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Author's Chapter Notes:
 
The Great Train Episode aka A Mystery in Four Acts

Characters
Shawn Spencer : Fake psychic, real detective.

Burton “Gus” Guster : Pharmacological representative by day; psychic assistant by night…and often day as well.

Family with Two Young Children : Why would a family with two young kids travel to Seattle by train?

Hans Hansson : Swedish Chief? Or serial killer?

Gareth : Engineer, but of what?

Sam Claiborne : Former Chief, was his death and accident… or murder ?

Cindi Holton : Is there more to this brunette conductor than meets the i ?

Shirley MacLaine : Would any parent in their right mind really name their child after the actress in Some Come Running ?

Alfred and Melinda Gustafson : Are they really as obnoxious as they seem?



1987

    A cool breeze drifted down the Santa Barbara beach as the morning clouds obscured the sun. However, the June gloom would soon be replaced by the afternoon sun and Shawn and Gus had plenty to do before the heat of the day made them retreat inside; their childish activities outside to be replaced by the sedentary task of TV watching.

    “What’re we doing, Shawn?” asked Gus, reluctantly covering his eyes with his hands as instructed by his friend.

    “It’s a surprise,” replied Shawn as he guided Gus down the street towards the beach.

    Gus was concerned by the prospect of one of Shawn’s “surprises”. The last surprise involved water balloons and Mrs. McGallager’s cat. Gus still had the scars, both physical and psychological, from that experience.

    “Ta-da!” Shawn exclaimed, cueing Gus to remove his hands and open his eyes. Shawn waved at the train tracks along the beach and then pulled a handful of pennies out of his pocket, “We’re gonna flatten coins! I sold one to that little kid, Jack, for 5 cents last week. He thought it cost more because it’s bigger. We could make millions from this.” Shawn knelt next to the tracks and started to arrange the coins carefully along the rail while Gus nervously waited behind him.

    “Shawn,” Gus began as he cautiously crept further back from the train tracks, he feet sliding awkwardly in the loose gravel surrounding the tracks, “Are you sure we should be doing this? It’s dangerous.”

    “Relax, Gus; I’ve lived by the train tracks my whole life.” Shawn leaned in further, adjusting one of the pennies on the rail.

    “I can hear the train coming,” Gus pointed out as he peered down the tracks watching for the train, “Remember the movie we watched in first grade and second grade and…”

    Shawn interrupted, “The one that explained all the exciting things we can do by the train tracks? Stop worrying. This is fun! And I’ll see the train before it comes.” Shawn finished placing the final penny along the rail where it would await its flattened fate. In the distance the bells sounded as the barrier came down blocking the cars from crossing the train tracks.

    “My cousin told me that trains will fly off the tracks if you put coins on them.”

    “That’d be awesome!” Shawn exclaimed as he glanced further down the tracks, completely missing Gus’s concern.

    “Shawn, people would die if…”

    Gus was interrupted by a booming voice coming from behind them. “Shawn! Gus!” The two quickly stood up and turned to face Shawn’s dad. “What are you doing? You know better than to play by the train tracks!”

    Henry’s rant was interrupted by the train rushing by, the wind from the passing train causing them to involuntarily step away from the tracks.

    When the train finally passed Henry continued his tirade, “Don’t they show you that video in school anymore? Do you know how many people die from being hit by trains each year?” Gus was standing at rapt attention, listening to Henry’s speech and deciding that he was never going to go along with one of Shawn’s surprises again. Shawn, however, was distracted by something shinning on the ground next to the track. He reached down to pick up one of the flat pennies.

    “Oww,” Shawn cried out, dropping his prize. The penny, still hot from being flattened, left a pink burn mark on his hand.

    Henry grabbed Shawn’s hand, “That’s what happens when you fool around down here, Shawn. You will get hurt. Kids your age are hit by trains every day, some are injured and some die. I don’t want that to happen to either of you. It’s dangerous to play by the train tracks, the two of you are smart enough to know that,” Henry explained, looking at Shawn and Gus.

    Shawn looked down, uncomfortable with the discussion and accusation, “I am careful, Dad. The lunchtime train always comes by like 58 seconds after the bells at the rail road crossing. I knew how long it was in my head and was looking for it.”

    “I still don’t want you to play down here again, next time I’ll just let you be flattened by the train along with your coins.  Now, your mom made lunch for you and Gus and she won’t want it to get cold.”

    As Henry turned to walk back to the house he saw Shawn grab some of the misshapen coins from the ground.  “Put those back, Shawn. It is your fault you wasted your money.”

    Shawn let the coins slip from his hand and clatter to the ground in disappointment. As he walked away from the tracks he glanced back at his glittering prizes lying in the gravel. Shawn thought to himself, “Maybe I can sneak back to get them later.” Looking back towards his dad who was stomping back home he quickly changed his mind; he did not want to get in the path of that storm again.

    “Dad,” Shawn began as he hurried to catch up, “Did you ever flatten coins as a kid?”

    “That would be reckless and irresponsible,” Henry replied.

