How did I get here? That's what was on Trolley's mind when he opened his eye and found himself dangling 200 feet above the forest floor. It's not the first place you'd expect to find a Spanish-speaking frog with an eye patch, but when you owe money to Thimbleweed, anything is possible.
How did he get here? It all started with a small pearl, a red summer hat and a coconut.
It was a new day. The sun's rays crept through the cantina's doors, smuggling long shadows across the sticky wide plank floors of El Lobo. Outside, the dust had settled overnight. Sitting at the far end of the bar, Trolley nursed his coconut juice, while picking at a bowlful of stale crickets (the only luxury he could afford with the few pesos he had left from yet another disappointing afternoon at the Turtle Track). Perhaps today would be different.
The double doors swung open and for the moment, things did indeed start looking up. In sauntered the most captivating creature Trolley had ever seen. Peering out from beneath her red summer hat were large brown eyes and thick, long lashes that seemed to be calling him over with every blink. Her silk sleeves sparkled against a gown that was perfectly fitted around her shapely bustle. This creature had more curves than the infamous one-lane mountain road El Espinazo Del Diablo. But, Trolley would bet everything he had even fewer men survived her spells.
That was reason enough for him to lay low and mind his own business.
As Olinda swayed past the bar, Trolley dipped his head in his coconut juice and from the corner of his eye, saw one of her feathers float to the floor. Gentleman that he is, he picked it up and casually made his way toward the booth in the back room where Olinda was preening.
"Pardon me, miss." Trolley cleared his throat. "You dropped this." He handed her the feather hand over arm, the way a waiter presents a fine chablis.
"Oh, my," Olinda said, blushing and acting surprised. "Thank you." She blinked three times.
Now Trolley was nothing if not amicable. The least he could do was be neighborly and offer to buy her a drink. So, he called out to the bartender and signalled a V with his his fingers.
The next several minutes Trolley and Olinda shared compliments, giggling and teasing one another as they sipped their coconut juices. It appeared that Trolley's luck was turning after all.
For the worse. Amid their witty banter and light touches, a great beam of light spread across the room as a pint-sized Caiman in a Panama hat burst in through the front doors. His silhouette was unmistakable. Squatty legs, tiny hands, long, bulbous snout. This could only be...
Olinda and Trolley both gasped and ducked under the table, very nearly bumping foreheads. As the figure shuffled toward the bartender, Trolley whispered, "Rats! He found me!"
"What? Who?" Olinda said.
"What are you talking about?"
"That ugly reptile that just walked in," Trolley said, scratching his head.
Olinda turned her head to one side, wondering how many juices Trolley had before their encounter. "That's my boyfriend, Oleander."
"You're what?!" Trolley bumped his head on the table.
"It's almost eight thirty. Our train's leaving soon. If he sees us together...well, you don't want to know what happened to the others."
It was all becoming clear now for Trolley. Goddess sashays through the door. They instantly hit it off. As charming as Trolley thought himself to be, it was simply too good to be true. And now, here he was, huddled under a table with this guy's girlfriend. Did she know that her boyfriend had an alias? Or that his chosen vocation involved the seedier side of things? Trolley had no intention of sticking around to find out. Together, they peeked out from under the tablecloth and slipped out the back door just as the bartender pointed Oleander/Thimbleweed toward the back room.
"Over there!" Olinda pointed to the train platform where the Sur Express to Panama was waiting. When they reached the bottom stair, Olinda hugged Trolley so tight that her pearl necklace snapped. The train whistle blew long and hard. Trolley quickly gave her a boost and she planted a kiss on him before jumping on board and disappearing around the corner. He remained there, frozen for a few seconds, when the clanging of the bell woke him from his trance. On the ground, he saw that one of her pearls had fallen off. He picked it up and hopped along the platform peeping through each window, but there was no sign of Olinda. He did however, hear some familiar voices approaching the train. It was Thimbleweed and his entourage. So, he sidestepped under the train and scampered off.
With a final whistle, the train blew its top, billowing a funnel of white steam toward the sky. It pulled away from the station, its steel wheels grinding against the rails as it forged slowly ahead.
