by Pico ヨハネス
Story of vengence and new found love. My first novel.
Someone always makes it aboard the train just before departure. The porter dragged an enormous suitcase through the door, and pushed it into the baggage area with a grunt and a hint of annoyance written on his face. Through it all the late arrival peppered him with questions in French as he guided her toward her seat. Mark Rathman watched with amusement as the little drama moved down the aisle toward him, until he realized that the only empty spot in the entire train car sat right next to him. At least this chatterbox wasn’t speaking English. He didn't ride the train to socialize. The train started moving, before she reached her seat. She gave Mark a nervous smile as she sat.
“Voudriez-vous, changer de siege avec moi, et vous pouvez regardez dehors?” Mark asked in heavily accented, stilted French. Downtown Montreal, Quebec rolled by as the Via Rail train left the station. Mark couldn't help notice the view of Montreal from the rail lines, old brickwork, graffiti and bits of garbage.
“That's very nice of you to offer,” the young woman responded in flawless English. “Are you sure you don't want to sit by the window yourself?”
“No, no...” Mark said, caught off guard, “I plan to sleep most of the way to Toronto anyway.”
Her smile faded some in disappointment, when he said he would sleep. He slid over to the aisle end of the bench seat while she squeezed past him. He caught a whiff of her hair as she passed much closer than he wanted.
“Thank you,” she said, once she'd settled into her seat. “You're a gentleman.”
Being nice wasn't his intention. He really wanted to catch some shuteye and avoid any unnecessary social contact. He wanted to blend in and disappear like a ghost. Before boarding he noted an off duty police officer travelling with his wife and two Canadian Armed Forces personnel on leave. Probably going home to visit family. If they were looking to party they were going the wrong direction. No threats to him though. Goons from Rodrigues gang were even less subtle in public. He could spot them a mile away. He wasn’t particularly concerned about blowing his cover. His identification would pass close inspection and his enemies didn’t have a clue where he’d disappeared off to anyway.
“By the way my name is Christine.”
Great, she wants to have a conversation. Worse, he couldn't help but notice her brown eyes, the shape of her small nose and mouth, her expression as she spoke. A painful hollowness filled his chest. God, he regretted taking the train, even if he could stretch his long legs out, and sleep in relative comfort.
“Nice to meet you. I'm Phil,” Mark lied with a straight face. “Hope you don't mind my sleeping.”
“It's okay, I'm pretty tired myself. I won't bother you.”
To Mark's surprise she left him to sleep after that. The presence of an attractive woman in the seat next to him, made falling asleep a challenge. His skin tingled. His mind kept drifting back to her image and he had to fight the urge to look again. He sensed her attraction and struggled with himself to hide his own unintentional interest. He could feel her looking at him out of the corner of her eye. A year and a half since Nicole’s murder and the loneliness still ate into him as strong as ever. Finally she stopped watching him and turned to look out the window as the last of Montreal slipped from view.
Spring began settling into the fertile St. Lawrence valley, and the landscape showed signs of exploding into green glory. As the train progressed the blazing sun that shone when they departed, gave way to cloud, dark and brooding. Mark drifted off to sleep before they passed Cornwall, a fine drizzle pelted against the window. Christine herself nodded off a little later, tipping over and snuggling into Mark's side.
Mark's quiet trip proceeded to get further derailed. He drew attention to himself as he slept, haunted by a recurring nightmare that picked this place and time to torture him again. He awoke wild-eyed and tense somewhere past Kingston.
“Are you ok, Phil?” Christine asked, awakened by his thrashing.
Mark fought through a mental fog. She had invaded his dream as its final victim. His waking up had transformed her expression of terror to that of concerned stranger in a baffling instant. Other passengers stared. At least he knew that he told her his name was Phil. He used that name a lot.
“Just a bit of a nightmare is all,” he stammered out. “Might've been something I ate before I got on the train.”
“Should watch what you eat,” she said relaxing just a little. “Must’ve been an awful nightmare. You were starting to make a scene with all that tossing, turning, muttering and yelling out like that.”
