Authors: Neil Douglas Newton
Outstanding Reviews for “The Railroad”
“Good book that kept me coming back.”
Jeffrey Burton - Amazon Reader
“Suspenseful Read Nicely done. A good read.”
Karen Robbins – Amazon Reader
“Great characters and plot.”
Candice – Goodreads
“A new writer with a great story to tell.”
Kathy Broggy – Goodreads
Lillian Ammann – Amazon
NEIL D. NEWTON
Copyright © 2012 Neil Newton
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without by monetary gain, is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
All rights reserved.
To my wife who gives me my inspiration and my only reason for being happy to get up in the morning.
Also to Andrew Vachhs, teacher, warrior and keeper of the flame.
Sally Brodman drives along a suburban road just before sunset. Beside her, her daughter Taylor plays a hand-held video game, doing her best to ignore her, following one of many arguments they have had that day. It’s a common source of tension between the two: Taylor is embarrassed by her mother’s frumpy appearance, especially around her friends from school. As always, Sally takes her daughter’s criticism to heart, going back over the peaks and valleys in her life that brought her to this point.
Sally has always resisted her daughter’s suggestions that she clean herself up. While she sometimes spares a moment to wonder at her lack of concern for fashion, her mind always drifts away to other issues. When she does take the time to think about herself, it has been her name that had nagged at her most, like a tooth with a cavity. Along with her excruciatingly plain looks and dishwater blond hair, the name Sally has always made her feel uninteresting and unimportant. Being brought up by parents who seemed vaguely disappointed in her just made it worse. She sometimes wonders if they’d given her that name just to keep her from having any illusions about herself.
She is a nervous woman, distracted by her own thoughts and, while she drives, her index finger coils and tugs ceaselessly at one of the few strands of hair that peek out from beneath the nondescript hat she always wears. Taylor, at the age of nine, has long ago learned to tune out her mother’s nervous habits and lack of confidence. Through her own aggressiveness and determination she has become somewhat popular at school, especially with boys, and she finds her mother’s social unease pointless and incomprehensible. The two share an unspoken pact of mutual indifference.
Ahead of them, perhaps five car lengths away, two cars barrel out from either side of the road, blocking Sally’s path. She jams the brakes in a panic, jerking to a halt well back from the other cars. Taylor is shaken and shifts her gaze from her mother to the cars ahead. “What happened, Mom?” Her mother simply stares ahead, breathing quickly.
One man exits one of the two vehicles and trots back to the place where mother and daughter sit. He stares through the open window at the mother, then leans forward and whispers something in an intimate manner, right next to her ear. Taylor gasps and reaches toward her mother.
The man smiles.”Don’t worry Taylor.”
For a moment she wonders how this man could know her name, a question that is shoved from her consciousness as the man suddenly jerks open her mother’s door and begins dragging her out of the car.
As Sally stumbles from the car, her shoe scuffs the pavement. She notes the scuff with an odd clarity. “The police will find that,” she tells herself.
Still holding Sally’s wrist, the man knocks the hat off her head; it falls to the ground. He stares at it for a second and turns an odd look towards both mother and child.
“It’s all right Taylor,” Sally screeches.
The man smiles again, an eerie sight for Taylor. She knows that her mother is being brave for her benefit and that scares her all the more.
The man's smile fades as he turns away from her and thoughtfully removes a plastic vinyl sleeve from his pocket. Through the transparent window in the sleeve the girl sees what looks like a surgical scalpel. She screams.
“It’s all right, Taylor,” the girl’s mother repeats. “I’ll be fine. Just take it easy.”
The man takes her hand and, gently, almost lovingly, makes an incision along the end of her index finger; the woman gasps and stares vacantly at the blood as it wells up into a pool which begins to accumulate at her fingertip, threatening to spill over.
With sure movements the man turns her around and bends her forward. Still holding her finger he begins to write on the back door in her blood.
