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From Runaway Murder
I strode through the train’s rocking corridor. We’d pulled
away from the station and were slowly building up speed—
not that we ever went very fast. These trips were about sitting back
and enjoying the ride and forgetting the speed at which we lived the
rest of our lives. There was too much haste in the world. We needed
to learn to relax again.
My ponytail swung behind me as I walked, my head held high even
if my teeth were clenched in annoyance. He’d already seen me once
today, albeit briefly on the platform. What did he want to see me again
for? We’d butted heads on more than one occasion, and I was only
grateful that his office was about as far away from the train’s kitchen
as it could possibly be.
“Excuse me,” Said one of the passengers—on her way to the train’s
restaurant, probably. We often had early birds wanting snacks or light
bites to keep them going until we served the main meal later on in the
I smiled politely and stepped into the doorway to let her pass,
feeling the coolness of the air air-conditioning on my back. She was a
slight woman, compact, almost fragile looking, though the way in
which she held herself told me she was anything but. I’d bet she got
that all the time—people assuming she was weak simply because she
was small. Her skin was lightly tanned and she wore her hair in a
short, dark bob. But it was the way in which she marched down the
aisle of the train that caught my attention.
There was something odd about it. Something purposeful, like she
had somewhere to be. She acted more like a commuter than a day-tripper,
and it seemed to me to be such an odd attitude to have on a
luxury experience train like this one. I shook my head as I watched
her go through the door at the far end. It must just be the way she
was; some people found it difficult to relax.
I made my way through the rest of the train. When I finally
reached Greg’s office, I took a deep, calming breath before knocking
on the door.
“Come in,” he called.
I twisted the brass knob and stuck my head around the door, part
of me not wanting to go all the way into his office and hoping I would
not have to. It was a small, dingy room with papers and notebooks
everywhere. It was as far from the luxury of the rest of the train as
you could get, and I often wondered how Greg ever found anything in
all that mess.
“You wanted to see me?” I said.
“Yes, yes. Come in, Jessica. Sit down.”
He smiled bombastically at me, already looking smug, and I
reminded myself to just get out of there as quickly as possible. As I sat
down, I spotted Walter—the company’s computer guru—seated in the
corner, looking equally pleased with himself. I looked from one to the
“What’s going on?” I asked, a sense of unease growing in the pit of
Greg laughed. Actually laughed! It was a habit of his that I’d hated
when we were seeing each other, and I hated it even more now. What
sort of person laughs randomly like that? I bit the inside of my cheek,
reminding myself I would be out of the office and back in my beloved
kitchen before I knew it. I’d whip up a pie—I always liked to bake
when I was stressed, much to the delight of our passengers.
“Good news,” Greg said. “Good old Walter here has found a way of
doubling ticket sales.”
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“Has he, indeed?” I asked, shooting Walter a look. He shrugged
almost apologetically, and I had to remind myself that none of this
was his fault.
“Yes,” Greg continued. “You must have noticed how busy the train
I had, he was right, but it was the Summer Excursion. “They’re
here for the barbecue,” I said simply. “Didn’t you say these excursions
were always popular?”
He laughed again and rubbed at the dark stubble on his chin that
always seemed the same length, no matter the time of day. “It seems I
was right all along.”
I paused, waiting for him to continue, but he obviously wanted me
to ask. I rolled my eyes. “About what?” I asked, trying to keep my tone
“The tourists are hankering for a fancier feast than the one you
currently serve,” he said with a grin.
How did I ever find him attractive?
He was handsome enough, I supposed. It was his personality that
was the problem. His face was round, but not overly full, and he had
long, dark eyelashes over steely gray eyes. I used to feel butterflies in
my tummy whenever he looked at me through his lashes, but now I
could see it for what it was—an overused gesture that he knew the
ladies loved. It was useful for distracting them from his seemingly
“Listen, Jessie,” he said, putting his elbows onto the desk and
pointing at me with his pen.
“Jessica,” I corrected.
“All right, Jessica,” he conceded. “I love your barbecued chicken,
corn on the cob, and baked beans as much as the next man, but I think
we’ve proven—with the sales—that it’s just not the fine fare our
I hated that word: consumers. It turned our friendly, funny, warm
passengers into numbers on a spreadsheet. I wasn’t sure Greg ever
went out to meet them. All they represented to him was dollar
“But the townsfolk adore their Summer BBQ Excursion,” I said,
even though I’d said it a thousand times before. “You can’t take that
from them just because a bunch of strangers—”
“It’s not the townsfolk who bring in the money, Jessie—”
“If I may,” Walter said, interrupting in that nasally voice of his.
“The wine industry in Northern California is booming, thanks to all
those canyon fires.”
“And is that something to be happy about, Walter? The fires?” I
asked, looking aghast at his wide grin. He quickly swapped it for a
sympathetic frown, though his eyes were wide with panic. I suspected
he was not used to dealing with strong women.
“No, no, no.” He shook his head firmly, as though trying to
convince me. “That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m trying to
“What Walter is saying is that with the area becoming the new
wine country, we’ve got a chance to grab hold of the market. The
place is filling up with more and more tourists by the day. We’ve got
to take advantage of that.”
“But nothing, Jessie. It’s been decided.” He held his hands in the air
helplessly, like he wasn’t happy about the result. “We’re replacing your
simple meal with a gourmet champagne brunch.”
“Right.” I slapped my thighs then got up from my seat. “Is that all?”
I couldn’t bring myself to smile again. Not here, and not for Greg.
And I wouldn’t sit there listening to any more of his nonsense. If we
were swapping out the barbecue for fine dining next year, I was going
to make this last Summer BBQ Excursion the best there had ever
“From today, Jessie,” he said, eyeing me seriously.
“What?” I could feel the furrows in my forehead as I glared down
at him. “What do you mean, from today?”
“I mean, today we’ll be serving a gourmet champagne brunch
instead of barbecue chicken and burgers.”
I gasped and fell heavily back into my seat.
“That’s what they’re all here for, Jessica,” Walter said eagerly from
his corner. I shot him a dark look.
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