Chapter 29

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Art sat cross-legged on the living room floor. He slid all the pieces of the electric train set from its box and inventoried them. He considered it a stroke of good luck nothing had gotten lost during the three decades the box had been stored away in his attic.

Joey rolled his toy truck across the carpeted floor while making engine noises. He made his way over to where Art was working and stopped, studied what was going on, and then drove his truck away down the hallway.

Art called out. "Nattie, are you still eating breakfast?"

She appeared in the living room drying a cereal bowl with a tea towel. "Just finishing the dishes." She saw the mess on the floor. "What's that?"

"Steven's train set from when he was a kid. He enjoyed playing with this thing until he turned sixteen. Then he became more interested in cars and girls. It's been gathering dust in the attic ever since."

She picked up one of the boxcars and examined it. "This looks like an antique. It might be worth something."

Art uncoiled himself from his sitting position and stood, pressing a hand against the small of his back. "I think I'm the antique. Cramped airline seats never used to take such a toll on my spine."

"We got in late last night. You should've walked some to loosen up before going straight to bed."

"I still feel as healthy as I did twenty years ago, the difference being I get tired faster and easier." He also hated driving at night which tended to wear him out. Lucky for him the airport was located a mere half-hour from his house.

Natalya glanced at the train set. "What is all this for?"

"Joey. I thought he would enjoy playing with something other than his truck and ball." Art wouldn't admit to her how seeing the old train set sparked his own desire to play with the thing again.

"You're so thoughtful, but you don't need to go through so much trouble for us."

"No trouble at all." He headed for the basement steps.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm getting a card table. No way am I going to get down on the floor again. I might not be able to get back up."

"I'll finish in the kitchen and help you."

Art dusted off the card table and placed it in a corner of the room. He picked up the train set pieces and moved them to the table.

"How does it go together?" Natalya asked.

"The layout is a figure eight. The curved pieces of track are tricky, so I'll snap those together. You can snap together the straight pieces."

They took a few minutes and completed the layout.

"Go ahead and set the train cars on the track while I hook up the transformer," Art said.

Not long after, everything was ready. Art plugged in the power and picked up the controls. "I hope it still works."

"All aboard!" Natalya said with enthusiasm.

Art worked the lever on the controls, and the train took off. After it made a complete circuit around the figure eight track, Art pressed a button on the side of the control causing the train to sound its whistle.

Joey came running into the living room after hearing the commotion. He gawked at the train as it went round and round.

"Want to try it?" Art asked. He handed the control to Joey.

The boy reached his tentative, little hand to Art and took the control from him. Art and Natalya both taught him how to make the train go. They stepped back as Joey got the hang of it and was able to drive it himself.

"He's fascinated at the moment," Natalya said, "but don't feel insulted if he loses interest. Joey gets bored if he's not stimulated."

"I'm hoping it'll keep him busy enough so that we have a few uninterrupted minutes to talk." He motioned for her to sit on the living room sofa and then joined her. From there they could keep an eye on Joey.

"You recall the figurative gun I spoke of yesterday, the plan to coerce either Santos or Gunther to disclose what they know about your husband?"

Natalya nodded.

"I slept on the idea and believe we have a shot at making it happen."

"How?" she asked, "because I've been thinking about it too and am coming up empty."

"It involves Chester Amundsen."

"The journalist?"

"I'm hoping to work a deal with him. That young man is eager to break a big story and make a name for himself. If I can gain his cooperation and get him to agree to do something for us, in return I'll give him an exclusive on everything we found out so far."

He explained the details of his plan to her.

Amundsen returned a call a few hours later after getting Art's message. Art put the man on speaker so Natalya could listen in.

"How's it going tracking down your husband?" Amundsen asked.

"Hopeful. Art thinks we're closing in, but we're going to need your help."

"How so?"

Art spoke up. "Are you still in contact with Rosa Fuentes?"

"You told me to get her out of town, so I did. We concocted a story that she returned to Mexico. That's what she told her boss."

"But you're still in contact with her?"

"She told me where she was going. Assuming she's still there, I should be able to find her."

Art hoped that was the case. "If Agent Paterson agrees to not turn her over to ICE, do you think you can convince her to tell what she saw at the bus station."

Amundsen hesitated. "I don't know. She might not trust that he'll keep his word. No way will you ever get her inside a courtroom to testify."

"She might not have to. If we play this right, I think I can get Santos to fold on his partners."

"Santos? Who is Santos?" Amundsen asked.

For the next several minutes, Art and Natalya filled the journalist in on their adventures.

Amundsen listened and asked, "Does anyone else know about this?"

Art chuckled. "If you're asking if we've been in contact with anyone else in the media, the answer is no. It's your exclusive to run with."

"How well do you know Agent Paterson?" Amundsen asked.

"Not well. I had one telephone conversation with the man."

Natalya jumped into the conversation. "He's downright hostile toward me. That man thinks I'm crazy."

"Better let me approach him then," Amundsen said. "At least he and I are on speaking terms. I'll speak with Rosa first. If we can work something out with her, then I'll go to Agent Paterson."

"Do your best to convince them both," Art said.

"It's my sole remaining hope," Natalya said. "This is the last card I have to play."

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In the next chapter, we get to experience what happened in North Dakota from Vince Henson's point-of-view.

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