It's almost midnight on the sleek streamliner known as the California Zephyr en route from Oakland to Chicago in 1954. Heading for her quarters, Zephyrette Jill McLeod walks through the Silver Gorge Pullman car, and sees something she can't explain. Is the shimmering light a ghost? Jill doubts the evidence of her own eyes, but soon learns that others have seen the phenomenon, too. Whatever-whoever-is haunting roomette four may be connected to an incident two months earlier, when Jill found the body of a young man there. The verdict on the death was natural causes. Now it looks like the unquiet spirit is pointing to murder.
Several years ago Dawson took a trip on the Pacific Sands, a privately owned Pullman car. The owner told stories about a roomette on the car that was supposedly haunted. Passengers would tell about hearing voices during the night, and the porters who worked trips talked about the porter call button in the roomette ringing. When the porter answered the bell, no one was there. As a mystery writer, anything and everything was grist for the mill. As a matter of fact, the roomette on the Pacific Sands was number four.
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About the Author
This is Janet Dawson's third mystery in the California Zephyr series. In her other series, PI Jeri Howard has sleuthed through twelve books, the first of which won the St. Martin's/PWA award and other mystery award nominations. She lives in California's East Bay Region.
Read an Excerpt
I am not seeing this, Jill McLeod told herself. But she was.
Light shimmered at eye level, about ten feet in front of her. The apparition seemed to have no source. None, anyway, that Jill could discern. What's more, she could see through it.
Jill took a step toward the light. It brightened, then dimmed. She took another step. The light flickered and moved into roomette four.
She shook herself. A few more steps, then she stopped at the open doorway of the roomette and peered inside. Empty.
Of course it was empty. There was no one traveling in this space. When the California Zephyr reached Salt Lake City, at 5:20 a.m., the passenger holding a reservation for this roomette would board the train.
But she had seen the luminous flicker. Surely it was just a
trick of the light. But what light? How? There was nothing but darkness outside the roomette's window, save the occasional twin headlights of a vehicle at a crossing or a pinprick from a distant ranch. Here in the passageway the electric lights were dim. What Jill had seen was different from those ordinary lights. Different, and hard to explain. What could have caused it?
It was nearly midnight. The train's last station stop had been
in Elko, Nevada, at 11:17 p.m. Now the train sped east, heading for the Great Salt Desert that spanned western Utah. The passengers traveling in this Pullman car, the Silver Gorge, had gone to bed.
Jill would have been in bed, too. However, before she could
14 Janet Dawson remove her uniform and put on her pajamas, she and the first-aid kit she carried had been summoned by a porter to one of the Pullman cars. Jill was a Zephyrette, the only female member of the train's onboard crew. Her job was to see to the passengers' needs.
That included everything from answering questions to broadcasting announcements on the train's public address system, making dinner reservations, mailing postcards and sending telegrams–and treating a little boy who had scraped some skin off his elbow when he jumped off the bunk in the sixteen-section sleeper near the back of the train. She had doctored the child with Merthiolate
from her kit and put a bandage on his arm.
She was returning to her own quarters when she entered the Silver Gorge and saw–whatever it was she was seeing. Or had seen. It was gone now. She set the kit on the floor and entered the roomette, seeing her own reflection in the window.
"I must have imagined it," she whispered.