Midnight Train

by BM

Email: escape_into_a_daydream@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Not mine, sadly never will be, and will begrudgingly accept it, I suppose

Note: This story idea comes from the Charlie Daniels song Midnight Train lyrics follow at the end. I had thought the story in this song would be perfect for a Magnificent Seven fan fiction the first time I heard the song years ago, but I've been suffering from writer's block for nearly 4 years now and couldn't get it started. My muse has finally decided to play nice, for however long it lasts, and I have finally managed to get this story written, following the events in the song as close as possible.

This fic answers the August Challenge 2004 (the Song Challenge) offered by J Brooks

May 2008

A cool breeze drifted slowly northeast, carrying the heavy scent of magnolia blossoms from the distance plantations to the west and setting the live oak leaves rustling as it brought slight relief from the humid, summer heat. The last pink hues of a vivid sunset gave way to the dark navy of nightfall and revealed the stars peaking down from the heavens above like tiny glittering jewels, hidden occasionally from view by wisps of gauzy clouds that slowly drifted across the night sky. The soft, silvery glow of the full moon shimmered and rippled on the choppy, dark waters of the small lake that lay nestled in the bottom of a glen surrounded by low hills of dark forest. The wind whistled eerily through the reeds and cattails growing in the shallows of the lake, setting the tall stalks to dancing in time with the waves as they lapped at the gray clay mud that lined the shore. Lightening flashed across the southern sky and low thunder rolled across the hills a few seconds later. The scent of rain on the air currents and the dark, ominous clouds slowly piling high into the night sky warned of an approaching storm.

A doe stepped slowly down an embankment to a small clearing on a rise above the lake and paused to scent the air. Her ears twitched as she gazed down the twin, black rails that lay like ribbons across the landscape, looking for any sign of danger. A small sound from the north caught her attention and she whipped her head around, her black eyes watching the night intently. She ignored the chirping crickets and singing frogs, filtering them from her mind and listening keenly for the odd sound that did not belong to her world. There! The high pitch of a distant whistle again wafted to her ears and the metal rails began to vibrate near her feet. The rumbling sound of an engine slowly became noticeable and grew louder. The whistle shrilled into the night again, this time much closer. A light began to form around the bend, growing in intensity as it focused into a single beam on the humming rails. The tracks popped and the grumbling sounds grew louder. The doe froze for a moment as the large, black monster turned the curve, belching its thick, dark smoke and embers, its clanking wheels kicking up occasional sparks on the rails that popped and groaned under its monstrous weight. Just as the glaring light reached her, she awoke from her stupor and bounded across the tracks in a single leap, running for the safety of the overgrowth covering the hill leading to the lake. The long, black train steamed past, oblivious to her fear.

Engine number thirty-nine pulled three box cars, one livestock car, and fifteen passenger cars fully loaded on its midnight run south from Memphis, Tennessee, to the small Mississippi capital of Jackson. On the end of the line, where the caboose normally road, was an opulent, private car owned by one Senator Horace Wilcox of Jackson, returning home from a visit to his daughter in Evansville, Indiana.

Wilcox had amassed quite a fortune during his life time, having a natural shrewd business sense and a keen understanding of domestic and international markets. His sugar and cotton plantations in the Caribbean, Alabama, and Louisiana provided ample income in and of themselves, besides the stocks he held in various northeastern companies. With wealth and privilege came power, and Wilcox knew how to wield that power effectively, using the right mix of congeniality and force to earn the right friends in the right places and the fickle loyalty of the populace. He had maintained his position as a leader in the state government for nearly twelve years now, slowly consolidating his power to pave the way to bigger and brighter things in the future—namely the governor's mansion.

A shrewd man, a careful man, like all men, Horace Wilcox was not without his vices or dirty secrets. Some rumors abounded about his character and supposed underhanded dealings, quiet whispers told in the dark of night that no one had the courage to speak in the light of day, but no one doubted the rumor concerning his love of good alcohol and games of chance—indeed, Horace flaunted these vices quite openly.

He had studied the men who plied their trade up and down the waters of the great Mississippi River as he journeyed from Evansville to Memphis aboard the gaily decked River Pearl looking for the opponents who had the money and the talent to provide him a challenging game. He plied the gaming tables all during his waking hours, sifting the true gamblers from the other rabble that filled the smoky rooms, deciding on the men he would invite to the private party he planned to hold in his personal train car on the return trip to his estate in Jackson. In the end, he chose his men and approached each one privately, sharing drinks and cigars as he made his offer and stated the ante. Six took him up on his offer.

