Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part V: Too many strangers on a train

Did the milling crowds that packed Baltimore's hotels for Bouchercon only write about crime? And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.

I'd split a cab to the station with someone I’d met at the convention, someone I hoped I could use as a source. I looked forward to the peace of the train’s quiet car. I hadn’t got the box, didn’t know how I'd get it now, but I had to learn what she knew about Burke and McFetridge.

The train was way more crowded than a train has the right to be on a Sunday, so we grabbed whatever seats we could find, quiet car or otherwise. We couldn’t even find two together. I was annoyed, a bit nervous, even, but the train wasn’t due in Philadelphia for an hour. I had plenty of time to get what I needed.

Across the aisle, a man had opened a book. The cover was Hard Case all the way: long-legged woman in green and yellow bodysuit, sleeveless, left leg raised high in a roundhouse kick. Bodily proportions that would make her eight-foot-three in real life. Title and author in stark block letters above and below the long, hot woman: Luchadora Be a Lady Tonight by Fista Krauss. I smiled. The reader probably had no idea who was sitting right in front of him.

Just outside Newark, Delaware, the woman next to me started having a family crisis over her cell phone. I commiserated, kept silent, tried to hold my temper. Then I slammed my own book down on the plastic seat tray and headed for the café car.

On my way back, the train took a sharp curve. I juggled my coffee and tuna, and the heavy metal doors between cars clanked open. From in front came the last voice I wanted to hear: “Geez, you’d think an American train could sell you a decent doughnut.” From behind, a voice I wanted to hear even less: “Quit yer fecking whining and hand me a cigarette, will you?”

The train pulled out of Newark with a long, shrill whistle. I mopped the coffee stains and tuna flecks from my shirt, and I watched it disappear.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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