A WINTER MISTAKE
Here is the first thing Minerva Griffin thought when she stepped on the train at Koblenz Central Railway Station: This is a mistake.
Here’s why: Insider her cream-leather satchel – unlocked and locked six times this morning to be sure – was a velvet pouch filled with enough diamonds to buy the island of Silda and then build a small palace on top.
She carried the jewels, however begrudgingly, by special request from one of Bristol Bank’s wealthiest clients, Mr. Dorrie Brooks, who clip-clopped into Bristol’s late last Thursday after news broke about a rash of bank robberies two towns over; Mr. Brooks demanded that Minerva open his vault.
“Unacceptable might be the single word I’d give in such a scenario as this,” he scoffed with the distinctively moustached might of one who was both ultra-wealthy and insane.
“Sir,” Minerva began, “I assure you we take every precaution of safety at Bristol’s to ensure the well-being of your most prized possessions.”
It was a line lifted from Pg. 4 of the Bristol Bank Employee-Client Engagement Brochure but it was true all the same.
Then she wiggled her bun lower on her neck and Mr. Brooks scratched at a mole perched just outside his left nostril and with beady, spectacled brown eyes glared at the blue of Minerva’s own.
“Perhaps it is as you say, Ms. Griffin, but I don’t trust it as much as I should. I’ll have my secretary phone instructions for the removal of one particular item causing me the most grief – it’s a bag of flawless diamonds in case you might be wondering – and I expect you to follow the instructions for its reassignment exactly as given.”
And so Minerva did, arriving one and one half weeks later at the Koblenz station on a splintery, cold Sunday, a sizable fortune of diamonds in hand and a faint but bothersome rumble in stomach.
The train car she selected, three from the front, was practically empty at this early morning hour and Minerva sat in the most unassuming seat she could find; not too close but close enough to the exit sign to make the choice seem innocuous and unplanned.
As the train doors shut and the locomotive chugged forward, Minerva watched the snowy hilltop towns of the Rhine Valley tumble across her window. She saw familiar, unmistakably medieval, red-roofed buildings rise and fall into view with twists of smoke slinking from their tall chimneys only to melt into the chilly, January air. The charm of quaint villages painted winter white almost proved enough to make her forget about the diamonds in her satchel. Almost.
With shaking hands, Minerva managed to separate her ticket from its lodging between the bag of diamonds and a book about 19th century European castles she knew in her banker’s heart she’d never read. Sometimes, as she often said, it is better to look the part than to fully commit.
For Minerva, it was a rule to live by ever since the age of eighteen when she left her family – they could still be found in one of the Rhine Valley homes slipping by – for a life in the city, far away from a chain-smoking but resilient father and submissive but hopeless mother. After several odd jobs, she fell into banking with surprising ease, admiring a position made from numbers and truth all wrapped in the careful packaging of a pinstriped suit and tight ballet bun.
The air of sterile coolness required by her job kept Minerva calm now, even as she caught from the corner of her left eye a man staring right into her banker-like face.
And she just knew.
How she knew, Minerva had no idea but immediately her blood began pumping with obnoxious force against her temples, her hands started trembling so much they became lifeless and numb, and her mouth, parched with a slight scent of mint toothpaste, opened and closed on its own accord, grasping at any air it could find, uselessly swallowing the screams she tried to push past its throat.
This man was in it for diamonds, of that Minerva was sure.
The train lurched awkwardly and reached a quick stop. Mustering up whatever calm she could, Minerva twisted her braided bun against her neck and lifted herself from her seat to exit the car at Urmitz Railway Station.
It wasn’t exactly the right stop, (at least not according to the directions from Dorrie Brooks’ secretary), but it would get her within a cab ride of where she needed to deliver the diamonds.
But first, there was the matter of the man from the train.
He was still trailing her now as she made her way to the street. She was sure he was there somewhere behind her because Minerva could feel his brown eyes – or maybe they were green? – focused on her satchel, which she clasped at desperately with two wool-gloved hands. She couldn’t see exactly what he was wearing but could hear swooshes of a long coat as it sashayed while he walked, one beat faster and much steadier than her own wobbly gait.
The “pardon me”s he let out as he wedged his way through the thickening morning crowd grew louder while he drew closer. Minerva listened to his gravely voice feign politeness, hoping he was just some Sunday traveler rushing home to a little medieval-style home in Urmitz and was not a diamond-snatcher after all.
Minerva reached two wide, swinging doors separating the station platform from the sidewalk and trudged across a pile of snow topped by one forgotten red glove and a fallen piece of gum. When she didn’t hear the crunch of footsteps behind her, Minerva thought she might have lost him for good.
And then he called her name.
“Minerva! Minerva, wait!”
At once, the grainy flakes in his voice turned familiar, forming a childhood memory of cigarette smoke and sleigh rides sweetened in Minerva’s mind by years of a life lived inside a bank.
They had reached a particularly whimsical road, white sky and snow-covered ground separated by two slim lines of featherweight, leafless trees. The scene was practically ethereal, barren and quiet save the whispers of crackling branches and a meager winter’s wind.
Here is what Minerva Griffin understood: This man is my father.
Here is what she did: Turning around to whip up a flurry of snow by her feet, Minerva saw the man clearly and her thoughts were confirmed. She took his hand, wondering if everything was different now, running through her mind all the reasons why her father had reappeared. He grinned at her and she smiled a banker’s smile at him, knowing that in this moment, and then in whatever moment happened next, diamonds could wait.