Thus they were gathered on that particular night, seated around a green felt table in the affluent surroundings, admiring the polished mahogany paneling, the gleaming brass fittings, the crystal gas globes that were lit from a special tank in the rear of the car, the plush Persian rugs, and the fine, imported whiskey and use of Wilcox's personal valet.

Louisiana Lou had plied the river from New Orleans to St. Louis for years, his dark looks and Creole accent well known amongst the riverboat population. His smooth manners and cat-like grace hid a cutthroat nature—the man could easily hold his own in both poker and a fight. His weapon of choice was a long-bladed stiletto knife that he kept in the top of his boot.

Stagger Lee Crockett was an affable man who had gamed his way across the south. He drank too much and talked too much, but lady luck seemed to favor him most times and his gift of gab was useful in diffusing volatile situations, thus earning him a spot in the private game. Crockett came across as a dandy, but the man was not a complete fool and knew well how to use the small gun he carried in the pocket of his fashionable green jacket.

Even his stories and constant, inane chatter did little to diffuse the thick tension in the atmosphere tonight, however, and he petered out into sullen silence early on, especially as his luck seemed to have disserted him or else his natural greed had gotten the better of him. The sweat on his brow and the occasional slight wince were vivid indicators that his play was obviously off. He was betting too much too early and losing big.

The gruff-looking Mexican with the two gold teeth and the eye patch was not usually the kind of man Horace would invite to such a party, but his abilities at the card table were stellar, and the bag of gold coins that he carried were a siren's call to the senator. He sat in the corner and occasionally took cold, hard looks at his opponents.

A potbellied man with heavy jowls and a sallow complexion sat next to the Mexican. His southern accent was thick, giving some credence to his claim of hailing from south Alabama, though his obvious inability to acclimate to the heat of the Mississippi night, shown by the damp handkerchief that he kept running across his sweaty brow and the way he kept pulling at his collar, seemed to indicate otherwise.

A quiet man in a black felt hat rounded out the party.

The high stacks game had been in progress for over two hours, and Louisiana Lou was dealing the next hand, when the door flew open. They all paused and looked up as a stranger stepped through the entry. The man was dressed impeccably in a dark, well-cut suit, gleaming black boots, and a low crowned black hat. Lacy white cuffs from a silk shirt extended past the shiny gold cufflinks, and a red satin cravat was tied smartly at his neck. He smiled widely at the group as he brushed imaginary dust from his immaculate sleeve, unruffled by the cold, hard stares he received and projecting an air of nonchalance, though he could not completely hide the spark of intelligence in his light green eyes as he took in his surroundings.

He ignored the weapons pointed in his direction by several of the players. "There's no need for that, gentlemen," he soothed in a honey-smooth baritone voice. His accent was certainly southern, but the men in the room could not quite pin down from whence it originated—the Carolinas, maybe, or Georgia, perhaps the flatlands of Tennessee. The stranger straightened his cuffs as he continued. "There's really no need to get excited. I know this is a private game, and I know I wasn't invited. However," at this point his smile grew even wider, "I cannot bring myself to pass up such a chance, especially with this burning a hole in my pocket." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a huge roll of greenbacks. .

Louisiana Lou's eyes widened and Crockett made a choking sound in the back of his throat. The stranger' raised an eyebrow at the reaction, and a pleased looked seemed to pass across his features. "I love a good game, and am just fool enough to lay all this on the line, if you are willing to allow me to join."

They looked from the stranger to his money to the senator, waiting for his decision. Horace stared hard at the man for a moment, disgruntled at his sudden appearance but more than interested in the money roll he carried, and finally tipped his head to an empty space at the table. The others nodded to the stranger as the valet brought a chair over for him.

The man handed the valet his hat and sat down, taking a moment to study his opponents. He had known who was in the game long before he had decided to crash it and had learned all he could of the men he was about to face. He had actually played Lou and Crockett before, though it was obvious they didn't recognize him, and had seen the senator play in a contest a few years earlier down in New Orleans. These three he knew the most about and was self-assured that his skills far exceeded theirs.

