Things aren't always what they seem on a train
"Ma'am," The officer shook me. My eyes fluttered open, and I looked around in confusion. I seemed to be on a train but never boarded one. It didn't make sense. "Are you alright?" He looked at the other cop, "she might be on dope."
"Do I look like the type of person who does drugs, sir?" I snapped. Before he answered, I looked down at my leg, it was covered by pants. A scream welled up within me. "Don't let these pants fool you, I am not one of these modern day women. I keep my home and make sure my husband has dinner before he goes out with the boys." Or his mistress, I thought bitterly.
"Can I see your ticket for the train?" The officer asked. He eyed me like I was an ordinary train robber or, worse, an unloyal wife. "Nobody saw you board the train, and you've been passed out since you were discovered."
"I don't remember getting on the train," I admitted. Still, I patted my pockets and felt something in them. After reaching in, something sharp caught my finger, "ouch." My finger was bleeding. My mind spun with possibilities, then I sucked in a deep breath, "officers, I don't want to alarm you, but I think there's a knife in these pant pockets."
Both cops took a step back, and the one who had spoken to me reached for his gun. "Ma'am, I need you to place the knife on the floor and raise your arms above your head."
It took me a few tries to get on my feet; I was very wobbly. When I was able to stand up, the contents of my purse spilled out, and there was a sandwich bag full of a white substance. My mouth formed an 'O'.
Then everything went dark again.
"Is she alright?" A male's voice asked.
"People often pass out because they are perfectly healthy," the officer I had been talking to snapped back. Slowly, I tried to prop myself up, but everything was still blurry. "Ma'am, please stay still. We already have one body for the coroner to move; he will not want to have to take another."
"I'm not dying," I insisted, unable to move. "I might already be dead but that's not my problem." I noted the looks that the cops gave me. "Are you going to help me up or stand there like a couple of goons."
The officer both offered me a hand. After I was standing, the cop who had been talking to me shot: "This is 1920 lady; aren't you supposed to be able to do things on your own?"
"Everything except…" I let my words trail off. Fighting with the police wasn't going to answer any of the questions that occupied my mind. "How did I get on this train? I don't remember boarding, I am not in my normal clothes, and clearly someone planted cocaine and a knife on me."
"Or the more likely answer is that you went on a bender and nearly killed yourself."
"If I wanted to commit suicide, there are more ladylike ways to do it," I snapped. After taking a deep breath, I looked at the other officer. "Thank you for helping me up," then nodded my head over to the cop that talked to me. "Isn't there any way a better cop that you could work with? This one seems dumber than the trash my husband takes out to the curb."
"Ma'am with all due respect, Officer Thompson is good at his job. That's why I was paired with him, I need to learn the ropes from a pro."
"I can stuff a cannoli, that doesn't make me a baker," stealing a quick glance at Officer Thompson, I noted that his thin lips were pressed together, almost disappearing into his gums. "Despite your intense dislike of me, have I done anything to make you think I'm guilty?"
Officer Thompson unclenched his jaw and took a deep breath, "it could all be a ruse," then added as if it pained him, "but no, you are not acting like a guilty person."
"Where is this train headed? When are we stopping? I would like to find a way home before I'm supposed to have dinner on the table."
The rookie cop opened his mouth and then closed it again after catching a warning look from Thompson. He spoke again; this time, his voice seemed almost nice. "Ma'am…"
"Please call me Linda," part of me wondered why they hadn't looked through my purse to see my identification card. "Linda Penn."
"Well Linda, Linda Penn," Thompson said, almost mocking me. "Can you tell us what the last thing you remember is?"
I closed my eyes and sucked in some air.
There I was in my kitchen. Furious. Nick told me he wouldn't be home for dinner and may not come back until the next day. Business trips out of town weren't unusual, but there was something about this trip that ticked me off.
"Linda?" Thompson's voice brought me out of the memory. "Why were you so angry about your husband having a business trip? Did he forget your anniversary?"
