Corporal Sharon Cates walked through the doors and into the duty train’s
dining car, wearing her class “A” uniform. It was relatively
empty. A lone concession window was open selling coffee and brötchen.
She bought a cup and sat down next to a window. It was dark outside,
and she couldn’t see much. Glancing at her watch, she saw that
it was two o’clock. Sharon knew she should be asleep, but she
was too excited. Soon she’d be in Berlin, and she was thrilled.
Going to Berlin would be stepping into living history. She put her
briefcase on the table and took out a guidebook to Berlin, thumbing
through it as she drank her coffee.
A faint creak pierced the air. When Sharon looked up, she spied a
Soviet soldier also buying a cup of coffee. A warm shiver slid down
her spine. After all, she knew the Soviets also used the duty train;
she just thought she’d never see one. He was tall and filled
out his uniform well. From the markings on his uniform, she gathered
he was a non-commissioned officer, but that was all. To her surprise,
he approached her booth.
“Good morning, Corporal. I am Junior Sergeant Dimitri Nagory
of the Soviet Army. May I join you?”
Sharon looked up. He was talking to her—in English! She motioned
to him to have a seat.
Dimitri sat down and smiled. “If you don’t mind my asking,
what’s your name, Corporal?”
“Sharon,” she answered, as distantly as possible. She
never thought she’d meet a Soviet soldier on the Berlin Duty
Train. This felt like a page out of a LeCarre spy novel. “Sharon
“Is this your first time on the duty train?” he asked.
Sharon stared at him. Nosey Soviet. Cpt. Heathers had cautioned her
about them during her security briefing.
“Because it is the first time I have seen you,” Dimitri
continued, sipping his coffee.
“Ah, yes,” Sharon finally answered. Should she entertain
thoughts of espionage and secret spy scenarios? “It’s
my first trip to Berlin,” she added.
“I see. Are you attending the Berlin Orientation Tour?”
“How did you know?”
“Most of the Americans I see on the train travel to Berlin for
that purpose,” Dimitri explained, grinning.
“If you don’t mind my asking, why are you on the train?”
Despite the desire to keep her composure, her lips curved into an
“I work in the Soviet embassy in London. My headquarters are
in East Berlin. I travel between London and Berlin every two weeks,”
“And you can tell me that?” she asked, raising a surprised
“It’s common knowledge,” he added.
“Do you make it a habit to talk to Americans on the train?”
“No, I don’t. I usually sleep in my train car, but I haven’t
had much to eat today so they let me out to do that,” he replied.
“Touché,” she said curtly. “So, Jr. Sgt.
Nagory, what do you do in your army?”
“I am a translator for my superior, Major Orlov. I’m fluent
in German, English, and Russian. And you?”
Sharon felt mildly inadequate, but she had to admit this was thrilling,
in a forbidden way. “I studied French in high school, but I
wouldn’t consider myself fluent in it.”
“Languages aren’t for everyone. What do you do? I notice
you wear the cross pistols on your lapel. Are you military police?”
Sharon pursed her lips. “Yes, I’m with the military police,”
she said simply. She couldn’t take it any further. He didn’t
need to know she guarded nuclear weapons at a remote American kaserne
in West Germany. “How long have you been doing…this?”
She pointed aimlessly with her hand out the window. “Translating?”
“Four years,” said Dimitri. “And you?”
She chuckled. “A little over three years.” He seemed sincere,
but was it possible that a Soviet soldier could be curious as opposed
to inquisitive? The way he smiled at her, she thought. He must be
curious. But why?
“If you don’t mind my asking, why did you join the military?”
“I wanted money for college,” she answered flatly. It
was her standard answer. “Why did you join?”
“I was conscripted.”
“Of course—conscripted. That’s like being drafted,
isn’t it?” said Sharon.
“Yes, it’s like a draft.”
“America did away with the draft after Vietnam, I believe,”
The Soviet took a sip of his coffee. “Your accent, I can’t
place it. Where are you from in America?”
