Anger and resentment percolated inside him.
“Are you alright, Gov?” Sergeant Snowden asked, concerned, as he glanced at the Inspector in the rear-view mirror.
How do I answer him? Collier mused. Life had suddenly become more complicated. And, he felt its unwelcome weight squarely on his shoulders. Mustering up a smile, phoney though he knew it was, he nodded and returned to his thoughts.
The inside pocket of his jacket contained the blurred photo of Werner Gruener which Captain Hall had given him and two sketches. One drawing was based on the description provided by the train baggage handler and the other an attempt by Andre Bertillon, his forensic artist, to capture Werner’s present appearance sans disguise.
The murder of the three Russian agents in their vehicle on his street earlier that morning had unsettled him. It was too close to home. He cringed with the thought that if it had occurred two hours later, innocent children on their way to school could have been caught in the cross fire. Now, he feared that Lila’s life could be in danger.
He glanced at the headline of The Echo lying on Captain Hall’s lap and cracked a meagre smile: ‘Queenie Found Murdered. He hoped this ruse worked. Time was at a premium. The lives of his son, Richard, and Elsa, his finance, and her family depended on everything proceeding according to plan. Captain Hall’s game plan had missing pieces. And that haunted him. Though she had ensured him that the children in Elsa’s family would soon be delivered safely out of Germany to Bournemouth via kindertransport, her silence on the remainder had left him with a deeply sickening feeling. He felt the vehicle slowing down as Ringwood Pub came into view. A cold sweat glistened on his forehead. Flashbacks to the horrific events in the trenches hammered at the door to his mind. He felt queasy. It had been more than two years since he last fell off the wagon. And, the gift of sobriety was a clarity he had no intention of losing. The pub’s owner and many of its patrons shared an untellable nightmare he could not and would not revisit. He felt Captain Hall’s hand press gently on his forearm.
The past, he thought, is indeed like a hungry old lion. You can ride its back only so long before it decides to eat you. Maybe it’s my day to be eaten.
Closing his eyes, he took in several deep breaths before wiping his brow clear with his handkerchief. Then, after a reassuring glance at Captain Hall, he focused ahead.
Many of the pub’s patrons earned their drink money by doing odd jobs throughout Bournemouth. And, as a result, he thought that there was a very good likelihood that someone would recognize Werner from either the photo or sketches. The truth was that he wanted to delay the next stage of today’s agenda.
When the vehicle stopped, he stepped out onto the sidewalk. The sun felt good against his face. While he waited for Captain Hall and Sergeant Snowden to join him, he felt a growing confidence that he had the mettle to face whatever lay beyond the pub’s doors.
Twenty-Nine Edgestone Road, the next leg on today’s roster, was high up on his never to visit again list. Suzanne Moodie, who still lived at that address, was someone over the years that he had scrupulously managed to avoid. And, in Bournemouth, that was not an easy task to accomplish. But, Klaus Becker’s clandestine message necessitated that Captain Hall and he make that visit. Unfortunately, from his point of view, Captain Hall had still not divulged to him the critical piece in Klaus’s puzzle, namely the words that would identify the combination to the vault. And that troubled him.
“Captain?” he said with a smile when she joined him. “I have a question to ask you before we go in.”
“Shoot.” She replied.
“That puzzle of Becker’s…I’ve worked out that ten lockers remained open…but…I don’t know the words in each.” She nodded matter-of-factly. “Well…Are you going to share?” he asked, not hiding his disgruntlement.
“In time, Inspector” Her attention turned to reconnoitring the street before her gaze returned to Collier. “But, right now, first things first.”
Briefly, Collier thought of pushing the issue but her demeanor told him otherwise.
“Is there a problem, Captain Hall?” asked Sergeant Snowden.
“Why are you asking?”
“Well…it’s just…that you appear… preoccupied…tense.”
She scratched the back of her ear and shrugged. “I get a sense we’re being watched.”
“We are,” chortled Snowden, thumbing over his shoulder to the pub’s window. Quentin Hogg’s fleshy nose was pressed against the window like a sausage patty while his face went through numerous contortions. Hovering above him were Jock Mahoney and Patrick O’Grady performing rude gesticulations.
Sergeant Snowden inserted himself to block Captain Hall’s line of vision to the errant behaviour in the pub window. His profuse apologies being quickly silenced by the wave of her hand as she motioned toward the door.
“Captain!” Collier called out, “You can’t go in.”
Confused, she asked, “Why not?”
An uncomfortable state of awkwardness began to wash over him as he attempted to release the words. “You’re…a…woman and…women aren’t…” His words quickly evaporated. He realized that he had just said something comparable to holding up a red flag to a bull. The only word that speared his mind repeatedly like a broken record was the word “SHIT.” This was a serious brain burp that had no resemblance to what he intended to say.
Her eyebrow raised in defiance while her tone remained calm, she replied: “I see.”
An uneasy silence slammed down between them like a lead curtain.
Finally, Collier managed to eke out an attempt to correct his infraction. “What I was trying to say was that the Sergeant and I have a history with those men inside…a very personal one that has been shaped by war. Your presence might upset the applecart. That’s why I’m asking you to stay outside while we conduct our business with them.” Briefly, he held his breath waiting for her answer. He knew she could see right through his little scam.
“I can accept that…for the moment,” she replied, nodding her head.
Once they had entered, she began to count off sixty seconds on her wrist watch. The beeping of a car horn momentarily distracted her. When her moment was up, she entered the pub.