The Lost Train

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  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2

Konigsberg, Germany 

December 11th, 1944

Lieutenant Franz Steffeul was sweating even though winter was beginning to grip the land in its cold fists. 

He pushed back the limp strands of telltale blonde hair that were the pride of the German people, even though his was thinning from age or stress or both, and hefted the large framed Matisse painting onto his shoulder. Grizzled as much by hardship as by age, Franz was still a sturdy, strong man with an imposing presence. He carried the last painting in Hermann Goering's pilfered collection of art down the steps of Konigsberg Castle. In the distance, he could hear the bombs going off. It was a horrible sound—deep, painful groans that made the earth shake like it was being tortured—especially when you were on the receiving end. The Russians were getting close. Any day now they would be rolling into the city, pushing the Germans out. He knew it was inevitable. 

He had seen the end of a war once, what people had then called the Great War. The Germans had lost that war and things had been hard, very hard for the people. They had been unfairly punished for their role in that war. It was possible that they were going to be the losers again, unless the Fuhrer had a miracle in his pocket.

Franz didn’t think he did. He had been at the Battle of Kursk. He knew that the Russians were unstoppable. The Germans had woken a slumbering bear and now they were going to pay for it. He was just thankful that he wasn’t still on the front lines where many of his countrymen were dying every day. Ironically, he had been saved from that hellhole by a bullet in the shoulder. His shoulder was better now, though it still ached most days and especially when it was cold. Right now it was aching from carrying so many heavy paintings and pieces of valuable art down the flight of steps and out into the waiting train cars. Goering didn't want any of his stolen wealth to fall into Russian hands.

Goering was going to be furious though. The Germans had pulled off the greatest theft in history during the war, confiscating all of the art and gold that conquered Europe had. Now Franz was about to pull off the second greatest heist. 

He was about to steal Goering’s train.

Franz walked across the courtyard and to the waiting train, where he loaded the painting into a box car that was packed with priceless art. Renoir, DaVinci, Durer, Rossi. Those and more. There were eight box cars in all, some full of paintings like this one, some full of crates of gold and jewelry, and some full of sculptures, pottery and other precious artifacts that the Germans had confiscated from those they had conquered. They were all part of Goering's personal collection. One box car even had three German tanks on it.

Franz watched his accomplice—a short, skinny fellow with quiet, haunted eyes—hop off a box car and close the door with a loud metal clang. He locked it and then stared hard at each car as if waiting for something to happen. Or maybe he was making a decision. 

Franz frowned. The time for decision making was over. "Are we ready?" he asked more harshly than he wanted as the man walked up to him.

The man pursed his lips and then spoke. "Yes, we are ready, my friend." He tugged at his German military uniform unethusiastically  and spit on the ground. "Was this really necessary?"

"Of course. If we have any hope of succeeding, then you need to wear that and act like a German officer.” 

The young man nodded. "So it must be. We all have our part to play to make sure the train makes it there. Have you done yours? I would hate to get half way there and then be detained. It would be off to the camps for me." The young man shuddered at the thought. He put his thin hands in his coat pockets. The jacket swallowed him up. He was still very thin, pale, almost sick looking. “You helped me escape once. I do not want to push luck to see if you could do it again.”

Franz looked around nervously. “I will make sure the train heads in the right direction. You are sure that you can hide all of these train cars until I am able to come retrieve the goods?"

The man looked up and down the train. "Of course. The tunnel was perfect. It will hold all eight box cars with no trouble."

"You are sure the location is hidden?" Franz asked.

"Yes, it is very hidden. The only thing we will have to worry about, besides being stopped along the way, is Russian or American bombers."

"The way you are going makes that very unlikely." Franz forced himself to relax. "Thank you, my friend. You risk a lot."

"Perhaps, but not as much as many of us have already lost in this war." He folded his hands and gave Franz that haunted look again.

Franz put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. ”Half the loot on this train is yours. You have earned it. We are partners in this."

The man shrugged with distaste. "I want no part of this train. Everything on it is linked to pain and loss and distorted hope.”

Franz nodded. He couldn't blame the man, not after what he had been through. “For retribution then. It is time to put our plan into action. Travel safely." 

He handed his accomplice his own personal Luger. The man took it and looked at it for moment before tucking it into the empty holster at his side. Now he truly did look the part. 