    “You know, Grandpa was the one that told me that trains could flatten coins,” Shawn stated as he quickly walked back to the house.



Present Day

    Gus opened his eyes at 8:30 that morning, precisely when his alarm clock first rang and the sounds of 105.9 Krazy Country blasted from the radio. He groaned out loud as the twangy music filled his ears and quickly turned off the offending device; Shawn must have changed the channel again. Jumping out of his bed, wide awake, he quickly got ready for work. His day was carefully scheduled to get him on the road to San Luis Obispo at 10:00 and to arrive in the city no later than noon, giving him plenty of time to prepare before his meeting and allowed a cushion of flexibility in case something went wrong.
    
    Looking back days later he decided that he should have just given up and called in sick, spending a relaxing day it bed, when the first sign that everything would not go according to plan occurred the previous day. Gus thought back to the event he had fruitlessly tried to banish from him memory and just dub “The Pineapple Smoothie” incident. Needless to say Shawn would not be consuming any frozen beverages in his car ever again. With his car in the shop in the hope that the horrid yellow stains on the seats could be removed without having to reupholster the whole car, Gus’s initial had to be adapted.

    The incident had left Gus temporarily carless and he needed it to get to his meeting. He had been eager to volunteer to give the introductory presentation about “What Central Coast Pharmaceuticals Can Do for YOU!” to a group of physicians in San Luis Obispo. He was unsure why the marketing department decided to capitalize “YOU” in the slogan as the emphasis was not worth the affront to proper writing style, but he had to use the slogan. His company was looking to expand the business and, while he would never want to commute that two hour distance, he was excited for the task of introducing them to the business, horrible slogan or not.

    With his car unavailable it had left the only available vehicle to get to San Luis Obispo being Shawn’s motorcycle. As Gus would not ride that death trap no matter what the situation, and didn’t have the proper license, he was left with only one choice, to rent a car.

    Sitting down for his morning coffee Gus considered calling the car rental service to confirm his reservation, but decided against it.  He had called twice the day before, first to reserve a car for the following day and second to confirm the reservation. However, he held off calling that morning as well with the thought that he did not want to seem overly concerned.

    Double checking his planner Gus saw that the route 11 bus would leave at 9:15 and would arrive at the airport where he could rent the car at 9:45. A quick check of the bus schedule confirmed the times. Grabbing his jacket, sample case, briefcase, a roll of posters, extra samples, and a muffin for breakfast he stumbled out the door and to the nearest bus stop.

    Gus was thrilled when at 9:13, two minutes ahead of schedule; the number 11 bus arrived at the station. After rifling through his pocket for the correct fare he collapsed into a seat surrounded by his myriad items.
    
    As the bus rolled along the city streets, and having nothing better to do, Gus spent his time observing his fellow passengers. The woman across from his caught his eye after she smiled sympathetically in response to his plethora of luggage. She was surrounded by bags of her own, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, other stores with expensive sounding names, it seemed odd that she was riding the bus, but he was so he couldn’t judge. “Shawn would probably be able to figure out why she was there,” he thought to himself as he imagined scenarios. A broken down car was his first theory before moving on to one where her desire to save the environment had caused her to become a mass transportation aficionado. He even moved on to a scenario where the woman had a pathological fear of cars and the city bus was her only method of travel when the roar of an airplane passing over the bus alerted him that they were about to arrive at the airport.

    As the bus ground to a halt next to the airport Gus stood up and moved to the exit. After practically clambering down the exit of the bus and onto the dirt at the side of the road by the airport Gus made his way to the adjoining building at the car rental service. The empty parking lot was his first clue something was terribly wrong.
    
    Standing behind the counter was a young woman with a smile plastered insincerely on her face as she absentmindedly smacked a piece of gum between her teeth.

    “Santa Barbara Car Rentals, how may I help you today?”

    “Burton Guster, I have a car reserved to pick up,” Gus explained as he set his items down in front of the counter.

    “Guster, let me check the computer.” The woman’s plastered on smile melted into a look of confusion as she checked the database on the computer and then spat out her gum into a waste basket.

    “I’m sorry, but we have record that you assistant called an hour ago to cancel your appointment.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Your ah-sis-tant,” the woman enunciated more clearly as if she thought her pronunciation had led to Gus’s confusion. “It says so right here.” The woman gestured to the screen unhelpfully.

    “Look, I don’t have a…” Gus stopped himself and tried a different approach. “Is the car still available or is there another I can rent? I still need the car; there must have been an error with your database.”

    “I can assure you there is no error. I took the call myself.”

    “I don’t have an assistant and I still need the car. Look, is there some other I can rent?”

    “I would love to help you, sir. But we are not expecting any cars to be returned until this afternoon. With the Entomological Convention downtown this weekend we are quite low on cars.”
    
    “Well what about the car I reserved earlier?”

    “I’m sorry, but we released the car after the phone call. Someone else has rented it already.”
    
    Gus stood in shock as his carefully crafted schedule became entirely useless.

