Traces of Evil(Draft): Chapter One: 1923

In the poverty-stricken neighborhood where the Gruener family lived, tuberculosis was a well-established part of life. But in the fall of 1918, something new visited their Frankfurt community that remained until 1920. It began as a fever and sore throat. Headaches, body aches, cough and nose bleeds were common. Doctors advised their patients to take up to 30 grams of aspirin per day. For some, this regime appeared to work as their symptoms improved. Days would pass before this mysterious manifestation returned worse than ever. Aspirin could not help them. In that first October of the influenza outbreak, the Gruener family lost seven of their thirteen children. By the end of 1920, the virus had completed its sweep through Germany and 287 000 Germans had lost their lives.

“Schändlich!” the headline from the Frankfurter Zeitung met Werner’s eyes every morning upon awakening since June 1919. On the wall opposite, tacked there by his father, its coffee-stained appearance bellowed “Shameful!” It was a constant reminder of Article 231, the War Guilt Clause, of the Versailles Treaty. It was deemed a direct attack on Germany. Scrawled on the wall beside it his father had written “November Criminals!” A nickname given to the German politicians who had signed the armistice in 1918. His father’s inebriated screeching voice echoed through his head. “Germany was made to feel inferior, less a country. Why? Because Germany was blamed for the war! I spit on this Weimar Republic.”  

Werner glanced around the one-bedroom, shoe-box-size apartment. The room was empty except for him, but he could still hear the screams of his siblings and his father’s stumbled step as he ascended to their lodging after the tavern closed. Beatings spared no one on payday.

He stretched his neck and glanced at the closed bedroom door. Payback had felt good! he mused. He rolled onto to his side and slowly, very carefully, sat up. Thud! The parallel hardware and serpentine springs gave way. “Ouch! Ouch!” A subdued scream was muffled between tightly compressed lips. His makeshift bed, which masqueraded as a couch during the day, had finally succumbed to the rambunctious trampoline antics of his brothers and sisters. He missed them but for no other reason than they deflected his father’s physical abuse occasionally away from him.

 Barely breathing, more out of fear than the pain which had become his constant companion, Wernerlistened carefully. Except for the occasional snort, snoring beyond the closed bedroom door continued uninterrupted. He combed his fingers through his thick blonde hair and sighed with relief, then slid his lank frame up the inclined cushions until his feet hit the cold, plank floor. Pushing off the couch frame, he stood. Jagged pain stabbed from waist to shoulders. He gritted his teeth and concentrated on breathing while his tongue marked time digging at the freshly punched gap in his upper mouth. Tentatively, his fingers explored the swollen upper lip and cheek before he pulled away.

Boots in hand, he sat at the kitchen table and breathed deeply several times. He glanced around the claustrophobic apartment. Odor of alcohol hung heavy in the air. He laced up his last boot over a stockingless foot and tilted his look toward the bedroom door. A year had passed since his soused mother left with his five surviving siblings. He understood why she left. Why did she not take me? A queried daily ritual that scratched across his mind like a hungry wolf scrapping a tasty morsel from its prey. Neurons flexed their images. He knew his father suspected it was he who had turned him in to police. Jailed fifteen months. That was enough time for his mother to pack up and leave. But why did she not take me?!  The crumbled separation order still lay on the floor where his father had discarded it during one of his drunken rages. A thin wedge of sunlight that slithered between unkempt curtains shone its reminder on it. Werner had learned from a local merchant, that his mother had relocated to Düsseldorf. Information kept tighter than a clam shell within him. Degrees of hate separated him from each parent, feelings sharply skewed in one direction more than the other.

His gaze focussed on the pantry; its scarcity punctuated by blue molds checkered on the outer edge of a half loaf of bread. His stomach rumbled as he put on his cap and jacket. He knew better than to check the ice box for food. Anger ate away at him. Once a good student, the extensive physical violence he suffered at the hands of his father forced him to run away many times. But he always returned to this hellish den. His hand touched his swollen lip and cheek. Not this time. And he knew he meant it. The streets had become his school. He had learned through petty crime how to clothe and feed himself. His home was the streets, and he navigated its nooks and crannies with finesse and purpose. Without looking back, he closed the door softly and descended to the street below.

