Derailed excerpt – Chapter One
Cameras clicked from every angle as the City Commissioner came to the podium.
“Commissioner Wright, can you elaborate on the city’s decision to cut funding for the city’s subway transportation system?” The commissioner opened his mouth, but not before another reporter cut in.
“C&M News has had several calls from citizens complaining about the condition of the subways.” The reporter pulled out a list from his jacket pocket. “Reports of broken windows, tumbles and injuries from sudden stops, overcrowding, vandalism and graffiti, the list goes on and on. What is your response to our viewers? Why isn’t the City taking public safety seriously?”
“Public Safety is a top priority-” the commissioner began but was again cut off by a barrage of questions.
“Why has the city postponed the replacement of obsolete and damaged subway cars?”
“Some of those cars have been here since the 1930s, and they still haven’t been replaced!”
“What about the fare increases last year? Weren’t the funds supposed to go to repairing and replacing those subway cars?”
“What happened to that money? Is someone inside siphoning our transportation funds?”
“Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous,” the commissioner chuckled. “Ladies and gentleman of the press, if you please. Just calm down and your questions will be answered in the order they were received.” The commissioner waited as several reporters took their seats, the clicking of cameras never skipping a beat.
The Commissioner smiled grimly as he began. “As you all know, costs have gone up for everything from fuel to food. In the past year, the average cost to maintain one subway car has nearly doubled. Even with the fare increases, we could not have anticipated this year’s record-breaking costs to escalate so quickly. Rest assured that no one is siphoning any public funds. Every cent is going to transportation, but costs have gone up. The recent budget cuts were necessary to maintain the subway cars we already have.”
“But is it safe, commissioner?” one reporter shouted. “There have been three fatal subway crashes in the last six months. Speculation as to the reason for those crashes is still highly debated. How do we know that it wasn’t poor maintenance, age or rust that caused those collisions?”
The Commissioner raised his hand. “Those crashes were the result of human error, not faulty equipment, which is why the commissioner’s office is proposing implementation of a program that would cut down on those kinds of mistakes. We’re hoping to launch a campaign as early as the fall of next year to install an automated system for subway conduction. It would cut down on labor costs and the costs associated with human error, such as those crashes. The money it would save could be used to purchase new subway cars and renovate older ones.”
“You’re saying that replacing a man with a machine is the answer? What will that do to the unemployment rate?”
“Commissioner, what about the old subway tunnels from the early 1900s? What’s going to be done about closing those off?”
“Those old tunnels are a hazard. Aren’t some of them still connected to the new track routes?”
“Why not just send a crew of people in and bypass the tunnels? Why is it taking so long?” Another reporter scribbled furiously as he asked the question.
“Why weren’t those tunnels closed off when new tunnels were created? Why were they left to rot?”
“Commissioner, so far there is only one subway system in the United States that has automated conductors. The revenue saved from reduced labor was overshadowed by the mechanical and electrical costs they incurred. They actually lost money. How do we know that an automated system would be worthwhile? Or is this another political tactic to keep you in office?”
“I’d love to answer more questions, but unfortunately that’s all the time we have for today. Forward any further questions to my secretary. Thank you.”
“Commissioner Wright? Commissioner Wright!” Several reporters launched questions at the Commissioner as he was escorted from the podium.
Marcos spat on the platform floor before returning to his artwork. He had to take a short break to smoke a cigarette. He’d been at the wall for at least twenty minutes. All the guys called him Marcos Da Vinci, because his work was always the best. His unique style and technique couldn’t be copied, in part because he was left handed.
The faintest of rumbles vibrated in the subway beams, an indication that a train would be coming by soon. It was a soft sound, barely noticeable to the untrained ear. But Marcos was a pro. He knew the tunnels well. This particular spot was new to him, but the sounds were the same everywhere. Marcos scratched the side of his face, contemplating which way to spray his next line.
He looked at his black and brown shirt and pants, noticing the shimmering residue from the spray cans. It was pretty dark here. Aside from the light shining from the drain, there was only a small signal sign for the subway trains passing through. No one riding or driving a subway train could see him here. They’d be going too fast. Marcos rubbed the silver chain connected to his pants, a habit of his when he needed guidance. Some people had rosary beads or a rabbit’s foot. Marcos had a foot-long chain.
Finally, he decided to spray several layers instead of one line. Satisfied, Marcos took a step back.
Marcos looked at his masterpiece. Swirls and zigzags gleamed proudly in the early morning sunlight shining through the drain above him. It was the sign of his gang, the Shigna. It was also a sign to any rivals that this was Shigna territory.
The rumbling became louder. The train was only a few stops away now. Marcos spat as a rat ran across the platform. It wasn’t running fast; most of the rats were used to people in the tunnels. Still, Marcos was annoyed by its interruption. He grabbed a half empty spray can and tossed it at the rat.
The rat barely flinched as the can bounced past it; instead, it walked over to the can, hoping it was food. Marcos frowned and picked up another can. This time, it connected with the rat’s body before falling to the tunnel floor. The rat squealed in pain as it scurried off the platform and down the tunnel. Marcos laughed and returned to his artwork. The symbol was nearly complete. The final touch was a rattlesnake tail at the bottom of the S in Shigna. It had to be gold. Marcos picked up a golden aerosol can and shook it. It was empty. He picked up another and shook it. He began to spray at the bottom of the S, but the can fizzled shortly after his first swirl.
Marcos let loose a chain of expletives as he kicked the other spray cans. A Shigna symbol without the tail was an insulting image. Only a rival would paint their sign like that. He couldn’t leave it like this. Marcos glanced around the platform, searching for a can he might have missed. He spotted one at the platform edge, but it was blue, not gold. Remembering the rat, Marcos looked down at the subway floor, searching for the can that had fallen. Just beside the subway track was a golden can. He knew it was at least halfway full, so he jumped off the platform.
The heard the familiar blow of a subway car made his hairs tingle. It was coming. Marcos ran quickly towards the spray can. It was just under the electrical side of the rail, centimeters from touching the high voltage track.
Marcos weighed his options. If he reached for the can, it might touch the track and he’d be electrocuted. The train was coming fast. He hadn’t heard it make the local stop, so it had to be the express. It would fly down the track at 40 miles per hour. Marcos looked around the tunnel, searching for something to push the can away from the track.
Marcos stopped his search and walked closer to the can. He heard the train, just seconds away from his section of the tunnel. He kneeled down to the track, balancing his feet between two boards. Marcos could almost see the heat emanating from the electrical rail and he began to sweat. He wiped his brow and slowly reached out for the can. He felt himself losing balance and quickly pulled his hand away, grabbing the wooden post beneath him. The train squealed behind him; just one more turn and it would be here. Marcos reached his hand out again, carefully placed two fingers on the tip of the can and pulled it out. Once it was safely away from the track, he jumped in the air and whooped. He smiled as he turned to head back to the platform, but tripped over a raised portion of wood and fell.
Marcos cried out in pain as he landed, but the screaming gears of the train behind him drowned out his voice. Marcos tried frantically to pull himself up, but his leg was twisted underneath one of the wooden boards. The can was gone; he’d flung it involuntarily when he fell, and now it was somewhere on the other side of the track.
Marcos swore, knowing the train was seconds from running him over. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the rat scurrying back onto the platform where it was safe. The train screamed again.
Marcos screamed with it.