honor. I apologize. I’ll go now.”
He eyed me feverishly one more time then got on past Diego who was standing at ready for the Mayor’s orders.
“Diego, you get on after your brothers to try and find the feller responsible. Seems they’re all taking a fair time with this, and could probably use an extra set of eyes. Go on now.”
“Sir.” He said bowing and striding over Tibbits to follow the trail of blood down the hallway and beyond.
The guardsmen soon came, three of em at first, supposedly one more in the other direction where the boys had run off to find the murderer. They was all carryin their pistols on their hips, each of em in nice shiny black hats and trimmed draping mustaches. They all looked bout the same to me save for height and weight bein a bit different on em.
“So this one came from back there, and just collapsed? He say anything to any of you?” One of em asked to Raek and the Mayor, passing over me on the sight of my manacles.
“Weren’t much he could say, his throat was opened at the wrong end. He got my name out, and I could tell he was tryin to say something, but he just spit blood.” Raek gave his story, as short as it was, and actually managed to only blubber once as he faltered his friend’s name.
“Alright then, seems pretty cut and dry to me then. Just got a murderer on the train. And he’s somewhere in these last four cars. Shouldn’t be too difficult I reckon.”
“No sir. And you say you’ve got a few of your boys already lookin for him Mister Mayor?” asked another of the guardsmen.
“Yes, six of my best now, save for Raek here, who’s the top of em all. They’ve been gone a number of minutes now, must be checkin near every passenger back there.”
“Makes fair sense I guess. Come on boys, we’ll meet up with Howard back there, maybe he’s got more to go off of.”
They all stood up and began shuffling over the body when we heard the quick pace of someone runnin toward them. They stopped and drew their pistols, told him to stop where he was, and it seemed he done so because I heard the runnin stop.
“Who are you and what you want boy?” The head guard asked.
“Mister Mayor!” The voice called, “It’s me, Diego! Tell these men I ain’t the murderer sir, please!”
The Mayor stood up and peeked out the doorway then affirmed Diego’s truth. “What’s this now boy, thought I told you to go and help your brothers? They caught the varmint yet that done this atrocious thing?”
“No sir! We got troubles sir!” He said through his heavy breathing.
“What you talking about son? Where are your brothers? What’s going on? Spit it out already!” The mayor yelled.
“They’s all about three cars down, all in a coma or something. Cept Ketch, he seen what I seen, but first, and didn’t want to go in there and get done in the same. He’s on watch and I’s just coming back to let ya’ll know too.”
“What are you talking about boy? Who’s in a coma? They been shot? Strangled? Beaten? What? What in tarnation is you talkin bout?”
“No sir, they’re all in a coma, just on the ground and in their seats, wherever they was, just sleeping, or passed out, or whatever. We opened the door, shouted to em, but ain’t no one woke up. We threw things, hit a few of em, but no one stirred. Three of our boys was in there, and Hank was in the fourth car I reckon, cuz we couldn’a see him from where we was. But it was all of em sir, our boys, the passengers, womens, childrens, ticket man. All of em. They was all on the ground or slumped in they seats sir!”
“We’ll go check it out. This don’t sound right.” The guardsmen made to leave, but as soon as they did, another stomping set of feet was headin their way, but this time from behind.
“Wait!” came a tired and pressured voice. “Wait! You must come, immediately!”
“We’ve got a murder down on this end sir, anything you have trouble with must wait.” The Mayor said sounding extremely annoyed.
“Murder? Here too?!” The man said as he stopped just outside our door looking whiter than he should.
“Here too? What’s this about then?” The guard closest to him asked.
“Up ahead…two cars up…man’s throat’s been slit in the dining car…Blood everywhere! Please…you must come quickly!”
They all looked at one another, and then at Tibbits’ dead body. Another throat slit, and in the opposite direction, and ain’t no one passed through our car to get to the other side. Now there were two dead bodies on a train that we was on. Things was startin to seem less coincidental now, but still unexplainable.
“Mister Mayor?” I began. “I think it’s time you let me out of these here manacles.”
“And why in heaven’s name would I do such a thing, Jones?”
“Well, you was supposed to be in the dining car wasn’t you?” I watched as the realization came over his face. “Yeah, so I think you could use my help. So give me the damned key already. I’d prefer not to meet my end in these here irons. And you might want to get me a gun too.”