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Jim Keane
Astra's Revenge

The Midnight Train Murders

74,000 words

310 pages

"This cell phone connects you to the dead."

by Jim Keane

A tragic encounter with a bullet-riddled man in a dark alley catapults computer-nerd Sean Calhoun into a deadly cat and mouse race to protect a stolen cell phone from those who would kill to get it back. This is no ordinary cell phone, but a communication link to the afterlife. Does he believe it? No. Not until he gets a call from his deceased dad, which is cut short when the killer shows up to reclaim the phone, a confrontation that nearly gets him killed. If Sean is ever going to get that phone back and call his dad, he must team up with an NYPD detective he doesn’t trust and go undercover in the mastermind’s laboratory where an ancient stone obelisk, stolen from the Rwenzori Mountain natives of Uganda, is connected to the most powerful Cisco router ever created. Though this pairing makes ethereal calls possible, when these forces collide, New York City is headed for the apocalypse, and only one man can stop it: Sean Calhoun.

 

 

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Chapter One

I turned my collar up against the February cold as I hurried to Clancy’s Deli in the Bronx. My nostrils bristled in the frosty air, and I squinted against the evening sunlight reflecting off the icy pavement. I could have been home, warm and cozy, drinking beer and watching hockey on TV, but I had to get dinner for my mom.

As I entered the deli, a bell rang above the door. Inrushing cold air made the sawdust on the floor scatter like snowflakes. The place smelled of Chicken Noodle Soup, and spicy sausage hung in rows above the counter. An old Irish tune, Danny Boy, added a bit of heritage to the deli’s atmosphere. Déjà vu hit me like a board, as this must’ve been the millionth time I’d come to Clancy’s, but only one of a handful of visits without my dad.

Nearing the cash register, I noticed Clancy wrapping an order for a waiting customer, an elderly, stooped woman in a dark wool coat that dusted the floor as she moved aside.

Clancy taped the package closed. “Well if it ain’t Sean Calhoun. Be right with you, laddy.” He was a big man with white hair, wore a stained apron over a t-shirt that revealed his burly arms tattooed with anchors, ships, and sails. He handed the neat brown package to the old lady. “Thank you, missus.”

She nodded to both of us then shuffled out the door.

Clancy pulled off his thin food-prep gloves. “What can I get you, Sean?”

“Dinner. Mom’s not up to cooking.”

“Ah, yes. Sheila. Not seen her around since...”

“The murder. It’s all right to call it for what it was.” I leaned on the counter. “She won’t leave the house. It’s not safe in the city, she says.”

“Your dad was a great man.”

I reflected on that. “For a bus driver, Dermot was a hero to many people around here. We miss him very much.”

“A shame what happened to him.”

“Mom’s not been the same since.”

“Next time, bring her with you.”

“Fresh air would do her good...but she’s not ready yet...maybe no time soon, either.”

“Grief takes time to run its course.”

“It’s been a year, Clancy. I sold my flat in Yonkers, moved in with her here, tried everything I could to get her to move on, see her friends, get back to living again.”

“You’re a good son, Sean. Don’t give up on her.”

I pressed my lips together and shook my head. My life had been turned upside down, a temporary upset, I’d hoped, but there now seemed no relief in sight. When Dad died, so did Mom.

“So, what’s for dinner? Got fresh shepherd’s pie.”

I sighed. “Okay. Pie for two, and I’ll take a pint of that chicken soup.”

Outside, I carried the warm brown bag in the crook of my right arm and savored the aroma. A BX-34 bus lumbered down the avenue. Standing at the curb, I imagined my father behind the wheel, maneuvering the behemoth bus along the narrow streets like a ship’s captain navigating rough waters. “See you tonight, Dad,” I muttered to the passing bus as if the past had been but a bad dream.

I trudged across the street where McGee’s Irish Pub spilled music and laughter across the sidewalk. If not for the meal I carried, I might have been tempted to step inside and join the frivolities. I envisioned foaming pints of Guinness and amber shots of Jameson lined up on the bar for dossers and slags getting schnockered, arm-in-arm, singing and dancing like there was no tomorrow. What a reprieve I would find from caring for my grief-stricken mother, keeping the household afloat, and not thinking about my murdered father for a few hours into the night.

However, my mother needed my help until she recovered from Dermot’s murder and moved on with her life.

I reached my parents’ house, a two-story with a cracked concrete driveway, the same driveway where Dad had taught me to ride a bike.

That’s it, buddy, you can do it. Keep your balance.

At seven years old, I’d gotten so good I’d ridden up and down the street, pretending I too was a bus driver making stops to pick up imaginary passengers.

My vision of father and son in the driveway morphed into a present reality, a white Ford Taurus parked there now, engine pushing vapor out the tailpipe. The sight of the man behind the wheel sent adrenaline boiling through my veins: not from fear, but from excitement. Hope. Maybe today the news would be good.

As I reached the car, the driver’s door swung open, and Detective Mullen from NYPD’s homicide division stepped out. He was tall and slim, wore a trench coat, collar up-turned, and a red yarn cap his grandma might have knitted. “Mister Calhoun.”

“Detective. What are you doing here?”

“Just checking on you...your mom.” He held out a gloved hand.

“Look...” I shifted the brown bag to my left arm and accepted a quick handshake. “Mom’s not doing well. If you don’t have my dad’s killer in jail, your being here will only upset her. She’s walking a thin line, you know.”

“We’re not giving up.” Mullen glanced toward the house, the lighted front window, the silhouette of a woman standing behind the shade, peeking out. “But still no leads.”

I could only imagine the horror Dad had faced, the hooded and masked punk demanding money from the coin drop-box, his demand bolstered with a gun, a 40 caliber, as evidenced by the slug the coroner had removed from his chest. Dermot Calhoun must’ve explained he had no key, no way to give the thug what he wanted. However, to press his demand further, he turned the gun on the passengers. The bus’s security cameras caught the last moment of Dermot’s life, the split-second decision that he’d made to leap from his seat and shove the robber backward out the open door, even as the gun discharged, and in the following second, Dermot had the whereabouts to close the door, locking the punk outside and saving the lives of his shocked passengers.

I shuddered. “He died a hero, you know.”

“Yeah. We’ll get the bastard sooner or later.” Mullen got back in the driver’s seat. “Tell your mom that, will ya?”

As disappointed as I felt, I knew finding one killer in a city of eight million folks was not an easy task. “Thanks for stopping by.” I indicated the brown bag. “Dinner’s getting cold.”

Mullen closed the door and reversed out of the driveway.

I watched the taillights and vapor recede down the block then walked to the front porch where I stomped snow from my shoes. The silhouette in the window backed away. I wished she hadn’t seen Mullen, as he had a way of sending Mom into a tailspin. She could never get Dermot back, but bringing the killer to justice would go a long way toward mending her broken heart.

I entered the house, expecting to see Mom standing there, but she wasn’t in the living room, not on the couch, and not in the Lazy Boy. The television was dark.

“Hey, Mom,” I called out. She wasn’t in the kitchen. I set the brown bag on the table then walked to the staircase. “Are you up there? I brought dinner.”

“Why was that awful man here?”