The tables inside the tiny diner were all full. The dull clamor of German breakfast table chatter mingled with the scents of sausage and coffee in the air. Stimmung, Maggie thought humorously to herself. With no place else to sit, she walked up to an empty stool at the counter and set her pack down in front of it. A dark-haired girl, shorter by a measure, sat on the adjacent stool. She spoke softly to a man next her wearing a brown suit.
“English?” Maggie asked, smiling.
A face with features of Asian descent caught Maggie by surprise when the girl turned. “Oh, hello,” came the reply.
“Anne Schilde,” Maggie offered, giving the name from the fake passport Mueller had given her.
The man leaned over and whispered something into the girl’s ear. Maggie looked over at him as she sat and her heart chilled. Sitting on the counter in front of him was a grey hat that didn’t match his suit. A man with a grey hat will meet you at the station door, Mueller had said. Mueller, of course, was no more his real name than Schilde was hers. The girl turned her way again.
“American?” she asked in spite of the Dutch name Maggie had given her. She had an accent that was distinctly not German. “I’m Danielle Oh.”
She reached out a hand as if in greeting, but instead, it quickly shot down, snatched the backpack from under the counter and pulled it up to look inside. Frozen by the grey hat, Maggie wondered if this was the man she was intended to have met. Danielle rifled through the pack, but she put it down again without taking anything and turned to the man. When she spoke, she alleviated Maggie’s doubts.
“She has the ceramic… and a piece… ” she said. “The statue’s not there.”
What? That made no sense! The statue was what Mueller had instructed her to deliver to Dresden. She wondered if any of what she was ever told was the truth. While the two of them whispered quietly to each other, she thought back to the profile she’d been given of the man in the grey hat: family man; wife; three children. He was supposed to have been at the station just before the train arrived. And he was supposed to have been alone. No one had briefed her on his pretty Asian companion.
Tell him you have the package. He’ll make a phone call. When he returns, shoot him twice in the head, then board the train.
Board the train with what? No statue and an empty gun? That seemed like suicide. The idea that Mueller may have been setting her up sent momentary chills through her. If this was a setup, headquarters was in on it. Perhaps they were just using her to clean up another loose end in the process. Suddenly, the tight-lipped lady on her strange midnight flight over the German border seemed more significant.
“I’m shocked you would arrive without the statue,” Danielle said when they had finished their whispers. “Surely you must have known we would kill you if you didn’t have it.”
“Nur Kaffee, bitte,” Maggie smiled to a waitress while she considered her reply. She turned to Danielle. “I was certain you would kill me whether I had it or not,” she said coyly, “but I don’t have the statue because I haven’t made my contact yet. The train wasn’t due for another twenty-five minutes.”
“You’re lying,” Danielle said. “Anyone who packs their own gun packs one with more than two bullets in it.”
“Or at least one she can lift,” Maggie admitted with a casual chuckle. “It should please you to know neither bullet was intended for you.”
The man in the brown suit laughed, but Danielle wasn’t amused. “You were to kill your contact?”
The waitress began pouring Maggie’s coffee.
“Danke,” she nodded. Then she looked Danielle in the eye and took a calculated risk. “Yes. As soon as he called you to verify that I had the package. Two bullets to the head. But of course you knew that.”
She sipped her coffee and winced. It was impossible to get used to how strong the coffee was overseas.
“She’s lying, Max,” Danielle scoffed to her quiet companion. “She’s just stalling for time. Why would IIA want Max dead?”
“Why would IIA give me a pack with no statue in it?”
A shrill haunting whistle sounded in the distance, filling the silence. Maggie glanced at her watch. The train was early. Reaching slowly and casually for the backpack, she opened it and pulled out the orange bills Mueller had given her as partial payment.
“Have you ever seen money like this before?” she asked curiously.
“Niederländisch-Ostindien,” Danielle said in German.
“Hm! Dutch East Indies. It’s pretty,” Maggie mused. “I wonder what so much of it is doing all at once in Germany?”
“I suppose you’re going to tell us,” replied Danielle.
“That depends. Does the name Vanderheiden mean anything to you?”
Max said the first audible words since she’d sat down at the counter. “De Kunstverzamelaar, Ja?” His accent sounded German.
“That is what they call him. I don’t think art appreciation is truly the motive behind his habits. Why do you suppose he would want you dead, Max? I’ve been asking myself that since I got my instructions.”
Max held a face of stone.
Maggie studied his lack of expression. The seed of doubt had been planted. That was all she needed, just that seed. “That’s exactly the conclusion I came to. Someone must have tipped him that you meant to steal it.”
Danielle and Max both laughed nervously.
Maggie pretended to laugh along. “By the way, why did you give me back a loaded gun, Danielle?”
“Why?” Danielle sneered. “What are you going to do with it? Shoot us? In front of all these witnesses? With two bullets?”
Maggie thought it over again. Mueller wasn’t concerned about witnesses when he expected her to shoot Max at the station. If she was a dead girl walking, it didn’t matter what she did. She had to play the other odds.
“Why not?” she asked playfully.
Danielle sensed what was coming even before she said it. With a sharp cry, she ducked as Maggie squeezed the trigger twice. Two shots both to Max’s head. She reached a hand out quickly and grabbed Max by his suit, guiding his slumping corpse gently to the counter. As she suspected, no one at the restaurant even seemed to notice. She set down the now-useless weapon.
“Entschuldigung für die Unordnung,” she said politely to the waitress, peeling off an orange bill with a 50 on it and placing it next to her unfinished coffee. Tucking the rest of the bills back into her pack, she turned to a shaking Danielle. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.”
She backed quietly to the door of the diner and then back out into the dark, cold fog. It felt friendly and cool against her skin. Instantly, she missed the breakfast smells and it reminded her that she was hungry. She let the door close, and then turned and raced back toward the station.
Given the chance to prevail, confusion flooded her head with new questions. Where the hell was the damned statue? Maybe it was a hoax, and there was no statue in the first place. She flashed her boarding pass and her passport and boarded the train. What if Mueller expected her to arrive in Dresden empty-handed? If there was one thing she’d learned, it was to stick to the plans the best she could. She found her way to an open seat and settled into it, staring out the window for a while.
Illusions danced in the fog. “Ja, ja, ich spreche,” suddenly struck her as funny as she remembered the boy who had appeared in the fog earlier to direct her to the diner. What was he doing out in the night in the first place? She flipped open the lid to the backpack and rummaged around inside it. Her fingers fumbled upon a small strap. Pulling it, a compartment opened easily at the bottom. Underneath was a small statue of a woman, oddly reminiscent in form of the swirling fog outside her window. Maggie blinked in dumbstruck surprise. Surely, Danielle must have found it too. Why would she lie?
A man, grumbling in German, had seated himself across from her. “…verlor mein Paket! Idioten!”
His grumbling tore her attention from the contents of the backpack. She shut the flap hurriedly and looked up to find a heavyset man in a brown suit… wearing a grey hat.
© 2013 Anne Schilde