Taking a folder from his satchel, Franz marched toward the train's smoking engine. "New orders!" Lieutenant Franz Steuffel barked. 

The train conductor, a weaselly-faced man with pants and jacket covered in coal grime, came out looking annoyed. "What?" When he saw Franz and the bars on his chest, he straightened right up and wiped his greasy brow. "Lieutenant, I didn't hear anything about this." The conductor pulled off his hat and slowly took hold of the folder. He looked inside and frowned. "But I haven't had time to chart this course or check the lines! It's twice as far. I am not sure I have the coal for that!"

Franz gestured toward the sky and barked. "The Russians are close! Do you hear their planes in the distance? The next thing you might hear is the whine of those bombs! Command has decided the train is vulnerable if it heads to Munich. This way is much safer, even if it takes longer. They are willing to bear the risks."

The train conductor looked apprehensively at the sky as a particularly large bomb exploded in the distance. The trees shook. He swallowed. “I am not going to argue about safer.”

"Good. This is Corporal Herzog," Franz said, indicating his accomplice. "He will be in charge of making sure this train gets to its destination. He will see that you are refueled. Now get this train on the move before those bombers think that this train looks like an inviting target!"

The conductor jumped into action. He pulled down on a lever and a great billow of steam chortled out of the train's smokestack. Then slowly the train began to inch away as Franz watched and waited. It seemed like it took the train forever to get up to speed. He looked back over his shoulder and felt relieved that no one was running their way shouting for the train to stop. 

Their plan was working perfectly.

He watched until the last car twisted out of sight and let out a sigh when it was gone. He heard a distant train whistle and whispered a prayer that the rest of his plan would go as smoothly. He gathered his confidence and walked as fast as he could back to the castle, wondering what history would say about him. They would never tell the full story, why he was doing it. History never did.

Franz had given more to this war than just his own blood. He had lost two sons on the Eastern Front, Erik and Hans. Erik had frozen to death in that hellish city the Russians called Stalingrad. Franz had been there briefly, but fate had intervened and he had been sent north to protect the flank. Erik hadn't been as fortunate. He had been left behind to hold the city at all costs even after the city was all but lost. His second oldest son, Hans, had been in a panzer at Kursk. Franz had thought the panzers were invincible. That was another lie the Fuhrer had fed them. Franz had watched his son's tank get blown into tiny, flaming hot shrapnel from hundred yards away. He had sat down in the middle of the road like a bullet had gone straight through his heart while the last remnants of metal burned.  

No, Franz had given much more than his own blood. Now he was taking his retribution. He deserved the contents of that train and more. Maybe he would move to America after it was done and try to forget all about the sons he had lost. He could start over and forget that he was German. Maybe he could even forget the war. No. He would never be able to forget, not about the war and not about his sons. That was why he was doing this. This was his payment for the sacrifice he had made.

A faint buzzing reached his ears and brought him out of his wretched thoughts. The bombers had arrived. The sound grew louder as the planes began to dive. It was like he had kicked a hundred beehives, and it struck fear in his heart. He scrambled up the stairs of the castle as fast as he could go, his shoulder aching from the exertion and movement of running. 

The dreaded air sirens rang out.

In a room with a large table, nine paintings leaned against the wall. Franz moved as fast as he could to complete the final step in his plan. He grabbed the first one and quickly broke the frame. He carefully pulled out the painting and shook it free of splinters before flipping it onto its back. In the upper right hand corner he wrote down a riddle that revealed the identity of the second painting. Then he scribbled the directions to the first leg of the journey that the train was taking. These paintings would be sent to his last remaining son in Munich. They were an insurance policy in case anything happened to him. 

Franz rolled up the canvas and then moved on to the second. Outside the bombs started to fall, their eery whine filling the air. Then the castle shuddered from the impact.

He needed a few more minutes before he could make his escape.  Men began to shout. Sweat broke out on his forehead. He had to hurry. The halls filled with commotion. He hoped no one would come into the room. If they found him before he got these paintings off, then all would be lost. It would be all for nothing.

At last he had all nine paintings rolled up and in tubes. He raced out into the hall as a bomb exploded so close that several of the men running in the hall fell to the ground as the castle beneath their feet trembled. 

He made it out of the castle with no one stopping him. He raced to the barns as a half track sped down the road full of soldiers shouting and aiming their guns toward the sky. He almost laughed at the ludicrousness of it all. What good was a rifle going to do against all those bombs?

