Train Of Thought

Entry by: percypop

16th July 2015
Lying in his sleeper berth, James was tormented by the fact that he had lost the package. Time and again his train of thought traced the exact sequence of events from the moment he had stepped on board. Anyone observing him could tell that this grey haired English man with a tanned skin was a seasoned traveller. His blue eyes, his crumpled linen suit and tall thin figure confirmed his identity. Years of experience as a diplomatic courier had taught him how to protect himself and his valuable documents. Yet he had fallen for a simple trick.
As soon as the train started from Warsaw, he settled into his sleeper. The journey to Zagreb took thirty hours and he knew sleep would help to pass the time. How did it happen? Only one incident came to mind. Soon after the journey began, a small boy ran past in the corridor chased by a railway official. They passed in a second and he had given it no thought until a few moments later, a dark elegant woman appeared, looking anxiously in each compartment. Furs wrapped her in a cocoon of luxury, revealing only her pale face.
“Has a young boy gone through?” she asked, in a soft voice with a Russian inflection.
“Yes, I’m afraid he went past rather quickly”

“He is desperately ill.” she said “His mind is not right and we must find him before he harms himself.”
She stood in the doorway of his compartment while she looked up at him and then glanced along the corridor in the direction that the child had gone.
“Can you help me?” her large grey eyes pleaded with him but he shook his head.
“I’m afraid I can’t leave here. I’m sorry, but I will call a guard if I can make contact with him”
As he said this, he stepped back into the berth to look for the service phone. She moved closer too, as if to speak with the official.
James knew she was very close because the delicate scent of her surrounded him. Having made contact with the guard, she thanked him and left to meet the man.
Sliding the door shut, he settled down to sleep. Instinctively, he felt for the diplomatic pouch he had placed on the seat by the door. With a start, he knew that the package had gone. Desperately scouring the compartment achieved nothing and he lay back stunned. The consequences were frightening. Not only was his job at risk, but the
Documents en route to Zagreb were highly secret.

Logically, the episode with the Russian woman was the only incident when such a theft could have taken place. He wrestled with this puzzle for some minutes to decide how to deal with it. She must have had notice that he was on the train; did she have assistance; who was she; all these questions filled his mind.

In Car Three at the further end of the train, the Russian woman sat with two men in a locked compartment. She had taken off her heavy fur coat and was relaxing with a cigarette in her hand.
“Have you worked out the code, Igor?” She looked over at the stunted little man dressed in a child’s clothes who sat opposite. He had a codebook and the diplomatic documents on the desk in front of him.
Her smoky cat’s eyes regarded him languidly with a slight contempt as if he was a mechanical doll rather than a human being.
The other man stood at the window and shifted from foot to foot with anxiety. He smoked a black cheroot and dragged at it in a nervous way. This man wore the railway uniform he had used earlier.
“Be quick, Tovarich, we are still on Polish soil and he will raise alarm against us.”
The dwarf ignored him and bent over the books. He wrote in block capitals and having finished a page, smiled and held up his work to the elegant woman.
“Of course, I cannot decode all of it now, but this page shows how the rest will turn out when we have time to spare.”
She smiled and got up from the banquette. Her movements were fluid and graceful as a cat. Taking the form, she read it quickly. Then she turned to the bigger man:
“He will have reported to the guard by now. How long before they reach us?”
“Perhaps twenty minutes maybe more”
“Then get ready to pull the emergency chain and leave.”
It was plain she was the commander and they obeyed her immediately. The little man tore off his childish clothing and dressed quickly in a military uniform with jackboots. The larger man simply replaced his jacket with a long military coat and stood with his hand on the chain running along the top of the compartment.
Under the fur coat which the woman had worn, she was dressed in a black tight fitting leather tunic cinched in at the waist to reveal her slender form; her long legs were encased in high Russian boots. She strapped a small automatic to her belt.
Holding the diplomatic pouch, she sat down again and gave the signal to pull the emergency signal. They had arrived at the spot
agreed as Drop 1 in case of emergency.

James ran down the corridor to the service suite of the train where the Principal Guard office was located and hammered on the door. The door was opened by a short fat man in shirt sleeves with a napkin round his neck and a fork in his hand.
“Quick! Come with me. I need help!”
In a few words he explained his dilemma and had roused the man to action. Buttoning up his jacket, he followed James to his compartment and then began to knock at each sleeper section along the carriage. This process was slowly working through the carriages and James could see that it would take at least two hours to clear the train. He looked at the Passenger list in the guard’s hand.
“Where is the Lady with the disturbed son?” He shouted above the noise from the rails and the guard looked puzzled at first, then held up his fingers to indicate Carriage Three. They moved quickly in that direction but were thrown off their feet by the sudden braking of the train as it was being hauled to a stop.