His question caught her off guard. So much for small talk.
“Maine. It’s in New England,” she stammered, wrinkling
“I am from Leningrad. I do not have an accent,” he said.
“You speak with a British accent,” she replied, now befuddled.
Enough was enough.
“I do not!”
“Jr. Sgt. Nagory, with all due respect, isn’t this getting
kind of personal? We just met. Why would you ask me these questions?
Are you trying to get information from me? Here we are in a dining
car on the duty train between Bremerhaven and Berlin and we’ll
probably never see each other again.”
“No, I am not trying to get information out of you for military
purposes. We may never cross paths again, but maybe this would be
a nice story to tell my grandchildren—how I met an American
on the duty train and that the Americans are not the evil people the
government believes them to be,” Dimitri replied smoothly.
“I’m sorry,” said Sharon.
“It’s fine. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable,
Sharon realized she wasn’t uncomfortable with him, but with
the principles his army uniform represented. She held out her hand.
A slight smile crossed his face. “Friends? For the night? Tomorrow,
when we step off the train, we’ll be enemies again.”
“Friends…for tonight,” he confirmed, taking her
Sharon was impressed with his firm handshake.
The train car violently lurched. After a brief pause, a loud crack
filled the air and the train began to roll over, slamming into the
ground end on end. Sharon plowed into the Soviet junior sergeant.
At first she felt a searing heat surround her. She tried to look around,
but the images that assaulted her eyes were blurry. The heavy metallic
scent made her gag. She felt as if she were soaring, and when she
landed, her lungs exploded. Pain shot through her torso. The bright
light that had dominated her sight was now replaced with cool blackness.
“Corporal? Corporal? Are you all right?”
Sharon stirred and struggled to sit up. “Yes, I think so.”
About 500 meters east of the train derailment, there was a fire. Faint
voices from the direction filled the air. The night sky, once black,
was now filled with gray smoke. As her vision came into focus, she
found her dining companion kneeling next to her. The heavy lines of
concern Dimitri wore surprised her. She clenched her fists, tensing,
and was met by a pain twice as impressive as Dimitri’s concern.
Her hand shot to her left side almost as quickly as the pain.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Feels like my ribs,” she grimaced.
“I think I landed on you when we were thrown from the train.
I’m sorry,” Dimitri said.
Sharon nodded. What a way to start her trip to Berlin. They had already
crossed the East/West German border and she had no idea just how deep
they were into East Germany. “What happened?” she asked.
“There was an explosion on the train.”
She paused, letting his words sink in. This was serious. Was it an
accident or an act of international sabotage?
“The smell of gunpowder is in the air,” Dimitri continued.
“This doesn’t bode well,” Sharon added.
“No, it doesn’t,” Dimitri affirmed.
Sharon reached over and clutched her briefcase handle tight. It contained
all the paperwork she needed to travel safely through East Germany.
She was fortunate to still have it.
“Look, in the distance. They’re searching for people,”
said Dimitri. He pointed to dark shadows in front of the flames. Several
fire trucks, small from the distance, rolled onto the scene.
Sharon stood up and almost immediately fell over. Her left side was
throbbing. Still, she was determined to join the rescue effort. “Let’s
Dimitri put a hand on her shoulder and looked directly at her. “Something
is not right, Corporal. I don’t believe this was an accident.
Stay here and wait for me. I’ll bring a medic to you.”
“Are you serious?” she asked. “Are you setting me
up? Is the KGB going to come out of the woods and arrest me?”
Dimitri looked at her steadily. “That’s absurd! Trust
me. I’ve ridden this train a hundred times. I know its schedule.
Something is not right, and I think it’s better if you stay
here. Besides, you need medical attention. I’ll send a medic
“You will return, right?” she demanded.
“People are in trouble, including you. I’m going to find
out why this happened and determine the best way to assist,”
he said forthrightly.
“Then go,” she said, frowning.