Taylor trembles, searching her mother’s face for an explanation; there is none. She watches in silence as numbers form on the car door. The man nods, admiring his work. Then he begins to drag the woman toward one of the waiting cars at the intersection.
Her feet drag and she stumbles again. “Let’s go,” the man urges.
Taylor hears the door open to her right and feels a hand on her arm; one of the other men. He drags her out roughly. The girl follows her mother, not knowing what else to do. As her mother is guided into one of the cars, she turns back to look once more at her old Pontiac and what has been drawn in blood on the car’s back door.4-5-1.
I had no idea who she was.
I had just picked up the phone and was doing my best to place this particular person. In business, it’s usually not considered decent etiquette to forget someone. It might come back to bite you on the ass.
I spent the standard five seconds running through all the female business contacts I might know before I surrendered to the awkward conclusion that I’d have to tell her I didn’t know who she was. I was already starting out at a disadvantage.
“I’m really sorry but it’s a little hectic in here today. Who is this?”
“This is Mike Dobbs, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You found me.” I laughed in a lame attempt at lightening the situation.
“Oh god. I’m sorry. This is Elena.”
Another five seconds scanning my store of faces and names. I was usually good at this.
“I’m sorry. I’m not doing well today. Are you a vendor?
There was a pause on the phone. I could hear music in the background and voices. It sounded like a bar. I was beginning to get annoyed, knowing that I’d have to be in a meeting inside of three minutes. Elisha, one my of colleagues in the IT department, passed my desk and stared conspicuously at her watch, telling me that I was going to be late. Paul, Kathy, and Werner all walked by, giving me looks of confusion. Whoever this was on the phone was ruining my natural rhythm and it was making me angry.
Finally she spoke again, almost in a whisper. “Mike. It’s Elena Kristos.”
The corporate crew faded into sudden insignificance as I felt my solar plexus thud into my breastbone. This could be a joke, I decided. But something in me said otherwise.
“That Elena?” I asked stupidly.
She laughed. “Not to be topped.”
“I expected a little better reaction than that.”
“I’m sorry. I just…how are you?
“Well, actually not so great at the moment.”
I waited, expecting her to enlighten me.
“To be honest, I have a problem,” she said quickly.
Two top managers passed my office on their way to my meeting, peering at me as they went by. I started to get fidgety.
“Elena, this is kind of out of the blue. What kind of problem are we talking about?”
She snorted, bringing back memories of arguments that I’d had fifteen years before. “A really bad kind of problem, Mike. I wouldn’t be calling you after all this time if it wasn’t.”
The director of finance walked by and I started to panic. I was always early at meetings and ready to go. I hated the idea of being tense and seeming unprepared. I had a reputation that I enjoyed maintaining.
“Look, Elena, I don’t mean to be an asshole but I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back in a couple of hours?”
She took a breath. “I don’t have a couple of hours, Mike. I don’t have a couple of minutes.”
“What?” I said, amazed. “What are we talking about?” A bit of anger had crept into my voice. I immediately regretted the loss of control; I wanted things to go back to normal.
“My life is falling apart! That’s what we’re talking about!”
“Elena, come on I just...”
“I knew you’d be this way! If it had ever crossed my mind that you’d still be a jerk after all these years I never would have called you. I need help. I wouldn’t have called you otherwise!”
I stared at the wall, not knowing what to say. Elisha reappeared and pointed at her watch. I gestured for her to give me a moment. “What do you need from me?” I asked Elena, not trying to hide my annoyance.
She began to sob then and I saw all hopes of going to my meeting as the fair haired boy fly out the window. I was trapped.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Connelly’s. I’m sure you remember it.”
“Of course. Look, give me twenty minute and I’ll be there. Don’t leave.”
“I won’t. And thanks, Mike.”
