The Patsy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
John Rider didn't realize it, but he was about to be caught up in a Nazi spy plot to steal secret war plans for Germany. He was down on his luck, in debt, and strapped for cash; so when Reggie and Anne offered him employment, he jumped at the chance. Maybe he jumped too fast.

Submitted: October 08, 2018

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Submitted: October 08, 2018

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John Rider sat at his office desk on the third floor of the seedy walkup, a stack of overdue bills scattered before him, and no cash in his bank account to pay them. He hadn’t had a real case in months, and the utility companies threatened to cut-off telephone and electricity services at month’s end. The landlord’s final notice loomed large on the pile. Without a base of operation, he was done for, and the Rider Detective Agency would cease to exist. He was beating the bushes for a case, but nothing promising had turned up. July 14, 1943 was his last real payoff, and October 22 and 31, were the cut-off and eviction dates.

He could do nothing now but have a drink and reminisce about better times. Reminiscing wouldn’t pay the bills, yet a few stiff drinks might take the edge off his troubles. John opened the desk’s bottom drawer and held the whiskey bottle at eye-level. Reflecting in the light, the amber liquid sloshed from side to side. It’s barely enough to get a good buzz. He poured some of the liquor in a glass he always kept handy.

“Here’s to what may have been but wasn’t. All in all, I enjoyed the ride for as long as it lasted,” he said aloud, toasting the wall-mounted private investigator’s license. Maybe, I should’ve driven a truck or sumthin’. At least the work’s steady. He removed the license from its frame, rolled it, and stuffed it into his breast coat-pocket.

John held the glass to his lips and savored the whiskey’s warming tingle as it flowed over his tongue. Sip after sip, it did its best to sooth his anxious soul. For a few moments, he forgot his troubles and concentrated on the drink in his hand. He poured the remaining whiskey and gulped it. Ah. Sweet brew, tis mystery true. But soon, reality’s crushing hand brought him back to the pile of bills on the desk. He stood and teetered. There was more in it than I thought. He examined the empty bottle and tossed it into the trashcan. He chuckled. Just like me: empty and soon in the dump-heap too.

John turned off the office light, closed his door behind him, and looked around the reception room. Letting Sally go last month was the worst thing he wanted to do, but he could not cover her wages any longer. His bank account was tapped, dry; better, she try to get another job than being sacked just before the Holidays. Sitting on the edge of her desk for a few moments, he remembered the excitement and laughter when he first opened the agency and hired Sally. Just a passing memory now, he figured he’d get by somehow. At least he didn’t have to worry about a family.

Out of habit, John turned out the last light and locked the door. He didn’t know why; there wasn’t a thing worth stealing left in the office. The Repo Company removed everything of value yesterday. While he walked to the stairs, he noticed all the offices were dark. What time is it? He looked at his watch: 10:45. Musta dosed off from the whiskey. Wasn’t that late when I poured the last drink. Oh, what the hell.

John walked to his car--it was still his until the end of the month--and slid in the driver’s seat. Fumbling with his keys, he struggled to insert them in the ignition.

“Here, let me help.” John turned toward the voice and looked into the barrel of a .38 Smith & Wesson Special. The man holding the gun was tall, dark complexion, sporting a mustache. “Move over and don’t try anything funny, see?”

“Don’t worry, mister. I’m having trouble hitting my butt with both hands.” John slid to the passenger side, and the man with the gun got behind the wheel.

“We’re going for a ride, see? So you just cool you heels, and you won’t get hurt, see?” The man started the car and pulled into the street.

John moved as far to the right as he could. He wished he hadn’t lost his license to carry, but maybe he would be better off if he weren’t armed. Hey. He didn’t seem all that concerned if I had a gun or not. I would’ve searched him first thing. Trusting his gut, John figured his actions were amateurish; no professional would be this sloppy. He seemed to be taking his queues from the movies. He’s acting like a tough guy when he’s not; that’s it. That’s gotta be it.

“Where you taking me?”

“Shut up, see? You’ll find out soon enough, see?”

John called his bluff. “Hey, knock off the act, buddy. I’ve seen all of his movies, and you ain’t no Edward G. Robertson. So what gives?”

The man pulled the car to the side of the road and stopped. “I’m sorry, Mr. Rider. I knew I couldn’t pull this charade, but my mistress insisted. The gun’s not even loaded.”

