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Meanwhile, the Orient Express began to climb back up to the mainline, slicing north diagonally across a rock cliff colored burnt umber with scattered dark pinpoints that were supposed to be fossils in the rock, although no one ever said, hey, you guys did a terrific job on those fossils. Still, all things considered, Clementine would probably give this trip a glowing review.
Norman was becoming extremely agitated about the tattered schedule. In view, presumably, of the local political and economic crisis, he okayed the switcher to leave Shad Flats with its load of gold. The switcher and its flatcars loaded with crates entered the Mauvefoy Cut from the Shad Flats branchline and headed downhill. Norman was gambling that it would gain enough speed to slip past Death Head before the Orient Express came up from the valley. “This is going to be close,” he said. “Get the ambulance ready.”
“Cut the juice,” Larry said.
But it was too late.
Henri le Hobo, before the physical sound waves even reached him, heard, or rather felt, the screeching of the wheels, the crumpling of the metal, the wailing of the passengers. In the next few moments, Henri performed a number of extraordinary feats. No one had guessed he harbored such heroism. He hopped up the side of the Clearwater Valley and into Normanville where he commandeered the Cadillac ambulance from beside the rail station. He fishtailed out onto Station Street, knocking over a lamp post as he sped out to where the road ended at the edge of the valley but even then he kept driving down into the valley and across the river and up the other side where he bounced onto the county road and tore past the Jensen farmyard where the dog barked at him and the Holsteins stared over the toothpick fence as if they reckoned him a madman.
Henri hit the brakes. Red lights flashed, bells clanged, and a striped barrier dropped down. The Santa Fe with its tank cars thundered past before his eyes. Like some kind of remorseless fate.
“The chemical train!” Larry cried.
Norman lunged for the power switch.
After getting T-boned at Death Head by the gold train, the Orient Express steam engine had plunged nose-first into a ditch but Coach 3425 was still partially on the rails. At that point the Santa Fe shot in northbound from the scrubland and plowed into the gold train till the later folded like an accordion and Coach 3425 got bumped again till it ended up tottering like a see-saw over the edge of a cliff. The derailed chemical cars were spewing invisible toxic clouds into the air.
“It’s a catastrophe!” cried Norman, clamping his hands over his eyes. “I’m ruined!”
Henri abandoned the ambulance and decided to fly through the air instead. His heart sank when he landed on his feet at the disaster site. Norman had reclaimed the passengers’ bodies from the utility shelf and now they lay strewn throughout the crash scene in writhing rigor mortis, like toppled statues, several with arms extended skyward.
“They’re dead,” said Norman. “We’ve got to get them to the cemetery.”