Find Out Where the Train is Going ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We’re in a long room that was once used for something else. There are thirty beds in two rows. These are accommodations for guests of the state: check bouncers, bigamists, shoplifters, pickpockets, prostitutes. You could go on and on calling out their misdeeds, but why bother? They are the morally bankrupt repeat offenders who are not beyond being redeemed or reformed. Give them two years, or four or five, and they’ll be out if they’re lucky. Redeemed? Not very likely. The really bad ones, the hardened criminals, the murderers, the ones that would throw acid in your face and enjoy doing it, are in another part.
Juniper Tarrant has only been in residence for a few days. She didn’t do anything. She is innocent. She was left with some hash or something—she wasn’t even sure what it was called—that belonged to her boyfriend, a man named Ed King. He disappeared and she went to jail, no matter how many times she told them it wasn’t her fault. Her one hope is that he comes back and tells them what really happened. Of course, she’s going to stick a knife in his ribs if she ever gets the chance, but that’s something that is going to have to wait.
On her fifth or sixth day (she has lost count already), her lawyer, an elderly man named Arthur Lux, comes to see her. She meets with him in a tiny room with a table and two chairs. A blank-faced guard stands against the wall, a silent observer. As she tells the lawyer again everything that happened, he writes it all down.
“When I woke up,” she says, “he was gone.”
“Who was gone?” the lawyer asks. “You have to be specific in your answers.”
“Was that his real name?”
“It’s the name he gave me.”
“Did he use any other names?”
“I don’t know. Why would he do that?”
“How long had you known him?”
“I don’t know. A few months.”
“How many months?”
“You didn’t know he was involved in the selling and distribution of drugs?”
“No! And if he was, I wasn’t!”
“Do you have any reason to believe he deliberately framed you?”
“No! Why would he do that?”
“So, the two of you were living in this hotel together. What was it called?”
“The Excelsior. And I wouldn’t say we were living there. We were staying there for a few days.”
“For what purpose?”
“Why does anybody stay in a hotel?”
“Hotel records show the room was registered in your name alone.”
“Ed always took the room in my name.”
“Why is that?”
“He always had the feeling that somebody was following him. Watching him.”
“And you suspected nothing?”
“No. I stayed out of his business.”
“After the Excelsior Hotel, where were you planning on going?”
“I don’t know. If Ed knew what our next move was, he hadn’t told me.”
“So, you traveled around with him from place to place and you didn’t know what kind of activities he was involved in?”
“He told me he was a salesman.”
“What did he tell you he sold?”
“In his day he sold cars, washing machines, life insurance policies and other things, too. He didn’t like to talk about it.”
“And you didn’t question him?”
“Why should I?”
“And you thought he was a perfectly legitimate salesman?”
“I had no reason to believe otherwise.”
Arthur Lux closes his notebook, puts his pen away and places one hand on top of the other. “Would you be able to identify him if you saw him again?” he asks.
“Of course!” she says.
“Were you in love with him?”
“I thought I was but right now I hate him so much I could kill him.”
“Did you give him money?”
She shrugs and pushes her hair back out of her face. “All I had,” she says.
“Five thousand dollars and some change.”
“It looks like he did you a dirty deed.”
“If he would only come back and square me with the police,” she says. “Tell them the truth about what really happened. That’s all I ask. I would never bother him again.”
“Maybe you should be more prudent in your associations in the future,” Arthur Lux says with a sad smile.
“Thanks for the advice. It’s a little late.”
“We’re doing all we can but, in spite of our best efforts, we haven’t been able to locate him.”
“You’ve got to find him!”
“There’s no indication that he even exists.”
“What are you saying? Do you think I made him up?”
“I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that he probably gave you a false name and that he planned on running out on you from the very beginning.”
“I fell for his line. I was such a fool.”
“We’re all fools.”
“Can’t you pull some strings to get me out of here? Some writ of habeas corpus or something? I don’t belong in prison.”
Arthur Lux reaches across the table and pats her arm. “Don’t despair, my dear. Something is bound to turn up.”
Now, every night at nine-ten, just before lights out, a passenger train goes by the prison. For fifteen or twenty seconds the long room with the thirty beds is filled with the clatter and excitement of a train on its way to some undisclosed location. Some of the prisoners cover their heads with their pillows to try to drown it out, while others wait to catch a glimpse of it and, if the light is just right, to catch a glimpse of some of the people riding on it. The train goes by so fast that it is just a blur, but some of the prisoners claim to have seen passengers on the train that they recognized. One woman said she saw her husband who was supposed to be in a mental institution but was obviously out having a good time. Another claimed to see the daughter and son, twins, that she gave up for adoption at the time of their birth twenty-seven years earlier.
Juniper Tarrant falls into the habit of watching the train every night. She is one of those, who, for a few seconds at least, feels a curious sense of release and possibility as the train goes by in the night. As long as trains carry happy people from city to city, the world cannot be all terrible and bad. Some day I’ll be free and I’ll be the one on the train.
After a week or so of watching the train, she sees Ed King, looking out at her from one of the sleek passenger cars that glides through the night like a bullet. She sees his face so clearly she cannot be mistaken: the dark hair with a little gray mixed in, the brown-green eyes, the little scar above the right eyebrow, the commanding chin. He is wearing a gray suit with a light-blue shirt and a red tie. She remembers the tie. It was the one tie of his that he liked the best.
She turns away from the window, lets out a little cry and is sick. Lying on the floor, she has a kind of seizure. The prisoner in the bed next to her calls for help and she is taken to the infirmary. When the doctor examines her, he tells her she is going to be a mother in about seven months time.
She is given a sedative and kept in the infirmary overnight for observation. In the morning she is desperate to talk to Arthur Lux, her lawyer. When she asks to call him, she is denied. (“What do you think this is? A sorority?”) One of the matrons will try to get a message to him if she can. The message is simple: I saw Ed King on the train. Find out where the train is going and there you will find Ed King.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp