By Jeb, and Cordelia
The conductor leaned forward just an inch or so further than was necessary. But what red-blooded man could pass up such a view? It took a lot of concentration to keep one eye on the bauble lying on the carpet, when both eyes were straining to follow the expanse of alabaster thigh that had just been exposed to him. He blinked his eyes as the train’s swaying motion cracked his head against the wall.
“Here it is, Madame.” Staggering back to his feet against the roll of the train and dizziness from the blow, he dropped the earring into the lazily-outstretched palm. The blonde’s eyes were a clear blue that, for a moment, came alive with a sparkle that told the conductor that he was, quite simply, the only man on this train. “May I offer madame any other service, perhaps?” His watery eyes were trying to find some way to make the ogling of her bosom seem a professional courtesy.
My God. These Frenchmen. Katrina Scheude let him have just a fraction of a smile. Took you long enough. She’d been on the verge of attempting some other distraction when he’d finally found the damn thing where she’d dropped it for him.
“Merci, monsieur.” She paused, as though thinking. “Well, there is just one… tiny thing.” The pout was small and practiced. “It has been rather noisy out here-- you know, so much coming and going.” She lowered her voice. “Would it be too much trouble to ask that the other passengers go around the other side of the corridor, instead of tramping back and forth here? A girl needs her ‘beauty sleep’, you know.”
“Oh, no trouble at all, madame!” the man stammered. “Why, I can simply put out the housecleaning signs, and you will find yourself quite undisturbed.” His voice sank to an insinuating murmur. “Only a conductor may ignore those signs.”
You lecherous bastard. Christ, they’re all the same. “Oh, would you? That would be so helpful.” It took a modest application of her skills to extricate herself from the conversation without commitment or invitation, but at last the man turned and left.
It was worth it, though. No disturbances. She opened the polished wooden door to the small private suite, closed it behind her, and leaned back against it, arms crossed.
“He’s gone. And he’s going to make sure we’re not disturbed.”
The two occupants of the car relaxed at that. The big man with the cruelly-smiling face and the small black pistol settled back into the plush seat; the woman on the floor in front of him sagged in dejection.
“How’s our guest?” Katrina’s words dripped with amusement.
“Funny... hasn’t got a lot to say for herself.” The man barked a laugh. “In fact, she hasn’t said a word,” and he threw back his head in a horselaugh. Katrina only gave a wintry smile; even if the woman on the floor had found the joke funny, however, she couldn’t even have managed that.
As Katrina went to the wet bar to mix herself a drink, she glanced casually down at the suite’s silent occupant.
She was a young woman, in her mid-twenties. Her eyes were big and brown, and at present pretty much dominated a face that almost disappeared below the nose: a wide white cloth was wrapped tightly around her head, and from the obvious bulge below it, appeared to be holding something large in the young woman’s mouth.
As it happened, it was a large linen table napkin that now filled Jeanne Thorne’s mouth, pressing down on her tongue and nearly choking her. The frilly strip of white curtain that held it in place tickled her under her nose, and left her continually in danger of sneezing into her packed mouth. Her stiff white steward’s uniform was bunched up around her body by the thin cord binding her tightly. Unable to move, unable to speak, all she could do was to let her bound form roll with the train’s motion, and reflect on how she’d got into this situation.
The memorandum from Helms had been clear enough:
Katrina Scheude. German-born, American raised. Known to have run a series of houses of ill repute in her adopted home state of Maryland. Fled Baltimore ahead of morals charges in 1938, returning to her native Germany. Once there, she resumed her old profession, becoming the Third Reich’s principal procuress and madam, hosting parties feting many top Nazi officials.
With the fall of Berlin, she has disappeared. Authorities are searching for her, seeking to interrogate her for knowledge of the current whereabouts of high-ranking former Nazi officials. Collaboration charges also a possibility.
It is presumed that she is seeking not only safe haven from prosecution, but access to the stores of looted Nazi riches to whose location she may well be privy.
Katrina Scheude stands 5’6", with blue eyes and long blond hair; be aware, though, that she often travels in disguise, employing hair dye, wigs, and masking her features.
She is known to be in the company of one Boris Palinkov, ex-White Russian officer, and Nazi collaborator.
Jeanne had memorized the memo-- she’d had enough opportunity, having originally typed it for the meeting Helms and Donovan had on the subject of fraulein Scheude. After setting the paper on the big mahogany desk, Jeanne had remained in her usual stance of attention, waiting for the casual dismissal that usually followed immediately. Instead, she found herself the object of intense scrutiny from the crusty old general.
Helms seemed to have to look twice to recall.
"This is Corporal Jeanne Thorne. Key member of the steno pool."
"Hmph." Donovan grunted. "Never have taken her for a typist. Looks more like one of those girls in the tight uniforms that were hovering over me the whole train trip out here..."