One of the barns in front of him exploded in a shower of heat and noise and flying splinters. He was thrown back. He lay dazed on the ground, the tubes scattered around him like leaves in a storm.

His ears rang. He could barely stand. He staggered to his feet and tried to pick up the tubes but his arm was limp and didn't seem to want to cooperate. Finally, he gathered them all and stumbled away. He saw a courier racing to a motorcycle. 

Franz grabbed him. "Here! You must take these!" He tried to push the tubes into the surprised man’s hands.

"Are you crazy? They are bombing the city! I am getting out of here." The terrified man—well he was actually a boy, fuzz barely visible on his cheek—kicked the motorcycle stand and roared the engine to life.

Franz stood to his full height and shouted at the boy. "Are you defying my orders? You must take these to the post! They are orders from General Liebermann. Hurry! Hurry! The fate of Konigsberg might lie in how quickly you get those orders there!" What was one more lie when he was stealing a whole train?

The boy hesitated, but then grabbed the tubes and swung them onto his back.

Franz watched as the motorcycle raced off, the paintings thumping softly against the courier's back. He prayed the man wasn't intercepted along the way and that the paintings reached his son—the only son that the war hadn't taken.

He turned and raced toward the last remaining barn where he had hidden a beat up Kubelwagen in a horse stall. Perhaps he could still make it out of Konigsberg.

The next bomb landed right on top of the barn that Franz was heading toward. He was thrown into the air. For one happy moment, he was glad that no one would be able to stop the train now or would even know that it wasn't heading toward Munich. But then he remembered. Sadness overwhelmed him because he had forgotten to write down one key piece of information on the paintings for his son—the identity of his accomplice, the man who was guiding the train right now.

Rome, Italy

October 2nd


The silenced rubber bullet knocked over the second security guard. He slithered down the wall. 

Rudoff smiled with pleasure, but not as much pleasure as he wished. 

“Sentries taken out,” he whispered into his comm. “It seems the bullets are good enough to get the job done. Breach the door!”

Rudoff’s elite team infiltrated Piero Ricolini’s sprawling estate at its weakest point. 

Rudoff stalked past the two prone guards. His team was using high-end rubber bullets, even more advanced than prison and riot police used. These had slightly hardened tips that were designed to completely incapacitate the target. Rubber bullets were effective, but they weren’t Rudoff's first choice. An unconscious enemy was a loose end. And he hated loose ends. Loose ends always came back to bite you in the ass. Besides, rubber bullets made it feel like a game. He liked pitting himself against another human with life on the line. Kill or be killed. But rubber bullets weren’t life and death. 

It was their current employer who had insisted on the bullets. Rudoff thought it was a strange request. Their employer didn't mind stealing, but apparently having a little blood on their hands was too much. That was one of the biggest differences since he had left the military for mercenary work. He no longer got to kill on every mission. He might have to think twice before he took any more contracts that had such disappointing parameters.

Still, this job was lucrative. Very lucrative. Their employer had serious money and didn’t mind spending it to get the results they wanted. The contract payout was more than enough to persuade him to do the job the way their employer asked. Steal a few paintings, don’t kill anyone, drop the paintings off at an empty warehouse. Easy. His team could do it in their sleep.

He had thought it was a lot to pay for stealing a few paintings though. Until he got here to the location and saw the security. It was a private estate that was fortified like an army base. He had done a lot of prep work, but nothing he had found on Piero Ricolini, the owner of the estate, had suggested he needed defenses like this. An art collector with an army? His team could still handle it, but a few warning bells had chimed somewhere in the back of his brain. These were no ordinary paintings if they were so well protected. And who was Ricolini that he needed so much security?

Rudoff scanned the area. Then he was the last of his team to slip into the estate. His men were waiting inside, their guns aimed at every doorway and possible entry into the room. One gloved hand motioned his team forward. They swept through the mansion with calculated precision, the laser sights on their guns falling on furniture, walls and doors. They had done this a hundred times. It was clockwork; pick a few locks, disarm the security systems, take out the security guards, steal the objective. 

This time the objective was a few apparently priceless paintings. Rudoff didn't know a lot about who painted what or how much this or that painting was worth. Hans was the guy on his team who was good with those details. When the contract had come in, Hans had just raised his eyebrows when the paintings had come up on the computer. Rudoff had liked that look. It meant the job was worth it. He had never had a contract for more than one painting, but it was no problem. One, two or three. They could handle it.