“Give it to me. I could’ve shot you. Never frisked me for a weapon, you know?”

“I say, Mr. Rider, it never occurred to me to... how you say... frisk you. Here, you take it. I never liked guns, anyway.”

“So what’s the dame’s...I mean, your mistress’ game?”

“Game, sir?”

“Yeah. Why the kidnapping?”

“Oh no, sir. Not kidnapping, just persuasion.”

“Call it what you want, but when a stranger sticks a 38 in my face, I’m persuaded. So take me to her.”

“Oh yes, sir. Right away, sir.”

“Oh by the way, what’s your name?”

“Reginal Pinehurst, but everyone calls me Reggie.”

“Figures.”

“You say something, sir?”

“Nothing, Reggie, nothing at all. Just keep driving.”

#

Anne Brewer was sitting, facing a roaring fire holding a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She turned when Reggie and John entered.

“Sir, may I introduce my mistress, Ms. Anne Brewer.”

“How do you do, Mr. Rider?”

“Glad to meet ya. Hey, sister, what’s the bandage for?”

“I’ve been shot.”

“By who?”

“That’s what I want you to find out, and in two weeks, I want you to safely transport me to my company’s Board Meeting whether or not you discover who’s behind this assassination attempt.”

“Swell. I haven’t had a case in months, and this one involves guns. I don’t have a gun myself. Lost it, shall we say?”

“Don’t worry. Reggie can get whatever you need. You interested in the case, Mr. Rider?”

“Sure. How much it pay?”

“Shall we say 300 hundred a day plus expenses, and a thousand if I arrive unharmed.”

“Sister, you got a deal. When do I start?”

“Why, right now, if you’re free. Reggie will advance 300 as a good faith payment.”

“Sure. Sure. Gotta get some shuteye, but I will be on it first thing in the morning, sharp.”

“Shall we drink on it?”

“Don’t mind if I do. What ya drinking?”

“Martini. Finest vodka money can buy. Want one?”

“Yeah. I’ll have mine on the rocks, Reggie, with a shot of seltzer water.”

Reggie shrugged and mixed the drink. “Here you are, sir. Enjoy.”

“Not bad. This is some good stuff,” John said, downing it in a couple of gulps. “But I got to be going.”

#

“What do you think of him, Reggie?”

Reggie pulled back the curtain enough to watch John as he walked to his car. “Good grief, he tried to get into the wrong car...He’s in his own now and off.” Closing the curtain and walking toward Anne, Reggie said, “Well, I don’t know. He seems stupid enough for the job, but the really stupid ones can be unpredictable and muck up the plans. If he gives us any problems, I’ll eliminate him.”

“I’d hate, too. He’s kinda cute.”

“Madam, stick with the plan.”

“Okay, Reggie. I was just daydreaming a little. Just daydreaming.”

“It’s too late for daydreaming. Get some sleep; we got a big day planned for Mr. Rider.”

“Reggie, help me take off this bandage; it itches. You think he bought that story about the assassination attempt and the board meeting in two weeks?”

“Doesn’t matter one way or the other, we only need him for a couple of days, and then...”

“Oh, Reggie, do we have to so soon?”

“What did I say about sticking to the plan?”

Standing at attention, Anne saluted, “Sieg Heil, Major Günsche.”

“Don’t ever do that again. You’ll blow our cover. Keep in character. I’m a milquetoast butler, and you are a high-society heiress.”

“Okay, Reggie, if you say so. Have coffee ready when you wake me, please.”

“Yes, Madam.”

#

The first rays of California sunshine peeked over the distant mountains when John awoke. He sat on the edge of the bed, counting the money again. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. This case would pay enough to settle the back rent on his flat and office, the utility bills, and keep his car out of repo. When he got the dame to the board meeting in one piece, the thousand would feather his bank account for a while, until another case turned up.

John wasn’t used to whistling while he shaved, but this morning was special. He felt the chips were falling his way for a change, so he whistled a tune like a bird. After showering, he looked through his closet for a clean shirt. He put on the cleanest one he could find, and splashed an extra squirt of aftershave to mask the soiled armpit odor. The best looking suit he had was the one he wore yesterday; it would have to do. A dash of hair tonic and a quick comb-down, and he was ready for business. Stopping at the corner greasy spoon, John ordered buttered toast and a coffee to-go.

