Warning: This work has been rated 18+.
When he was almost out of earshot, Winslow heard a quiet, “God bless you too, sir.”
He stood in the wind for a moment, letting it run by his head with a sharp whistle and try to pull up his coat from its open flaps. Everything about the situation told Winslow to keep walking - that he should be satisfied with how far his good deed went. The words of people in the bull pen echoed in his ears when they talked about the people in the drunk tank.
His fathers words echoed, constantly being combated by his mother’s screams and his grandmother’s crying every time little Winslow was left in her house. As the past rushed by in a single moment, Winslow turned around to return contact with the soldier in the alleyway. Something about that voice made him turn around. The slightest bit of an accent mixed with a course smoker’s cough reminded him of someone he had met during the war.
“What’s your name soldier?” Winslow asked he offered his cigarette case to the sitting man.
Winslow took note of the tattered combat jacket - more worn by the street conditions than the obviously mended bullet holes in the sleeves. On the inside pocket, this man wore a case with attached awards and badges, exactly in the style that Winslow had seen many Great War veterans do. The Combat Infantry Badge was an unmistakable glinting rifle next to the rough, unpolished figure of George Washington. And it wasn’t surprising that an Infantryman would care more about something unique to them, rather than a Purple Heart. It was still glorious and honorable in its own right, but still clearly not the same.
Taking a cigarette from the case and pulling a lighter from a dirty pocket, the man answered, “Sergeant Major Applebaum, sir.”
As the soldier sat up further, memories of meeting a platoon with members of the First Special Service Force quickly rushed back to Winslow. He had gone a party in Italy (with a little bit of encouragement from his partner) and they had been introduced to other members of the OSS. Those gatherings had always been odd occurrences, a collection of spies placed in the same room and trying to make conversation about anything but the war.
There came another cough from the seated soldier as he said, “Detective Smith, if you would kindly get into the Plymouth down the block, a mutual friend would like to have a conversation with you.”
Sergeant Applebaum brought himself up slowly, leaning on a properly worn cane. He noted the collection of carvings that ran up and down the sides with markings of places the man had been. Some were foreign airport call signs while others were nearby postal codes. Winslow couldn’t tell quite how far the disguise went, but he hoped that the sergeant hadn’t been pushed into the same state as others. Reginald wasn’t the best command agent in history and had little integrity at times, but he was a good enough man to treat his operatives fairly.
“Would our mutual friend be a certain foreign agent named Reginald Smith?”
Applebaum didn’t comment. He simply guided Winslow down the street to the waiting Army-green Plymouth De Luxe sedan. The detective had to keep himself from laughing at the color of the car with a wondering for what federal mechanics lot Reggie must have stolen it off of. Before Winslow even sat down, he had lit a cigarette and was prepared to blow the smoke right into the agent’s face.
Without missing a single beat, Reggie met him with a chipper voice by saying, “Good morning, Winslow. I do hope that you had a series of happy holidays since your early retirement.”
The British agent was dressed in pale gray and distinctly Italian suit that matched perfectly to the place in the War Room that he had accepted. When he glanced down to the slick, black leather shoes, the detective spotted a bit of mud. And as his eyes turned to the shoe on the left, he happened to notice a few droplets of blood soaking into Reggie’s socks.
Winslow tried not to think too much about who Reggie had probably killed this morning, focusing instead on a singular peacock feather in the band of the man’s fedora. He was glad to see that the agent had maintained the dramatic and mysterious elements that had been so present in their meetings during the war. This car wasn’t quite as dimly lit as the one Reggie had parked sideways on the Avenue of the Americas on a fateful Wednesday.
“Well, Reggie, I’m not even going to try and be polite about it. You’ve obviously been keeping an eye on me, so you obviously know what a terrible time I’ve been having.”
The agent shifted a bit in his seat, their trousers rubbing against each other as they sat side by side, and Reggie tried to wiggle away. There had been patrols of people nearby Winslow’s dim residence, but he had blamed it on his constant paranoia. Now with the discovery of Sergeant Applebaum in the alleyway, Winslow’s anger was boiling in his chest. He slowly recovered to a cooler state, once again smoking his cigarette with the window cracked, and waiting to see what revelation his friend would propose this time.
Reggie’s hand had to moved resting gently between their thighs and Winslow could see a hint of tears in his eyes. Like their last meeting, this one was causing some sort of deep emotional response for the British agent. And this conclusion was confirmed as Reggie said, “I’m not here to call you back into service.”
There was a pause as the agent’s voice broke while saying, “I know…I know that you wouldn’t survive it if I even called you back for a desk job. But I am here to ask a favor.”
Winslow took out his own handkerchief, pushing it into Reggie’s palm and asked, “What sort of favor do you need?”
As he watched the agent dry his eyes in the tense moment, Winslow presumed that Reggie had come here to ask him to kill someone. It wouldn’t be the first time Winslow had been enjoying a relatively happy existence and been called off to a death match. And if his connections carried on the way that they always did, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“If you discover certain things about the Johnson murder, things relating to national security…”
The agent had quickly trailed off, wiping his eyes once more before folding the handkerchief back into a neat square. In this form, it was far neater than the piece of cloth that Winslow had thrust into his palm, and for a moment he missed the young, Lieutenant John Smith that he had met in 1936.
Things had been far simpler for them then.
“What about them, Reggie?” Winslow asked amid the silence of holding his hand over the handkerchief in Reggie’s. Their fingertips touched just enough to be friendly and neither withdrew, even with Reggie’s answer of:
“I’ll need you to ignore them in your report.”
It would be hard for Winslow to break that code.