3 -Train Stories


© 2009 Chuck Klein

Published: Street Rod Action magazine and (excerpted from) The Way It Was, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance


 The piercing light was visible long before he heard the two longs followed by two shorts as the Chicago bound James Whitcome Riley approached the Canal Street crossing. Within minutes the E-9, the most powerful of diesel engines was thundering into Winton Place station. Though the little two piece windshield, just aft of the giant single head lamp, towered over his head he couldn't suppress the smile and memory of last week's Christmas. Then it was he who towered over an E-9, a Lionel with "Santa Fe" splashed in orange and silver across the side of his gift to his wide eyed nephew.

 From his vantage point, near the Western Union window, Kurt Kidwell, could see the platform to the right and the parking lot to his left.

 The Way it WasThe target was nowhere to be found. Maybe Miss Dolly had set him up, given him a bum steer, and they were traveling by car. He watched, ticket in hand, as the porters loaded and unloaded boxes, grips, trunks and all sizes of suitcases. He watched the passengers embark and disembark, especially the smart looking tan-suited knockout with the matching hat perched atop her stacked honey blond hair. Kidwell never took his eye off the lot. Maybe he was already on-board having caught the train at the Oakley Station.

 The man who earned a living watching, watched, with a sinking feeling, as the Brakeman, lantern in hand, got into position at the rear of the train. It had begun to rain. Kidwell stepped toward the Pullman car, Starlight, as the sound of tires straining for adhesion on gravel commanded his attention. Caught in the head lamps of the a dirty black '49 Cadillac convertible, the trademark of Mr. Pogue, Kidwell pulled the brim of his fedora a little lower and the collar of his trench coat up as he stepped onto the Starlight's platform. 

 The Brakeman began to move his lantern up and down, the signal for the engineer to get underway. Mr. Pogue and his driver, laden with two suitcases and a string tied cardboard box, had to be helped onto the now moving train by the Brakeman.

 He'd give Pogue an hour or so then he'd look him up. He wasn't going anywhere for at least a few hours - the Riley's first stop. Right now Kidwell needed the men's room and some warm food. Entering the day-coach, El Capitan, he searched the overhead racks for a place to stash his hat and coat. Amid leather suitcases, paperboard composite grips and round ladies' hat boxes with the name of swank department stores emblazoned on the richly colored Chrome-Kote wrapping, he found an unobtrusive spot. The car's seats were filled more with small trunks, a few leather trimmed canvas covered grips and gift boxes than the holiday travelers themselves. Tossed on and between were an array of coats and outer wear, a leather flyer's jacket, a smartly creased gentleman's felt hat with a tweed sport jacket and a hangered sailor's dress blues. The lavatory was clean, properly stocked and a great relief.

 The dining car was about half full so Kidwell had no trouble settling into a starched linen covered table, complimented with a small bouquet of fresh flowers snugged against the window. Within a minute the hospital-white clad waiter filled Kidwell's order for a Jack Daniels on the rocks. Complacency settled over the Private Investigator as he casually observed soothed couples' happy faces reflected by the individual table lamps against their personal half-shaded windows. They dined on choice Prime Rib, Boursin Chicken or Stuffed Lemon Sole as America's backyards roll by. The dressed to the nines, tan-suited knockout, smiled at him over the top of a tall cold exotic something. Kurt Kidwell discretely adjusted his shoulder holster before approaching tan-suit.

 "I'm Karl Kinder, may I join you?" he asked, athletically jostling his muscular body into the opposite seat as the train rocked over a set of switches. The pseudo name was one he used when dealing with strangers while on the job. In this business, you never know who's also on the job on the opposite side.

 "Seems that you already have, and I'm happy to meet you, I think. My name is Victoria and that, that drunken soldier who just came in has been bothering me. Uh, oh, here he comes again."

 "Well...there you are little lady. I thought I lost ya. Is thesh man bothering you," the three-stripe non-com slurred.

 "I think it's the other way around, Sergeant. The lady is with me so please refrain from interfering with us again, Kurt said, in a kind manner, rising from his seat while boring his eyes into a set of slightly dilated pupils.

 It was really all one move, the words, the stare and the arm lock that crumpled the uniform to his knees. Reducing the pressure enough to allow the intruder to be half dragged, Kidwell deposited the rude soldier in the forward sleeper admonishing him to sleep it off.

 Returning to his upholstered dinner table chair beneath the car length, hand-painted mural covering the frieze on both sides of the older 1937 era dining car, the lady named Victoria smiled again, "Thank you ever so much, Mr. Kinder." The soft pastel colors highlighted by the hanging globe lights lent an aura of mystic and intrigue to this calm and sophisticated lady.

