Authors: T. Davis Bunn
Â© 1995 by T. Davis Bunn
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâelectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwiseâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher and copyright owners. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This story is entirely a creation of the author's imagination. No parallel between any persons, living or dead, is intended.
Cover illustration by Joe Nordstrom
TO AL AND EVAN STUART
With heartfelt thanks for
all that you have taught,
all that you have shared,
all that you are.
By the fourth day, the glamour and the romance were wearing awfully thin.
Despite the wear and tear of war, the Orient Express remained a luxurious way to grow bored. The lounge and dining compartments were resplendent with leather, brass, and oil-stained wood. Jake and Sally's compartment offered fold-up beds, an accordion-style writing desk, high-back leather seats, and embroidered footrests. There were bells to call the waiter, wine steward, and porter. The nightstand was a model of rolling ingenuity, with the little crystal water goblet nestled in a suede-lined brass well, the pen with its capped inkwell and writing pad, and the locket-sized brass chest for chocolatesâheaven forbid that they should wake up in the middle of the night faint with hunger. The daintily appointed bathroom had brought a squeal of delight from Sally. It reminded Jake of one of those expensive dollhouses, perfect to look at, and impossibly uncomfortable for anyone over nine inches tall.
Sally baffled him utterly. Since they had boarded the train in Paris, his normally sensible wife had stayed happily entertained on nothing. Whenever his pacing brought him within reach, she bestowed a delighted smile, then went back to her book or her perusal of the window or her happy chatter with another passenger. No matter that the passenger was about as interesting as a large rock and had the intellectual depth of a sparrow. No matter that the train was now more than two and a half days behind schedule. No matter that there was not a single book in the train's meager library with all its pages intact, or that it had rained continually since their departure.
Nor did it appear to matter that their best friends and companions for the trip had effectively abandoned them. The honeymooning couple, Jasmyn and Pierre, had emerged from their compartment only six times in four days, and in that period had spoken a grand total of nine words to anyone else. Nine. Jake had been counting. He had nothing else to do.
Their stop in Zagreb the morning of the fourth day was another excuse for more baffling enthusiasm from Sally. She rushed to him, grabbed his hand, pulled him out on the platform. “Look over there, do you see that woman?”
“Barely,” he grunted, shielding his eyes from rain whipped sideways by the wind. “You really find this interesting?”
“Are you kidding? She's great. They're all great. It's like traveling inside a Victorian novel. The dowager empress, the English governess, the mysterious millionaire.” She hugged Jake with excitement. “I never thought I would be doing anything quite like this.”
“Me neither.” Jake released a pent-up sigh. “Or for so long.”
“Oh, you.” She released him. “I wish there were some way I could make this last another couple of weeks.”
Jake showed genuine alarm. “Don't even think about it.”
She examined his face, then pulled him over so they were shielded by the train. “You're still worried about not having heard from Harry?”
“Among other things.” Harry Grisholm was Jake's superior in his newfound field of international intelligence, and someone Jake admired tremendously. It was Harry who had followed Jake to Marseille and talked him into taking the Istanbul post. Harry was supposed to lead their project from the United States embassy in Ankara. After Jake had accepted the position, Harry had pressed upon them the urgency of the project, and stressed that there was not even time to return to England before beginning the new assignment. Every minute was required to bring Jake up to speed. Someone else would see to packing their belongings and shipping them to Turkey.
A scant three days later, with Jake's briefing barely started, Harry Grisholm had been called back to London. The command from headquarters had left the little man helplessly fuming. Furthermore, something in the tone of his orders had left him cautious about having Jake accompany him back. Instead, Harry had suggested they take a slower passage to Istanbul via the newly reopened Orient Express. Then he had departed, promising to make every possible haste to join them along the way and continue Jake's briefing.
Since then, there had been no sign of Harry, nor any word at all.
“He probably heard we were being delayed and went on by air,” Sally offered. “He'll be there when we arrive.”
“And if he isn't?” Jake's worries congealed in his gut. “I'm supposed to have so much money arriving I won't count it, just stick it on the scale and round it up to the nearest pound. And all I've been told so far is that I'm supposed to make careful note of how it's being spent.”
“He told you more than that,” Sally chided.
“Not all that much.” Glumly Jake watched the platform vendors shout their way along the train's length, selling everything from espresso to fur hats. “And not nearly enough to get the job done.”
“Well, there's nothing you can do about it now.” At the sound of the train's whistle, Sally tugged him back up the steps. “Now promise me you'll try to have a good time, okay? We'll get there soon enough.”
