As Nattie sat in the dining car she looked at the fresh, clean linen table napkins with wonder. All of them had been neatly folded into swans. Who takes the time to do that? A better question would be who has the time to do all that? As she pondered this dilemma, she turned her attention toward the world passing by her. She wondered just how long it would take for her to resume a normal life. Or was that even possible at this point?
After Max met his untimely demise at the hands of Mr. Lucky, it was suggested that Nattie might want to consider a change of scenery or face the same fate. Maybe if she would have asked more questions, she wouldn’t find herself on a train headed for Phoenix.
“Hello, Miss. Would you care to start your evening with a cocktail?”
Her thoughts interrupted, Nattie looked up at the non-descript, doughy faced young man.
“Yes, I would. Tom Collins, please.”
The waiter nodded and disappeared.
“Hello. Is this seat taken?”
Rolling her eyes, Nattie opened her mouth to object but was immediately silenced by the handsome face before her.
“No. It’s not.”
The man sat down directly across from her. His dark eyes glinted with good humor.
“This place seems to be filling up. I hope I’m not intruding.”
“No, not at all.”
“I’m Jack. Jack Brewster.” He offered his hand to Nattie. She immediately took it.
“Natalie Price. Nattie for short.”
“Pleased to me you, Nattie.” He smiled. This was the greatest thing Nattie had seen in weeks. His entire face lit up. She noticed a slight dimple in his left cheek. Maybe this excursion was going to turn out alright after all, Nattie thought.
Jack was immediately taken with Nattie’s angelic good looks. The fact that she was curvy in all the right places was merely a bonus. There was something very dark hiding behind her baby blues and Jack found himself wanting to get to the bottom of it.
The waiter returned with Nattie’s Tom Collins. Placing it on the coaster in front of her, he turned his attention to Jack. “I didn’t know you had a guest, Miss. Can I get you anything from the bar, Sir?”
“Yes, you can. I would like three fingers of your best 30-year-old Single Malt Scotch.”
“Right away, Sir.”
“I like a man with specific tastes. So, tell me, Jack Brewster. What is it you do for a living?”
“I’m a salesman.”
“Really? You don’t seem like the type.”
“Want to see my card?” Jack reaches into his inner jacket pocket and hands his card to Nattie.
Nattie studies the card for a moment. She slips it into her purse.
The waiter returns with Jack’s Scotch and places it on the coaster in front of him.
“Would either of you care for a menu?”
It takes a moment before Jack shifts his focus from Nattie.
“I can’t speak for the lady, but I’m doing fine.”
“So am I.”
Nodding, the waiter leaves their table.
“Where were we?”
“I think we were discussing my impressive credentials.”
“Right. Are you traveling on business, I presume?”
“Yes. I’m heading to Los Angeles. What’s your destination?”
“Phoenix. I’m visiting family.”
Jack takes a sip of his drink. “There is a Mr. Price. I am assuming.”
“You would be assuming incorrectly.”
“This conversation keeps getting better and better.”
“Maybe. Providing there isn’t a Mrs. Brewster nearby.”
“I left her in Michigan.”
“Oh.” For a slight second, disappointment registers all over Nattie’s face. She tries to mask it by taking a sip of her cocktail.
“My mother hates to travel.”
“Too bad. She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”
All of a sudden, a gentleman carrying an attaché case makes his way down the aisle and almost collides with Jack.
“Hey, Pal. Why don’t you watch where you’re going with that attaché case?”
“My apologies, Sir. Good evening, Miss.”
Jack gazes after the man as he makes his way into the other car.
“Do you know him?”
“Nah. Besides your family, what’s in Phoenix? Do you have a job?”
“No. I just needed a …change, I guess.”
“Are you from Phoenix?”
“No, I’m from Philadelphia.”
“Philadelphia! Lovely city. I go there quite frequently.”
“I have an idea. Why don’t I freshen our drinks and I will meet you in the observation car? Say ten minutes?”
Smiling, Jack exited from the table and headed toward the bar.
Who was this mystery man, Nattie wondered as she pulled her compact from her purse? Powdering her nose quickly, she pursed her lips debating on whether or not to reapply new lipstick. Deciding against it, Nattie put the compact away. She was feeling decidedly giddy and slightly flushed. Something about the way Jack looked at her set her heart on fire. Normally she was usually cool and reserved but this man got under her skin.
Jack found the observation car was sparsely occupied. As luck would have it, he was able to procure two rather luxurious looking chairs in a sequestered section in the back of the car. He sat down and placed the two drinks on the table and proceeded to wait for the lovely Nattie.