 During the interlude that preceded the main course the widowed heir to an old manufacturing company and the gentleman with the clandestine demeanor, discretely exchanged pleasantries.
 They dined on filet mignon with sauteed mushrooms and fresh spinach au gratin. When the plates had been cleared they sipped Three Star Henessey as winking roadside crossings lights occasionally flashed across the darkened window. He told her his business was corporate acquisitions and he, also, was on his way home to Chicago. 

 The train, now at cruising speed of seventy plus, set up a gentle rocking motion which, between cars as he was seeing her to her bedroom compartment, caused her to fall into him. He steadied her, feeling firm upper arms and catching a scent of Channel Number Five. They stood close to let another passenger pass. The vibes oozed. "I've got some business to take care of," he said, locking into her light green eyes. "If I stop back in an hour or so can we have a night cap?"

She returned his gaze before twisting, brushing against his arm, as she unlocked the door, "I'd like that. I need to freshen up a little, anyway."

 Since Pogue hadn't visited the dining car he had to be between there and the club car. Kidwell set out to scout the train. The top half of the outside door to the car just ahead of the lounge car was open, a fact noted by the PI in case anything had to be tossed out. Stepping into the club car, an older model with a half length mahogany bar down one side, Kidwell smiled to the lone bartender as his eyes scanned the room. Seated in the fore section was a businessman studying a newspaper next to his young, comic book reading son and a fidgeting, beer drinking sailor. Halfway back, Mr. Pogue, holding the twine tied box, and his chauffeur were complacently sipping cocktails. Kidwell walked the length of the room, surreptitiously verified the door to the observation platform was unlocked, and sat at the rear most table. The bartender looked up but the private dick shook his head while picking up a Life magazine. 

 He didn't like the situation. He didn't like all the witnesses. He didn't like the driver, if that's what he really was. If he was a driver, then why did he leave the Caddy at the train station and why did he keep looking around - like a body guard. The diesel horn sounded, two longs followed by two shorts for the approach of a public crossing. The now tense six foot P.I. had been counting since the first. The engineer had been very punctual. Almost exactly eleven seconds after the first blast of the horn the sound of the crossing bells reached the last cars on the train. The bells and their flashing red lights bouncing through the train's windows was quite distracting. 

 The sailor got up to leave, the P.I. started another magazine. It didn't look like Pogue was in any hurry by the number of olive pits in the ash tray. Body guard was sipping something dark with ice through a straw - probably a Coke if he was on the job. He had hoped to have concluded the business by now, but there had been too many people and he hadn't counted on a body guard. 

 The job had seemed simple enough when the phone call came, followed by the packet of cash and instructions. All he had to do was trade the package Mr. Pogue was to be carrying for the cash Kurt was carrying in his inside jacket pocket. He was instructed to secure the package at all costs, something about a threat to national security. It seemed his clientele only called when the job was too tough or sticky for lesser agents.

 When the executive and his son rose to leave, Kurt signaled the bartender. He asked the practiced elderly negro if he would be so kind as to check with the kitchen for an order of cheese and crackers. Now there were only three.

 "Mr. Pogue, I'd like a word...."

 "Mr. Pogue don't talk to nobody, so take a powder, pal," the burly body guard belched forcing his way between them.

 Time was short before the barkeep or another passenger would walk in. Kidwell lowered his eyes and turned slightly to send body language messages of capitulation while he searched for words to stall for time and a piece of luck. Softly he began, "I'm sorry sir, I didn't mean to intrude it's only that...the words were lost to the wail of the E-9's horn...won't bother...eight - nine - ten - the bells clanged, the lights flashed, the bruiser's concentration broke as he looked out the windows. Just like the sergeant, and so many others before him, it was all one move. The P.I.'s foot found the male tender spot just below the belly button an instant before the right hand connected with the jaw of the stunned and buckling galoot.

 Mr. Pogue, impaired by the martinis could only stare, slack jawed, as Kurt dragged the unconscious body through the rear doors and onto the observation platform. The thought of tossing the dead weight over was tempting, but he had confidence that his body guarding days were over for the night.

 "Now then, Mr. Pogue, before we were so rudely interrupted we have business to transact. I have here," Kidwell began extracting the envelope filled with cash from his jacket pocket, "A large sum of money that I intend to trade you for the box on your lap."

 "What have you done with Bruno. It's not for sale, now please leave me or I shall summon the authorities. Bartender, bartender...."

 "I sent him away, it's just you and me. Time is short and you only have two choices."
 "What do you mean? Who are you? I'm not selling. All you and your kind want to do is keep it off the market. My invention will...."

