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!
With local leaders making speeches and a crowd of citizens gathered around the Chicago station, one would assume that the collapse had never happened. The air is charged with excitement and joy, the emotions held even by those who cannot afford a ride. People wave signs with pictures of trains and children blow wooden whistles while wearing conductor hats. The more esteemed and famous passengers stand on a wooden dais from where only a few of them pay attention to their surroundings. Most of the travelers are focused on indulging in the free champagne that their host has begrudgingly brought out for the grand departure. A billboard towers above the festivities, its front showing the symbol of holly berries within a ring of sage leaves that is also on the side of the crimson luxury train. Emerald trimming around the windows and doors gives the cars a Christmas-like appearance, which is enhanced by the workers giving out toys and food to the crowd. Cheers erupt whenever the whistle is blown, the blast being in response to kids waving for the conductor to make the loud noise.
Standing off to the side of the celebration, Tyler taps his foot and checks his watch. He swallows a green pill whenever he hears his project getting praised, the idea that he is about to fail causing his anxiety to rise. He takes some comfort from Dale being nearby and his conductor reporting that everything else is on schedule. Waving the red and black-haired man over, he hands the driver a case of cola to give him an incentive to stall for as long as he can. Tyler refuses to speak out of fear of somebody overhearing that the key is missing, so he trusts that his employee will know what to do. Contrary to his sticky skin and habit of wearing nothing more than overalls, the lean man has proven to be intuitive and smart, which helps to take some of the edge off the businessman’s nerves. Glancing to his right, Tyler is amazed that Katie is relaxed and already telling people to load her luggage onto the train.
“I hope they make it on time,” he whispers while checking his pocket watch. Giving a kiss to the picture of his family, he watches as the final speaker takes the megaphone. “I hate all of this fanfare, but it has given your people some extra time. Still, maybe I should send a runner out to check the road for them. I have a man named John, who is the fastest messenger in my employment. Please tell me that you’ve heard from your people.”
“It isn’t like we have working cellphones anymore,” Katie bluntly retorts. The warlord adjusts her bowler while scanning the crowd, a flicker of worry on her face. “I have complete faith in those two. The only thing that could have gone wrong is them running out of fuel. Not very likely since Cassidy gets twitchy if she doesn’t have at least five extra gallons. So, did you already bump the person we discussed?”
“Yes, but that still doesn’t mean you take her spot without the key,” Tyler answers as he watches the conductor lean out of the window. He shakes his head to tell him that the key has not arrived, causing the man to pout. “Cola is getting impatient. I think he’s excited to be on a train that isn’t a moving fortress. We found him in Nebraska and his expertise has been integral to this project. Last thing I want is for him to get annoyed and leave because he thinks the project is a failure. There is so much riding on your friends that I can barely breathe.”
“Cassidy and Lloyd haven’t let me down yet.”
“They say there is a first time for everything.”
“Don’t be so bloody pessimistic, McHale.”
“Well, what else can I be when we haven’t seen a sign of them?”
A musical horn erupts from the other side of a wooden fence before the jeep crashes through the barrier. Guards surround the blue vehicle as the crowd moves a few feet away, the tightly packed people unable to get very far. Refusing to give up his time, the speaker continues his speech and signals for the workers to hand out the last of the presents. By the time Cassidy and Lloyd climb out of the jeep, most of the spectators have returned to staring at the train. Only the nearby children continue to pay attention to the wild-haired and exhausted travelers. Ignoring the armed men and women around them, the pair push through the ring and head for Tyler. Dale protectively steps in the way and holds out his hand for the key, which is dangling from Lloyd’s neck. The serial killer yawns while taking it off, his breath foul enough to make the bodyguard take half a step back. Noticing the reaction, he pulls a melted chocolate bar out of his pocket and eats it so quickly that his stomach tenses.
As Dale brings the key to Cola, Tyler attempts to lift his hand for a shake, but quickly lets his arm drop. Instead, he bows his head and is about to give thanks when another disturbance cuts him off. Pushing her way through the crowd, a tall woman with straight black hair and sparkling green eyes marches towards the businessman. Half of her face is covered by a porcelain mask that has a phoenix design along the side. She reaches beneath the covering to scratch an ugly scar, her fingers coming away with flecks of blood on the nails. She wears a curve-hugging dress that is slit up the side to help with mobility and give her access to a pistol that is strapped to her thigh. When she comes within reach of Tyler, the woman whirls around to strike Katie in the face. Instead, she hits Lloyd in the head as the serial killer lunges forward to take the blow for his lover. Frowning at the intrusion, the woman is about to throw another punch when she feels a gun pressed against her ribs.