Donovan’s voice trailed off... and Jeanne found herself being closely examined by the two wily spymasters...
which is how she happened to find herself on her first real assignment: undercover, posing as a hostess on this train. Simple reconnaissance, she’d been told. She was to watch for possible signs that Scheude might have a confederate somewhere among the train’s staff, preparing for the elusive madame to board the train in Paris...but if Katrina isn’t boarding until Paris, Jeanne wondered, then who were the rather slinky blonde and the huge Russian-accented man who had been on the train since Vienna? She supposed it could be coincidence, of course... but if intelligence had it wrong, if this, in fact, was Scheude and Palinkov, then they might well slip right through the allies’ net.
But what if she was wrong? Which would be worse-- to follow orders and let them escape? Or to report a pair of harmless travelers as wanted criminals? THAT would get her back to the steno pool faster than anything. No, before she decided what to do, she needed to confirm her suspicions. She looked nervously out the window at the Zurich station, knowing that this was where she was to get off and report. But if I get off now, what do I report? That she’s here? She’s not? And as the train shuddered to life again, it began to roll toward Paris, with Jeanne praying she’d not just made a terrible mistake.
She’d been sure the big man and the blonde were still in the dining car when she’d slipped out. They must have been watching her, and returned to their suite before she got there. But how could they have known…? She doubted she’d get an answer to that. Instead, she had thought herself unobserved, with plenty of time to work, as she made her way to their suite. There would be sure to be evidence of their identities there… and weeks of working undercover on this rolling hotel would finally pay off!
She slid the stolen skeleton key quietly into the lock, and used the pressure of her fingertips to push open the door into the darkened suite. She took one glance back down the corridor, reached for her pocket flashlight…
And the lights came on.
“Ahhh!” Jeanne managed one gasp of astonishment as her eyes blinked madly against the sudden glare. She tried to throw an arm across her face to shield her eyes when she felt thick, strong fingers clamp down on it and pull it savagely behind her back.
Training! Her mind screamed at her. Remember--
But it was useless. Nothing had prepared her to be dragged, half-blinded, into a small room by two strong pairs of hands. She was still trying to blink the tears from her eyes when a slender palm went across her mouth; its mate pressed the back of her head, the tension between the two keeping her mouth muffled.
One of the assailants kicked the back of her legs, sending her stumbling to the floor, as the other slammed the door closed behind them. Jeanne was crushed beneath a hulking figure, holding her in place by dint of his superior weight, as she heard a popping sound: the drape cords had been ripped from the windows, and were now being wrapped about her wrists, crossed and held behind her back; the braided cord was thin and bit evilly into her skin. She tried to bite the palm over her mouth, but the pressure on her lips was too great to get her teeth on it.
Jeanne squirmed, trying to slide her body from under the man who was binding her. She felt the purloined uniform bunching and tearing, and perspiration added to the tears already in her eyes. If the man’s guttural laugh was any indication, he was quite enjoying his struggle with the flailing, writhing, shapely form beneath him. He was clearly not putting pleasure ahead of business, though-- he bound her with a cruel competence. Not stopping with her wrists, he used more of the tight cord to trap her upper arms, pulling them so painfully close together that her arms and hands were little more than a single useless limb. He then fastened them tight to her torso, the cord disarranging her uniform in a fashion that earned an admiring, infuriating, chuckle from the brute, reinforcing his lewd attentions by fondling her legs in a deliberate fashion as he bound them tightly at the ankles, and above and below the knees.
Arms useless. Legs trapped. Only one thing left. Jeanne sagged for a moment, feeling the grip on her head relax. Suddenly, she snapped her head back as far as she could, raising her face like a drowning swimmer gasping for air. For an instant, the hand over her mouth slid away, and she put all the breath she could manage into a gasping shriek. She felt the slender hands scrabbling to regain their purchase on her mouth, as she flailed her head.
“Get something to shut her up.” Female voice. Cool. Deadly. The blonde. Miss Scheude, no doubt. Jeanne’s brain was still trying to process information, though it was beginning to look as though it would do her little good, if any; in fact, survival now far outweighed information in her hierarchy of priorities.
The hands had once more stopped her mouth. There were more tearing sounds. Jeanne felt the thick, white dinner napkin yanked from her pocket. The hands left her head, but before she could even gasp in a recovering breath, slender fingers tangled in her hair, the dark brown tresses coming undone from their bun and spilling around her as her head was yanked backwards. She tasted sizing as the linen invaded her mouth, pushed past her lips by the woman’s fingers, demonstrating a competence at least the equal of her partner’s. She jammed the cloth in as far as she might; the gag was not only muffling, but so close to choking her that it discouraged Jeanne from even attempting to cry out. Not satisfied, though, the woman ripped a strip from the curtains, and bound the mouth-filling wad in place, tying the gag off behind Jeanne’s head.
With swift, brutal strength, the man turned her around and threw her back against the wall of the suite, alongside the day bed. She sat on the floor, looking up at her captors, moist eyes glaring above the gag, anger-mottled face framed by loose tendrils of glossy dark hair.
The man was seated, now, holding a small black automatic in his hand, regarding their captive. The woman stood up, smoothing the dress she had wrinkled in the struggle to bind and gag the prisoner. The only sound in the room was the huge breaths Jeanne was trying to force past through her nose, already running from the tears and the pain.
