Here is the rough draft of the first chapter of the sequel to “Escambia Fills” for your enjoyment and review.
As one nightmare ends, another begins.
The sound of her heartbeat thrashed in her ears, pounded against, and amplified the pressure in her head. She lay bound in fetal position in the back seat of her car, unable to answer the urge to press her fists to the side of her head. A primal scream arose from within her soul, but could not find release through the duct tape sealed against her lips. Her nostrils flared at the influx of air as she fought to not hyperventilate.
Candice Jones tried to focus on escape, but her thoughts reverted to the worst possible conclusion. At thirty-seven years of age, she reached the pinnacle of her career. The time she spent as a Defense Coordinator for the Navy helped her to land a job as a reporter with the Escambia News Gazette. She had connections, and broke the story of the terrorist’s plot in Pensacola. With her first report the paper’s circulation doubled overnight, and she had dozens more ready to release in the weeks ahead.
Earlier in the day she enjoyed watching her peers at the paper, and relished their reaction as she walked through the office. With her chin held high she received their accolades with a grin that acknowledged that they missed the story she uncovered. Dozens of news agencies made offers throughout the day. Her future had never been brighter. Candice was a rising star ready to make her splash upon the national stage.
After a long day that lasted into the night, she left her office at the Gazette in downtown Pensacola. Candice felt an inner glow as she took long strides to transverse the downtown streets. She caught her reflection in a storefront window and admired her figure, stylish dress, and impeccable long blond hair. Eager to meet with her new boyfriend, Mark Billings, at her favorite bistro, she moved with a confident bounce in her step. The walk was pleasant on this warm August night. Without a care she dreamed of brighter days ahead.
A patchwork of offices, shops, and bars paralleled the sidewalks of South Palafox Street. An unexplained feeling interrupted her relaxed stroll. Empty tingling sensations shot across her back and filled her chest. The impression intensified as she advanced from under a streetlight into the shadows. She shuddered, then hesitated, and stared at her trembling hands.
“Get a grip Candice,” she murmured as she picked up her pace to advance upon the next streetlight.
She forced herself to focus on her rapid professional advancement and future prospects, but the dreadful sensation lingered. A sudden bang from just behind stopped her in mid stride. Candice lifted her arms to protect her face and head, and stooped her body. She spun around and cast an incredulous stare at two Navy Seamen who burst through the door of a tavern, barhopping to their next destination.
“Watch where you’re going.” Candice shouted.
“Sorry mam,” came the reply as the inebriated pair looked at each other, snorted, burst into laughter, and staggered in the opposite direction.
“Idiots.” Candice exclaimed under her breath.
The startling experience brought needed release. She questioned her emotions and determined that she was two blocks away from Mark and the bistro. She’d be safe there with him and regained a self-assured stride.
An occasional car passed and reminded her, she was not alone. A smile returned to her face as her heart brightened. She passed a darkened ally and could see the restaurant just ahead. The spring in her step returned just as a dark figure emerged from the shadows. A gloved hand reached from behind to clasp a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. She struggled against her abductor but an ether sweet smell soon robbed her of consciousness.
Confused and disoriented, Candice awoke. She did not remember how she wound up in the backseat of her own car or who her abductor was. With her bound legs she pushed against the seat to raise her torso and head high enough to peer through the window. The row of restaurants confirmed they were on Cervantes Street near the curve that led up Scenic Highway.
With a pained stare she peeked over the seat at the driver, obscured from recognition by a black hoodie. The traffic was light on the scenic bluffs’ corridor at this time night, no hope for rescue. Candice tensed her muscles to fight the tremors that racked her body. She strained against her restraints, careful to make no noise to alert her captor. Her silk blouse sagged with perspiration. Cooled by the night air, it sent a chill through her body. She imagined that the dark confines of the back seat might enwrap and crush her.
A sudden change in the sound of the tires on the pavement sent an alarm. The car bounced and pressed Candice’s body between the seats and onto the floorboard. On the opposite side of the guardrail, the car slowed and came to a stop at the edge of the bluffs, which overlooked the night waters of Escambia Bay.
