We continue our ride through Wild Frontiers with an extract from Misha Burnett’s ‘Mystery Train’, the tale of a man who discovers sometimes you don’t have to be good, you just have to be good enough.
Sean Moriarty frowned. “If you’re referring to the War Between the States, sir, I was thirteen years old in ’65.”
The old man raised bushy white eyebrows. “Thirteen in ’65… that would make you thirty-one today?”
“Yes, sir,” Moriarty agreed.
“You look older than that,” Mr. Cotton said. “Where are you from?”
“Illinois, sir. Town of Wood River.”
“A Yankee, then.”
“I prefer to think of myself as an American.”
“So how does a man from the great state of Illinois end up as a federal marshal?”
Moriarty shrugged. “I needed a job. I went out west because I’d heard they needed cow hands. My father’s a dairy farmer, I grew up working stock. I worked a ranch in New Mexico Territory for a couple of years. When it went bust, I needed work and the marshals were hiring.”
“Work didn’t agree with you?”
“I was with the marshals for six years. Then I heard of an opening with the railroad, so I applied.”
“Been with us ever since?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“When you were with the marshals did you ever kill a man, Mr. Moriarty?”
Moriarty kept his face impassive. “Yes, sir.”
The old man waited. When it was obvious that Moriarty wouldn’t volunteer any more information, he went on. “How’d you take to it?”
“It’s a filthy business,” Moriarty said. “Sometimes, though, the other fella doesn’t leave you any choice. I never discharged a weapon that I did not have to.”
“Ever shot a man for the railroad?”
“Yes, sir, on two occasions. One man died, one got away.”
“Would you say,” the old man paused, choosing his words with care, “that you are particularly disconcerted by the presence of the dead?”
“Disconcerted, sir?” Moriarty considered the question. “I don’t believe so, no. I’ve attended funerals. And a few hangings. I didn’t faint.”
“Mr. Moriarty,” the stationmaster said, seeming to come to a decision, “I’ve got a particularly ticklish piece of work to assign, and I believe that you are the man for the job.”
“Thank you, sir,” Moriarty said.
“You’re familiar with the name Abraham Sutter, I presume?”
“Of course. I’m given to believe he owns a substantial interest in the railroad.”
“Used to own,” Mr. Cotton corrected. “He died this morning.”
Moriarty nodded gravely. “I’d heard that he was ailing.”
“A morbid infection of the bowels.”
There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that, so Moriarty just nodded.
“I have been charged with ensuring that Mr. Sutter’s will is carried out,” Cotton went on. “He has some rather specific instructions regarding the disposition of his remains. He is to be buried in Sacramento, and it was his will that his body be delivered there with all due speed. Overnight, if possible.”
Moriarty considered that. “A good train and clear tracks could make that. Will we be leaving soon, sir? I take it that I am to accompany the remains?”
Cotton looked sour. “Mr. Sutter’s will also specified certain… rites be performed before his body is placed in the casket.”
What are these mysterious rites and why is Sutter so worried someone might interfere with his corpse? Who else will join our daring author on his journey into uncivilised places? Tune in tomorrow to find out.
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