She was a looker. Not to mention, she had legs for days. In reality, he loved her eyes. They were as blue as the sky and he found himself having to resist the urge to kiss her soft mouth. At that precise moment, he looked up and saw Nattie making her way toward him. When she reached the table, he stood up.
“I thought maybe you might have reconsidered my offer.”
“That is a fair enough assessment. I barely know you.”
“That is why I suggested we go someplace a little less …”
“Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth.”
Nattie brought her glass to her lips. Locking eyes with Jack, she took a sip.
“Tell me, Jack Brewster. What is waiting for you in Los Angeles?”
“I am about to close an incredible deal that I have been working on for months. If it goes through, I’ll be on Easy Street for years to come.”
“I don’t mean to pry but Phoenix just doesn’t seem like it would suit you.”
“Now, why would you say that? You hardly know me.”
“No, but I can tell when somebody is bluffing. Call it a trick of the trade, so to speak.”
“Really? I am intrigued. What’s my story then?”
Jack shifts in his seat a little and leans forward so that he is as close to Nattie as possible.
“I think you are running from something. Maybe a husband, maybe a boyfriend, I don’t know but I think you got in some kind of trouble along the way.”
Nattie considers what Jack has just said. She takes another sip of her drink.
“That makes two of us because I don’t buy that you are a salesman either. I know you have a card but anyone can get one of those.”
“Touché.” Jack raises his glass to Nattie.
“So now that we have established what we aren’t. I’ll tell if you tell.”
“A beauty with brains what a lethal combination.”
The pair hold each other’s gazes for a moment. Nattie is the first to look away. She debated on telling Jack the real reason why she left Philadelphia but something in his eyes told her she might be able to trust him.
“This goes against my better judgment but why not? I may never see you again and it isn’t that glamorous. I fell for the wrong guy. He stole some money from the wrong person and wound up missing. Needless to say, I could have suffered the same fate so I chose a one-way ticket to Phoenix. Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“Tough break. I’m sorry.”
Nattie shrugged. “Me too. It’s in the past and like the saying goes, ‘No use crying over spilled milk’.”
“Did you love him?”
“At the time. Now, it’s your turn.”
“I’m what you might call a middle man.”
“What do you mean?”
“When certain people have things and other people want things, I bridge the gap.”
“So, you’re a thief.”
“In so many words, yes.”
“Are you on a job now?”
Jack smiles. Nattie has to fight the urge to trace his dimple with her finger.
“I have a proposition for you.”
Nattie raises her eyebrow.
“Look, I get the feeling you don’t want to end up in Arizona. I could use a little help. Are you interested?”
“What exactly would I be doing?”
“I need you to distract someone while I look for something in their room.”
“What are you looking for?”
“A very special attaché case.”
At this point, Nattie remembers the gentleman from the dining car and Jack’s sudden interest in him.
“Does it happen to belong to the man from the dining car?”
“You catch on really fast.”
“I do. What’s the plan?”
“Well, Mr. Dennison is scheduled to depart the train in St. Louis which is tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. We have to move quick. He usually eats dinner around 8. I was thinking that you could buy him a drink or something and otherwise occupy him.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“I’ll give you half of the fee.”
“How does 500 sound?”
Nattie considered this for a moment. If she took the 500 she might be able to just skip Phoenix altogether and start fresh in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
“You’ve got a deal.”
Smiling, Nattie offered Jack her hand. He took it and held it while gazing into her eyes.
“I should be getting back to my compartment. It’s almost show time and a girl has to look her very best.”
“Personally, I don’t think you could look much better.”
The color rose in Nattie’s cheeks. Jack reaches across the table and lifts her chin. Moving closer, he gently places his lips on hers. Once they are finished kissing, Jack lingers close to her face.
“I hope you don’t think I was being too forward. I have wanted to do that for quite some time.”
“No, not at all.” Nattie leans in and kisses Jack again. This time, the kiss is more fervent. Breaking away, Jack stands up and takes Nattie’s hand pulling her up with him.
“Let’s go someplace a little more private.”
Nattie nods and follows Jack back to his compartment.
Once safely inside, Jack closes the door. He strides purposefully toward Nattie. Embracing her hard, he deftly starts to unbutton her blouse. Nattie does the same thing to him. Their shirts hit the floor, quickly followed by their other garments. Awash in desire, the two tumble on to the bed.
Dennison sits by the window in his compartment watching the scenery. He turns his attention to the attaché case on the table. His fingertips gently caress the burnished leather.
Jack brushes Nattie’s hair from her face as they lie in one another’s arms. He kisses the crown of her head.