Thirty minutes later, John arrived at the Brewer residence, parked, and rang. Opening the door, Reggie said, “Good morning, sir. Come this way, Ms. Brewer is waiting for you on the veranda.”

“Sure, Reggie. Lead the way, pal.”

Reggie and John made their way through the house to the terrace. Anne was sitting at a table in the shade of a camphor tree.

“So good to see you, Johnnie. Come, have some coffee.”

“Don’t mind if I do. And, what’s with the ‘Johnnie’? I didn’t know we were on a first name basis, sister.”

“You call me sister, so I thought...”

“Well, I guess it’s okay.” Turning to Reggie. “It’s okay, right Reggie.”

“If you say so, sir.”

John pulled up a chair and sat across from Anne. “We’re all friends here. So let’s have that coffee.”

Anne looked to Reggie. “Reggie, would be so kind?”

“Yes, Madam.”

“How’s the wound?” asked John, glancing at the bandage.

“The what?”

“The gunshot wound? Feeling better this morning? I noticed the bandage’s different. Did you have it changed?”

Anne grabbed the bandage. “Why yes, Reggie has so many skills.”

“But wasn’t it on the other arm?”

Anne shot a quick glance to Reggie. Reggie rolled his eyes and mouthed, ‘Oh, shit.’ Anne said, “You’re mistaken, Johnnie. It was late, and you’d been drinking. And...”

“Sure. Sure. That’s it.” John turned to Reggie. “Anyway, you did a good job, Reg.” John faced Anne. “I was a medic in the Army and can still appreciate a good bandage-job when I see one.”

Reggie drew his index finger across his throat, and Anne blinked, acknowledging his request to change the subject. “Maybe, we should start working on my case, Johnnie. You never know when there might be another attempt.”

“Right you are, sister. If John Rider can’t find who’s after you, nobody can.”

Reggie sighed and poured two coffees. “Cream and sugar, sir?”

“Thanks, three sugars and two creams, Reggie.”

“Yes, sir. Right away.” He looked at Anne.

Bringing the cup to his lips, John said, “Tell me sister, how’d you get shot?”

“Well...Reggie was transporting me and the blueprints of my company’s secret device for the military when a car raced around the corner and rammed into us.” Anne gasped. “Then two armed men jumped out and shot at us. One bullet just missed me, but one grazed my arm.” She sank in her chair. “In the scuffle, they took a set of blueprints from my car.”

“Didn’t you call the police?” asked John, nearly out of his chair to comfort Anne.

“No, we didn’t. I don’t want any police involvement.” Anne regained her composure, sitting stiff back on the edge of her chair. “You see, my company is developing a secret device for the military and something like this would ruin our chances of getting the contract. And, John, a lot of people are depending on me getting that contract. A lot of families with kids.”

“You can count on me, sister. Any ideas who took a potshot at you?”

“Yeah, I do, actually.” Anne leaned toward John. “Wicker Technologies, based out of Los Angles, is competing for the military contract, and their man, William Teller, has been following me for over a month. I suspect he was behind this.”

“I could arrange a long trip for Mr. Teller,” John said with a grin.

“Oh no, that won’t do.” Anne shook her head, vehemently. “They’ll just send someone else. You and Reggie can keep me safe, but I need something more important: The blueprints for their device. Then I can pressure them to leave me alone.”

“How am I going to get them?”

“Their chief engineer, Sam Culver, takes a copy of the latest blueprints from the design office to the manufacturing facility every Tuesday evening at nine o’clock. His driver takes the same route, stops at the same greasy spoon for dinner, and they arrive at the plant at eleven sharp.”

“Hey, a piece of cake. I could grab the prints while they’re having dinner.”

“Not so easy,” said Anne, looking to Reggie. Reggie nodded. “His driver stays with the car, and Mr. Culver has an escort of two armed guards that follows him in a van. They stand watch over his car and the blueprints while he dines.”

“Any ideas?”

“Reggie picked you because you look like Sam Culver.”

“You could be his brother, in fact,” said Reggie, pulling up a chair and sitting at the table.

“You don’t say,” said John. “How’d you find me?”

“Quite by accident,” said Reggie with a smile. “Saw you coming out of that eatery near your apartment.”

“Lucky me.”

“If you station yourself at the diner and replace Mr. Culver, you’d have the blueprints,” said Anne. “You could handle the driver, couldn’t you?”