He turned around and ran off, leaving Sharon alone. She watched him
as he skirted the tree line and slid out of view. Every so often a
loud crash would pierce the air above the crackling of the fire and
the yelling of voices. She walked out of the clearing and sat down
next to a tree. Even from her spot, she felt soothing warmth from
the blaze. Against the dark sky, the roaring fire stood out. The pungent,
smoky aroma coming from the burning wood and metal kept taunting her
to vomit. Still, she held onto her senses, despite the ache in her
ribs, and clutched her briefcase. How could this have happened? This
was a hell of a reward for winning Soldier of the Quarter.
Sharon quickly surveyed her clothes. Her class “A” jacket
was gone, lost in the wreckage. Her pumps were scuffed, her nylons
had runs in them, and her skirt was dirty. She wore a short-sleeved
class “B” shirt, also dirty. Surprisingly, her ribbons
hadn’t fallen off. An Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM,) two achievement
medals, a good conduct medal, and the army service ribbon stood proudly
displayed over her heart, along with a driving badge and her jump
wings. On her tight chest, the MP regimental crest was still there.
As per regulations, her nametag, which would have been under the crest,
wasn’t worn. Her corporal bars were still firmly attached to
her shoulder lapel. What was going to happen now? She was worried
he would return with the KGB.
Sharon closed her eyes and took a deep breath. What a way to cap off
the past couple of months. Three months ago she had won Soldier of
the Quarter for her battalion. This was a great accomplishment, but
even more than that, it gave her legitimacy as a soldier, a good soldier.
Her platoon sergeant recommended her for promotion. She did well on
the promotion board and scored high. She’d only been back from
the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC) a week, the month-long
leadership school she needed for promotion to sergeant. On July 1,
her company commander officially promoted her from specialist to corporal,
a junior NCO rank. Her professional life was soaring, which she could
hardly say about her personal life.
The separation had played havoc with her relationship to her boyfriend,
Specialist John Eddington. That and the fact he was jealous of her
professional accomplishments. They’d argued practically every
day she’d been back. Then on Thursday, after a fierce argument
in front of her platoon at the club, Sharon knew it was over. Now,
here she was, waiting for a Soviet soldier to return with help.
The four World War II allies rode the duty train. There were two trains,
one that left from Bremerhaven and one that left from Frankfurt. She
caught the train in Bremerhaven. After all, she was stationed in Osnabrueck,
a city in northern Germany in the British zone of occupation. Bremerhaven
was only two hours away. Frankfurt was three and a half hours away.
When Captain Heathers gave her the security briefing on Friday, he
told her she might encounter Soviet soldiers. Heathers’ voice
still rang in her ears.
“It’s all a cat and mouse game with them. MI will debrief
you when you get to Checkpoint Bravo. If you can find out anything
of strategic value, do your best. If not, just keep any conversations
with them casual. You can bet they’ll attempt to engage you…”
Meeting Soviet Junior Sergeant Dimitri Nagory was like meeting a nervous
chatterbox. She wondered if soldiers in his army were like him—curious
about Americans. She let him think she was a traditional police officer,
but in the army the military police had several jobs, including physical
security. She worked at a NATO site in the heart of British-occupied
Germany. Her job was to guard short-range tactical nuclear munitions.
It wasn’t glamorous, but it was important and it required her
to be somewhat secretive regarding her work.
She sighed, as her eyes adjusted to the contrasts between fire and
darkness. Her thoughts drifted to her relationship with John. It had
been based on pure attraction. How could she think of John at a time
like this? Was it because she feared Dimitri would betray her trust,
as John had? Certainly his motives would be understandable. He was
the enemy, after all. John was an American. Even if he was a lousy
boyfriend, he had to be loyal to his country. Didn’t he?
She got to her feet, grimacing as the pain shot throughout her left
ribcage. Enough was enough. Confident she’d be able to make
it back to the train and help in the rescue efforts, she began walking
toward the fire.