“We should probably get ready for our little escapade.”
Nattie sits up. “Yes, after all, I have to look presentable if I am going to play the seductress.”
Jack watches her beautifully sculpted back realizing that he was falling hard for this woman. Part of him understood that they had business to attend to but part of him wanted to wrap her up in his arms and never let her go.
Completely in place once again, a fully dressed Nattie, turns around, leans over and kisses Jack on the lips. “I will see you later.”
As Nattie enters the dining car, she is aware that several of the male patrons are focused on her. With a slight smirk, she locates Dennison who is sitting near the back and sashays her way toward him.
“Hello. Do you mind if I sit down? It’s awfully crowded in here.”
Dennison looks up from his wine to see this impeccably dressed gorgeous creature before him. He stands up nearly knocking the table over. “Please, take a seat.”
Nattie smiles at him. “Thank you so much.” She extends her hand to Dennison.
“I’m Gwen Rogers.”
“Miss Rogers or is it Mrs.?”
Dennison covers her hand with his.
“I am Richard Dennison.”
“Very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Likewise. Please, call me Richard.”
“Alright. You may call me Gwen.”
“Are you traveling alone, Gwen?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“May I ask business or pleasure?”
From a secluded spot, right outside the dining car, Jack observes Nattie. He smiles and heads for Dennison’s compartment. Right before he gets to the door, he notices the conductor walking his way. Smiling as they pass one another, Jack nods and walks right by Dennison’s compartment and turns the corner. He waits and then circles back.
Removing a lock pick from his jacket pocket, Jack proceeds to work the door. All of a sudden, the catch springs to life and Jack slips inside the room.
He takes a cursory look around him. Everything is in place. Jack mutters under his breath, “Damn it, Dennison!” He walks over to the closet and opens the door. No attaché case.
In the dining car, Nattie is sipping from a martini glass and Dennison is partaking from a snifter of Cognac. They are laughing as if they are old friends.
“You have such fascinating stories, Richard.”
“Thank you. It isn’t often I get to regale a beautiful woman such as yourself with my tales.”
Nattie leans in so that Dennison can get a nice shot of her ample décolletage.
“Tell me, what will you be doing in St. Louis?”
“I will be delivering an item that took me many years to acquire.”
“That sounds intriguing.”
Dennison takes another sip of his brandy.
“It is a decent living. I have no complaints. My employer pays for me to see the world. What about you?”
“Well, my employer isn’t that nice but I hope to see the world someday.”
Dennison reaches across the table and slides his hand over Nattie’s.
“I can be quite a good tour guide.”
Nattie smiled but inwardly she was wondering what was taking Jack so long? She studied her current dinner companion with his ridiculous mustache and pretentious manner trying to determine if she should excuse herself and see what was going on in his compartment.
At that moment, Jack appeared within eye shot of Nattie. Nodding, he motioned for her to follow him.
“I would like to take you up on that offer sometime.” Nattie glances at her watch. “I didn’t realize it was this late!”
“Nonsense! It is the shank of the evening. At least do me the courtesy of having another cocktail with me.”
“Thank you for the offer but I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. I have had a wonderful time.”
“At least allow me to escort you back to your room.”
Back in Nattie’s compartment, Jack found himself studying the attaché case. He turned it over. There was no key in sight and his lock picking skills seemed to be failing him. At least he had what his boss was looking for and certainly someone would figure out how to open the damn thing. Then again, if they couldn’t, well, he didn’t want to think about the consequences.
Nattie stopped at her door. “Thank you for a lovely time, Richard.”
“The pleasure was all mine, Nattie. If you ever get to St. Louis, do not hesitate to look me up.”
Richard produced his business card and handed it to Nattie.
“Thank you so much, I will.”
Without warning, Richard leans in, grabs Nattie by the waist and pulls her into an awkward embrace.
Caught off guard, Nattie attempts to struggle but before she can do anything, Richard’s mouth is covering hers. She tries pushing him back but his grip on her only gets tighter.
Inside the room, Jack hears a scuffle outside the door. He can hear Nattie’s muffled cries. Immediately alarmed, he springs into action. At the exact time, he begins to turn the doorknob, Nattie flies into the room accompanied by a startled Richard Dennison. Her blouse is askew and her hair is out of place. Jack assesses the situation.
“Hey Pal. Were you getting a little handsy with my girl?”
Dennison looks at Nattie who immediately looks at Jack.
“Accept my apologies, sir. I didn’t know the lady was otherwise engaged, I thought…”
Jack cuts him off.
“You thought because she was alone that you could take advantage of her.”
“No, I swear….”