 Circa 1957 front 2nd As the inventor rambled on, Kidwell took the man's half drained highball from the table top and casually tossed it into his face. The slightly intoxicated keeper of the box reacted before he realized he had relaxed his grip on the box. That was all the practiced P.I. needed. He flipped the envelope on the table and strode out, catching out of the corner of his eye, the opening platform door and the guard struggling in, revolver in hand!

 "Is it a present for me?" the golden haired lady impishly chided as she opened the door at his knock. "Or is it a reward from rescuing other maidens?" 

 His face relaxed and a smile spread to his dimples as he surveyed the room and the silk robe clad lady. But his mind was racing. "Sorry to put you to any trouble, but I'm in a bit of a jam and I might need your help." 

He put the box down on the day couch, turned to look her in the eye to see if she was with him. She held her head high and stared back at him. He took her squared shoulders in his powerful hands pulling her toward him. It was a closed mouth kiss, he afraid of relaxing, and she, just to let him know the quid pro quo was sealed. 

 He told her that the box contained medical experiments that a Russian agent, an armed Russian agent on board the train, was trying to steal from him. "Look, I think the train is going to stop soon and when it does I'll need you to get off with me. They won't be looking for a couple, especially one with glasses," he said producing a pair of eye glasses with clear lenses.

 It didn't take long before the sound of the thug could be heard in the passage way, banging on every door. There wasn't time to discuss anything.

 Bang, bang, bang, "Open the door."

 Slowly she opened the door a crack. The bully, gun in hand, pushed, slamming it against the closet. "What's the meaning of this...."

 "Shut up. Where is he?"

 "How dare you. There's no one in here. Who...." He pushed passed her, looking first toward the beds then at the toilet room door. 

 Kidwell, crouched, back to the wall, in the tiny, crowded, pitch-black room, eased his HSc Mauser out of the shoulder holster and leveled it at the door. Over the click-clack of the train's wheels he heard the distinct click of the door handle as the Mauser's safety clicked off. 

 Having killed before and in control of the situation, fear was absent, though he was, maybe a mite apprehensive. The little 7.65 pocket pistol, taken from a Nazi officer he had garrotted during his days in the service of his country, was a favorite of his arsenal of concealable weapons. Its reliability had been established in past operations.

 BlaaaaaaaaaaaaCrack,Crack,Crackaaaaaaaat. The timing of the diesel locomotion's announcement that it was approaching a station couldn't have been more opportune.

 The aggressor, dumbfounded at the three thirty-two caliber crimson holes in his shirt front, paradoxically glimpsed the lavatory mirror for his final vision - the face of a dead man.

 "Victoria, Victoria give me a hand, he's fallen on me."

 The previously formal and composed lady Victoria, ashen and wide eyed, nonetheless dutifully stepped over the body and extended a hand.

 "Get dressed and put on some lipstick, we're getting off here." She stood there, gaping at the body as the impact of the situation began to sink in. Struggling with her suit case, he slapped her hard on the rump, "get moving, NOW!"

 With the smaller of her two suitcases he dumped their contents on the bed, placed the string tied box inside, and packed what he could of the dumped contents around the box. 

 "What we can't get into your other suitcase, I'll replace," he stated, throwing undergarments and personal items into the larger grip as the train slowed for the station stop.

 Victoria, displaying genuine aristocratic style, smiled as she accompanied the P.I. through the El Capitan where he retrieved his hat and coat. As a cold wind whipped at their ankles they snuck across the platform to a waiting cab. 

 The hotel in this out-of-the-way little burg was, if nothing else, a safe haven. Here, as the lady bathed, he inspected the contents of the box he had killed for. 

 After his shower, and standing in his under shorts, he moved to take her into his arms, "I just want to hold you."

 "You mean gratuitously? For helping you conduct whatever dirty business you're in? Perhaps you better tell who you really are, Mr. Karl Kinder, if that's your real name." She had regained her full stature as a business executive. "You have presented yourself as a gentleman, at least in your dealings with me. Please continue to do so. I have no intention of allowing this room to become a tryst."

 "I understand and respect your wishes. All I said was I wanted to hold you. I need a little tenderness now and I thought you might also."

 "Who are you? What...."

 "It's best that you don't know my real name. I'm a private investigator and sometimes my assignments get a little ah...hairy. I'm sorry to have involved you in this, but making use of you as cover, seemed like a good idea at the time. After this matter is concluded I'd like to try to start all over - on a social level, especially since we're both from Chicago. Right now I think we both could use a little, make that a lot, of TLC.

 She came to him. They hugged. The tension dissipated. In a short while they fell asleep. 

