“That was beautiful.”
“What?” she said as she drifted down. “What was – beautiful?”
“You. Watching you – your face. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful in my life.” She opened her eyes and looked up at him, and he could see the story in her eyes. “It was like every emotion you felt played across your face. It was beautiful to see, like magic.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I wish every girl’s first time could be with someone as gentle as you. That was lovely, a million times more meaningful than I’d imagined it could ever be,” and she was surprised to see moisture well up in his eyes so she reached up, pulled him close once again and kissed him.
“You’re my first virgin,” he quipped. “I thought I’d better go easy on you – this time.”
“Ooh. You mean…there’s more – to come?”
He smiled. “I’d like that.”
“I’m in love with your legs.”
“I know. Maybe someday you’ll love the rest of me.”
He looked into her eyes again, more intensely this time, before he spoke again: “Would it surprise you if I did?”
She nodded her head, bit her lower lip: “Yes – I think so.”
He smiled, leaned close and kissed her again. “Well,” he whispered when he broke off, “I do, so don’t be.”
“Are you a spy?” she asked, and she felt him tense again. “Relax, Ben – or whatever your name is. I’ve read a couple of those Ian Fleming books, so I think I know the score.”
He started to laugh, a real gut-wrenching belly laugh, then he rolled off her, laughing and coughing now at the same time – then he laugh-coughed and rolled right off the bed, causing her to laugh too – then she bolted upright and said something like “Oops” before she hopped off the bed and scampered into the tiny toilet compartment.
He’d thought to put a towel down first and he looked at the streaky menses for a moment, thinking of the implications as he wadded up the towel and stuffed it out of sight. “Can I get you anything?” he asked.
“More towels, I think. I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.”
“You okay?” he asked as he handed her a few more hand towels. “Or do I need to call a doctor?”
“Hah-hah,” she razzed.
“Did you bring a bathrobe?”
“There’s a shower down by the porter’s room. Want me to get a robe for you?”
“Right. Be back in a flash.” He stuck his head out the door and looked both ways, then walked down to his room – and found the two men already seated there, playing cards, waiting for him. “Oh, well, make yourself at home,” he sighed.
“You two sure made a lot of noise,” one said.
“Know who she’s working for?” the other added. “FBI, maybe?”
“Says she’s a physician, an intern,” he replied, and the men looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“You gonna take her out?”
He shrugged. “I’ll take care of her. Is everyone in place?”
“All three teams. Oswald’s been under continuous surveillance for ten days. We just don’t know how many other assets are in place, but Secret Service knows there’ll be at least one attempt tomorrow. Thinking is they’ll try to hit him when he gets to the Trade Mart.”
“But Oswald. He’s downtown, isn’t he? Near Dealey Plaza, right?”
“Yup. Any problem with Roselli?”
“I didn’t hear anything on the news,” the other man added. “So, you’re done, right? Going on to LA?”
“That’s the plan,” he said as he pulled a bathrobe from his suitcase. “Where do you two get off?”
“Seguin. We’ll drive up from there.”
“Well, good luck. See you in DC next week,” he added as he picked up his jacket.
He walked back down to her room, knocked then went inside, shutting the door behind him…and he saw she was sitting on the bed, looking down at the floor – crying. “What’s wrong?” he asked, as he moved to her side.
“Oh, ya know, I’m just kind of happy. Overwhelmed, but happy,” she said, taking his hand. “I never imagined it would be so…I don’t know…pleasurable.”
“Pleasurable? What? Did you think it would hurt?”
“Yeah, I think so, but you were so gentle.” She turned and looked at him. “Did you mean it? What you said?”
He nodded his head. “Yeah. No use denying it, not as far as I’m concerned, anyway. Besides, I usually wear my emotions out there on my sleeve.”
“I’ve never loved anyone but my parents,” she said, “but I think what I’m feeling right now feels, well, pretty much what I always thought love would feel like.”
“You’ve never had even one boyfriend?”
“Boyfriends, yes. Lovers? No. Guys have always either been intimidated by me, or thought I was such a huge nerd they didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“The whole academic thing. Straight As since birth.”
“Ah. How is that intimidating?”
She shrugged. “Beats me.”
He took her hand in his and looked at her fingers, then he kissed them. “You know, even your hands are gorgeous, but when I look in your eyes I feel lost. Like everything I thought I knew about people is irrelevant, or maybe somehow misplaced…”
“Misplaced? What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to describe, Sara, but the word humanity makes more sense to me when I look at you. Like humanity is something precious, and I’ve never felt that way before.”
He sighed, shook his head. “What I’m trying to say…is…I want to make you happy, but I want you to be proud of me, too. Proud of what I do.”
“But…I don’t know what you do, do I?”
“No. And you can’t. Not yet.”