Thick rolling clouds cast a pall over the late February morning rush while winds swept surroundings with a knife edged chill to its bite. Head down slightly, Werner snaked through the throng of people. His focus on shoes and the threads of the approaching gentry. A few carefully placed bumps later netted Werner four purloined wallets fat with Marks. He turned down an alley and after stuffing the money in his pocket discarded the empty wallets to a trashcan before exiting onto a large expansive courtyard with tenement buildings on its perimeter.

“Werner! ”  Heimrich Schmid, the local dog catcher, waved him over. “What happened to you? Never mind, let me guess. Your old man again. By the way, happy birthday. Nineteen?” Werner nodded. “Nice gift he gave you,” he said, with a scrutinizing glance.    

Reflexively, Werner raised his hand to his face then shrugged it off. “Shut your hole and give me a smoke?”

“Tut! Tut!” Heimrich replied with a smile, passing him a pack of Eckstein cigarettes. “Keep’em . I’ve got more,” he said, patting his jacket.

Werner had befriended Heimrich about six months ago, and often accompanied him on his rounds. The torture and killing of the animals caught was the mainstay of their routine.

Werner lit a cigarette and purged the smoke through his nostrils as he peered at the newspaper under Heimrich’s arm. “Anything of interest?” he asked, nodding toward the paper. He knew it would likely be the nationalist newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

Heimrich eyebrows lifted and fell with despair as he held up the paper. The headline read, General Strike in Fourth Week. Below it: Germans outraged by occupation of Ruhr by French and Belgium troops.

He passed it to Werner then came alongside of him and poked his finger at the page. “This here, it says it all.” His words spat out with venom.  “Any great nation that has been driven to despair has always found the ways and means for its revenge.”  He stared at Werner.

“We were stabbed in the back by those who stayed at home and a passive government.” Pensively, he gazed over Heimrich’s shoulder. “Beware of the dog, the beast has spikes.”

“Yours?”

“You really must learn to take in your surroundings, Heimrich,” he chuckled with a hint of distain. On the poster behind you.” He flicked his forefinger to direct his attention. “Boy! Am I famished! Breakfast is on me.”

Heimrich peered at him with a tilt of the head. “Should I be alarmed? Your meagre wage from me and the amount your father steals leaves little to nothing for you.”

“You worry too much,” Werner replied. “Today’s my birthday! I’m celebrating!” Arm across Heimrich’s shoulders, he began to lead him away. His gaze fell on the poster again. “Can I stay the night with you? I’ve got an early start tomorrow.”

“An early start?”

“I’m travelling to Düsseldorf.”

“Düsseldorf?”

“We’ll talk over breakfast,” Werner replied. “Do you mind if I keep this paper?”

“I’ve read all I needed to. But why?’

He winked. “Curiosity killed the cat, Heimrich. You’ll find out soon enough.” 

Numbed by war and its aftermath, many Germans perceived predictability as an ill-wind of illusioned comfort wrapped in a blanket of false security. Only the monied people, the powerful, would have seen it differently. Soon the chaos in the streets would melt into something far worse.

Niflheim, ruled by Hel, next to the Shores of Corpses, where the giant snake Nidhogg resided, was about to cast its long dark shadow across Germany.

Two articles had caught Werner’s attention, one an opportunity, the other a necessity.

No Last Act: A Short Story Without “E’s”

This short story came about from a challenge by a former colleague. I think he knew I could not resist. And he was right! After many attempts, here is my humble offering. I expect to follow it up with something more poetic in the near future. It’s the kind of medicine I require to ward off covid fatigue. Take care everyone and stay safe!

Similar to shadows of a dirty shirt, black cumulus clouds, abounding with rain, hangs fat across land and final hours of this train trip. An old match with a long history is playing out.

Clickity-clack, clickity-clack. Clickity-clack, clickity-clack. Clickity-clack, clickity-clack.

“Boy! Good pumpkin tart!” Al said, wolfing it down.

“Cocky isn’t your suit, Al. Tummy happy now? Play your knight!” Don said.

“Oooh! Touchy. How did you know I was going to play that?”

