So, here we go…
But first! A few more images of the real train to get you in the mood. First up, an old advertisement referencing the French Quarter lounge car mentioned in the story (more than once). These full-page advertisements usually appeared in such long-gone magazines as LIFE and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as the National Geographic Magazine.
(below) Here’s another advertisement, and this one appeared in poster form. I’d guess this one is from the early 1960s, too.
Below, from Amtrak files, a 1960s Sunset Limited about to head over the Huey P Long Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River on the west side of New Orleans.
Another shot (below) of the Sunset Limited heading into Los Angeles, circa late-60s. The angular ‘eyebrow’ structures over the cab windows on the lead FP-7 were added to break up snow and ice that might otherwise damage the exhaust fan blades. Southern Pacific carried a lot of traffic over Donner Pass, on the north side of Lake Tahoe, and most all their later F-units were so-equipped.
(below) A Sunset Limited “crossing the diamonds” as it arrives in downtown Los Angeles, seen crossing the Los Angeles River just east of the station. This train is still wearing ‘Daylight’ colors, and as the surrounding area is not built up I’d guess this is an early 1950s image. Note the number board on the front of the lead EMD E-7A unit. Number 1 is the westbound Sunset Limited; the eastbound train would be numbered “2”. Obviously, Southern Pacific considered the Sunset Limited their premier offering, and trains from New York, Florida and points in between converged on New Orleans to feed this train, including many through sleeper cars. Many transcontinental passengers disliked a layover in Chicago, preferring instead to schedule a layover and visit the French Quarter. Still, by the time of this story, service was being cut back, some might say sabotaged, so that the SP could get out of the more cost-ineffective passenger business.
A note: if interested in picking up a few prints of passenger trains from this era, I’d recommend dropping by John Winfield’s site (link here); he has several prints of the Sunset Limited, as well as SP Daylight-era trains in his varied offerings. Paintings, of course, available as affordable prints, I have a few that he did of Dallas back in the day. Cherished memories, I guess, need reminders on the wall. Winfield is about as good as they come, too. He gets the mood right.
I’ve taken the Sunset Limited a few times, once on the old SP and, of course, via Amtrak. The new incarnation is nothing like the old, but it’s not a bad way to cross the country – if you have the time. I gave up taking scheduled airlines after 911 and have usually been able to get where I need on Amtrak. It takes a bit longer, true, but it’s still a somewhat more pleasant way to get around than being herded like cattle and shoved in a metal tube. Anyway, I digress far too much…
So, on to the conclusion.
The train pulled into the station at Uvalde, Texas just ten minutes late – at three ten in the morning – and Sara looked out the window at the flat, almost treeless moonscape, and at the flat, treeless station – and thought she must have found the bleakest corner of the universe. The station looked, in the moonlight, like something out of a John Ford western – and if the sun had been out she’d have not been at all surprised to see a bunch of Comanches sitting around a cracker barrel drinking whiskey…
And she was worried, too.
It had been almost four hours since she’d seen or heard from ‘Ben’ – and she’d only heard the porter walking down the corridor once, when a woman rang him a little after two to ask for some water. She’d dared not check on him either, not after his warning, so she rang the porter after the train started moving again, and he came by a few minutes later.
“Is the lounge car still open?”
“Yes, doctor. Could I fetch you something?”
“No, no, I just can’t sleep. I think I’ll go sit up for a while.”
“You want me to freshen up your bed while you’re gone?”
“If you don’t mind, yes, that’d be nice.”
“Alrighty. You go on up; I’ll get to your room while you’re gone.”
“Thanks,” she said, then she slipped on her loafers and walked forward. No light on in his room, she saw, and no sign of activity within, either, so she walked forward to the lounge. There were other night-owls sitting up: a couple playing cards, a fat, bespectacled man writing on a notepad and, of course, the attendant behind the bar, so she walked up to the bar.
“I can’t sleep,” she began. “Know anything that might help?”
He nodded – and grinned: “I can fix that.”
“Better make it two,” Ben said, slipping quietly next to Sara’s side.
She looked at him and grinned, then they watched as the bartender put four scoops of vanilla ice cream in a blender, then added a troublesome amount of Gran Marnier, a dash a white rum, then a liberal splash of Tia Maria before setting the blender on it’s base and turning it on for ten seconds. He then poured two tall glasses and set them down.
“Try that…” the bartender said, “but be careful. This one kind of sneaks up from behind – fast!”
Sara did, and her eyes went wide. “That’s fantastic!”
Carter tried it, then nodded. “That’ll do the job, alright. Better make two more.”
