1930s and trains? I had Baccano flashbacks all the way through this chapter. Enjoy.
Chapter 4: Reasons for the Murders
The first thing Wil heard as he awoke was the sound of the wheels passing over the grooves of the rails. Soon, he saw the white ceiling tinted blue by the faint light seeping from the window.
He slowly sat up. His blanket slid off of him. The cabin was well-heated and warm. The curtain dividing the room was pulled open. The curtain on the window was also open. The dim light hit the sofa through the foggy glass.
“Hm. That was a good night’s sleep.”
Opening his eyes, as well-rested as any other morning, Wil mumbled to himself and turned to the bed next to his. There was no one there.
The bed was messy, and the blanket was missing. When Wil glanced at the bathroom door, he saw that the door was in unlocked position.
Confused, Wil put his feet down over the left side of the bed.
And he stepped on Allison, who was rolled up in her blanket on the floor.
“Again, I’m really sorry, Allison.”
“Never mind. Thanks to you, I feel wide awake.”
Wil apologized to Allison again after she changed and stepped out from behind the curtains.
Wil was wearing his uniform pants and a white shirt that was not part of his uniform. Over that he wore a light cotton jacket he usually wore outside. Allison was wearing, not a dress, but pants. Her pants were the same ones she wore to sleep, and her top was an Air Force-issue dark red turtleneck over a T-shirt.
“Anyway, what should we do, Wil? It’s not even dawn yet.”
There was still some time before the sun rose over the mountains. And there was even more time before the breakfast they ordered would arrive. Wil glanced outside the window. Allison spoke up.
“Going to the observation car? I’ll go with you.”
The train was racing through the mountains.
They had left the plains, and were surrounded by slopes. Trees just beginning to bud with leaves covered the mountains, and patches of rocky surface were visible around the peaks.
There was a valley about 50 meters wide, with a shallow, 30-meter-wide river running underneath. Unlike the Lutoni, the river was so clear that the rocks inside were visible. Along the southern shore of the river was a single set of rails that followed the river’s edge. The tracks twisted and bent along the winding valley, climbing a gentle slope.
The train squirmed uphill at half its speed from the plains. The sky was violet, only just greeting the sun. It was clear save for a thin layer of cirrus clouds. The white half-moon was still visible in the western sky.
The train was about three hundred kilometers from the Lutoni River, in the area known as the Iltoa Mountain Range. Although it did not compare to the massive Central Mountain Range, which bisected the southern half of the continent, mountains as high as 2000 meters extended from north to south for about 700 kilometers. Unlike Roxche, which was mostly flat, there were several such mountain ranges in the West.
The train was running down the tracks passing through the mountain range. The passage had been completed forty years ago—it was painstaking work that, in the end, allowed people to cross straight through the mountains instead of going around them. The tracks continued down the river, before passing through several tunnels and stretching past a mountain pass.
“The view’s going to be great all day today. I can tell. I’ve never seen mountains during the spring before. And I’ve never gone through tunnels while I was riding on a train. And when we cross the mountain range in the evening, we’ll be able to see the sun set on the plains, too.” Wil said, excited.
“All right. Then I’ll stick with you all day long.” Allison replied, opening the door to their cabin and stepping outside. They were both carrying their coats because it was still cold.
Wil came out to the deserted hallway as well, and whispered so he wouldn’t bother the other passengers.
“Let’s go to the cabin crew and ask him to call us in time for breakfast. So he doesn’t end up thinking we’re sleeping in.”
First, they walked in the opposite direction from the observation car and opened the door in the hallway. When they arrived at the door to the cabin crew’s lounge, in front of the bathroom and the doors into the car, Wil stopped.
“Maybe he’s still asleep… maybe we shouldn’t wake him?”
“Maybe. But this is part of his job.”
Allison knocked on the cabin door without a second thought.
There was no answer. Allison waited for a moment, then knocked again. There was still no answer. Allison pointed at the door with the glazed window and turned to Wil.
“You think he’s still asleep?”
She knocked again, but there was no sign of a reply.
“After all this knocking, I’d be surprised if he was inside. Maybe he’s getting breakfast ready at the galley, or maybe he’s at a crew meeting?” Wil suggested.
“At this hour? Talk about dedicated.”
“It must be rough.”
“Never mind. We’ll leave him a note and go.”
There was a small blackboard beside the door, used to communicate when the crew was absent. Allison wrote, ‘Cabin 1 passengers both in observation car’.
Allison and Wil left the door. From the perspective of the cabin, their fuzzy figures in the glass disappeared from view.
The door was locked from the inside. The lock next to the handle, which was parallel to the floor, indicated that it was still locked.
Inside the long, narrow cabin was a forty-something man in light green work wear—the cabin crew. He sat on a folding chair and was slumped over a rather small work desk. There was no one else inside.
His eyes were wide open. There was a hole in the back of his head. Blood had spewed from the hole and onto his face, his uniform, and the desk, leaving a dark stain on the carpet.
“Should we ask them to bring our breakfast to the observation car? We could eat and enjoy the view on the balcony.”
“That sounds great. Maybe we should do that with lunch, too.”
