Brad, Chavadzy, and Vladimir boarded the Azure Coast Express and set off for Paris that afternoon.
"I am impressed that a Marine lieutenant has been able to initiate such a massive operation," commented the Okhrana chief. "Every American embassy, every consulate, every Marine is scouting for a young American lady and her dog? Amazing!"
Brad sat back and stared out the window of the train.
"Our government cares about its people," he answered. "No matter where we go, our government offers us its protection. When Teddy Roosevelt was the President a few years back, he sent Marines to North Africa to rescue a woman and her children taken hostage by desert tribesmen. Not many governments would do a thing like that. It makes me proud to be an American.
"Don't forget, however, that my sister is not just any young American lady. She is also the widow of one of the richest and most famous men in the world. That would count for something even in Russia, I'm sure."
"Ah, yes, she is a very rich young lady indeed," Chavadzy said smoothly. "As, I suppose, now that your grandfather is gone, you are the world's richest Marine."
Brad set his forehead in a frown and stared more intensely through the window, averting his face as much as possible from Chavadzy's penetrating gaze. "I am not sharing in my grandfather's estate. I intend to turn it down. I am a man who must make his own way."
Chavadzy detected anger in Brad's voice.
"Forgive my intrusive remark," apologized the Russian. "I did not mean to imply that you had come forward at this time to make claims on your grandfather. I know a little of your story, and I have witnessed your actions since we met. You are a fine, brave man, Lieutenant, and it is a privilege to serve our cause at your side."
Brad turned to him again, his frown giving way to an expression faintly edged with contempt. "I do not really know what your cause may be, sir, but mine is to keep my sister safe. I am open to all suggestions that will help accomplish that goal. Whether they come from Jean Cocteau, or from you, does not matter."
Chavadzy reddened and turned his own face away.
Vladimir secretly smiled, rather pleased to see his arrogant superior neatly put in his place.
They had elected for the routing through Paris as the most effective in reaching Warsaw quickly. Fanning out from Paris were express railway connections to all parts of Europe. Romelle might have chosen another route, possibly through Switzerland or Austria, but her destination would have to be Warsaw. From Poland she would continue directly to the Russian border, thence to Moscow, to catch the most luxurious train in the world, the Trans-Siberian Express.
The Trans-Siberian marked her only way over the snowy, frozen steppes of Central Asia to Lake Baikal, jumping off place for the difficult journey southeastward to the high Mongolian plateau.
Not until reaching Berlin did they receive the good news that a Marine from the American Embassy in Vienna had encountered a beautiful young lady, plainly dressed in black, sharing a snack with her dog on the platform of the Bahnhof. The dog matched Rebel's description.
Wearing mufti as he had been ordered, so as not to alert Romelle, he had spoken to her in English, representing himself as an American student. She had feigned ignorance of the language. He then addressed her in German. She only replied with a lovely smile and went on feeding her dog. He tried the little French he knew, with the same result.
Finally, as the signal was given for departure, she started up the steps of the coach with her dog. The train began to move slowly. Noticing that she had dropped a glove, the Marine picked it up and ran toward her. The dog, instinctively preparing to thwart an attack on his mistress, crouched for a leap. The redhead cried out, "Rebel, don't you dare!"
She grabbed his collar and yanked him into the coach as it picked up speed and chugged out of the Bahnhof.
The train was en route to Warsaw.
"Hurrah!" Brad cheered when he heard the story in Berlin. "Surely we can catch her there!"
"Check the schedule quickly," Chavadzy barked at Vladimir.
The aide rushed away.
He discovered that the three-day express for Moscow departed from Berlin at six that evening. Romelle's train from Vienna would connect with it in Warsaw on the following day.
When they woke the next morning and met in the dining car for breakfast, Chavadzy laid out his plan.
"I believe we should wait to intercept your sister at my country's frontier, Lieutenant," he began. "Once we are inside Russia, I have full authority. You know, and I know, that this adventure is madness. She must not be allowed to continue to Outer Mongolia. However, only you will be able to convince her, I am sure."
"Yes," Brad agreed, "it is madness. My sister is in a fragile state of mind. She must not suffer further shock. She can't be in any danger on the train from Warsaw. Only we three know her full identity and where she is bound. I'm willing to wait until we get to Russia. Between here and the frontier, I'll figure out a way to approach her."
At the station in Warsaw, the three watched from a distance when Romelle's train arrived. They saw her walk Rebel in a park outside and then board the Moscow Express. She occupied a roomette in one of the two first-class cars.
