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Chapter One



A soft breeze suddenly appeared and brushed across Will Akers' wrinkled face. The easy moving air offered hope that the stifling heat was breaking at last. For the residents of Huntington, West Virginia, July 16, 1946 was an unusually hot day following a week of uncomfortable temperatures. The humidity added by the broad Ohio River bolstered the heat that lay bottled in a dead still atmosphere. Finally, one hour before midnight, the city was enjoying a pleasant reprieve.

The caress of a second breeze gave Will energy and urged him to step away from the passenger side of his car and face work. He looked toward the dimly lit railway yard. The extensive track system reminded him that Huntington was, among other things, a railroad center.

Will left behind his house and garden in the hills south of Huntington. While residents of the city lay in their darkened bedrooms and enjoyed the blessing of a good night's sleep, he would enter his workplace. In a few minutes, he would take his seat beside the hot boiler of a large steam locomotive.

He turned his creased face back to the car and raised a hand to wave at Emily, his wife. Behind the glass in the dark, he couldn't see her wave back, but he knew the wave was there. As he watched the departing family sedan, the question crossed his mind. How many times had they waved goodbye? As a railroad locomotive engineer, he accepted it as part of the job. More important, Emily had also accepted it. She would be waiting at the railroad yard tomorrow to meet him on his return from Hinton. It gave him comfort to know that she would be there. Their marriage of nearly forty years had only intensified their desire to be together. The tradition of her waiting for him as he steamed back into Huntington was a long and cherished one. When the kids were kids, they waited with her. The kids now had families of their own.

Why was he ruminating over all of that about Emily, the past and the kids? Perhaps he had a sense of apprehension, as if something lurked about out there in the dim light. He didn't like the edgy feeling. How many times had he made that run? It was a cakewalk for him. Every foot of that track was in his mind. He could quote every curve, signal tower and grade crossing. . . .









In 1946, a powerful freight train storms across West Virginia. Half a century later, police learn the terrible truth about that night. The railway mystery sets off a bizarre series of present-day crimes that threaten to derail State Police detective Josh Draper and his alluring assistant, Annie McBride. The two race to unravel the past while an environmental disaster looms and dangerous criminals from New York prepare to clash with the inhabitants of a tranquil valley called Briar Fork. Enjoy this tour-de-force Henry D. Smith classic, complete with his trademark humor, flamboyant characters, striking West Virginia settingsÉand the engineering marvels he is renowned for bringing to life.




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