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  • Writer's pictureJames Sargent

Danger on the Rails

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Blog from Frightened Physicists, Chapter 4, “Train to Philadelphia,” pages 59-60

January 18, 2023

In the summer of 1945, Mickey Mathews, novelist and onetime star athlete for Michigan Normal College’s Class of ‘33, and his best friend Frank Tuttle, the former 30-year Army officer, traveled by train to Buffalo, New York, from Washington, DC, with two beautiful women whose husbands, both physicists, have been charged by the FBI with selling atomic secrets to the Russians. Mickey and Frank need to find the physicists and determine why they are frightened. As they ride the train traveling to Philadelphia, on the way to Buffalo, it appears two FBI agents, and perhaps two foreign agents, are tailing them:

Mickey studied the senior agent, who seemed around age forty. His hair was sandy blond and close-cropped. Stocky, he was about Mickey’s size. He could have been a businessman. To Mickey, it didn’t matter. If he and Debbie, who looked like Carol, were being shadowed, it meant the FBI hoped to follow them and find George Jensen. Regardless, Mickey planned to ditch the tails at Philadelphia’s Thirtieth Street Station.

Ironically, just as he was thinking about their plans, two large men in brown suits entered from the vestibule behind them. They moved partway up the aisle. Stopping for a few moments, they surveyed the passengers in the coach. Seeing them, Mickey knew in a flash they were dangerous. The aura of death stood with them. When the duo turned around, they couldn’t help but observe the casually-dressed passenger next to the good-looking blonde. Although the men looked at him briefly, the dark eyes Mickey fathomed belonged to predators dressed in suits.

Both shifted their eyes to Debbie for a longer look. Watching, Mickey felt the muscles in his arms tighten. Hair stood on the back of his neck. His mind said act, but the men in brown suits turned and shuffled up the aisle. Each was carrying a duffel bag.

The pair was dark-featured, stocky, and close to six feet tall. They walked slowly like two bears shuffling in the woods. They look European, the Flint native thought, maybe Russian. Perhaps subconsciously, he leaned down and touched the ankle holster, making sure his pistol was in place.

Seeing the gesture, Debbie squeezed his left hand. He felt her hand trembling. Her blue eyes were open wide with awe. After a few seconds, she whispered, “Can those be the Russian agents Carol saw?”

As the train banked into a curve and the electric engine rumbled louder, Mickey watched the two men sit down in the two front seats on the left. “They can be, but maybe not … What are the odds a pair of FBI agents and a pair of Russian agents ending up on the same train at the same time with us?”

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