After exiting the hallway of car 12, they no longer had any need to worry about waking the other passengers. Allison and Wil passed through the coupling, chatting about food. Then, they passed by the doors into the observation car, opened the door on the right, and stepped inside. To their left was the bar, and ahead were the sofas and the balcony.
“Then maybe I’ll try that too—”
Stepping inside first, Allison paused mid-sentence. She froze. Wil also saw what was happening inside.
There were two people on the balcony. The curtains in the observation car had all been closed, and it was very dark. That was why the balcony, which was outside and brighter, was all the more visible.
Sitting against the railings on the balcony was a man in a black uniform. Welch, one of the conductors. Allison and Wil could see his face.
His eyes were bulging, and his tongue lolled from his mouth.
The other man was wearing a black suit. His back was turned, but it was clear that his face was covered. His hands, covered by black gloves, held the conductor by the collar and pulled him up. The conductor’s body was hung limply over the railings, offering no resistance. His arms shook powerlessly. His head drooped. Behind him passed the mountains and valleys.
“It can’t be—”
The moment Wil whispered, Allison flung aside her coat and scrambled through the observation car. There were twenty meters to the balcony. She cried loudly,
“What do you think you’re doing?!”
The man in black turned. His jacket was neatly closed, and he was covered from head to toe in black. He wore a balaclava that concealed everything but his eyes and nose, and had a slightly tinted pair of goggles over his eyes. His face was completely hidden, but from his build he was clearly a man.
The man spotted Allison and froze for a single second.
Then, he defied her. He gave the conductor’s body a light push.
Welch’s body slowly slid back, but sped up suddenly as his legs passed by where his upper body used to be.
They heard nothing. Three seconds after the conductor’s body disappeared past the railings, a twisted body, set of limbs, and limp neck clothed in a black uniform tumbled down the tracks.
Allison arrived at the balcony entrance.
“Allison! Stop!” Wil cried, rushing after her. At the same time, Allison pulled on the doorknob. All it did was clatter, refusing to open. She tried fiddling with the lock under the knob, but did not get anywhere. The door was locked from the outside.
“Take this! And this!”
As Allison attempted several times to get the door open, Wil made it to the door and grabbed her by the shoulder.
“It’s too dangerous, Allison! Let’s go get help.”
Allison looked up. Three meters ahead of them, beyond the window, stood the man—he was looking at them.
“Murderer! We caught you in the act! I saw it all with my own eyes!”
“Allison. Let’s push the sofa up to the door and call for help. That way, he’ll be stuck there.” Wil said, and began pulling on a two-seater nearby. But it did not move.
“Huh?” Wil breathed, surprised.
“What?!” Allison roared. She was not talking to Wil. Wil looked at the man on the balcony, whom Allison was glaring at.
With his right hand, the man in the balaclava pointed at the sofa. Then he lightly wagged his pointer finger.
“What?! What are you trying to say?!” Allison demanded. Wil quickly realized what the man was telling them.
“I see… These sofas rotate, but you can’t move them. They’re fixed to the floor.”
The moment Allison angrily turned to the sofa, the man waved his right hand as though saying goodbye. He quickly took hold of a support on the balcony, climbed atop the railings, and hung from the car by his hands. Then, he pulled himself easily up to the roof.
“Hey! He’s getting away! Stop right there!” Allison cried, and put all her weight into her right foot as she kicked the balcony door. The door creaked.
“Just a little more!”
She continued to kick at the door mercilessly.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
At the fifth kick, the ornately decorated door bent as the little crossbar that served as a lock was flung aside in a flash of splinters. Wil watched, his expression a mix of shock and awe.
Allison pulled on the door. It opened. She went out into the balcony, buffeted by cold gusts. Wil followed after her. Allison immediately put a foot on the railing to give chase.
“Allison! It’s too dangerous!” Wil said.
“It is! So you stay right there, Wil! Don’t climb after me!” Allison replied immediately. And she clambered onto the roof even faster than the man had.
The first thing she saw on the roof was the view of the magnificent valley. To her right was the river, flowing with clear water. To her left was a steep green hill. And ahead were the white roofs of the cars.
And there stood the man in black. The roofs of the cars were flat at the middle, and there was a slip-proof walkway strip about fifty centimeters wide for the benefit of those who worked on the train. The man was hunched over as he walked one car ahead—in other words, over car 12. On either side of the walkway were little grooves that he could hold. The man was continuing along the path.
“Hold it right there!” Allison ordered. The man, who had been moving slowly, looked up in shock. He quickly turned.
With her golden hair aflutter, Allison half-knelt on the roof as she pointed at the man with her right hand.
“Where do you think you’re off to?” She taunted, staring.
The man twisted to his right and held up his right hand. His fingers were pointed like he was going to shoot a gun, but there was nothing in his hand.
In the midst of Allison’s confusion, the man closed his right hand and held up his thumb. It was a gesture that meant ‘good job’ in both East and West.
Though Allison understood the gesture, the man’s intentions remained a mystery to her. Watching Allison attempt to puzzle out his actions, the man opened his fist and held his palm parallel to the ground, raising and lowering it several times.
Then, he pointed ahead.
