Hope everyone had a fun Thanksgiving last week. Sorry to all those who don’t celebrate, but we’re back now. As usual, here is your warning that this story has cursing, sex (not graphic), innuendo, and violence. It’s my Rated-R action adventure called Derailing Bedlam. This is the fourth outing (third official) for Cassidy and Lloyd, so feel free to click on one of the two covers to see how it started. Each one is 99 cents!
The gold and red couches smell of mild perfume, the air getting filled with the smell every time someone sits on the plush cushions. The fruity scent battles against the piney odor that wafts from the fireplace, which is being used regardless of it being summer. A single window is open, its high spot on the wall preventing anyone from peeking inside, but it does very little to alleviate the powerful aromas. Framed posters of famous paintings are on the walls and a metal barn owl has been attached to the mantel, its outstretched wings sending reflected light onto the floor. Stoic butlers wander in and out of the private room to refill brandy sifters and water glasses, the handsome men wearing earplugs and talking in sign language to avoid overhearing the private conversations. They only stop when the middle-aged man sitting in the largest chair raises his hand for attention.
Tyler McHale does his best to give one of the employees a list of dishes, his gloved hand trembling at the thought of accidentally touching another person. When his anxiety gets too high, he pops a green pill that calms him enough so that he can face his guests. Pulling a handkerchief out of his suit pocket, he wipes at his brow and takes a long sip of water as he regains his fragile composure. He scratches at a mole on his left temple until the large, one-armed bodyguard behind him coughs. Stopping his nervous habit, Tyler nods to his trusted employee and takes out a pocket watch to check the time. His attention lingers on the wrinkled picture of a woman and a young boy before he turns the object over to kiss the etching of his wedding date. Running a comb through his gray hair, the merchant gets to his feet and walks to a bar where he makes himself a drink of his own creation.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me and everything that you have already done on my behalf, Duchess,” Tyler says as he returns to his chair. He does his best to smile, but the corners of his mouth tremble from the strain. “This has been a very taxing ordeal. For the past eight years, I have been repairing a train route that runs from Illinois to Oregon. It is called the Holly Sage Express after my wife and son who disappeared from Portland after the collapse. This endeavor has kept me sane and it is finally ready for its maiden voyage. If I am successful then the Shattered States can take another step towards becoming whole once more. I’m sorry, but why are you raising your hand, Mr. Tenay?”
“Just have a few questions right off the bat,” Lloyd replies while he tries to speak with a cigar in his mouth. Hating the taste, he flicks it into the fireplace and chugs the brandy to cleanse his itchy throat. “What happened to that big guy’s arm? Where does he find shirts with one arm because I can tell that’s tailor made? Does he find the clips on his boots make movement more difficult than laces? What kind of name is Tyler? Doesn’t strike me as anything intimidating, but I might be thinking of a different Tyler. Eh, you skeletal bastards all look alike. Finally, what’s going on here?”
“Don’t let him get to you, Dale,” the businessman states, putting out his arm to stop his bodyguard from advancing. He chuckles at the questions and tries to relax, but he tenses up again when he puts his hand in an empty pocket. “Dale lost his arm protecting me from gangsters who wished to stop my plans. A running train means deliveries and transport, so those who specialize in those businesses see me as a threat. Unlike the Duchess, very few are open to my project being a success. I don’t know how to answer most of your other questions.”
With impatience and sleepiness driving her, Cassidy takes a chocolate-covered strawberry from a platter and jams it into Lloyd’s mouth. “Best to just ignore them and get to the point. We recently finished a difficult job, so we’re fairly tired. Katie tells us that you need help and she’s provided a down payment for our services, but she said you will give us more after we do . . . something. This is where I get fucking nervous again. What would a train magnate, or whatever you are, need with the two of us? Looks like you’re set for guards since those were all your people on the street in front of the pizzeria.”
To her surprise, Tyler and Katie stand at the same time and walk to different sides of the room. Neither of them turn around as they get as close to the walls as possible, their hands hidden from view. Both of them unlock hidden drawers that they have secretly rented to hold confidential information and important items. Tyler is the first to return with a wooden box, which he opens to reveal a padded interior, but nothing else. The deep indent is too vague for anyone to discern the original contents without prior knowledge. He keeps the container on his lap while Katie opens a map of upper Michigan and places it on the table. Not wanting to hunch over, she pulls an extendable pointer, which was once a car antennae, out of her bodice. She slaps the end on an area that is shaded with orange and brown dots, which are dark enough to obscure the names underneath.
“The Holly Sage Express runs primarily on steam, but it has some electrical components that require it be started with a key. It also means we needed to install a third rail, which is powered by a series of batteries that are activated as the train passes over switches,” Tyler explains with a sigh. Placing the box on the table, he jerks back when he fears that Lloyd is about to reach out to take the container. “A week ago, somebody broke into my office and stole the key. The maiden voyage is in two days and my backers are already arriving in Chicago, which means this is a disaster. The Duchess discovered who took it and promised me that you two can get it back. The thieves are a gang that works out of Crystal Falls and I fear that they want to use my train to expand their territory. They make money off mushrooms, hallucinogenic and harmlessly edible, but I don’t know if that’s important.”
“Anybody have a desire for brownies?” Lloyd asks with a chuckle. He winces when Cassidy pokes him hard in the ribs and glares at his joke. “Nope, not going to let you live that down. So, you just need us to get in there and retrieve a key? I assume you don’t want us to make much of a mess.”
“Parker and Mica Bulbosa have been a slight thorn in my side, so feel free to do what you do best, lover,” Katie interjects, her eyes sparkling with glee. Adjusting her hat until it is back where it started, she coos at the thought of increasing her own power in the growing mushroom market. “All you have to do is get there, grab the key, and meet us in Chicago before the Holly Sage Express is set to leave. Personally, I’m not a fan of being in enemy territory without my best bodyguards, but I don’t have a choice if I want to be a part of the future.”
“Missing information here!” Cassidy shouts loud enough to startle Tyler. Taking the map, she gauges the travel time and realizes that they will have to sleep in shifts while on the move. “I know a little about this family, but only that they control the farmers through force. It looks like they’re moving south without touching the rest of Michigan. Not any of my business there, but it is rather suspicious. This isn’t a big organization either, which makes me think that something isn’t right here. All of that aside, I want to know what we get for this. Especially since another mystery is why Katie would talk about being with us on the job, but then says we’re meeting her in Chicago.”
Tyler pulls an official contract out of his breast pocket and holds it out to show that it has already been signed. “If you two can retrieve my key then you and the Duchess will be my special guests on the Holly Sage Express. There are a few people I can bump from the maiden voyage, which includes a couple I was going to put in a suite. All food and accommodations will be paid for as part of your fee. The only thing I will ask is that you and Mr. Tenay act as . . . guardians. I fear that someone will try to sabotage the train and having people with your reputation aboard would act as a deterrent. You don’t have to take any orders from me either, so you will have complete autonomy.”
“Where am I going to put my baby?”
“There is a car designed to carry smaller vehicles like your jeep.”
“What kind of accommodations do you have?”
“A gym, a bar, a small movie theater, and a pool that are all open to you.”
“Can I get a tour of the armaments?”
“I will even let you fire one of our cannons.”
Nodding and humming, Cassidy hops to her feet and puts the map in her pocket. Without another word, she grabs her jacket from the unmoving butler stationed by the door and heads outside. Several minutes pass before the mercenary returns and urgently waves for Lloyd to follow. As the serial killer grabs the plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, Cassidy claims a bottle of brandy from a passing servant’s tray. Neither of them leave anything to pay for the road food, which earns an awkward chuckle from their new employer.