From Runaway Murder
“So how is the new job going anyway?” my best friend Vanessa
asked as she swung the cab into the station’s car parking lot.
It was already busy, people hurrying through the turnstiles, drag‐
ging their luggage or clutching a toddler’s hand. I couldn’t help but
smile. The hustle and bustle of the station always got my heart pump‐
ing. It reminded me of my time in Europe as a young adult, when I’d
splurged on a Eurail Pass after graduating college. I’d crisscrossed the
continent, meeting new people, drinking in experiences, and growing
beyond what I’d thought possible. And falling in love for the first time.
Yes, I fell in love with travel, Europe, and a sweet, sweet French boy,
Trains would forever equal excitement to me.
I got out of the cab without answering Vanessa and looked around,
my arm resting on the open door. I found the mix of old and new
intoxicating—the state-of-the-art commuter trains next to the luxury
vintage carriages that captured people’s attentions.
The scent of diesel clung to the air, the quintessential smell of the
station complemented by the aroma of summer. Whenever I smelled
diesel anywhere else, I was instantly transported back to the station,
back to huddles of eager people waiting to discover what their day
had in store for them. Back to the thrill I felt every time I stepped
onto the train.
The sun was high in the sky, beating down on us mercilessly, and it
brought with it that peculiar feeling of possibility and hope that
summer always brought. I raised my face, embracing the warm rays
with my smile, and I let the now-familiar sounds wash over me: the
chatter and excitement of the passengers, the whistle of the station
master, the gentle thrumming of the trains as they awaited their
guests. And in the background, my own train chugged, steam rising
up from the vent as it idled on its track.
I say my train, but of course it wasn’t mine. It felt like it though,
even then, after only two months of working on it. It’d already
become a second home to me, and one I’d fallen in love with. It was an
old-style steam engine, controlled by a brilliant team of technicians
and engineers, all wearing retro uniforms. Every day, we would wind
our way through forty miles of majestic redwood forests, scenic
mountain meadows, and over thirty trestle bridges in Northern Cali‐
fornia, and every day, it took my breath away.
Me? I was the chef—the first ever female executive chef of the
Western Rails train, actually, and I had a passion for every part of my
job, from the train itself to the scenery around us and the luxury
experiences we offered our customers. I woke up eager to go to work
every day and to experience the adventure that lay before us, every
trip different than the last.
“Hello? Earth to Jessica?” Vanessa said.
“What?” I turned to face Vanessa, shaking myself out of my reverie,
but she was still in the car, calling from the driver’s seat. I bent down
and peered in. “Sorry, Ness. What did you say?”
Vanessa chuckled. “I asked how your new job’s going,” she said,
looking up at me. “You all right?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. “Hey, I have an idea. Are you very busy
She shrugged. “Not super, for a change,” she said. “No bookings
until later on tonight when the train returns to the station. What’ve
you got in mind?”
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“You want to know how my job is going, right? Why don’t you
come along for the ride? You could do with the break—I know this
influx of tourists has been stressing you out—and if you’ve got no
fares booked, you might as well take a few hours off and enjoy the
“I’m not stressed,” she insisted.
I rolled my eyes. Of course, she was stressed. She was the only
cabbie in the town of Golden, and it was getting busier by the day. If
she wasn’t careful, she’d be on course for a nervous breakdown, and
that worried me. She’d never admit it though; she was far too pig-headed for that.
“All right, Ness, you’re not stressed,” I said to placate her. “How
about this then. I would like to spend some time with my best friend
since I haven’t seen her properly for weeks. There’s a stool in the
kitchen with your name on it, and I might even be able to scratch up
an extra burger or two . . .”
I raised my eyebrows at her as she thought through the offer, but it
was only a matter of seconds before she smiled sheepishly, shrugged
her shoulders, and agreed.
“Okay then,” she said with a girlish giggle bubbling from her lips.
“You’ve persuaded me. It’ll be nice to do something different. And you
can tell me what you think about my heist theories!”
I smiled at her as I waited, but she didn’t move. “So . . . you going
to get out of the car, then?” I asked.
She threw her head back in a laugh, then clambered out of the car
and slammed the door closed. I loved Vanessa like a sister, but she had
never been graceful, and it made me smile to see it. It was typical
Vanessa. She was stout rather than big, and a good foot shorter than
me. Her yellow-blonde hair seemed always to be tied into a messy bun
and she rarely wore makeup, but at fifty-two years old, her cheeks
were still flushed with a youthful energy and her eyes sparkled with
laughter and delight.
I grabbed my bag from the back seat and flung it over my shoul‐
der, happy to have her accompany me for the day. I was not lying
when I said I hadn’t seen her for weeks, and I was beginning to miss
her company. Besides, I wanted to show her just what a magnificent
journey I made each and every day.
“So, heist theories?” I asked as I led Vanessa through the throngs of
people toward the staff entrance. I tapped in the security code and
listened for the click of the door unlocking.
“Morning, Jessica,” the guy on reception said as soon as I pushed
open the door. “And Jessica’s friend.” I guessed he’d seen us on the
security camera—at least, he always seemed to know who was
entering even before they entered. He had to be seventy if he was a
day, and I’d never seen him out of that chair. Bob knew everyone and
everything that went on in the station, and he never had a bad word to
say about anyone.
“Morning, Bob,” I replied brightly.
“Big day today,” he said, nodding at me with a serious expression.
“Yeah, but we’re ready for it,” I said. “You know us, Bob. Dream
team and all that.”
“You get ‘em, girl,” he said with a grin that reminded me of my
father. Girl was not a word often used to describe me anymore, not
with the fifty-five years I had behind me. From anyone else, it might
have felt patronizing, but from Bob, it was endearing.
“Big day?” Vanessa asked as we passed through the building and
out onto the platform.
“It’s the Annual Summer BBQ Excursion,” I said over my shoulder,
making it sound as grand as it felt. “The locals love it. I reckon we’ll
have a fair number of regulars on that train today. Greg says this
excursion is always a hoot.”
“I’m not going to be in your way, am I?” Vanessa asked, shooting
me a worried glance. “If it’s such an important day and all. Even I’ve
heard of the summer barbecue.”
“Don’t be silly,” I replied. “Everything’s already prepared. Besides,
it’s only barbecue chicken and corn on the cob. What could go
“Well, if you’re sure . . .”
“I’m sure,” I said firmly. “No getting out of it now, Vanessa Scott.
We’ve got some catching up to do!”
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