Onboard the Chicago & North Western Railway
years in New York , newly wed Rachel Wilson had her medical
diploma in her suitcase, her husband beside her, and a revolver
at her head.
The man behind her holding the gun leaned forward. A
suede hat rode low on his forehead, shadowing his face. His
ragged mustache quivered as he whispered in her husband’s ear
loud enough so she could hear, “Do as I say, and the lady
lives.” The threat came on a breath ripe with whiskey and
Except for her eyes, which strained to see more of the
assailant, Rachel sat motionless in the stifling confines of the
passenger car. Perspiration crawled down her back. The
oppressive heat sucked the moisture from her mouth, turning her
cry for help into a mousey squeak. She drew in another breath.
His hand, reeking of tobacco, cupped her mouth. “I
She nodded, and the noxious odor slid from her face.
Upon boarding, she had suggested to Gabe they sit near
the back of the car so they could exit quickly when the train
pulled into a station. Now she wished she hadn’t. The nearest
passenger sat four rows in front of them.
Gabe squeezed her arm. His steady, blue eyes and
composed voice offered reassurance. “Okay, anything you want,”
he said, speaking over his shoulder. “Just don’t hurt her.”
The man thrust a small sack into Gabe’s lap. “Get their
money and jewelry and make it quick.” When Gabe started forward,
the robber grabbed her husband’s arm. “Cross me and she’s dead.”
Gabe worked his way forward, his sandy hair falling
across his brow as he bent to explain the crisis. One-by-one
passengers reacted with raised eyebrows and opened mouths,
followed by a quick glance to the back of the car before
surrendering their cash, rings, and necklaces. When he
approached the last passenger, a burly man in buckskins, her
captor stepped into the aisle and pulled her in front of him.
“Hurry up. We’re coming into Chicago .”
Gabe rushed back, holding out the bulging bag. All eyes
turned in her direction.
“Far enough,” the gunman said. “Sit down.” He reached
out and snatched the stolen goods.
Rachel looked up at a tailored white shirt and small
black tie, not at all what she expected. Except for a few stains
on the brim of his hat, nothing about his attire suggested a
rough life. Her opinion changed when she caught the scent of
body odor and stale perfume that oozed from his unlaundered
vest. “Please, he’s done what you said. Let us go.”
He answered with a grunt. Using her as a shield,
he stepped backwards toward the exit.
I’ve got to do something. Maybe if I faint…
With the barrel of the revolver
pressed against the base of her skull, she prayed no one would
attempt to play hero. “I’m dizzy,” she muttered, “…can’t stand.”
She swayed against him. Instead of catching her, he moved aside.
“Oh,” she cried and grabbed the back of a seat.
As she regained her balance, something whizzed past her
head. Thump! Coins and jewelry bounced like metal raindrops
against the iron floor and scattered beneath the seats. The
robber fell through the rear door onto a narrow platform
separating the car from the caboose. His revolver slid across
against the deck and clanked into the guardrail. His face
twisted in agony. The handle of a hunting knife protruded from
People spilled into the isle. A man screamed for the
conductor. Someone shouted for a doctor. Passengers stumbled
over one another trying to get a better look.
“Are you okay?” Gabe called out to her.
“Yes,” she said, gathering her wits, knowing she had to
help the man. As she scrambled to his side and pried his fingers
from the weapon, a robust voice bellowed over the bedlam.
“Let the doctor pass.” The conductor had entered
from the forward car and was pushing his way through the crowd.
“Do what you can, Doc,” he said to a well-dressed man beside
him. The conductor tugged at his vest which rode high on his
bulbous belly and threw out his chest. “You,” he said, pointing
to one of the men. “Pick up what he stole.” His eyes narrowed,
and he glared at the passengers. “I don’t want any problems.
Claim only what’s yours.” He spread his hands and gestured to
the crowd. “Give the doctor room.” The conductor picked up the
revolver and grabbed Rachel by the arm. “You too, Miss.” He
pulled her away from the victim.
“Get your hands off her,” Gabe shouted. “She’s a doctor.”
The conductor’s jaw dropped and a dumbfounded expression
crossed his face. “I…uh--”
“She accepts your apology,” Gabe snapped through tight
lips. “Now let her do her job.”
The male doctor motioned for her to join him. “Please, I
had no idea. I’m Nicholas Behrens.”
