Under a moonless, cloudless night, Thermopolis Konan sat under a barren pecan tree and pondered his steps. The rattle of dry leaves cut through the night air like a hot knife through butter.
“Why do I struggle ever onward toward my bitter end?”
His existential question had no answer. As he sipped his coffee from a scarred burnt orange Yeti cup, he wondered if his question was rhetorical or unanswerable. “Either way, it’s not going to get answered tonight.”
Konan watched as Lilly Thompson walked across the main square and sat down beside him. A sliver of the silver moon revealed itself. Lilly had her coffee poured into a stainless steel mug that advertised for the local hardware store.
“I thought I might find you here. You’re doing that thing you always do.”
“Oh? What thing is that?”
Lilly’s full lips pursed together in a humorous smirk, and she winked at him. Konan felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth.
“You’re asking God why you continue to struggle when all seems hopeless.”
“Has God given you an answer yet?”
“No. I wonder sometimes if He hears my questions.”
“He hears you.”
They sat in silence, listening to the lonesome call of the whippoorwills and occasional hoot of a lovelorn owl. Light cut through the inky night, the yellow corpseglare of streetlamps kept the shadows at bay.
As if cued by the hint of peace, their phones buzzed at the same time. Lilly reached for her phone and checked it. Konan sighed. “There’s always someone around to interrupt our five minutes of peace.”
“Are you ready to tackle another case?”
“I reckon, Lilly. Human nature insists we not sit on our laurels. Crooks make it impossible to have peace.”
“If you wanted peace, you should have been a preacher, Konan.”
“I reckon. Maybe I can go to San Diego and start a beach ministry. I’ll go around and lay on hands.”
“Un-huh. You’ll get ahold of something you can’t turn loose of. You should stick murder, at least the corpses won’t hold on to you so tightly.”
The pair laughed and started across the square toward the police precinct and parking garage. For all the laughs and cajoling, Konan felt lost in the busy shuffle of everyday life.
He was a man without a purpose.
Since Lilly had checked her phone and received directions to the crime scene, Konan sat in the passenger seat. He shoved the seatbelt in until it clicked. Konan pulled on it to make sure it would not get jarred loose. Then, he clutched the handle above the door and held on.
Lilly made a right turn without looking and floored the accelerator.
“Where are we headed?”
“Over near the train depot. There wasn’t a lot of details in the message.”
Konan nodded and stared out at the night, while Lilly sped toward the ragged part of town. She leaned back against the headrest and said, “nice night for bad things to happen.”
He grunted and sighed his heart and brain weary from the unanswered question.
“Yeah, nice and peaceful for whatever horror we’re about to face.”
Lilly pulled up along the curb and jammed on the brakes. A circle of reporters clamored around the yellow ticker tape, smoothing down their clothes, practicing their smiles and frowns, and taking direction from the camera guy.
As Lilly and Konan approached the reporters flocked to the like buzzards over carrion. Microphones were shoved in their faces. Konan put his arm up and muttered, “no comment” at least a dozen times before he slipped under the tape.
Forensic techs searched the scene, streetlamps barely penetrated the darkness around the scene. Ashley Williams walked over to the pair.
“What’ve got, Ashley?”
“A mess, Lilly. I’m not sure if it’s a murder or a suicide.”
“Then why call us?”
“Because something here doesn’t make sense. From all appearances it looks like a suicide. Train comes down tracks, man leaps in front of train at the last moment, man dies.”
“1+1+1=3,” Konan said looking around.
“Then explain how there are two sets of prints on the ground. Explain how one set of prints lead away from the body into that tunnel over there. Then, explain how the yard master says this yard is for ‘maintenance only,” and that no one should be here ‘after hours.’ Explain that to me, Konan, since you’re so smart.”
Konan shrugged and walked over to the yard master. Lilly stayed with Ashley and continued to listen to her observations. The yard master looked up and gave Konan a nod.
“Howdy,” Konan said. “You’re the yard master?”
“Yep,” the old man said. Konan stared at him, searching for any sign of remorse or glee. The man showed no sign of either.
“You know the gentleman lying on the tracks?”
“Naw, of course, ain’t enough left of him for me to recall.”
“Is anyone supposed to be down this way this late at night?”
“Naw. This is now the maintenance yard for the rail companies. Gates get closed at five. We don’t move the trains unless we got enough people to cover all the blind spots.”
The old man never glanced away from Konan’s glare. He wiped at his beard and tugged his pinstripe cap down, the bib blocking most of his eyes.
“Do many folks jump in front of a train to commit suicide?”
“You’re asking if it’s common?”
“Sure. People do it from time to time. Some park their cars facing the train head on. Most folks are that nuts though, although injuries happen usually.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
Konan asked a few more questions and shut his pad. Lilly had walked to the car, Konan walked to her. She leaned against the right fender and watched him come to her.
“What did the yard master say?”
“Well, what do you think?”
Konan sighed and shrugged. His head ached and he wanted to go home and sleep for six months.
“I think dead’s dead.”