No horizon. Earth and sky dissolve into one brittle cold, gray dome.
Small man stands at the gate, stomps his feet, stares down the runway. No sign of the plane. Already thirty minutes late. Turning, he retreats quickly into the shelter of the terminal.
No ETA announcement from the lone airline agent. Three people; the man, the agent, a bartender behind a small bar.
The middle aged, neatly dressed gentleman looks once more outside then turns, and walks slowly to the bar. He orders slivovitz. The bartender, a thirtyish, stocky, but not homely woman slides the drink across the bar.
“Sure you don’t want two? I’m going to close the bar after the plane lands. If it wasn’t late I would have closed already.”
“That’s a good idea. Please have one for yourself and put it on my bill.”
“Danke,” she answers with a smile. “What brings you to this little place? It’s not exactly a tourist center.”
“No, I’m just meeting someone for business. Tomorrow I’m back to civilization.”
“Pardon me, but you look like a man who’s retired.”
“Well, I am actually. I do a little job here and there just to keep the blood flowing.”
Retired indeed. Seventy years old, five years from his last day at the agency. Forty years in research and analysis processing reports from field agents. They were mostly routine data about enemy movements or intentions. Occasionally, something exciting stirred his imagination. The thought of being a field agent, a spy, was titillating. The excitement, intrigue, danger seemed appealing. But the thrill soon wore off and he was back to processing.
He takes an infrequent courier job to make a little money and pretend to be an agent. The jobs are simple, but whatever he’s handling is important. He’s told two things. One, he doesn’t need to know the contents. If he did and was arrested, he might be coerced into telling what he knew. Two, be very discreet, blend into the background, do nothing to draw attention to him or his contact. He doesn’t have to be told that. He’s been in the business all his working life and certainly knows that survival depends on invisibility. At one hundred fifty pounds and a bit under five feet seven he doesn’t stand out.
“How about you? Are you from here?”
“No, I’m from the south, Bavaria, a village outside of Munich. I came up here just to see what it’s like. My name is Emma.”
“I’m Frank. Do you like it here?”
“Nein, sehr kalt, very cold.”
“Yes. We better have another drink, just to keep the cold out. You too, my treat.”
“Danke. Du bist die moisten art, very kind.”
Thirty minutes later the agent comes around the corner. “The plane is on final. It’ll be landing in five minutes.”
He stands and walks to the door. He can see the landing lights of the incoming plane. Within minutes the plane was down and at the gate. Eight passengers deplane and the pilot shuts down the two engines. They hurry through the wire fence gate and directly into a small waiting bus. The pilot strides into the bar looking around. Seeing only the courier and bartender he takes a stool next to the little man.
“What delayed you?”
“Icing. We couldn’t take off until they cleared the ice off the wings.”
“Well, glad you made it. I don’t see my friend, so I’m going to head back to the hotel. Maybe he’ll come in on the morning plane. Emma, give this man a drink. He deserves it flying on the night like this.”
“Thanks. I’ll have whatever whiskey you’re pouring.”
As Emma turns toward the whiskey bottles on the back wall, the pilot pulls a small package out of his pocket and exchanges it quickly for the envelope the little man slips into his coat pocket.
When Emma sits the drink on the shiny bar surface the pilot grabs and drains it in one gulp. “I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ve been up for nearly twenty hours and I’ve got the first flight out in the morning.” Nodding to the bartender he turns and leaves.
Emma wipes the bar top and begins to close for the night.
“How do I get a taxi,” he asks.
“Too late. There aren’t any more flights, so there won’t be any taxis.”
“Can I call for one?”
“No, they won’t come just for you. I’ll give you a ride. My car is in back of the terminal.”
“That’s very kind. I appreciate it.”
“Not a problem. I owe you for the drinks.”
The airline agent turns off most of the lights in the terminal. Walking past them she says, “Please lock up Emma. I have to get home. It’s very late. My husband will be worried.”
“I’ll take care of it. You just go home to that handsome husband. If you leave him alone too long he might find some other amusement,” she teases.
Emma turns off the lights at the bar and motions him toward the door. Stepping outside into the bitter cold night, she shivers as she locks the door. A Volkswagen is parked just a few feet from the door. Unlocking it she gets behind the wheel and reaches over to open the passenger door. “Get in. I’ll turn the heater on. It’s like an icebox in here.”
Quickly she starts the engine and in a few seconds turns on the heater. It isn’t much help. At least, they’re out of the wind. Pulling out of the parking lot she turns the little car to the right and heads for the hotel about a half mile away.
“I could have walked it if it wasn’t so cold.”
“You’d freeze in a hundred meters.”
As they approach the small hotel, more like an inn, he says, “Would you like to come in for a final drink; that is if you don’t have a handsome husband waiting for you?”
She laughs. “No, no one is waiting for me. I have time for a drink. It doesn’t matter when I get home.”
“Good, pull into the back. My room is just a couple doors from the back entrance.”
Once inside he produces a bottle of slivovitz. “This is the best thing on a cold night.”
One drink leads to two and soon they’re both warm and relaxed. When he hands her the second glass she touches his hand and doesn’t let go. “You are so nice, such a gentleman. What did you do before you retired?”
“I worked in a research and consulting company.”
“What type of research?”
“We collected data on various companies and published reports on them.”
“That sounds interesting. You must be very smart. I imagine I could learn a lot if I spent time with you.”
“You are very sweet and quite pretty. Would you like a lesson now?”
An hour later she takes his arm off her chest and nudges him. He doesn’t move. The alcohol and the exercise have put him into a deep snoring sleep. Slowly, she rises from the bed and dresses. Crossing the room to where he hung his jacket she reaches in and takes out his wallet. The only light comes from the parking lot. She thinks, What a fool; has his retirement card from MI6 in his wallet. Turning to his overcoat and feeling for something solid, she locates the small package the pilot had given him. She can feel it contains two rolls of film. Taking a switch blade knife from her purse she starts to open the package.
“Emma, what are you doing?”
She spins around to see him sitting up in bed. “Just looking for some matches. I wanted a cigarette. Just what you need after making love.”
“I didn’t think you smoked,” he said,
“Relax, liebchen,” she laughs, throwing a pillow over his face and jumping on it. He fights her weight. She flips open the knife and thrusts it expertly between his ribs into his heart, the little man stops struggling.
She pulls the blade out and wipes the blood on the sheet. Picking up her large purse, she drops the knife, his wallet and film package into it next to her small Luger and steps quickly, quietly out the door.