S.O.S.

by Max Elliot Anderson -

“Impossible!” old Wade Thacker fumed. “You couldn’t give me the a, b, c’s if your life…”

“Can too,” Jimmy Randall shot back, his bright, blue eyes flashing. “Me and Dusty have been practicing. That’s a dot and a dash, a dash and three dots, and…”

“Well, now,” the train station manager said, peering over his gold-rimmed glasses, “so what if you can?”

“Honest, Mr. Thacker,” Dusty Brenner added, as he leaned against the counter in the depot at Boulder Creek.

Jimmy looked back to the old man. “Dusty and I both know Morse code. Between the two of us, we could handle the job easy! We’ve had a small wire set up between our houses for almost a whole year.”

Mr. Thacker took off his glasses and began to clean them with a red rag from his back pocket. “Nnno, I don’t think…”

“Everybody’s out working the mine, Mr. Thacker. All the men are out there, and…” Jimmy argued.

“Nope. I can’t use you and that’s that. With what the mine has comin’ through this office, it takes a man. This ain’t no job for a couple of kids.”

Jimmy drew in a deep breath and took his time letting it out again. “But you don’t have anybody else in mind, do you?”

Mr. Thacker shook his head, then put his glasses back on. “No. I reckon I’ll just have to put in more hours myself for the first few weeks. I got me a cot set up in the back room behind the ticket office where I can catch a few winks if I need to.”

Dusty snickered. “I’ve seen you doze off right at your desk in the middle of the day.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy added. “How you gonna stay awake now?”

“Don’t you boys worry about that. I’ll find someone to help out around here before too long.”

“Aw, why don’t you give us a try?” Jimmy begged.

Mr. Thacker shook his head again and sighed. “Nope. It’s not a job for kids I tell you. Why, there’ll be some right important messages goin’ to New York, San Francisco, and all them other big places. It wouldn’t do for no youngsters to go makin’ mistakes.” He took a shiny watch from his vest pocket. “You two best be a goin’ now. Number 29 is due in ten minutes.” He looked around as if to make sure no one else could hear him. Then he said, “The big boss out to the mine told me he’s expectin’ a mighty important package comin’ through today; real valuable, and carryin’ insurance. He called me from the hotel this mornin’.”

Jimmy whistled. “It must be really important!”

“Sure, it is,” Mr. Thacker answered. “Told you it’s no job for a couple of boys.”

Jimmy and Dusty turned and shuffled out of the depot.

“Guess it’s no use.” Jimmy sighed. Dusty grunted back.

“Hey, you guys,” a stranger said as he walked up. “Is the train due in soon?”

“Five-thirty,” Jimmy answered, “ol’ number 29. You going someplace on it?”

The stranger cleared his throat and looked around. “I, uh, I’m meeting somebody. We got business out there at the mine.”

“You mean they’re getting off here?” Dusty spoke up. “Most people take the express and don’t get off till the next town.” He looked back toward the station. “Hardly anybody ever gets off in this place. Mostly just the people who live here.”

“Why don’t you two get on out of here? It’s none of your business, anyway.”

The boys looked at each other, shrugged and then walked away from the depot.

“Maybe he’s the guy picking up the package,” Dusty said.

“Maybe.”

“Boy, I’d sure like to see what’s inside. What do you think, money?”  Dusty asked.

“Why would it be money?” Jimmy said as he shook his head. “All the mine workers get paid by check. I’ll bet it’s secret papers or something.”

Dusty’s voice went up a little higher. “You mean like a map of where all the gold is?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Jimmy said.

Just then the boys heard the rumbling sounds of an approaching train as it rolled into the Boulder Creek station.

Jimmy snapped his fingers. “Let’s go back and watch the train pull out again.”

“Yeah,” Dusty said. “I like the noise and all that steam and smoke.”

They hurried back across the street as Ben Wilson pulled a rickety, wooden baggage cart up next to the track. The boys knew he always did that, even though a three year-old could easily carry the few packages that came each day. The rest of the mail was always kicked out onto the platform.

“Hey, nobody’s gettin’ off,” Dusty said.

Jimmy shook his head. “Nope, and she’s already pulling out again.”

“Look,” Dusty said with a whisper. “That strange guy’s headin’ inside. He must be lookin’ for the package.”

“Let’s go see,” Jimmy added.

Trying not to make a sound, the boys stepped inside the door. When the stranger saw them he grumbled, “I thought you boys went home.”

We just wanted…” Jimmy began.

“Well, now that you’re here, you’d better stay.”

“St-t-t-ay?” Dusty gulped.

The man thrust a hand deep into his coat pocket, where the boys could clearly see the outline of a pistol...

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