The bar-keep grinned knowingly and set about making two more while Carter led her to their table. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.
“Not a wink. How’d things go?”
“Fine. This is a fine little drink, ya know?”
“It’s like a milkshake, only better…”
“I’ve never had a milkshake like this before.”
“Learned this recipe at Brennan’s,” the bartender said, setting down the two new drinks. “It’s a favorite at brunch on Sunday mornings.”
“I can see why,” Sara added, already feeling a little tipsy..
Carter handed over some money, told the bartender to keep the change before he turned to look at the other people in the car. “You horny yet?” he asked in a whisper.
“YES! You?” she whispered loudly.
He nodded. “I can’t seem to think about anything else. Very unprofessional of me.”
“Think this will ‘reload’ your gun?”
“If it doesn’t – nothing will.”
“Are you okay? You look a little, well, upset.”
“Want to talk?”
“Later. Not here.”
She nodded, shook her head. “This thing’s hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said as she polished off the first 12 ounce glass. She picked up the second and tossed off about half that one in one long pull, too.
“Better take it easy – or you won’t be doing anything for the next 12 hours…”
“Wanna bet?” she said – licking her lips.
“Not really, but I don’t want to carry you through a moving train, either.”
She snorted then squealed – and everyone turned and looked at her, then grinned and turned back to their tables – except the fat old man, who was sitting a few feet away.
“Best be careful with those hammers, young lady,” he said. “Ian’s are legendary in these parts for being both smooth – and lethally strong. Don’t go too fast, or the velvet will turn into a nasty hammer!”
They watched as she swooned in her chair, still snort-giggling as she picked up her glass and finished the second drink. Carter – wide-eyed – stood quickly and caught her as she slid sideways out of her chair.
“Oops,” the old man said. “Need a hand with that?”
“No, sir. I’ve got her.”
The fat man shrugged, turned back to his writing and Carter picked her up, tossed her over his shoulder and started back to their car, doing his best to shield her head as the train rolled along. The porter was just coming out of her room when Carter huffed into the corridor, and the old man turned, saw her and grinned.
“Don’t tell me. Velvet Hammers?”
“Two of ‘em. She just sucked ’em down, too!”
“Uh-oh. I take it the doc ain’t a big drinker?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I better gets a bunch more towels, maybe a bucket, too.”
“You ready to fuck yet?” she crooned – and the porter rolled his eyes.
“She gonna go fast tonight, like one of ‘dem volcano movies. I better scoot!”
He sighed, looked at her head hanging limply: “No, I’m not quite ready, Sara. Why don’t you start without me.”
“Okay,” she crooned again – her lilting voice carrying happy notes of carefree inebriation down the corridor.
He set her down on the freshly made bed and stood, waiting for the porter – and the eruption that had to be coming.
“Was that him?”
He spun around, saw her sitting up – and saw she was now, suddenly, stone cold sober. “What?” he said, his voice registering confusion.
“The fat man? Was he the one who killed your friends?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know, but I assume it’s either him or the other couple there.”
“The couple…they’ve been walking around out in the hallway a lot.”
He shrugged. “Who are you?”
“What do you mean? You know who I am…”
They heard the porter coming and Carter slid the door open, held a hand out to take the towels – then he heard Sara moaning on the bed. “Looks like you got here just in time,” he added.
“Lawdy, lawdy, I keep sayin’ Ian makes ‘dem things too strong.”
“Yeah? Well, thanks, I got it from here…”
“You need a hand you just holler.”
“Will do.” He slid the door shut and locked it – again – then turned to her as she sat up and grinned. “So, who the Hell do you work for?”
“County-USC hospital writes the checks…”
“Come on, no bullshit…”
“Open my purse. My last paycheck is in my checkbook.”
“That doesn’t mean shit.”
“It does to me! If I don’t deposit it soon I’m going to start bouncing checks…”
He saw the truth in her eyes, but still, he couldn’t reconcile her actions. “So, why…”
“Because I want to help! You! Got it, numbskull!?”
“Yeah. There are people on this train – right? – trying to kill you. I want to help.”
He grinned, chuckled a little when her words registered. “So, Sara Berman, MD. Super Spy. Is that about right?”
“You betcha. But first, don’t you think I need to know what’s going on?”
He sat down, let slip a long sigh – then shook his head gently. “About two weeks ago a military cryptographer stationed in France, a kid named Dinkin, apparently flipped out and went AWOL, but he ran to Switzerland. He contacted someone he knew in the UN there, and he told them a story…
“He read intercepted dispatches between military units – in Texas – the upshot of which is that there are five teams on the ground in Dallas, and they’re going to try and take out Kennedy later today.”