The fog started to lift for Mark now, and things began to make sense. Christine’s face bore a remarkable resemblance to Nicole, pretty but with an air of innocence that Nicole never had. If not for the blond hair, they could've passed for sisters. Her build and manner were similar to Nicole’s as well, petite, with a girlish figure. He figured his subconscious grabbed a hold of that and prompted this version of his recurring nightmare. A dose of hormones probably worked against him as well. She appeared to be blushing a little, which struck him a little odd. He cursed himself for taking public transportation. Dreams like this haunted him every once in awhile. Part of him worried about losing his edge. Not being at the top of his game could prove deadly. Rodrigues and his organization would not allow him a mistake. If he were caught, he would die without seeing justice. He knew too much and had caused them too much grief.
“Is your wife coming to pick you up at the train station?”
The question caught him off guard. It took him a moment to realize, her eyes rested on the plain wedding band on his finger. Taking the train looked more and more like a terrible mistake. He should have just driven the van.
“No I live by myself. My wife died in a car crash a little more than a year ago,” he lied. “Icy roads, heavy traffic...”
“I am so sorry. I had no idea.”
Mark shifted in his seat a little. The lies usually came so easily, and Christine just accepted it all, oblivious to his dishonesty. Something about her made him ashamed about lying to her, even if it was necessary.
Since he couldn’t avoid a conversation, he thought it best to start giving it a little direction. Take it somewhere, way away from explaining his life. After all, it would be more than an hour, before the train would arrive at Union Station in Toronto.
“What brings you to the big city?” he asked.
“I met recruiters who offered me a job and a small apartment.” The words gushed out of her mouth. “I impressed them with my secretarial skills, and the fact that I have no accent in French or English. I've never traveled much, so I’m really excited.”
“Good for you! Have you ever been to Toronto?”
“No,” she said dropping her eyes to her hands folded in her lap. “I've barely been outside of the eastern townships. I've been to Montreal a few times. For us the big city was Granby… believe it or not.”
“Nothing wrong with being a small town girl, don't let the big city turn you into a cold-hearted business executive.”
“It isn't that bad is it?” She looked back up at him her eyes widening.
“Naw, I'm just teasing a little.” He answered, a hint of a smile teasing the corner of his mouth. “I loved the townships, and the people there. I just think you are going to find Toronto a little bit cold in comparison. Don't let me kill your enthusiasm though. There are lots of opportunities, and all kinds of different people. It took me awhile to get used to it.”
“You are not from Toronto then?”
“I am for now,” he replied. “Grew up in Niagara Falls, went to college in California, even lived in Montreal for awhile.” He cursed himself, because he didn't want to get the conversation back on himself or tell her much about himself. She seemed more concerned about learning the details of her new hometown, and the conversation centred on that the rest of the way to Toronto.
The train pulled into Union Station right on time, 5:30PM. They both needed to take the subway, so they agreed to stick together until Christine got to her stop.
When they stood in the aisle next to each other, Christine looked up at Mark, just a little wide-eyed.
“What?” Mark asked.
“I'm sorry, I just had no idea you were so tall. I feel like a midget. We look funny together.”
Mark just gave her a little half smile for that one. “C’mon, lets grab our bags and get out of here.”
They followed the inching line of passengers, down the aisle to the exit, where they picked up their luggage. Mark's suitcase appeared small next to Christine’s awkward monster. She held up the line, trying to get it turned around, so she could grab the strap to pull it along behind her. Mark looked back, and only hesitated a few seconds before grabbing the handle and hefting it easily. He didn't put it down until they were clear of the train, and out of the mass of people moving toward the subway.
“Wow, I sure could've used you going from the bus terminal to the train station back in Montreal,” Her voice was tinged with a note of awe.
“You dragged this, all the way across Place Bonaventure? I'm impressed. How'd you manage all those stairs?”
“Some old man had pity on me, and with his help we managed. I almost missed the train because of that.”
“This next bit is going to be a very, rude welcome to Toronto. It's rush hour so here's what we'll do.” Mark spoke, fumbling in his pocket. “I got an extra subway token here somewhere from before I got my pass.”