 Around nine he slipped out, paid the hotel bill and, box in hand, wolfed down a pancake breakfast at a greasy spoon two blocks down the street. Finding himself in the seedier part of town he quickly located a pawn shop where he purchased a used canvas suitcase in which to carry the box.

 He caught a cab to the station, bought a ticket on the next train to Chicago and found a public telephone. Three rings and he heard his client, "Consolidated Gas and Oil, Incorporated, may I help you?" the sweet voice of a young operator answered. 

 "Extension 447, Please"

 " Yes."

 "This is Kidwell."

 "Have you got it?"

 "Yes sir."

 "Where are you? Tell me what's in the box."

 "I'm a couple of hours out of the LaSalle Street Station. The box contains a lot of diagrams, blue prints and legal papers plus what looks like a carburetor - a special kind of carburetor."

 "Excellent. Come directly to the Drake. We will meet you in the lobby."

 He had a half hour to kill before departure. Maybe he could find a little something for Miss Dolly. She had really come through for him, but the thoughts of a special lady is what was really twisting around in his mind. He took a walk around the block, past a negro bar where he stopped to listen to a solo cornetist crying some blues number that drifted by like a spirit on the winds of time.

Author's note: Rumors have circulated for at least half a century that a man named Pogue (or Fish or ???) invented a carburetor that produced unprecedented fuel economy. The rumor includes the scenarios that the petroleum producers, foreign interests and/or the automobile manufacturers, to keep the product off the market, stole the design and to keep Mr. Pogue/Fish/??? quiet, paid him off or....



Chuck Klein © 2012

Excerpted from: THE BADGE. Stories and Tales from Both Sides of the Law


He wasn’t sure he heard the first torpedo, but the second got his full attention and that of the locomotive engineer who pulled the throttle full back and yanked the whistle chain. Bartlett, fighting the deceleration, coupled with the coupled cars slamming into each other as the slack between them collapsed, strained to reach the window of the cab.

Number 4, a Santa Fe mixed-freight special east bound out of Needles, California, was highballing in high desert country when the emergency stop signals had gone off. These detonation caps are placed on the track to explode when crushed by the engine’s wheels – a warning to immediately halt.

Just before the massive 2-10-2 mountain whaler, hissing a fog bank of steam, ground to a stop aside a red lantern, Bartlett caught a glimpse of horses and riders. Highlighted by the massive headlamp he counted at least five with more movement fading into the deep black woods. As a Pinkerton man he was purposely riding in the cab because the Wells Fargo car was heavy with a gold shipment. Specifically on the lookout for trouble he recognized the robbery routine immediately.

THE BEST OF CHUCK KLEINThe detective jumped from the off-side onto a steeply banked roadbed, pulling his five-inch barreled Colt from its holster. Fighting for footing in the loose rock and gravel he managed to stay in the steam cloud while scampering back to the opening between the tender and the first car. Before he could see the riders, he heard angry shouting from the old hogger, Tom Fiser – demanding to know who, why and what these men on horseback wanted. The answer came with multiple gun shots and the scream of the fireman – which was followed by a shotgun blast . . . and silence, save for the hissing and ticking of the 2-10-2.

Knowing that life might be over in a flash of gunpowder and wishing he had grabbed his Winchester before bailing out of the cab, Bartlett vaulted over the coupling between the cars shooting at the first rider he saw. Not waiting to learn of his marksmanship, the Pinkerton man wheeled and fanned at least three shots at other men on horseback now visibly painted by the light reflected from the steam. At least three because there were so many shots being fired he wasn’t sure how many were his. But, he was sure one of these muzzle blasts caused his left arm to violently twitch. Bartlett tried to vault back over the coupling, but this left arm gave way and he crashed to the roadbed striking his head on the rail. Luckily his momentum carried him over the bed and down into the tumbleweeds and protection of the night.

An explosion ripped the air and produced a flash that silhouetted the entire train. These guys are good, he thought. They’ve shot the engineer and fireman fought off my return fire and blew the door off the money car in a very timely and precision manner.  But how much time had elapsed?

Laying on the down slope of the raised roadbed, he knew his first priority was to reload. Even with the now searing pain in his left arm, he managed to eject the spent cartridges and stuff the cylinder with six fresh .32-20 rounds. Normally he only loaded five in the six shot single-action revolver as it wasn’t safe to carry with the hammer down on a loaded round, but this was a firefight and not carry conditions.

