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A Dirigible Disaster: Chapter 4, Scene 2.


The twin barrels of the shotgun stared Ignatius in the face. The hammers’ double-click of being pulled back sounded as loud as the slap of a switch against the table to Ignatius. He froze in position, feet and legs tensed, preparing to hurl himself out of the way. Elijah’s finger tightened on the trigger. A double concussion roared within the train coach. Ignatius reflexively ducked down behind the chairs and poker table.

Several more shots rang out and at some point a woman screamed or perhaps it was just one of the Americans. Ignatius slid his sword free of its casing in the ensuing silence while peering under the table. Through the chair legs he made out the form of Joseph, the Pullman Porter crumpled on the floor. A pistol next to an outstretched hand told him that Joseph would no longer be dealing anywhere on this mortal coil. Elijah’s shotgun blasted overhead, spraying lead pellets in a deadly hail across the room. Glasses shattered and the sound of someone landing heavily reached Ignatius’s ears.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw most of the passengers now lying on the floor or crouching behind whatever meager shelter they could find. The hollow sound of the shotgun opening and the brassy clang of a shell bouncing off the table tipped Ignatius off. He jumped up, grabbed the communicating cord that ran from one end of the room to the other, and hauled on it. Somewhere ahead of the Pullman car, the engineer received one long continuous bell and reacted by pulling the emergency brake. With a screech of metal on metal, the train’s wheels stopped turning casting a shower of sparks along the tracks.

“Ah, me Sainted Aunt Tilly, there’ll be hell ta pay fer this,” the engineer yelled while bracing himself.

Ignatius lost his footing and toppled over backwards, striking his shoulder against a table as he fell. Unable to stop himself, his head banged against the floor, stunning him for a moment. Noises registered but held little significance for him. The wheels continued wailing against the tracks, contents flew off shelves and tables. The room vibrated and shimmied with the strain of inertia bucking the demands of the brakes. The room plunged into darkness as the lamps guttered and went out.

The cries of other passengers from the next car were audible as the train came to a stop. Ignatius pulled himself up using one of the side tables. Warily he searched for signs of movement. A shadowy form rose unsteadily from behind the poker table, staggered to the rear door and shoved it open. Ignatius flung his sword at the vanishing figure, but only managed to embed the blade in the doorframe.

Cursing, Ignatius stumbled his way through the wreckage of the room towards the door. A hand on his shoulder arrested his movement. The grip was firm, Ignatius rounded on the owner of the hand. Dark brown eyes glinted in the moonlight, before he could react, soft lips pressed against his own. The smell of horses, sweat and lavender all swirled around his nose. He pulled back sharply, “Angela!”

“Can’t keep out of trouble can you?” she asked, flashing a grin.

One of the porters managed to get a lamp lit again. The gentle glow illuminated Angela Boas standing in front of Ignatius, cradling a Henry rifle in her arm. It dawned on Ignatius that she was the Vaquero from earlier in the passenger car and station. Her brown hair spilled out over her shoulders while her hat dangled from its strap around her neck. Like a dream, a sunny morning flashed in front of Ignatius’s eyes. Angela standing in the riverside park amid the wreckage he had wrought. He clearly remembered the morning sunlight spilling through her hair and casting a halo around her. This was his last image of her as Officer Goodman led him away in chains. The present rudely reinserted itself as realization struck.

“The porter, Elijah!” Ignatius turned on his heel, again making his way to the rear door. He paused long enough to pull his blade free from the door and slip it back into the sheath.

“Ignatius, hold on,” said Angela.

“There is no time, we must catch him,” he said.

On the platform, Ignatius looked back along the tracks. He discovered that they were sitting atop a bridge, in the middle of the Susquehanna River. On the west shore hills rose up as dark outlines, drenched in shadow by the full moon. Elijah was not visible in that direction. Angela stepped out onto the platform with Ignatius.

“Listen to me,” she said, “I hit that man in the shoulder. There ought to be a blood trail.”

Ignatius nodded his eyes glassy and unfocused. He shook his head rapidly back and forth to clear his vision.

“Right. We know he could not have reached the west end of the bridge by now and there are no places to hide. He must have gone forward then.”

Ignatius swung down the few stairs and stumbled at the bottom. The blow to his head throbbed some and the site surrounding it was tender. He waved Angela to the north side of the train before starting to creep along the cars on the south side. Elijah had few options because of their location on the bridge. He would be moving toward the eastern shore in order to make his escape.

The passenger cars sat askew of the tracks. In several places, the wheels were no longer sitting on top of the rail. Whatever occurred, the train was not going anywhere soon. Ignatius squeezed the handle of his cane repeatedly. A concealed lever allowed him to recharge it on the move. It would not be as strong the next time but it would do. Edging past the passenger coaches Ignatius reached the first baggage car.

He extracted the last wind-up automata from his pocket and quickly wound it. He whispered instructions and set it on the ground. After the requisite pause, the tiny clockwork device scuttled off underneath the rail cars. Ignatius resumed charging up the cane’s power reserve, moving on to the next car. In the full moon’s light, a small coin-sized blotch of blood stained the railroad tie. Smaller dots spattered in the direction of the engine. Ignatius halted and listened carefully.