    “Is everything ok?” The woman asked with the first bit of sincere feeling that her voice had shown all day.

    “No, everything isn’t ok. It’s not fine either. And it’s certainly not hunky-dory, so don’t ask.” Gus was ashamed at his tone the moment he spoke, but did not apologize.

    Gus closed his eyes and leaned his face against his hands as he tried to calm down, his perfectly crafted day disappearing before his eyes. “Okay,” he thought to himself as he frantically tried to figure out how to get to San Luis Obispo. “Plane? No, there are no planes that go there. Bus? No that wouldn’t work,” he told himself. Not only would an hour and a half trip by horrific by city bus, but he would likely have to transfer several times and that meant he would be unlikely to arrive before the meeting.

    The woman working behind the counter was a bit worried about the man standing in front of her in silence, hands over his face, but she choose not to comment.

    “Think, think, think.” Gus silently commanded himself and suddenly he realized that there was a way he could make his meeting on time, the only real choice. “The train!”

    The woman gave him a confused look and Gus embarrassing realized he yelled this last bit out loud.

    After waiting for the bus to finally arrive, Gus sat down in relief on the next bus downtown, his baggage once again surrounding him. “The assistant incident was really odd,” he thought to himself. “How did the woman mess up so badly, it’s not like I have a…” A sudden though popped into his head, “Shawn? Did Shawn call?” He ran the idea through his head, there were no current clients and Shawn had not mentioned anything happening, plus Shawn knew how important this meeting was.

    By the time the bus reached downtown he had dismissed the idea. Shawn had promised to spend the day helping Henry clean out the attic so there was no reason he would have canceled the rental. Although try as he might he could no shake the idea that some way, somehow Shawn was involved.

*****


    Shawn exited the bus at Carpentaria bags in hand. He had considered riding his oft neglected motorcycle, but the number of bags quickly ruled it out as an option. While the bus was never his preferred method of travel his only other option was his dad’s truck and he didn’t want his dad to know that he was skipping out again until he had already left Santa Barbara far in the distance.

    With his ticket already in hand, sent to him by his client, he now just had to wait for the train to arrive. The tracks and benches were still empty as the bus schedule required him to arrive quite early for the train and his fellow passengers had yet to arrive. Picking one of the benches lining the train tracks, Shawn sat down to wait, tapping his foot in eager anticipation.

*****


    Gus did not enjoy traveling by train and was particularly reluctant to venture into the Santa Barbara station; he had nightmares of the place as a child. The train station was old and smelled of mold and dust and the heavy wood of the benches and ticket counter were dark and imposing. The dim lights increased the somber and rather dreary mood of the station, a sharp contrast to the bright lights and airy feeling of Santa Barbara outside its door.

    As Gus stepped through the door into the train station he felt as if he had traveled to another time. The building was a memory of the past and a relic of a time long since forgotten when train travel was fashionable.

    “Sonny?” Gus turned and saw a very old woman struggling with her bag. “Be a dear and help me carry my bag over to the bench.”

    As he helped the woman with the bag and realized that maybe some of the people here really were stuck in a past when train travel was still the fashion or at least remembered it fondly.

    Gus glanced at his watch and over to the line at the ticket counter, which was thankfully not too long. On the bus he had called the service number for the train company and was relieved that the next train to San Luis Obispo was scheduled to leave at 11:00, in just over twenty minutes. While the timeframe was tight, this would put him in San Luis Obispo in time to find a taxi or bus to take him to his meeting.

    After walking over to the ticket windows to wait in line, Gus was soon followed by a young couple with two small children who were struggling with their bags and strollers, his sample case, brief case, and assorted odds and ends no longer seemed as burdensome to carry.

    As the arrival of the train was growing ever sooner, Gus was relieved that there were only two people in front of him. There was not much time before the train left and if this did not work he was out of ways to get to the meeting and that was a call he did not want to make to his boss. With a look down at his watch he hoped that the train would be a bit behind schedule as the schedule arrival of the train was growing uncomfortable close.

    Gus awkwardly shuffled forward as the next customer approached the widow. The tightly wrapped bun in her hair and her well matched suit suggested, at first glance, a woman that was ready to take on the world. However, a single strand of hair had escaped the confines of her hairdo and made one question if she was really as put together as she wanted to world to believe.

    “I’m in a hurry,” the woman explained as she first approached the window.  This was music to Gus’s ears.

    “Certainly, I will be as quick as possible,” the ticket agent responded politely.

    “You better be. I cannot stand slow service. And the line, two people in front of me? That was inexcusable.” Gus adjusted his tie and buttoned his jacket nervously.

    “I apologize for the wait.”

    “I need one ticket to…oh I can’t remember the name of the stop…the one by LA. Here, give me a schedule so I can check.”

    The ticket agent politely handed over a schedule. Gus shifted back and forth impatiently, taking yet another desperate look at his watch. He could already tell the woman in front of him would be trouble and he really didn’t have time to wait.

    “Now let’s see…where was it again? What station is after LA?” The woman asked herself. “What is the order of the station stops?”

