Fred brushed his uniform’s shoulders several times until it looked as good as new. His cleaning was interrupted by a tapping on his shoulder. “So what did I get for my disguise?” Daphne inquired. Her husband jerked his thumb in the direction of a long yet thin bag. The size of the bag gave Daphne pause before she jerked it off the bed, and took it with her into the bathroom. She emerged five minutes later with an angry glare.
“I suppose you and Colonel Milton think this is pretty funny,” she snapped angrily. “Wearing a sleeveless black gown in the middle of Russia…I'm gonna get frostbite!”
Fred did his best to suppress a grin. “Uh, you look…really great in that,” he replied lamely.
“I’ll bet you think that,” she said, trying desperately to appear angry, suppressing her own smile of triumph at her husband’s words. “And how do you propose that I keep from freezing my legs off in this dress, Mr. Jones?” Without waiting for a reply, she launched herself at her purse, purging it of non-essential items. She pulled out a pair of black leggings and proceeded to stretch them over her legs.
“Hey Daph…Velma did point out that these trains are pretty warm for this place in the winter," Fred observed. "With all these…I don't know…wood burning stoves, maybe, you'll probably be the most comfortable of all of us."
“Well…have fun playing soldier,” she said disdainfully, before departing the sleeping compartment. Fred shrugged, putting on his officer’s coat. Even though it was supposed to be a relatively short journey, it was going to be a long train-ride.
For the fourth time that afternoon, Velma caught herself nodding off. She had followed Malenkov, Khrushchev and Molotov into what resembled an American observation car. But given the lack of sight-seeing available across the snow-swept Russian landscape, the three degenerated into an extensive debate comparing Marx’s theory with Lenin’s book Imperialism. Khrushchev seemed to admire the projection of power, while Malenkov focused more on the orthodoxy of Marxism. Molotov acted more the political realist, willing to make deals with capitalists in order to build up a military capable of challenging the West….with a start, Velma looked up. The three theoretical combatants had departed. How long had their tiring debate gone on? Embarrassed at her mental mistake, Velma sought to redeem herself by examining the site of their argument.
Among the three empty glasses, cigarettes and ashtrays was a partially opened matchbook. Inside, it simply said “4 a.m. Dining Car.” Was it a clue? Could it reflect the timing of an abduction or assassination of the Supreme Soviet leader? And, if so, who left it? Though it wasn’t much to go on, the girl with glasses pocketed the matchbook to share with the others.
<<“And what is your name?”>> the pretty Russian waitress asked in her native tongue.
Shaggy had to think. He’d have plenty of time to memorize three-quarters of every Russian food created, and a few everyday phrases a chef might use, but hadn’t had much time to remember his alias. <<“Uh, um, ah….Norvgorod…Gorky.”>>
<<“Norvgorod?”>> Galina asked. <<“Can I call you Norv for short?”>>
If she only knew my actual nickname…Shaggy…or my real name…Norville, he thought. For the first time on a mission, he found himself attracted to someone. And she works in the field of food…she could bring me borscht any day of the week.
<<“And how long have you worked on our rail system?”>> she asked, batting her eyes.
<<“Ur….this is my first train trip in Russia.”>>
She frowned. <<“Then what did you do before?”>>
<<“I…I…worked for the Moscow School for the Culinary Arts….”>> he offered nervously.
For a moment, her eyes widened. <<“Comrade Davidovitch’s coming. He’ll have us fired if he catches us talking instead of working!”>> She whispered quickly <<“Maybe when it is time for break, we can continue our…”>> she grinned slyly <<“…conversation.”>>
<<“Of course Galina….and could you bring those tasty potato pieces you were serving to the guards earlier….?”>>
They’ll never get me to confess, Fred told himself, no matter what tortures they use. But it was no use…the pain level increased. It’s nearly intolerable, he told himself, but his enemies would not relent.
Then Fred shook his head. Instead of being locked in a Soviet prison or isolated in some gulag, he was in the bar and snack car of the train. As for how many vodkas he had, no one could say. Man, these Russian soldiers can sure drink a lot, he thought, trying to keep tabs on Bulganin, Moskalenko and Zhukov.
But the officers caroused freely with the enlisted men in an open manner. Fred thought he spotted Georgy Zhukov putting something into his drink. Was it the alcohol talking, or was he really seeing things as they were?