“Were you in the military?”
He nodded his head. “Don’t ask me anything else, okay? Not now – not yet?”
“Okay,” she said – grinning. “Can I take a shower, or do you want to do it again?”
“Again? You think you can?”
“Why couldn’t I?”
He smiled. “No reason, I guess. Will you leave your stockings on?”
“Sure. How ‘bout the heels? Want the whole package this time?”
He grinned too. “Please?”
Her eyes went wide when she saw his smile. “Ooh, I could eat you right up…”
“You know,” she said as she spiraled down after her third orgasm, “I think I could like it rough, too.”
He chuckled as he grinned at her: “You know, I think I’ve created a monster.”
“What? A sex monster? Well, maybe there are worse things…?”
“I’m fine with that, Sara, as long as you’re my sex monster.”
He smiled as he stood and held out his navy blue bathrobe. “You’d better shower,” he said, glancing at his wristwatch. “Dinner in a half hour.” She stood and he wrapped her up and tied-off the terry rope, then pulled her close and kissed her again. “So, you think this is it, huh. The real deal?”
She looked in his eyes and nodded. “Yup.”
He shook his head, sighed once again. “Fast. Never knew it could hit so fast.”
She kissed his chin then stepped back – “You say the shower is down…”
“Here, I’ll show you…” – but he heard something, then turned his nose about, sniffing the air.
“What is it?” she said – whispering now, though she didn’t know she doing so.
He held a finger up to his lips, closed his eyes now – and turned his head, listening for something above the clickity-clacking of the wheels on the rails. “Get in there,” he said quietly as he pointed to the toilet compartment – as he went to his jacket and pulled the little Walther from a pocket.
Her eyes went wide and round as he pulled out a silencer and screwed it on, and she watched as he put his ear to the door and listened, his eyes still closed.
Footsteps in the corridor – two, maybe three people, no one speaking, then they were gone and he checked to see that a round was chambered before he opened the door.
He walked down to his room and opened the door, saw his friends from the agency were dead and he shut the door again, and when her heard the vestibule door hiss open he turned and dashed back into her room, sliding the door quietly closed – and locking it.
“What is it?” Sara asked – but she saw the look in his eyes and stopped talking.
He heard voices this time, a man and a woman, and he relaxed a little then turned to her. “Is there a timetable in here?”
She went to the window and pulled out a card, handed it to him – still not saying a word while he scanned the list of times and stops, then he looked out the window as the train pulled into the station at Beaumont, Texas. “Buzz the porter,” he said, his voice now ‘all-business’, “and ask him to bring dinner for two here, to the room” – then he handed her a twenty before he stepped into the toilet compartment and shut the door.
She heard the door lock and a few minutes later the porter knocked on the door.
“Ma’am?” he asked after she opened the door.
“We decided to have dinner in our room this evening. Is that going to be a problem?”
“No, Ma’am. Did you need to see a menu?”
“Do you know what’s on tonight?”
“Roast beef and creamed spinach, spaghetti with meatballs, trout amandine, and a chef’s salad. Oh yes, soup or salad before, and of course, dessert.”
“Okay, let’s have two salads with Thousand Island, the roast beef – and if you have pecan pie please bring two,” she said, handing the porter the twenty.
“Anything to drink for you, Ma’am?”
“Two Cokes, please?”
The old man nodded and left, then she slid the door to and locked it; he came out of the toilet and sat down on the edge of the bed, leaning back to slide the blinds down, covering the window.
“Ben, what is it?”
“There are two men traveling with me, and they’re in my compartment now, dead. Head shots…”
“Are you sure they’re dead?”
“Their brains are all over the walls. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Okay. They’re dead. Do you need to call someone?”
He nodded. “Yup. The train his a thirty minute stop in Houston, in about an hour or so.”
“If there are people on the train? Then they’re…”
“That’s right. Looking for me.”
“Look, Sara, I can’t talk about this stuff with you. If I do I put you in danger…”
“What are you? CIA?”
He nodded his head, looked at her, tried to gauge her reaction. “That’s about the size of it, yeah.”
“But…I didn’t think you were allowed…”
“Okay…so…when we get to Houston I’ve got to get off the train and make a call for you. Is that about the size of things?”
He looked at her, shook his head. “I can’t ask you to do that…”
“You’re not asking. I’m doing. Got it?”
“Okay. Say…how’d you know I like roast beef?”
“You’re a guy, right? How many guy’s like trout?”
“That wasn’t a bad roast beef,” he said – stifling another long, hissing burp. “I’ve had too much Coke today, though.”
“Do you ever drink water?”
He shook his head.
“You need to drink more water. You’re going to get kidney stones.”
He nodded again, put his hand over his mouth as a thunderous burp shattered the compartment, then he shook his head . “Sorry.”