Allison understood immediately. It looked like the locomotive, about three hundred meters ahead, was inside the mountain. It was going into a tunnel.
The dark hole quickly swallowed up the white roofs of the cars. Eventually, the car on which the man stood drew close to the tunnel.
The man instantly fell flat on his stomach. He lay over the center path, grasping the grooves with both hands.
Allison grumbled as she also fell flat on her stomach and held on tightly with both hands. When she looked ahead, the man had already disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel. The gaping hole approached.
With a deafening roar, the tunnel engulfed Allison.
Even when she looked around, there was nothing but darkness. The buzzing of the wind and the metallic noise of the wheels passing over the grooves in the rails assaulted her eardrums. Her hair flew into her face and into her mouth. She could smell the exhaust from the diesel engine.
Lying flat against the roof, Allison waited for the tunnel to end. Ten seconds passed, twenty, then a hundred.
“Talk about a long tunnel… How much longer…? Please hurry up and end already… It better not be a tunnel all the way to Sfrestus… Diesel engines kind of stink… It’s getting kinda cold…”
At the end of Allison’s lengthy complaints, the tunnel finally finished. Because she was facing the side, the valley and the river came back into view. And,
The man was nowhere to be found. All she could see were the roofs of the cars, lined up straight along the tracks.
Allison swore, punching the roof. There was a dull noise. Making sure that there were no tunnels ahead, Allison got up again.
Suddenly, she heard a voice. When she turned, she saw Wil at the last car of the train, five meters away. His head was poking outside as he called to her.
“Allison, are you—whoa!”
His head suddenly dipped out of sight.
Allison scrambled to the last car and looked under the sunshade, clinging to the roof.
He was lying on the balcony.
With a sigh of relief, Allison twisted herself down. Then, she used the railings as a foothold as she landed precariously on the balcony. Wil sat up.
“Are you all right, Wil?”
“I slipped… I thought I was going to fall onto the tracks… That gave me a scare.”
“How could you do something so dangerous?!” Allison said in a scolding tone.
“I won’t do it again. Ever.” Wil replied, nodding. “What about you, Allison? You probably haven’t hit your head, but you weren’t hurt at all?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Allison answered immediately. Then she asked, “Hm? How’re you so sure I didn’t hit my head?”
Wil slowly got to his feet.
“Since these tracks are used by the military, the tunnels are made to be very large so that even tall armored trains can pass through. The tops of the tunnels are high enough that you could stand on the roof. I read about it in a railroad reference book before. I checked the height when we were getting close, and I was pretty sure you’d be all right in that one.”
“What?! Then I could have just gone through it sitting down?”
“I was lying flat on the roof for dear life!”
“Well… you probably didn’t have to do that.”
“Right before we got to the tunnel, the man gestured to me to get down. And he got down, too! So I was so sure I had to duck! I was on my stomach the whole time!”
“I looked around after we got out of the tunnel, but I couldn’t see him anywhere!”
“He got you, Allison. He must’ve known that you didn’t have to duck. He probably escaped while you were distracted.”
“…Damn it!” Allison swore, kicking the door. It swung loudly into the observation car. The glass shattered. Wil winced.
“So what happened to him? Don’t tell me he jumped into the tunnel?”
“Probably not. It’s not impossible, but it’s really dangerous to jump out of a train moving at this speed.”
“Then did he get inside through a window?”
“No, nothing. He probably came inside.”
“In other words, there’s a murderer on this train.”
“Let’s go find him!”
“That’s too dangerous…”
“I’m not saying we should arrest him or anything. All we have to do is hunt him down and say, ‘we found him!’. Then he’ll have nowhere to run.”
“Before that, I think we should call the other cabin crew.”
“Right… let’s go!”
Allison began to run down the observation car. Wil followed after her and wondered,
“About Mr. Welch… I think he was already dead when he was thrown off.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I thought so too.”
“Then why did the killer go through the trouble to push the body off the train? I just don’t get it.”
“We’ll ask the man himself.” Allison replied, picking up her coat from the carpeted floor.
From the observation car, Allison and Wil headed to car 12.
Allison was holding her coat in her hands. She said that, if they ran into the killer, she would throw it to prevent him from escaping.
They ran into no one as they passed their own room and arrived at the cabin crew lounge. Allison banged loudly on the door, but there was still no answer.
They went through the hall and to car 11’s cabin crew lounge. They knocked again, but there was no response there either.
“There’s no one around. What’s going on here?”
They then went to car 10. As they made their way down the hallway, Wil wondered,
“What about Benedict?”
“He might be asleep, but we can’t wait for him to wake up.”
They opened the hallway door and ran for the cabin crew’s lounge. They knocked, but no one came outside.
As Allison turned to head straight for car 9, Wil stopped her.
Allison froze, and asked what was wrong. Wil slowly reached for the doorknob.
It was locked. The knob did not so much as budge.
“Let’s check car 9, just in case.”
Car 9 was the frontmost car of the regular passenger cars. They loudly ran down the hallway and arrived at the cabin crew’s lounge. They knocked, but again there was no answer.
“What’s going on here?”
Wil checked the doorknob. It was also locked, refusing to budge.