    “It’s listed right here,” the ticket agent explained and she leaned forward to point to the schedule.

    “If I wanted to read I would have done so myself. Now tell me the order of the stops.”

    After 10 more minutes of confusion the woman finally decided that she would rather stop at Union Station in LA and take rest of her journey by taxi. However, her troubles did not end there.

    “3 bags.”

“What ma’am?” The ticket agent asked confused by the laconic statement.

    “I have three bags to check,” explained the woman waving at the pile of luggage behind her in annoyance. “Now come around and take them from me.”

    “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we cannot check bags on short train trips,” explained the exasperated ticket agent.

    Gus, adjusted his tie once more and unbuttoned his jacket. After a moment’s pause he picked up his briefcase in the hope that the line would soon move. Turning around he noticed the couple behind him seemed equally concerned.

    “Why, my word. What am I supposed to do with my bags? Carry them on?”

    “That would be your option,” the polite tone long since vanished from the ticket agent’s voice.

    “Hurry up, will you!” A man cried out from the end of the line.

    “What?” The woman asked as her face began to turn red in anger, turning to Gus.

    “I didn’t say anything,” he explained defensively.

    “I heard you tell me to hurry up. I have as much right to be here as you do, blame the incompetent ticket agent.” The woman sharply turned back to the window.

    “It is just that a train is coming soon and we need to buy our tickets before it arrives,” one of the other customers in line explained.

    “Shut up!” The woman yelled at Gus who tried unsuccessfully to explain that he was not the one talking. “I was here first. I can have as much time as I need!” The woman turned back to the ticket agent. “As for you, I should report you to…to the Santa Barbara News-Press for horrible service. My friend, Edward Franklin, editor of the paper would love to hear of the incompetence of this company.”

    “If you want to ma’am, go ahead. There’s a payphone over there.”

    “I have a cell phone; I don’t need your help.”

    “I really do need you to pay for your ticket. As the gentleman said there is a line forming.”

    "I don't appreciate your tone Miss..." The woman looked expectantly at the ticket clerk, giving a slight shrug of her shoulders. The ticket clerk rolled her eyes.

    “Jackson. Mrs. Tracy Jackson.”

    “I want to talk to your supervisor, Mrs.Jackson. I refuse to pay full price.” She pursed her lips and held her head high.

    “I am the supervisor on duty. If you have a problem , I can give you the number to our corporate office and you can file a complaint with them!”

    Gus noticed the woman flinch slightly at the harshness of Mrs. Jackson's tone, but she regained her balance almost immediately.

    "Your tone is insufferable!" she cried.

    Gus set down his briefcase, loosened his tie and accepted the fact that he was going to be late to his meeting.

*****


    Once he was settled in his room on the train, Shawn procedurally tucked in his button up white shirt with care that showed routine. Next was the red tie which he deftly tied before flipping down the white shirt collar. Looking at the mirror he pondered whether he would have been fired from the job all those years ago if had followed the dress code this diligently when he was an actual employee, for some unknown reason they did not approve of additions of his uniform to make it look cooler. Shawn pulled on his dark blue vest, a perfect match to the color of the pants, and buttoned it closed.
        
    After his hole punch holster was fastened around his waist, Shawn could not help, but flip his hole punch around his finger and drop it into the holster as if he was a gunslinger in the Wild West. He knew this outfit would be useful one day. While looking at himself in the mirror one last time before exiting the room, he adjusted his hat and pulled the nametag out of his pocket, fastening it to the right side of his vest.

    With a smug look Shawn closed the door and walked down the hall, ready to begin his job. The train was calm as it made its way from Carpentaria to Santa Barbara, as most of the passengers were content with just watching the shore pass by outside their windows. After answering a couple of questions for the passengers he walked past, he settled into a seat to wait for the commotion of the passengers that would board at the next stop.

*****


    The police department was silent. The interrogation rooms, empty. The visitor’s desk, unvisited. Sitting quietly at their desks as if cramming for an upcoming test in the stifling silence of a college library, sat the detectives, flipping through file after file of unsolved crimes.

    The work at the department had been slow recently and while this was great news for the city, it meant boredom for the police officers.  Juliet, along with most of the detectives, had been assigned to review a collection of cold case files, checking to see if there was any new information or if there were any potential connections to more current cases.

    The cases varied from murders to thefts to the disappearance of a 19 year-old cat that was suffering from thyroid disease and, at the time, weighed in at hefty twenty-seven pounds. Juliet turned around to check on Lassiter, who was currently moping at his own desk staring at a similar stack of cold cases. She could not help but notice that the stack of piles still to be read had sat untouched for the past half-hour. Lassiter glared at the current one open on his desk as if somehow his annoyance would solve the case, or at least make the file disappear. Thus far it proved to be ineffective.

    Juliet glanced at the clock on the wall, it was 11:45. Buzz had left to pick up lunch twenty minutes ago and would be returning at any time, much appreciated take-out bags in hand. The fact that this upcoming event was looking to be the highlight of the day was not encouraging.