A moment later the three suspects rose and headed for the door. Fred gave a dismissive wave to the soldiers had been carousing with, then followed the suspects as rapidly as he could. It wasn’t too hard, given that a number of junior officers were mobbing the door to the next car. As he elbowed his way past those of lower rank, the archaeologist felt that he was closing in on his quarry. But, as a first lieutenant jostled him, a sergeant spun him around. Suddenly he found himself face to face with….
Standing before him was the man with the mustache…. the head honcho….the big guy himself… though he wasn’t so big in person. Suddenly, Fred sobered up fast as the papers in his hand were snatched by another captain and presented to the head of the communist party in Russia. Fred cringed. Those papers were Velma’s briefing notes.
That’s it…I’m dead. Fred squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest. If he was to be shot, he wanted at least a little dignity.
The papers were thrust back on his chest. Nearly trembling, Dr. Jones glanced down that the writing…the Cyrillic alphabet was one of the few things he could decipher about Russia. It simply said “Josef Stalin.”
The small man with the mustache grinned, then moved on. Fred breathed a sigh of relief. Who knows what would have happened had the dictator bothered to see that the paper was written in English, or seen that it was an in-depth analysis of his inner circle….Fred breathed a sigh of relief, unconcerned that he had lost sight of Bulganin, Zhukov and Moskalenko.
Let’s see, he had just headed down the corridor and turned into that last compartment, Daphne noted. Beria was a hard man to miss…he walked with a flair and drama that showed a lack of concern in a country too scared to think.
Now where did he go? The intrepid reporter had seen him disappear, but not reappear.
Oh, well, time to figure out the answer to the mystery. She stepped toward the compartment. Suddenly a hand reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her inside the dark room. At the same time, a cloth was wrapped over her mouth, making her screams for help little more than muffled whimpers.
<<“So…little girl…why were you following Uncle Lavy? Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you.”>>
Sometime, I’ve got to write a column on why men feel the need to keep women gagged, she thought. She contemplated elbowing something vital, but was too frightened to act. You didn’t strike the man who sent millions to their deaths without some sort of consequence….
<<“Back off Beria!”>> a man’s voice boomed.
<<“She’s mine…I found her first!”>> Beria snarled, still grasping her wrists tightly.
<<“You’re drunk…and if our dear leader found out the head of the country’s intelligence branch was drunk on the most dangerous night of this country’s existence, tying up some girl in his cabin…”>>
Beria’s cruel eyes remain fixed on his rival, but he backed away tenuously, inching his way to the door. <<“Fine….you can have her then! But I shall remember this, doctor! One day, when you least expect it….”>> He stomped out the door, having been thwarted in his latest conquest.
<<“Thanks, doctor…“>> Daphne managed as he pulled off the cloth that Beria used to gag her with.
<<“Nyet…I mean, my name is Dr. Nyet.”>>
<<“I know who you are…”>> she said. <<“And you….”>> He held a finger to her lips. On his finger was a pinkish-reddish ring, the same as her’s. The man gestured toward the button on a cushion. She nodded in agreement.
<<“You saved me from that brute…maybe we can go somewhere where we can talk some more.”>>
He smiled. <<“Agreed.”>>
“Thanks for the chai, Dr. Nyet.” Daphne offered sweetly.
“Think nothing of it, my dear,” he said with a dismissive wave. “And now, let us…how do you say ‘talk turkey?’” She nodded intently, catching the flash of his ring.
“We both work for The Shadow,” he noted, pointing to her ring. “I see that at one time, The Shadow saved your life.”
The redhead gulped. “I was kidnapped by Nazis in Mexico. He evidently helped me get loose.”
“You seem to have a habit of…how do you say…’being a damsel in distress,’” he replied, and she blushed, remembering her encounter with Beria. All she could manage was “You seem to understand the story of my life too well,” she admitted.
“What is this?” he inquired, taking her hand in his.
“I…I just got married. His name is Fred Jones…he’s an archaeologist…” she stammered nervously in the presence of a man most women would find very attractive, with his handome features, with his ability to exude confidence and power.
“Let us not think of him,” Dr. Nyet said, now standing slightly behind her, putting a reassuring pat on her shoulders. “Instead, we must focus on our mission…to rid the world of the worst monster to rule a country.”
Daphne glanced up weakly. Now she owed both The Shadow and Dr. Nyet her life. She had to follow through with the plan, even though it meant deceiving her husband, friends and government. But she found her hatred of Stalin growing as she entered the domain of his tyranny.
