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.
A stout 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 stow-away intently.
As the steam engine puffed on, two other men jumped from the passenger car and followed the stowaway. In a blink of an eye, they pulled out their guns and shot the man.
The man continued to stare at the unfolding scene before him. The two regular Joes searched the corpse and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. The man quickly hid behind the wall to avoid being spotted. He risked a peek out the window and saw the two men walking away.
The man waited until the killers were out of range before hurrying outside to the unfortunate soul. Much to his surprise, the young thirty-ish man was still alive. The elder carried him inside his house and gently laid him down on the sofa. The agonizing man grappled his shirt and pulled him closer to his mouth where he whispered a message. He instructed him to call a number and to give the code ‘Zebra 285 dash 10 dash 2 dash 1600’ to the voice on the other end without asking questions. Then his grip slowly loosened and his eyes rolled back in his head before he heaved his last breath.
The man searched for any identification on the dead man’s person and when he didn’t find any, he suspected the killers had already stripped him of his ID. With talks of codes, it slowly dawned on him that the man might be an undercover agent. He went to the phone and dialed the number he was given, which was Oscar Goldman’s private line.
“Yes, Hammond!” an anxious Oscar answered, practically yanking the receiver off the hook.
“Ah I’m sorry but unfortunately your mister Hammond met with a tragic end,” informed the man with a pronounced German accent.
“Who is this?” Oscar asked curtly, his eyes darting between Steve and Rudy sitting in front of his desk.
“ My name is of no consequence at the moment. Let’s just say I’m an innocent bystander who just happened to have stumbled upon a murder. Your mister Hammond gave me a message before he died.”
“What’s the message?” Oscar quickly reached for a pen and paper and beckoned Steve to listen in on the other line.
“Ah, ah! Not so fast there mister. It’s clear you want the information and I’m most willing to make a trade.”
“ Mister, who the hell you are, this is a matter of national security. You are in possession of crucial information that could prevent a major disaster,” Oscar stressed, speaking with bitter resentment.
“I’m quite aware of that,” the man replied with a smudge of sarcasm. “I also know that you are part of a powerful government who can get me safe passage to your country.”
Oscar gestured a code to Steve to dial another line.
“Yes, Danny, this is Steve Austin. Can you trace the call on Oscar’s private line right now? Thanks.”
“Where are you calling from?” Oscar asked.
“Heidelberg, Germany, and I want out of here.”
“Why not just hop on a plane?”
“I’m a political prisoner on probation. I am not allowed to flee my country, but I’m sure your government can work out an arrangement with the German authorities in order to retrieve their precious code?”
“How do we know you’re indeed in possession of that code?”
“It starts with an animal and it’s followed by 9 digit numbers.”
Oscar and Steve exchanged worried looks.
“Alright. What’s your name and where can we reach you?” Oscar asked with an annoyed sigh.
“My name is Fritz Schroeder and you can reach me, well I think you already traced the call, didn’t you?”
Oscar glanced up at Steve who was on the other line with Danny. He nodded back at Oscar.
“Yes we did. Okay Mr. Schroeder. I’ll give word to my superiors and we’ll be in touch.”
“Don’t wait too long. I have a feeling you need this code in a hurry. In the meantime, what do I do with the body?”
“We’ll send some of our men to retrieve it.”
“By the way, who am I speaking to?”
“Oscar Goldman, I’m the director of the Office of Scientific Investigation.”
“Well Mister Goldman, no funny business or you’ll never get that code.” He hung up the phone and carved a devilish grin.
“Oscar you’re not seriously thinking of extraditing this man?”
“We don’t have a choice Steve! We need the code that will provide us with the location, date and time where the bomb is set to go off,” Oscar stressed.
“Perhaps there’s a simplier way to retrieve the code?” Steve suggested.
“How? Hammond was the sole agent dispatched to infiltrate the German terrorist group. It’s obvious they discovered his guise and silenced him. Besides we don’t have the time”
“What makes you so sure that once in America he won’t give you a false code?”
“I don’t, but my hands are tied.” Oscar picked up the phone and asked to be put through the Secretary of Defense.