The potbellied man gave him a hard, suspicious look that made him uneasy, but the stranger maintained his placid, affable expression, confident that he had changed his appearance enough that the man wouldn't recognize him. He had played this man before also and remembered that the game hadn't ended well, though he himself had not been the player to instigate the Alabaman's fierce temper the last time, having spent that game keeping a low profile. This opponent was a dangerous man, highly skilled both in games of chance and in the use of the razor he kept in his pocket which he seemed to take as much pleasure in using as he did winning at poker. The stranger knew the deadly combination of talents made him a difficult and hazardous man to beat.

The Mexican he had heard of while traveling the Red River the year before, and he wasn't surprised to see the man so far east, if the rumors of the carnage left behind in Texas were to be believed. The man was indeed a worthy opponent at the tables, but the stranger seriously doubted the gold that he carried was won in any poker game, honest or not. He wondered what the senator would do if he saw the wanted poster on the foreigner.

The man in the black felt hat was the only player at the table to give the stranger pause, and he barely managed to suppress the troubled frown that arose when he looked at the man. He had not been able to learn much more about him beyond the fact that he had been winning big on the River Pearl in the past week and that he was going to be difficult to beat. The man was good—very good, with few discernable tells and an intelligent gleam in his eyes that missed very little. Those eyes held a bit of humor and hidden knowledge when they met the studying gaze of the new player, and the stranger had a sudden suspicion that this man knew him. The thought made him uneasy, but he was too far along in his plans to back out now.

He took one final look at the evil faces that surrounded him and gave them a bright smile. "Well, Gentlemen," he said as he pulled a bill from the roll and tossed it into the center of the table, "shall we play cards?"

Lou dealt the stranger in. Stakes were raised, calls were made, and at the end of the first hand, the potbellied man's pair of queens were beaten by the stranger's pair of aces. But his luck didn't end there. As the night progressed, his game only grew hotter and he gave them all a sound beating, pushing his luck viciously, raising the stakes higher than a Chinese kite and winning like a runaway train. Finally, three hours later, every cent that everyone had was lying in the pot.

The tension in the room could be cut with a knife when the final call was made and hands were shown. Silence filled the room as the men all turned expectant stares on the final player, waiting with held breath to see what his hand would be.

"My, my," the stranger said with a smile while laying his cards down on the baize, his eyes gleaming in the bright gas light, "it does seem that Madam Fortune has favored me tonight!"

His opponents looked at the hand in front of the man and swore viciously. Lying on the table in a straight row were a ten, jack, queen, king, and ace—a royal flush. "That's it!" Crockett shouted furiously as he jumped to his feet, knocking his chair to the floor behind him. "Mister, I think you've been cheatin'!"

The stranger's smile froze at the dark looks coming from his opponents, realizing that he had worn out his welcome. "Gentlemen, this has been fun," he said as he came to his feet and reached for his money, "But I have pressing matters elsewhere and must bid you adieu for the evening."

The potbellied man drew his razor and grabbed the stranger's hand. "You ain't going anywhere with that money, friend."

"Unless it's in a long pine box, that is." Crockett drew his gun and pointed it at the man's temple as Lou and the Mexican pulled their weapons and came to their feet.

Lou rounded the table and jerked the stranger's head back by his hair to expose his throat, grinning wickedly as he stuck the point of his stiletto into the soft skin under the stranger's chin.

Horace Wilcox gathered the cards and tapped them on the table while staring coldly at the stranger, his eyes glittering with malice. "You must think you are a sly old fox, Sir, to have dared to even attempt such a thing with me," he said icily.

The stranger swallowed hard as he felt the prick of Lou's blade but managed to maintain a wane smile. "I have my moments," he shrugged casually.

Horace laid the cards down and folded his hands. "Well, Sir, your little game is over." His eyes narrowed. "Kill him."

Suddenly, the gas lights went out, plunging the car into total darkness. A thump was heard, followed by a moan, and the occupants cursed loudly as they fumbled in the pitch black. Moments later, the lights flared to life again, and the men cursed again in earnest.

The stranger was gone—and so was the money.

"Find him!" Horace demanded furiously as he surged to his feet, trembling with fury and no small amount of humiliation. He had thought himself smart enough to outfox any conman, but this man had played him like a fiddle.

Needing no further prompting, the others rushed from the car. The valet disappeared toward the back but returned later with a shake of his head. The stranger was definitely no longer on the private car. Horace swore in frustration.

