Chapter Thirty Four of Angel Maker by Barry B. Wright: Aunt Martha’s Tea Set

To say that Captain Friedrich Cole was not happy would have been an understatement.  Already two hours late leaving the Port of Liverpool, he paced the bridge of the SS Armagon. ‘The old man’ as he was called by his crew was a hardnosed veteran seafarer with a stickler for detail and for being on time. But, tonight, his orders were to wait. When he saw the truck with the Blue Funnel insignia on the dock coming towards him, he sighed a relief and galvanized his men into action. He had hand-picked his crew for tonight. No where near the full complement of crew, each man, nevertheless, was a seasoned sailor, knew his duty and the real reason for the voyage.

When the wooden crate had been hoisted up and placed in the hole, Captain Cole gave the orders to cast off. Once clear of the harbor, the ship went to FULL SPEED.

For a while Captain Cole remained on the bridge of his humble 7,250-ton merchant vessel as it ploughed a lonely course across the gentle Irish Sea toward Dublin. The partially full moon shone like a high-powered spotlight in a cloudless night sky, sparkling with stars. The rendezvous should be an easy one, the Captain mused, satisfyingly, when he left the bridge and headed to his cabin.

About to enter his cabin, his wireless operator, Wilhelm Scholtz, arrived breathlessly to hand him a cable. “Wilhelm, why are you always in a hurry? You’ll be amazed how much more life you’ll have time for if only you would slow down.”

Without replying, Wilhelm came to rigid attention and handed him the coded message. “Heil Hitler!”

“Yes…Heil Hitler,” returned Friedrich’s distracted, unenthused reply and salute. Completely absorbed in the cable, he entered his cabin and shut the door behind him. Sitting at his desk, he took out his code book and began to decipher the message.

When he had finished, he pulled out his Vauen pipe from the drawer and filled its bowl from a can of Edgeworth tobacco. Lighting it, he sat back in his chair and purged the smoke through his nostrils. “The devil does take a hand in what’s not thought out clearly or done in haste.” Furrows formed at the bridge of his nose as he shook his head in disbelief. “Stupid. Arrogantly stupid.” He made a quick mental calculation. There’s roughly 120 bags of mail. He glanced at his watch. There should be enough time. He called up to the bridge and told his First Officer, Helmut Schmidt, to choose five of his most trusted men to go to the mailroom. When asked “Why?” he replied that they would be searching for a slender green bag and any mail prominently labelled official communications. Once completed, the items were to be brought to his cabin. Hanging up the receiver, he poured himself a glass of schnapps and sat back to enjoy his drink and smoke. This has turned out to be a more profitable trip than expected, he thought raising his glass and downing its contents. Pouring another schnapps, he propped up the pillow on his bed and stretched himself out to wait.

At 4 a.m. the officer of the watch spotted a distant ship and the word went out to alert the ‘The Old man.’

Captain Cole was awakened by the acrid smell of smoke and banging at his door. His pipe had fallen from his mouth and the ash had begun to burn through the woolen blanket. In a litany of profanity, he frantically smothered the errant ash. Gathering himself together, he opened the door.

On the bridge, Captain Cole peered hard through his binoculars. The mail he had asked for was in his cabin but he was unable to discern whether the approaching ship was the rendezvous vessel or some nosey British Coastguard cruiser. On tenterhooks, he continued to observe it. Time slid by. The Irish Sea had become rougher. When the signal came, it came with much relief. Far too much was now at stake to be lost to happenstance. Leaving his First Officer in charge, he quickly returned to his cabin to retrieve the mailbag containing the pertinent materials he had asked for.

Once the crate and his men had transferred over to the armed merchant-cruiser, Berliner, Captain Cole gave his wireless operator, Wilhelm, the order to send the Mayday.

Standing on the deck of the Berliner, Captain Cole watched as the Berliner turned its 5.9-inch guns on the Armagon and fired.

Rudolf Steiner, the crusty, forty-five-year-old captain of the Berliner turned to Friedrich Cole with a questioning expression as he nodded towards the mailbag he was carrying.

“The contents of this mailbag…goes to a level of ineptitude that’s beyond comprehension…certainly mine.”

“I don’t understand,” replied Rudolf. “The floor safe in that crate was the only item I was told to secure. If it fell into the wrong hands it would have severely compromised German intelligence gathering in Britain by exposing OTTO.”

“I don’t know anything about this OTTO you refer to. But, I do know that in my hands I’m holding a mass of reports and correspondence destined for British military and intelligence outposts in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.”

Rudolf’s jaw dropped speechless.

“I had the same reaction, my friend.”

“How…?”

Friedrich waved him off.  And they watched in silence as the Armagon was dispatched to the bottom.

_________

When Louise was finally conscious, two days had passed since the incident at her house. She was surprised to find Inspector Collier by her bedside.

