Episode 345: Let's Hope They Don't Take This Train
They'd disposed of the handcar by the simple expedient of pushing it off the
tracks. MacKiernan wasn't sorry to see it go. Now they were riding the
hijacked train south with Marty and his gangsters. Behind them, the
locomotive's original crew had begun the long walk back to the coast.
As trains went, this one was fairly modest. A narrow-gauge 2-6-0 engine
pulled a small tender and a string of boxcars terminated by a singularly
rustic caboose. The cars were packed with drums of diesel fuel, stacked
three layers deep. MacKiernan estimated the load to be at least 100,000
gallons. He was not entirely comfortable with the idea of a piece of
coal-fired machinery hauling several tons of highly flammable cargo, but
his companions seemed unconcerned.
"What did I tell you, boys!" said Marty. "The train was easy pickings!
Now we ride it to the end of the line and take the place by surprise."
"What do you expect to find?" asked Captain Sanders.
"A gold mine," said the gangster, "with crates of ore waiting for us to
grab. It'll be just like Christmas."
"It does sound a bit more exciting than commercial airship service," mused
"I trust you're not contemplating a change in career," said MacKiernan.
"Not at the moment," the skipper replied, with what sounded like a twinge of
"How do you know it's a gold mine?" asked Abigail.
"That's what our pigeon told us," said the gangster. "Besides, why else
would someone go to all the trouble of building a secret railroad through
This seemed like a plausible argument, thought MacKiernan. `Dump' was a
good description for terrain through which they were traveling. He'd
seen the Outback many times from the air, and remarked on how monotonous it
seemed, but from the ground, the prospect was even less engaging. `Empty'
suggested a degree of congestion that was conspicuous by its absence.
Their surroundings grew flatter and bleaker with every passing mile. The
dry air of the interior might have been a welcome change from the stifling
humidity of the coast, but the accompanying heat was somewhat less pleasant.
With no other way to spend their time, the travelers took this opportunity
to exchange stories. MacKiernan was intrigued by the gangsters' tale. It
was quite clear they were leaving out some important details. In particular,
he wondered about the confederate -- this 'pigeon' -- who had serviced their
vessel and provided the information that had led them to the railway depot,
but he sensed it might be impolitic to ask questions.
The gangsters seemed equally interested in his own exploits.
"Who's this Korean frail you were after?" asked Jake.
"We don't know," said MacKiernan. "We also don't know who she's working
for. She seems to have been involved with several different parties."
"She sounds like my gal Nettie," Marty remarked sourly. "Do you have any
idea what she's trying to pull?"
"No, nor do I know if she has any agenda at all, but I do wonder about all
these coincidences. It seems unlikely we all could have ended up in the
same place by accident. That suggests someone might have been planting
clues to lead us here."
"That does sound like Nettie," sighed Marty. "What about yer pal Fleming?
How did he and his gal find this railway?"
This was Fleming's first chance to tell the others his story. He
described the mission Captain Everett had charged him with, his flight along
the coast, his chance meeting with Abigail, and their discovery of what
purported to be part of the Rabbit-Proof fence while his companions listened
with interest. He'd begun to tell of their capture by and subsequent escape
from the band of horsemen when MacKiernan raised his hand.
"These horseman," asked the Irishman. "Is there any reason to believe they
left the area?"
"And where precisely where did you encounter them?"
Fleming glanced at their surroundings. One stretch of this wasteland was
much like another, but the current landscape did seem vaguely familiar.
"Would they have looked at all like those gentlemen with the rifles?" asked
Fleming followed the airman's gesture to spot a column of riders watching
them from a rise to their left.
"Yes," he said, "those are the ones."
As they watched, one of the horsemen raised a flag and waved it three times.
"What is that all about?" Sanders asked apprehensively.
"I imagine it's a signal to establish our bona fides," sighed MacKiernan.
"Unfortunately we do not know the proper reply."
"What do you suggest we do?" asked Sanders.
"Pour on the coal!" ordered Marty. "Jake, Books, grab those shovels!"
If the terrain had been flat, the race would have been quite one-sided. No
horsemen, however well mounted, could have hoped to overtake a train. But
this landscape was a succession of gentle rises and descents, almost
imperceptible to the eye, that taxed the very limited capacity of their
machinery. Soon the riders were drawing abreast of engine, to bring it
under fire. Marty's men returned the compliment as best they could with
their submachine guns, but they were heavily outnumbered, and their
enemies' rifles had longer range.
"They're trying to capture this train," marveled Sanders, as another
volley shattered the remaining windows and drove them to floor of cab.
"No fair!" yelled Marty. "We stole it first!"
"We can't hold this position!" warned MacKiernan. "They'd got us
"I know!" yelled Marty. "We'll have to drop back to the caboose before they
can cross the tracks and hit us from both sides!"
The train picked up speed as it began a descent, pulling away from their
pursuers. The gangsters took advantage of this reprieve to shovel in more
coal and jam the throttle open. Then they slipped from the cab and began to
edge their way back along the right side of the train, where they'd be hidden
from view. It was a precarious task, for the trackage was of indifferent
quality, and the cars threatened to pitch them off as they rolled over
irregularities in the rails.
They reached the caboose just as the train reached another rise and began to
slow. Moments later, several of the riders managed to leap aboard the
engine. Their companions, satisfied that the train was as good as retaken,
reigned in their mounts.
"It's a standoff for now," Marty announced. "They've got the locomotive,
but we can hold this caboose until we run out of ammo."
"What will we do then, Boss?" asked Jake.
"Shut up. I'm thinking about it."
Next week: The Rabbit Ultimatum...
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