Chavadzy occupied the first roomette in the same car, Vladimir, the last. Brad remained safely out of sight in the second car. Neither Chavadzy nor Vladimir would have been recognizable to Romelle. She could not have been aware of their presence at the wedding.
Vladimir brought meals to Brad in his compartment, but both he and Chavadzy were free to dine in sight of Romelle. The train was not crowded in mid-winter. There was only one sitting for dinner.
Chavadzy and Vladimir were fast diners in the manner of people who are either very busy or anticipating an emergency that might cut the meal short. In their case, the latter was true. They were already drinking after-dinner brandy before Romelle was halfway through her meal.
The Russians noted that she paid little attention to the other diners. Her beauty attracted several glances, but these potential approaches were quickly rebuffed by a prim glare, a lowering of the head, and a stare at the food on her plate.
She ate lightly, passing choice portions to Rebel, who sat beneath her chair. The waiter set the food on the table at arm's length, discomfited by the dog's menacing growls each time he passed Romelle.
Halfway through dinner the second night on board, an older woman, beautifully dressed, strode into the dining car. She seated herself at a table opposite Romelle, lifted the menu, scanned it through a lorgnette, and tossed it aside.
"Garçon! Boy!" she called imperiously to the waiter. "Quelle gaucherie! How very awkward! This menu is written in something Slavic! Have you nothing in a civilized language? French? German? Even English!"
The waiter scurried to her side with a menu in French, presenting it to her with a self-conscious bow. "Pardon, Madame, that menu is in Polish. This is my first assignment to the Express. I never served such grand ladies of the carriage trade on my old Cracow run."
Romelle thought his simple apology refreshingly honest. She flinched when the woman snatched the menu rudely.
"You will not serve many more if you do not scrub your fingernails!" she scolded. "Disgusting! Wash your hands before you serve my food! Here, boy, just bring me the table d'hôte! No matter what I order, I shall doubtless get the same, a sausage and a potato! That is what they served me last night in my roomette. I gave all of it to Georgette. Even my darling could not keep it down!"
She flung the menu to the floor. The waiter reached for it instinctively, but leapt back when Rebel reminded him of his presence with a teeth-baring growl.
The woman noticed the dog for the first time.
"Oh, aren't you precious!" she cooed, leaning over and extending her hand to stroke him.
Before Romelle could warn her, she had touched his nose. Uncharacteristically, with a stranger, he licked her fingers, even rising to continue doing so as she slowly withdrew her hand.
Astonished, Romelle spoke up. "Madame, my dog is not usually fond of strangers. He is better with women than with men, but for him to be so friendly....."
The woman laughed heartily. "Votre chien a vent de mon caniche Georgette! He has caught the scent of my poodle Georgette!"
She leaned down again. "You want to meet my little lady, do you not, young fellow? You will love her."
The woman's table d'hôte meal came. As she had foreseen, it comprised sausage and potatoes, which Romelle had found delicious. The woman, predictably, was not pleased.
"Dreadful!" she declared, and pushed it away.
She reached for her purse and withdrew a packet of sweets. Opening it, she popped one into her mouth.
"Heavenly!" she enthused, offering the packet to Romelle. "I have just come from a spa in Bohemia. The masseuse there has restored my élan vital! She pommeled me every day to make me svelte. Kurz ist der Schmerz, und ewig ist die Freude, she would chant in German. 'Brief is the pain, and eternal is the joy!' Then I would snowshoe into the village for my health and, naughty girl that I am, buy these. Yes, dear, have another, and take one for later. Aren't they grand - crushed filberts, and chocolate, and cherries, and honey, and cream! For a woman who must watch her figure, eating them surely constitutes sin!"
She rose from her table, fluttering a handkerchief under Rebel's nose. "Walk with me to my compartment, dear. Your little one simply must meet Georgette."
Before Romelle could decline the invitation, the audacious woman was striding away. To his mistress's surprise, Rebel trotted at her heels. Quickly, Romelle extracted money from her purse, left it on the table for the bill, and followed the woman and Rebel out of the car, inadvertently brushing against Chavadzy as she passed his table.
Chavadzy leapt up and started to follow her, but Vladimir jumped to his feet and ran after him, grabbing the Georgian's arm.
"No, sir, you stay and finish the brandy," suggested the aide. "I'll go along and keep an eye out. That silly woman is harmless as a fly! Relax. You deserve it. Besides, we shall be at the Russian frontier in an hour or two. A stanitza of Cossacks is there, and several of our own Okhrana men will be waiting. You must take command."
Chavadzy sat down. "Spasibo, my friend. I thank you. I could use a bit of time to relax and think things out."