Welcome to chapter 12 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure.A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 12: The Train
The triple arches of Union Station shone dully in the midday sun. The last wisps of morning fog and a whisper of a chill breeze made Alex shiver, but Stone didn’t notice. Through study and meditation, he had trained himself to ignore extremes of heat and cold. Now, he feared neither the Sahara nor the Himalayas, though he still preferred a more temperate climate.
He reached into his coat pocket, withdrew three train tickets, and handed one to Alex and one to Moses.
Moses turned the ticket over in his hand, his lips pursed tightly.
“Is something wrong?” Stone asked. “We’re in the finest cabin, and at very little cost. One of the benefits of the Depression, I suppose.”
Moses cleared his throat. “I don’t think…”
“Is one of those for me?”
Stone turned to see Trinity, clutching two overstuffed carpet bags, standing a few paces away, smiling.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I pitched the story of the shipwreck and the lost island to my editor and he loved it! The paper will reimburse me for my travel expenses, but I thought you might be generous enough to pay my way. You ow me.” She winked, her smile turning to a wicked grin.
“You heard what Captain said; it’s too dangerous.” Stone looked to Alex and Moses for help, but both had taken a sudden interest in the sky above.
“Save us all some time, Stone. If you don’t let me go with you, I’ll go alone, and I’ll have no one there to protect me. Is that what you want?” Before he could answer, she shoved one of her bags into his arms. “Of course it isn’t. Now, be a gentleman and carry my luggage.”
Carrying Trinity’s bags in one hand, his own in the other, Stone led the way into the station.
Designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, Union Station was a work of art. From the vaulted entryway to the ninety-six foot high, coffered ceiling of the Main Hall, beauty shone all about. Great beams of sunlight shone through spacious windows and skylights, dancing on the polished marbled floor and the gold leaf that decorated the architecture.
“I love this place,” Trinity whispered. “It’s so pretty.”
“Excuse me.” A man in uniform stepped in front of them. “Your man will have to use the other entrance.”
Stone looked the man up and down. He was tall and broad, thin on top, thick around the middle, with the telltale signs of a once muscular frame slowly turning to fat.
“My man? What are you talking about.”
The guard tilted his chin toward Moses. “Your man, here. We have a separate entrance and car for them.”
It took Stone a moment to realize what the man meant by “them.” He dropped the bags and moved closer, until he was almost nose-to-nose with the man. “He rides with me.”
Color drained from the man’s face. He took an involuntary step backward. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t make railroad policy. The other passengers wouldn’t, I mean, I’ll be fired if I let…”
“It’s all right.” Moses put his hand on Stone’s arm. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. Miss Trinity can have my ticket and I’ll ride in the other car.”
“That’s not right,” Stone said.
“That’s the way it is. I’m used to it. Let’s just go before we miss our train.”
Reluctantly, Stone relented. He handed Moses a wad of bills, picked up his bags, and headed for the train. Trinity and Alex followed along in silence. A porter took their bags and directed them to their car on the Southern Railway line. Still fuming, Stone ignored everyone until the train was well on its way. Two hours into the trip, Trinity finally dared speak to him.
“I’m famished. Would you gentlemen care to join me in the dining car?” It wasn’t really a question, as evidenced by her standing, taking his hand, and giving a tug.
Stone relented and allowed Trinity to guide him through their luxurious passenger car and into the dining car. Here, a velvet rope separated the comfortable white dining section from the Spartan colored section. Stone’s foul mood returned in full force as he looked at the diners in the colored section gazing despondently into space, hopelessly waiting to be served. Moses sat alone in one of the booths. Their eyes met, and Stone made a small wave, which Moses returned with a nod of his head.
They settled into a comfortable booth and a server, a man clad all in crisp, white cotton, hurried over to them. “What can I get you?”
“Those people were here before us.” Stone inclined his head toward the colored section.
The server’s face flushed. “We’ll get to them shortly.”
Stone felt Trinity’s hand on his arm and he bit off his retort. He placed his order and lapsed back into frustrated silence.
“You surprise me,” Alex said.
“Why? Because I don’t like the way my friend is being treated?”
“Because this is the way it’s always been, and you’re acting surprised by it. Did you forget the way things are?”
Stone considered the question. He had, in fact, forgotten. He’d seen so much of the world, met so many different kinds of people, and been exposed to so many new ideas that his childhood and youth felt almost like a dream. “I guess I did.”
Trinity and Alex looked at one another for a long moment. Alex took a deep breath. “Stone, where have you been all these years?”
Stone shook his head. “Not now.”
“Why won’t you tell us?” Trinity sounded every bit the reporter.
“I promise I will. Just not now.”
Trinity looked ready to object, but Alex interrupted with a question about how Stone intended to reach the island. They spent their meal discussing the plan in low tones. They returned to their car where, drowsy from full stomachs and the hum of the train, they drifted into slumber.
Stone opened his eyes, wide awake in the dark of the moonless night. He heard no sound other than the thrumming of the rail car and passengers’ gentle snores, but he sensed a change. Something had caused him to wake. What had it been? He turned around slowly, focusing all his senses.
There it was! A slight change in air pressure. The sound of the engine suddenly louder. A rush of cool air. A moving shadow. Someone had opened a window and slipped silently inside. His Webley was stored in his bag in the overhead compartment, but he doubted he had time to retrieve it. Besides, he was unlikely to need it.
He made to rise, but froze when he felt cold steel at his throat.
“Give us the map,” a voice whispered, “or die.”