*****


    Gus shuffled on board the train with his briefcase, sample case and other assorted items in his tired arms, sorely wishing he had just left them all at home. His bags were awkward and he stumbled after crashing into an unapologetic conductor, who quickly disappeared into the crowd of equally frustrated passengers. After trying to make his way through the narrow aisles of the train he decided it would be for the best to take whatever seat was nearest.

    As he finally settled into his seat the train pulled away from the Santa Barbara station, glad to leave the chaos of the ticket line and train station behind him. The crying babies and blaring head phones seemed a calm reprieve from the stress of trying to buy his ticket. After the lady who refused to pay full price finally decided she would in fact take the train to LA and pay full price, there was an agonizingly long wait for the older gentleman in front of him to find his glasses… and his wallet… and his ID… Gus, who at this point was certain he would miss his train, finally reached the counter only to find that the train was an hour behind schedule.

    Moving his sample case off of the seat next to him, Gus double checked the contents. Although it was too late for him to go back and replace or refill anything, he found the monotony of the process relaxing. Plus, if he was missing anything, which was extremely unlikely, it did give him time to rework the presentation. “Tickets!” the conductor call out from behind, hole-punch clicking as he checked the passengers’ tickets.

    Gus placed his sample case back on the seat next to him and reached his hand into his jacket pocket as the couple behind him handed over their tickets. Where he expected to find his ticket packet he found only a folded up piece of paper. On that paper, in a distinctive scrawl he knew all too well were the words, “Turn around.”

    As Gus listened to the conductor converse with the couple behind him, he realized he recognized that voice as well. “Oh, please no,” he pleaded silently though he knew it would be of no use. He sat for a moment staring intently at the back of the seat in front of him as if the colorful pattern would reveal some great words of wisdom.

    Finally after having given up finding guidance in the pattern he turned to face the man behind him. With a smirk on his face stood the conductor he had bumped into earlier, his hand stretched out in front of him awaiting a ticket. “Shawn,” Gus, stated worryingly, apprehensive of his friend’s upcoming response. This meeting was important; he didn’t need Shawn there to get in the way.

    “Ticket please,” Shawn requested, holding his hand out expectantly as if this were merely another passenger and not his friend whose day had been secretly manipulated to reach this exact moment. “And please remove your luggage from the seat. The train is almost full and we need all available seats.”

    Gus ignored the waiting hand, “Shawn! Why are you here?” he asked, trying to keep his voice down, but his annoyance was betraying him. “And where is my ticket?”

    “Gus, you need to be more careful about your possessions,” Shawn explained as he pulled a ticket out of his pocket and handed it to Gus. “There are pickpockets running rampant around here.”

    “As far as I can tell there is only…” Gus stopped midsentence. “This ticket is for Vancouver, not San Luis Obispo,” Gus explained as calm as possible as he checked over his tickets, knowing that his friend had some worrying surprise waiting. “You know I have a very important meeting to attend. I told you right before you spilled your smoothie all over my car. Some of us have jobs that give us regular paychecks we depend on to pay our rent checks.”

    “That would probably be why your landlords always like you more than mine like me.”

    “Shawn, I’m serious. I don’t have time for whatever case you’re on.”

    “Don’t be mad, but your boss might think that your grandmother has the flu.”

    “Shawn!”

    “He was sad to hear that you would be missing your meeting. Some dude named Billy is going to cover it for you. Oh, and your boss is looking forward to dinner with your grandmother when she is better, apparently you never did invite him over after she broke her hip.”

    “Shawn, I can’t just miss work. And my Grandmother still lives in Jamaica.”

    “Dude, it’s just a couple of days. Plus, your boss already thinks you are leaving to help your grandmother. Don’t worry.”

    “No, Shawn. I’m going to call him now to explain that this was all just a misunderstanding.” Gus pulled out his phone and dialed. “Mr. Haversham, please.” Gus turned away from Shawn as he waited for the secretary to transfer the call. “Mr. Haversham, this is Burton… thank you sir… it is just that… yes sir, family is very important… well my cousin should not have called you… Oh, Billy is covering the meeting… I could go… yes… thank you again.”

    Gus dropped down onto his seat and began to breathe deeply. “Dude, are you Lamaze breathing again?”

    “It helps me relax. You know that, Shawn.” Gus tried to find a way out of the situation, but knew it was hopeless. There was no way Gus could go to the meeting without his boss thinking he had lied to him. “What’s the case?”

    “Hunting ghosts.” Shawn stated plainly.

    “Hunting ghosts? Really? And you needed my help because?” Gus was becoming increasingly annoyed with the path this surprise of Shawn’s was taking.

    “Moral support?” Gus rolled his eyes at Shawn’s response, “Come on, you’re my wingman, Gus. I need you to back me up and to bounce ideas off of.”

    “You could have called me.” Gus stood up angrily when he realized something, “You spilled that smoothie on purpose, didn’t you?” Shawn remained silent. “And the rental car! I should have realized you were up to something. When did you get this case?”