“Let’s check the next car.”
Car 8. There was no one in the lounge car, either. They knocked on the conductor’s lounge in car 8, but there was no answer. The doorknob did not budge, either.
“D’you think they all decided to get off the train?” Allison joked.
“Or maybe they’ve all been murdered.” Wil replied gravely.
Car 7. Welch’s cabin was in this dining car, but Allison and Wil passed by it without knocking. They also passed by car 6, where there were only tables and a bathroom.
Car 5. Allison opened the door and peered into the kitchen. There was no one at work yet. All she saw was a large, neat, and orderly workstation.
She took a bottle of water from the crate next to a counter. She slammed it against the corner of a table to take care of the cap. She put her mouth to the bottle and took several sips, then handed it to Wil. Having been panting from the constant running, Wil gladly took it and quenched his thirst.
“What do we do with this? Put it back in the crate?” Wil wondered, looking at the small amount of water left in the bottle. Allison advised him to stop joking and took the bottle, pouring out the rest into the sink. She then held it up upside-down.
“Weapon acquired. Let’s go.”
“You’re going to hit him with that?”
“If I have to.”
With that, Allison led the way out of the galley. They began running through the halls once more. At times, the train shook violently. Each time, Allison caught herself with ease; Wil had to cling to the handrails.
They crossed the coupling and entered car 4. Wil knocked on the VIP cabin crew’s lounge. There was no answer.
“This is strange. I can’t believe even this one would be empty…”
“Should we beat the VIP guy awake or something? I heard he has a bodyguard.” Allison wondered, holding her coat in her left hand and a bottle in her right. Wil thought for a few seconds.
“Let’s not. I think we should head to the crew’s sleeping car before that.”
Allison and Wil ran through a total of ten cars—in other words, over 250 meters—and arrived at car 2. Car 2 alone was like ordinary sleeping cars, with small cabins equipped with bunk beds on the right side of the car. Allison knocked on the first cabin. Just as she began to think that even that cabin was empty, something happened.
The door opened, and a middle-aged man in pajamas stepped outside. He was short and chubby. It was clear that, at least, he was not the man in black. There was sleep in his eyes still as he looked at Wil and Allison, who was holding up her bottle.
“Wh-what…? Who…? What? Passengers? Oh! Good morning!”
He seemed to have snapped himself awake. Allison lowered the bottle.
“Good morning. Who are you?”
“Er… I’m a cook.”
Allison looked at Wil.
“We finally found one.”
The cook was suddenly struck by realization. He looked at Allison.
“Excuse me, Miss. But what time is it?”
Allison glanced at her watch and told him the time. The cook paled visibly.
“Oh no… this is bad…”
Taking a deep breath, the cook mumbled to himself as he turned. Then, he bellowed at the top of his lungs to his sleeping co-workers.
“We’ve got trouble, everybody! Wake up now! We won’t have time to bake the bread for breakfast at this rate! Get up! Up!”
“Calm down. That’s not the problem right now.” Allison said for the moment, even though there was nothing to be calm about.
“What do you mean by that?” The cook retorted, incensed.
“Mr. Welch, one of the conductors, has been murdered.” Wil said calmly. The cook snorted incredulously.
“That’s not the best joke to start off the morning.”
“It’d be great if that was a joke.” Said Allison.
“Mr. Welch was in charge of waking you up this morning, wasn’t he?” Wil commented. The cook’s expression changed.
“What to do… we’re not sure ourselves. The only people on this car are the cooks, servers, and the bartenders… people who have nothing to do with running the train itself.”
After Allison and Wil briefly explained about the conductor and the man who killed him, the cook replied anxiously. The train was continuing down the tracks.
“In other words, there are no conductors or cabin crew in this car.”
“No. And they don’t have morning crew meetings, either. What should we do?”
Wil and Allison exchanged glances. Allison thought for a moment.
“Do you know where we are?”
The cook shook his head.
“Miss, we have nothing to do with running the train itself. Absolutely nothing. This is my second time aboard this train, but things to do with the Sou Be-Il railroad—in fact, the entire train—are under the management of conductors Welch and Clay. All we do is make delicious meals.”
As the cook desperately argued on his own behalf, his co-workers, who had gotten up, stood around anxiously. One of them had gone knocking on the other crew’s doors.
“Wh-what can we do?” The cook asked. Allison answered.
“First, we need someone to take charge over everyone. I know just the man, so we’ll go beat him awake.”
“All right. We’re counting on you. But what should we do?”
“Please wake up the other crew. Have them change and gather in the first dining car.” Wil replied. The cook nodded.
“And please, don’t ever move alone. Make sure you’re in pairs or groups. It’s best to move with company if possible.” Wil added. The cook nodded again and asked,
“Er… so no bread for breakfast today, I suppose?”
“What’s taking him? Don’t tell me…”
“Don’t worry. He’s probably just getting dressed.”
Cabin 1 of car 10. After knocking loudly on Benedict and Fiona’s door, Wil and Allison talked as they waited for the two to come outside. Again, they ran into no one as they came down from car 2.
Allison banged on the door again.
“Yes, who is there?”
