A cab drops me off at Hotel Zentrum; I check in and take the stairs to room 221. The bed is tempting, but I resist the temptation and reach for the phone as I flip through my wrinkled notebook, looking for a number.
“Ingrid, how are you?”
“Henry, you must be in Frankfurt. Wow, I thought of you the other evening and wondered when I would see you again.”
“Yes, I got in a few hours ago. I did promise to call you when I came back to the city. What are you doing tonight?”
Geez, it’s been a long time since I saw Ingrid, and I can’t wait to see her again. We go back a long way. I remember when we first met. I was fifteen, and she was a lady of nineteen. I recall wearing those dreaded bib and brace overalls with patches on the knees. It was in the spring, when the yellow flowers were in bloom along the picket fence. That was in May of 1953, during the last months of the Korean War. She was something else and could stop hearts —along with time.
Showering and shaving, I change into fresh clothes and wait for Ingrid in the hotel lobby. I look around for anyone suspicious, then light a cigarette.
We hug, “It’s good to see you, Henry. I’m so glad you called. It's been too long, and I've missed you.”
“You look great, Ingrid. How do you do it? You get better looking every time I see you. It must be the air,” I say, smiling, smitten with her.
“Thanks, you old liar. You just want to get me in your bed again.”
“You caught on, eh. Damn, I missed you! We agreed on the opera, and we can have cocktails there. The Optiker Plaza is just around the corner.”
Ingrid takes my arm, and we walk down the street in the cool dimming sunshine to the Plaza. We sip on a cocktail, catch up on our lives and then sit in the balcony watching the performance. I don’t understand a word, but it’s a good break from reality. Each time I doze off, I get an elbow in my side and sit up straight for a while, eventually dozing off again. My nervous dreams catch me off guard as I break into a dreaded sweat. Waking, I grasp Ingrid’s warm hand seeking her comfort.
A chill is in the air as darkness descends over the German city this Christmas evening. No choirs sing from the square. No candles light up the evening, nor do Angels appear to tell us of Christ’s birth. Only a bearded St. Nicholas on the corner ringing a bell, who is collecting money for people in need. Ingrid holds my arm tightly as we walk in the softly falling snow. In the midst of this winter wonderland, my nerves settle, and my heart warms.
At the dining table, our minds are on more than just dinner. Ingrid’s contagious smile has my full attention. Her lips move as though they call me, holding my mind ransom. Memories flood back to a time when we worked and played together, lovers in love.
“Henry, I am booked on a flight to Paris tomorrow night. Do you have anything planned for the next week or so?”
“What. Where did that come from? Geez, you caught me off guard. Uh, I had thought of returning to Phoenix, then home to the farm to get away from things. What the heck! I’m yours for the next while. Paris it is.”
“Phoenix and home to the farm. Henry, this nasty business we operate in must be getting to you.”
“Yes, Ingrid. It’s time to quit hiding in the shadows. This game of deception, and sleeping with my gun under my pillow does take a toll. You know what I am talking about.”
“Yes, I certainly know what you mean. I faded from the so-called business, but the German Embassy pleaded with me to do this last job. There’s trouble brewing with an underground group in France once again. I dealt with them years ago and have a package to pass on. Probably a payoff to take out the head leader, hopefully, permanently this time. Funny thing, you and I never do get the whole story, just hope we do a bit of good in the world,” says Ingrid wiping a tear from her eye.
“You are absolutely right. It’s time to enjoy life without looking over your shoulder.”
“So, Henry, Phoenix, and the farm in Colorado. Guess it’s a good place to get away from the hectic world. I have not been back to that cozy little house along the Valley River,” smiles Ingrid as she pauses momentarily. She takes my hand and grins, “I took your virginity from you one night in that house. The night you gave me a handful of yellow flowers. Gosh, you were a sweetie,” smiles Ingrid as she squeezes my hand tight and hugs me.
“Hey, come up for a nightcap. I will order a bottle of wine for the room.”
“That’s a date. Let’s go.”
Ingrid takes my hand as we walk up the stairs to room 221. The magnetism between us is mutual, and we are in each other’s arms as soon as the door closes. My suit jacket drops to the floor —her stole soon joins my coat. My lips nestle eagerly along her neckline, feeling her body quiver as my hot saliva absorbs into her soft skin. She pulls me closer as her fingers run through my hair.
Twisting and turning in my arms, Ingrid unbuckles my belt. My anxious fingertips unzip her dress —she is braless, my thoughts are jealous of my eyes.
Anticipation rises like a fever as I press her against the door. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Our breathing stalls, the moment fades, and we giggle like two kids who got caught in the sandbox together.
I pick my jacket up off the floor and fumble in the pocket for my revolver, then slip the coat over my hand, covering the gun and my receding erection.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
“Okay, thanks. Just set it on the floor.”
“Come to think of it, Henry, it’s not the first time a bottle of wine ruined the evening for us,” says Ingrid zipping up her dress.
“Who said the evening will be ruined,” I snicker.