    “Oh, like a week ago,” Shawn explained.

    “Shawn!”

    “Come on, Dude, with everything that has been going on it has been so long since we worked an actual case together. Apparently not everyone wants to hire someone that has been accused of murder. This is our first real case since Bridger died, I need your help.”

    “Shawn, I have another job; it requires my time as well.”

    “Which you seem to spend more and more time at. Come on Gus, this will be fun.” Gus didn’t seem to think so and Shawn continued. “You were the one who wanted to be a train driver when you were a kid.”

    “I was five, Shawn, and they are called engineers. Plus, I remember that you wanted to be Santa Clause.”

    “We all go through awkward stages and, Dude, he gets to fly around and has all the toys he could possibly want.”

    “How many days is the trip?” Gus asked as he tried to brace himself for the answer.

    “Four, at most. Two days up and two days back.”

    Gus stood silently for a moment as he considered his options before agreeing, “Fine, but I’m getting off at San Luis Obispo if you don’t convince me by then that this is not pointless.”

    “It’s a deal, Gus.”

    “And, where did you get that conductor’s outfit? I’m assuming the train company didn’t hire you.” Gus asked as he noticed Shawn’s conductor’s hat and vest, with the regulation hip hole-punch holster.

    “What, I never told you about my stint as a conductor in Alaska?”

*****


    “So,” Gus began as he followed Shawn through the narrow aisle between the rows of seats to the back of the train. His metal sample case receiving weird glances by the passengers they passed by. “We’re going to Vancouver.”

    “Correct.” Shawn replied as he pulled off his hat and undid his vest.  “Here, hand me your briefcase.” Shawn swiftly placed the hat and vest inside the case, followed by the hole-punch holster. “You know, they film a lot of TV shows up there.”

    “Of course Shawn, they call it Hollywood North.  You know, they film many high-profile TV shows up there, such as Zamboni Survivor.” Shawn gave Gus a blank look of confusion. “’The zany show about the real lives of real Zamboni drivers.’”

    “Please tell me you’re making that up, Gus.  Zamboni Survivor? Seriously?”

    “It’s the third most popular show in Canada, right after Hockey and Canadian Idol. They are going to begin airing it on channel three, haven’t you seen the commercials.”

    “We got Tivo for a reason, Gus. Commercials are the plague.”

    “Well it is big in Canada, although it will never replace hockey. Those Canadians love their hockey,” said Gus with a satisfied smirk on his face.

    “Gus, the very fact that you know that disturbs me greatly.  But I was hoping that you would enjoy the train ride up, in addition to your disturbing thrill in the prospect of viewing the studio of Zamboni Survivor.”

    “I don’t know, Shawn,” Gus’s temporary enthusiasm was quickly fading as he realized the situation he was in. “There’s no way I can do this. I don’t have a change of clothes or my toothbrush. I don’t even have my passport.”

    Shawn silently pulled Gus’s passport out of his pocket and handed it to Gus. Gus took it in surprise, “How did you…”

    “You know, hollow book safes are only convincing if people believe that you would read the book,” Shawn explained. “No one would actually read War and Peace.”

    “Actually I have read War and Peace , Shawn. Some people do read for their own enjoyment.”

    “Mrs. Ramirez for freshman English said the same thing, but I still don’t believe it. Anyway, here we are,” Shawn explained as he stopped in front of one of the doors in the sleeping car and opened it with a flourish. Beyond the door was a tiny room with two little bench chairs and a door leading to an even smaller bathroom. Darkly carpeted walls added to the feeling of claustrophobia. How two people could sleep or for that matter even fit in the room was beyond Gus’s ability to imagine.

    “What is this?” asked Gus.

    “I believe they call it a ‘roomette’. I call it our home for the next twenty-four hours.”

    “Great.” Gus placed his sample case on the floor of his room and noticed a familiar black duffle bag on the luggage rack. “Is that my travel bag?”

    “You know, it is weird that you always have a bag packed for trips. Tell me, where are you planning on running off to?”

    “It is a responsible decision, Shawn; you never know when business will call you away at the last minute.”

    “Seriously? When was the last time you had an emergency meeting with a client that required you to travel?”

    “Well, it could happen,” Gus replied defensively.

    “Sure,” Shawn replied skeptically. “Plus, now you have a change of clothes. We should go to meet our client, who is the one fronting the bill for this wonderful room. I tried to convince him that I had two kids and needed the family sized room, but…” Shawn explained as he walked out of the room, but stopped and turned back when he saw that Gus was not following him. “What?”

    “I’m just amazed that you planned this far ahead, you got my passport and my bag.”

    “You underestimate me sometimes, Gus. Plus, I knew you would not agree to stay without your toothbrush. Not after the museum incident.”

    “Don’t even remind me of that. So what is the case? And if there’s another mummy I am leaving now.”

    “No mummy’s I swear. Our client is Hans Hansson, the chef on this train.”

    “Seriously, that is his name? Hans Hansson?”