Benedict’s half-asleep voice came from inside the cabin. He was speaking in Roxchean. Allison answered loudly,
“It’s us. Open up!”
“What…? It’s way too early for breakfast…” Benedict mumbled, annoyed, and opened the door a crack.
He was wearing the dressing gown provided in the cabin. His full beard had been shaved off entirely.
“Do you mind keeping it down? Fi’s still asleep.” Benedict whispered, looking at Allison and Wil. “Allison… you shouldn’t bother us at the crack of dawn just because your plan went down in flames. Let’s solve this like gen-”
“This no time for that nonsense!” Allison burst out.
In front of cabin 1 of car 10. Allison and Wil stood in the hall, and Benedict in the half-open doorway. Allison and Wil waited for Fiona to change and finish getting ready. Benedict, who changed first, was keeping watch just in case.
Wil looked outside through the window in the hallway. All he could see were green slopes, but it was quite a bit brighter outside.
Benedict was wearing the same clothes as the previous day, this time with a jacket. But the missing beard and the neat hair made him seem like a different person entirely.
“Why in the world would anyone kill Mr. Welch? I’d expect any potential killer to come for me first.” Benedict commented. Allison asked what he meant.
“I didn’t really want to tell you guys, but after the discovery, I received some threats in the mail.”
Wil turned, shocked.
“What? That’s news. What did they say?” Allison asked. Benedict glanced at Fiona, who was changing in front of the beds, and answered.
“I’ve told Fi about this, but… it doesn’t really need explaining, huh? ‘What were you thinking, announcing such a foolish discovery to both sides at once?’. Others said things like ‘go to hell’, or ‘you’re a disgrace to Sou Be-Il’, or ‘you call yourself a soldier?’. It made a bit of news in Sou Be-Il, and even more people joined the bandwagon after that. But anyway, it died down after three months or so, and no one actually made an attempt on my life. But…”
The lower left side of Benedict’s jacket was bulging slightly. He had fished out his military-issue revolver from his luggage, loaded it, and holstered it under his jacket.
“Sorry to make you wait.” Fiona said, walking up to the door. Unlike the previous day, she was not wearing her silver-rimmed glasses or a long wig. She looked just as she did the past winter. As Benedict instructed, she was wearing a pair of navy pants instead of a skirt—but otherwise she was dressed similarly to the previous day. From the belt around her waist hung the pouch containing her miniature camera.
“Are you all right?” Benedict asked, concerned. Fiona met his gaze and nodded firmly.
“I understand. Now, we must go face this problem. Do not fall away from my side.”
They gazed into one another’s eyes. Allison shot them an icy glare. When she turned, she saw Wil staring at the forest out the window.
“Damn it. He got them all.” Benedict swore in Bezelese.
“This is unbelievable.” Allison remarked bitterly. Wil said nothing. Fiona closed her eyes and recited silent prayers.
Car 12. Car 11. Car 10, where Benedict was. Car 9, just ahead. The four cabin crew who were in charge of the four cars had all been killed in their cabins, each shot once in the head.
Conductor Clay’s cabin in car 8. Like the others, they broke the glass to unlock the door and enter. His body lay facedown on the floor, also with a bullet in the back of the head. His short brown hair was dyed crimson with blood, and lying around next to him was a pillow with a hole in the middle. The hole was singed black.
“He threatened them into lying on the floor and shot them…” Benedict seethed. The body lay neatly on the long, narrow floor. The cabin was otherwise untouched, and the blood was only on the floor.
“What about shell casings?” Allison asked.
“I took a quick look, but I can’t find them. He might’ve used a revolver. The pillow he must have used in place of a silencer.” Benedict said, shaking his head. “Mr. Clay, we will avenge you…”
With that, he covered the body with a blanket embroidered with the emblem of the train and observed a moment of silence.
“What now?” Allison wondered. Benedict answered in Roxchean so Fiona could also understand.
“First let us go to a dining car to speak with the related personnel.”
“All right. We’ll leave the commanding to you.”
“What about the other passengers?” Wil asked.
“Whatever the case, it is best to not wake them. Let us leave them to just sleep. The possibility that they are also killed does exist, but I do not want to even punch them awake to investigate them.” Benedict said. “Ah, but there is one person we must wake. We will ask him for help as well.”
“Who?” Asked Allison.
“On this train is a Sou Be-Il soldier.”
“Oh, him.” Allison nodded briefly.
“Oh? Do you also know him, Allison?”
“I met him when I was all alone in the observation car last night.” Allison replied, emphatically stressing the word ‘alone’. Wil did not react. “He seems a little frail. D’you think he can help?”
Benedict thought for a moment before answering.
“Better than not being here.”
The four of them headed for the dining car together. They instructed the crew there to remain on standby, and went to the VIP car. The cabin crew’s lounge was still locked, and no one responded to knocking. When Allison asked if they would break the door there as well, Benedict decided to knock on the door of the VIP cabin first.
“What might be the matter? The master is still asleep.”
A white-haired man about sixty years of age soon stepped into the hallway. The scalp at the top of his head was fully exposed, and the rest of his hair was quite thin. He was a little shorter than Benedict.
