Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phantom Train, Chapter Two, Part Two

Begin with the beginning.

He turned left onto Main Street. Modern buildings of various heights had been erected in some places among the older structures, evidence of the beneficial influence of the Zenith Mine throughout the last decades. Some blocks of Southwestern adobe and Western-style wood and brick buildings with roofed wood-plank sidewalks had been preserved for tourists.

But now, all over town, many stores were vacant and buildings boarded up. Many residences, stores, and office buildings displayed signs "For Rent" or "For Sale." Other obviously abandoned houses sported no such signs. Either the signs had already fallen down — gone with the wind — or owners had not even bothered to tackle that hopeless task before they deserted. There were few cars on the streets and even fewer pedestrians. By and large, Jinxville had the appearance of a place of fragile prosperity that had been dealt a knockout punch.

"Quite a ghost town, huh?" McGinnis seemed to read Traynor's mind.

Traynor nodded pensively. "I've always wanted to know what downtown Podunk actually looks like."

In fact, Traynor did not give a damn about a small town one way or the other. He had been born and raised in New York City. Nothing in the world could possibly induce him to ever move away, let alone to a one-horse town. On the other hand, he sure preferred a place like this over the small European towns he had had to visit on business trips. There, whole downtowns of medieval houses had been landmarked by the looters' governments, forcing owners to preserve their half-timbered fire traps rather than replace them with modern buildings. That was just the thing to do for people who liked to let their minds stagnate. Minds out of the Dark Ages deserved buildings of the same origin and quality. Traynor did not even want to know what small towns in Asia and Africa might look like.

Anyway, at least citizens of American towns like Jinxville were free to put up new and outstanding buildings and billboards whenever they thought fit and were able to afford them. In these parts, there probably were not that many NIMBYs and ridiculous zoning and landmarking regulations to try and stop them. Even though Traynor had won the fight against height limits, NIMBYs and zoning laws here were possibly still fewer than those remaining in New York City. Only that in this place few people were left to make use of these freedoms.

McGinnis made a sweeping gesture with his right hand that seemed to encompass the whole deserted town full of windswept garbage blown around like tumbleweed. "As I told you. All the brilliant kids move away from one-horse towns like this — unless they grow up to be mining engineers. Now this one's losing all the average folks too, and even the bums. It's always been hard to get workers to such a place. Now even the simple folks, who never thought about moving away, who were content with working in the mine, are deserting us scared mad. They'd never have deserted their birthplace — their roots, to speak their language — for better pay, but irrational fear makes their legs move like they won't stop before they hit the ocean…"

"Vegetables come with roots," grinned Traynor. "Sorry — I won't interrupt you again."

"Well, we never really had enough good men and now we're losing all the bad ones, too. All that's left is some sorry remainder of a middling sort — not clever enough for the big city, but not dumb enough to run at first sight of a phantom train. But just wait for that ghost to put on a couple more appearances and they may reconsider. Even if they don't, they can't last in the long run. We haven't got enough laborers left to run the mine properly. If we can't end this spook soon and get them back, we'll have to shut it down. If the mine goes, so does Jinxville. Would have been a fitting name after all."

He drove up to a plain, unadorned five-story building of exposed concrete — the Jenkinsville Holiday Inn.

"Probably the only business around here not joining the jinxomania," Traynor mused. He was not exactly a fan of exposed concrete, but the hotel appeared to him as the lone island of reason in a sea of superstition run wild.

Upon checking into a plain but well-appointed room, Traynor changed from his trademark black suit and silk tie into blue jeans, boots, and a leather jacket from his suitcase. He was really beginning to feel out of place in this cow town. On the other hand, this jinxed place had already started to leave its mark on him. Hell, he had caught himself rolling his rs.

Read on…

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