    “What, it’s catchy and repetitive? Maybe I should start calling you Gus Guster,” Shawn gazed off as if absorbed in his own thoughts. “I could even call you Burty Burton. It doesn’t work as well for my name, Shawn Shawnerific? No. Spen Spenser... Sven Svenser?”

    “Shawn!” Shawn abruptly stopped experimenting with variations on his name. “Shawn, I will kill you if you call me either of those names, ever. And that’s not what I meant. Hansson, that’s a Swedish name…”

    “Yes Gus, our client is a chef, a Swedish chef, named Hans Hansson. ‘Bort, Bort, Bort’ and what not. Some of us have outgrown the Muppets. Seriously, though he claims to hear ghosts in his kitchen and said that food often either moves or disappears during the night.”

    “He hears ghosts?” Gus stopped following Shawn and remained fixed in his spot.

    “That’s what he said. So, either he’s crazy or someone is messing with his kitchen when he is sleeping.”

    “Or there are actual ghosts haunting the train,” Gus replied, pointing out the final option.

    “Gus, don’t be a Paranoid Polly,” Shawn dictated as he continued to the kitchen, “there are no such thing as ghosts. So I’m sticking with the explanations that actually make sense.”

    Just then Shawn’s phone began to ring. A quickly glance at the scene told him it was his dad. “Hey, Dad. I would love to talk but…”

    “Where are you, Shawn? You are supposed to be here helping me clear out the attic today.”

    “Yeah, I’m a kind of busy right now.”

    “With that? The agreement, after I let you borrow my truck last week, was that you would clear out the attic today. You would not believe how much of your junk is still up here.”

    “I would, but I’m on a train to Vancouver.”

    “What?” Henry asked in surprise.

    “It’s a case, dad. And no, I’m not running away to meet MacGyver again.”

    “I assumed you were beyond that stage, Shawn.”

    “Look,” Shawn replied, interrupting Henry, “I’ve got to go, our client is here.”

    “Wait, Shawn.”

    “Yeah?”

    “When you get back you will spend the whole week clearing out the attic.”

    “Ok, fine, look, gotta go.” Shawn hung up his phone and returned it to his pocket.

    “Shawn, please don’t tell me that you took this case just to avoid spending time with your dad,” Gus explained, rather annoyed at even the thought.

    “Of course I wouldn’t tell you that,” Shawn explained, his reply doing but reinforce Gus’s assumption. “It is just a fortunate coincidence.”

*****


    Shawn pushed open the door to the dining car and went down the stairs into the kitchen followed by Gus. Standing at the stove in the uncomfortably confined space of the kitchen, surrounded by various bubbling pots and pans, was the chef.

    “Hans,” Shawn began reaching out his hand for the rather large man to shake. “I am Shawn Spencer, psychic, and this is my partner Burton “Ghosty” Guster. He is called “Ghosty” by his closest friends and assists me by tracking ghosts with his keen sense of smell. Yes, he can, in fact, smell out ghosts with his nose.”

    “It’s a pleasure to have your help.” replied Hans shaking their hands in turn. On top of his head was a tall white chef’s hat that sat on a mound of graying hair. The moment he finished shaking their hands, he had to readjust the hat which had since flopped in front of his face. “I talked to my coworkers about the ghost and they just laughed at me. When I told Gareth, the engineer, about my plans to hire a psychic to investigate he even said that ‘such an irrational action could get me fired,’ and that he would report me. So, please, could you keep this investigation secret?”

    “Psychic/Client privileges are something we care very much about,” Shawn explained.

    “Mr. Hansson,” began Gus.

    “Call me Hans, Ghosty,” Hans replied with a jolly smile.

    “Right, Hans. So what is the exact nature of the paranormal events you have witnessed in this train car?” Gus began again, immediately hating Shawn’s new nickname for him.

    “Yes. There have been odd noises coming from this train car at night. I sleep in the next car over,” Hans explained, continuously gesturing with his hands. “And often when I wake up in the morning I find food and other things in the kitchen moved or missing.” Han dropped his voice and leaned towards Shawn and Gus, “I think it is Sam.”

    “Who?” asked Gus, looking at Shawn for an explanation about who this person was. Shawn merely shrugged, equally confused as to where this name came from.

    “Oh, Sam Claiborne, the previous chef for this train. He died about one month ago after a horrible reaction to eating Shellfish, foaming at the mouth and everything.  Apparently he had some sort of allergy.”

    “Did he know he was allergic to it?” asked Gus.

    “I think so. Apparently they were serving shellfish for dinner and it is thought that Sam accidentally switched spoons or something. The space is s cramped in here that things do get mixed up. Well, Sam was dead before anyone even knew anything was wrong.”

    “No one noticed anything wrong when Sam was frothing at the mouth and rolling on the floor?”

    “No.”

    Gus gave Shawn a disturbed look.  “So you replaced him?” Shawn asked.

    “The next day. You know, openings on trains don’t occur that frequently.”

    “I would imagine not,” Gus replied as he looked over the undesirable and cramped space.

