“I am sick of this train already,” Helen Magnus says, staring out the the window as the countryside flies by.
“I heartily agree,” James Watson agrees with a nod.
“I for one am quite enjoying this little trip,” John Druitt says. James groans and Helen sighs, but John just smiles. “I rarely get to travel in such a manner, and with such company.”
“Why is he here again?” James asks Helen, ignoring John completely. He shouldn’t be so snappish. John, after all, had saved their lives the last time they met. France had been a dangerous place at the height of the last war, and even if Helen did not approve of John’s methods, he had been instrumental in the Allies’ victory. Still, a meeting in the heat of battle was a very different thing from being stuck together on a much too slow moving train.
“He had the information we need to stop the Parandrus hunters,” Helen replies. Parandrus look like shaggy oxen if you catch them in their natural state, but they are chameleons, taking the shape of any other animal they’ve met in order to avoid danger. Dead, they revert to their original form, and their fur is prized among a certain subset of abnormal hunters.
“And yet, he is still present,” James says. John is looking at him, and even with all of his deductive skills, James can’t tell what he is thinking. Maybe he never could. Maybe the mystery was why John Druitt had captured his attention so long ago.
“There is the little matter of determining who set up this little safari, and where exactly the abnormals are headed,” John points out. James knows he is right.
“Which explains why we are on this train, but not why you suddenly decided to join us for the trip,” James snipes, anyway. John’s betrayal is the kind that last lifetimes, even after their meeting in France, John’s presence still puts James on edge.
“Boys,” Magnus says, getting in between them. It’s a skill of hers, really. For all he is a rational genius, she’s the one with the focus. Her presence defuses his need to argue with John, to try and settle things that can never be settled. She is calm in the face of the situation, after all, and she was betrayed just as much as he. Helen has always been better at compartmentalization than he.
“There is actually a mission at hand, and James, you know as well as I that we need John’s help.” Helen turns to John, and continues, “And for you, while your information was invaluable, and your help beneficial, if necessary we would find away to complete the mission without you. We should be four more hours until the tunnel. I suggest the two of you get some shut eye, or at the very least, pretend that the other isn’t here.”
John sighs, but takes the book Helen hands him, and retires to the cabin’s only chair. James takes the bunk and his own reading material, and Helen interjects herself between them as if they were still squabbling school boys instead of men well into their second lifespan.
When the time is finally right, John deposits them in the baggage car, as the train rumbles into the tunnel. No one will notice their search, and the guards who have been inhabiting the baggage car for the last three days are safely unconscious on the side of the mountain. No one is expecting to hear from them until they are safely on the other side of the mountain.
Popping in and out of moving vehicles is a tricky business, but he had promised Helen that he would not kill the men. Letting the elements do his job for him, well, she doesn’t need to know the details.
There are bags and packages, and hopefully two caged and sedated parandrus in the car. That’s what the hunters had claimed when they had derailed their abnormal safari ten days ago in Oregon. The train’s manifest, which Helen had managed to acquire, suggests nothing of the sort. The guards, though, the guards seemed to suggest something abnormal is being transport.
John, James and Helen search, but there are no parandrus. No cages of any kind, or any other conveyance which might hide a living being. No sign at all, not until John has a sudden sinking feeling in his gut, and pulls open a crate marked “furs.”
Helen looks over his shoulder, and then turns away briefly. “Parandrus hides,” she authenticates. The shaggy furs fill the crate. Certainly more than two of the beasts has lost their lives.
“Easier to transport than living abnormals,” James says quietly.
“And they’re worth more as fur,” says a voice from the baggage car door. The man is wearing a great coat, buttoned against the snow outside, gun in hand. He doesn’t look familiar to John, but from the way Helen is scowling, he’s familiar to her.
“Travers,” she says, tone enough to scare lesser men into begging for forgiveness or finding the nearest hiding spot.
“Helen Magnus, or should I be congratulating Mrs. John Watson?” the man taunts.
“Bit of a rouse,” James says with a shrug. It still makes the rage inside John rise, even though he knows that it was simply a way to ease their travel. John, of course, has no need of appearing on the train’s list of a passengers, and so his presence goes unnoticed and causes no raised eyebrows that an unmarried couple traveling together might. He pushes the rage aside for the moment, concentrating on the man with the gun.
“Ah, I didn’t think you were the marrying type, Magnus,” Travers says.
“Are we really going to stand here debating my marital status?” Helen asks. “Or are you going to tell me who your buyers are?”
“That would be telling.” Traver smiles a greasy smile, and wave his gun at them. “Now, if the three of you would put your hands in the air?”
