“Night Train To Porto” by Steve Carr
After boarding the train at the station in Lisbon, Kirk was happy to find an empty seat facing forward that was next to a window. The seats around him were empty also, so he placed his backpack on the seat he faced. He sat down, rested his feet on his backpack, and turned his head to watch as the train began to pull out of the station. The final wisps of purplish twilight sky faded to the dull blackness of early night and the lights of Lisbon began to twinkle and glow in the darkness.
Within minutes the train began to chug along, the sound of its wheels on the track emitting a combination of steady clacking and a low-pitched hum. Kirk folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes, prepared to sleep for the entirety of the approximate two and half hours it would take to reach Porto, where he had a room reserved in a small hotel located near the Porto train station. Fully relaxed, but not yet asleep, he was startled by the sudden thump on the seat next to him. He opened his eyes. A leather suitcase had been placed in the seat next to him.
A man wearing a crumpled button down shirt, with one of the buttons missing, and wrinkled khaki slacks, stood in the aisle. He peered at Kirk over the top of wire rimmed glasses. “I almost missed this train,” he said, breathlessly. “You’re an American also, aren’t you?”
Kirk hesitated before answering. “Yes, I am.”
“Funny how you can always spot us Americans. We men always look like we just climbed out of bed and the women look like they’re just about to crawl in.” He reached out his hand. “I’m Trevor Lauder.”
Kirk smoothed out the front of his rumpled t-shirt and shook Trevor’s hand. “I’m Kirk Newberry.” Trevor’s hand was hot and clammy.
Trevor glanced around the train car and then back at Kirk. “These seem to be the only seats available. Would you mind if I sit where you’re sitting? If I ride anywhere but facing forward and by the window I throw up.”
Reluctantly, Kirk lowered his feet. “Maybe you should carry some kind of medication for that when you travel.”
“I was so busy getting ready for my wedding that I didn’t give it any thought,” Trevor said.
Kirk stood up, pushed his backpack aside, and then sat down in that seat. “You came all the way to Portugal to get married?” he asked.
Trevor sat down in the seat that Kirk had been sitting in. “My fiancé is from Portugal. Her family demanded that the wedding be held here.” He wiped beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Why are you on the Lisbon to Porto train?”
“I’m touring the Iberian Peninsula during summer break,” Kirk said.
Trevor pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose and peered owl-like at Kirk. “Do you know if there is a mafia in Portugal?”
“I have no idea. Why?”
“I’m certain her father is a boss, or a don, or whatever you call the guy who leads the mob. I met him in New York a year ago and he was dressed like a mobster from an old movie. He told me he would break my kneecaps if I hurt his daughter.”
Kirk squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “It sounds like he means business. How long have you been engaged?”
Trevor looked down at his shirt and noticing the missing button, he stuck his finger through the button hole. “Six years,” he said. “I was never certain Pilar was the right one for me.”
Kirk pulled his legs up, crossed them, rested his elbows on his legs, and placed his chin on his fists. He stared into Trevor’s bloodshot eyes. “A six year engagement is a long time. What’s wrong with her?”
Trevor removed his glasses, breathed onto the lens, then wiped off the lenses on his shirtsleeve. “That’s the problem. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. She’s perfect. Too perfect. She’s smart, funny, kind and very sensual. Plus she comes from a very wealthy family.” He let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Did I mention she’s gorgeous?”
“I don’t see the problem,” Kirk said.
Trevor spread his arms. “Look at me. Do I look or seem like the kind of guy that deserves a woman like that?” He put his glasses back on.
Kirk tried to look beyond Trevor’s messy clothes, balding head, rotund build, and pale pallor, to see what kind of person Trevor might be inside. His mind went blank. “I don’t know you, but if she has stuck around for six years then you must offer her more than meets the eye.”
Trevor opened his suitcase, pushed aside a crumpled tuxedo, reached under clothes, underwear, and socks, and pulled out a framed picture of Pilar. He held it up, showing it to Kirk.
Unintentionally, Kirk let out a sharp whistle of admiration. Pilar was wearing a bikini that showed off her curvacious, tanned body. Her black, wavy hair cascaded over her shapely shoulders. Her smile was warm, her teeth perfect. Her face invoked thoughts of super models. “I see what you mean,” Kirk said. “She’s amazing.”
“And she wants to marry me,” Trevor said in disbelief. “There has to be something wrong with her that I haven’t seen yet. It could come out when I would be least expecting it. How can any man live under that kind of pressure?”
Kirk chuckled. “It seems too late to question it now. Her father wouldn’t take kindly to you implying that his daughter has some hidden defect that will come out after she’s married you.”
Trevor put the picture back in the suitcase, covered it with the tuxedo, and then zipped up the suitcase. “I’ve given lots of thought to how to go off the grid in the event her father has any reason to come looking for me.”
Kirk glanced outside, seeing nothing but the countryside mostly hidden in the darkness, and then looked at his watch. “We still have about two hours until we get to Porto. I spent last night in a very noisy hostel and I spent the day seeing the sites in Lisbon, so I’m really tired. I’m enjoying our talk but I need to get a little shuteye.”
“Go right ahead,” Trevor said. He took his cellphone out of his shirt pocket. “I have lots of emails I need to send.”
Kirk leaned his shoulder against the window, crossed his arms across his chest, and closed his eyes. Within minutes he fell sound asleep.
Kirk awoke with a start. Trevor was returning to his seat. He had changed clothes and now wore a neatly pressed shirt and bluejeans. “Are you going to meet your fiancé and her family at the station?” Kirk asked.
“Not exactly,” Trevor answered. “I had slept on a park bench in those other clothes last night and they were beginning to reek.”
Kirk sat up. “Why did you sleep on a bench?” he asked, unable to hide his puzzlement.
“The wedding. Getting married. The thought of it scares me to death. I wandered around Lisbon half out of my mind and by the time I calmed down, it was too late to find a hotel room. I spent most of the day sitting in the grass and staring at the Belém Tower.”
The whistle from the train sounded.
Kirk looked out the window. The lights of Porto lit up the night sky. He looked at his watch. “Looks like we’re pulling into Porto right on schedule.”
The wheels of the train screeched as the train slowed and pulled into the station.
Trevor stood up and grabbed the handle of his suitcase. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.”
Kirk pulled his backpack into his lap. “Thank you. Despite your worries, good luck with your wedding.” He stood up. “Where is the wedding going to be held?”
“Pilar’s father pulled some strings so that the ceremony could be held tomorrow morning on the grounds of the Castelo de São Jorge,” Trevor answered.
Kirk stared at Trevor, mouth agape. “The Castelo de São Jorge is in Lisbon,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” Trevor said. He picked up his suitcase and started down the aisle toward the exit. Over his shoulder he said, “If anyone should ask, you never met me.”
© Steven Carr
About the Author: Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 280 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sandand Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His Twitter is @carrsteven960. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/ He is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steven.carr.35977