Lacey ducked around the corner of the hallway. Her heart raced, as her palms broke into a sweat. She listened for the footsteps of the tall evil man, but no sound echoed in the hallway, save the rhythmic rumbling of the train along the tracks.
Gradually her breathing slowed, and she pondered the last few minutes....
“I know you've got the map, old man,” sneered the tall evil man.
Gesturing out the window, the older gentleman replied, “What good will a map do you in this weather? You can't find a single landmark in these six foot drifts.” He chuckled softly. “You're a city boy. No kind of planning – or threats – can match the winter on these plains. You best wait until spring.”
“And have you move the loot in the meantime? Not a chance!” He raised a revolver to the older man's chest. “Hand it over.”
“Very well, then.” The older man reached into his vest. “Here it is, but don't think it will do you any good.”
The tall man smiled wickedly as he took the folded paper. “Many thanks. And now that you won't be needing this anymore - ” A single shot rang out as he fired the weapon.
The old man slumped over, and a gasp came from the corner of the room. The tall man looked up in surprise. “Who's there?”
Lacey prayed the evil man had not heard which direction she had fled. If only Brandon was here! Her “brother” would know what to do. Though not true siblings, they had formed a tight bond as the Orphan Train made its way westward. The oldest of the group of children, they watched as most of the others joined new families. With only two more stops on the journey, they had few opportunities remaining for adoption. If no one adopted them, they would be returned to the New York orphanage.
The mystery of the map and the murder took first place in her thoughts now, however. Who was the older man? What was the “loot” that the evil man was after? Why did he kill the older man over a map?
It seemed that the older man was right, though – the winter here was endless! Out of every window Lacey could see miles and miles of snow, reflecting the soft yellows and reds of the setting sun. The few times they had stopped and stepped off the train, she could feel the cold all the way to her bones. Maybe it would be worth it to return to New York....
“LACEY!” Brandon ran toward her. “Where have you been? Mrs. Jenkins is looking for you!”
“Shhh! Brandon, I've just heard the most awful - ”
“Never mind that; it's almost dinnertime. You don't want to get in trouble, now. Come on,” he grabbed her hand and began leading her down the hall.
“Brandon! I just saw - ” she hesitated, fearing the tall man, who could be anywhere on the train by now.
“Saw what?” He looked down at her fearful expression in surprise.
She bit her lip. “Nothing. I – uh – I'll tell you later. I need your advice on something.”
“Okay, well, let's get going then. I'm hungry.” He grinned.
As two orphans made their way from the hallway into the populated car, Lacey noticed a tall, dark figure in the corner of the room. He turned his head, and his eyes looked toward her and narrowed. Fear rose in her chest and she quickly gripped Brandon's hand, praying that she would appear calm.
As they approached where the tall evil man stood, he stepped forward and spoke....
* * * * * * *
“Yeah, mom?” Lacey pulled open her closet door and peeked out.
“Honey, what are you doing in your closet? It's almost dinnertime.” Her mother stared incredulously at her.
“Sorry. I'm just bored, and daydreaming,” Lacey said. “It's been snowing for years out there. Seriously.”
“Not years, dear. That's what midwestern winters are like.”
“Well, I need something more interesting to do than read or daydream.” She sighed loudly. “I'm tired of orphan trains, and mysteries, and treasure maps – hey, maybe could I get a Wii?”
“No, honey. No Wii.” Her mother smiled. “Besides, reading and daydreaming will do you some good. Stretches the imagination. Now get out of there and wash up for dinner.”
* * * * * * *
Brandon and Lacey stood quietly as Mrs. Jenkins prattled on about dinnertime and schedules, completely clueless regarding the tall evil man with his revolver behind them....
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