The man in the black felt hat, who had remained in his seat when the sparks had begun to fly, chuckled at the thunderous expression on his host's face and came to his feet.

"You find this amusing?" Horace spat at him, glad to have someone in front of him to vent his rage upon.

The man stepped around the unconscious form of Louisiana Lou who lay where he had fallen after the stranger had punched him out, and tipped his hat at the irate congressman. "It does have some humorous quality to it, yes."

"You lost just as much as the rest of us," the senator hissed, his hands clenching into white-knuckled fists.

The man shrugged. "So I did," he admitted. "But I considered it money well spent. How often in a lifetime does one get the opportunity to watch such a master in action?"

Wilcox's eyes narrowed to slits. "Do you know something I don't?" he growled. "Do you know who he was?"

"No," the man returned, the smile of amusement still gracing his handsome features. "But I may have a few suspicions."

"Who? Tell me!" the senator insisted.

The man contemplated the furious figure in front of him for a moment or two then shook his head. "He was nobody, Senator, just a nobody. Good night." He slipped from the room.

Seconds later, he heard the sound of breaking glass as Wilcox threw the brandy decanter at the door with a roar of fury.

The other players spent the better part of the wee hours of the morning searching the train thoroughly from front to rear, going all the way up to the engine compartment, but found neither hide nor hair of the elusive stranger. Furious, they finally returned to the private car in defeat, forced to admit that the stranger had gotten away clean.

* * * * * * *

The dark of night was slowly melting into the pale light of early morning when the train arrived at the depot in Jackson and the passengers disembarked. Wilcox and his party were the last to leave, their features still dark with unspent rage.

"Find him?" the man in the black felt hat asked pleasantly as he stepped down from the last passenger car, carrying a small valise in his hand.

The others glared at him, but before one could respond, a man dressed in a smart uniform approached them, carrying a small envelope. "Senator Wilcox? You have a telegram, sir."

Wilcox took the paper and absently slipped the required tip in the man's gloved hand before opening the flap and pulling the small card free. His face purpled with wrath as he read the missive. "Damn him!" he roared as he crumpled the card in his tight fist. "Damn him to the seventh circle of hell!" He turned to the porter, who had stepped back from the enraged man nervously. "Where did this come from?"

"From S-Shelly, Sir," he stammered. "Fifty miles north of here. It arrived about two hours ago."

Wilcox threw the ball of paper to the ground with a curse before spinning on his heel and striding purposely down the platform.

"Hey!" Crockett called out angrily. "Where are you going?"

"Home!" Horace growled in frustration over his shoulder.

"Home?" Lou asked in surprise. "Don't you want to go to Shelly? If we hurry we may just catch him!"

The senator stopped and turned to them with a glare of impatience. "It has been three hours since the man disappeared from the train, Gentlemen, and even if you raced your mounts the entire way, you would not arrive in Shelly until late morning." He grit his teeth and shook his head. "Your quarry will be long gone by then."

"We still may be able to pick up his trail," the Mexican insisted, fingering his gun with hope, but Wilcox shook his head. "You are welcome to try, Sir, but I highly doubt you will find anything. Good day." He continued to the end of the platform and climbed into the waiting cab as the others watched him, dumbfounded. As soon as the senator was settled, the cabbie cracked his whip above the matched pair of bay geldings and guided them out into the street.

The rest of the men dispersed soon after the senator was out of sight, grumbling under their breaths and muttering vile threats of retribution on the stranger if they ever crossed paths with him again. They grabbed their luggage and stomped down the street to find lodgings or a saloon to drown their sorrows or find another card game to recoup their losses.

The porter watched them go, a confused look on his face. "What happened?" he asked.

The man in the black felt hat didn't answer him as he knelt down and picked up the crumpled paper from where Horace had dropped it, smoothing it against his leg to straighten out the wrinkles before bringing the card up close enough to see. He burst out laughing when he read the finely printed words, his mirth great enough that he held a hand tightly to his stomach when it began to ache.

The porter looked at him like he had lost his mind. "What is so funny?"

The man shook his head as he laughed some more. "N-nothing," he gasped, wiping away a tear from the corner of his eye but smiling broadly at the man at his side. "Nothing that would be easy to explain. Let's just say that there are some people in this world who have more audacity and cheek than is good for them."

The porter eyed him doubtfully. "If you say so, Sir."