“No problem. I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”
When the call had ended I wandered out into the hall, thinking frantically of how I might beg off from the meeting without making a lot of people angry. I was staring into space, looking dazed and probably pissed off as well, when Anne Mulrooney walked by, her head in a stack of papers she was arranging for the same meeting I had been bound for. She passed me and her head snapped around.
She must have seen the look on my face. To say that Anne was everyone’s proxy mother at Dain and Crabtree would be an understatement. She had the instincts of a psychologist but without the polished phrases.
“Oh boy, the Wunderkind looks-” It must have been the look on my face. She stopped speaking abruptly, biting back the joke she was about to make. “Okay. What’s wrong Mike?”
“Someone I used to know just called, and I think something bad has happened. I...I remember what she sounded like when she was worried. I’m not sure. I have a meeting in…”
She checked her watch. “One minute. I’m in that meeting.”
“Are you in love with her?” Right to the point was Anne, always.
“Oh no, that was fifteen years ago. It’s just…weird.”
She looked toward the conference room only feet from my desk. “You know I can cover for you. You don’t look much like you’d be good at anything the way you are.” She leaned forward and whispered. “I can say that you had a family emergency. You have an Aunt?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“She just got sick. Angina. If you’re going to lie, make it simple and straightforward. It’s easier to control then.”
I smiled gratefully. “Why are you still an administrative assistant?”
“I’m more than that. They just prefer to think of me that way.”
“Okay. I owe you, again. I should be back in a couple of hours.”
“No. If you have a family emergency, you take the rest of the day off. I can handle your idiot boss.”
Connelly's bar was still something of what it had been; I recognized the scrollwork that had fascinated me through many drunken college evenings with Elena. But it had been stripped and refinished. The sconces were still there, though the stained, rotted ceiling tiles had been stripped off, revealing old New York tin. Cheap though it had once been, a vintage tin ceiling, in this day and age, is a mark of true New York pedigree.
I scanned the room, looking for the long cascading dark curls I remembered. She had been smiling at me for a good ten seconds before I realized I was looking directly at her. Her hair was cut short and her eyes weren’t as dewy as I remembered them. The most jarring note was that there was a child at her side. She had her head buried beneath her mother’s arm and I could tell she wasn’t happy.
I walked slowly towards her, stopping just short of the table. “You can close your mouth,” she said, laughing.
I sat down. “Sorry. Just seeing you, I realized that I’d forgotten what it was like to be that young. It seems like it never happened.”
“It did,” she answered, a trace of anger in her voice. She stared awkwardly at her hands.
I sat down. “So what’s been happening?” Not the smartest question, but the only one I could think of.
“You want to know why I called you. I know I’ve interrupted your day. Don’t deny it.”
I grimaced. “I’m not going to have an argument with you. Tell me what’s happening.”
“I shouldn’t have done this. Forget it. Let’s just have a drink and I’ll go.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work.” I looked over at the little girl. “Hello.” She stared at me from beneath hooded eyes.
“This is Maria. Say hello to Mike, Maria.”
We stared at each other for a time. There would be no hello.
“You’ll have to excuse her,” Elena said quickly. “She’s usually very polite. Only…”
“Only something’s wrong,” I finished for her.
Elena nodded, her hands in her lap, looking helpless. Then a tear came. In a second she was sobbing. Maria just grabbed her mother more tightly.
“You have to tell me,” I prodded. “Just tell me. We spent a few years together, didn’t we? I figure you can tell me what’s wrong.”
She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and wiped her eyes. “Things aren’t like the way they were back then. I wish I was…back there.” She started sobbing again.
I ordered bourbon for myself and cokes for Elena and her daughter. They both sipped at their drinks gratefully as though they hadn’t had liquid in days. I let the silence percolate for a time and then launched back into the discussion. “Okay. You came here to see me. Tell me what’s going on.”
Elena sighed and shook her head. “Here it is, while I still have the courage to ask you. Maria’s father is…let’s say he’s not a nice man. He’s done some very bad things to both of us. You can guess what I mean.