She heard the driver’s door open, and then slam shut. Wedged between the front and back seats, Candice’s body paralyzed with fear. The sound of the abductor’s footsteps grew louder. The rear door creaked opened. Candice cringed and shut her eyes just as the sting of a hypodermic needle pierced her neck. A warm pulse spread through her body and up into her head. In a matter of seconds she lost consciousness.
At first she thought she had awakened from a dream. Candice became aware of her surroundings, but the effects of the drug kept her from moving her limbs. She now sat in the driver’s seat of her car; secured by the seatbelt and harness, her hands limp upon the steering wheel. As if captured in a dream, she didn’t remember what happened. Her immobile body jolted as she felt the car inch forward.
Candice’s eyes came into focus on the sparkling night waters of Escambia Bay. She gasped as the car moved closer to the edge of the eighty-foot clay cliffs, which were at the highest point on Florida’s coastline.
Her mind screamed, “Open the door, run,” but her body refused to respond.
As she became more alert, she remembered the driver and the prick of the needle at her neck. The terror returned with the sound behind her, the kidnapper’s labored grunt. The car strained forward, the bumper now at the edge of the cliff. One more push meant the vehicle’s tumble over the eighty-foot embankment.
With intensity, Candice concentrated on her arm and raised it just high enough to grasp the door handle with her left hand. She strained at the latch but lacked the strength to pull it open. Her effort continued as the front wheels of the car extended beyond the edge with a thump. The car slid forward in the loose clay and now teetered on its chassis. Her eyes fixed on the base of the cliff. She let out a scream when her captor lifted the rear bumper to send the vehicle reeling towards the bay.
At first she had an out of body experience, as if she were an impartial observer to her own fate. Upon its descent the heavy brush and scrub oaks impeded the fall. At one point the car caught and hung suspended in the air, but soon the vehicle’s weight countered the temporary reprieve and continued its plummet on the steep slope.
Candice found strength beyond herself. She clutched the door handle and shifted her weight back and forth. She jerked on the lever until the latch released its grip. The front bumper dug into the soft clay and pitched the car in a somersault. Airbags deployed and slammed against her head. With a loud snap the door came off of its hinges. The roof collapsed as the car cartwheeled the slope. The shattered windshield peppered her face and shoulders with deadly shards. She became dizzy and disoriented as the car tumbled and rolled, but focused her attention on the latch to her seatbelt.
When the car came to rest, Candice’s injuries were significant, but she clung to life. The slam of the steering wheel into her chest did the most damage. She could not catch her breath nor bear the pain. Blood covered her body. Candice was unsure if it was the drug or her injuries that kept her immobile. She lay strapped in her seatbelt in the twisted remains of her black Lexus, her mobility limited by the crumpled metal that entombed her body.
That’s when she heard the haunting sound of a whistle off in the distance. Candice forced herself to focus on her surroundings. What remained of her car came to rest across the railroad tracks that ran through Pensacola. She had to free herself; her life depended on it.
Tommy Warren sat behind the controls of the SD80MAC lead engine on the 3:30 a.m. run through Pensacola. Now in his fifties, Tommy had twenty years on the line without a single accident. Confident, but always alert, he never diverted his attention from the tracks. It was the regular run of the CSX, but with a larger than usual pull. Four of the blue-bodied, yellow-faced engines towed a hundred and thirty-five cars. The manifest said 13,495 tons and 8,613 feet. Counting the engines, the train stretched out over 1.7 miles of track. Each engine weighed in at 420,000 pounds and carried 5,800 gallons of diesel fuel. The twenty-cylinder engines produced 3.7 megawatts of electricity and moved product throughout the Eastern United States.