“I taught you!  This stuff is in my family’s blood, way back. I told you that.” Don’s look at Al was long as Al’s knight was slid into position. “Thinking about Tina?”

“Stop distracting, Don! I must think about what you will do.”

“You won’t win, you know.” Don slid his pawn forward. “Guard your king.”

“Shut up! I know what I am doing.”

“Okay! You do!” Don said with a shrug. “Still, I must ask. Why did you and Tina—?”

“I caught Tom and Tina kissing at last Thursday’s church fish fry. Satisfy your curiosity? Now, shut up!” Al slid his bishop forward.

“Sorry.” Don’s pawn took Al’s bishop.

Clickity-clack, clickity-clack. Clickity-clack, clickity-clack. Clickity-clack, clickity-clack.

Don’s thoughts drift to a panorama passing by. “Amazing!”

“What’s amazing?”

“Look through our window. Mountains,” Don said, “snow still caps its tops.”

“Hmm…Not bad!” A grin forms. “Downpour too distracting for you?  Al slid his rook into position. “Kontrola!”

“Rain sounds similar to buckshot.” Don slips slightly forward to scratch his back. “Do you want to do that with your rook? Think it out.”

“I did!.”

Don shrugs. “Okay.” His knight took Al’s rook. “Party going on in adjoining train car, singing, piano, lots of fun by how it sounds. What do you think?”

“I’m a dingbat! That’s what I think. I must watch what I’m doing.” Arms on his lap, his mind thought through what to do. Finally, Al slid his bishop into position.

Don took his comb out to tidy his thick auburn hair and with a sigh, slid his knight into attack. “I win!”

Both shook hands and put Don’s dad’s wood carvings into its carton.  

“You shouldn’t box your king in,” Don said. “Anyway, not important. Good playing you. You know, my dad would jump up and down with joy to know I was still using his wood carvings.”

“I miss him. Good man. How long ago?”

Don thought. “Six…”

“Sand runs out fast in… hourglass.” Looking away, Al said nothing.

“Unhappy?” Don said. “Don’t. Think only happy thoughts. That is what my dad would say…Sounds raucous in that adjoining car. Want to go?”

Swish! Door shut tight at Al’s and Don’s back; room’s air was thick with carbon smog. Piano-rag had this party hopping, party animals all.

“Join us!” A salutation from a burly barman who pours two scotch at his bar.

“I’m Virginia. And you?” Passing scotch to Al and Don. “This is Sara, my sis.”

Words that got lost in a soup of booming honky-tonk and hoots from partying all around. But it was not important. Swirling to music, two pairs joyfully laughing ring out, oblivious to all in train’s car as hours fly past smoothly.

With a nod, and an invitation and drinks in hand, Al, Sara, Don and Virginia sought tranquility, privacy in a dissimilar car without a hitch.

Talking is what all four sought away from that cacophonous ‘jam.’ Soon it was known, all four want it to last.

Clic-kity-clack, clic-kity-clack. Clic-kity-clack, clic-kity-clack. Clic-kity-clack, click.

Sun’s rays burst through.

A touch, a kiss, bonding starts. Swapping info on locality of flats, a trip’s climax, conclusion, did not finish a last act.  

Part Eighteen of Angel Maker: The Noose Tightens by B. B. Wright

1180476-snow-covered-country-road

Inspector Collier turned onto the road outside the gates of Lambert Manor. Earlier, light snow had fallen making the road slick. An inky, cloud spattered and brooding sky blotted out the moon. Gusts of wind rattled windows in the Wolseley. His unfamiliarity with the country route made driving conditions treacherous. He slowed down. At each turn, light from his headlights splashed off the embankments but on the straightaway barely sliced through the moist-laden darkness. The route’s edge had become his only means of navigation as it shimmered at the periphery of the car’s beams. Beyond the shoulder lay deep, unforgiving gullies. A film of perspiration had formed on his forehead

Captain Hall turned on the overhead light.

“Oi,” complained Collier. “Turn off that damn light.”

The car swerved one way then the other before sliding to a stop.

He reached up to turn the light off when her hand locked onto his wrist like a trap. Gently with strength she redirected his intent.

If Collier could have spit bullets he would have done it right then and there. Biting down on his lower lip, he let his eyes say it instead.