He stepped over another unconscious security guard and sauntered further into the house.

His earpiece crackled. “Boss, you're gonna want to see this!”

That couldn’t be good. He stepped into a hallway and walked toward a dimly lit gallery with high end Italian furniture and a beautiful oriental rug the size of a dance floor that must have cost a fortune. When he entered the gallery, he bit back a curse. The picture frames were exactly where they were supposed to be according to the blueprints, with the exception of one slightly misaligned frame, like someone had bumped it while cleaning. But there was nothing inside the frames. The paintings were gone.

Someone had beaten them here.

In a split second, Rudoff calculated the situation. The danger was high. Had they been set up? Maybe they were the fall guys for the real theft? He held his breath and listened for alarms, sirens, running feet, anything that would clue him in. Nothing. 

No, the theft had to have just happened. The empty frames wouldn't have just been left on the wall by the owner. The insurance adjusters would have been called. The police. No, the theft was fresh and that meant the thief might still be around. The misaligned frame suggested the thief had been interrupted just as he was finishing up. He hadn’t had time to straighten it up.

Rudoff’s muscles tightened in anticipation of a fight and he discreetly scanned the area. The objective had shifted slightly. He hefted his assault rifle, ready for action. Be careful and cautious. Rudoff motioned for his team to spread out and search. If they were lucky...

He crept around a corner into an adjacent hall covered in shadows. That was when something heavy and painful fell sharply on his back. His night goggles went flying and he fell to one knee. Then a foot caught him in the chin, just right, and he felt his head snap back with a painful crack. He fell with a giant crash onto an antique lamp resting on a side table. Something sharp poked through the Tyvec on his body armor and pierced his lower back. His back arched in a painful reflex. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a black clad figure disappearing down the hall, three long painter's tubes slung across his back.

The thief! With the paintings.

Rudoff lay there in the broken remains of the lamp and table, trying to catch his breath as his team came sprinting up. It was too late to chase after the thief. The estate's security team had to have been alerted to the sound. Maybe they had already called the police. His team didn't have time to try and chase down the thief if they wanted to get out undetected. 

One of his men offered a hand to help him to his feet. He ignored the hand and the pain in his back and rose on his own. 

“Clean that up fast,” he said, pointing at a few drops of his blood on the floor. He yanked a piece of glass out of his back.   

Rudoff didn’t like failure. He didn’t like not completing a contract. In fact, he had never failed to complete a contract as a mercenary. His team was the best. They always finished the job.  He ground his teeth together. Now was not the time to foolhardily chase after the thief. No, now was the time to regroup and alter the plan. Even though he had failed at the first objective, the job wasn't done. There were more paintings to steal. 

And now there was another thief to catch.

The glass shard in Rudoff’s hand crunched into pieces as his fist closed tightly around it. He had too much pride to let this little event go. He would find the thief and finish this job.

Will Stattin was down on his luck.

It had been four months since he had been dishonorably discharged from the National Guard. In that time, not a single job interview had gone his way. He was unemployable even with all his skills. That’s why today’s mission was so important. He had to succeed or he might not get another chance.   

The gun’s steel frame was cold against his forehead, echoing the cold resolve inside. That’s how he approached each mission, with cold determination. He took a deep breath and let the calm fully envelope him. 

It was time. 

He surveyed the Capitol building in Boston, Massachusetts through his binoculars, watching the security team in charge of protecting the people inside. The guards appeared complacent, lounging against the counters. Everything was going according to plan. He had no doubt he was going to make it to his target. What happened then, well, he was making sure that he put himself in position to succeed. 

Will had parked at the end of a side street facing the building. It was a discreet position. A lamp post blocked the CCTV cameras from getting a good shot of him sitting in the cab of his rickety old 1989 F-150 with the rusted out wheel wells. Maybe he should have driven something else, but he had been driving the truck for fifteen years. It was a part of him as much as the ball cap on his head. The seat cushions had grown contoured to his large frame. In this moment, when everything seemed to matter because nothing had been going right, he needed its durability and stability and comfort. He popped a piece of Dubble Bubble and chewed vigorously.