The screeching as wheels skidded on the steel tracks and the sudden braking had aroused the whole train.
Doors opened in each compartment, blocking the way for James and the guard as they rushed forward along the corridor.
When they reached carriage Three, only one compartment remained locked and it was obvious what had happened. The outside door stood wide open and the cold air from the country blew in like a reproach. Only a fur coat with a faint trace of perfume lay on the unmade sleeper couch.
Outside, the dark trees and white ground made a grim background for his thoughts. He could see faint tyre prints in the meagre snow leading away from the woods and got down to examine them. With the flame of his lighter, he traced them to the edge of the woods where a road led off in a southerly direction. There was nothing he could do but return to the train, still spewing steam like an impatient beast straining to be released.

The car was an old Lada and bucked at every pot-hole on the rough road. Commissar Nadine had never seen the driver before and she sat immediately behind him with her automatic hidden under the diplomatic pouch on her lap.
“Who sent you to meet us?”
The man looked in the rear view mirror, his eyes sought hers and he stared.
“What difference does it make?” He said in Russian “You need a lift. You got a lift.”
Igor sat beside her his little legs stretched out before him. He slid forward to tap the man on his shoulder.
“Comrade, I advise you to be careful when you speak.”
The man smirked but said nothing more. Nadine took a cigarette from her tunic and the man from the train lent over his seat to offer her a light. It was three long hours later when the mud caked car pulled up outside the Hotel Portofino in Krakow. The driver pointed to a door at the service entrance to the hotel and left them there. He leant against his car and they saw him using his cell phone.
Nadine spoke to the big man from the train walking beside her
“Zhukov, remind me to have the bureau here re-assessed”
He grunted in a generally affirmative way.
At the side door, they were met by a bureau officer who took them by lift to the third floor and into an office.
“My congratulations, Commissar.” The man behind the desk rose to greet her. “Now we can discover what they intend or, at least, what they did intend to do about the pipeline through Rumania.”
His gaze was fixed on her in a strange manner, as if he forced himself to appear affable but his eyes revealed his fear of this powerful woman.
She inclined her head in accepting the compliment and for a second her dark hair swept across her face as she smiled. For a moment, she was a beautiful woman and then the stern set of her jaw returned and the commissar re-appeared.
“Unfortunately, when you have had the chance to rest and” here he nodded to the small man Igor “the translation has been completed,
You must go at once to Paris and report to the Politburo office with this information. The OPEC meeting is there in a week’s time.”
Nadine smiled;
“Paris means a lot to me; after all, I’ve spent many years at the Embassy there.” She shook hands and the three left the room.
The script was ready in two days and they set off for Paris by express. Security advised that the airports were heavily screened.

The compartment in Carriage Three was empty except for the grey fur coat left behind by the elegant woman. James sat glumly on the bench beside it and reflected what to do. Of course, he had to notify the Embassy in Warsaw and make a report for the Foreign office in London but more important than that was his fury at the trick he had fallen for and his hurt pride. Apart from a brief call on his cell phone to alert Warsaw and London, there was nothing to be done until the train reached Paris. There he would give his report and take whatever was coming to him –early retirement? The sack? Who knows?
His hand touched the soft fur of the discarded coat and instinctively he stroked it, remembering the voice and the appealing eyes of the clever woman who had tricked him. Out of curiosity, he felt inside the pockets, there was nothing in them but the faint fragrance he recalled. Then he examined the label and he sat up wide-eyed. The label read “Kaufmann Paris.” His enemy knew Paris! Perhaps she lived there or bought her clothes there?
“When does the train reach Paris?” He asked the guard.
“It stops at the Gare de Lyon on its way through in five hours’ time.” James went back to his compartment, collected his bags and wrote his Report before they arrived at Gare de Lyon.
James loved Paris and he always stayed at the Bristol in 16th Arondissement. It was a quiet hotel where one could come and go without attracting much attention.
Before he reported to the Embassy, he decided to do his research regarding the fur coat and the mystery Russian woman. His first call was to Maison Kaufmann in Place de L’Opera. A surprise was in store.