“Well, that’s not the way I see it and I am certain that is not how the lady sees it either. Are you okay, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine. Just a little shaken.”
At this point before Dennison can extricate himself from the situation, Jack grabs him and shoves him into the room, locking the door behind him.
“While you’re here, I could use your assistance.”
“What are you talking about? I…”
Jack shoves Dennison forward in the direction of the attaché case which is on the table. When Dennison sees it, his eyes widen almost comically.
“My attaché! Where did you…?”
“Where do you think? There’s a problem with this, Chief and I need you to solve it. The damn thing won’t open so do whatever magic you have to do and fix the situation.”
Dennison narrows his eyes. His nostrils flair with indignation.
“I most certainly will not! This is my property, sir.”
“Okay. So, this is how this is going to work.”
Jack removes a gun from his inside jacket pocket. With it, he gestures for Dennison to move toward the table. Nattie watches in stunned silence.
“You are going to open that attaché case.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“I don’t have the key. I mean…it’s not on me at present. It’s in my room.”
Rolling his eyes, Jack grabs Dennison by the shoulder and propels him to the door.
“Well, then we are going to have to go to your room and get it.”
Once outside the compartment, Jack presses his gun into Dennison’s back. He growls into his ear.
“If you so much as breathe wrong, I will shoot you.”
The two men walk down the narrow hallways. They see a couple coming toward them. Jack pulls Dennison to the side so that the couple can pass them. Nodding politely, the couple goes on their merry way.
Finally, they arrive at Dennison’s compartment. Fumbling with his key, Dennison manages to get his door open. He and Jack step inside.
With a quickness that belies his rather lumbering form, Dennison whips around and thrusts his arm up against Jack’s Adam’s apple pinning him against the door.
“I am going to cut off your air supply. When I was in the Orient, I learned this trick from a master. Very effective.”
Jack attempts to struggle.
“Soon, you will be passing out so you might as well quit struggling. Unfortunately for you, I will not be providing you with the key to my attaché which you so rudely requested.”
Feeling light headed, Jack points his gun square at Dennison’s gut.
Dennison attempts to knock the gun out of Jack’s hand but only succeeds in burying it deeper into his gut muffling the discharge of the weapon. Slowly removing his arm from Jack’s throat, Dennison staggers backwards and realizes that he has been shot. Blood is seeping from his stomach and staining his jacket. He looks at Jack incredulously before sinking to his knees.
“God, damn it, Dennison! Don’t die on me! Jesus Christ! Where is that key?”
Dennison passes out. Jack pats him down, searches his pockets and comes up empty handed. Frantically, he begins to ransack the room.
Back in Nattie’s compartment, she began to wonder what was going on. It wasn’t a good sign that Jack hadn’t returned. Truly unnerved, she began to pace the room. Finally, Jack enters. She immediately notices the worried expression on his face.
“We have a bit of a problem.”
“Dennison jumped me in his room, I shot him. Accidentally. That key is nowhere to be found.”
“Did you search the room?”
“Of course, I did! I’m not an amateur!”
Jack walks over to Nattie and pulls her close to him.
“I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“What are you going to do?”
“For starters, there will be a change of travel plans. I will have to get off in Cincinnati. I don’t want to stick around for them to find the body.”
“Did anybody see you?”
“Yes, and I don’t want to risk it.”
“Without the key, will your employer still want the attaché case?”
“Yes. They are pretty resourceful. Look Nattie, I need you to do something for me.”
“I can’t stay on this train. You know it and I know it. I need you to take this attaché and deliver it. Since you were with Dennison and someone might recognize you, I suggest you get off at St. Louis and get a connecting train to Los Angeles.”
“Where will you be?”
“I am going to lay low for a while until this blows over. I will meet you in California in a few days. My employer will be waiting for me at the train station. I’ll let them know to expect you instead.”
“I have no idea what I’ll be looking for or….”
“They’ll find you. I know I am asking a lot of you.” Jack searches Nattie’s bright blue eyes. He leans down and kisses her softly on the lips. “When this is over, I promise you, we’ll be together.” This time, Nattie pulls Jack toward her in a tight embrace.
Later that evening, the train slows to a stop at Union Terminal in Cincinnati. Nattie finishes buttoning her blouse while Jack zips up his pants.
“Looks like this is it. Nattie...”
“It’s okay, Jack. Just be careful.”
Jack kisses Nattie on the lips. The train slows to a stop. After a quick hug, he leaves the compartment. Her eyes filling with tears, Nattie makes her way to the window. She watches Jack’s departing frame wondering if she will ever see him again.