"No, that is par for the course with Nick. He doesn't care about those things, thinks that they are frivolous."
"Then what had you so upset, ma'am?" the rookie asked.
"What is his name?"
"Officer Cabrera, please don't call me ma'am. It makes me sound old," I chastised the young man. "It also makes me think that I'm…."
My words trailed off when a piece of fabric caught my eye. The design, flowers under the stars, was familiar. My husband had bought me a dress with the same pattern. Later, I learned he bought another one for the woman he was having an affair with, the woman who destroyed my marriage.
There was a white blanket covering the person. I tugged it down and revealed Carrie Weir. My husband's mistress was dead from stab wounds.
A scream emerged from my throat.
"Why is she dead?" I asked, still screaming. A dark spot stained the dress in the chest area, near the heart. "This has to be a bad dream, a nightmare. It's not real; it cannot be real."
Thompson laid his hand on my shoulder and pulled me back, helping me sit in the seat I had been in when I woke up. "Linda, you know that woman? Can you tell me about her?"
His softer tone threw me off; he was working towards something. "Do I need a lawyer? Am I a suspect in this murder?"
Thompson glanced over at Cabrera as if to ask what his take was on this matter; the younger man shrugged his shoulders. "Linda, we have no reason to suspect you are a murderer. But any information you give us could help us find out who did kill her and how you ended up on this train."
"Her name is Carrie Weir," I started. It puzzled me why they weren't writing down what I told them. Shaking that thought off, I forged ahead, "she was sleeping with my husband. They'd been having an affair for the past year or so."
An employee of the train's company walked up to Cabrera in a low voice, "Officer can you please come to the locomotive with me? The conductor would like to speak to you."
Cabrera followed the employee out of the car. Thompson turned his attention back to me, "sometimes when people hear there are cops on board, it causes an uneasiness. Don't worry, Cabrera will be back soon."
"Something is going on here. What is it?" I asked, but before he could answer, I let some of my thoughts be said aloud. "This is all too weird. I end up on a train in jeans. I don't own jeans or cotton t-shirts. Then there's dope and a knife on me, which is all bad enough. But then, the body of my husband's mistress, the woman who was close to ending my marriage, is dead. Her corpse was seated just ahead of me." I looked around the car and, for the first time, noticed that it was empty. "Why isn't there anyone else in the car?"
"I need you to try to remember everything that happened before you woke up on the train," Thompson said, ignoring my comment about being isolated. "This could be more important than you know."
After Nick left, I picked up a glass and tossed it across the room. Fury filled my body, so I grabbed the expensive brandy he used to impress people. The sound of shattered glass falling to the ground filled the house.
"I hate you," I screamed in the direction of the door. It wasn't that he would be gone for the night; it was that he would be with her. Her. He'd already tried to end the marriage but recanted the following day after "thinking" about it. The arrangement he enjoyed with me suited him more than being with…
Someone, a man, placed his arms around me. His hands were covered by black gloves, and he had a rag that he brought closer to my face. When it covered my nostrils, my head started to spin. Before I succumbed to the darkness, I heard him say in part: "we have… wife…."
"I need to talk to you," Cabrera's voice brought me out of the memory. The two officers moved a few feet away and began whispering, just loud enough for me to catch what they were saying. "The train can't stop; if it does, we will be blown up."
"What are you talking about?"
My heart was beating faster in my chest. Drugs, dead bodies, and bombs on trains, it was like I was listening to my favorite soap opera. Maybe that was it; I had to be dreaming. Nick angered me, but I would never kill his mistress, and nobody would kidnap me.
Cabrera took a deep breath, "Each station has bombs on the rails, if we stop, we are going to get blown to bits."
"We're going to be blown up?!" I asked, not realizing that my voice was five octaves too loud. "What about the other trains?"
"We've advised them not to stop as well."