“Apologies for bothering you. This is an emergency situation. You are?”
The man sounded somewhat offended.
“I am Thomas Ien, the secretary and bodyguard of the VIP passenger. I will take no questions about my master. And you are?”
“We are passengers. This is an emergency situation. Is your master safe?”
Ien’s face darkened.
“What are you implying?”
“The conductors and the cabin crews are murdered. We knocked the door of this car’s cabin crew, but there was no response. He is probably also murdered.”
As Ien’s eyes widened in shock,
“Is something the matter?”
Major Stork poked his head out the door. He was in his uniform shirt without the tie, and his hair was a mess. His eyes were still sleepy.
“The master is well. He is still asleep.”
Ien, who had closed the door and gone inside to check, came back outside. During that time, Major Stork put on a tie, his uniform jacket, and his kit belt, and came out into the hallway. Holstered on his belt was an automatic handgun.
Ien stood at the cabin entrance, his face set.
“So long as he remains in his room, the master will be safe. This is the only entrance, and the windows and walls are bulletproof. Nothing short of an explosion will harm him.”
“Are you all right? If an enemy invades through this door?”
At Benedict’s question, Ien reached into the little closet in the wall. Inside hung several suits.
There was a large automatic handgun in the hand he slowly withdrew. Underneath the grip was a large fixed magazine, and there was a wooden stock that allowed the user to securely place the gun on their shoulder.
Benedict backed away slightly at the sight.
“No one can enter this room now. Not a soul.” Ien uttered mechanically. “Mr. Stork.” He added in fluent Bezelese. “You are no exception. You may no longer enter this cabin.”
“Pardon? Please, wait. I am on an official mission. My duties include providing security for—”
“Your mission does not matter to me. I will make no exceptions. If you try to enter, I will shoot you.”
With that, Ien entered the room and brought out Major Stork’s suitcase and coat. He haphazardly dropped them in front of the door.
“Then what am I to do…? Where am I supposed to sleep?”
“The dead have left many empty cabins.” Ien said icily. “I hope you will clear up this situation in all haste, Mr. Hero.” He added in Roxchean to Benedict, closing the door.
“I suppose Mr. Ien truly despises me. Although that isn’t very surprising.”
“What do you mean?”
They were in the galley hallway. Major Stork, who was in the lead, mumbled to himself and Benedict asked for clarification.
“I’ve heard that Mr. Ien was a major in the Roxchean military. He took part in the Great War. Apparently, he had even been taken prisoner.”
“That’s why he is so fluent in Bezelese. And now that I think about it, that gun he had was military-issue—capable of automatic fire. If he pulls the trigger on that gun inside the train, there will be an uproar.”
“He’s a capable bodyguard, if nothing else… but in any case, what do you plan to do now? I’m not much of a fighter myself.”
Behind Benedict walked Fiona, and behind her were Allison and Wil. Allison whispered to Wil in Roxchean.
“Say, between that frail major and that bodyguard… if one of them is the culprit, who would you say was the one, Wil?”
“What d’you mean?” Wil whispered back, astonished.
“They have similar physiques. And they’re both carrying guns. One of them must be the murderer.”
“But… we don’t have any proof.”
“I’m going to catch him when he slips up.”
“Allison… I think you should give up on trying to catch him on the train.”
“Why? What are we supposed to do then?” Allison asked.
“This is Sou Be-Il. We’re not from here. So we should leave things to Benedict and—…just Benedict.” Wil replied.
When they returned to the dining car, the crew there looked up in unison.
Just as advertised, the crew was experienced—all older people. The they were all in uniform. Eight cooks, two men and one woman in bartender uniforms, two musicians, four dining car servers wearing white standing-collar uniforms, and one short, elderly doctor in a black suit.
Everyone from car 2 was safe. The crew were gathered at the back of the car—because there were not enough seats, about half of them were leaning against the curtained windows.
Benedict and the others stopped at the middle of the car. Benedict spoke first.
“I am sorry to make you wait.”
Someone asked him who he was. Benedict answered that he was a passenger, then glanced at Major Stork and Allison.
“Tell them who you are. That’s why we called them here.” Allison said.
Benedict shrugged and revealed his identity to the wary crew. He told them that he had shaved after the previous evening, among other things. The woman in the bartender suit made a show of being thrilled. Benedict began by suggesting that he take command. No one opposed him.
“What will you do now?” Asked the cook whom Allison had shaken awake. At Major Stork’s request, Wil interpreted for him in Roxchean.
“This is a murder case. We’ll have to contact the police, but we have no way of doing so at the moment.”
Benedict told them to open the curtains. The people by the windows drew back the thick curtains. It was just before dawn—a bright morning. They could see the river, much narrower than before.
“Until we pass through the mountains, there will be no villages or train stations. The nearest station with police officers… we will arrive at in evening. It will take a similar time if we go backwards.”
A heavy silence fell over the crew.
“Then we’ll just search for the culprit.” Allison said, her enthusiasm clear.
Benedict shook his head.
“I don’t know, if the killer is still in the train. But even if he is still in the train, I think it is the best that you quit searching for the killer.”