For a long moment neither said a word. Finally she broke the silence.

“I’m sorry.” She looked out the windshield before turning back. “I was thoughtless. But, I thought if I could decipher the code before we got back to the Station…Well…it would speed up things.”

“What code?”

“The one I found in Werner’s bedroom.” She pulled up her collar and wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill.

“You took it? Was that wise?”

She smiled. “No, I didn’t take it, at least not in a manner of speaking. It’s here.” She pointed to her head.

“Uh-Huh. Okay. Is he likely to know that someone has been rummaging through his things?” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Not likely, there wasn’t enough time. The paper the code was scribbled on was in plain sight. So either he hadn’t decoded it or he had and hadn’t yet dispensed of it in the fireplace. I think his sweet tooth got the better of him. Remember? That’s how I met him, in the pantry.”

“I remember. You took a bit of risk doing that.”

“Perhaps,” she replied with a dismissive shrug. “It’s interesting, you know.”

“What is?”

“When your quarry doesn’t know he is the quarry and that he’s been found by the hunter.”

“Well…” About to rebut, Collier rethought it. “So, what did you think of him?”

She stared at him for a long moment before replying. “I felt as if I’d been licked all over by a cat and now I’m in need of a bath.”

Collier shivered from the image she had just conjured up. “Evil, aptly described.”

“Since we’ve stopped and the light…well…it’s on, do you mind?” She held up her notepad and pencil retrieved from her shoulder bag.

He cleared his throat and surveyed the weather outside. “Weather doesn’t…appear…to be…getting worse. I guess not. But, are you sure it can’t wait…”

His words trailed off when he realized she was no longer listening to him. He watched with great interest as she wrote numbers grouped in threes on her page.

“How could you possibly remember all of that?” he asked, pointing at her notebook.

“I have an eidetic memory.” She hesitated. “It has its good side and bad side.”

She scrutinized the coded message for a few seconds before shaking her head in disgust. Hurriedly, she began to translate it:

INTEL HIGHEST PRIORITY
GLEIWITZ CONFIRMED
PREPARATIONS FOR FALLWEISS CONCLUDED 20 AUG.

When she was completed, she hammered the point of her pencil into the page. “There! Now, why anyone would continue to use a QWERTY code is beyond me. No matter. This here, I think, ” pointing to (………) “R “Q “I ! “is the signature of the sender. And, based on our Intel, there’s a very good likelihood that signature belongs to an Otto Imhoff—a key person in Werner’s sleeper cell. Beyond that we know nothing else about him. The informant who was to pass that information on to us disappeared. And, the NKVD whom we believe do know won’t—to say it politely—share with us.”

“The Russians are part of this?”

“As it turns out, the NKVD is important to getting your son and his fiancé safely home. Whether you know it or not the Soviet Union has the most active and best-resourced intelligence organization in the world. Our asset is that they hate fascists. But, more often than not we are at cross-purposes. And there, Inspector, lies the rub.”

He attempted to discern the full translation but was unable to since most of it was in shadow. “Any idea what GLEIWITZ CONFIRMED means?”

She nodded. “Thanks to ‘Queenie’ we do. But I can say no more.” She closed her notepad and returned it along with the pencil to her bag. “Queenie has an important job to do this night if our plan is to work.”

He sighed deeply. “You appear concerned.”

“Not about that.” She opened the car door. “Switch spots.”

Before Collier could complain she had made her way around to the driver’s side and pulled him out, taking his place. “Hurry up,” she shouted, patting the passenger seat. Once he was seated, she turned and smiled at him. “I thought it best.”

Putting the vehicle in gear the back wheels spun. Then, with a sudden jerk, the wheels gripped the road and the Wolseley sped off.

“I don’t know whether I told you, Inspector, but I used to drive racing cars State side. So, you’re in good hands. Anyway, from where I come from, I’ve had a lot of experience driving in this slop.”

Unnerved by her driving, Collier held on tightly to his seat as they slid, yet again, into another bend in the road.

__________

Humpty Dumpty once on Lambert’s wall stood
His intent to bring a great fall within;
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t stop Humpty from killing all within.