“What happened?” she asked.

“You gave yourself a nasty bump when you dove for cover.”

“Hard-headed Anna, that’s me.”

“Thank god there’s nothing in there to do damage to,” he chuckled.

“Watch it, Sandy Collier! Or I’ll give you a fat lip.” She tried to sit up but thought better of it.

Collier smiled. “That exchange tells me you’re on the mend.”

“I think so too,” came a voice behind him.

Turning, Collier greeted the doctor and the nurse. “I’ll just be outside in the corridor,” he assured Louise.

When he returned and regained his position on the chair beside her bed for a long while neither of them spoke. “Everything okay?” She nodded. “There’s something I need to ask you.” She rolled onto her side to face him. “Before the shots rang out you were coming out of the house waving something in your hand.”

She closed her eyes and tried to remember. Her head ached as she reached back to the moment. “Yes…now I remember. It was a freight receipt for my aunt Martha’s tea-set.”

“Why was the tea-set so important?”

“It was Irish Belleek china… Very expensive…It was supposed to be my heirloom,” she replied, indignantly.

“What am I missing in this conversation?” he asked, somewhat discombobulated.

“The floor-safe was included in that receipt.”

Part Twenty-Seven of Angel Maker: The Visit by Barry B. Wright

Ahead, twenty-nine Edgestone Road loomed. Once, its grounds had stood alone; reluctantly, over time, it had been forced into the lesser company of others. A caste within a framework of its own making, the grandiose dwelling’s pores had once oozed with majesty and pomp. Its lustre vanquished, the building’s chinked outer skin was now snarled in unkempt vine. The elites who had played, lived and eaten behind its walls would have become, for the most part, invisible scratches in footnotes to history had it not been for coin paying curious who walked in their past.

The Wolseley came to a stop in front of the museum. A woman who was weeding and planting in one of the front flower beds stopped what she was doing and looked up.

It had been a very long time since he had either spoken to or seen her. Still, Collier knew that the woman was her. Taking in a deep breath, he let it out slowly and sat back in his seat.

To say the surroundings had changed would have been an understatement. The long, winding, tree-lined drive to her home no longer existed. In its place was a residential neighbourhood packed with housing.

Collier had been aware of the financial short-falls that had short-circuited the rising star of the Moodie household. Except for the patch of land where the home stood, the City of Bournemouth had expropriated the remainder for an undisclosed amount.

Exuberant sounds of children from the nearby school grounds were refreshing to his ears as he exited the vehicle. There’s something soulfully cleansing and hopeful about their sound, he thought, while he waited for the others to join him.

“Inspector?”

“Ah? Yes, Captain Hall?” he replied, distracted. His gaze attended the route along which they had just travelled.

“Is there something wrong?” she enquired.

Collier’s reply was hesitant and thoughtful. “I hope not…but…I think we may have been followed. The car at the far corner, it parked shortly after we arrived and no one has exited.” The troubled expression on Captain Hall’s face forced him to look at her in an askance manner.

“Sorry, it’s not like me to mess up like this. Quite honestly, I did spot it when we exited the pub. But, I never much gave it thought,” she lied.

“Should I check it out, Gov?” Sergeant Snowden volunteered, moving in the direction of the vehicle.

Captain Hall’s outstretched hand stopped him. “I think it better we carry on with our business,” she interjected. “Don’t you agree, Inspector?”

“Can I assist you with anything?” Louise called out through the iron-rod fence. Tilting her head toward the sign on the gate she continued. “As you can read, we’re closed today.”

Collier glanced at Captain Hall and whispered. “Do you have any idea why Klaus Becker would have left the package here?” She shrugged. “We’re here on official business, Miss Moodie,” he shouted back before returning his attention to Captain Hall. “Don’t you think…considering the uninvited visitors…it might be wise to give me the rest of the code?”

“Planning for the worse, are you?”

“I recognize that voice. Official business, is it? And, what kind of official business would you be up after all these years, Sandy Collier?” chortled Louise, opening the gate and waiting for his arrival.

About to turn away, Captain Hall grabbed Collier’s arm. “The first five lockers touched only twice. That is, prime numbered lockers touched only twice.”

Collier smiled. “Got it. You don’t trust many, do you?”

“I don’t trust anyone?” she retorted with a cold stare. “The Sergeant here should stand guard.”

Collier nodded and he could see that the Sergeant agreed.

“Nothing’s changed,” commented Louise as she ushered them through the opened gate.

Astonished by her remark, Collier replied: “Louise, everything’s changed.”

“I meant…” Quickly, she dropped what she was about to say. “Follow me, then.” She led them along a path to a nicely appointed patio at the rear of the building and encouraged them to sit at one of the wicker seating ensembles that had an umbrella. “If the sun’s bothersome don’t hesitate, “she encouraged, indicating the closed umbrella. “I’ll tidy up and join you. I won’t be long.”

