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Publisher J.E. KROSS
eBook Kindle Edition
In a small, blue-collar railroad town, two conductors, Jackie McKeon and Sheri Daniels find themselves on the ride of their lives after finding money hidden on their train.
With the mob on their heels and the F.B.I. close behind, how far they will go to save their lives all unfolds on a stretch of rail in upstate New York known as-the Hudson Run.
The Killers Will Be Riding Along.
“Jackie—I can’t,” Sheri groaned in the darkness.
“We have no choice,” the Conductor snapped at her assistant and then pulled her body closer to the boxcar’s loading door.
She propped Sheri up next to the huge opening on the side of the baggage car as the mammoth train raced over the rails, looked pensively for a moment at her injured Assistant, and then closed her eyes.
Jackie reluctantly reopened them, turned, and began to walk through the hollow boxcar toward the engine, tightening her ponytail as she went.
“This is nuts, that’s what this is,” she grumbled as she took a deep breath and pulled open the boxcar’s end door. The wind pushed it past her, smashing it on its hinges against the inside wall of the car. Holding on tightly to the grab iron in the doorway, she looked the short distance across to the back end of the engine and shook her head nervously. Carefully, she crossed her left leg over and straddled between the ledges that separate the locomotive from the train. The wind whipped her face as she brought her other foot forward and got closer to the engine. The whoosh-whooosh-whoosh of the train barreling past buildings that she heard from the comfort of the inside of the baggage car was now a loud and intimidating wisp-wisp-wisp.
Jackie quickly reached across and tightly gripped the handle on the outside rear corner of the engine. As the train thundered to one hundred and thirty miles per hour, she lowered herself onto the metal stirrup. Then she locked her right elbow around the handle and reached down, pulling up on the metal uncoupling lever. The pin that ran between the knuckles that held the cars together rose; Jackie’s heart skipped a beat, knowing there was definitely no turning back.
TWO DAYS EARLIER
As the Conductor drove farther away from the city limits and began to wind up around the mountain road through a tunnel of fall foliage, she loosened her tie and undid the top button of her white dress shirt. Putting the nineteen-ninety-something black Chevy on cruise, she leaned back in the seat. Almost at the top of the mountain, she took a right-hand turn down the long, gravel driveway and, noticing a green Chevy parked in front of her garage, stopped the car abruptly. Something wasn’t right.
Jackie hadn’t had a single visitor since the divorce over three months ago - except, of course, for Sheri.
Living alone now, she decided caution was the best policy and pulled in behind Steve’s abandoned Ford pick-up, directly across from the stranger’s Malibu.
The September dusk shot pink and orange rays through her car as she grabbed the palm-size can of pepper spray from under the driver’s seat and stepped out into the driveway.
Squinting, she walked toward the scrawny yet ridiculously large-headed man sitting between two of the white columns on the massive front porch. “Better not be,” she grumbled to herself, noticing that he was beginning to resemble the man she had thrown off the train (to cheers) a few days ago at the Rhinecliff station. Approaching cautiously, she placed the can of pepper spray in the back waistband of her Levi’s.
He was smiling at her. “Hi,” he said. “Are you Jackie McKeon?”
It wasn’t him. Good.
“That’s me,” Jackie responded curtly. “Publishers Clearing House, right?” she quipped.
The smile left his big, round face as he stood up and held out a manila envelope.
“You’ve been served,” he said flatly.
Jackie took the envelope. “Served?” She looked down at it briefly and then watched the man make his way across the grass back to his car, shaking his head.
“I’d ask ya out,” he said, continuing toward the car, “but this isn’t the best ‘how we met’ story in the world.”
“Gee, thanks,” she replied, fishing her keys from her jeans pocket. She watched him pull out of the driveway as he took a bite out of what appeared to be a large candy bar.
Perplexed, Jackie opened the front door. Rubbing the scar tissue on her palms, she contemplated: The divorce was final, and there were no children involved.
She set the envelope on the black cast-iron table in the foyer, took the pepper spray out of her back waistband, set it next to the envelope and headed for the kitchen.
Grabbing a can of soda from the stainless-steel refrigerator, then a glass, Jackie walked over the Italian-marble tile through the foyer and picked up the envelope again. Moving into the living room, she popped the tab on the soda as she scanned the papers inside--and froze.
The letters were large and menacing. Jackie read the first two words over and over again, her mind unable to comprehend.
“Foreclosure Notice,” she murmured in shock, and then read it again. “Fore-clo-sure. WHAT?!” she screamed. The echo shot through the expansive living room like lightning on a hot summer night.
The Conductor tried to read the notice but couldn’t. Dropping it onto the table, confusion racing through her veins, she felt her head begin to pound.
Fifteen years she’d put into the home, and calling the house a home was generous to say the least. Sheri could never understand how Jackie could have rebuilt it, let alone endured living in it at all. Yet she continued, as if possessed into believing that constantly working on it could bring them back somehow.
Every cent she’d ever earned--everything since she was fifteen years old with a paper route—-had been sucked into her obsession.
