You shift the battered and overpacked suitcase to your other hand, grateful that the train station is only three more blocks away. A steady drizzle makes the pavement glisten and a steady trickle of cold water has found its way past the collar of your coat and down the back of your neck, but you can't take the time to fix it now. The train to St. Louis is leaving in twenty minutes - you should just make it.
Green neon flashes above the door of a bar and lights up the puddles just enough for you to side step the worst of them. Glowing snakes writhe across the wet sidewalk and over your shoes. Your breath fogs in the early March cold snap as you gasp and twitch away only to wind up ankle deep in cold water. It's uncomfortable, but it could be a lot worse. You're from Buffalo - this would likely be six inches of lake effect snow instead of a chill rain. That was one of the things you liked about Baltimore. The mild winters easing into a gorgeous long spring before the Southern heat and humidity made the sane run for the cool comfort of air conditioned theaters, bars... whatever offered a chilled respite from the steam bath . Your cold water flat has, if not hot water, at least tepid during the summer months. Even the roaches are sluggish and panting for air. That's one thing you won't miss. The other is trying to repay the five gees you owe to Jimmy Knuckles...or so he claims. You won that bet fair and square - wasn't your fault the boxer didn't get the message that he was supposed to take a dive. You just have timing even worse than his.
You reach the corner across the street from the train station, shift your suitcase again and dash across behind a couple of sailors on leave reeling towards their next bar. As soon as your feet hit the sidewalk you start to run, dodging the late night crowds of soldiers, more sailors, and assorted civilians in sober war time apparel. You run or waddle, rather, very quickly under the burden of your worldly possessions. A few pedestrians glare as you brush past, most are oblivious. Their circle of interest excludes a scruffy little man with a bulging suitcase. You pray the straps hold as you pull up gasping to the platform and hand your ticket to the conductor. He punches it with a grunt and a nod - waves you toward your car.
"Cutting it a little close there, eh pal?" You're too out of breath to answer except by nodding.
You nod again to the porter, who shows you to your private car. It was ridiculously expensive, but worth it for the extra security. You refuse help with your bag, then over tip him out of guilt, but he thanks you profusely and offers to get you a hot coffee and a sandwich, even though the dining car is closed. You accept gratefully. You last ate some ten hours ago, and have been scrambling to liquefy your assets and get you stuff packed and out of your room without tipping off Knuckles' boys or the landlady. You had to spend the last four hours in a third rate movie theater, watching the same news reels, cartoons and lousy feature two and a half times...if you had to sit through the entirety of Deanna Durbin's emoting one more time you'd have welcomed the muscle boys beating you unconscious.
The bed has been turned down, but you sit in the opposite seat still upright, wired with fear and the cocaine you did watching Donald Duck urging you to buy war bonds. Food will settle you down a bit, and coat your abused stomach lining. You'll eat first, take a hit of smack to dull the skittering in your brain, then rack up some zees.
Twenty minutes and a ham and cheese sandwich later, the train is past the city limits and you are so tired you can't see straight. Double checking that the locks are all fastened tight, you shuck off your suit and shirt and hang them next to your coat. Everything is still damp, and your hat will need to be reblocked, but that can wait. You crawl into the bed and pull up the blanket. You are asleep before you can switch off the light.
Some time later, you wake, heart pounding. The reading lamp is still on, the light revealing absolutely nothing amiss. You yawn, looking at the window. You pulled the curtains when you got on, but there is a strange sound to the chugging of the train and you get up to look.
Pulling the curtains back, you see the lamps of the inside of a tunnel flickering by and you close them again with a shudder. You hate tunnels, elevators, walk in closets...any enclosed space really. The Army doctors called it "claustrophobia" and gave you a 4-F deferment. You told people you had a heart murmur instead.
Your palms are sweaty and you're breathing too fast. You didn't know there were any tunnels on this line.
Sleep is gone now, so you go to the bench seat and sit, lighting a cigarette. You smoke it too fast and feel dizzy, or maybe it's the tunnel lights flashing by behind the curtains, faster and faster as the chugging becomes more irregular.
Wait. Faster? Don't you go slower through a tunnel? What's happening here?
You stumble to your feet, but they're numb. So are your hands and lips. When you hit the swaying floor, you feel nothing. The last thing you see are the lights of the tunnel blinking past the window, the last thing you hear is the rhythm of the wheels, oddly out of synch. You must call the porter, tell them to stop the train. There's something terribly wrong. You hear a laugh from above you, somewhere. Has Knuckles' henchmen decided to resort to poison? But no. Your eyes swim out of focus, then back, sharply and you see the needle in your arm, the rubber tie off above it. You have done this yourself, and willingly.
Lieutenant Harmon squeezes his bulk into the small room. It's pretty neat, except for the rumpled bedclothes and the dead man on the floor. He draws out his notebook and pencil, jots a few lines. He looks over the sparse furnishings. A box with a couple decks of horse, an old metal lozenge box with a bit of Peruvian marching powder, a lighter, a blackened spoon. There is a typewriter on the table with a paper in the carriage. He rolls it up, thinking it a suicide note. It turns out that it's a page of some sort of story. The other pages are scattered across the floor... something about some guy on the run from a loan shark. Not bad either, he thinks. Too bad the guy won't get to finish it. The lieutenant stacks the pages together and places them in a folder with a note...the photographer has already taken all the pictures of the scene that they needed. Harmon sees a deck of cards by the base of the lamp...a kids card game called "Authors". Harmon turns and signals to the uniform on the door. His work is done. He says hi to the coroner's guys, here to take over, and goodbye to the dead author. Harmon shakes his head, thinking about the pages he had read. What a waste of a good story.