Wide-eyed and ignoring the wound, he crept up the embankment fully expecting gunfire. Nothing. Dead quiet – even the engine. Had he passed out? Where is everyone – robbers, brakemen, Wells Fargo agents, horses? Staggering to his feet, he sought the safety of the engine and what light it provided hoping to retrieve his rifle. At the cab’s ladder, using his good arm, he quietly climbed aboard. His rifle and ammo belt were as he left them, though he quickly realized with a bum arm the rifle would be of little use. The fireman, a boomer who was on his first trip firing for the S.F, lay across a pile of coal at such an odd angle it was clear he was dead. Tom, however, appeared to have propped himself up against the firebox, but looked slack jawed. Kneeling down, Bartlett could see the stain of blood on Tom’s chest, surely a mortal wound.

He had met the hogman on a previous and uneventful run back in ’98, when they were a little younger. They had gotten along well, neither man was married, but both had strong family ties and a formidable sense of fairness. Though Tom, ten years his senior was pushing 40 back then, they had bonded through discussions of family life and treatment of their fellow man. Their first meeting was one of Bartlett’s early cases for the renowned Chicago based private detective agency. A thieving brakeman on Tom’s train had been surreptitiously tightening select wheel brakes to cause hot boxes. When the conductor ordered the train onto a siding to investigate, the brakeman would slip into a loaded box car and throw out crates of freight to be picked up later by his gang. Bartlett suspected the rouse and was able to catch the crook in the act. That was the easy part. More difficult was tying the yard dicks into the act. The two railroad policemen had claimed they investigated the freight loss but couldn’t explain it or catch the culprits. Bartlett, using various methods of, shall we say, persuasion, convinced the brakeman to tell how the S.F. cops were in on the thefts.

Not seeing any sign of the robbers from the vantage point of the cab windows, Bartlett untied the bandana from around the engineer’s neck and wiped his friend’s face while asking the obvious “how ya doin’” questions. The only response Tom could muster was a pleading look and a beckoning finger. Bartlett leaned close as the old hogger took a breath and whispered, “Will you see to it that my nephew, Thomas, gets my watch and what benefits the S.F. . . . .” He didn’t finish as his eyes closed and his fingers relaxed.

No time for bereavement, he had to find the conductor and check the damage and inspect his own wound. Opening the firebox door for light, surprised that the fire was so low, he pulled his shirt off and stared at the bloody upper arm. Using the knife he always carried in his boot, he cut the good sleeve from his shirt and made a bandage as best he could. He was able to move his fingers and the arm, but only with intense pain.

Climbing back down, the first bodies he found were strangers – possibly robbers shot by him due to their proximity to the tender. Hoisting himself aboard the severely damaged W.F. car he found both agents had been blown into the next life by the blast that took the door off their car. The safe had also been dynamited, but Bartlett couldn’t remember a second blast – or was this the only blast he heard? These were ruthless men.

“You all right mister?” The voice stunned Bartlett and he dropped, twisted and drew the Single Action Army revolver.

“Don’t shoot. We’re just bos. Been ridin’ in the empty hopper just aft o’ this money car,” the man dressed as an obvious hobo pleaded.

“How many are you? Where did the robbers go? Where’s the conductor and brakemen?” Bartlett demanded, holstering his gun and jumping back to trackside.
The bo, terrified and flustered stammered, “You a rail dick?”

“Not likely. I work for Pinkerton. I’m not out to arrest, thump or toss you. Now, where are the others?”

“Back at the end, sir.”

By the light of the caboose lanterns, Bartlett came upon an eerie scene that sent a chill through him – the conductor, brakeman and rear brakeman all lay shot dead while some of the hobos were rummaging through the trainmen’s pockets. For the third time the detective drew his handgun as he ordered the bos to line up facing the waycar.

Only after asserting they were just trying to get back the four bits each had paid the conductor to ride to Seligman, Bartlett holstered his .32-20. He then discovered there were a total of six men who, hidden in the hopper car, had escaped the slaughter of the robbers. They all had different opinions as to the direction the robbers departed. Additional questioning determined that two of the men were boomers. One, Johnson, a squat looking tough had been a brakeman for the U.P. and the other, Smitherman, a tall gangly kid, was a hostler who had just quit the Needles yard and hopped this special.

“Johnson, you’re now the acting rear brakeman. Grab two torpedoes and the red lantern from the dog house and protect the rear of this train. Do you know how to do it?” Bartlett ordered.

“Yeah. I jest go back ‘bout a quarter mile an place the bombs on the track ‘bout ten paces apart and set the lantern along side.”

“Almost right. After you set the torpedoes, you stay there and wave the lantern at any approaching train. Don’t come back until you hear our whistle. You got that?”

Turning to assume his task, Johnson mumbled a yes sir.

“Smitherman. Do you think you can move this train if one of these other men fire for you?”

“Yes sir.” It was only this here morning that I built the fire in this here very engine and moved her onto the main line.”