Her thoughts quickly returned to the divorce, the mortgage...the mistress.
“Joint account,” she whispered uneasily, looking down at the papers; her stomach became queasy. “Steve…”
She took a long drink of the soda, gaze fixed on the notice on the table.
It wasn’t enough that Steve--who exercised less control over his zipper than a certain golfer--had ruined her faith in men. Now he was trying to take away the only solid memory of them she had: the house, or The Castle, as Sheri referred to it. She sat motionless, staring into the empty stone fireplace as though it were a portal. Her eyes reddened as she took another gulp of the soda, glass forgotten. The sun had set and the light began to empty from the room, yet she remained there, paralyzed.
Distantly, as if miles away, she could still hear her mother’s screams. And when the silence came, her innocence would be replaced with something much darker.
Rebuilding the house had become her fixation when she was just a young girl staring at the mountain of charred ruins that remained of it.
Palms that had once held Barbies and multicolored Play-Doh were forever branded with the scars from trying to drag her mother’s horrific remains out of the burning second-floor bedroom with her tiny, six-year-old hands.
She had spent her entire childhood rebuilding her family’s home in her mind, as though her parents might reappear if she got it right. It had taken a lifetime’s worth of dedication and perseverance to make the reconstruction a reality. Everything—down to the last nail --all of it had been chosen and placed by her hand. No one had the right to take it from her, least of all that philandering loser she’d called a husband for a time.
Reluctantly, she reached under the coffee table’s glass top and retrieved the newspaper article. It was lodged, preserved, within the pages of Webster’s dictionary, somewhere between abandoned and arson. Sheri had drunkenly made that observation, and then suggested shoving it between shit and syphilis instead, but, with a pounding headache the following morning, had apologized.
“There’s no way, Steve,” Jackie said aloud. Her face flushed with anger as she picked up the notice and finally began to read it.
Her eyes began to widen as she read. Biting down hard on her bottom lip, she set the papers on the coffee table, her eyes stinging with tears.
“How could you--you bastard,” she whispered into the darkening room.
Her pulse quickened as she got up from the couch and stormed across the room. Grabbing her cell, she scanned the contacts, selected Steve, and waited. Answering machine. Bastard.
“How could you—you’re a thief,” she seethed into the phone. Then stopped short, shaking her head.
She closed her eyes, and then gently set her cell phone down. She walked back over to the table and picked up the notice. Taking a small sip of the soda, hands shaking, she continued to read.
The account was twenty grand in arrears, her credit undoubtedly destroyed. She knew instantly Steve’s bank buddy had had a hand in this. She took a deep breath and put the notice back into the envelope while looking with guilt at the aged article. She picked it up, gently gliding her fingers over the text, and then returned it to Webster’s waiting pages.
The house, not counting utilities, came to just over eighteen hundred dollars a month. On her salary, she was left with just enough to survive. But Jackie never cared much about money or lobster tails. For her, it was all about the house; it was always about the house. Steve hated her for that, but could never change it.
Financially, whenever things were tough, she reluctantly conjured the memory of her father’s car squealing into the driveway that monstrous night so many years ago, and of him rushing to her mother’s charred body. Jackie saw him holding her and rocking her gently, a shocked look on his face as he watched their family’s home go up in flames—and heard the sickening sound her mother’s hard, burnt skin made as he rocked her. Skimming a glance down over the floor, Jackie remembered the last words her father had spoken to her before she found him hanging from the shower stall in the dirty hotel, then closed her eyes. She could feel their ghosts returning in the darkness.
Her mind often filled with such ghastly images, so excruciating that if revealed to the light of day a good mother would surely shield her child’s eyes from them. But they were inside of her, and would come and go as they pleased.
Jackie rose from the couch, stripping off her T-shirt and socks, throwing them on the kitchen floor as she passed through into her den.
Turning on the computer, she decided to visit an online chat room, not so much to chat herself but to escape the ghosts for a moment, to “listen” to a conversation, any conversation. Before long, she found herself in one of her own. And although it wasn’t the first time Jackie had tried to chat online, she decided this would definitely be the last. Staring at the computer screen, she rubbed her forehead uneasily.
The house was dark, empty, and--except for the lone cricket lurking around--completely quiet. Shaking her head in disbelief, she turned off the computer and sat there speechless a moment more, face flushed.
“Pervert,” she mumbled at the computer, then walked back through the house to the foyer, grabbed the can of pepper spray off the cast-iron table, and then made her way upstairs to the bedroom. The chilly evening air had settled into the house; she pulled the peach-colored goose down up snugly around her bare shoulders, her eyes feeling puffy and tired.
“What the hell was wrong with that guy?” she whispered into the darkness, eyes finally closed, brows still furrowed. Within a few moments, Jackie McKeon was asleep.
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J.E. Kross lives in upstate New York and has been a Conductor for the better part of twenty years between freight and passenger service. Both an Army and Navy vet, she lives with her husband Joe, a passenger service Engineer, and who both currently can be found from time to time on the very Hudson Run the story takes place on.