The sibilant hiss of steam rolled down from the engine, mixing in with the sounds of creaking rail car trucks and panicked travelers. He could not hear any breathing or telltale sounds of a person in hiding, bleeding and on the run. The cool of the night air cleared the last tendrils of haze from his mind. The shadows cast by the cars were long and deep. Ignatius cursed several times, realizing that he left his goggles, which would penetrate the night, in his bag. Approaching the juncture of two more rolling stock cars Ignatius heard the soft scrap of leather against wood.

Tentatively he peered around the corner of the mail car and found himself looking into Angela’s rifle barrel. She raised the weapon quickly once she recognized Ignatius. With hand signals, they both confessed to not spotting anything. Urging her onward Ignatius continued to move in the direction of the engine. One last car stood between Ignatius and the massive steam locomotive. Standing at the back corner of the red boxcar, he noticed that the door slightly open. At almost the same time, a bell rang out from within the car.

Ignatius flung the door back with a jerk. Inside Elijah jumped up and down on the clockwork automata. Savagely the Pullman Porter kicked the remnants across the boxcar’s floor. Hearing the opening door, Elijah discharged both barrels of his shotgun. Ignatius pulled back out of the open doorway. The shot tore through the wood leaving tiny holes in a head sized cluster behind. Instantly, bullets started flying through the far wall of the boxcar, angled upwards entering at about waist height. The cracking report of the Henry rifle echoed over the river.

Abruptly the firing stopped. Elijah sprang from the boxcar to land on the ballast of the railway bed. Ignatius lashed out with his cane but narrowly missed his target. Elijah darted in close, swinging a short, brutal haymaker into Ignatius’s jaw. The inventor staggered back while jabbing forward with his walking stick. The tip made the slightest contact with Elijah’s arm and Ignatius triggered the electric shock.

Elijah went rigid as the energy leapt from cane to his body. Ignatius allowed the entire charge to dissipate from the device. Elijah should have fallen to the ground. Instead, he took one step backwards, covering his face with both forearms. An animal, almost guttural growl came from behind Elijah’s limbs. With a last snap, the cane ceased emitting its charge. Elijah lowered his arms, steam and smoke rising from his clothing and skin.

He made as thought to spring onto Ignatius, when Angela leapt over the couplers and ran at him. He sidestepped Angela and drove a fist into her abdomen, knocking the wind from her. In a second, his arm was around her throat and a wicked looking curved blade hovered over her eye. Gagging for air, Angela struggled against the iron muscles of her captor.

“Put that shit down,” Elijah demanded.

Ignatius gauged the distance between him and the porter. He allowed the black shaft to fall out of his fingers and clatter against the ground. Elijah took another step away from Ignatius. The Pullman Porter’s eyes were saucer like and he kept his knife dangerously close to Angela.

“All right, the cane is down. Let her go now,” Ingatius said.

Elijah shook his head, “She’s gonna help me off this bridge. You ain’t gonna do anythin’, long’s I got her.”

“I want those plans, is there no accommodation we can reach?” Ignatius rubbed his thumb across both his index and middle finger.

“You got nothin’ I want,” spat Elijah.

Elijah moved another step away. Ignatius met Angela’s eyes. She flicked a glance down at her right arm. It was mostly free of Elijah’s grip, out of her shirtsleeve a slender dagger’s hilt protruded.

“Come on, I can offer a LOT of money,” said Ignatius.

“Damn Yankees and their damn riches,” muttered Elijah.

“Hey, why ain’t you at your post, boy?” shouted a conductor.

Elijah snarled in the man’s direction, giving Angela just enough opportunity to push Elijah’s knife wielding hand off to the left and stab him in the thigh with her own knife. Spinning around she seized his coat in both hands and rammed her knee into the porter’s stomach. With a mighty kick, as Ignatius watched helplessly, Angela sent Elijah staggering back over the edge of the bridge. Elijah gave out a sharp cry of surprise, vanishing into the darkness.

Cursing, Ignatius approached the edge of the stonework and looked down. The commotion from Elijah hitting the water quickly disappeared in the swift current. The crack of a pistol made Ignatius jump, Angela fired all six shots into the black waters.

“What the hell?” screamed Ignatius.

“What?” Angela yelled back.

“There went the plans I needed to retrieve, washed downriver. God help me if he survived that fall in spite of your best efforts!”

“Do you perhaps mean these plans?” Angela asked. She held a brown envelope between two fingers in her left hand. Ignatius’s jaw flopped open. Angela gave a rich laugh and patted his cheek.

“There’s nothing to worry about, dear.”

“I see that now,” said Ignatius. His tone took on a note of contriteness.

“Buy a girl a drink?”

“Of course, if there is anything left unbroken in the Pullman car.”

Angela darted back around the boxcar and retrieved her rifle, while Ignatius assured the conductor that he was in fact a Federal agent and that the situation was under control.

The conductor, looking less than completely mollified nevertheless went forward to check with the engineer concerning the train’s status. He did have a schedule to maintain after all.

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