CHAPTER 2 - The overnight train to Zagreb
Harry could tell from the expression on his face that Nickolai was not happy to see him waiting outside the garage sitting in the bus stop area. He was not really waiting for a bus and he already knew the next one was not due for more than half an hour. That was the reason he had the stop all to himself with no other passengers to listen in on his conversation.
Nickolai was a stocky guy with a face that made one happy to not be in a dark alley alone with him in the middle of the night. Strangely, Harry knew the ugly scars and broken nose was a big turn-on for most of the young girls looking for something different at closing time. Nickolai's problem was that he really was not very skillful in close-in fighting and he was far too slow to hold his own against a younger opponent. Harry had saved his ass on more than one occasion in their black market days when they were both rolling in money and had girls panting to get on-board the gravy train. Those days were gone forever and Nickolai had a wife and 3 kids in one of the subsidized apartment buildings in the re-built section of the old city now.
"What you want now, Harry? I only got about 2 hours before I got to go to Pancevo for Embassy provisions."
Harry looked up at the lumbering driver and told him,
"I just need you for a quick run across the river to the train platform outside the city. I want to catch the overnight to Zagreb. There will be a passenger with me. Don't ask her any questions. Pick us up outside my hotel in 15 minutes."
Nickolai just nodded his head and went back inside the garage to sign out the car with diplomatic plates. Harry knew they would not be stopped for any reason and in these days it probably would not even be recorded because of slack operations around the city.
Harry knew his associate would not mention anything to his fellow workers or even to his pretty young wife who was always worrying about money. He walked briskly back to the hotel hoping that "The Dancer" was already dressed and ready to start out.
He handed her the back-pack that he had picked up at the station check room and she quickly opened it to extract some lipstick to put on her wind-chapped lips. He hoped she wasn't stupid enough to have any weapons or drugs hidden inside. They went down the stairs and out the side entrance so the desk clerk would not ask any unwelcome questions.
Nickolai was just pulling up in the Chevrolet Suburban and they jumped inside and were almost to the bridge before anyone said a single word.
"Harry, I don't park next to platform. Better I park one block over and you walk to platform. I be right, yes?"
Harry looked at the vacant-eyed girl who was staring off into the distance utterly bored with everything around her.
"Good thinking, Nickolai, here is something to buy that pretty wife of yours a new dress."
Harry passed him an envelope crammed with money stuffed inside. It was not as much as they used to make in the old days but it was a lot better than he made in the garage.
"Thanks, Harry; everything is costing a lot more these days. Any chance you can get me some whiskey for my wife's Slava party next week?"
Harry looked at the rough looking hulk in the driver's seat. It was amazing how domestic life had tamed the animal inside the "always ready for a fight" Nickolai.
"The Dancer" was sitting quietly looking out the window at the palatial estates flashing by on each side. Most of them were owned by the government and rented to the diplomatic corps and to commercial investors from EU countries and richer Asian countries. Her face was a bit pensive as if she was expecting something to happen and was trying to prepare for the worse. Harry could not help but think how delectable her mouth looked with just a little bit of lipstick applied to it. She turned to him seeing his eyes locked on her face giving him a wistful smile. She started to speak but just cleared her throat instead keeping silent in probable deference to the presence of Nickolai in the front seat. Harry saw that as a positive sign of caution, a valuable trait in dangerous situations.
Harry knew that his "old friend" Nickolai was most likely feeding scraps to the CIA husband and wife team safely ensconced in the attached Consulate and also probably giving updates on suspicious activities to the "Serbian Internal Affairs Department". He didn't mind that at all because he knew Nickolai would delay the reports until he was safely into another phase of his operation and out of danger. His friend had to bargain for his existence all the time and sometimes served as a valuable method to feed information into those channels. Harry much preferred to keep as far away as possible from the CIA ever since they double-crossed him in Venice. His current employer was much more altruistic and paid better as well.
When they pulled up to the corner, Harry shook Nickolai's hand and told him to keep his head low and his rear-end covered. The Dancer took her back-pack and Harry took his spacious briefcase with the double combination lock and they walked arm in arm to the station platform. Harry could see the train approaching in the distance so their timing was perfect. He knew they could purchase the tickets on-board and that it was the safest way to start the journey. The recording of the purchase would not even get into the system until the next day after they had already gotten off of the train.
There was a smattering of passengers waiting for the train but not unusually large like around special holidays or on a Friday afternoon. He didn't see any uniforms and even the passengers seemed caught up in their own little worlds totally oblivious to others around them. That was just the way Harry liked it. Even though they would be riding overnight, he got them tickets in the second class compartment because there would be more people and less likelihood of being singled out for special attention.
He whispered in The Dancer's ear,
"If someone starts to give us an eyeball, I want you to be ready to offer up your lips to our mutual desire to remain anonymous. Don't be anything but friendly and act like we are lovers but not husband and wife."
