Happenstance had changed Lynn Hall’s life. Her lifelong goal—a career in Foreign Service—had come to an abrupt end four years ago when she stumbled and shot herself in the leg during a hunting expedition in the Kizilcahaman District of Ankara, Turkey.
She glanced at ‘Cuthbert,’ her wooden prosthesis, lying on the table beside her.
The past according to her way of thinking was better left where it was, in the past, and forgotten. Still, the memory she wished forgotten clung steadfast and fresh as yesterday. This vulnerability was concealed by a carefully crafted façade.
Captain Hall was a controlling and cerebral person; emotion of any kind made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t that she eschewed empathy, quite on the contrary; it was more that she had never connected it to herself. Feeling sorry for oneself was a luxury that she could ill afford especially since war appeared more imminent.
Sullenly, she stared at the inflamed stump below her knee. Unaware of the tears that streamed down her cheeks, she continued to gently apply the soothing cream to her stump. Strange, she thought, as she examined it. My eyes have always been either closed or directed elsewhere. Why did I do that?
She already knew the answer in its fullness.
Placing the lid back on the jar of cream, she stopped what she was doing and sat back in the chair.
Time washed through her until no more tears could flow.
She glanced at the wall clock. Two hours had passed.
Gathering up several tissues she wiped away her tears, throwing the soggy ball into the wastebasket. With a deep sigh, she rewrapped her stump and attached ‘Cuthbert.’
Standing at the bedroom window and seeing her reflection she smiled and said “I’m okay now.” And she knew that she meant it.
A light knock at the door startled her. At first she thought it was her imagination until she heard it again. It was three in the morning. Had she awakened Inspector Collier and his wife? They had been kind enough to open their guest room to her overnight. Her face flushed with embarrassment.
In a barely audible tone, she called out: “Yes?”
The door opened slightly and Lila poked her head into the room. “Are you alright, dear? I don’t mean to be nosey but I…thought… I heard you crying.”
“Everything’s okay, Mrs. Collier, I didn’t mean to…”
“Shush, no need to apologize.” Tucking her dressing gown across her chest and readjusting the waist strap, she broadcast a large smile. “I’m often rumbling around this house at the strangest hours, especially when Sandy’s not home.” She fell into a brief silence. “Nasty stuff about our niece…I’m going downstairs to make myself some tea and have one of those custard tarts. Should I count you in?”
Captain Hall nodded.
“Jolly good then,” Lila replied rubbing her hands together. About to leave, she stopped herself in mid flight. “Would you mind starting the coal fireplace in the living room?”
“Consider it done, Mrs. Collier,” Lynn assured her, without the slightest hint of hesitation.
“Lila…please call me Lila.”
Lynn was stoking the fireplace when she heard the front door open and close. The rattling of dishes and the high pitch whistle of the kettle suddenly stopped. Splintering floor boards and low exchange of whispers melted away along the hall toward the kitchen at the far end of the house. Unable to decipher whether the exchange of words were happy or sad, she forced herself to concentrate on the fireplace. Hopeful that the news about their niece would be good, she crossed her fingers and continued to poke at the fire. The tray of goodies being placed on the table behind her startled her.
“Oh…I…” Lynn almost lost her balance attempting to stand. A sharp burning sensation traveled up her stump leg and briefly settled in her hip. She smothered the sensation to flinch.
“We didn’t mean to startle you,” Lila injected, proffering her hand.
“I’m alright, really I am.” She fussed with her clothing. “It’s so not like me to let my mind drift off like that.”
“We have good news.Though the doctor thinks it’s best to keep her in the hospital a few more days, Diane is alright. ” Lila wrapped her arm around Sandy’s and gave it a tearful hug.
The explosion at the Cricketer’s Arms had taken an emotional toll on both of them. From the moment the Inspector had learned that his niece had been found among the rubble, he had never left her side.
Arms fully extended, Lynn embraced them.
Happy tears flowed between them until Lila, stepping away and wiping her face with her apron, said: “I’d better finish what I was doing. I’ve decided we’re going to have a picnic right here in front of the fireplace to celebrate.”
“Picnic? At three thirty in the morning? You’re daff, girl,” replied Sandy in astonishment.
“Maybe so, Sandy, but nevertheless it’s going to happen.” She grabbed a large multi-colored knitted blanket from the back of the couch and thrust it in his direction. “You, two, move the coffee table back and place this rug neatly in front of the fireplace.” Satisfied that it had been done to her liking she turned to Sandy. “Remember, Sandy, what you agreed to in the kitchen. You’ve got five minutes. And I’ll set the timer to keep you honest. So make your minutes count.” With a large smile on her face, she scurried out of the room and down the hall to the kitchen.