The lounge would have been his perfect hideaway, had not every other man in the train decided the same thing. And Jake was the only one who did not smoke. The puff of choice was either a cigar that brought to mind the word
or pipe tobacco that smelled of a long-dead cherry orchard.
There were three distinct groups of passengers. In the majority were the men who wore tuxedos with starched high collars and white bow tiesâat eleven o'clock in the
morning. They held themselves as aloof as possible while being crammed together for days on end. They traveled with two hard-edged intentions; to return to a life of ease, and to restore their sense of position and status. To their minds, the recent war was an inconvenience, now best forgotten.
Next came the wealthy European business owners, in bright suits and nervous manners. Many were war profiteers, who quaffed back bucket-sized goblets of brandy and scotch as they gambled recklessly, and talked in voices that would have made foghorns shrivel with envy.
A third group, far smaller than the others, were professional travelers. These bore the hard-earned stamp of distant gazes and guarded reserve. Jake would have liked to meet them, but they came and went like the wind, holding themselves utterly aloof from the others. Sally had managed to briefly meet two, an English governess traveling to Damascus to take up a position with a sheik's family, and a Belgian missionary returning to his flock and family in Beirut. Travel still suffered from war-inflicted wounds, and for the time being all safe roads ran through Istanbul. Thus the Orient Express, such as it was, remained the best overland passage to the mysterious east.
Except for Sally, there were no gawking tourists on the train; postwar rationing saw to that. As for Pierre and Jasmyn, Jake did not bother to count them at all. For all he saw of his friends, they might as well not have been on the train.
Under Harry Grisholm's persistent urgings, the time following Pierre and Jasmyn's wedding had passed in such feverish preparation that the newlyweds had managed only a single day on a secluded Riviera estate. After a half-dozen urgent messages had brought the couple home early, Pierre had declared to Harry and everyone else within range that a one-day honeymoon was like being led to the wedding banquet and being granted a single bite of dry toast. Although clearly pleased to be assigned a post near his friend, Pierre had boarded the train intent upon making up for time lost.
The fifth morning dawned as gray and wet as the previous four. As was his habit, Jake rose at first light and made his way to the dining car. These solitary breakfasts were his only chance to be outside their compartment without being surrounded by smoke and noise. A sleepy waiter took his order and left him alone.
Sometime during the night, the train had pulled into yet another nameless Yugoslav village and stopped. Around the red-brick station spread a small hamlet of ancient cottages. The village was surrounded by fields of grain bowed under the weight of unending rain. Jake smiled his thanks when the waiter brought his coffee. He took a first sip, unbuttoned his shirt pocket, drew out his small New Testament, and was soon lost in his study.
“May I join you?”
Jake's head popped up. A rather sheepish Pierre stood waiting patiently beside his table. Jake motioned to the seat across from him. “By all means.”
“What can you recommend?” The Frenchman slid into the leather-upholstered bench with a quiet sigh. “I regret to say that until now all my meals have been served in the compartment.”
“I've noticed.” His friend looked rested, but a little pale, and his voice sounded drained. “Everything is great.”
“Then that is precisely what I shall have,” Pierre said as the waiter approached. “A breakfast of everything.”
“Very good, sir.” The English waiter had the unshakable calm of one trained to handle the most difficult of passengers. “Eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, kippers, beans, and fried bread?”
“Nix on the beans and kippers,” Jake advised.
“As my friend suggests. And extra on whatever else you said,” Pierre amended. “As well as a pot of that coffee.”
“Right you are, sir.” The waiter turned and left.
Pierre turned his attention to the window. Outside, a group of Slavic dancers entertained on the platform, though it was
doubtful how many of the passengers were awake enough to enjoy the spectacle. Accordions and fiddles flew through ancient mountain melodies as the beribboned dancers gyrated and kicked their heels to incredible heights. Security was ominous and everywhere. The official police wore belted woolen overcoats with holstered pistols at their waists.
Pierre observed, “We are not moving.”
“We've been doing a lot of that,” Jake agreed.
Pierre rubbed the side of his face. “As I recall, we were supposed to arrive in Istanbul the night before last.”
“Yet this does not look much like Istanbul to me.”
“If it did,” Jake replied, “then somebody's managed to move the city about four hundred miles.”
“Ah.” Pierre examined the plate of scrambled eggs and toast that the waiter set down in front of Jake. “That does not look very substantial.”