Her face went pale, her eyes round with fear.
“We’ve been tailing several known actors in this plot…”
He shook his head. “Just another word for suspects.”
“And we picked up a new one a few days ago, a guy named Oswald. He’s been in and out of New Orleans a lot, and as we picked up more chatter about him last week, well, the last few days, we decided to intervene. We think Oswald is under the control of a mob family out of Chicago, but acting through a cut-out in New Orleans. I was there yesterday to take out who we think is Oswald’s controller, the thinking being maybe we can stop Oswald from getting a ‘go ahead’ – and he’ll abort.”
“Mob? You mean, like, the mafia?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“But, what about the other teams?”
“We know where one is setting up, but no idea where the others are.”
“Are they military?”
He shrugged. “No one knows. Military, mob, Cuban…no one I know knows who’s doing what, but there’s apparently a faction in government that does. And apparently Kennedy does too. And he won’t back down. Anyway, we have almost all our agents from Europe on the ground in Texas now, and some from the FBI, but we don’t have enough to cover all the leads.”
“And you’re afraid something’s going to happen, aren’t you?”
“There are too many people out there, too many loose cannons, and too few people around the president to keep this from going down.”
“Is that why you asked me about Kennedy yesterday?”
He nodded. “I was trying to flush you out into the open, see who you’re working for.”
She shook her head. “So what happens next?”
“They either get him – or they don’t.”
“You mean…kill him? The President?”
He nodded his head. “Yup.”
“So, why are there people trying to take you out. And your friends?”
“They don’t know how much intel we have, and I suppose they look at us as loose ends. We know enough to bring down the conspiracy.”
“They’ll have to eliminate us.”
“And…since I know you?”
He nodded his head. “Sorry.”
“You can say that again.”
“What’s your backup plan?”
“Mexico,” he lied. “I have a place down there.”
“You have room for me?”
He nodded. “I can make that work.”
“Can you get us out of the country? Safely?”
“Hey, you’re the one who reads Ian Fleming novels. Can’t you?”
“Nothing comes to mind, no. Short of jumping off the train…”
“I’m guessing you’ve never tried to cross a desert, on foot…?”
“I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia…does that count?” she grinned.
“Almost,” he said, sighing and shaking his head again.
“So, there’s nothing we can do about Kennedy?”
He sighed. “My guess? Containing the news, and the fallout, is a military operation – so yeah, there’s nothing to do now but get out of the crosshairs. There will be an orderly transfer of power, a cursory investigation and it’ll all go away in a few months. A few history books will have to be updated, but that’ll be the end of it.”
“So, we just need to get out of sight? For how long?”
He shrugged. “Probably forever. Can you deal with that?”
“You’ll be able to get your medical license anywhere you go. No big deal.”
“Assuming I can use my own name, you mean?”
“The appropriate people can be paid to get things like that taken care of. What languages do you speak?”
“Other than English? Hebrew of course, a little German, more French.”
“Junior high, but languages always came easy to me.”
He heard a clicking sound, then the lock on the door vaporized – followed by several more bullets smashing into the seat…
He pushed Sara to the floor while he pulled out the Walther, then he squeezed into a corner – and waited…
Then all the lights went out.
He heard the door sliding open, saw a handgun enter the room, then the silhouette of an arm, then a head…
He squeezed the trigger once and the Walther coughed, and he saw the head jerk back before the body crumpled and fell to the floor.
Voices in the corridor – “Jesus!” and “What the fuck?” – then footsteps…retreating.
A moment later the lights came back on, and he heard the door hissing open in the vestibule. He pulled the body into the room and slid the door closed, then he turned to Sara.
She lay crumbled on the floor – motionless – and he dropped to her side.
“Sara? You with me?”
An eye opened and she looked up at him. “Are we dead yet?”
He grinned. “Sorry, no, not yet.”
She looked at the man on the floor, the man from the lounge car. “Do you know him?”
He shook his head. “Let’s get him into the toilet for now,” and they both stood, hefted the man up and shoved him into the tiny compartment. “Do you smell…shit?” he asked.
She nodded. “Most people, when they die fast like this…their bowels and bladder cut loose.”
“Funny. I usually never hang around for that part.”
“Welcome to my world.”
“Shitty way to go.”
“Stop it. I mean that…just stop it!”
“Does he have any money, anything in his pockets?”
“Good thinking, Miss Bond,” he said as he went in and patted the man down. He came out with a wallet and an envelope, which was stuffed with hundred dollar bills. “This might come in handy…”
“Ya think? Who is he?” she asked as he flipped through the man’s wallet.