“Why?” Allison retorted to the same answer Wil had given her before. Benedict answered.
“We are not detectives. But that is not the biggest reason. The biggest reason is that we are not detectives, so I do not wish to think twice about the people on this train. For an example, if we search corner by corner the cars, but no one is hiding. If the killer hasn’t jumped off the train, preparing to be badly hurt…”
“Then someone on the train must be the killer.”
“Yes. The man you say you saw had middle height and middle build. There are some men like that in the passengers and the crew. Then first we must think twice about them all. And I do not wish to say this, but if we do that, we must also think twice about you and Wil, who saw the killing. Because our only proofs are the corpses. Further, even I could be the killer. I am similar in height and build, and I have a gun. Of course, I am not the killer. And if we ask questions to everyone and check all the cargo… we will arrive at the station before we are finished. Rather, I think it is important for everyone to safely go to the station.”
“I see.” Allison said tersely, and said no more. She did not, however, look entirely convinced. When she glanced at Wil, who finished interpreting for Major Stork, he nodded solemnly as though saying that Benedict had said what he wanted to say. Benedict continued.
“First, now wake up all the passengers and tell them to come to this dining car without explaining anything. It will be the best to stay gathered in this dining car, I think. And if everyone is security for the front and back doors, we will be able to react even if the killer is outside or inside.”
“All day? That might be difficult…” One of the crew said. Benedict nodded, but replied that they had no other choice.
“We only must wait until we cross the mountains and go to a village. We will not sleep here overnight, so please be happy about this.”
At that point, everyone was mostly convinced. Major Stork, who was listening to Wil’s interpretation, suddenly spoke up.
“Please, hold on. I agree that we should not search for the culprit, but there is a place nearby where we can stop. We do not need to wait for the train to cross the mountains—and I’m certain we will be able to secure everyone’s well-being at the place I’m thinking of.”
Of course, the only people who understood what he said were the Bezelese speakers—Benedict, Allison, and Wil.
Allison and Wil looked a little surprised. Benedict’s expression changed.
As Wil wondered if he should interpret the major’s words into Roxchean, Benedict sternly responded in Bezelese.
“Wait a moment, Major Stork!”
Major Stork replied indifferently.
“There is a depot along this very line…”
“Do you understand what you’re saying, Major? Please—”
“Stop fighting!” Allison scolded them.
Having been interrupted, Benedict grumbled to himself and shook his head. Major Stork looked confused.
“Please explain.” Fiona said, quietly but with an undeniable firmness in her tone. Somewhat bitter, Benedict looked at Wil and asked him to interpret.
As the crew listened, Wil explained the conversation.
“And?” Allison asked Benedict.
“Please ask the major…” Benedict replied weakly. Allison did as he said.
“Just one thing. What is a depot?”
“It is a word from an ancient language, used now as military jargon. It refers to a base where supplies are stored. There are several such bases along this line, which crosses the Iltoa Mountain Range. There’s one quite close by, in fact. It’s large enough to house a train, and there is a defense force on standby from which we can request protection. Though it’s too deep in the mountains for radio, there’s nothing to worry about—there is a phone line there that connects with the nearest base.”
When Wil interpreted for the major, the crew bombarded him with questions.
“Wait a second. I’ve been on this route several times now, but I’ve never seen anything like what you described. The only thing up ahead is a continuous climb, and even after we cross the rugged mountains, there’s nothing but a valley and a lake.”
“That’s because we put down new sets of tracks for this train so that the depots would not be discovered.”
As Major Stork answered the questions without holding back a thing, Benedict leaned against the window and sighed.
“Let us move as quickly as we can and stop the train there. If we hurry, we will arrive within the hour. Then we can decide on what to do. What do you say, everyone?”
When Wil interpreted the major’s suggestion, everyone agreed. Benedict lightly shook his head and mumbled to himself.
The crew shot him chilling glares. But no one went so far as to criticize him.
“I can understand what you wish to tell. You wish to ask me why I said to go to a far village, even though I know about the depots. I am embarrassed at myself.”
“It’s because the supply bases are a military secret, right?” Wil chimed in, defending Benedict. Benedict gave him a thumbs-up.
“That’s right. In the Great War, this area was a defense frontline that should be protected if the enemy crossed over the Lutoni River no matter what. And it is even now. To protect from being hit with railroad guns by the enemy, every mountain base is an important secret. More than everyone’s safety, I put first the military’s rules and secrets. I am sorry.”
Benedict apologized. But it was clear from the looks in the crew’s eyes that their opinions of him had taken a nosedive. Fiona, who stood beside him, gently put a hand on his shoulder.
“You have a gun too, don’t you? Don’t tell me…” One of the crew began.
“Stop it. Weren’t you listening to what we said before?” Fiona sharply cut him off. The crew was silenced by her tone.
“It is all right. And…”
Benedict unzipped his jacket and took off his belt. Then, he undid the holster on his left side and handed it, gun and all, to Wil.
“Take my gun. There are six bullets inside.”
“You are a Roxchean person. And you are my friend. In other words, I think you are a suitable person to entrust my gun. Please be careful not to use it wrongly.”