"I do," the man answered, his eyes twinkling with mirth as he read the telegram once more. "I surely do." The telegram was dated for that morning and contained the following statement:

"To the party of the honorable Senator Horace Wilcox: Thank you for the money, boys, but don't feel too outdone. It's takes a dog to know a dog, and I'm a howling son of a gun!"

Three hours previously

Approximately a half-mile away, a cloaked figure sat astride a black horse on a low rise above the valley, watching the train slowly move down the track through a small spy glass clutched in their hand. The figure had arrived at this spot over an hour before, watching and waiting for the appearance of the lumbering machine and keeping it squarely in focus once it came within sight, paying special attention to the brightly lit private car at the end. A roan gelding stood close by, saddled and bridled but with no rider, its lead held loosely by the person on the black. The roan would occasionally pull on the lead as it grazed nearby, but the figure kept the line firmly in their grasp, ready to pull it tight and ride at a moment's notice. The black shuffled a step, tired of standing quietly and impatient to move, and its rider patted its neck to sooth it. "Patience," they whispered. "It will be soon."

The rider turned their attention back to the machine in the distance and sighed, feeling just as restless as their horse. They glanced at the position of the moon and frowned, gripping the reigns tighter in gloved hands. "They are taking too long," the person muttered anxiously. "Daylight will be coming soon and they're getting too close to Jackson."

The figure lifted the spyglass again, staring hard at the shaded windows and willing for something, anything, to happen. They hated being the lookout, preferring to be in the thick of the excitement, to feel the rush of adrenaline while looking their opponent in the eye, judging the situation, timing events, manipulating people and circumstances to a favorable ending. Playing the part of lookout, however, was nearly intolerable, the waiting too much, the sitting on the sidelines ready to swoop in and save the day or contain the fallout when things went south giving no outlet for the building tension of a job. He's gotten too greedy, they thought angrily. He's lost sight of the job and is going to get the both of them killed!

Finally, just when the person thought they would go mad with impatience and worry, the lights on the final car suddenly winked out for a few seconds. When the lights blinked back on, the figure could make out the shadows of several people on the blinds that covered the windows, the sharp, jagged movements of the shapes indicating that they were angry. As the train slowed to round a sharp corner, two new figures appeared on the platform of the back of the train—one tall and carrying a bag; the other small and child-sized. As the rider watched, the smaller of the two climbed down to the lowest step and after hesitating a moment or two, leaped off into the brush. The larger figure followed just as the front door of the car burst open and several men poured through into the next car, obviously searching for something.

The rider paused for a moment, focusing the spy glass on the spot where the two figures had disappeared and breathed a sigh of relief when both stood up and brushed the dust off before scurrying further into the brush, obviously none the worse for wear after their daredevil leaps. The rider quickly slipped the spyglass into an inner pocket of their cloak and gave a brief click to the black, sending it down over the hill toward the tracks, leading the gelding closely behind.

Twenty minutes later, the rider reached a small meadow back in the trees from the tracks, and the two figures from the train melted from the darkness. The rider pulled the hood of their cloak back, revealing the beautiful features of a young woman. "You cut this one entirely too close," she snapped irritably, but the man only laughed at her.

"You worry too much, Maude," he grinned, the rush of the job leaving him giddy and cocky. "You should have seen the look in their eyes when I drew out that roll of greenbacks. They were practically salivating on the table! Even Ol' Wilcox himself was itching to win all that money! He was practically begging me to join the game!"

Maude patted a few stray strands of hair back into her stylish chignon. "I'm sure," she replied tartly, "and if he had seen that only a hundred of it was actual cash money and the rest just blank paper, he would have tarred and feathered you on the spot!"

"But that's the thrill of the game, my dear!" the man exclaimed happily, giving her a wide, boyish grin. His eyes gleamed in excitement. "The best part of the con! That tingling rush and icy fear along your very nerves that comes with knowing the risks and the absolute elation that floods your being when you see in your mark's eyes that they have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker!"

"I had always thought the best part was counting one's earnings once the charade was over and one was safely out of harm's way," Maude countered primly.

"Well, there is that, too," he smiled. He pulled a leather money belt out of the depths of his jacket and tossed it to her. "I do believe you will approve, Madam."

Maude couldn't help but gasp as she opened the belt and spied the large amount of cash within, and his grin turned positively cheeky at her surprise. "A good night's work, I'd say," he declared, quite pleased with himself.

