What’s worse than being stranded in a small town in northern Wisconsin? Being stranded during the worst winter in recent memory.
Claudia Alexander’s problems are piling up faster than the snow on Lake Superior’s shore. Her noble mission to find the owner of an old pocket watch is complicated by incessant snowstorms, a mysterious vandal and the appearance of an old flame.
The local dogcatcher, a blind street preacher and an arthritic bloodhound come to Claudia’s aid. A promising romance warms up even as the temperatures drop.
But something evil is at work in Barley. As another blizzard approaches, so does a killer. Claudia must choose between her mission and saving the lives of the people she has come to love. Even if it means losing her own.
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The sky was cloudless and the air should have been fresh. Instead it reeked with acrid smoke from a burning pile that hours earlier had been two trains. A child shrieked—a healthy shriek, which indicated more fear than pain. A dog whimpered from what used to be the baggage car. It, too, sounded more frightened than hurt.
A passenger from the No. 21 Toledo Express pointed his Kodak at the Kipton train depot and the shattered glass of the front bay window. He turned to the wreckage of the two trains, and aimed where the engines should have been. All the developed photo would show were fragments of the boilers and one smokestack.
The photographer was careful to avoid the body parts still strewn along the tracks.
A railroad crew arrived and worked their way through the twisted debris of the fast mail train No. 14 and the No. 21 express. As they progressed, always respectful of the dead around them, they speculated on why two trains met in a headfirst collision. No. 21 should have had plenty of time to get on the side track and make way for the mail train. Then they found the engineer of No. 21, still standing upright, still gripping the throttle of his engine. The wrecking crew stood a moment in silence.
“Listen!” Their leader held up a hand, and each man held his breath. A familiar ticking came from the pocket of the dead engineer. Taking care not to touch the body, the leader loosened the watch along with the fob, and opened it. He glanced, glanced again, and pulled out his own watch. His men observed, puzzled, as he picked his way back to the station.
“Does anyone have a railway service watch?”
After several moments of scrambling and searching and checking among surviving railway employees, two standard railway pocket watches were found. The wrecking crew leader opened them and placed them side by side with the one he had pulled from the dead man.
It was running four minutes slow.