Penance (Time Travel; Romance; Reincarnation; Telepathy: It's got it all)

(Setup: It's 1876 America. "Jim" is a telepathic dog, a reincarnation of James Benteen. Jim and Penelope have been sent back through time to the place where James betrayed Penelope in a previous life. Jim is serving penance for that crime. Today they're on a train, going to a nearby town to assist in the capture of a notorious fellow time traveler, Franz Mueller)

“He has to go in the baggage car,” the conductor stated, looking doubtfully at Jim.

Penelope straightened her shoulders, settling her light linen duster over her skirts. “Very well.” She put a hand on Jim’s head. They followed the conductor to the open freight car at the end of the train. Benteen came behind her, carrying her large valise and his much smaller one. The conductor gestured to the open door and the ramp where men were loading crates. Penelope started up the ramp, Jim beside her.

“Ma’am!” the conductor protested, putting out a hand to stop her.

“I’ll sit with my dog in the baggage car,” she said, deftly avoiding his grasp.

“Ma’am, you can’t sit here, it’s not for passengers!” The small man turned to Benteen in supplication. “She can’t!”

James looked at the open door where Penelope had disappeared. “She will.”

“This isn’t right,” the conductor moaned.

James shrugged. “Make it right.”

“Mr. Benteen? Could you move this crate for me?” Penelope called out.

“Oh, this isn’t right,” the conductor moaned, bolting down the track to confer with the engineer, who was watching the scene with disbelief.

Benteen watched him go. “Coward,” he muttered.

Twenty minutes later Penelope, James and Jim were seated in the caboose as the train pulled out of Northfield’s depot. Penelope looked around with satisfaction. “It was nice of Mr. Lawrence to volunteer his quarters to us for the trip.” She peeled off her gloves and sank onto the loveseat bolted to the floor, arranging her duster to cover her skirt more fully. Cinders were liable to be flung back from the smokestack ahead of them. She wanted to preserve her clothing.

Jim, resting on the floor near the door that led to the rear platform, snorted. You didn’t give him any choice, Nell. You were shameless.

It got you on the train, didn’t it? Don’t chide me, you ungrateful wretch. She leaned down and rubbed his ears. He rumbled with pleasure. “Have a seat, Mr. Benteen. We may as well be comfortable.”

James sat in a chair across from her. “Ma’am, why did you bring him? It’ll make it hard to find good rooms in Red Wing when we’ve got a wolf-dog with us.”

Jim grinned widely at this description, his tongue lolling.

“I made a promise to my dying father,” Penelope lied cheerfully. “We got Jim as a puppy and Papa loved him so much. I promised him we’d never be separated.”

James eyed the big dog. “Odd thing for a man to ask of a daughter.”

“He didn’t ask, Mr. Benteen. I volunteered. I knew how much it meant to him.”

Okay, back off. That’s enough. Jim settled his head on his paws, sighing deeply. Wake me when we get there.

I told you I’d convince Benteen. The train lumbered forward, gathering speed. I don’t know why you said he couldn’t come with me. I think you were just being a spoilsport. It’s time we settled down to work and on to the primary business for our trip—Mueller.

Quit being so smug. It’s unattractive. And I told you what we’ll do about Mueller. If we catch a glimpse of him, you’ll yell for Roberta or Simon. If they’re not around, you’ll punch the recall button and we’ll get the hell away from him.

Penelope’s fingers brushed against the small lump in her skirt pocket, reassuring her that the device was in place. She was trained in its use but had yet to initiate a recall. It was to be activated only in emergencies and so far, she and Jim had always had peaceful, almost sedate time-trips.

Besides, it doesn’t really pay to stew about it. We can’t do anything until we talk to Roberta. Jim snorted then sneezed. I don’t know why you’re so gung ho to go after Mueller.

I’ve never been involved in a capture before. It’s exciting.

Exciting? Jim sneezed again. Sorry. Dust. Trust me, the robbery will be excitement enough.

How do you know? We’ve never seen a bank robbery before.

I was—I mean—I don’t have to see one to know it’ll be crazy. He sneezed again.

Benteen glanced at them. “Is your dog sick?”

“It’s probably just the change of scenery. Have you been to Red Wing?” Penelope asked, patting her hair into place.

James nodded. “Once or twice.”

“Please tell me about it. We have three hours to spend. We may as well chat while we travel.” Jim snorted and she gave him a reproving look. “Hmm. You’re right. I hope he’s not getting ill. I may need to get out the castor oil.”

Try it.

Benteen relaxed in the chair, telling her about the town they were visiting. Red Wing was twice as large as Northfield and a center of commerce because of its location on the Mississippi River. Penelope prodded him with questions when his descriptions slowed until they got to Cannon Falls, halfway to Red Wing.

“Must not be any passengers.” Benteen stood up, stretching. He peered out the caboose window, watching the assistant engineer hook the mailbag from the winch over the track.

“Why do you say that?” Penelope got up, discreetly stretching and going to stand next to him as she hid a yawn behind one gloved hand.

“Mail box is out on the hook.” He gestured. “The conductor is in the baggage car. He’ll toss out the incoming mail on the station platform. We’re not slowing that much, so that means there aren’t any passengers. I’ve seen it done out in Montana when the train came through McAlester.”

“McAlester? Is that the town where you grew up?” Penelope lurched as the train slowed.

James put a hand on her arm to steady her. As he did, an image surged into her mind. It was a woman, gun clutched in her hand, her eyes wide as she balanced the heavy firearm against her skull.

Penelope realized she was watching through James’ eyes as the woman blew her brains out.

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