Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice:
Title: Night Train - Part One
Robinson uncapped his flask and took a healthy pull.
That made four since we got to the station to wait for the night train half an hour earlier.
The flask resembled its owner-- dinged and dented, with the shine knocked off of it but still able to hold its liquor.
He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his old gray trench coat and offered me a drink.
I declined a fourth time.
He shrugged, stashing the flask in his coat.
With his collar up against the wind his head looked very round. What little neck the man had disappeared from view.
“Didn't take you for one of those temperance guys,” he said. He adjusted his crumpled fedora, squinting at me out of one eye.
“Nix. If I'm going to poison my liver it won't be with that paint thinner you're guzzling.”
I straightened my own hat and checked my pocket watch again.
The train was ten minutes late.
I leaned over the edge of the platform. staring down the tracks until I lost them in the night fog.
“Where are you gonna get real hooch on what Big Jack pays you?” snorted Robinson.
“Prohibition can't last forever,” I replied. “Made it this far. May as well see it through.”
A tall man in a brown duster and a scarf wound over the bottom half of his face hurried by. He dragged a large suitcase behind him and almost toppled down to the tracks in his haste to reach the end of the platform. He wore his coat tight to his body. No telltale bulges showed around the pockets.
Robinson and I watched him go, each of us giving him the once-over.
“You mean you ain't had a drink since, what, 1920?” he asked, without taking his eyes off the man with the scarf.
“What can I tell you? I'm very particular about my liquor.”
The man's head twitched when I said, “liquor”, but he didn't turn to look at us. He could have been shifting in the wind.
Robinson laughed-- a braying noise that everybody except him found grating.
“Big Jack know about this? The booze?”
“You know he hates it when you call him that, don't you?”
He treated me to more of that annoying laugh. Even the guy with the suitcase looked annoyed.
“Why do you think I do it?” asked Robinson. “Someone's gotta keep him grounded. It's all jake. Big Jack and I go way back.”
I couldn't argue with that. Robinson put the, “old”, in the term, “good old boy.” For our line of work, anyway.
A faint light at the edge of the darkness spared me from another airing of one of his stories from his misspent youth.
The first blow of the train's whistle sliced through the fog.
The stories were pretty good, truth be told, and most of them had been verified by surviving parties. Didn't mean I wanted to hear one on a windy night, waiting Big Jack's kid brother to arrive on the night train.
The man with the suitcase straightened up and took a step back.
I reached into my coat and drew my gun from the shoulder holster. Robinson's right hand was already in his pocket.
The night train rolled into the station with the screech of brakes on metal, in a cloud of greasy black smoke. A window opened near the back of the second to last car.
The conductor-- a guy with a dark beard that would've done a lumberjack proud-- stuck his head out the window. The wind nearly plucked the ridiculous little blue hat off his head.
He hollered something that would've been unintelligible even if the train wasn't hissing and crackling as it settled in to rest after its speedy trip in from the coast.
A grand total of seven people got off the train, business types and salesmen, walking on stiff legs toward the next parts of their travels.
Big Jack's kid brother was not a business type. Wasn't a salesman either, at least not in the way most people use the word.
He also wasn't among the people who exited the train.
I ducked my head in a couple of cars. Each one was empty.
Robinson quick-stepped it in my direction, shaking his big round head.
“Didn't see him either,” I said.
“Hey,” he barked. “Where'd that guy go? With the fruity scarf?”
“Let's see. Wonder where he could've gone, seeing how the train just pulled in.”
He gave me a look that would've curdled buttermilk.
“Listen, junior,” he said, “we get done with this job, you and me are gonna have a little talk about respecting one's elders.”
I hit him back with my best smile.
“I'm looking forward to it, Robinson.”
He rolled his eyes. I kept going.
“That guy? He's probably still looking for Traveler's Aid.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Gonna have a look anyway. You stay out here, junior.”
He pulled his hat brim down and disappeared into the nearest open car.
I dropped back into the shadows, finding a stone pillar to lean against. I could just make out Robinson's shape through the windows as he tramped through each car.
The deeper he went into the train, the less I liked the whole thing.
Something was off. Something more than Jack's brother's failure to appear.
I couldn't say how I knew. Sometimes, a job just feels wrong.
I gave it another few seconds, then headed for the train.
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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.