“Sure. Sure, but about the escort van?”

“Oh, Reggie will take care of them. Won’t you, Reggie?”

“Reggie?” said John, suppressing a chuckle.

“So what do you say, John? Are you game?” asked Anne.

“I’m in. But Reggie’s going to take care of the van?”

“Yes. Don’t worry, John. Reggie has many talents.”

“Don’t worry, sir. You handle Mr. Culver, and I’ll handle the van.”

“Okay. Tomorrow night I’ll be waiting for Mr. Culver at the diner. I’ll invite him to join me in the storeroom, tie him up, exchange topcoats, and take his place in the car. Reggie will take care of the van, and I’ll take care of the driver. How’s that sound for a plan?”

“What do you think, Reggie?”

“Could work, should work.”

“So where do I take the blueprints, sister?”

“After you dump the driver, take the car to a warehouse at 5th and West Sunview. I’ll meet you, and Reggie will follow shortly thereafter. Turn over the prints, get some shuteye, and ensure I get to my Board meeting on Wednesday at 1 pm. You’ll have earned your thousand bonus.”

“Sounds great, sister. Oh, by the way, Reg, I’ll just keep that 38 you stuck in my face.”

“Yes, sir. If you say so, sir.”

“See you all later.” John stood to leave. “I’ve got some planning to do.”

Reggie started to rise. “Don’t bother, Reg, I can find my way out.”

#

“Well, Reggie, what do you think of our Mr. Rider, now?”

“He might just pull it off. He does look like Culver, and in the dark, should get by. But I’ll be ready to step in if he fails. We’ll get those prints one way or the other.”

“What are you going to do with him after he delivers?”

“He won’t be of any use to us. He’ll be a liability.” Reggie took a cigarette from a gold case and lit it with a matching gold lighter. Smoke curled from the end, dissipating in the gentle breeze. He inhaled deeply and let the vapors slowly escape from his nostrils.

“Oh, Reggie, couldn’t you just knock him out and tie him up while we get away? He seems like such a nice guy.” Anne pleated with her eyes as much as with her voice.

“That’s not the plan, Fräulein. Are you going soft?” Reggie inhaled the tobacco smoke deep into the bronchioles, savoring the rush of nicotine in his bloodstream.

“Maybe...A little. It’s just that can’t we do this without eliminating him?”

“Stick to the plan!” said Reggie as the exhaled smoke pulsated, synchronized with each word.

“Okay, Major Günsche, I’ll stick with the plan, but I’m not happy about it.”

#

John’s car pulled up to the diner; he checked his watch--8:35--and waited. Ten minutes later, Reggie’s van parked next to him. They nodded but didn’t speak. Fifteen minutes passed when Sam Culver’s car and escort arrived on the far side of the lot. John and Reggie nodded again.

The sun had set and the parking lot was dark except for the lights of the diner and one streetlamp near the intersection. Plenty of shadows. Should fool the driver, easy. John’s hands were moist and his stomach was like a butterfly jamboree. Two years in the Army and combat action, hadn’t prepared him for this. He was nervous--plain and simple. What if I screw up? John didn’t have much time to wallow in his self-doubt.

The driver hopped out and opened the door for Culver. They exchanged words and started walking toward the diner. John looked at Reggie and mouthed, “What’ll I do with the driver?” Before Reggie could respond, the driver returned to the car. John shook his head and wiped his forehead. His pulse was racing.

John allowed Culver pass, got out of his car, and followed close behind. Culver chose a booth near the back and picked up a menu. John glanced around the small diner. Three booths near the door had customers and two customers were sitting at the counter. A waitress approached and said, “Sit wherever you want.”

John nodded. He walked to Culver’s booth, slid into the seat beside him, and shoved a gun into his ribs. “Don’t make a sound and nobody will get hurt.”

“Okay, I’m quiet as a mouse. What’s next?”

“Let’s step into the storeroom and don’t try anything heroic.”

“Sure, anything you say.”

John slid out of the booth followed by Culver. John put the gun in his coat pocket, and they made their way to the storeroom. Once inside, Culver turned to face John, who was now holding the gun at him.

“Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into, John?”

“Sure. Sure. You stole the plans for a military device from Ms. Brewer’s company, and she wants them back. Did you have to shoot her to get them?”

“Well, they really put one over on you, John Rider.”

“Hey, how’d you know my name?”