“Rachel Wilson,” she said, gazing into ebony eyes
shadowed by long, thick lashes. Her colleague had a smooth,
olive complexion, flawless except for a small scar on his upper
lip. She guessed him to be about twenty-five, a couple of years
younger than Gabe.
The doctor removed his suit coat and rolled it into a
“Can you hear me?” he asked the patient. His deep, baritone
voice rumbled over the roar of the engine.
Half-conscious, the man responded with a moan then his
body convulsed into violent shaking.
“He’s in shock,” she said, “and from the rattle in his
chest, I’d say his lungs are filling with blood.”
“I agree, but if we remove the knife, he’ll bleed to
death.” Doctor Behrens indicated his prognosis with a shake of
“Good,” a gravely voice yelled. “He got what he deserved.
That’s my knife, and I say yank it out.”
She exchanged glances with the man in buckskins. “Thank
you for saving my life, but I don’t wish him to suffer any
“Why? He didn’t care about you. Couda’ blown your
brains all over this car.”
“But he didn’t. I took an oath to save lives, not
take them,” she said, applying pressure around the hilt. Blood
seeped through her fingers.
“You heard the lady.” Doctor Behrens placed his hand on
hers. “Guess that’s the way it’s going to be.”
As their hands pressed against the dying man’s
chest, delaying the inevitable, the wheels screeched against the
rails, and the train rolled to a stop. Two long blasts by the
engineer signaled their arrival in Chicago .
“He’s gone,” she said, unable to detect a pulse
in the victim’s neck.
The conductor nodded. “I’ll notify the
authorities.” He turned to the curious onlookers, standing a few
seats up the aisle. “It’s over, folks. Please exit the coach at
the other end.”
“Now can I have my knife?” the man in buckskins asked.
“Not till the police get here.” The conductor looked at
her and Doctor Behrens. “They’ll want a statement from both of
you.” He lifted a gold fob and glanced at his pocket watch.
“Eleven o’clock. It’ll be at least an hour before we can get
underway. There’s a restaurant in the terminal next to the
waiting area. If you’d like, I can have the detective meet you
“Thank you,” Gabe said, coming to Rachel’s side and
helping her to her feet.
“Doctor Behrens, this is my husband Gabe Wilson.”
“Please, call me Nicholas. I’d shake your hand, Mr.
Wilson, but under the circumstances, that’s not such a good
“And call me Gabe. Looks like both of you could use
some soap and water.”
“Don’t forget your coat,” Rachel said as she stepped
past the deceased.
Nicholas glanced at his bloody hands.
“Here, let me.” Gabe unrolled the coat and draped it
over his arm. “I’ll hold on to it for you.”
In the terminal, Rachel located a room designated for
ladies only. The room provided mirrors and water for washing,
but not much else. As she scrubbed her hands, the water turned
crimson and disappeared down a drain, leaving a metallic smell
in her nostrils. After checking her dress for bloodstains, she
rejoined Gabe who accompanied her to the privies behind the
station. She found the conditions as deplorable as the
facilities provided in the caboose. Once again, she returned to
the terminal and washed. By the time she and Gabe arrived at the
restaurant, Nicholas was waiting out front.
“Thanks,” he said, taking his coat from Gabe. He put it
on and smoothed the lapels.
She couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the
two men--Gabe, blonde hair and blue eyes; Nicholas, dark hair
and eyes that seemed to hold mysteries in their inky depths.
Nicholas stood a good two inches taller than Gabe who measured
close to six feet.
The noise in the waiting room faded when the
restaurant’s thick doors closed behind them. After the
excitement and mayhem on the train, she welcomed the quiet. A
male diner was the only other person in the restaurant, perhaps
because of the early hour. According to the marquee outside,
lunch wasn’t to be served until noon, and it was only a little
after eleven. Nicholas suggested a table in the center of the
room under a brass and crystal chandelier lit with candles.
“This is nice,” she said, running her hand across the
white, linen table cloth.
“I’m sure they have pastries available. What would you
like?” Gabe asked when the waiter approached.
“I’m really not hungry.” The image of the knife in the
man’s chest and the blood pool at her feet remained fresh in her
mind. “A cup of coffee will do fine.”
“I’ll have the same,” Nicholas said.
Gabe took her hand in his. “Make that three.”
