McManly switched off his cell phone. "That was General Striker, babe. The Delta Force team didn't make it onto the train. It's up to us."
"Oh, Tank!" breathed the beautiful co-ed handcuffed to McManly.
"We've got one shot at this, babe. If we don't disarm that detonator, this train is going to plow straight into the Civic Center and blow up the President, the other leaders of the G8 nations, the Pope, a Girl Scout national convention, and Paris Hilton."
The co-ed collapsed into McManly's muscle-clad arms. He held her firmly against his manly chest. "I know you didn't ask for this, babe. When those terrorists handcuffed us back in Madrid, we were two total strangers," McManly explained for the benefit of the reader. "But like it or not, we're in this together now."
McManly strode purposefully over to the compartment door with purposeful strides. He forced open the door with his powerful and, as previously mentioned, muscle-clad arms. The sudden rush of wind swept McManly's fedora off his head into the night -- never to be seen again.
"We're going to have to jump across to the locomotive," McManly shouted over the wind.
"I'm... I'm afraid, Tank," whimpered the co-ed who probably should have a name so we wouldn't have to keep referring to her as 'the co-ed'. Lola, for example.
"Afraid, babe? Fear is like the ocean. You can either swim on top of it or drown. Unless you have scuba gear or one of those diving helmets with a hose attached to some kind of air pump.
"Now jump, babe!"
McManly grabbed Lola's hand and saying "1, 2, 3... jump!" together to get their timing right, flung themselves across to a small platform on the back of the hurtling locomotive.
"We did it, Tank!" enthused Lola. "But how do we defuse the bomb?"
"Don't wrinkle your forehead, babe. We just need to find that detonator."
McManly and Lola inched their way forward until they came to the control room door. McManly manfully twisted the door latch with a manly hand, but it wouldn't budge. He glanced through the sooty window.
"The engineer's out cold. Watch out."
McManly grabbed his fedora, freshly blocked and cleaned from the Errors-In-Continuity Department, and used it to protect his elbow as he smashed out the window with a powerful and yes, manly blow. Reaching inside, he unlocked the door.
With the level of detail usually displayed by only the most obsessive compulsive writers, McManly withdrew his arm, shuffled slightly to his right, grasped the door handle, turned it clockwise, pulled the door open, stepped into the engine compartment, moved his hand from the outer door handle to the inner door handle, and then closed the door. Inside the cramped cabin, Lola stood next to him, having entered the room unbeknownst to the reader.
"The detonator!" she pointed and said, but not in that order.
McManly knelt down and pried open the detonator console using nothing more than his fingernails and grit. ('Grit' in this case referring to McManly's determination and not implying anything about his fingernail hygiene.) A spray of multi-colored wires tumbled out.
"See if you can help the engineer, babe," said McManly. "We've still got to stop this train after I'm done defusing this thing."
Lola stepped over to the engineer and cradled his head gently. "How much longer do we have?" she asked.
"I'm guessing about 150 more words," said McManly as he traced a wire through the tangle. "This is the one, babe. When I pull it, the timer will either stop ... or we'll be nothing more than a thin greasy layer spread all over the Tri-State area."
"Tank, please be careful. These last two days -- you've taught me how to feel so... alive," gushed Lola. "I don't know how I could live with myself if we were to die now."
McManly's manly shoulders bunched as he gripped the wire in a vise-like grip and pulled. The wire came loose in a shower of sparks usually only seen in high-budget Hollywood action films, freezing the countdown.
Later, after the train had come to a safe stop, General Striker made his way over to McManly and Lola.
"Congratulations," he said, congratulating them. "I don't know how we could have told this story without you."
"Don't mention it," said McManly. "We're professional short story characters. It comes with the territory." Then, slipping his (manly) hand into Lola's, they walked off together into the sunset.
Originally appeared 2009-03-30