“First of all, I’m not Samuel Culver.” He reached into his breast pocket and flipped open his wallet. “I’m field agent Bill Thompson, FBI. We’ve been watching you since your visit to the Brewer residence.”

John lowered his gun like a cowering dog’s tail.

“Second, they’re not who they claim to be. Reggie is a Nazi spy, Major Günsche, and Anne is his accomplice. The plans she told you about were never stolen from her; she wanted you to steal them for her, for Germany.”

John reeled against the door in disbelief. “Then, she was never shot?”

“No. That was faked for your benefit.”

“I was beginning to really like her too.” John shook his head. “What happens next?”

“I suspect Reggie is taking care of my escort, and you were to handle me and my driver. Right?”

“Yeah, right.”

“Then get on with it. You’ll lead us to the rendezvous with fake blueprints, and we’ll capture Reggie and Anne.”

“Well, I’m supposed to take your place in the car. We’re the same build, and it is dark, so after we drive away, I can overpower the driver. Then I’m to meet them in a warehouse at 5th and West Sunview.”

“Good. We’ll be there, and the driver won’t put up much of a fight. He’s expecting you.”

John and Thompson exchanged topcoats and hats, and John left the diner and walked to the car.

“Not hungry tonight, doc?” asked the driver.

“No, let’s go.”

#

After leaving the driver by the side of the road, John drove into town. Sunview Avenue ran east and west from the desert to the ocean. Just like its namesake, one could view the western sun during the evening hours this time of the year as it set between the buildings on either side of the avenue. But it was dark; the sun had set hours ago. Few streetlights populated this section of town, and deep shadows hid more than the scant light revealed.

John parked at the corner of 5th street in front of a warehouse. Except for a light above a small door, it was dark. He looked around for any sings of activity. None. He knocked on the door. Nothing. Is this the right place? He walked to the car and tried to light a cigarette.

“Put the light out!” A voice came from the shadows.

“Reggie, is that you?”

“Yes, now put that light out and come over here. Did you get the blueprints?”

“Sure. Piece of cake. Got them in the car.”

“Park the car in here,” said Reggie as he pushed open a side garage-like door.

John carefully drove the car into the warehouse, parked, and got out. “Hi, sister. Nice seeing you here.”

“Hi, John. I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Got the blueprints?”

“Sure, sister. Just liked we planned. Hey. You’re all healed up.”

“What?”

“No bandage. You heal fast. Too fast.”

“Okay, we can cut the charades. Anne was never shot. We used that angle to play on your sympathy.”

“Are you really Reggie and Anne? Was that a lie too?”

“I guess it won’t matter to tell you the truth, now. I’m SS Major Günsche, and this is Fräulein Anna Müller, my assistant. We were sent by our Führer to obtain military secrets, and with your help, we have succeeded. After I take care of you, Anna and I will fly away to safety with these blueprints. You should be proud of your contribution to the Third Reich.”

“Crap on that. I’m G.I. Joe through and through, Red, White, and Blue. Your days are numbered, major!”

“We’ll see about that,” said Reggie, pulling a gun on John. “Turn around and put them up.”

“Can’t stand to look your victim in the eyes, eh? Coward to the end.”

“Shut up and turn around!”

“Reggie, must you? He did what we wanted. Tie him up, and we’ll be long gone before he can do anything.”

Turning to Anne, Reggie said, “That wasn’t the plan. No loose ends.”

John saw his chance, dropped to the floor, and went for his gun. Standing, he faced Reggie. “Now we’re even. Not so brave are you, Reggie, staring down the barrel of a 38?”

Reggie laughed. “You’re a sap. If that’s my gun, it’s empty. Remember, no bullets. You see, Fräulein, we must stick to the plan. It’s been nice knowing you.”

Reggie raised his gun, but John dove for the cover of a stack of crates. He fired three times. One bullet grazed John’s upper arm, but two more missed, ricocheting off the floor.

“It’s no use, John; I’ll eventually get you, so stand up, and face it like a man.”

“Come and get me, you bastard, if you can,” said John, crawling deeper into the shadows.

“Oh, Reggie, please let him go. Let’s take the blueprints, get to the airport, and escape.”

“No. I’m going to finish this, once and for all. John, you haven’t a chance. I see you hiding there.” Reggie was bluffing. John’s hiding place was several paces from Reggie, but he accidently kicked an empty can, sending it clamoring across the floor.