Werner Gruener felt a great deal of satisfaction as he walked through the gates of Lambert Manor. The Robert McTavish disguise discarded, he was ready for the next leg of his mission.

Part Seventeen of Angel Maker: The Trap is Set by B. B. Wright

math, puzzle, Betrayal of Trust, author, indie pub, writing tips, theory, story, novel, book
Dear Reader: If you are a puzzle solver you may enjoy deciphering the coded message sent to Werner in this chapter. The clues to its translation are found within this chapter and in one of the earlier chapters. If it’s not for you, carry on; all will unfold as Angel Maker moves to its finale.
Angel Maker

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).

Part Seventeen
The Trap is Set

There was an unexpected bite to the late January air. Overhead, the moon danced a hot hash do-si-do with dark cotton-ball clouds while from the tree-lined shadows boughs crackled in the wind.

He wished he had worn his jacket. Clothed in a thin woolen shirt, work pants and Wellingtons, he hastened his pace across the thinly snow-clad lawn toward the rendezvous point among the oak trees which lined the rear of Lambert Manor Estate. It had been a fruitless and unrewarding journey he had completed every evening at ten since he had become the Estate’s handyman and grounds keeper before Christmas.

Unbeknownst to him, Queenie circumspectly peered out through a slit in the curtains from her darkened top floor bedroom window. She has discretely kept tabs on him since his arrival.

His employment at Lambert Manor, largely inconsequential, boring and unchallenging, did not matter to him. Soon he would be leaving. He had learned all he needed to know. Bending down he rolled aside the large rock at the foot of the designated tree. A smile rippled upwards from the corner of his mouth. He grasped the envelope and with the tips of his frozen fingers pushed it deeply into his pant pocket. Rubbing his hands briskly and blowing into them to warm them up, he then carefully returned the stone to its original position.

As he began to return to the Manor he heard a vehicle approaching along the drive. Hugging the ground, he watched as the car rolled to a stop opposite the front entrance. Chilled to the bone, he barely breathed as he observed in stillness. Two people exited the car. Their chatter to each other indicated that one was a man, the other a woman. The man was about to knock on the door when it opened. After warm greetings and a brief exchange, he stepped across the threshold, followed by the woman who limped in after him.

Teeth chattering and now back in his bedroom, Werner found it difficult to remain still. He stripped two heavy woolen blankets from his bed and clutched them around his shoulders while he stoked the fireplace and added two more logs. Curling up in the only chair in his room, he waited for the warmth to sink in.

When his body finally stopped bucking and heaving from the cold, he threw off his cloistered wrap and stretched out his legs. A log fell forward on the crate capturing his attention. For a brief moment he tempted fate as he stared at the precariously hanging log and dared it to fall onto the floor.  He snickered. Standing up, he grabbed the poker and adjusted the log before retrieving a pencil and pad from his overcoat which hung on the wall hook. Throwing the blankets aside, he withdrew the envelope from his pocket and sat down.

As expected, the communiqué was in code. He smiled when he saw the encoded initials of Otto Imhoff at the end of the communication. To ensure its validity, he matched the count total in each line to the dot total at the end of the line. Then he summed the dots and calculated their digital root. The result matched Otto’s signature of nine dots. The exclamation in the code beside his signature carried another import, namely, April 18. The sabotage of the SS Paris at the docks of Le Havre, France was now confirmed. Werner and Otto would decide the rendezvous point and time and then inform their group.

The grandfather clock on the floor above his bedroom chimed the half hour. It was 10:30. He had already chopped wood and apportioned the household’s coal for the next morning. A chore that he had  completed earlier than usual.

Werner (a.k.a. Robert McTavish) was always last to go to bed. Anna the cook, a not uncomely Glaswegian spinster from Clydebank, had taken to the kindly habit of leaving him a bedtime snack each evening in the kitchen. The snack consisted of a pot of tea and an assortment of her home baked goods. In his role as McTavish, Werner was sure she had designs on him and, until this message arrived, he had hoped to taste more than just her home cooking.

Refocusing his attention, Werner quickly went about translating the message.

