The Dining Car

The dining car was quiet, for the moment, with just one booth taken and two other guys standing at the bar.  They were both elderly, grey hair and grey walrus moustaches, and both dressed like small-town bankers in pin-striped spats.  They were also both drinking whiskey on the rocks and slurring their speech enough that it sounded like they'd been at it for a while.

Ben glanced at me, and we slid into the booth behind the occupied one, both of us scooching along the red leather seats to the window, and then we leant together over the table.

"What d'ya reckon?" I said quietly, fingering the menu.  "They for real, or just a sugary little temptation for the kids?"

"I'd say that someone's doing a little fishing and those are the lures," said Ben.  "When was the last time you saw a banker with a 'tache like that?"

I sniggered, and had to duck my head down and pretend to be studying the menu intently when one of the apparent drunks at the bar stared intently into the large mirror running the length of the bar, looking at our table and us.

"That settles it," said Ben.  "We'll have to make sure that they're suitably indisposed first.  Jeez, is it just me or does it seem like it's getting harder and harder for a man to make a living these days?  What happened to trust and faith in your fellow human beings?"

"Very true, Ben, very true.  It's a sad state that this world is coming to."

The train lurched a little, starting to pull away from the station and one of the drunken bankers cursed a blue streak as his whiskey spilled over the side of his glass.  The bartender was turned away, doing something with an optic and hadn't noticed, and Ben was on his feet faster than a mongoose spotting a cobra.

"I'll be back," he said with a wink, heading straight for the bankers, his hand slipping into the pocket where he kept his cash.  I smiled again, and looked down at the menu to see what delights the train had to offer us.  I looked up again, as someone slipped into the seat opposite me, saying:

"That was quick, buddy, is our money not good enough for the likes of them?"

"Huh?"  Jimmy's face was earnest, puzzled, and a little flushed.

"Nothing to worry that pretty little head of yours about, Jimbo," I said.  "You get your ticket?"

Jimmy shot me a hard glance when I called him Jimbo, but he didn't speak up.  Instead he took his hat off and laid it on the table between us, and then pulled a bonnet from his pocket and laid it on the table at Ben's place setting.

"One hat," he said, pointing at the one he'd taken from his head.  It was a battered, stained leathery thing that looked like it had had a good life, then a bad life, then a bad afterlife and come back for another try.  "I figured that this little gentleman's club of yours wouldn't care for anything too new, so I... borrowed... this one from a man who kindly offered me his ticket to the train as well.  And Mr. Davis seemed so... enamoured... of the bonnet that I figured he must have a sweetheart he'd like to offer it to."

I met his gaze and held it, daring him to step over the line and suggest that that sweetheart might be me, but Jimmy had enough sense to know he'd played his hand as strongly as it would go.  Truth be told, although I'd have to break his nose, some of his teeth, and throw him from the train for such a suggestion, I was just a little impressed that Jimmy hadn't gone for the easy option of buying his way onto the train.

"Where's Ben?" he said, the tension between us easing a little.

I nodded over at the bar, where Ben's presence and money was making sure that the bartender couldn't refil the bankers's glasses with any more cold tea.

"Making friends," I said.  "Who knows, he might even give that pretty li'l bonnet away to one of them."

The End

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