She had learned to read her husband’s expressions. The
purposeful curl of his lips didn’t fool her. His furrowed brow
and the way he patted her hand told her he was still worrying
over the attack. She loved how he cared for her.
“So where is home?” Nicholas asked.
“Lizard Creek,” Gabe said.
“Don’t think I’ve ever heard of the place.”
Rachel smiled. “You’re not alone. It’s a little
community in the foothills of the Cascades, near Tacoma .”
“How long have you been practicing?” Nicholas said,
moving his napkin aside.
“Actually, I just finished medical school. I suppose
you could say the deceased was my first patient. Not a good
“There was nothing anyone could do for him,” Nicholas
“Doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“And it shouldn’t. Losing a patient is never easy, no
matter the circumstances. Will you be alone in your practice?”
“No, the doctor in Lizard Creek is elderly and has
offered me a partnership. His facilities are small, but we’re
hoping to expand.”
“Where do you call home?” Gabe asked.
“I’m originally from New York but have lived in Chicago
for the past several years. I share office space with a couple
of doctors a few blocks from here.”
“Gabe’s from New York , too. He worked as an editor at
his father’s newspaper until he gave it up to follow his dream
“Best thing I ever did,” Gabe said, “or I never would
have met Rachel.”
She rubbed the sleeve of his coat and swelled with
The waiter arrived with their coffee. While they sipped
the savory brew, Nicholas asked more about Lizard Creek, and she
sensed a yearning in his interest.
“The northwest is a big and beautiful place. There’s
always room for more doctors. Have you ever thought about
moving?” she asked.
“More than a few times,” he said, “but family
obligations make moving impossible. Perhaps one day I’ll find
my way out there and give you some competition.” He grinned.
The doors to the restaurant opened, ushering in the
noise of the waiting room along with a short, pudgy man. His
bald head glistened in the candlelight. After looking around, he
approached their table. “I’m Detective Marcus Pennington,” he
said, pulling back his lapel and exposing a badge pinned to his
vest. The conductor said I’d find you here.”
Following a brief round of introductions, the detective
asked to hear their account of the incident on the train. Gabe
went first, followed by Rachel then Nicholas. Detective
Pennington listened and took notes. Once again, he verified
their names, thanked them for their cooperation, and said they
were free to go.
“I’d better find out when the train is scheduled to
depart. Would you keep an eye on Rachel for me?” Gabe asked
“It would be my pleasure.” He took another sip of
coffee and eyed her over the rim of his cup. “I envy you. Here I
have the latest equipment and supplies, but those things are not
the true measure of a doctor. I can’t imagine what all you’ll
face. I must say the unknown intrigues me. Having lived in New
York , you know what life is like in a big city. Can you blame
me for dreaming of fresh mountain air and snow covered peaks?”
“Like I said, there’s plenty of room for new doctors.”
Gabe rushed into the restaurant. “The train’s leaving
in ten minutes. We need to get aboard.”
The three of them hurried through the crowd and onto
the platform where Nicholas and Gabe shook hands.
“I wish you both a safe journey home,” Nicholas said.
“Next time you travel east to see your father, maybe you’ll find
time to visit with me.” He paused, his eyes lingering on Rachel.
“Gabe, would you mind if I write to you and Rachel? I’d like to
hear more about your life in the west, and I could keep Rachel
abreast of the latest treatments and medicines.”
“We’d love to hear from you,” Gabe said. “Address your
letter in care of Lizard Creek , Washington . It’ll get to us.”
The engineer sounded the whistle, and the conductor
shouted, “All aboard.”
After another round of hurried goodbyes, Gabe helped
her up the metal steps. They shuffled down the aisle to the only
remaining seats--two vacant rows at the rear of the car. At
least no one sat behind them. In St. Paul , when they changed
trains for the final leg of the journey, she would make sure to
board the Northern Pacific early and surround herself with
The train lurched forward. Smoke bellowed from the iron
horse and engulfed the station in a white cloud, swallowing up
their new-found friend.
She leaned over and glanced at the spot where the
gunman died. The freshly mopped floor gleamed. “We’ll have quite
a story to tell when we get home,” she said. “Let’s hope nothing
Gabe hiked an eyebrow. “Hope? I’d be more inclined to
pray. They don’t call it the Wild West for nothing.”