He found the token and passed it to Christine. “I'm going to carry your suitcase backwards, and you're going to hold the strap, so we don't get separated. Ready?"
She nodded and they were off. The crowd closed around them. No need to worry about getting lost. Everyone rushed in the same direction. Mark was ready for it, and had the advantage of at least being able to see ahead. He felt sorry for Christine, knowing that all she could see were bodies crushing in around her. At the ticket booth, Mark already had his pass out, and waved it at the attendant in the booth. Christine dropped her token into the turn style and walked through. They stopped on the edge of the platform, a little way away from the bulk of the crowd.
“That was smooth.” He grinned trying to encourage a very bewildered Christine. “Just relax for a second. The subway doors will stop right in front of us here. There’s a breeze coming out of the tunnel. Should be able to hear it soon.”
As predicted, the subway rolled to a stop, and they were standing right in front of the doors to the last car. They carried everything in and there were even seats available. They sat. Christine pulled a piece of paper and pen out of her purse, and jotted a couple things down, as they pulled out of the station.
“You're getting off at College Street. It isn't very far. I'll help you out of that station with that oversized suitcase of yours, and you can catch a cab from there like you were planning. It shouldn't cost you too much. I have a pass and can get back on the subway, no problem. I'm not in a great hurry.”
“I really appreciate all you've done to help me. I don't know how I would have managed to get this far without your help.” she answered. Then she added, “And to think if I'd known you were a giant, I would have been scared of you and not said two words to you all the way here. You just don't seem so huge when you're sitting down.”
He grinned at her. “Too friendly for my own good.”
He could see the tension building in her facial features as they approached the point of parting ways. His mind flashed back to his nightmare, and her frightened image echoed in the back of his mind. He shrugged it off, knowing his subconscious struggled to make sense of things that didn't have to make any sense. Either that or his testosterone levels were getting out of hand. He looked into her eyes and he sensed the hollowness inside him again. Part of Mark missed that kind of companionship. He missed Nicole more than ever. He wanted to follow Christine like a lost puppy. No time for that, he had a destiny to fulfill, a war to fight. Christine, or anyone else would just be a distraction and maybe another casualty.
The College Street subway station flashed into view. The doors opened and they were off to the races again. Hordes of people swarmed around them as they climbed the stairs on their way out to the street. When they breathed the not so fresh air of wet downtown Toronto, Christine looked bewildered. Mark knew exactly where they were going and where they needed to be. He hailed a cab for her, and got her suitcase into the trunk. Time to part and Christine looked petrified. She pressed the piece of paper she had written on, into Mark’s hand.
“This is the phone number and address of the company I will be working for. I’ll let them know to take a message or transfer you through to me. Please call, I would love to see you again.” She stated this almost pleadingly, and the images and words from his nightmare echoed in his mind again.
“Sure,” he lied. He didn't intend to ever see her again, and the lie almost stuck in his throat. Maybe, if things were different, he could pursue a relationship, but not now. He shook it off. Don’t kid yourself. He already had the love of his life, and he lost her. He blamed himself. He stuffed the note in his pocket after pretending to look at it. He smiled at her and felt like a hypocrite. Good thing this was ending now. He didn't want to hurt her feelings... or his for that matter.
He shut the door to the cab, and waved as it disappeared into the late afternoon Toronto traffic. Now he felt like crap. This would mess with his head for days. He picked up his suitcase resting on the ground, which suddenly seemed a whole lot heavier than before. There were new gadgets in there that he looked forward to putting to work. That would have to wait till tomorrow. Right now he needed to get back on the subway and ride. Home waited at the end of the line in the back of his plain brown and gold Ford Econoline van. He looked forward to settling down on his cot, and catching up on the sleep he didn't get on the train. Next time he had to go to Montreal he would just drive there. His hand rested for a moment on the pocket where he had stuffed Christine's note. For a moment he thought about pulling it out and having a look at it. The temptation toyed with him, but he decided he would go to sleep and make a point of forgetting. For some reason he couldn't just crumple it and throw it in the nearest trashcan.