Just as Wil was about to reply, Fiona nodded lightly. Seeing that, Wil quietly reached out and received the gun.
Benedict looked at Major Stork and said in Roxchean,
“I agree with your suggestion.”
Wil interpreted for him.
“Then that’s what we’ll do. I will explain the situation to the defense force. Please don’t worry—I may look like this, but I am a major.” Major Stork said, lighthearted in spite of the heavy air in the car.
He went on to make several suggestions, before conferring with the crew and deciding on what to do.
First, they would use the train’s radio in the conductor’s cabin to contact the engineers and ask if they could increase the speed so they could arrive earlier. If possible, they would not wake the passengers until they arrived at the base. And even if they did, they would instruct the passengers to keep their curtains closed and remain in their cabins. They would not set out to search for the culprit. They would never act alone, and would move around in groups of three or more.
“Er… about breakfast…” A cook said hesitantly.
“Breakfast! That sounds wonderful. People get hungry, no matter the situation. We’ll be counting on you, everyone.” Major Stork replied.
The train running through the mountains gained speed.
“We are in the mountains, so we won’t be as fast as we could be on the plains. But the engineers will do their best. Although they seemed extremely displeased about heading to the depot.” Major Stork said. They had broken the glass to open the locked door and entered the conductor’s cabin, at which point Major Stork spoke with the locomotive. The engineers were only informed of Major Stork’s orders—the topic of Benedict was left out entirely.
In the meantime, the cooks moved in groups as they went about their usual duties, and the others searched the train together. The doctor checked the corpses in all of the cabin crew’s lounges.
“Estimated time of death is overnight. They were all killed with single shots to the head. From the wounds, I can only conclude that the weapon was a handgun. I could check the size and type of the rounds if I performed an autopsy, but that’s not possible here.” The doctor said. Afterwards, they searched the crew’s luggage—but their keys were all still there.
Allison and Wil searched all the bathrooms and rooms in the cars. They found no one. Afterwards, they split off into groups of three or four and watched to see if any of the passengers left their cabins.
Benedict, Fiona, and Major Stork said little as they silently passed the time in car 9.
Allison and Wil were in car 12—where their own cabin was—with two of the servers. They leaned against the wall in the shaking car, waiting only for the train to arrive at the supply base. Wil had the holster at his left side.
“How did this happen…? They were all such good people.” One of the servers mumbled. He was the one who had brought Allison and the others their incredible meal the previous evening.
“It’s highly unlikely that the conductors were murdered because of a grudge.” Wil said. The server asked what the motive was.
“I’m not sure yet.” Wil replied honestly. No one questioned him further.
For some time, Wil leaned against the wall, lost in thought. Allison, gazing at his face, thought of speaking up—but she quickly stopped herself.
Soon, Wil leaned in close to Allison, who was next to him, and asked quietly.
“Why are we still alive?”
“Why didn’t the culprit kill us then, too? He could have done it easily.”
“Now that you mention it…”
“Of course, I doubt he expected us to come to the observation car so early in the morning. But why didn’t he kill us then? That way, it would have taken more time for people to discover the murders, and no one would have witnessed him… that’s been bugging me for a while.”
“You’re right. We’ll ask the guy once we catch him.”
The train screamed at each curve as it continued down the mountain tracks. They left the side of the narrow river visible through the trees, and again entered a long tunnel. The train began to slow in the middle of the darkness.
It slowly emerged outside and soon came to a stop.
Wil looked out the window. The sun was already up and it was bright outside, but all they could see were thin trees and plants covering the ground, and tall stone peaks standing several kilometers ahead. Wil entered their cabin and looked through the window on the other side. Yet more stone peaks. There was still quite a bit of snow left on the northern side.
“I get it… this must be a large hollow. The perfect place for hiding a base.”
At the point, the train began to move again.
The hollow was oval-shaped and was several kilometers long. It was surrounded by mountains on all sides. The entire area was sunken, sequestered from its surroundings without a single pass connecting outside.
At the eastern and western ends of the hollow were tunnels that led outside. As soon as the train emerged, the rails forked into two tracks. One of them led straight across the lowest part of the hollow on the north, and into the tunnel on the opposite side.
In the center of the hollow was an ‘invisible base’—one of the Sou Be-Il Royal Army’s mountain depots.
The fork in the tracks led there in a nearly-straight line. The rails split off into branches, much like at a station, and four sets of rails ran parallel to one another for several hundred meters. There were no platforms, but the ground was paved with concrete.
The tracks were nearly empty. All there were were a box-shaped tender, a small diesel locomotive for switching out tenders, and several small trucks that had been affixed with appropriate wheels so they could run down the tracks.
Clustered on the southern side of the tracks were several buildings. Fuel tanks painted green for camouflage and half-buried concrete ammunition depots were most numerous, about twenty of each lined up in rows. There were also semicircular residences for the dozens of soldiers serving on the base. There were also facilities where steam locomotives could be restocked with water and coal. Several layers of protective fences surrounded the base to keep it safe from avalanches from the surrounding mountains.
The white-roofed luxury train slowly approached the supply base as one long line.
Never rung outside of drills, the base’s alarm wailed loudly for the first time in years.