“Oh, there you are, John. I’ve had enough of this cat and mouse game of yours. Let’s end it.”

“No, don’t do it,” said Anne as she swung an iron pipe across the back of Reggie’s head.

Reggie slumped to his knees but still conscious. John got to his feet and rushed to the side door as Bill Thompson and four FBI agents entered.

“What took you so long?”

“FBI!” said Thompson. “Put down your weapon. We’ve got you surrounded. There’s no way out.”

Anne dropped the pipe and went to the aid of Reggie. “Major, what are we to do?”

“Help me up. Remember the escape plan. Help me to the vehicle.”

“Yes, yes, Major, I remember. Put your arm around my neck. We must hurry. What about the blueprints?”

“Can you grab them on the way?”

“I think so.”

“Try. Otherwise, all of this will have been for nothing. Our Führer and all of Germany are counting on us.”

“I’ll get them.”

“This is your last chance. Drop your weapon,” said Thompson.

The FBI agents took positions on either side of the warehouse overlooking the central area where John had parked his car, and Reggie had put the blueprints on a table. A single lamp hanging from the ceiling shed its light on the table.

“Fräulein, I’ll shoot out the lamp, you can get the blueprints, and then we can escape in the speedster.”

“Are you steady enough? I’m sorry I hit you.”

“Not to worry. Just get the blueprints.”

Reggie took aim and with a single shot, extinguished the lamp. The FBI agents returned fire but without light, couldn’t find a target. Anne rushed to the table, took the blueprints, and felt her way through a passage between the crates to Reggie and the waiting speedster. Behind her, the sound of indiscriminate gunfire faded as the speedster exited the rear of the warehouse.

“Hold your fire! Hold your fire,” said Thompson. “We’re shooting at ghosts; they’re gone. Can anyone find more light?”

“I know where they are going,” said John. “Reggie told me they were going to fly away to safety. They’re going to the airport!”

“Get my car,” yelled Thompson.

#

The back garage door of the warehouse swung open as Reggie and Anne roared into the dark side street. Confident they had made a clean getaway, Reggie eased back on the accelerator, not wanting to attract the attention of any policemen and getting pulled over for speeding. One shootout was enough for this night.

“Do you think Hans will have the plane ready?” asked Anne. “We’re almost two hours ahead of schedule.”

“I don’t know. Hans is a good man, and he’ll get the plane ready as fast as he can. Knowing Hans as I do, he’s had it ready for hours. Don’t worry. We’ve almost executed the plan to perfection, except for the FBI rushing in at the last minute to save your ‘man.’ I warned you about getting attached to the enemy.”

“I’m really sorry, major, but I couldn’t let you kill him. I just couldn’t.” Anne began to sob.

“Stay focused, Fräulein. The plan was to leave Mr. Rider’s body and a portion of the blueprint in the warehouse. The authorities would suspect him, an American G.I., a traitor of his country, and not us. He’d take the fall for the crime.” Reggie glanced at Anne. “How do they say it, ‘Fall Guy’? That’s it: John was to be our Fall Guy. And we would get away clean, but that’s all changed.”

“Oh, major. Let’s just leave this country as quickly as we can. I’m sick of this mission.” Looking out the window at the passing landscape, she continued. “I guess I’m not cut out for this kind of work.”

“No, Fräulein, I don’t think you are. You’re too easily distracted from the goal, the plan. I’ll be reporting your failures to the High Command on our return.”

“I don’t care. Do what you must.” Anne gritted her teeth as tears trickled down her cheek.

The moonlight cast an eerie brilliance on the orange groves. Racing along the straight country road, the speedster’s engine purred as if enjoying the freedom of the open road. Reggie pressed the accelerator to the floor, and the engine eagerly obliged.

“How much farther to the airport?” asked Anne.

“Not far, I think... There’s a sign: Fairfield Landing Airport: 5 miles. Check and see if anyone is following us. This car wasn’t built for seeing what’s behind.”

Anne turned and looked out the back window. “I don’t see any lights. We’re not being followed.”

#

“Where’s my car?” yelled FBI agent Thompson. Turning to John, he asked, “Did they say which airport?”

“No. Are there more than one?”