"This is madness," Thompson said, grabbing hold of one of the seats. "If no trains in New York can stop…" he shuddered, "eventually they're going to crash or stall."
I collapsed into one of the seats. Hours ago, I was an ordinary housewife with a cheating husband. Now I was involved in a plot Dashiell Hammett novel. A tear slid down my eye, I tried to brush it away, but Cabrera saw it. He put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, "we're not going to let anything bad happen. This is just an obstacle we have to get over."
"Does this mean that I'm not a suspect in Carrie's murder."
"You never were…." Cabrera started, then noted the look on Thompson's face. "It's time to tell her. This has gone on long enough. Maybe she can help."
"She can't," Thompson argued. "And for all we know, she did kill Weir. She had the knife and could be pretending to have amnesia."
After taking a deep breath, I responded: "I thought we'd moved past this. I could not and would not kill the woman sleeping with my husband."
"It's pretty convenient that you wake up on the same train, in the same car as her dead body."
"If I killed everyone my husband slept with, Manhattan would be devoid of all the women and quite a few men."
A look of shock washed over Thompson and Cabrera's faces. It took about a minute for them to recover. Finally, the rookie spoke, "we're not with the NYPD…."
A chill went down my spine. My eyes darted between them. Despite my dislike of Thompson, he didn't seem like he was going to hurt me, but he was pretending to be a cop. "What do you mean?"
Thompson shook his head while Cabrera stared at him. "If she knows that put her in danger. It would be irresponsible to do that."
"She's sitting right here and despite not having the same rights as the two of you," I sneered. "I can make decisions for myself."
"You don't have all the information."
Finally, Thompson rolled his hand, indicating that Cabrera was free to tell me. The rookie kept his arm around me and started slowly: "Thompson and I are not officers with the NYPD. Though they do know that we are wearing the uniforms, so nothing illegal is happening with us."
"Because that was my main concern," I shot as I looked towards Carrie's body.
"Fair," Cabrera conceded. "Thompson and I work with MI-8."
It felt like time froze in the seconds after he said that. Questions raced through my mind, chief among them being why the military was involved in any of this. None of the words came through my mouth.
"I told you she wasn't ready, Thompson said. Then he knelt by me, "I know this is a lot to take in, but we need you to help us some more."
I tried to articulate what I wanted to say, "Sp-spies?"
"That's right," Cabrera answered. Then he added, "so was your husband, Nick."
"Can I have something to drink, please?" I asked. Thompson jumped up and left the car. My attention turned to Cabrera, "I think you have my husband confused with someone else. Nick can't even collect his socks for the laundry bin, let alone intelligence for the military."
Cabrera took a deep breath, "Linda, you misunderstand. Nick was not one of our colleagues. He was collecting information for the Soviets."
The words Cabrera used were English, but they still seemed foreign to me. There was no way Nick could have been a spy for the Soviet Union. He barely survived his advertising job. "But he worked in advertising…."
"No, he didn't. It was a front for his real job," Cabrera said. "He was recruited because of his looks and sexual perversions."
"Are you telling me that Nick, my Nick, was a honeypot?"
"Yes. When you caught him cheating, it was actually for work. He was attempting to get information on various people of influence in the military and in politics."
This new information put things into perspective for me. Every time he claimed to be working, but I knew he was out with someone else, he was being truthful. His work just included having sex with other people. And betraying the country that he claimed to love.
"I know this is a lot for you take in," Cabrera said. "Do you need a minute before I tell you more?"
In an effort to steady myself, I closed my eyes and tried to control my breathing. "There's a question I need to ask. Something that I need to know. If Nick was a spy, a honeypot, and sleeping with people to get information, how do you explain his affair with Carrie?" Thompson returned and handed me a cup of soda; after taking a drink, "thank you."
Cabrera looked at his partner, "she knows about Nick. She's processing everything right now."
"I think we need to tell her who Carrie is and why she's on our radar," Thompson said. "I mean, you opened the can of worms, now is not the time to stop."