“No I.D., but some more cash,” he said as he pulled more currency out of the billfold, “maybe five hundred or so in dollars, some Swiss francs and Italian lira, too. And…a key?”
A knock on the door.
“What happened to this door!?” they heard the porter say. “Land-sakes! What now?”
He pulled the door open, pulled the porter into the room and showed him the body.
“What’s goin’ on here?” the old man said suspiciously.
“I’m law enforcement,” Carter said, “and I need to speak with the conductor.”
“You got somethin’ that looks kinda like a badge?”
Carter pulled his wallet from the jacket hanging by a hook on the back of the door and handed it over, and the old man looked it over before handing it back, nodding his head. “Alright. Stay right here. And keep this door closed!”
“Don’t worry…” he said, then he looked at his watch and turned to Berman. “I’m assuming they’ve reached the others we have on the train too, but…”
“Our team…of investigators.”
“More loose ends?”
He nodded again. “Yup.”
“What’s going on? You’re talking like they’re two competing teams within our government, one trying to kill Kennedy, the other trying to stop that from happening…”
He looked her in the eye. “That’s about the size of it. There are people, on the inside, and I mean all the way from Washington to the Dallas Police Department, that are in on this thing. The scale is staggering, too.”
“Why not just call the newspapers, the TV stations?”
“And expose the rift in our government? That would start a civil war, or worse, right when we’re at our weakest. The country is divided…”
“And you think killing Kennedy will help?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t have to.”
He looked away. “Look, this country has been divided from the beginning, between mercantile interests, the big money, and the little guy…”
“It’s like that everywhere…”
He shook his head. “Not like it is here. Here we hold out the proposition as self evident, that any man can get ahead. That’s real new in human history. In the past that impulse was held in check by a monarch, or by a vested nobility, but not here, not now. That’s an explosive force, Sara. So much expectation, so much money, our entire system awash in material expectation, and the entire thing, for a hundred years, has been fueled by cheap oil – but that era’s coming to an end. Kennedy knows that and wants to put the brakes on, reorient the economy. The oil companies and the so-called military-industrial complex want to stop him, and one way or another they’re going to.”
“If they kill him, they’re killing…”
“Yeah. We’re at a fork in the road. If they kill him they’re nullifying the will of the people.”
“Then they’re killing the country.”
He shook his head. “No, just one vision of the country, the vision FDR tried to implement.”
“I feel sick to my stomach.”
Another knock on the door…the porter talking with another man in the corridor. Carter slid the door open.
The conductor standing there poked his head in the room. “You have a body in there?” he said, nodding to the toilet compartment.
“Yes. My concern is that there may be more on-board, probably hidden.”
“Do we need to stop the train? Get people off…?”
“How many people are onboard?”
“241, plus the crew.”
“What’s the next stop?”
“Not that I know of. We usually just pick up mail there. No one scheduled to get on or off tonight.”
He thought for a moment… “No, just keep on schedule. My guess is whoever’s behind this will try to get off there.”
“You need back-up?”
Then the train started slowing, obviously coming to a stop, and he looked at the conductor. “What’s going on?”
“We meet the eastbound train out here about now…stop on a siding to let it pass…”
He held up the Walther and looked at the conductor. “I need a clean shot, in case they try to jump across…”
The conductor’s eyes widened. “Vestibule is the only place. Follow me.”
“Stay here,” Carter told Berman, shutting the door behind as he left. The conductor had the trackside door open by the time he got to the vestibule, and the conductor was already down on the gravel ballast, looking at the eastbound Sunset Limited approaching – still about a mile away – but he could hear the approaching train slowing down.
“That’s not right,” the conductor said. “It usually passes at speed.”
“Not tonight. You better get up here, out of the line of fire.”
“Who are these people you’re after,” the conductor said as he climbed back up.
“Mafia. They killed a bunch of people in New Orleans,” Carter said.
“God – damn!”
The eastbound train sounded off – three short blasts – with it’s horn, and their stationary train responded with one long blast just before the engines met, and Carter saw a head poke out of a car near the front of their westbound consist, the head silhouetted by the oncoming Alco…and then a wide door opened on the eastbound train, in the baggage car…
The eastbound train stopped and the fat man from the lounge stepped down from the car – and Carter squeezed off a round just as a woman followed, hopping down onto the gravel ballast. The fat man swatted at his neck, like he’d been bitten by a stinging insect, then he fell to the ground. The woman turned and looked towards Carter, and his second bullet found her, struck her in the base of the throat, in her windpipe, and she too fell to the ground…
He heard the eastbound’s engine’s throttle up and he ducked inside out of view as the baggage car slid past, then he turned to the conductor. “Tell the engine not to move. We need to get those bodies into the baggage car.”
