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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 8 page 06


Coach 3425 was a limited-edition that Larry had ordered by mail because he just had to have it, then he donated it to Norman's railroad because he didn't have his own layout to run it on. According to the leaflet in the box, Coach 3425 boasted a genuine romantic history. A Balkan monarch had seen his paramour off on this coach when he was compelled to send her into exile on account of political considerations, and then years later, when there was a revolution, he fled his kingdom in this very same coach while rebels shot at him from the hills.

When Larry visited Paris on a group tour many years ago, he had slipped away from the group to seek out the gare de l’Est station in hope of glimpsing the real Orient Express, but he missed its departure by two minutes.

“You promised to run the Orient Express,” Larry piped up.

“When business allows,” said Norman, ever-vigilant about the corporate ledger. It was hard to figure if he was doing a parody of a railroad boss or actually acting out some entrenched self-image.

So Larry started taking citizens from Main Street and positioning them on the platform beside Clementine to form a sort of pressure group. He plucked up the mom-and-daughter combo who for years had been staring into the empty cellophane window of the five-and-dime, and also he grabbed the businessman who had been endlessly on the verge of climbing the steps to the Bank of Normanville. Then he spotted old Mayor Beggs in an unaccustomed spot, hobbling across Main Street with his cane — and with a bus headed right at him!

Larry snapped up the mayor in the nick of time and placed him on the platform too, which was fitting because, not to mention any names, but some people might say that someone in authority had it in for Mayor Beggs on account of his opposition to demolishing the railroad station.

Norman at the moment was handling freight at Shad Flats where the beer kegs brought up from town had to be unloaded and replaced by crates of gold from the mine to be hauled back to town. Norman’s hand reaching down to move kegs and crates on and off flatcars wasn’t great for realism, but sometimes you had to suspend realism for practical reasons. Norman liked to hammer home the fact that freight was the railroad’s lifeblood. Passenger operations were a nuisance that interfered with the finely-tuned freight schedule. Another thing Norman liked to point out was that, aside from a wrecked water tower, the NSF lacked coaling or watering facilities, so the Orient Express steam engine, even if in reality it ran on electrical current, was hopelessly unrealistic.

Larry cleared his throat. “These people bought tickets for the Orient Express,” he pointed out. “They’re demanding a refund!”

Norman looked dismayed all of a sudden. “A refund? Tickets?” He rubbed his jaw. “Yes, I suppose they would buy tickets.”

Norman turned to the chalkboard where the timetable was posted. In the “Train#” column he marked “Extra” and under “Shipment” he marked “psgr” meaning, presumably, passengers.

The juice came through. The ancient Orient Express engine fired up frisky as a terrier. In seconds it drew up in front of Normanville Station.