Collier watched her as she entered through a door that at one time only servants had used. Life takes curious twists and turns, he mused. He couldn’t deny, there was a part of him that wished he had stayed in touch. A tinge of sadness grabbed him when the door closed behind her.

Twenty minutes later she joined them carrying a tray of tea and goodies. She wore sandals and a flowered summer dress that rippled in the gentle breeze. This was in stark contrast to the boots, cover-all and headscarf under a wide rimmed hat she had worn earlier.

As she approached, the sun’s rays danced off the golden sheen in her freshly groomed hair. Barely a wrinkle creased the delicately formed features of her face. A pearl beaded necklace adorned her neck.

For a surreal moment, time stretched backwards for Collier. He could not take his eyes off her.

Placing the tray on the table in front of them, she sat in the wicker loveseat opposite. “I made those,” she said proudly, pointing to the cakes on the plate. “I guess a lot has changed, wouldn’t you say, Sandy?”

He smiled and nodded. “Gardening, too, I thought you’d be the last…”

“I know,” she interjected, “the last to be caught dead doing such a thing. Me too. But, my gardener got up and quit before Christmas.”

“Who was he? Maybe I can have a wee chat with him,” Collier replied. He could feel her eyes scrutinizing him.

“Your civility is insulting to me. And from what I know about you, and it’s quite a lot, demeaning to you. So, enough of your small talk, let’s get to why you are here,” she insisted. “You said earlier it was official business.”

Captain Hall, sensing Collier’s sudden discomfort, shifted forward in her chair and asked, “Klaus Becker, how do you know him?”

For a moment, Louise said nothing as her gaze shifted between them. “It’s best that I show you. Come inside.”

They followed her along a narrow hallway, past the washroom and bedroom, to an open area that contained both living-room and kitchen.

“Did you see where she went?” he asked.

Collier and Captain Hall glanced at each other in disbelief as they surveyed the room.

“I’d ask you to sit,” Louise called out, “but I think you’d need a map to find your way in and out of this labyrinth of furniture and what-nots. Stay where you are, I won’t be long.”

“I think…her voice came from somewhere over there,” Captain Hall chuckled, pointing in the direction she thought it came from. “Did you know she was a hoarder?”

“Not a sausage,” he replied. “I just hope you’ll have easy access to the vault.”

Louise’s hand appeared from behind a wall of mahogany furniture and Indian rugs waving some papers. “Got it!”

When she joined them, she handed Collier a dog-eared old photo. “As you can see that’s me and my brother, Reginald. Do you recognize the person beside him in uniform?”

Collier took the photo for closer scrutiny. Shaking his head, he handed it back.

“I’m not surprised. Quite dashing, don’t you think? I had a big crush on him, then. That’s Klaus Becker except I knew him as Peter Townsend. Before my brother, Reginald, passed away, he visited a lot. I guess that’s why Reginald did this.” She handed Collier a deed to the property in which Reginald had signed over ownership to Townsend. “The week before Klaus…I mean Peter…died in that explosion he signed it back to me.” She handed him the second document. “Now that surprised me. Mind you, our home had long since been turned into a museum and not much of the original property remained. As you can see,” she continued, sheepishly, “I attempted to save as much as I thought prudent to preserve the Moodie legacy.”

“Is there a vault or safe on your premises?” Collier enquired.

“In the museum section there is,” Louise replied. “Why?”

“Do you have access?” Captain Hall asked.

“Not to the safe but I do to the museum. It’s in the Co-ordinator’s Office. My key opens both.”

“Would you mind getting it and giving it to Captain Hall?”

A mischievous smirk appeared on her face and she said: “It’s right here tucked warmly and safely between my peaks.” She undid her necklace and handed the key over.

When Captain Hall left, Louise turned to Collier holding out her necklace. “Do you mind?”

“I’ve never been very good at doing this,” he said as he fumbled a few times before successfully placing it around her neck and closing the clasp.

“What happened to us?” she asked.

“Me. Lila. Everything. Do you remember telling me “focus on what you love doing, the rest will follow”?”

“I do. It was out on that patio in the loveseat where I was just sitting.”

“What I wanted to do wasn’t what you or your family wanted me to do.” He took her hands in his. “And, you didn’t see it. Or, didn’t want to see it. How could I have expected anything different?” He sighed and let go of her. “Like all youth, you were rebellious against your family. As was I against mine. We were just instruments in each others flight to independence. Our love…our infatuation…was its vehicle.” Movement outside the window distracted him. “Are you expecting someone?”

She shook her head.

Collier ran down the hall and outside onto the patio. Captain Hall’s voice yelled his name from inside the house. He had no time to react. The pain in his head was crippling. And he fell, uncontrollably, into a dark, inky deep well.