She looked up at him with a sarcastic smile and answered,
"If you are going to steal my lips, you must know that my name is Olga and I am unmarried."
Harry confirmed in his mind that the package was either Russian or Ukrainian. He had already come to that conclusion in just listening to her accent and her broken English. He wished he hadn't found out her name. It made things much too personal and his memories of another long-lost Olga brought back feelings of guilt and shame long-repressed.
He could feel his loins stir with a familiar state of arousal but reassured his brain with the thought that the need to be close to the package was just for purposes of blending into the background and not to stick out like a "sore thumb" in the midst of couples and young lovers.
Sometime just before midnight, the train sat forlornly on the track waiting for a southbound express to pass in the dark. It flashed by with such a speed that Harry had to close his eyes to prevent an onslaught of vertigo and nausea.
Olga stirred at his side. She was leaning up against his shoulder and he could see some drool coming out of her pretty mouth. He wanted to wipe it with his cuff but was afraid of awakening her and causing her to cry out. Her thigh was pressed on his leg and the warmth kept him from feeling the cold night air that crept inside the poorly heated compartment.
A young boy across the aisle rubbed his eyes and looked at them with innocent curiosity. Harry saw that his mother was deep in sleep and utterly relaxed inside the lighted train sitting like a beacon in the night.
The conductor came down the aisle not saying a word. Harry had no questions because he knew the pause was customary to allow the other train to pass in the other direction. Soon they would continue the journey and they would be in Zagreb less than an hour after dawn. Hopefully, the platform snack bar would be open and they might be able to purchase some hot coffee and a couple of rolls to fill their empty bellies. He knew right where the document dealer was located having used him many times in the past but a direct route was out of the question. First, they would sit and drink hot tea in a restaurant and make certain they had not drawn any interest from the many eyes around them looking for something out of the ordinary.
The station platform in Zagreb was almost deserted. The first train out was not even warmed up yet for boarding and this arriving train would be shunted off to the side for a later return in the early evening hours. Some newspapers sat tied in strong cord on the wood floor outside the snack bar. They spoke of an accident at a nearby nuclear power plant that injured several workers but they emphasized the fact that there was absolutely no danger of radioactive leaks at any time.
Olga's eyes were still half shut because she had slept almost all the way into the city.
Most of the arriving passengers just grabbed their bags and left in a flurry of snowflakes due to the fact that there was a light smattering of snow building up on the unheated portions of the ground.
They got their coffees and rolls at the snack bar and Harry bought a couple of cigars to enjoy later. Olga looked at him and then the cigars with a looked that showed her displeasure with anyone who smoked. Harry was used to it and just ignored it when people turned up their nose at his plume of dirty blue smoke.
The streets were slippery from leftover ice from the previous night and the light frosting of snow hid the danger. They rounded the corner where Harry had a favorite restaurant turning into a stiff breeze that made it seem even colder. The wind caught Olga's skirt and flipped it up revealing her shapely legs. Frantically trying to cover her bare legs, Olga slip on the treacherous ice and would surely have gone down if Harry had not stepped in and caught her in his arms before she landed on her bottom on the wet and icy sidewalk. She squirmed a bit attempting to escape his embrace but only succeeded in rubbing her feminine charms against his lean, muscular frame.
They paid at the door and then went up to the counter to get their hot tea and biscuits. The customers were on the sparse side. Some of them obviously just killing time waiting for the snow to let up.
Harry watched the doorway on the corner where there was a little watch repair shop. The owner's name on the glass window proclaimed it to be the shop of Demetri Angelpolous, Master Watchmaster.
Harry knew the owner was not Demetri Angelpolous, the Greek watchmaster, but a shady character that went by the name of "The Paperman". The Paperman could fix up documents that would pass most checkpoints with ease and he kept his prices down with a healthy volume business. He knew him by sight and was relieved to see him enter the business before they were even able to finish their first cup of tea.
The shop was dusty and dark. It was very narrow and the lighting got worse the deeper one entered inside. He saw the Paperman sitting at a messy desk littered with photos and papers and stamps of every sort of variety. He had aging materials and other tools to make the documents look authentic. Harry wondered how the scrawny old man had managed to stay in business for so long without being rumbled by the police. Probably, a good percentage of his income went straight to the Zagreb law enforcement authorities for back-up protection when needed.
Harry didn't care just so long as his papers were done on time and no one was the wiser. The Paperman was happy to see they both had good photos ready for use and went right to work to produce the documents. He was expensive but always delivered the best product money could buy.
The fee exchanged hands and they quickly put distance between themselves and the document maker. Harry told Olga that the time in the shop was the most exposed they would be on the journey.
From this point to the Italian border it was clear sailing and they just had to find a quiet little Inn to spend the night away from the hustle and bustle of tourists and uniformed cops.
Next stop would be Italy.