“Sure. Besides city airport, there are two small ones a few miles outside of town. One has a grass landing strip and is used for crop-dusting. The other is Fairfield Landing. Its solid tarmac could handle larger planes. I think that’s our best bet.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“We’ll cover all three, but I’m going to that one. You coming?”

“Sure. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Agent Foster, you cover city airport. Agent Wilson, you cover the crop-dusting airport. We’ve got some time to make up, so let’s burn rubber!”

Thompson’s car careened through the deserted streets as they headed toward Fairfield. Once the city was behind them, the driver poured on the gas. The country roads were straight but narrow, and soon, they were clipping along at more than eighty miles per hour.

John marveled how the moonlight reflected off the orange trees: silvery flashes as the leaves twisted and turned in the breezes. He had spent most of his time in the city and never appreciated how bright the moon could be. Tonight, there was almost enough light to read a newspaper. Reality shattered the tranquility of the moment when he again thought of Anne, Reggie, the blueprints, and the fool the made of him. “How much longer?”

“Ten minutes or so. We’ll slow down and approach without our lights. Don’t know what the terrain is like but doubt there’s anything to conceal our approach. Have to make the best of what we find. The blueprints are fake, but we need to get Reggie and Anne, alive if possible. What they may know about spies in the country could be invaluable. But at all costs, they can’t leave.”

John sank in his seat. At all costs? He hadn’t thought about the possibility that Anne might be killed. So she had deceived him and played him for a sucker, still, the thought of her dying was unbearable. What’s this I’m feeling? Am I falling for Anne? She did save my life. It can’t be possible that I’m feeling this way.

“We’re almost there. Slow down and switch off the lights. Get ready, John.”

“I’m ready.” John’s heart was pounding and his mouth was dry, but he was ready to face whatever was before him. “What do you want me to do?”

“Stick by me.”

#

Reggie parked the car next to the hangar, and Hans met them. “You’re early. The plane’s not ready.”

“Long story. How soon can you get it ready?”

“Fifteen or twenty minutes.”

“Make it fifteen. I don’t think we were followed, but I can’t be sure. Where should I hide the car?”

“Put it in the back of that hangar,” said Hans, pointing to the open doors of a rundown airplane hangar on the other side of the runway. “It’ll be out of sight there.”

“Fräulein, take the blueprints while I hide the car.”

“Sure major, sure.” Anne exited the car, blueprints in arms, and Reggie drove across the tarmac into the open hangar. “You been here long, Hans?”

“Near on to ten years now. Been running this here airport all that time. Known as William Anderson, Bill to most, around these parts. They got no idea of my true political leanings, registered Democrat, seems to satisfy everyone. No one questions that.”

“Any family?”

“Nope, too set in my ways, I guess. Besides, couldn’t take the chance. You?”

“Not yet.”

“You’ll meet the right fella and have lots of kids; pretty gal like you shouldn’t have any trouble snagging a guy after the war’s over. Until then, stay single.”

Reggie emerged from the hangar and walked across the tarmac to Anne and Hans. “What needs to be done to get airborne?”

“Fuel and top off the engine oil, got a small leak somewhere I can’t find,” said Hans, wiping the drip of oil off the engine cowling. “But it’ll get you to Mexico in one piece.”

“Okay. I can fuel while you check the oil. Fräulein, put the blueprints in the plane and get ready to leave as soon as we’re done.”

“Yes, Major.”

#

“There they are. Just where I guessed they’d be, and it looks like we got here just in time,” said Thompson. “They’re fueling the plane and will be leaving soon.”

“What’ll we do?” asked John.

“Agent Carter, you circle to the right and close in from the south. Agent Baker, you circle to the left and close in from the north. John and I will head straight in from the west. I don’t see much cover, and the moon is bright as daylight, so be careful. Surprise them if we can. I want them alive, but they must not be allowed to escape.”

Agents Carter and Baker found little cover but managed to circle the hangar where Reggie and Hans were readying the plane for departure. Anne was pacing. I’m just not cut out for this. I hope John is okay. He’s such a sweet guy.

Agent Thompson with John in tow made their way toward the hangar without detection. Once everyone was in position, Thompson yelled, “This is the FBI. Stop what you’re doing, get on the ground, and put your hands in the air where I can see them.”

Anne screamed. Hans rolled to the ground and disappeared in the shadows. Reggie dropped the fuel hose on the ground and raised his hands. Hans emerged from the hangar with a submachine gun, firing in the direction of Thompson and John. They dove for a small ditch as the bullets whizzed over their heads. Reggie jumped to the ground, and Anne ran into the hangar.