9 14 20   5 12 8   9 7 8   5 19 20   16 18 9   15 18 9   20 25 >> ………
7 12 5   9 23 9   20 26 3   15 14 6   9 18 13   5 4 >> ….
16 18 5   16 1 18   1 20 9   15 14 19   6 15 18   6’ 1’ 12’   12’ 23’ 5’   9’ 19’ 19’   3 15 14   3 12 21  4 5 4   (1*)(*10)(8!)> …..
(………) “R “Q “I !

Werner made his way down the labyrinth of hallways to the kitchen. When he entered, he was surprised to find a woman pouring herself a cup of tea and sampling one of his treats. He cleared his throat to herald his presence.

“Oops! What a shock this must be for you? It sure is for me” she said, turning to face him. “The owner told me that all the staff would be in bed and soundly asleep by now…and…that it would be okay to come down and help myself. I must admit I didn’t expect to find all these goodies waiting for me.”

“American?” Werner asked, scrutinizing her.

“Pardon?” she replied puzzled, glancing down at the pastry in one hand and the tea in the other.

“Your accent…it’s American?”

“Oh…yes. How silly of me. I thought…oh…never mind. ” She popped what was left of the tart into her mouth. “You should try these. They’re really yummy. I hope you don’t mine?” Not waiting for an answer she lifted the last tart from the plate. “Well…Ta ta.” Broadcasting a large smile, she limped passed him and out the door.

Werner smirked as he watched her disappear along the hallway. Too much money and not much upstairs, he surmised. I wonder why she and that other fella would be visiting so late in the evening? He shrugged. No matter. Lifting the teapot and the plate of remaining sweets, he headed off to his bedroom.

By the time all would awake next day in the Manor, he intended to be gone.

Part Sixteen of Angel Maker: Captain Hall Returns by B. B. Wright

Silhouetted Man on Pier

Angel Maker

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).

Part Sixteen
Captain Hall Returns

Captain Hall and Inspector Collier sat facing each other across his desk. Sergeant Snowden poured coffee into her mug and, before he left, he placed the thermos containing the remainder of the coffee on the table under the electoral map.

“Thank you, Sergeant.” Collier took a couple of sips of tea. When the door closed he placed his cup and saucer on his desk. “I must admit, Captain Hall, I was taken by surprise when you mentioned Mrs Stoddard’s name in our earlier phone conversation.”

“Surprise? Why?”

“She’s part of a case we’ve been working on. And, quite frankly, we have no idea of her whereabouts.”

“I see. Do you have any suggestions as to how she would have obtained the direct line into Stewart Menzies’s office? British Intelligence—to say the least—would dearly like to know.”

Collier shrugged and chortled. “She does profess to be a psychic.”

“I wouldn’t dismiss her…special abilities, Inspector, if I were you.”

Collier leaned forward. “I’m more interested in how she’s connected to my son.”

Captain Hall reached into her bag on the floor beside her and withdrew two envelopes and placed them on his desk. “It’s not so much her… as it is a man by the name of Werner Gruener.”

Collier sat back in his chair, puzzled. “In what way?”

Captain Hall finished her coffee and placed the mug on his desk. “Before we go any further, open the envelopes. The larger one contains copies of the prints promised last month.”

“And this smaller one?” he asked, waving it at her.

“A mug shot of Werner Gruener and his fingerprints.”

“Mug shot?” he asked, opening the envelope.

“He was accused of raping and killing two young girls in Munich a few years back but it never made it to trial.”

“How did you get your hands…?” Her smirk stopped him dead in his tracks. “Your right, I should know better than to ask.”

He dumped the contents on his desk and picked up the picture of Werner. “Why was this Werner chap never tried?”

“He belonged to the Schutzstaffel or SS and the girls were Jewish.”

He sighed deeply. Spilling the contents from the other envelope, he noticed there was a letter from Detective Inspector Smyth. His forehead became deeply furrowed as he read it. When he finished, he excused himself and exited his office with the fingerprint files. Several minutes later he returned without the files and regained his seat.

“How does Mrs Stoddard fit into all of this?”

Captain Hall shifted uncomfortably in her seat and was about to reply when there was a light knocking at the door. Leonard Scoffield opened the door and popped his head around it. “Your hunch was right, Alex; it’s a confirmed match on both.”