Maude glanced once more at the money before closing the pouch and looking down at the man's smug expression. "I suppose so," she answered with a sigh, regaining her composure and returning his teasing. "Not your best performance but a respectable profit nonetheless."

"Not my best performance?!" he sputtered. "That was the performance of a lifetime, the best of my career!" He suddenly reached up and pulled her out of the saddle into his arms, eliciting a small squeal of surprise from her. "And that 'modest' profit will set us up for the high life, Woman." His voice dropped to a husky timber as he looked into her wide eyes with an intent, smoldering gaze full of promise. "You're just jealous that it wasn't you on that train tonight."

"Jealous?" Maude returned indignantly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, twisted her fingers into his hair, and pulled his lips down to hers. Her eyes fluttered closed and her heartbeat tripled as he willingly submitted to her demands and deepened the kiss of his own accord, igniting a burning, fiery passion through her body that left her breathless and trembling. They would have been content to let the moment stretch into eternity, but time intruded all too quickly and he moved to break apart from her. She nipped his bottom lip with her teeth as he pulled away and smiled at the look of surprise in his widened eyes. "You better believe I'm jealous."

"What about me, Papa? How'd I do?"

The man looked down at the small boy tugging on the tail of his jacket and grinned widely as he set Maude down. "Ezra, my boy, you were magnificent!" He scooped the giggling child up and tossed him into the air before catching him close with a laugh of his own, his emerald eyes twinkling as he spied the delight in the matching gaze of his son. He poked a gentle finger into the boy's tummy, earning a second childish giggle. "No one would have done the job better than you, son! You are a natural!"

"Peyton, you spoil the boy," Maude protested, though her mild tone and contented gaze belied her pride in her two men and her amusement at their antics.

"Just giving praise where it is due, my dear," Peyton smiled at his wife before turning his large grin back to the five year old in his arms. "Our son performed masterfully tonight and deserves full recognition. He did exactly as we had planned back on the River Pearl. He snuck aboard that train car like a ghost right under the very nose of the valet and the other servants, got into the compartment with the gas tank without a hitch, and remained there, quiet as a mouse, for hours, waiting for the train to pull out, for the game to commence, and for my arrival. His timing was to the second; his execution was superb. He closed the valve on the gas tank and thus killed the lights aboard the car at just the perfect time, saving me from a most unsavory ending and giving me the time I needed to make a hasty exit and sneak past the valet as he came to find the trouble with the lights. Nor did he balk once when I told him to jump from the platform." He smiled again at the child perched on his shoulder and gave his legs a squeeze. "Many adults could have done no better."

Young Ezra blushed and returned his father's grin, reveling in the man's praise and approval.

Maude shook her head at her husband's flattery but smiled in pride at her son nonetheless. The sound of the train whistle echoed back to them from a distance, and she looked up at the slowly brightening eastern horizon. "We should be going," she said, tucking the money belt into her cloak and turning back to her horse.

Peyton glanced at the horizon as well and nodded in agreement. "The train will reach Jackson in about three hours, and we need to be out of the area by then. I wouldn't put it past the Honorable Senator Wilcox to call the law out over the wire to hunt us down, and I for one would like to be out of Shelley and heading toward Alabama long before then."

He slid his son to the ground and knelt to give his wife a foot up into the side saddle. Maude loosened the reins of the roan and tossing them to her husband, who looped them around his saddle horn before lifting Ezra into the seat and swinging in behind him.

"Shelley?" Maude asked him in surprise. "That is out of our way, isn't it? Why would you want to ride back into Shelley?"

"Because Shelley is the nearest town, and I want to send a telegram to Jackson before we vacate this lovely state all together." Peyton's expression turned almost haughty. "It is only polite to thank one's host for a lovely evening, after all."

Maude's eyes narrowed at the mischievous glint in the green depths of his eyes and she reached over to slap him lightly on the shoulder. "Peyton, you are a most exasperating man!"

"I know," he flashed her an unrepentant smile, "but that is why you love me!" He grasped his son firmly to his chest as he urged the roan into a mile-eating canter with a loud HIYAH! and a touch of his knee to the animal's flank.

Maude shook her head at him in exasperation but couldn't stop the small, fond smile that formed on her lips. "Indeed I do, my love," she whispered. "Indeed I do." She glanced once more to the south as the train whistle shrilled once more then reined her horse around and followed her husband up the road toward Shelley, their forms quickly melding into the shadows of the forest.