“Okay, I’m commandeering this train – I’m now the conductor and assume full responsibility. You there,” Bartlett said pointing to one of the bos, come with me and Smitherman. You’ll fire the engine. The rest of you men load the bodies into what’s left of the Wells Fargo car and then you can ride the rest of the way into Seligman in the caboose.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “There’s two more in the cab. They were all good men. Treat ‘em with respect.

“Once at the station all of you are to stay in the waycar until I say it’s okay to leave. That means until after the Marshall in Seligman and I have had a chance to question you. That’s an order.”

As soon as steam pressure returned to the engine the crippled train and impromptu crew limped the remaining 40 or so miles into the station at Seligman, Arizona.

Bartlett S. Listner (he was never called Bart) had grown up along the Chicago and North Western Railway where his father’s life ended in an all too common coupling accident. Pappy Listner, as he was known, was a good father and for as much as Bartlett knew, was a good husband too. Sometimes, though, even good guys die young. For the younger Listner, detective work was also an accident – that of being in the right place at the right time. His father, a C&NW brakeman, had gotten him a job as a call boy for the road. Bartlett’s duty was to locate and notify boomers and others on the call board when needed to make a train. He seemed to have a natural ability to find people and the discretion when to not find them plus the physical grit to drag them in when necessary. On a day with a building snow storm he was able to round up, in a most timely manner, the required men to make up a special train. This special just happened to be for a Pinkerton operative who, recognizing Bartlett’s abilities, immediately offered him a job.

Arriving at Seligman, the first thing Bartlett did, even before tending to his wounds and reporting to the Trainmaster, was to telegraph Pinkerton headquarters with a preliminary report. Finally, after all reports had been filed, the marshal notified and the men interrogated, he stopped by the barber shop to have his injuries tended. The bullet had passed through his upper arm, just chipping the bone. His head wound, which he now saw in a mirror, was ugly, covered in dried blood and would leave a nasty scar.

Hungry and tired, he took a room at the Harvey House Hotel. Here, after a few hours sleep, he cleaned up and settled into a back corner of the restaurant. Peggy, a vermillion haired Harvey Girl, was first to serve him. She remembered Bartlett as not only had their career paths crossed many times over the years, but they were from the same neighborhood. Their mothers had been friends. She was at least ten years older than Bartlett and had been a real looker – maybe even a dance hall girl – sometime in the nineties. Now, however, her figure gone and in a bland, food stained dress, she was just pudgy dumpy. Friendly, kind hearted, good at her job, a mother image for the other girls, but pudgy dumpy.

“Hi honey. Long time no see.”

“Hello, Peggy. It’s only been a month or so since I was here last. You doin’ okay?”

“They keep me plenty busy. What can I getcha?”

While waiting for his food, he wrote a short note on the Harvey House postcards to his mother to let her know he was okay. With the release of the boomers and bos from the official investigation he was sure the story made front pages all across the nation and he didn’t want her to worry. Sipping coffee after enjoying his steak and eggs, Smitherman the hostler/boomer, entered the room, looked around and when he saw Bartlett, headed straight toward him.

Without so much as a nod from the detective, Smitherman sat down and, in a low voice, revealed, “It really ain’t none of my business, but ol’ Tom Fiser was a friend o’ mine.” Looking around as if worried about his backside, he continued, “I seen three men in the Golden Spur Saloon ah woopin’ it up. On the bar in front of them was a Well Fargo pouch – you know the kind they ship gold nuggets in.”

“How many horses?”

“There were four tied up right in front of the Spur. But, I only seen three men at the bar.”

Wow, this is a break. The robbers weren’t even smart enough not to head to the train’s destination. Seems these criminals had more dollars than sense. Bartlett thanked the man, paid his bill and kissed Peggy on the cheek before heading for the saloon.

Over confidence, not having a plan and being in a hurry can yield catastrophic events. Luck, however, can negate many such blunders. Bartlett’s first mistake was of the self-assurance nature. The second was not securing the help of a posse or even the Marshall. He walked into the bar, stood directly behind the three men with the nugget pouch, drew his Colt and said in a commanding voice, “I’m Pinkerton detective Listner. You are all under arrest for robbery and murder. Place your hands on the bar.”

The three men complied at once . . . the fourth – the one Bartlett failed to notice and sitting at a rear table placed his hands on a shotgun. The blast wounded two of the three robbers, but good guy Bartlett, who had not formulated a plan or waited for help, caught the mass of the charge. Like his father before him, sometimes even good guys die young.