With second-nature ease, Will broke down the handgun, a Beretta APX Centurion, into six parts. He pulled off the sharpened end of the construction pencil, two times the thickness of a regular pencil, and slipped five bullets inside the hollow tube he had drilled out of the core. Likewise, the parts of the gun went inside a hollow handled hammer, made up the base of a hand planer, were hidden inside a tape measure and became the handle of wide chisel. The disguised pieces looked like part of his construction tools. He snapped the toolbox closed and pulled his lucky hat on low, an old Yankee ball cap fraying along the edges, so that his face would be hidden in shadows as he walked up to the building. 

He looked over at the seat where Clara always sat. Maybe it was just memory, but he felt like he could still smell her. Still, she had taken his call and helped him set this up. That was something. 

Will pulled off the ball cap and ruffled his wavy, brown hair before putting the hat back on. He hadn't cut his hair once in the four months since the discharge from the Guard. The four inch growth was small revenge, but it still felt good every time he ran his fingers through his thick hair, like a finger in the air to old Uncle Sam. He deserved the discharge, but he hated how it altered the perspective of the ten years he had served honorably and with merit. One mistake had changed everything.

He pushed the simmering anger down and buttoned up a flannel shirt with the Moss Construction Company logo stitched on the breast. Next was a prosthetic nose piece with attached silicone cheekbones. It fit easily over his nose and a little concealer smoothed out his complexion so that his face looked natural, if a bit puffy. The last piece was a pair of thick, black rimmed glasses. His costume was complete. He was now a construction worker. He looked in the mirror. It was hard to recognize himself. The facial recognition scanners had no chance. 

Will got out of his truck and strode purposefully toward the building. As he approached it, he walked right past two construction vans that were parked outside the building. A worker was struggling to unload decorative wainscoting. It had taken a quick search to find out what private contractors were currently working in the building. Moss Construction Company was one of them and had been contracted by the state to remodel some of the old wooden wainscoting in the jury rooms. The real construction workers didn’t even look up as he walked by. He stopped briefly at the ashtray outside the building and pushed his wad of gum into the sand. Go time.

Will was in the building and halfway to his goal. His target was Senator Matthew J. Robinson, an incumbent who wielded some serious influence, perhaps even enough to soon make a run for president. Robinson was also a lightning rod for fanatics due to his stance on some of the hot bed topics that were dividing the country: guns, immigration, abortion and human rights. His comments to the media hadn’t helped. Robinson was lighting fires everywhere and he didn’t seem to mind. At least he had a good security team. 

But not good enough to stop Will.

Will’s contract made it clear he was supposed to get past that tight security without detection and get to the senator on the fourth floor. It was a strange contract, small sum, exceedingly difficult, but the only thing he had going. If he wanted more work, he had to prove himself. Will was going to do that.

He walked up to the security station in the middle of the lobby, all nerves gone. He was on a mission. He didn’t have time for nerves. They didn’t help. Precision only came with confidence and today he needed precision.  

At security, Will flashed a laminated Moss employee badge he had made the day before. He put his toolbox on the conveyor belt and precisely as it was about to slide through the X-ray machine, he stepped through the metal detector. An alarm sounded and bright red lights flashed on the plastic archway. Every security agent turned to watch. His toolbox slid through the X-ray machine almost unnoticed.

“Everything out of your pockets?” asked the annoyed security guard beside the archway. The guard was a young, white male, bored, probably wishing he had something better to do, quickly irritated at what he thought were stupid people. Will had expected the guard to have this type of response, lulled into complacency and irritation by countless government employees that had forgotten to take keys, watches or cell phones out of their pockets.

Will fumbled at his pockets, playing the part perfectly. “Ah, I think so. Oh, my belt!” He pulled off his belt with its massive western style metal buckle. He laughed humbly and apologetically. Then, as if he had just noticed it, he pulled the construction pencil out of its perch between his ear and hat. He handed the belt and the pencil to the guard and walked through again. “Always forget that thing.”

“Sure,” the guard grunted. He walked around the arch, avoiding the metal detectors and handed Will the fake pencil and the belt. “Up to the facial scanner please.”

Will stood in front of the camera. It chimed a moment later.

“You’re all set,” the guard said, waving him on.

Will gave them all his best country smile and grabbed his toolbox. “Off to work. That first room has to be done today or the boss will be all over us. He ain’t approving overtime!”

