Jane looked up through her wet hair to glance down the tracks; the steady rhythmic sound of the train grew louder, and the light beamed brighter through the rain as it drew closer. She looked back at Ted Hayden who sat frantically pulling his leg, in an attempt to free his foot; his hands were tied behind him; rendering them completely useless. Sweeping the water from her face, she bent down closely to examine his shoe.
“Hold still!” She shouted through the storm, “I can’t see what I’m doing!”
The lace of his shoe was stuck firmly in the rail fastener, and she pulled at it desperately.
“The train is almost here, we’ll be killed!” Ted yelled, “I won’t sit still and die!”
Jane loosened the laces on his shoe, and pulled his foot free from its leather imprisonment despite his struggling. She glanced back up the track, and she could see the train quickly chugging towards them; its bright light blinding her momentarily in the darkness. She pulled Ted Hayden by the jacket, and managed to roll him off of the tracks only seconds before the train approached and sped by with a loud rumbling vibration.
“That was close!” She panted, pushing herself up off of the ground to discover her legs were weak with fright.
She looked for a nearby tree for support; but found instead the comforting shoulders of Trooper who bound up next to her. The rain hadn’t ceased to let up, and fell upon them in heavy sheets as she reached down to help Ted Hayden off of the ground.
“Let’s make a dash for those trees!”
Trooper led the way to the trees, which provided remarkable shelter from the relentless, roaring rains. Ted leaned against a dark tree trunk, and exhaled deeply.
“You saved my life.” He said brokenly after he caught his breath, “I don’t know what to say.”
“There’s no need to say anything; I only wish I knew how you were connected with this mystery. Did you actually rob the jewelry store?”
“It’s a long story.” He said meekly, “I am – I am truly innocent.”
Jane couldn’t help but feel pity for him as she regarded his distressed, pale face. She thought, if Trooper was willing to risk his life for him, and keep him out of danger; then she ought to trust his instincts and put more faith in Ted Hayden’s words.
“I trust Trooper, and Trooper trusts you. If you’re telling the truth, which I believe you are; I will help you in any way I can.”
Jane quickly unfastened the cords which bound his wrists, and motioned to the soggy shadows.
“We don’t have much further to walk. Would you like to rest first?” She asked with renewed concern for his physical ability to continue.
“No,” he said apologetically, “I’m fine, I want to continue; but I’d appreciate it if we went a little slower.”
They pressed on amicably through the dense sea of tree trunks and brush, with Trooper wagging alongside as happy as a lark. This man was a mystery, Jane thought to herself; and the whole business troubled her. She longed to ask more questions, keeping them instead to herself until she could ask them sanely in the comfort of a dry room.
It wasn’t long before the rain had let up once more, and they arrived at the outskirts of the land surrounding the cabin. The environment immediately became as familiar to Jane as her own backyard, colored with the after-glow of the storm. A smile spread across her face when she caught sight of the cabin’s cozy lights. She navigated the grassy grounds with confidence, and brought Ted and his furry rescuer to the back porch.
Stomping the rain from her shoes and brushing the excess water off of her clothing, she clutched the doorknob and pulled it open victoriously.
“Here is the great Ted Hayden; the key to solving this mystery!” She declared with some pomp, as she beheld the bewildered face of Margaret at the kitchen table.
Ted Hayden strode in past her; and Trooper gave a tremendous shake from nose to tail, and followed loyally behind.
“Jane, he’s a criminal!” Margaret cried, as she rose from the chair and clutched the back of it.
“No, he’s not Margaret; he’s in danger, and he needs our help.” Jane explained, pulling back one of the kitchen chairs and motioning for Ted to sit down.
The man fell into the chair with great fatigue, resting his elbows on his knees and letting his head hang between his shoulders. Trooper collapsed on the hearth, and Jane turned back towards Margaret to say:
“He left to go looking for you, but he said he would be back in thirty minutes if he couldn’t pick up your trail. In fact, he should be back any minute now if he was unsuccessful.”
“Likely he would be!” Jane laughed, “My tracks would have been washed away in that massive flood. It was practically raining cats and dogs!”
Jane pulled up a chair and towel dried her hair curiously, as she stared at the man across the table. Margaret was pouring cups of steaming hot chocolate, when Josh reappeared at the back door and wrung out an umbrella.
“You wouldn’t believe that storm! And I can’t find Jane anywhere.” He muttered dejectedly, removing his hat and shirking his wet raincoat from his shoulders; when he noticed Jane at the kitchen table. “There you are!” He said, striding across the carpeted floor to tower over them. “We thought you might have been kidnapped; or-” he stopped when his eyes detected the motionless Ted in the nearby chair.
The man looked up at him for the first time with a sickly expression; and Josh noticed his torn jacket, and missing shoe.
“Dear lord! You picked up a tramp at the bus station!”
“No, it’s Ted Hayden – he was almost hit by a train!” Jane explained.
“A train! Was he tied to the tracks?” Josh asked quizzically,
“Pretty much, it was a narrow escape.”
“Nice work, Jane; now we can turn him over to the police, collect our reward and enjoy the rest of the summer!”
Ted objected and stiffened in his chair,
“Not so fast-” Jane interrupted, “This man has a story to tell, and we need to listen to him.”
“Fine, but it better be a good one. What’s the deal, did your pals leave you holding the bag after the robbery?” Josh said, grabbing a stool and straddling it near the table.
Ted picked up his hot chocolate and swallowed nervously, before he began to tell the tale to his eager listeners.