The End



I had always intended to build this story around Ezra's father, which is why I placed the events in Mississippi instead of New Mexico as stated in the song. In my mind, Ezra was born sometime in the mid to late 1840's, putting this story sometime in the early 1850's. The railroad didn't expand into the west until after the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865, and didn't reach New Mexico until the late 1870's/early 1880's. Coincidentally, the railroad didn't technically go to Santa Fe at first, though it was originally intended to do so. Civil engineers working for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway deemed the hills around the city to be too difficult to cut through and brought the rail line north to Lamy instead. A spur line to Santa Fe was eventually completed long after.

Because of these facts, I couldn't put the story out west as noted in the song and chose, instead, to place it in Mississippi. The rail line from Memphis to Jackson is purely my own invention as I have no idea if one truly did exist at that time, and the private car outfitted with it's own gas lighting is also my invention—I don't know if such technology existed at that time or not. I have also taken literary license by placing a telegraph line from the fictional town of Shelley to Jackson, as Samuel Morse's version of the telegraph wasn't invented until 1837 and wasn't proven until the early 1840's. The telegraph wasn't likely to have actually existed in Jackson at the time of the story, but I loved the ending of the song and simply had to keep it and thus did some creative stretching with history—not that that isn't ever done in the fan fiction world.....

Finally, the man in the black felt hat isn't intended to be anyone in particular. The song only mentions him once, calling him just that, but my muse gave him a bit of personality as the story progressed. Feel free to substitute any famous southern gambler fictional or otherwise into the slot as you please!

* * * * * * * *

Midnight Train
by Charlie Daniels

Midnight train, roll on
Midnight train, roll on

Clear them tracks and keep that whistle blowin
Take this stranger on to Santa Fe
It seems like romance and danger
Follow this here tall dark stranger all along the way

Well the train was rumblin through the night heading south to Santa Fe
And in a fancy car, with a private bar, and a personal valet
There was a bunch of cold eyed men a sittin at a poker table
Bettin hot stakes all around

Ole Louisiana Lou had a knife in his shoe, was dealin' a hand of cards
And ole Stagger Lee Crocket had a gun in his pocket, was sweatin bettin hard
And over in the corner this Mexican guy with two gold teeth and a patch on his eye
Took a long hard look around

And then the door flew open, the stranger walked in and said don't ya'll get excited
I know this here's a private game, and I know I wasn't invited
But I got a roll that'd choke a mule
I'm just about a big enough fool to lay it all right down

And everybody nodded as the stranger took his seat
He knew this bunch of cutthroat's would be mighty hard to beat
As the stranger knew then the toughest two by far were where he sat
Was a pot belly fellow from south Alabama, and a dude in a black felt hat

Midnight Train, roll on
Midnight Train, roll on

Well clear them tracks and keep that whistle blowin
Take this stranger on to Santa Fe
It seems like romance and danger
Follow this here tall dark stranger all along the way

Well the stranger sat down he looked around at all them evil faces
And the pot-belly fellow drew a pair of queens, but the stranger he drew aces
And he kept on raising and pushin his luck, kept on winning like a run away truck
He was giving them a beating

And the stakes got higher than a Chinese kite, the stranger kept getting hot
Till every cent everybody had was lying out in that pot
Then the stranger threw down a royal flush,
Somebody said "Hey Man, that's enough friend I think you've been cheatin"

And then the stranger picked the money up and said "Boys I better run"
And then the pot-bellyed fella pulled a razor out and somebody pulled a gun
They said "You may think you're a sly old fox,
you're gonna leave here in a long pine box
if you don't leave that money alone"

Just about then the lights went out, and they all started fussin
And the lights came on, the stranger was gone, they all started cussin
And they searched that train from front to rear
The stranger he done disappeared, and all their money was gone

When the train pulled in the station, with the whistle blowin loud
A telegram was waitin, from the stranger for the crowd
Said "Thank you for the money boys, but don't feel too outdone
Cause It takes a dog to know a dog
I'm a howlin son of a gun.

Midnight Train, roll on
Midnight Train, roll on

Well clear them tracks and keep that whistle blowin
Take this stranger on to Santa Fe
It seems like romance and danger
Follow this here tall dark stranger all along the way