Approaching the gate crossing, the train’s whistle blasted out a warning. Cargo crates, some stacked two deep, creaked as the trailers rumbled along the tracks. The locomotive’s headlamps, dim from layers of grime and oil, cast out little light into the darkening day.
The train’s gentle rocking sometimes mollified the merchandise stored in the crates, but even the whistle couldn’t completely drown out their cries for help.
If anyone bothered to notice, in each town the train stopped, there were reports of missing women. Women of all ages, all ethnicities, all incomes, all backgrounds. There were no connections between the women, other than they all simply disappeared.
That, and they matched the marriage broker’s profile demands. Requests were made and the broker was meticulous about fulfilling his clients’ needs. Psychological condition wasn’t as crucial as meeting physical prerequisite. All the broker cared about was whether the women were alive at their final destination.
The running joke among the broker’s collection crews was calling the train the Search Engine.
As the train continued chugging through town towards heavy rain, the conductor checked his pocket watch – spot on schedule. The last laden crate was waiting at the next station, then on to the final stop. The eventual deluge cooled the humid air, bringing a welcome change in the weather. It cooled the crates too, minimizing any expected losses.