A Short Story by B. B. Wright
An Inspector Alexander Collier Mystery
Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a greater understanding and/or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted and underlined) sometimes found in the text of the story. From time to time, I may return to a part of the story to add the link(s).
The Phone Call
Kindertransport—the transport of Jewish children out of Nazi occupied Europe—was underway. The first arrivals had disembarked in Harwich on December second. Blindly, Collier and his wife, Lila, had gone with the hope that their son and his fiancé would be among them. But, their hopes had been quickly dashed.
Now, two days before Christmas, Collier still had no word about his son and he was beginning to fear the worst.
He took another file from the top of a stack of files beside him and opened it; like all the others it contained paperwork that could have waited until after Christmas. Ephemeral diversions, they represented a feeble attempt of respite from the emotional turmoil that brewed beneath his carefully crafted calm exterior.
It was 4 p.m. This close to Christmas, Collier would have normally packed up and gone home. But these were not normal times. He had two murders to solve: Rebecca Grynberg and the man in the wardrobe steamer trunk. The week preceding Christmas and the week following New Year were generally set aside for staff holidays. This year was the exception. During this period, all would follow a schedule of staggered hours designed by he and Sergeant Snowden.
Copies of the fingerprints found on the trunk—promised last month by Detective Inspector Ellis Smyth of Scotland Yard—had still not arrived. After several attempts to obtain them, Collier felt he was being stonewalled and it puzzled him. The lead suspect in that case, Robert McTavish, had disappeared. Corporal Dubin and he had discovered remnants of a well-used make-up kit exclusively associated with thespians in a trash can in the maintenance room of the cinema. Putting together the information from the baggage handler at the train station with this new revelation they quickly concluded that Robert McTavish had been a cleverly contrived disguise. Fingerprints found on the kit were too smudged to be useful.
Collier lit his pipe and sat back in his chair. Was his suspect, he mused, likely to have a repertoire of disguises similar to the actor Lon Chaney—the man of a thousand faces? That, he concluded, was too much to expect.
Collier had already accepted that the Meintner family had gone into hiding with Queenie. Fearful for the lives of their two children, Otto and Lise, time pressed hard against him to find them. Growing self-doubts and feelings of helplessness were beginning to ooze in.
He glanced at the electoral map of Bournemouth. The residents in the northern district had all been accounted for and fingerprinted. But there were no matches to the fingerprints on the Winchester bottle found under Rebecca’s hospital bed.
Collier purged the smoke through his nostrils. He had hoped for the impossible. Catching a break this early and this easily would have painted his Christmas with some color instead of the grey and black of growing depression.
His ruminations were interrupted by the phone ringing on his desk.
“Inspector Collier here,” he said, placing his pipe in the ashtray.
“It’s nice to hear your voice again, Inspector.”
“Captain Hall?” The words stumbled out of his mouth as he attempted to speak through the large lump that had formed in his throat. “My… son…?”
“It’s imperative that we talk, Inspector…Today…and not over the phone.” She insisted. “Richard and Elsa are safe…for the moment.”
“For the moment?” he finally managed to blurt out. “What the hell does that mean “for the moment”?”
Captain Hall did not reply.
“Well, Captain? Loss for words?”
Clearing her throat, she continued. “Have you come across the name: Werner Gruener?”
Collier reflected long and hard before answering. “I can’t say I have. What does he have to do with Richard?”
“Nothing, that is, until two weeks ago when Mrs Elizabeth Stoddard put a direct call through to… ”
“Queenie?” Collier interjected.
“We have much to talk about, Inspector…Much.”