This story is excerpted from Chuck Klein’s recently published book THE BADGE, Stories and Tales From Both Sides of the Law. He may be contacted through his web site: www.chuckklein.com




Chuck Klein

He drove a hot rod Ford
That could lay a fat black patch.
That punk was a fool
Whose daring had no match.

 Bonnie Sue knew, deep down, that he wasn't a "bad kid," but some of her friends and especially her mom didn't see it that way. Tommy, she felt, was just frustrated, though she wasn't sure what it was that he was so antsy about. He didn't do well in school, but he was very smart. He had, after all, figured out, without any help, how to take his car motor all apart and put it back together again. Besides, he had said he loved her. True, it was only once and in a fit of passion. It was on a Friday night, last month, at the drive-in. It was one of those, “Francis the talking mule flicks.” The movie was boring so they just made out. Tommy kept trying to touch her where she didn't think he should. They fought, she cried, and Tommy said, "I really love you, Bonnie Sue, I mean it."

 Bonnie Sue was sure that if only they could both finish school, get married (and Tommy in a good job) she'd be able to change his fast driving ways and other things that might need adjustments. Right now all she wanted was for Tommy to be here.

 Tommy, at 16 and a half, was one of the more dedicated and speed crazed hot rodders in his sophomore class. Though he had never applied to one of the hot rod clubs for membership he was always thinking about joining - if they would take him. That was the rub. He'd already had two tickets for speeding and he had a reputation for fast driving on city streets. Hot rod clubs frowned on "squirrels," as they called them. He had never shied away from a traffic light race even when Bonnie Sue pouted about his high speed drags. Trouble was, he couldn't figure her out. She was pretty enough but she was always talking about love and all that mushy stuff and she only sometimes seemed to enjoy the drag racing - legal or otherwise. On their first few dates she had been all excited about his races even going so far as to taunt one of her girl friends because this friend's steady drove a stocker.

 But he was really burned up that she had so little regard for the fact that he held the record for the Train Run and now must defend that honor. Johnny Medford, with his Daddy's brand new '55 Olds 88, had bested Tommy's record by at least 50 yards. For Tommy to let this go unchallenged would be like wearing your sister's bloomers or something equally unthinkable.

 The troubles with Bonnie Sue culminated last night as they sat sipping Cokes in the lot of the West Chester Pike Bun Boy. Removing his arm from her shoulders to light a Lucky, Tommy asked while trying to make it sound like a casual mention, "You want to ride with me when I go for the Train Run record tomorrow night?"

 "Oh, Tommy, you're not going to do that again are you?" Not waiting for an answer she continued while tossing her pony tailed head in a dignified affront, "Tommy, I swear you're going to kill yourself one of these days with all this crazy...."

 "Come on Baby I just have ta do it, ya dig. I'm not gonna to be no chicken hearted punk. I'll be the coolest cat in town if I beat that harry-high-schooler in his daddy's stocker."

 "Oh Tommy, it's so dangerous I just worry that you'll be killed and I won't have you. I think you're the coolest guy at North Anderson  anyway. Winning The Run can't make you any better in my eyes. Please, just for me don't do it," Bonnie Sue pleaded, all pouty faced.

 "Aw, don't cry honey. I know you dig me and all, but this is something I just have to do. Besides it should be a snap. The last time I ended up backing off before the tracks, I had so much reserve power. And since then I've added dual points.  And, hey, I'll put in new plugs in the morning to be extra safe! Don't worry," Tommy boasted, flicking his butt over the trunk of the flopped top of the faded black '51 Ford.

 The object of his non-romantic desires, the '51, sported two-deuces with chrome racing air cleaners and glass-packed dual exhaust. It was not only fast but it sounded cool. In addition to the Mallory distributor he had recently added he was planning to install Offenhauser high compression heads and maybe a Clay-Smith cam. His after school job at Wylie's Pure Oil Station didn't allow for many luxuries even though he was top paid of all the part timers at $1.10 per hour.

 The rest of the evening was like, no-wheres-ville. They ended up, as they always did after a date, parked at the old abandoned army base down near the feed mill. Every time he tried to put the move on Bonnie Sue she'd scrunch up closer to her door and whimper about how she just wasn't in the mood. Chicks! Who could understand them? What kind of mood could she be in parked in a lover's lane? He took her straight home, not even walking her to door. Then he pealed out because he knew it would make her angry.

 Saturday, Train Run day, was chilly for a September day in Texas. Tommy, had managed to install the new plugs between pumping gas and oil changes at Wylie's service station. The powerful flathead was running cherry and sounding very sweet. The soon-to-be nosed and decked rod had even gotten a wax job compliments of the kids who hung out at the station. Kids, of course meant anyone who wasn't old enough to have a drivers license. These kids, in hopes of being able to get a ride to the race area would do almost anything for the privilege of seeing one of their idols in a run against death.