“I know you are doing this because of your ties to The Shadow…and his organization,” Stalin’s science officer whispered softly. “But my interest in his demise is…well…personal.”
“It was during the Russian Revolution, when my mother worked one of the few jobs she could find…as a maid in the Czar’s palace. When revolutionaries stormed the grounds, Nicholas and his family were dragged away. The rest of the staff were nearly torn to pieces by the mob. My mother raced to the top of the tower, ahead of the crowd. Before the Communists could seize her, she leapt from the highest window…plunging her to her death,” he said in a rattling voice as he finished his sad tale. But rather than tears, Daphne felt an anger welling up inside her.
“I want to know…what I can help you do to kill this monster who unleashed this hell on Earth.”
“Is your husband here…in Russia?”
She gasped slightly. He probably knew; there was no sense in denying it. “Yeah, he’s here to protect Stalin…from me. How’s that for irony.”
Again, he stood behind her, softly rubbing her shoulders. But his touch was not seductive, but more like a father reassures a troubled daughter. Why not…he’s probably old enough to be my dad, she thought.
“Are there others as well?”
“Two other Americans…Velma Dinkley and Norville Rogers,” she added.
“Don’t worry, my brave friend….I will see to it that you, your husband, and your friends come to no harm from the Soviet Communists.”
“But who’s going to do in Stalin?”
Dr. Nyet’s expression darkened. “For killing many in the Motherland…including my own mother, I will make Stalin and his evil cronies pay, with their own lives. If you can keep those whom you love away from the man with the mustache, I will deal personally with the so-called ‘man of steel.’”
Normally, she would have felt that a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. But there was a little disappointment…she wanted to be the one to administer the death blow to the man who had caused so much pain and suffering for so many. But for the time being, she had to distract her fellow Americans…which would involve outthinking Velma and outplanning her husband….
Velma slumped on the couch, next to the stack of suitcases and coats muffling the bug designed to spy on anyone and everyone. Fred shook his head.
“So you don’t know who wrote it…Molotov, Khrushchev or Malenkov?” Fred said, inspecting the matchbook more closely. “You…fell asleep on the job?” he added, incredulous that an agent so professional could slip up.
“WELL….you would have too if you had to keep tabs on such a boring debate on communism!” she roared in response. “Try keeping….”
“Sorry Velma,” Fred said sheepishly. “It’s just the stress of this mission, the marriage…I mean wedding…”
“Speaking of the little lady, where is she?” Velma inquired suspiciously.
“Watching Beria…and Dr. Nyet,” Fred replied, becoming a little unsure of himself. Where was she this evening. Dinner was long overdue and they were about to miss the last shift…and get word from Shaggy about “Iron Lazar” and comrade Dmitri.
“You know, Fred, it’s not my place to comment, but…”
Fred turned on her. “Now you listen to me. Yes, Daph and I have our differences. And sure, we’ve had a spat or two in the past about things like who left who tied up and in danger. But I love her…I’d do anything for her….I’d…I’d DIE for her,” he said.
“Actually, I was going to point out something you might not have noticed. Look at this, she said picking up her briefing notes. “Have you….wait, what’s this?” She glanced back at him. “You got Stalin’s signature?”
Fred glanced down at his shoes in shame. “Good thing he didn’t read these papers before you added him to your world leader’s autograph collection,” Velma growled.
The blond muttered something under his breath about his partner being a smug something-or-other, but she ignored his mumbled remarks. “At any rate, notice anything odd about Dr. Nyet in this photo?”
“Looks about as suspicious as the other Russians,” Fred remarked.
“No…see what’s on his hand.”
“So he’s wearing a ring,” the archaeologist said disinterestedly.
“Daphne’s also wearing a ring,” Velma pointed out.
Fred looked again. Sure enough, with shock, he noted the same sparkling object on the doctor’s finger. He had taken the pink stoned object on her hand for a favorite girly trinket, but why would Nyet have one as well?
“That’s a coincidence,” he finally managed, earning him an arched eyebrow from Dr. Dinkley. “Besides, he’s not the only suspicious suspect,” Fred said, changing the subject. “While in the bar car, I saw Zhukov put a powder into his drink when no one else was looking.
“Why would he…” Velma began, but was interrupted by the sliding door.
“Daphne!” Fred exclaimed, bounding to his bride, throwing his arms around her. “What happened to you?” he thundered, indicating the small rips on her black outfit.
“It was that monster…Beria!” she gasped. “I swear he would have…have…abducted me if….”