The rookie nodded, "so to answer your question, Carrie was also a Soviet spy. She was Nick's handler. At first they kept things professional. Just pretending to be having an affair but soon they were having an affair for real. This displeased their bosses…."
Picking up where Cabrera trailed off, Thompson chimed in: "Their bosses decided that the affair was becoming too messy, too public. It was possible that someone would recognize them and blow their cover, so they wanted to neutralize both."
"You mean, they wanted to kill them?" I asked.
Cabrera and Thompson nodded their heads. Finally, the rookie spoke again: "I know this is a lot to take in, do you need a break?"
Before I could answer, a train employee came running in. He was white as a ghost, with blushes of red forming on his forehead and cheeks. "I hate to bother you, but we need one of you in another car near the caboose."
Thompson followed the employee. He wasn't gone long before he came back, "Linda, I need you to come with me."
I stood up and walked towards the rear of the car; Cabrera was a few steps behind me. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Silently, Thompson moved through the cars with us in tow. After going through three cars, I noticed a group of people. With a deep voice, he ordered people out of the way: "it's a corpse not a sideshow at a circus, people. Move out of the way or be arrested for obstruction."
When the group moved out of the way, I could see what the fuss was about. In the center was a dead body. Not just any person died, though.
The corpse belonged to Nick.
"Two problems down," a voice said. It broke through the darkness surrounding me. There was something about it that seemed familiar, if not cold. "Now just to make sure that everything goes according to plan."
"She's waking up."
"Damnit, leave it to my wife to ruin everything."
"Linda?" Thompson said, bringing me out of the memory. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nick." The statement seemed to be identifying the body. I tried to bring myself to explain what I was saying, but my knees gave out, and I fell to the ground. "Nick is how I got here."
Cabrera bent down and tried to help me up, but I didn't want to move. He asked in a soft voice, "what do you mean 'Nick is how you got here?'"
"He is the one who kidnapped me, there was an accomplice that helped him but he was the mastermind," I pushed my hair back and tried to steady myself. "This might not make sense but I remembered coming out of the fog state, hearing a conversation between Nick and his coconspirator."
"Damnit," Thompson said, almost too himself. "He was on to us. He knew that we were closing in on him."
"How could he have?" Cabrera asked. "Logically, only you and I knew."
"And Madison. But he wouldn't say anything," Thompson said. "And I know you didn't."
"Looks like the secret died with him," Cabrera said, pointing to the body.
Finally, I cleared my throat. "No, that's not Nick. That's his brother Mike. They're not twins but still looked almost identical. Check his front, right pocket. His wallet should be there."
Thompson put his hand in the pocket and shook his head. Then checked the other pocket and pulled out a black leather wallet. Opening it, he pulled out a New York identification card. "Michael Cameron Penn. She was right."
"Where is Nick?" Cabrera asked. "None of this is making any kind of sense."
"Let's walk through the steps," Thompson looked around, then directed the rookie and me, "let's go back to our car and discuss this."
After making our way back to the car where I woke up, we all took our seats. Thompson sat in the aisle across from Cabrera and I behind me. The rookie spoke first, "should she be here for this? She is a civilian, after all."
I opened my mouth to say something but shut it when Thompson shot me a look. When he spoke, his voice was firm, "without her, we don't have half the information that we've gathered. She stays."
"The main question is, where is Nick? If that's not him back there, then he has to be somewhere," Cabrera said, not bothering to further question if it was wise for me to be present for the talk. "If he's still out there, we're going to need to find him. He could have useful information before we…."
"Before you kill him?" I asked eyebrow raised. "It's ok to say it. He tried to frame me for murder. I'm not exactly his biggest fan right now."
"With everything we have, I would say it looks like Nick tried to fake his own death and go on the run," Thompson said. He put his hand on his chin as though deep in thought, "he could have called in the bomb threat to keep us on the train and give himself some more time, or so he thought."
