Santa Fe, New Mexico - Neutral Zone
Santa Fe, in the span of five days, did not change at all.
The haunting smell still lingered in the air and knowing what it was, what it represented made her sick to the stomach no matter how hard she tried to ignore this.
But above all, as she took the same window booth of the diner where she and Steve first really began to understand each other, it is both ironic and fitting that she found herself there once more, only this time the film reel is nowhere to be found.
She pales at the memory of the motel room—thrashed and ruined, the glass panes of the window had been smashed in, the dresser near the bathroom had caved in with a kick to its top board, but what haunted her the most was the distinct splatter of red across the walls of the room.
Peggy shudders to think of what happened there in its entirety. She hopes, prays that nobody lost their lives, but it is the Neutral Zone and it is the Marshall—in the short span of her stay in the stretch of land in between the Greater Germanic Reich and the Japanese Pacific Imperial Provinces, she knows mercy is a luxury around these areas.
Steve is outside, visible form her point of view, and she sees him deep in conversation. As of the last hour, he busied himself in contacting people in his side of the resistance, calling for help. But each call that ended with another number dialed, another rejection.
And as much as she hates it, she understands.
The portfolio on the Marshall is not lacking in detail—a bounty hunter with connections to both the SS, friends high up the political party, he and his men will not be so easily taken down.
In the end, when Steve came in, looking more red in his time spent under the sun, he gave a dejected look and sat down from across her.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, head bowed down. “If I didn’t—”
He looked up, meeting her gaze, “Yeah?”
“Did you force me to come with you?”
He blinked, once and then twice. “No, I think,” he says slowly as she nods at him.
“Then it’s settled: you have nothing to apologize for.”
He balked, his mouth hanging open, and if the situation wasn’t so bleak, she’d tell him to shut his mouth lest he catch flies. “But,” he sputtered, “I lost you your film.”
“Do you regret saving those children?” she asks him without preamble and he was caught off-guard.
Steve honestly looked like he didn’t know what to do, what to say, but with a sigh, he shook his head. “I don’t.”
“Exactly. You and I, we saved lives that night, and I can never regret that. Do you respect me, Steve?”
And without hesitation, meeting her gaze again, he nodded, firmly and with trust that even she found startling. “I do.”
“Then give me the dignity of my choice. I chose to go with you, to save those children, and while the consequences aren’t desirable, we did a lot of good and we can’t ignore that. The best we have to do is move on, go on from there.”
Steve gave her a quizzical look, one that had the ends of his lips quirking upwards. “I guess, we did, huh?”
“We did.” But the fact remained, the film is lost. “How about your contacts in New York, are they able to help?”
“Against the Marshall?” he shook his head with a grimace, “No. They’re in tight with the SS and moving against an ally of theirs, it would only blow their cover.”
Peggy cursed under her breath. She thinks of calling her father but that in itself would no doubt set off the SS, outing her and perhaps her own branch of the resistance and Steve’s to the SS and that is the last thing they need.
“Do we have any intel on the Marshall? On the film?”
Steve took out a notebook, and while he flips through the pages, she sees several sketches, some short and quick, almost hurried in nature while others were far more detailed, having taken care in each stroke or shade.
“Ah, here!” he slid the notebook to her side. She recognizes it as code, cracked down in familiar Turing. “It’s from Dum Dum,” fortunately this time, the message is encoded in English instead of the Irish one sent to Saint Theresa yesterday.
“A hand off to the SS,” she whispers in hushed tones. “In a month, why is that? Why not now, when we don’t have the power to find it, get it back?”
Steve mulled over until a grim look crossed his face. “I know why.” He stares out the window and into the sky, she follows his gaze to the cloud of smoke and the realization dawns on her as well.
“Oh, yes. I see.”
In a month’s time, the SS will deliver to the euthanasia hospital nearby a batch of genetically defective children.
Peggy scrawls down what she remembers from the reel, the etched words upon its casing.
The grasshopper lies heavy. Space.
“Hey,” Steve called out, his actions growing more electric as he leaned in. “Peggy, do you know what that means? The grasshopper lies heavy?”
There was nothing in Chet’s dossier that would have prepared her for that question. The film an the tag had been all her clues.
“Well, you know how we get in the resistance here?”
“I’m assuming a burning desire for freedom and removing the colonial powers have something to do with it.”
Steve shakes his head. “Wait here.” He shuffles out of his side of the booth and she watches him as she sprints out of the restaurant and into the truck. When he returns, his head is bowed and his head is hidden inside the flap of his jacket.
“See anything familiar?”
He hands her a book. The—
“The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Stephen Strange.”
Steve nods. “Yeah, it’s, uh, it’s a book about an alternate reality where the Allied won the war. It’s about the trial of those who were involved in the war, including Hitler.” Then it dawns on her.
“It’s illegal in the Reich.”
“Not here, and not in the Pacific States.”
There was a gleam in his eyes, one that spoke of fear and hope. “Steve, what are you planning to do?”
“Peggy, what if I told you there might be someone, a group of people, who could help us take down the Marshall and take back the film reel?”
Then, he tore off a piece of paper from the napkin and fished a pen from his pocket. He scribbled down in quick, efficient, but neat handwriting before he slid down the piece of paper.
The moment she understood the message, she dropped the paper as if it had burned right through her skin and to the bones.
“I think you’re mad.”
He stares down at the paper. She wonders what is going on in his mind, if certain death was one of those thoughts, “Yeah, but I think it’d work.”
Peggy remembers the flask she had been given before leaving Saint Theresa. She dipped the tip into their cups and filled them halfway. With a flourish, she raised hers and emptied it with one, swift drink. If this is their plan, then she is going to need more whiskey.
“I guess we’re going to the Japanese Pacific Imperial Provinces.”
She stares down once more at the piece of paper and wonders if this is a deal worth the film:
Get the Yakuza.