“Tell me what happened,” Fred growled, frantically searching his suitcase for his pistol.
“I followed him until he disappeared into a compartment, then he grabbed me from behind…”
“Fred, do you really think shooting the head of the NKVD is really such a good idea,” Velma lectured.
The archaeologist bellowed for five minutes about defending the honor of his wife before the two women convinced him to put back his gun. “But I say that his attack on Daphne makes Beria suspect number one in my book.”
“I agree,” said Daphne.
“I’m thinking that Khrushchev, Malenkov or Molotov might be good bets,” Velma insisted, showing the reporter the suspicious matchbook.
“I guess we can’t rule out Zhukov,” Fred noted soberly, remembering the strange powder.
“And what about Dr. Nyet?” Velma asked, and the conversation came to a screeching halt. After a maddeningly long pause, Daphne dropped her eyes. “Nothing,” she finally managed. “Sorry, but Beria’s…attack has me a little edgy. Maybe you could watch him, Freddie,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m just not the kind of competent agent you are.” She sounded as if she were about to cry.
“I’ll watch him…like a hawk,” Fred snarled.
“Velma, if you could keep Zhukov in your sights, I’ll make sure I’m the server for Molotov, Malenkov and Khrushchev,” Daphne volunteered.
“For once, you’ve got the plan, Daph,” Velma grinned. Fred wordlessly pushed open the door, blew a quick kiss to his wife, then stalked off the right in the direction of Beria’s compartment.
“I just hope Fred doesn’t get us all arrested on some mad quest for revenge,” Velma gritted her teeth. “Say Daph, how did you get away from Beria?”
Daphne did not meet her friend’s gaze, choosing instead to play with the black leggings. “Wha-what do you mean?”
“I mean, if Beria grabbed you, what did you do…slug him? Kick him in the…”
“Look, I just don’t want to talk about it,” Daphne murmured.
“But if it revolves around the success of the mission….”
“This stupid mission,” Daphne groused. “It’s getting between me and my man.”
Velma sat down next to her pal, putting her arms around the redhead. “It’s okay. You can tell me,”
“It’s personal!” the girl exploded in a pent-up rage, leading Velma to pull her hands away in shock, as if her friend had suddenly turned into a ten-thousand volt monster. “Sorry, Velma, I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Once again, I got to play the heroine in need of a rescue, and I…”
Daphne glanced at her watch. “It’s almost time for my next shift…I can’t be late. Gotta run, Velms.” Seeing her bespectacled friend’s surprised expression, the reporter added “we’ll do girl talk later, on my break.”
Velma shook her head as her friend departed, and then took a closer look at the ring.
Before beginning her observation of Zhukov, Velma dropped by the dining car, where Shaggy was set to take his break. But instead of watching “Iron Lazar” or Dmitri, he was locked in on a beautiful young server. This girl was a brunette, and she seemed to have the gangly graduate student wrapped around her finger as she fed him bites from her plates.
<<“And we call these ‘herrings in a blanket,’”>> she cooed. <<“They’re herrings in a white sauce on a dish of juicy beets…”>>
<<“I think I’m in love,”>> Shaggy moaned. It was difficult to say what the object of his desire was.
<<“And for dessert,”>> she began with that same look that Daphne often gave Fred…when they weren’t fighting…or maybe the way she must’ve gazed at Melbourne O’Reilly.
<<“Comrade Davidovitch has need of you in kitchen,”>> Velma offered in perfect Russian.
The waitress glared at the intruder with burning eyes. <<“Yes, of course,”>> she responded harshly in her native tongue. Then, to Shaggy, she added <<“I look forward to our next meal, Norv, when there’s a little more…privacy.”>> Her last word contained an angry retort for Velma, dressed as a conductor for duty. As Galina passed her, Velma heard <<“Shouldn’t you go collect some tickets or something…he’s mine, you know.”>>
When the angry server was out of earshot, Velma opened the conversation with “Why did you miss our last meeting in Fred and Daphne’s compartment? Haven’t you been spying on Kaganovich and Davidovitch…Norv?!” she hissed.
Shaggy blubbered helplessly. “I’ve been watching Gal-I mean ‘Iron Lazar’ and comrade Dmitri. They haven’t done anything unusual. I swear! I’ve even…queried members of the staff, but they haven’t noticed anything.”