She opened her suitcase and pulled out a roll of antacids, tossed them to him. “Take three, now,” she commanded.
“Yes – doctor.”
He smiled at her, then shook his head. So, I’ve got this to look forward to, for the next fifty years?”
“No more Coke today, Hoss. You got that?”
A knock on the door.
He pulled out the Walther and nodded to her as he stepped out of sight.
“Can I get your dishes?” the porter asked.
She slid the door open and the old man stepped in, collected their dinner plates then disappeared down the corridor.
“Guess he wanted to get that out of the way while we’re stopped,” he said as he locked the door again.
“What about the guys in your room?”
He sat again, pulled out a small notepad and scribbled on it for a while, then handed the pad over to her.
“This is Aunt Susan?”
“Yes, after you say that the man on the other end will tell you to go ahead, with your message.”
“And that’s this part? ‘There’s a problem with the oven, and we may need some help?’”
“Yes, and he’ll ask for a codeword, but only then. Say ‘21 sand-dollar sunset limited 21,’ then hang up.”
“‘21 sand-dollar sunset limited 21,’ and that’s it?”
“No. Hang up the phone, immediately. Don’t wait for him to ask anything else or you’ll blow the call, he’ll think it’s forced, coerced. Just hang up. Got it?”
“Yup.” She repeated the words a few more times then nodded.
“As soon as we get into the station, go to a phone and make the call, then come right back here. No other stops. Okay?”
She nodded her head again. “Got it.”
“And don’t look around, do anything to call attention to yourself.”
“Okay,” she said – as the train jerked and pulled away slowly from the station. “How long?”
“About two hours. Looks like we’re running a half hour late, so around nine.”
“Does that mean we have time enough to…”
“Hey, I’m making up for lost time…”
“Yeah, well, until you can figure out a way to reload this thing faster you’re going to have to give me time for a reload.”
“And don’t tell me…you reload it with Coca-Cola?”
She could see a phone booth even before the train stopped, and as soon as the porter opened the vestibule door and let the ramp down she hopped down and walked straight for it. She dropped a dime in the slot and dialed the number, then deposited five quarters and waited.
“This is Aunt Susan.”
“21 sand-dollar sunset limited 21.”
She hung up the phone and walked back to the car, saw the porter standing there and smiled as she walked up.
“Nice night out tonight,” she said, noting the look in the man’s eyes – and knowing what came next.
“Yes’m, sure is. You live out in Los Angeles?”
“And you a doctor, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I gots these corns on my feet somethin’ bad. You know anything to gets rid of ‘em?”
“Well, better fitting shoes, for one thing. But yes, there are a few things we can do. You live in Los Angeles too?”
“Can you come down to County on Tuesday morning?” she said. “I bet I can get you fixed up real fast.”
“Yup. I’ll give you my card and a number to call, but Tuesday morning. See you then?”
“Yes’m, I’ll be there,” he said as he remembered her high heels and helped her up the steps.
She walked down to her room and walked in – half expecting to find his brains splattered all over the inside of the compartment – but no, he was still in the toilet, right where she’d left him – so she knocked on the door: two light knocks, pause, then one more. She heard the door lock slide, then the door parted – and she heard him take in a huge, deep breath.
“Goddamn! It stinks in here when this thing’s standing still…”
She wrinkled her nose and shut the door behind him, then sat on the edge of the bed…
“Any problems? Anyone follow you?”
He nodded. “Well okay. Now we wait.”
“Okay, but tell me one thing. What happens if they show up and, well, they’re not the good guys?”
“Then I’m screwed.”
“You mean ‘we’re’ screwed, don’t you?”
“No. I’m going to my compartment now, start cleaning up, waiting for them, or whoever shows up next. One thing…don’t try to come into my room. Don’t even knock on the door. When it’s clear, when I can, I’ll come to you here. Got it?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t like it. What if…”
“You’re not trained for ‘what ifs,’ okay? You’re going to have to trust me. I…”
“You what? You kill people for a living?”
He nodded his head, looked away for a moment then looked her in the eye. “Yes, that’s right.”
She shook her head. “Just my luck.”
“That I’d fall in love with a goddamn spy.”
“And I’d have to fall in love with a doc on an anti-Coca-Cola crusade.”
“I am not.”
He looked at her again, then smiled at her. “Better give me all your spare towels,” he sighed as he thought about the work ahead, then he kissed her once again before he left the compartment.
She heard men, lots of men, get on the train somewhere before San Antonio, and on the half hour layover there she saw more men carrying “trash” out of their car. She observed the white, unmarked vans, the men in dark suits looking over the scene, walking through the cars – searching for what? – and she felt a little uneasy as she watched them, wondered who they really worked for…
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