The City of Fire (Chapter 1, page 2 of 8)


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Chapter 1

Billy had slipped into the landscape unseen. His rusty, trusty old
bicycle was parked in a thick huckleberry growth just below the grade
of the tracks, and Billy himself stood in the shelter of several
immense packing boxes piled close to the station. It was a niche just
big enough for his wiry young length with the open station window close
at his ear. From either end of the platform he was hidden, which was as
it should be until he got ready to arrive with the incoming train.

The regular station agent was busy checking a high pile of trunks that
had come down on the early Lake train from the Hotel and had to be
transferred to the New York train. He was on the other side of the
station and some distance down the platform.

Beyond the packing boxes the heavy one worked with brush and paint
marking some barrels. If Billy applied an eye to a crack in his hiding
place he could watch every stroke of the fat black brush, and see the
muscles in the swarthy cheeks move as the man mouthed a big black
cigar. But Billy was not interested in the new freight agent, and
remained in his retreat, watching the brilliant sunshine shimmer over
the blue-green haze of spruce and pine that furred the way down to the
valley. He basked in it like a cat blinking its content. The rails were
beginning to hum softly, and it would not be long till the train
arrived.

Suddenly Billy was aware of a shadow looming.

The heavy one had laid down his brush and was stealing swiftly,
furtively to the door of the station with a weather eye to the agent on
his knees beside a big trunk writing something on a check. Billy drew
back like a turtle to his shell and listened. The rail was beginning to
sing decidedly now and the telephone inside the grated window suddenly
sat up a furious ringing. Billy's eye came round the corner of the
window, scanned the empty platform, glimpsed the office desk inside and
the weighty figure holding the receiver, then vanished enough to be out
of sight, leaving only a wide curious ear to listen: "That you Sam? Yep. Nobody about. Train's coming. Hustle up. Anything
doing? You don't say! Some big guy? Say, that's good news
at last! Get on the other wire and hold it. I'll come as quick as the
train's gone. S'long!"

Billy cocked a curious eye like a flash into the window and back again,
ducking behind the boxes just in time to miss the heavy one coming out
with an excited air, and a feverish eye up the track where the train
was coming into view around the curve.

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