A smile broke Collier’s somber expression. “Thank you, Leonard. Now go home and enjoy your family. See you and your family Christmas Eve.” Collier took out his pipe from the side drawer. Filling it with tobacco, he lit it before returning his attention to Captain Hall.

“Well…well…that information implicates Werner Gruener in the two murders we’ve been working on.” Scrutinizing her, he added: “Why do I get the feeling that you already knew that?”

“Because you’re damn good at what you do, Inspector.”

Collier placed his pipe in the ashtray and stood up, coming around his desk to sit on the corner closest to her. “My guess is that Queenie is hiding the Meintner children from Werner. Do you know where she is?”

“Yes we do. And he’s with her.” She looked at him long and hard before continuing. “Queenie is quite an extraordinary woman, Inspector. I don’t think Werner appreciates how exceptional her skills are. And there lies our advantage. Do you mind?” she asked, nodding toward the thermos.

“That’s what the Sergeant left it for,” he replied with a smile, returning to his chair. “You said he’s with her?”
Collier watched her limp to the table. Her gait appeared more exaggerated since their last meeting. Unconsciously, his line of sight shifted to her prosthetic leg. She had lost the portion of her leg below the knee during an unfortunate hunting accident in Turkey.

Coffee mug filled, she surveyed the electoral map. “He’s securely in her grasp, but, not in the usual way one would think. More importantly, he doesn’t know it.” She returned to her chair. “Have you ever heard of a group known as the Thule Gessellschaft?”

Collier cocked an eyebrow.

Taking his reaction to mean that he hadn’t, she carried on. “It’s a secret society of occultists. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer of the SS, is a member. Strangely enough, he’s in the outer circle,” she chuckled, waving off his attempt to ask a question. “Please, don’t ask me how I know. Suffice it to say that I just know.” Taking a few sips of coffee, she peered over the rim of her mug at him. “The inner circle is reserved for a special type of…should I say…gifted person…like Queenie and…Werner Gruener.”

“Are you saying that Queenie is a member?” He asked with a slight hint of incredulity in his voice.

“No. I’m saying if she had been, her talents are worthy enough to place her in their inner circle. And that’s a big deal. That’s why she’s so dangerous to them.” She placed her mug on his desk and shifted forward on her chair. “There were five members from that inner circle, including Werner, here in the U.K. gathering intelligence. Now, there are four. We are sure that the murdered man in the steamer trunk was one of them. Our sources are reliable on that count.”

“British Secret Intelligence usually is. But, what does this have to do with my son? Menzies is usually up to something. So what kind of game is he playing that includes Richard? You forget. I worked with him during the last war.”

“The only game, as you call it, that is being played out is one of mutual advantage to both our Country and you.”

Collier crossed his arms tightly across his chest and waited for her to continue.

“Thule Gessellschaft is aware of your intention to capture Werner. Your fingerprinting campaign has caused quite a stir in their ranks.”

“I’m happy to hear it. Should I send out for champagne?” Collier replied sarcastically. He stood up and walked over to the window and stared out. “Does Menzies want me to stop, then?”

“On the contrary, he wants you to follow through with the fingerprinting campaign. To do otherwise at this juncture would alert them to the mole in their ranks.”

“And, my son, Richard?

“I can assure you that Richard, his fiancé and the children are…comfortable. The Thule Gessellschaft group is retaining them as their trump card if it needs to be played.”

Collier turned to face her. “In other words, I can’t arrest Werner or else…it becomes a tit for tat.”

She acknowledged with a slight shrug and nod. “Werner is critical to discovering who the three remaining members are of his group. And, this must be done without the Thule Gessellschaft finding out.”

For a moment he weighed what she had just said. “There’s more, isn’t there?”

Slowly, she nodded her acquiescence. “War is inevitable with Germany. Once it’s declared, and we expect it to be soon, we intend to use his group as a conduit to feed false information. But we can’t do that until all pieces of the puzzle are securely in place.”

Collier returned to gazing out the window. “I am sworn to uphold the law. So where does that fit into your scheme of things?”

There was a long silence before she answered. “Sometimes… no matter how cruel it may seem…compromise must take precedent.”