“You can leave her alone, Cassidy,” Katie says with an impish grin. Taking a step closer to the other woman, she licks her lips and cocks her head to the side. “Did I do something to anger you, Laurencia? I mean, I know we haven’t been good friends, but it’s so . . . uncivilized to attack me for no reason. What did I ever do to you?”
“Besides scarring my face when we were starting out?” the woman retorts, her voice struggling to remain silky instead of edged. Noticing that she is outnumbered, the Chicago crime boss raises her hands and moves closer to Tyler. “I don’t know what you did to get me bumped from the train, but I won’t stand for it. You did nothing to earn my spot since I provided Mr. McHale with the armor plating and half of the engine parts. The only reason the Holly Sage Express is leaving from Chicago is because I convinced all of the local leaders to support the project. Now, I’m getting bumped for some rural warlord with a fetish for mass murderers and ugly dresses? Give me one good reason why, Mr. McHale.”
“Please don’t get too close because I’m very uncomfortable with this,” Tyler says, patting his forehead with a handkerchief. Relaxing when Laurencia moves away, he avoids meeting the scowling woman’s eyes. “First, I do thank you for all of the support and help that you have given me. This wouldn’t be possible without you. Second, you were going to be bumped whether the Duchess took your spot or not. Information was supplied to me that proves you were the one who stole the key. You made a deal with the Bulbosas to extend both of your territories by taking my train. There was even a plan to assassinate me and make it look like suicide after the maiden voyage was a failure. None of that has anything to do with the Duchess who merely told me where the key was and provided agents to retrieve it.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Laurencia screams at the top of her lungs. She is about to draw her gun when Dale returns, his hand already on his machinegun. “Of course, this rancid bitch is behind it. She goes out of her way to screw with me. Bumping me from a project I pumped tons of resources into is exactly what she would do. How can you be so stupid and blind, Mr. McHale? She’s using you.”
Visibly angered by the accusation, Tyler clicks his tongue and gestures for more of his people to help carry Katie’s luggage. “The information came from the head of the Sherrin crime syndicate in Indiana. It appears you tried to make a deal with them first and they rejected your offer. Unfortunately for you, they kept an eye on your activities because they saw an opportunity to weaken an enemy. Considering they have a long-standing bounty on the Duchess’s head, I have no reason to believe they are working with her. In fact, word has come that they increased the payment last week due to pilfered warehouse. Now, I recommend that you leave before you make any more of a scene. It is almost time for departure.”
“But she-” the crime boss growls through gritted teeth.
“Stop being so bloody daft and accept that you got caught,” Katie interrupts while she opens a parasol. Spinning the black and red handle, she subtly brings her enemy’s attention to the keen blades attached to the umbrella’s edge. “You give me far too much credit. Would I have set all these events in motion to hurt you? Probably if I had the time and interest. Honestly, I was jealous of you being involved in this project. Your presence is what kept me out of joining Mr. McHale in the first place, so I did want revenge. My original plan was to raid some of your weapon stockpiles while you were away, but then I learned about the key being stolen. That was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Believe me when I say that I didn’t know it would result in me replacing you. All this time, I thought we’d both be on the train and get to play with each other. Just like the old days when we didn’t hide behind our armies. Do you remember when we fought over Peru, which I’ve taken very good care of? Such fond memories.”
“You’re dead, you lying bitch!” Laurencia screams, her hands balled into fists. Glancing at all of the people who could stop her from killing Katie, the crime boss carefully moves towards the crowd. “I’m going to find a way to get to you. Doesn’t matter how quickly the train goes because it has to stop at some point. Even on the tracks, I’ll have people ready to take you down when you drop your guard. This isn’t over, Duchess, and I’m going to finally put you in the ground with the rest of the worms.”
As the final speech comes to a close, Laurencia disappears into the crowd, which surges forward for a final look at the Holly Sage Express. Unfazed by the threats, Katie closes her parasol and heads for the dais with Tyler by her side. A band starts to play as the people on the dais board the train and take their positions at the curtained windows. Tired and confused, Cassidy and Lloyd can only stare at the display with their mouths slightly open. Even when a young woman arrives to take the jeep keys, they continue to look around in a daze. They are unsure if the mental fog is caused by not sleeping and bathing for the last few days or from walking into the confrontation with Laurencia.
“Do you think Katie set all of this up?” Lloyd finally asks.
“Oooh yeah. Definitely,” Cassidy replies with a shiver.