“There are more guns in the hangar,” shouted Hans.

Reggie ran into the hangar, returned with a submachine gun of his own, and began firing. Agents Carter and Baker opened fire, but their handguns were ineffective against Reggie and Hans. “They’ve got us out gunned,” said Thompson. “But they can’t go anywhere. A Mexican standoff.”

“Hans, you think you can pin them down while Fräulein and I fly these blueprints to safety?”

“Sure. I could hold off a small army with what I’ve got in the back room.”

“You know, my friend, this is the end for you.”

“A small price to pay for Germany’s victory. Go now, while you can. Reinforcements may be coming at any time.”

“Goodbye, my friend, Sieg Heil.”

“Sieg Heil”

“Come, Fräulein. Hans will lay down cover, and we’ll fly away.”

Hans stood by the plane sending bursts of bullets toward the agents. Reggie started the plane’s engine and motioned for Anne to board. Hans’ last bullet fired, and there was a few moments of silence while he reloaded. Carter stood, took aim, and shot Anne as she ran from the hangar. She fell to the tarmac. Thompson took aim and shot Hans, killing him. Reggie gunned to engine, and the plane slowly rolled down the strip toward Baker. He emptied is revolver into the passing plane, but it continue its upward climb toward the moon.

John rushed to Anne’s side and lifted her head in his hands. She coughed, and blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

“Anne, its John. Are you hurt bad?”

“I can’t breathe so good. It hurts when I move.”

“You’ll be okay. Thompson is calling for an ambulance. It should be here, soon. Just hold on.” John looked toward Thompson, who was just hanging up the phone. “What they say?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“You hear that? They’ll arrive in thirty minutes. You can hang on for that long, can’t you?”

“I’ll try.”

John looked toward Thompson, again, and Thompson shook his head. John didn’t think Anne’s chances were very good either. Damn, life stinks, sometimes. You meet someone; she’s the enemy and look what happens. Yeah, life stinks!

“John, please hold me. I’m not going to make it. Before I go, I wanted you to know that I fell for you soon after we met. Call me crazy, but that’s what I felt.”

“Me too. Another time, another place, and we could have... Anne? Darling? Speak to me.”

Thompson knelt beside them and felt for Anne’s pulse. Nothing. “She’s gone. I’m sorry it had to happen this way, but we couldn’t let them get away.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m not blaming you. It’s the <bleep>ing war. But the leader got away, clean.”

“Looks that way. Maybe next time.”

#

At first, a small stream of smoke trailed behind the single engine plane as it struggled to gain altitude. Reggie planned to fly over the ocean, beyond the twelve-mile limit, in international waters, turn south, and land in Mexico. But the fluctuating oil pressure raised some doubt in his mind about the wisdom of this plan. Occasionally, the engine sputtered and refused to climb above 3,500 feet. The difference didn’t matter: 7,000 versus 3,500 feet, he was airborne and heading to freedom.

Over the drone of the engine, Reggie imagined the roar of the crowd when he received the accolades from the Führer and his promotion. Engaged in his daydream, he didn’t notice the oil pressure had plummeted to zero. Without oil, the engine would soon overheat, seize, and catch on fire. He didn’t notice the engine’s sputtering nor its rising block temperature. The large stream of smoke went ignored while Reggie’s daydream progressed.

 When flames erupted from the engine’s cowling, it was too late for Reggie to react. In rapid succession, the engine seized, the fuel line ruptured, and fire breached cockpit. Drenched in burning aviation fuel, Reggie’s end was agonizing but deserving, nonetheless. The plane nosedived--Reggie screaming all the way--and exploded at 1,500 feet, sending debris raining over the ocean.

#

John sat at his office desk on the third floor of the seedy walkup, a stack of overdue bills scattered before him, and no cash in his bank account to pay them. He hadn’t had a real case in months, and the utility companies threatened to cut-off telephone and electricity services at month’s end. The landlord’s final notice loomed large on the pile. Without a base of operation, he was done for, and the Rider Detective Agency would cease to exist. He wasn’t worried, though. He started his new job on Monday at California Moving and Storage, driving a truck. At least the work was steady.

 


© Copyright 2018 D Ray Van. All rights reserved.

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