And then, another sound. Outside. In the corridor – a voice. The conductor! Had he heard her one attempt to call for help? If only she could –
“Not a sound.” The man slid the barrel of the pistol behind her ear as his companion stepped to the door.
“I’ll get rid of him,” the blonde growled. She addressed Jeanne for the first time. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll just stay nice and quiet. We can tie you a good deal tighter and more uncomfortably if we have to.” And she smiled, as if she thought that might be no bad thing, and stepped out into the corridor.
Dare I take a chance? Jeanne dismissed the idea instantly. What chance? I’m held at gunpoint, bound and gagged. She could only tug uselessly at the ropes as she listened to the little comedy being played out in the corridor.
And now, the blonde was back. She sipped her drink, set it aside, knelt down, and Jeanne felt manicured nails dig into her cheeks as Katrina took her face in one hand. The cool blue eyes seemed more amused than angered by Jeanne’s interference. She reached to the strip of cloth bound about the girl’s mouth. She nodded toward the gun and raised an eyebrow in warning… then pulled down the cloth and yanked the napkin from Jeanne’s mouth.
“Now, my pretty little snoop… let’s hear your story.”
“You won’t get away with this,” Jeanne croaked. “When my friends--”
She was cut off by the sharp impact of a small white palm with her cheek; she could feel the hand-shaped mark reddening.
“Your friends think you got off before we crossed the border. No one knows that you are here.” At Jeanne’s gasp of pain and surprise, the blonde went on. “Oh, we’ve had our eyes on you for a few days now…” she passed an insinuating caress over Jeanne’s burning cheek “…so if you know what’s good for you, you won’t do anything to… annoy me.” The blue eyes were dull gray ice now.
“What are you going to do with me?” Jeanne tried for bravado, but had the sinking feeling she’d fallen well short of it.
“Well, that depends.” The woman ran fingers through her captive’s distressed coiffure. “We can’t leave you here to report us to the authorities. You come along with us like a good girl, and you get off easy – maybe we just ship you in a crate to a flesh merchant in Istanbul.” The fingers lazily toyed with Jeanne’s hair. “You play any games… and you”ll wind up someplace far, far worse.”
Jeanne swallowed hard, but drew herself up as erect as she could, under the circumstances. Some instinct told her that revealing herself as OSS would only make things worse. “You don’t scare me!” She hoped the lie was less transparent than it felt. “I’ll see you both in prison where you belong!”
The blue eyes dimmed to a cold frost, and the blonde stood up. She went to the door of the suite, turned and addressed her partner.
The man’s meaty paw clamped down on the top of Jeanne’s head like a vise, and the room spun as he rocked her head back. One gasp was all she managed before the thick linen pad was back in her mouth. He forced her head down and deftly wound the strip of curtain around her head, this time yanking back so it cut into the corners of her mouth instead of covering it, wedging the napkin even more tightly.
Katrina observed Jeanne’s gagging with coolly professional interest; evidently satisfied, she opened the door, and left the room. When she returned, she had the air of a woman well satisfied with the way things had gone.
“It’s all arranged.” She stood over Jeanne now, hands on her hips, upon her lips the smile of the bright child who has given the teacher the answer no one else could come up with.
“I informed my favorite conductor that I had not found an opportunity to have my things laundered…” her smile widened…”including my… ‘unmentionables’.” The memory of the man’s watery eyes popping caused her smile to widen further. “I told him, of course, how… sensitive… I am about my personal things, and asked if there might not be some way I could be allowed to get my things to our destination without anyone else having to handle them.
“And what do you know? At this moment, waiting right outside our suite is a large laundry hamper. Very large,” she added, sending an appraising look over Jeanne’s trussed form. “It will permit us to take all our luggage with us. No prying eyes, no inquisitive ears… and then, we can continue this conversation at our leisure.” She reached down and ran a nail along the crease in Jeanne’s cheek made by the gag. “What do you think? Fancy becoming a piece of my luggage?” Jeanne tried not to give her the satisfaction of reacting, but she felt the shudder all through her bound form, and knew her captor saw it too. Katrina’s wolfish grin grew broader, and she gave another stroke to Jeanne’s cheek, then stood up, opened the door to the suite at such an angle that the helpless girl could not be seen from the corridor, and wheeled the large laundry hamper inside.
Now, Jeanne fought. Now that it was too late… now that her struggles had no more effect than to amuse her captors further… she fought. Wriggling, writhing, struggling, she was lifted into the air by the man’s powerful hands. Poised, just before being dropped inside, Jeanne came face to face with Katrina, holding the lid. The look of casual triumph on the blonde’s face was so dispiriting that Jeanne barely struggled any further as she was thrown in among the linens, and saw the lid snap closed above her. In a few moments, the motion of the train stopped, and she felt the cart begin to roll forward. Her attempts to move were inhibited by the other laundry all about her; all the piles of cloth muffled her gagged screams, as well. She had no idea how long she could stand being inside the stifling hamper… but she knew she faced far worse once they took her out of it.