Colonel Ainsley Brenner sipped his coffee in solitary darkness and watched the deluge outside in the fading light. Occasionally the wind would shift and the rain would pelt the front window of the coffee shop for minutes on end, making it impossible to see the comings and goings outside. Not that it mattered, there were no comings or goings on that cold November day. Brenner had seen a few harried people during the afternoon rush with their slickers and galoshes as they hustled back to their homes, but as day segued into evening and the streetlights came to life along the Jefferson Davis Highway which ran just outside the coffee shop, it could be said that all of Washington was deserted.
Brenner harrumphed the biting weather and took another sip from the mug in front of him.
Eventually a figure emerged from the darkness and approached the front door. A bell jangled as the door swung inward and the man stepped through. Somewhere behind him and across the highway was the Potomac, just a stone's throw away, but all Brenner could discern through the open door was the steady pour of the rain... until the door eased to a close behind the figure, then the din of the pour was muffled by an eerie quiet as the man shed his coat and fedora and placed them on the coat rack just next to him. He gave the waitress a scowl before she could even ask him for his order, to which she responded by popping a cigarette into her mouth and scratching a match to light on the countertop before her.
The new man nodded at Brenner and sat wordlessly across from at the table. He wore no uniform nor any military insignia of any kind, yet Brenner treated him with the utmost respect, "Mr. Urlan."
"Ainsley, how are you, you old dog?"
This made Brenner smile because Henry Urlan was ten years his senior, yet somehow Brenner was the "Old Dog."
"Still kicking," he said, "smoke?"
Urlan shook his head and pulled a folder from his suit coat and passed it across to Brenner, who took it in one hand while retrieving a cigarette from an inner pocket with the other, "Won't be here long enough to enjoy one, old friend. We've got a heap of trouble in the desert and I need to get back to the White House ASAP to quell the embers before they erupt into wildfires."
Brenner opened the folder and perused its documents. There were fourteen files in there of young Army men recruited into various undercover assignments within Rommel's ranks. Some of the names were familiar to Brenner, one of the boys he knew personally. He nodded and finally looked up at Urban, "Uh-huh. What about 'em?"
"They're dead! Every last one of 'em!"
"What?! The hell you say!" The cigarette would have to wait, "how in the hell do a dozen undercover men wind up dead at the same time? This stinks of something akin to treason, for Christ's sakes!"
Urlan shook his head, drops of rain fell from his graying tendrils of hair and onto the table, "Only four people knew of these men: you, me, the President, and General MacCaffee."
Brenner opened his mouth but Urlan beat him to the punch, "No, it wasn't MacCaffee. He's as straight-arrow as they come, that's why Roosevelt likes him. Besides, he's far too dumb and uninspired to make any back-alley deals with the enemy."
Brenner sighed and handed the folder back to Urlan. Thoughts of who could have had these poor young soldiers murdered riled through his brain, "Dead? The lot of them?"
"Nine confirmed, four probables, and one we just don't know. We haven't heard from him in over three months, but it's not as if he can just drop us a telegram from the Sahara and tell us 'Hidey-Ho!'"
"Who's the unaccounted one?"
"Uh," Urlan looked through the folder until he found the name he was looking for, "Joey Fredrickson."