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The sky was overcast and Larry was moping around his retirement unit when who should phone but Norman Topp, notorious mogul of the Normanville, Santa Fe and Orient Express Railroad, known by its aficionados as the NSF for short.
“Larry,” said Norman, “the railroad needs you. Now.”
“You know,” said Larry, emboldened by the notion that he had a shred of bargaining power in this situation, “it’s time we gave the Orient Express a workout.”
“Good idea,” said Norman. “Hurry up.”
He just wants me to do the monkey jobs, Larry decided as he climbed the street to Norman’s house. He paused halfway up to catch his breath. On the other hand at least I’ll see Clementine again, he reflected, resuming his trek.
Larry entered by the side door under the faded aluminum awning, the door being unlocked as usual. As he clomped down the plank steps to the basement he heard the wailing horn of Santa Fe engine number 310.
“Chemicals!” Norman warned. He was at the control panel, flicking switches like crazy. Norman was the kind of guy who really felt the pressure. The Santa Fe engine, a legendary F-7 diesel from the 1950s, was pulling a string of tank cars along the treacherous ledges of the Excelsior Mountains. The Excelsiors were steep and rugged and they stretched all the way to the horizon if you included the part painted on the wall. The train slowed to a crawl at Cherokee Lookout because of the trackwork supposedly going on but the workers were just leaning on their shovels as always. From there it plunged thru the Mauvefoy Cut, gathering speed (recklessly, some might say) as it descended toward Death Head, the hideous skull-shaped outcrop that hovered over the X-shaped Death Head crossover.
It would be Doomsday should those tank cars ever explode.
And that could happen! Another diesel, an old CN switcher, was climbing toward Death Head towing a trio of flatcars loaded, some might say overloaded, with beer kegs bound for the mine at Shad Flats.
“This is going to be close,” said Norman. “Get the ambulance ready.”