“I can see you’ve at least interrogated one member,” Velma snorted with mild contempt. “I expect you to…”
“I promise, I promise I won’t…let you down again,” Shaggy’s head drooped in a hangdog expression that always softened up Velma, no matter how angry she was with him. It made her feel as though she just punished a young pup. Awww…the poor guy, he was simply smitten with a Russian vixen.
Fred stormed down the first class sleeping car, looking for his quarry. When I get my hands on that…that animal, Fred snarled. But as he approached the proper number, he heard voices coming from the cabin. Rather than kick down the door, the blond put aside his hatred and used his wits.
<<“I haven’t learned anything about them…honest,”>> a man’s thin voice stammered.
<<“There are three strangers with that redhead, and you have the nerve to tell me that you haven’t learned the identities of these spies?!”>> the other voice roared.
<<“Comrade Igor, will you do the honors?”>>
Cries for mercy came from the room, followed a loud howling sound. Then the original voice screamed, but his voice faded away and the hurricane-like sound ended abruptly. What had happened to the man? The attendant at the end of the car by the door continued reading his book, as if he had heard nothing. He must have heard that sound all too often, Fred thought grimly.
<<“Comrade Ivar was obviously disloyal to Mother Russia…unable to follow orders vital to national security. I trust you will not make the same mistake, Comrade Yuri and Comrade Dmitri….”>>
<<“We will not fail you,”>> said a voice that tried not to sound as though it were trembling.
<<“I hope not, for your sake, Comrade Simriosky, Comrade Davidovitch. Otherwise, you will answer to Comrade Igor.”>>
He had heard enough. Fred decided to depart as quickly as he could, before they discovered he had been eavesdropping. Now he had another clue. Not only did Beria attack Daphne, but he knew their identities as spies! He had just thrown one of his agents from the train merely for failing him, and was using Dmitri Davidovitch, another suspect, to act against them…probably for protecting Stalin. It had to be the butcher Beria! Now all he had to do was figure out how to eliminate Beria and Davidovitch before they succeeded in assassinating Stalin…
“Why won’t you let me in on the plan? I owe my life to The Shadow! Besides, I’d like nothing better than to see this killer get what he deserves!”
Dr. Nyet shook his head. “I can’t have you risk being intercepted…or abducted by Beria and his boys. They’d get the truth out of you one way or another.”
“I’m ready for Beria this time,” Daphne snapped in a venomous tone.
“Besides, what would you do if you found Fred Jones defending Stalin? What would you do, shoot your husband to kill the target?”
Daphne paused, carefully considering her words. “I wouldn’t miss…the real target.”
Nyet scowled. “I’m sorry, but I can’t take that risk. Any pause from you could ruin the entire plot. I will have to deal with Stalin personally.”
“Oh sure, I’m just here to look pretty, perhaps beguile the old man while you administer the fatal blow,” she snapped, clearly miffed.
“If you insist on being useful, make sure Fred, Velma and Shaggy are out of the way. If you can’t keep them away from the big meeting, have them search my quarters at 4am! While you distract them, I can continue The Shadow’s work.”
Daphne smiled surreptitiously. Sorry love, she thought, but General Donovan will just have to find himself another Soviet dictator to deal with….after tonight, Stalin’s going to be the one who gets purged.
The hunt was on as the predator sighted the prey. Closing the distance, the hunter got within feet of the target. Sure enough, Zhukov was reaching surreptitiously for his coat pocket. Now I’ve got him, Velma thought. As he emptied the contents into his glass, she announced <<“ticket, please…Georgy?”>>
Rather than looking shocked or upset at the intrusion, the Russian power-broker laughed, plucking a ticket out of his pocket, waving it at her while she pretended to focus on punching it. But in reality, she was zeroing in on the powder, which had now fully dissolved into his drink.
<<“What is the powder for, if I may ask?”>>
He shook his hand dismissively. <<“It’s for my headache, young woman.”>>
<<“But why so secretive about it?”>> she pressed.
Instead of scowling, he grinned. <<“Nikolai would never let me forget it if I was so weak as to let a little thing like this cause me such pain. ‘Oh Georgy…is that headache still bothering you. Are you going to swoon?’ Bah….I’d almost rather have this headache than his joking. Do you want a sip yourself?”>>
Velma smiled in return, shaking her head. Inside she was disappointed…Zhukov had seemed such a promising suspect, but he had done nothing that aroused her sixth sense.
She had been shadowing him for noth…..
Now she knew who the assassin was.
She ran from the bar car to the direction of the sleeping car Fred and Daphne occupied.
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More