Rumbling cattle wagons pulled by a steam train gathered speed again as it completed the turn through the town. It continued to descend further eastward in the Urals, through dark shadowy forests.
A young solitary figure leapt from the accelerating train as it passed, but did not slow, at the empty starkly light platform.
An middle-aged man withdrew from a grimy window in an opposite alley, which surveyed the scene. He rose with difficulty and threw another log on the fire, poured himself another drink, contemplating the glass, before glimpsing back out to watch the former stowaway intently.
The figure wend his way through the long-stem wheat field toward the brownstone little house. Before he could have a chance to knock, the man opened the door.
Both fell into a friendly hug, patting each other on the back and laughing hysterically. “Well, come on in!” Oscar ushered Rudy inside his humble dwelling, a small one-bedroom house furnished with the bare essentials for comfort. There were no television sets, radio, phone or major appliances of any kind that could establish a link with the outside world. Oscar looked unkempt, sporting a three-day beard and dressed in a half-open rumpled exotic shirt and torn up jeans.
“Oscar, you look like hell!” Rudy remarked with disgust.
“Really? I feel good,” Oscar replied apathetically. “Perhaps you should have phoned first,” he chaffed with a wink. “Want something to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
Oscar quaffed down his drink. “Well don’t mind if I indulge myself?”
“Go right ahead.” Rudy cast an eye over the barely-furnished room and shook his head in disbelief. He had trouble fathoming Oscar out. In the last six months following the trial verdict Oscar had gone from visionary statesman to hermit. A leap off a cliff that took his friends by surprise, crushing their spirits rather than his own. “Oscar, you’re living at the end of the universe.”
“And I like it.” Oscar uncorked a beer and drank out of the bottle. “You sure you don’t want one?” he asked by holding out the bottle in front of Rudy.
“No thanks, really.”
“Sit down, Rudy. Make yourself to home.”
Rudy frowned at Oscar’s colloquial language, a trait that had been alien to his character until he came to reside in this reclusive part of the world.
Oscar took another swig of beer. “Rudy, since when do you hop down moving trains? Couldn’t afford a ticket?” he teased.
“I didn’t want anyone to follow me.”
“So nobody knows you’re here?”
“Why are you here, Rudy?” he asked earnestly.
“I came to bring you back to Washington.”
A mocking grin crossed Oscar’s face as he leaned against the back of his chair. “Never Rudy, not after what they did to Steve.”
“I’m here to tell you they’ve absolved Steve of all charges.”
Oscar’s grin changed into a frown as he bent forward to stare into Rudy’s eyes. “What?”
“The real traitor was exposed. He’s been sentenced to twenty years.”
“Who found him?”
“Steve. He set out to clear his name and by the same occasion convince you to resume your functions.”
“They redressed the grievance. So Steve is free?”
Rudy heaved a deep sigh and with bleary eyes, informed bluntly, “Oscar, Steve is dead.”
Oscar sat transfixed by the news that struck him like a lightning bolt.
“He died last month. I wanted to tell you but I couldn’t locate you.”
Oscar gulped to catch his breath and exhaled, “How?”
“He was on his way back to Washington with the proof of his innocence when…when his plane exploded in mid-air.”
“Accident?” Oscar surmised.
Rudy shook his head.
“I didn’t think so.”
“They wanted to destroy the incriminating evidence but little did they know, Steve had made copies of the documents and sent folders to high-ranking government officials, senators and even me.”
Tears suffused in Oscar’s eyes. He felt disembodied. Events were appearing in slow motion. He heaved himself up and slouched to the kitchen sink to vomit.
Rudy bolted to him and rubbed his back. “Oscar, I’m so sorry you had to find out this way.”
Oscar wiped his mouth clean and leered at Rudy. “This wouldn’t be a ruse to get be back to Washington?”
“Oscar, I wouldn’t jive you about something like that!” Rudy rebuked. He was appalled by Oscar’s insinuation.
“Steve dead. I can’t believe it.”
“It was his wish that you’d come back to Washington.” He placed his hand on top of Oscar’s shoulder to give emphasis to his plea. “Please Oscar, come back home. We’re all waiting for you.”
Once Oscar agreed to follow Rudy back to Washington, they walked to the nearest phone booth to contact Callahan and have her sent an army helicopter to come pick them up.