Trolley could feel the branch giving way as the steel teeth of the saw blade continued to grind against the bark. Alas, his only choice was to hang on for his life. When he looked down, Thimbleweed was nothing more than a tiny dot; small enough to crush between his thumb and forefinger.
"You've crossed me one too many times, amigo!" Thimbleweed said, brandishing his steel-tipped cane in the air. "First, the racket with the bananas. Then, the stunt with the bumblebees. And now, this? It's time to pay the peeper!"
Even with death staring directly at him, Trolley managed to shake his head in disappointment.
"You will learn once and for all that when you do business with Señor Thimbleweed, you meet your obligations."
Trolley wished he'd never jumped on the that train back in Mexico.
"Wooohhh...woooohh, ding, ding, ding, ding...Wooohhh...woooohh."
"Final stop! San Miguel!"
Trolley woke up, eyes bloodshot, legs cramped, and covered in soot from head to toe. He had no idea where he was, but he did see Olinda enter the second cabin on the left, back in Honduras. It was since then that he spent the next day and a half folded up in between train cars, being pelted by stray twigs and desert dust.
"Chk, chk, chk, chk, pssssshhhhhhhhh..."
As the train pulled into the station, he popped his head up through the compartment's window and saw Olinda gathering her things. His eyes grew wide and he tapped on the glass. Unable to get her attention, he tapped again, only harder. At that very moment, Thimbleweed stepped out of the bathroom, adjusted his suspenders and looked to his right. The two were face to face, with only a thin piece of glass separating them.
Trolley didn't even bother to wait for the train to come to a complete stop before jumping off and stumbling onto the platform. A few bumps and bruises were nothing compared to what Thimbleweed and his henchmen were capable of, and right now they were closing in on his tail. As Trolley turned the corner, he spotted a pickup truck piled high with coconuts, rumbling down the street. He raced to catch up and dove in head first.
"Stop, you filthy toad!" Thimbleweed and his gang squeezed into an old taxicab in hot pursuit.
For a brief moment, Trolley was distracted by a red blur, followed by a trail of dust cutting through the trees below. The blur was making a beeline straight toward them. It was Olinda. Her gown was dirty and frayed, as if she'd been running for miles.
"Ollie, stop!" Olinda said, trying her best to adjust her bodice, which now hung loosely, as if held by tattered shoelaces.
"Olinda?" Oleander stood bewildered. His thugs were pleased to see her. Even disheveled, she was a vision to behold.
Catching her breath, she said, "you're making a big mistake. He's no criminal, he's a hero." She proceeded to weave a thrilling tale of how Trolley's bravery had saved her from a large menacing bandido who tried to steal her pearl necklace back in Mexico. Apparently, through Trolley's quick thinking and juggling proficiency (acquired during a stint in a traveling circus), he managed to fight the thief off by hurling coconuts at him with tremendous accuracy.
She reached into her bustier and presented Oleander with the broken necklace. Thimbleweed squinted up at Trolley with deep skepticism that this two-bit con was ever capable of such a courageous feat. But, he knew deep in his heart that his sweet Olinda would never intentionally lead him astray. She blinked twice in Oleander's direction to reassure him.
"Is this true, frog?" Thimbleweed said.
Trolley swallowed hard and quickly nodded yes.
Thimbleweed turned toward his colleagues on the ground and up in the tree, "What do you think compadres?"
The burly one on the ground simply shrugged and repositioned the toothpick in his mouth from left to right. The smaller, more nimble associate, leered at Trolley with suspicion while plucking bits of bark from the chainsaw resting on his lap.
All Trolley could do was regret his sweet tooth for crickets, because the added weight gain wasn't helping his cause. As the tree branch was succumbing to the strain, Thimbleweed said "Then prove it, sapo."
Trolley reached into his pocket for the missing pearl and held it out triumphantly. As everyone leaned forward to get a closer look, Trolley closed his eyes tight with the knowledge that his luck had run out. His life line, the tree branch, finally snapped in two. •