He strode to the elevator and punched the up button. After the elevator door closed, he took off the flannel shirt and tossed his hat into the toolbox. He ripped off the custom, tearaway cargo pants and packed those away too, leaving him in a sleek, fashionable dark suit that he had hidden underneath the bulky construction gear. As the elevator lurched to a stop, he finished putting the Beretta together and slipped it into the holster under his arm pit. The door slid open and he stepped off, ready to do business. Right before he moved into sight, he took off the facial prosthetics. 

A thin secretary, nearing middle age, with black horn-rimmed glasses and the first hints of crows feet at the corners of her eyes smiled at him appreciatively, her gaze lingering a moment too long to be just cordial. Will was used to the attention his looks garnered, but his return smile was polite and uninterested. 

“I have a two-thirty.” He placed the toolbox on an empty chair.

“Will Stattin?” She had coffee breath.

He nodded. “The one and only.” 

“They’ve been expecting you. Down that hall, first door on the right. Good luck!” she chirped and gave him a hopeful eyebrow raise. 

“Thank you, ma’am.” He stalked down the hall focused on the mission and not the promise in her eyes.

A security agent stood outside the door, a cord running up his shirt to the piece in his ear. He looked at Will and the flare of recognition crossed his eyes. The agent frowned and held out one hand to stop him, while the other went to the handle of his gun. Obviously, he was surprised Will had made it up here, past security. They had been on the lookout for him. 

Will didn’t give the agent time for the surprise to dissipate and for his instincts to take over. In two very large, fast steps, he was inside the man’s defenses. Will’s palm punched down on the agent’s hand resting on the gun, jamming it back into his holster. Will’s shoulder caught the man in his ribs, then a sidestep put the balance of his weight behind the agent. He twisted and grabbed the agent’s other arm at the same time. The result was a fast flip in the air and then an unpleasant crunch and groan as the man landed hard on the ground. 

He cleared his throat as he leaned down next to the man. “Never be surprised to see your enemy.”

Will stood and straightened his suit jacket and then entered the senator’s conference room. It was furnished with a large walnut table and matching chairs. Across the table was a man with the look of an army lifer, square jaw, rigid posture, and military buzzcut that had nothing to do with style. The man looked uncomfortable in his suit, like someone had put G.I.Joe in a dress.  

“Will Stattin! You got in here?” growled the man, clearly surprised to see him. “I expected you to have a harder time. Is Tom all right out there? I heard the confrontation. Yes? Well, I suppose you’d better have a seat. I’m Walter Pinscole. Head of security for Senator Robinson.” He held out a hand and the subsequent hand shake was brief but firm.

“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Will took a seat across from Pinscole.

“I can’t say the same. We took Clara’s word that you were good and it seemed a worthwhile investment to test our security. That’s why I sent you the contract. Infiltrate our defenses. Get to the conference room on the fourth floor. You did it. Now I have to clean up this mess and convince the senator that he has nothing to worry about.” Pinscole grunted. “Here’s your check.” He slid the check across the table with two fingers. 

“What about the job?” Will asked.

“The job?” Pinscole sighed and leaned back in his chair. He flipped open a brown folder on the table. “Quite a file you have here. Decorated hero. Three tours of duty. A purple heart. Commendations. Promotion to Military Police. I have to admit, your file is impressive. Under normal circumstances I would hire you immediately. In fact, you’re overqualified. You’re not just some grunt in from the field.” Walter closed the folder. “However, we’re not under normal circumstances. You know what I’m talking about. The dishonorable discharge, Will.” He raised an eyebrow. “DWI. On a base, no less, one day before deployment! Who doesn’t have a little problem with alcohol? Not that big of a deal, especially for all the crap you have probably been through. I’ve seen lots of better men than you turn to it to get them through the day. But you couldn’t keep it under control. You risked your mission. Who would ever trust you with their life? You can’t even carry a weapon anymore. No, you weren’t ever really going to get the job, but we got to test our security and we appeased Clara in the process.” He smiled, pleased with himself.

Will leaned forward. “Sir, I made a mistake. I admit that. I’ve moved on from it. I just need someone else to move on from it too. Don’t we all make mistakes sometimes?” 

Pinscole shook his head. “Maybe for another senator it wouldn’t matter. But Matthew Robinson isn’t your ordinary senator. He has a good chance at the presidency and this record,” one finger stabbed Will’s folder, “could sniper his best chance. He can’t be associated with it. I’m sorry to say that the Senator can’t offer you a job at this point in time.” 