Flummoxed, Lynn searched the Inspector’s expression for clarification.
Lila bellowed from the kitchen: “You’re on the timer now, Sandy Collier.”
During the ordeal of the last twenty-four hours, uncharacteristic bags had formed under his tired eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe and pouch of tobacco. After he had filled his pipe and lit it, he began.
“Does the name Pavel ring a bell? A balding, possibly Eastern European, heavy set fella in his early forties with thick, round glasses.”
Captain Hall stared at him long and hard before answering. “Pavel Sudoplatov comes close to that description.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s a NKVD operant. Up to recently, he worked only out of the Rotterdam area. But, about a month ago, one of our agents sighted him in London. We put a tail on him but he shook it off a week ago.”
“Any idea why Pavel would have been with the hospital administrator, Klaus Becker?”
“Is Becker alright?”
“No, Captain Hall, he isn’t. Klaus is very much dead.”
A brief silence reigned between them.
“Do you remember me telling you, Inspector, that the NKVD and British Intelligence are often at cross purposes? He nodded. “Well, this is one of them. And it’s a doozy SNAFU.
The timer in the kitchen went off.
“Otto Imhoff,” she continued. “I mentioned his name during the drive home from Lambton Manor the other night?”
“Wasn’t his coded signature on…?”
“That’s right,” she interjected. “Klaus was a double agent and he had discovered Otto’s identity. On the day of the explosion, he was supposed to transfer the dossier on Otto to me. Earlier that very same day, I received this envelope. In it was a letter with a riddle.” She handed him the envelope.
He carefully examined it. “Do you normally open at the side?”
“Yes. Why are you asking?”
“This envelope has been opened and resealed. As you can see here there are two distinct glue lines along the seal. By the way, how did you know it was from him?”
“By these triangular three dots, Inspector, in the upper right corner of both the envelope and note.”
He carefully scrutinized the riddle:
You have everything you need to solve this. There are 100 lockers each hiding a single word. You and 99 others are each assigned a number 1 to 100.
# 1 opens every locker
# 2 closes every 2nd locker
# 3 will change the status of every 3rd locker (that is if the locker is open, it will be closed; if the locker is closed, it will be opened.)
# 4 will change the status of lockers 4,8,12,16,20,24,…
#5 will change the status of lockers 5,10,15,20,25,30,…
# 99 will change the status of locker 99
#100 will change the status of locker 100
The words in the lockers that remain open at the end will help you crack the combination lock on my locker.
“Was this his normal manner of communication with you?
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Have you already solved this riddle?”
“I have, Inspector.”
“”…combination lock on my locker” Then, do you know where the locker is?” he asked, returning the envelope and letter to her.
She shrugged. “First time I’ve heard about it. I’ve been his contact barely a year. And the few meetings I’ve had with him, four to be exact, were at carefully chosen out of the way places.”
He chewed on the end of his pipe. Pulling aside the curtain on the living room window, he peered through the slit. “Hmm… Perhaps you hadn’t chosen carefully enough.” He stepped aside to allow her to survey the street.
The figure she saw, as if on cue, disappeared into the shadows of the housing opposite.
She sat on the far arm of the couch, her shoulders slumped and facing away from him.
“There’s no time here for self-chastisement, Captain. Accept it, and move on.” He heard her sigh and watched her straighten up. “Let’s assume, like you, that they’ve already cracked this riddle. Then the locker location is the only thing missing.”
“Klaus was too careful to leave that kind of information lying around in his apartment,” she added as an afterthought. She heard the rattling of dishes coming down the hall. “If Otto was onto Klaus…”
“Then, there’s good likelihood that both the NKVD and Otto have you under surveillance.” Collier tapped his pipe on the ashtray and returned it to his pocket. “And, they think you will lead them to the locker.”
“If Klaus knew that he had been found out by Otto, and the riddle supports that, where did he conceal the information about the whereabouts of the locker? He must have thought it would be obvious for me to find. And something else, Inspector. Why did Pavel kill him?”
“Times up, Sandy Collier, open this door,” Lila called out.
“I fear that I may have put you and Lila in harm’s way. But, right now, there’s no time to explain, we must get to the morgue. I think I know where he hid it.”