At eighty-feet long and fifteen-feet five-inches tall, the engines had a top speed of seventy-five miles an hour. Most nights, the CSX ran less than half that speed through Pensacola. Because of the increased load, the late hour, and to stay on schedule, Tommy held the speed steady at 47 mph. The first blast of the horn came as they approached the trestle that crossed Escambia Bay from Santa Rosa to Escambia County: the second as they approached the Escambia side. The routine was to blow two blasts every two miles until they reached what the locals call the Graffiti Bridge at Seventeenth Avenue in Pensacola.
Candice twisted and jerked in panic. Three separate blasts of the whistle, each one louder than the other, and closer, brought panic. She contorted her body until her torso lay on the tracks, but the crumpled frame trapped hips. Candice strained to advance or to retreat to find a different exit. Her heart hammered in her chest. The fourth blast sounded as if the train was on top of her.
From the vantage point atop the bluffs, the abductor cast a confident eye toward the approaching headlight, turned, and entered a car driven by an accomplice. As they drove away, Tommy Warren thought he saw something on the tracks. The train passed the last intersection before entering downtown a mile back. He was unsure of what he saw. The bright spot on the face of the engine pierced the darkness and rising fog to show the outline of something that lay across the tracks. He reached up with resolve and slammed the beak lever.
The train’s momentum carried it forwards as if the break had no effect. Sparks flew from the forty-five inch steel wheels and filled the night air with ozone. He hadn’t seen it in time. A crash was unavoidable.
As the engines strained to slow, the railroad cars overcame the resistance. Smoke emanated from several of the break boxes.
“Lord Jesus, no, no, no,” Tommy cried.
Tommy never averted his attention from the tracks, but this time he shut his eyes. The engine plowed into and disintegrated the remains of Candice Jones’ black Lexus.
The collision didn’t slow the train’s advance. Tommy prayed. He calculated a distance of a half-mile before they could come to a complete stop and assess the damage, but he hadn’t counted on what happened next.
An automobile is no match for a 1.7-mile long train, but the Lexus’ transmission caught and wedged under the front of the engine. The resistance had no effect on the engine itself, but the tracks took a beating. With the advance of the train, the transmission worked as a plow against the wooden timbers of the track bed. Each one exploded into the air upon contact. Railroad spikes became deadly projectiles, which shot in random directions. When the engines passed, the cars could not handle the damage.
Without support under the tracks, the rails separated. The first car to derail set off a chain reaction. As the engines slowed, the train cars became projectiles. They slammed into the engines. Separated rails in the rear strained the track ahead. Noise was deafening from an unceasing explosion and fire shot into the air along the endless chain of broken cars. Torque, caused by the twisted motion of the cars, jackknifed the rear engine and then the three in the lead. Tommy’s engine was off the rails and moved sideways across the tracks until it rolled on its side. The engine behind him lifted up on top of his and tore open the belly that housed the diesel fuel.
Diesel fuel is not explosive under normal conditions, but this wreck was different. The fire and explosions of the pile-up set off the fuel and resulted in an explosion that shook houses and broke windows miles away. Tommy’s engine came to rest half on a wooded flat and the other half in the bay. The nose dug into the mud and water poured into the engineer’s station.
Tommy lay on the wall of the overturned engine with blood pouring from the wound on his head. The water rushed in and threated to drown him. He hustled to climb up the floor to the exit and then stood on the side of his overturned engine. Tommy looked at the results of the worst train wreck in modern history.
He recalled the manifest. The haul included explosive and corrosive materials. He took a step to see if he could help others, but the blow to his head left him dizzy, unsteady. Tommy fell to his knees and prayed. Through his tears he saw erratic beams of light, which flew as shafts in every direction. Other flashes appeared as jagged lightning, which emanated from the wreckage a mile away. An eerie screech and thunderous boom accompanied each flare, which drowned out the sounds of multiple explosions along the line. He clasped his hands over his ears to relieve the excruciating pain.
A ghostly cloud rolled toward him from the light show. It overtook him as a gale force plum of green vapor, illumined by the burning chemicals, knocked him flat on his back. The stench burned in his eyes and lungs. As the smoke thickened he passed out.
And so the nightmare begins.