“Sir, no disrespect. But the senator needs a man like me on his team. I think I’ve proved that here today.” Will pulled out his Beretta, removing the clip as he did, so that it was clear he wasn’t a threat. “You said it yourself. I am overqualified for this job. Not only was I able to elude security, but I got that through as well.”

Pinscole’s nostrils flared. “Now you listen to me you little snot!” He pointed a finger at the gun. “I don’t know how you got that up here, but that’s a felony. I will do you a favor and let it go because of your service to our country. Now get out of here!” He jabbed a finger at the door. 

Will was halfway to his feet when Pinscole muttered under his breath.

“I should have known better when that tramp recommended you.”

Will whirled around. “Excuse me? What did you just say?” His hands were already fists.

“What’s the matter, did a I strike a chord there? What, was she your girl once? Is that why she pushed your name so hard? Boy, don’t get all worked up over a girl that would lay down for just about anyone if it meant she would get what she was after.”

Will reacted without thought, years of training and muscle memory taking over. The blow was like a quick hammer to the chin. Pinscole’s face jerked back. Spittle flew. He crashed back in his chair, which tipped with the awkward angle and weight. Pinscole was out cold on the floor. 

Will rubbed his knuckles. That did not go how he planned. He knew how to retreat and it was time. He probably only had a few minutes before security would be all over him and disguises would do nothing.

He closed the door a little harder than he intended. Or maybe not. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. They still itched to crush something. He had failed again. The discharge had killed his prospects for landing a good job. This was just the latest opportunity that had fallen through. He barreled down the hall.

The secretary took one look at his face as he stalked past and said, “Oh!” Her smile melted away.

He walked right to the elevator. It chimed and the door opened.

The day just got worse.

The last person in the world that he wanted to see was standing there in the elevator. It was Clara Thorn. His Clara. At least she had been. Man, these last four months had been awful! 

Clara Thorn was a tall blond, athletic body, ample curves that made construction workers swear to leave their wives behind, a bright smile on a face that stopped men’s hearts. That was just the outside of the package. At the moment she was wearing a business suit that made it look like she owned the building and everyone was working for her. It was that confidence that had captured Will. She could command a room just by walking into it better than a four star general. She was brilliant and ambitious. And she had been Will’s girlfriend for four years. 

But four months ago all hell had hit like an RPG out of no where. First his mother’s death, then the discharge, followed by his father’s cold silence and then Clara leaving him. His world had become an empty, broken shell. One he was having trouble fixing.

Clara’s decision had hit the hardest. It was betrayal. She had left him for Senator Robinson. A man thirty years her senior! They were broken, unfixable, she had said. It was time to move on. She had moved on quickly. He hadn’t. And Senator Robinson? Will couldn’t help measuring himself against the man, and he had lost. That was another failure. And the failures were stacking up.

Clara spoke first. “Will!” She smiled. She looked good. The last four months had treated her well, with the exception of a little stress crinkling her forehead. “Wow, that’s the snazziest I have ever seen you look. Did you have the interview? How did it go?”

“It didn’t go. But thank you for setting it up.”

“Oh.” The disappointment was real. She shrugged. “That’s what friends do. Was it the discharge?”

“Yeah. They are worried about the senator’s image hiring someone who has been dishonorably discharged.”

“Did you tell them the circumstances?”

“It wouldn’t have mattered.”

Clara stared at him for a moment and then nodded. “Don’t lose heart, Will. You’re going to find a job. I’m sure of it. Your skills? Someone is going to want that experience.”

Will nodded. “Yeah. Why do you work for him?”

She sighed and looked away. “Will, we’ve been over this.” She looked back at him. “The senator really has a chance to make a difference. I have a chance to make a difference.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why did you pick him?”

Her eyebrows crinkled. “We’re not going there again. I think it’s time you go. Goodbye, Will. I hope things get better.”

Will drove his truck fast, like he could outrun everything. He wanted to get home to the old farmstead. He had a few beers in the fridge that were calling his name. He was twenty minutes from the house when his phone buzzed. It was his elderly neighbor, Fran Martin. She was always calling him about something. He didn’t want to answer, but she had no one else to help her. His instincts took over.

Will punched the button on his phone. “Mrs. Martin, the cows get out again? I will be at the house in a few minutes. I can herd them up.”

“No, Will. They’re just fine. It’s something else!”

“What is it?”

“A helicopter just landed in your garden!”

Copyright © 2019 by Seth Crossman

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