Lela - the lively, feisty Southern run away turned flapper.
Maximilian - the debonair, straight edge Harvard graduate with an illegal taste.
Josie and Jack - the young, privileged, orphaned twins whose opinions about the changing times differ.
Ms Connolly - the uptight guardian whose only love lay in needlepointing
Clinton - the former sheriff that is fleeing to San Francisco for reasons unknown.
Lyle - the good-humored gold prospector found dead in the hallway.
Josie lifted her eyes from Treasure Island to the steam rising as the locomotive strained to a stop inside Union Station. She wrinkled her nose at the acrid smell that came with it, then tucked a bit of lace into her book as a place marker, and looked to the tall women sitting next to her.
“Is that our train, Ms. Connelly?” The voice that came wasn’t Josie’s. Her brother, Jack, was sitting next to her and their mother has always said he asked as many questions as a police officer.
“Do you see another train, Jack?” Josie asked, masking her spite with false sweetness.
Jack’s eyes fell dark. He stood and grabbed his suitcase, and Ms. Connolly’s suitcase, leaving Josie to lift her own. With a sound of great indignance, Josie followed them.
When they reached the conductor, Ms. Connolly produced their tickets and they stepped aboard. Josie scrutinized the details — the ceiling was too low to be elegant, the carpet too worn to be stylish. The wallpaper, however, was divine. It was a deep green with a stenciled fleur-de-lee. Eying the cabin, Josie regarded the tables. Sturdy, she supposed, but not fashionable.
But as critically as she looked upon it, Josie felt much more comfortable in here than she had in the station. There had been a woman smoking behind her and children crying to her left. She took a moment to appreciate the silence and the clean air.
“Will it do?”
Josie looked to her brother, who was smiling impishly at her.
She sighed theatrically. “I suppose,” she told him. He chuckled. That was the thing about Jack, he never did stay mad long.
As Jack lifted his and Ms. Connolly’s suitcases to the storage lofts with ease, Josie struggled to lift hers as well. A hand caught the case as Josie was raising it.
“Let me get that, miss,” said a calm voice. A strapping gentleman stood beside her and deftly placed her baggage in the loft.
“Thank you,” Josie told him, always polite.
He flashed her a grin. “Anytime.” Then he took, presumably, his own seat across the isle.
Josie lowered herself into their booth, studying the other passengers aboard the train. It was empty, save for the man who has assisted Josie and another man with a low hat on sitting in the corner.
The train creaked as another boarded the train. Josie swivelled her neck to see their fellow passenger. He was nondescript — an average, middle-aged business men in a suit several years old. Josie turned back to her brother.
“And when do we reach San Francisco again?”
“About a week,” Jack told her. Silly boy. He actually looked excited by the prospect of spending a week on this exceedingly average train with its exceedingly average passengers.
Josie sighed and tried, discreetly, to peek at the man from before. He looked to be just several years older than she and Jack — barely out of college. He was tall with dark hair, slicked back. He was drinking a tan liquid from a crystal glass and reading a impressively thick book.
Smiling to herself, Josie pulled Treasure Island out of her travel bag, following his lead. Her eyes flitted to Jack — a twin habit — as she opened the book and she saw him staring at something behind her. Craning her neck, Josie turned to see the horrid woman from before.
She had either entered the train very quietly, or Josie has been too wrapped up in admiring the older boy, but she was already swinging her bag into the loft — all on her own — and sliding into a booth.
She was tall, for a woman, with dark hair shorn into a curvy bob. She was a wisp, with long trench coat and flapping black boots.
Josie wrinkled her nose. A smoking woman who traveled alone wearing work boots. Josie looked to Ms. Connolly, who was frowning condescendingly. Josie sniffed and peered down at her book.
Several lines later, less out of habit this time and more out of curiosity, Josie lifted her eyes to Jack.
He was still studying the woman.
Josie pursed her lips. She swiftly shot her leg out and collided it with Jack’s shin.
“Ow,” Jack complained.
“Don’t stare,” Josie hissed.
Jack looked back innocently. Then he reached into his own travel bag and pulled out his sketch book. When Josie was sure Jack was engrossed in his drawing, she twisted slightly and looked through her hair at the rest of the passengers.
The rogue woman was sitting in the corner furthest away, starring out the window with a dreamy look on her face. The college boy was still reading, but Josie caught him glancing behind him at the woman as well. He studied her a moment, then turned back, shaking his head slightly.
Josie smiled to herself, pleased that they shared in their opinion of the woman.
Smirking, she returned to her book. It wasn’t until the five o’clock dinner cart came rolling around that she looked up. By that time, everyone seemed fairly settled into their booths. The man in the corner had removed his fedora — and revealed a balding head. The gentleman across the isle has loosened his tie and made a sufficient dent in his reading material. The woman in the corner was now scribbling furiously across a sheet of paper.
Jack slid away his sketch book as the stewardess placed a large silver platter in front of him. He opened it to reveal ham, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. Josie cringed at the appearance, but deigned to open her own platter. Ms. Connolly sniffed at the food, and picked at the broccoli. The man in the corner didn’t bother to open his platter. The gentleman placed his napkin in his lap and held his knife and fork like a society man. The woman in corner, opened her dish without looking at it and picked at her food lackadaisically. Josie couldn’t see the man sitting behind her, but the happy clatter of silver against china told her he was enjoying — or at the very least throughly dicing — his meal.
Jack looked happy enough, but that wasn’t unusual for Jack. He watched the changing scenery with amusement. Josie followed his gaze, but only saw the slowly rolling hills of western Illinois. She signed deeply.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked.
“Nothing,” she told him. “It’s just stuffy in here.”
Jack tilted his head, but the turned to the window. “We’ll just open this,” he said, straining against the window. When it finally pulled free, a large gust of wind blew in and a torrent of papers fluttered around the car. Jack struggled to slam the window shut again and Josie turned around fully to see the man sitting behind her plucking papers out of the air and shoving them back into his briefcase. The gentleman had risen to help, as had the lone woman. She collected all the paper on the farthest side of the car and handed them back to the man.
“Here,” she said. Her voice was slightly affected — a Southern drawl. Josie watched the interaction closely.
“Thank you,” the man replied, taking the papers, “Miss.....uh.......?”
“Lela,” she told him. “Just Lela.”
The man nodded and stuck his hand out. “Lyle.”
Lela shook his hand and smiled. “Please to meet you, Mister Lyle.”
As she turned to return to her seat, her eyes caught on something over Josie’s shoulder. Josie didn’t need to be a twin to know it wasJack. Lela bobbed her eyebrows and held her smile for a moment. Josie narrowed her eyes and turned slowly to peer at Jack.
He was staring, blatantly.
Josie coughed. Jack snapped back to the present. “Yes?” he asked. Josie scoffed at him and Ms. Connolly glared at her. Josie looked away and continued to poke at her meal.
The gentleman finished gathering the rest of the papers and returned them to their owner.
“Maximilian,” he said, extending his hand.
“Lyle,” Lyle repeated.
Maximilian, Josie thought. What a lovely name.
Josie felt a bit more comfortable in the car knowing the other passenger’s names. She found herself wondering the names of the other riders.
Sensing that the ice had been broken and conversation was now required, Lyle leaned out of his booth and asked Lela where she was headed.
“San Francisco,” Lela told him. “And you?”
“San Francisco,” he replied