 Just before quitting time, Johnny, riding in Delbert's straight eight Pontiac because his dad had stripped him of his driving rights upon finding out about the Train Run, stopped in at Wylie's.

 "Hey Mr. Cool, I hear tell that you're gonna try to beat my record tonight?" Johnny sneered.

 "Yeah, that's right sonny and I'll do it in a rod I built myself, not in my daddy’s stocker," Tommy shot right back in a menacing tone.

 "Why, I ought to climb out of here and...."

 "Okay, Okay, punks. Enough of this tough guy talk. Do you guys wanna belly-ache or race," Delbert demanded, taking control of the pre-race details. "Now listen up: me and Harry as witnesses, plus about a dozen kids, watched Johnny here, beat the train from the no passing sign through the intersection. Now if you want to beat this record you must start at the end of the guard rail. Ya dig, Tommy?"

 "Well, I was thinking about starting halfway between the sign and the rail and...."

 "No, no that won't do. You have to use a permanent fixture, dig. Otherwise cats would be claiming to have started at all kinds of locations and the record would be muddied. We talked about it and that's the way it has to be. So, unless you're yellow we'll see ya five minutes before the eight-three-eight," Delbert stated.

 Curling his lip, Tommy spat, "I ain't yella - I'll be there."

 He didn't have time to be nervous only time to shower, change clothes and chow down with his mom and sister before heading for Bonnie Sue's.

 She wouldn't get into the car unless Tommy promised not to race the train, almost tearfully pleading - promising "anything" if he wouldn't make The Run. Too late. Even the thought of "anything" with Bonnie Sue didn't change his mind, though for a moment or two he had his doubts.

Tires squealing and defiance in his eyes
With his girl he had a fight
he cut out for the showdown as she cried,
"I know I'll grieve if you race this race tonight"

 They were waiting for him, a dozen or so classmates, buddies and kids all lined up on the grass strip that lay between the road and the tracks of the mainline. Some of the kids, seeing the empty passenger seat, offered or begged to ride shotgun for this run for the record.

 By 8:47 no sound akin to a train had been heard - the eight-three-eight was late! However, all was well and tension was relieved within a few minutes as the sound of the eight-three-eight, out of Wichita Falls, pierced the cool evening air. Without any discussion two of the spectator cars pulled onto the concrete blocking the highway so that no other vehicles could get in the way. Tommy moved the '51 to the point adjacent with the end of the guard rail, rapped the accelerator a few times and stared down the straight-away.

 A little over a mile away the slightly curving tracks met and crossed the highway. All he had to do was beat the train to this point and he would again be top rodder at North Anderson High and surely Bonnie Sue's faith in his abilities would be returned.

 The plume of thick gray smoke could be seen superimposed on the clear twilight sky from over a mile away and long before the west bound express itself was visible. Tommy raced the engine again and again wishing he had a tach to more accurately gauge the speed of his mill. Some of the kids were jumping up and down with excitement. Delbert stood slack jawed and Johnny sat, wide eyed, glad it wasn't him this time.

 The importance of the lateness of the eight-three-eight didn't register with Tommy as he readied himself for a good clean start. Glancing over his shoulder to the tracks he timed the dumping of the clutch to the exact moment the locomotive was even with him and the guard rail. The huge 4-8-4 iron monster, oblivious to its place in the destiny of that night, overshadowed the gathering of children playing with their toys.

 Tires spinning, the little flathead strained in first gear, as the train roared by. A speed shift to second brought a chirp of rubber and Tommy felt a twinge of pride as the force of acceleration pushed him into the seat back. Just when it seemed that the engine was about to explode he power shifted into third. Now topping 70 miles per hour he dared a glance at the rushing sound to his right - the sound of a death knell?

 Tommy was horrified to see that he was just now beginning to pass the speeding train. He was sure he should have been equal to the engine by now, but he was at least one car plus the tender behind. He pushed harder on the gas pedal and strained to hear if his engine had a miss or something. Ninety,  95, the needle swept past the 100 MPH mark and still he was not in front. The convergence, the intersection of death, was dead ahead. Where was the miscalculation? Did someone move the guard rail? Was the train running faster than its usual 60 MPH? Yeah! that's it. The train was late so they're running faster to make up for lost time. Flashing through his jumbled mind were thoughts of clamping on the binders and turning into the double barbed wire fence to his left - taunts of chicken - yellow - Bonnie Sue....

He slammed the massive locomotive
that was doin' better than 70 per
and when they pulled him from the carnage
his last thoughts were of her.