    “Well we should begin our work. Ghosty,” Shawn began, “does the super-smeller sense any ethereal smells?”

    Gus moved about the room sniffing as he went. While he did that, Shawn surveyed the room for anything out of the ordinary. On the floor next to the stove and adjacent door were some odd scratch marks, but nothing else seemed to be out of the ordinary. Although, the kitchen did look to have been recently renovated, the paint on the walls seemed fresh and, apart from the scratches, the floor was in surprisingly good condition, even the appliances seemed new. After much frantic sniffing Gus returned to where Hans and Shawn were standing. “No luck, the smell of the garlic fries cooking is too overpowering. It’s blocking my abilities.”

    Suddenly Shawn stumbled to the side and collapsed to his knees holding his stomach.

    “Shawn!” Gus yelled out in concern over his friends reaction to a vision. “What is wrong?”

    “Paprika! Curry! Garlic! Pickled pork feet!” Shawn yelled out irrationally.

    Hans scurried away from the fallen psychic, his hat joining the psychic on the floor as he fled. “What is wrong with him?  Does he have a garlic allergy?” he asked Gus from the far corner of the room as Shawn continued to yell out various food names.

    “Fried  green tomatoes, French fries, French toast, Texas Toast!”

    “He is channeling the spirit.” Gus knelt down by his friend who was now writhing on the floor, yelling out the names of various foods. “What does the spirit want?”

    “Okra! Liver and Onions!” Shawn stumbled up and began to blindly wave his arms around the kitchen. “Avocado! Pumpkin! Tomato Aspic! Mushrooms, don’t eat the mushrooms!” Shawn leaned against the counter out of breath. “What happened? He asked looking around confused.

    “You were yelling like a mad man,” Hans explained, bending over to pick up his hat that was lost during Shawn’s ‘fit’.

    “I’m starting to remember now. It was the ghost. He was warning you against eating the mushrooms.”

    “What is wrong with them?” Hans asked as he tried, fruitlessly, to tuck some of his hair back under his chef’s hat.

    “I don’t know; I lost the psychic connection. But I wouldn’t serve the mushrooms if I were you.”

    “Does the ghost want anything else?” Hans asked, still concerned over Shawn’s previous antics.

    “The ghost seemed agitated by something. Did you recently change anything about the kitchen?”

    “Why yes,” Hans replied, amazed with the psychic’s abilities. “I had the whole kitchen renovated when I first came here. They replaced the appliances and redid the paint and the floors. The kitchen was outdated and the appliances really were too small. Is that a problem?”

    “The ghost tells me he is confused by the new room, but seems like he can make peace with it. That is all I was able to get right now, but is there a time later today when the kitchen will be empty? I think the ghost will be more likely to communicate with me if there were less people in here.”

    “In between dinner and lunch, at about 4:00 the kitchen can be emptied briefly. There will be some items cooking, but I will make sure there is nothing strong like garlic. Also, if my coworkers ask any questions you should know that I told them that you are reporters writing an article on train travel for a paper in Santa Barbara.”

    “That won’t be a problem. We will be back at four o’clock.”

    As Shawn and Gus walked out of the kitchen a very attractive young woman hurried into the car, requesting the chef’s attention for some specific food request. Gus could not help but think that if the same food was fine for everyone else it should be fine for her as well. Shawn on the other hand was focused on the subtle gold ring on her hand and his own assumption of who the woman was.

*****


    “What was with the mushroom comment, Shawn?” Gus asked as they walked back to their roomette. “What’s wrong with them?”

    “Nothing as far as I know, but did you see the menu for dinner? It listed the main course as steak with mushroom sauce. Who eats steak with mushroom sauce? They’ll thank me later.”

    “I doubt that. I for one happen to love my steak with mushroom sauce; it makes me feel like I’m at a wedding.”

    “Gus, I don’t even have anything to say in response to that.”

    “So, what do we think is causing the noises?”

    “It sounds like someone is just messing with the Swedish chef’s kitchen during the night; there were some scratch marks on the floor near the stove that had to have been made by something that actually exists. The real question is why would someone want to interfere with such a sweet Swedish chef, even if he is a bit misguided in his sauce selection? Although it is bugging me, I mean why were there scratch marks there?” Shawn asked, not expecting a response. “The kitchen was renovated recently so the marks must be new.”

    “They must be dragging things along the floor,” Gus suggested.

    “Yeah, but the scratch marks were so specific.” The images flashed through Shawn’s head as he spoke. “It’s like the same thing was moved over and over.”

    “Maybe they are smuggling jewels.”

    “Really, Gus? Out of all the options you immediately jump the smuggling jewels?” Gus looked offended at Shawn’s skepticism. “Anyway, I think that they are smuggling anything it is smuggling something else. Something much more dangerous. Gus, there may be Snakes on the Train…I guess that makes you Samuel L. Jackson”

    “Shawn, please! Even Samuel L. Jackson didn’t go to see that movie.”


Chapter End Notes:
 


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