The conductor ran forward just as the train started moving, but a few seconds later it stopped – the two bodies now almost right outside the vestibule – and he hopped down, checked for signs of life, found both were still alive and groaned.
“Anything you want to tell me?” he asked the fat man.
Carter placed the Walther’s silenced barrel just above the ear and pulled the trigger; the man’s body jumped, then twitched a few times as he sidled over to the woman.
“You? Want to tell me anything, something that might keep you alive a while longer?”
“Fuck you, Dead Man.”
“So be it.” One more round and she too was gone, and he picked her up, carried her body to the baggage car just as two men appeared trackside. They picked up the fat man and carried him to the baggage car, and a few minutes later the train resumed it’s journey, with almost all aboard none-the-wiser.
“What next?” the conductor asked.
“We find the other bodies.”
“But they could be anywhere…”
“How long ‘til we hit Sanderson?”
“A half hour, maybe.”
Carter led them to the car beyond his own, 2311, then to two compartments he knew of – and they accounted for five dead agents before he moved on to the last car. One more compartment, one more agent. He bent close and pulled papers out of his controllers jacket pocket, and as he read the dossier he wondered why they’d left it. ‘So I’ll find it, obviously,’ he said to himself.
“You might as well leave them where they lie,” he told the conductor when he heard them man walk up. “You’ll need to notify the FBI as we near Los Angeles.”
“Those two did all this?”
“Three, but yes.”
“Oh, the one in your compartment. You think there are more of them onboard?”
“Yes, one more,” he sighed. “To take out…me.”
“Do you know who it is?”
He nodded his head. “Yes, I do,” he said – as he folded up the paper.
The man from the toilet compartment had been moved by the time he returned to ‘Berman’s’ compartment, and he went inside and slid the shattered door to, then sat across from her.
“You’ve been gone a long time,” she said – then he handed the dossier to her as he pulled the Walther out and laid it on his lap.
She read the document, looked at the attached photographs in the dim light, then she looked up at him.
“This isn’t me…” she said, her voice quavering. “Some one planted this. It’s not me.”
“Mossad? Why?” he said, pointing the Walther at her forehead. “Why would Israel be in on this, too?”
“This is not me!” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
He pulled the trigger once, just once, his eyes filling with tears too – then he smiled.
When the Sunset Limited pulled into El Paso he slipped off the train and walked through the old brick station, noting the news flashes coming from Dallas. The president had been shot and was being rushed to Parkland Hospital, and he shook his head as he walked out to the taxi stand in front of the station. He walked up to the first taxi and poked his head in the front passenger door: “Can you take me across the border, over to Juarez?”
He got in the back seat and sighed. “Go around the block first, would you? Just swing by the front again.”
“It’s your dime, mister.”
He rolled down the window, was surprised at how warm it was here. “Seems pretty hot for November,” he said.
“You hear about Kennedy?”
“No? What’s going on?”
“He’s been shot. In Dallas.”
“Really? Well, hallelujah! There is a God!”
He smiled at that, smiled at the implications of what that would mean going forward. Two countries – split right down the middle – each united in their hatred for “the other side.”
They turned and were passing the station again, and he leaned forward a little. “See the woman there, in the brown dress – and the high heels?”
“Let’s pick her up.”
“Okay.” The driver pulled over to the curb and Carter opened the door.
“Glad you could make it,” he said to Sara Berman – and she slid in beside him.
“Did you see the news?”
He nodded but didn’t say another word, and the taxi slipped back into the early afternoon traffic, bound for Mexico.
This story © 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com
from Wikipedia: In “Allegations of PFC Eugene Dinkin,”the Mary Farrell Foundation summarizes and archives documents related to Private First Class Eugene B. Dinkin, a cryptographic code operator stationed in Metz, France, who went AWOL in early November 1963, entered Switzerland using a false ID, and visited the United Nations’ press office and declared that officials in the U.S. government were planning to assassinate President Kennedy, adding that “something” might happen to the Commander in Chief in Texas. Dinkin was arrested nine days before Kennedy was killed, placed in psychiatric care, and released shortly thereafter. His allegations eventually made their way to the Warren Commission, but, according to the Ferrell Foundation account, the Commission took no interest in the matter, and indeed omitted any mention of Dinkin from its purportedly encyclopedic 26 volumes of evidence.