"What do you mean?" Cabrera asked.
"Well, if his wife woke up in the middle of her kidnapping…." I tuned out of what he was saying because of another thought that rammed into my mind.
Nick's accomplice in kidnapping and framing me for murder was Thompson.
"Do you think it's possible that Nick faked his death?" Cabrera asked me. I pull myself back into the conversation. "Linda, do you think that's possible?"
"Anything is possible," I answered. "After today, I can't deny anything anymore. I could be a spy."
Thompson smirked. "Yeah, Linda, you could be a spy. By your own admission, you don't even own jeans or a t-shirt. You must be a real master of disguise."
I bit back a retort. It wouldn't do to get into an argument about my credentials or whether or not I could be a spy. The truth of the matter was that Thompson and I were partners. A smile played on my face as I remembered.
"Ma'am," Thompson tipped his hat to me and took the seat across from mine. It wasn't taken; I was at the bar alone. Not exactly alone, Nick and Carrie were making googly eyes at one another a few tables away, but they didn't know I was there. He noticed where I was looking, "is that your husband?"
"Yes. I'm trying to decide if I want to divorce him or kill him," my admission to the stranger in front of me shocked both of us. "Forgive me, Nick, my husband, is not known for keeping it in his pants but to be so blatant with his affair is angering me."
"I think I can help."
"I don't cheat. The one time I did, I worried for months after that I was pregnant…."
"No offense ma'am but you aren't my type," Thompson said, then leaned in. "I also slept with your husband. He was attempting to get information from me to feed back to the Soviet Union," the look of confusion told him that I had no idea what he was talking about. "I'm a spy for the military, your husband is a double agent for the Soviets."
After Thompson and I pitched our plan to Madison, he called us diabolical but approved it.
The train jerked slightly, and Cabrera stood up. "I'll go see what's happening."
Once he was gone, Thompson admonished me, "are you crazy? You almost blew the whole plan."
"The plan is so convoluted that nobody would believe it," I shot back. Then to emphasize my point, "Nick is back there dead but everyone thinks it's his brother Mike. Meanwhile, Mike is being impsioned by the United States government to see what he knows. Carrie is dead. I'm supposed to be a homemaker framed by her husband."
"Thanks for laying it out for me but I was in on it, remember?"
"You get paid to kill for a living. I'm going to live with knowing I helped kill two people for the rest of my life. I was just a homemaker," I sighed. "But I did have a lot of fun with this. Maybe I could be a spy full time."
"And you saved your country. We know Stalin had plans to invade the U.S., you stopped that. Yes, two people died but they were evil people," he smiled at me. "And we're going to set you up with a brand new life somewhere else."
"Evil is in the eye of the beholder," I responded. "And I never said this but it was good thinking, you telling me to buy jeans and a t-shirt. Changing into this outfit before you chloroformed me helped our story. But where did the cocaine come from?"
"Nick wanted to plant it on you. He thought that if it looked like you were on drugs, then you'd go to jail, even if you managed to avoid murder charges. What he didn't know is that I put confectioners sugar in the baggie."
"We're running out of coal," Cabrera told us as he re-entered the car. "Conductor said he doesn't know how much longer we can go."
"The danger is likely behind us," Thompson said. Then looked at me, "any ideas where you want to go in protective custody?"
"Not yet. Wherever I go, the past won't be far behind. I'll always look around every corner."
"You'll be safe, agents will be looking out for you," Cabrera assured me.
"I know," I smiled at the young man. "But nothing is ever what it seems to be. Everything and everyone carries a secret. I learned that today with my husband and the two of you."
Thompson cleared his throat, "that's no way to live your life."
"Everything is moving chaos. You either get used to it or you die," I stood up and walked out of the car. In the next one, I found an empty row and sat in one of the seats, closing my eyes. I hoped that I would remember how I got on the train the next time I woke up.
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