Helen’s hands rise, but it doesn't stop her from talking. “What exactly is your plan here, Travers?”
“Why, kill you of course. You are, after all, the biggest impediment to my business. Even the IRS isn’t this much of a pain.” Travers smiles his greasy smile again, and pulls the trigger without further delay. Bullets fly, and John pulls James down just in the nick of time. The distraction allows Magnus to pull her gun and shoot Travers twice in the chest. At least he wasn’t interested in monologuing, though John supposes Helen would have rather talked him out of whatever plan he’d been in the middle of.
Helen checks Travers for a pulse, as John checks James for bullet holes.
James brushes away his hands. “I’m fine, old chap, just fine. Bullets went over my head, thanks to you,” James says, and points to where the slugs have embedded themselves into the car’s wooden side.
“Well, that was not how I imagined this would go,” Helen says, frowning at the dead body.
James rights himself, and then riffles through Traver’s pockets. “I thought I caught a glimpse... ah, yes,” he says, as he pulls a piece of paper from a coat pocket. He hands it to Helen who reads it aloud.
“Four hides (parandrus) -- Milo’s, New York.”
“Seems likely that where Traver’s was supposed to meet the buyer,”James says. He continues his search, but turns up nothing, not even a wallet.
“I’ll take care of the body,” John says, taking a hold of the corpse’s coat. Helen nods, and so he pops to an island where he has disposed of evidence before. He leaves the body floating in the surf, and returns to the train.
“We should get going,” Helen says, after John arrives. “Someone may have heard something, even over the noise of the tunnel.”
“It will be suspicious if the two of you disappear off the train,” John points out. “It’s only another day to the next stop. You could disembark there, and allow me to provide an alternate route from there.”
“He’s not wrong, Helen,” James says. He looks at John, and John see something he hasn’t .txte Victoria was Queen. Maybe the confession he’d wrung out of James in that Nazi bunker had done some good after all.
“We’ve already been on this infernal train for a three days. I suppose one more day can’t hurt. The buyers won’t be expecting Travers until the train arrives in New York, anyway,” Helen says, ignoring whatever just happened between the two of them. She’s known them for long enough that she probably knows more about their relationship than they do, John supposes.
“That settled, I’ll return us to your cabin,” John says, and is a flash of light they are clear of the baggage car.
Once in the cabin, John lets her go, and she turns to sit on the folded down bunk. He lets go of James, but James does not move.
“James?” John asks in a surprisingly gentle voice. He reaches out, tentatively. James doesn’t pull away. Helen’s known this is where they were heading ever .txte James clashed with John earlier in the day. Something has changed between the two men, something she suspects very much had to do with James’ captivity. Even now, when they travel the world together, and share a bed most nights, it is not something they talk about: John or the war.
“You are not forgiven,” James says, John’s hand still on his face. “But, perhaps, until the train stops, our differences could be momentarily forgotten.”
John stares at James, and Helen cannot tear her eyes away, awaiting John’s response. John is still a killer, still Jack the Ripper, but he is a part of them, a part that cannot be let go so easily.
“I... yes, James, that would be agreeable to me, if it is to you, Helen?” he asks, turning to her.
She should have better judgment, but that’s never been her strong suit, so she nods, and says, “Yes, John, that would be agreeable to me. There is nothing more we can do tonight, anyway.”
John moves his hand from James’ face to his shoulder, clearly unwilling to lose touch. He takes her hand when she offers it though, pulling James with him to the too narrow bunk.
They sit there, both staring at her, as if they don’t know how this works, or what to do next. She supposes they don’t. Its been so long and so much has changed. Helen reaches out for James’ hand, and once she has it, she leans in and kisses John lightly on the lips. He bites back a whimper as she pulls away, doesn’t notice her nod to James, who replaces her lips with his.
She waits for him to pull away from John, and kisses James, too. He’s familiar now, after so many nights in some many beds. He’s familiar and safe in ways that John never was. At least not to her, she suspects that for James, though, John had always been a refuge. This is for all of them, though, if it is for any of them, and bad ideas aside, she has wanted this .txte John had appeared back in the lives two years ago in France.
James scoots next to the wall of the cabin, and moves to pull John down besides.
“And in the morning?” John asks, as he moves to lay beside James. She can tell he wants something, a promise perhaps, but that isn’t anything she can give him
“In the morning, Helen says, “we will be back on the case.”
James says nothing, just buries his face at John’s neck, as his fingers work the buttons of john’s shirt.
John nods and Helen kisses him again so she doesn’t have to see the look on his face. She can’t fix everything, but tonight at least, she can at least give them this, she thinks, and lets John and James pull her down onto the bed.