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​On A Mission

The Hollow Man Series    |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

The electric commuter train pulled into the station, screeching to a halt with a flushing hiss. I scanned the crowd from the coach window for any sign of trouble before moving toward the door. Those waiting to board reminded me of wartime migration ahead of an advancing army. They were impatient, discontented, defeated, watching me hungrily poised on the top step of the open carriage until I stepped down. Low voices accompanied by the rumble of dragging suitcases and scraping cardboard boxes along the concrete followed me as I walked away.  

The overhead canopy cast the platform in shadow. The late morning sun poked around the edges desperately, but the mass of travelers blocked every attempt to let even a thin slice shine through. It took some time for my eyes to adjust from shades of gray back to full Technicolor.

Fort Meade had given me a vague description of the woman I was to intercept; red dress, dark hair, carrying a small black satchel. I knew better than to ask what was in the case. I wasn’t even certain I wanted to know. My orders were clear. Confront the woman before she got on the afternoon train, retrieve the case, and stop anyone who stood in my way.

She would probably arrive barely in time to hop the last car as the train started to roll out of the station, so I had an hour or more to wait. Inside the ticket office, I grabbed a bag of crisps and an orange Fanta from the machines and waited on the platform where I could see the entry door.

At 12:45 pm, two tour buses pulled up in front of the station to drop off eighty tourists who held tickets from Saint-Tropez to god knew where. Sweaty, Hawaiian-shirted Americans overran the small platform staging area. Cigarette smoke hazed the air above their heads. It burned my eyes, making it difficult to tell the difference between noisy men and their agitated wives. I felt the heat coming off the tourists. I moved to a pillar closer to the platform entrance, searching for the dark-haired woman wearing a red dress.

I checked my watch; time was running out. I heard the rattle of train wheels in the distance. Where was she? Suddenly, I saw her. A tall, slender woman in a bright red dress that clung to her curves was deliberately weaving her way through the crush of people, a black satchel bouncing against her hip.

I stepped from the far side of a pillar to block her path, a hand already reaching for my gun. She glanced up at me. Her eyes went from annoyance to confusion. She tried to step around, but I kept her in front of me. I let go of the gun in my jacket to grab her arm.

"You're coming with me," I said. Before she could respond. "Give me the case."

“You don’t understand….” She whispered.

She hesitated, her eyes flickering with fear. I could see the moment she made her decision; she reached for her bag, but I was faster. I snatched at it, my heart racing as I felt the weight of it in my hand. It was heavier that it looked.

I sensed a weight on my shoulder before I understood what it was. A hand spun me as I reached for my gun,  but it was too late. A fist connected with my jaw, sending me crashing to the ground.