“Cruel is an understatement,” Collier harrumphed. “He murdered that little girl. Where’s the justice for her?!”

Her demeanor remained stoic and non-committal. Finally, she stood up and walked over to him.

“Sometimes, for a while, justice must pretend to be blind. War clouds are quickly gathering, Inspector. For the present, take solace in knowing who he is and that he’s securely in our grasp.” She reached out with an empathetic hand but withdraw it.

Defiantly, he turned to face her. “And, if I don’t?”

“Do you really want them to play that trump card? There’s a lot at stake. Not only the life of your son but your Country.”

Her cold stare unnerved him.

“Inspector, the three remaining members of his group must be found. Werner is the only link to them. Trust us. We’ll bring your son, his fiancé and the children entrusted to them home safely. But, we must do it our way.”

“It wasn’t that long ago when Menzies used the exact same words you just used: “Trust us”…and…”we must do it our way.” It resulted in the death of my brother.” His eyebrows popped up defiantly. “No… I need time to think this through.”

“But, Inspector…” She grabbed her jacket from the coat tree and followed him out of the office.

Cold air rushed at Collier as he put on his hat and exited the building. Pulling up his collar, he huddled deeper into his tweed overcoat. But, he found no respite. The bone chilling wind sliced through him. He trudged down the pathway towards the pier. The angry roar of the ocean crashing against the shore mirrored his emotional state. An unwelcome decision, personal and compromising, had to be finalized this late evening. Or? There was no or. At least he couldn’t think of any. Time was against him. Gritting his teeth, he hunched down and pushed his chapped hands deeply into his pockets and marched into the wild fury swirling the pier.

“Well…are you coming?” Collier yelled back, not waiting for her.

Captain Hall slipped as she hastened to follow him. Grasping the rail, she remained upright. She wanted to follow him but her instincts said otherwise. And, she relinquished him his space.

At the end of the pier, he raised his head high to welcome the full blast of the sting from the icy ocean spray and screamed out his son’s name: “RICHARD.”

Part Fifteen of Angel Maker: The Phone Call by B. B. Wright

200-phone
Angel Maker

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).

Part Fifteen
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.”

Part Fourteen of Angel Maker: Lambert Manor by B. B. Wright

Ensbury Manor One

Angel Maker

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).

Part Fourteen
Lambert Manor

Atop the stone perimeter wall, hidden within the boughs of a leafy oak tree that overhung it, Werner Gruener peered through his binoculars at Lambert Manor. Slowly, he scanned the windows. In his tweed overcoat pocket was a copy of Psychic Glimpses by Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a ‘Queenie’). Chapters twenty-five and twenty-six had brought him there. He stopped. There was movement at a window. Adjusting his focus, he lingered and watched. A slow twitch at the corner of his mouth erupted into a smirk. He had come to the right place.

In a low hateful tone filled with loathsome fanaticism for the horde inside the manor, he murmured: “Humpty Dumpty stands on this wall; his goal about to bring a great fall; all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t stop Humpty from killing again.”

Barking dogs in the distance caused him to quickly scramble down from his perch. He twisted his ankle in the descent. Crouching low, he massaged his ankle as he hugged the outside wall and waited. The sounds of the dogs receded. He had not been discovered.

In her book, Queenie’s grasp of British history was naïve to say the least. But, that was of no matter to Werner. He was intrigued by the locations she had cited for her encounters with ghosts– Bryanston House, Shaftesbury Abbey, Hamworthy Rectory, Scaplen’s Court in Poole. He had ordered his coterie of likeminded souls to each of those sites to scratch out whatever information they could from the locals. His attention, though, was twigged by Lambert Manor. Unlike the others, she had devoted two meaty chapters to it that detailed her encounters with a cast of spectral characters from Elizabethan ladies to bewigged gallants. It had been the only one honored by several sketched images peppered throughout its chapters. Also, he had learned that she and her husband were members of the spiritualist group Druid Circle which met there every Sunday night.

But, ultimately, it had been her dreams that had given her away. Queenie’s several incursions into his dreams had left him an entry portal to her dreamscape. Though she had not invaded his mind recently, he had invaded hers and found dreams filled with images of Lambert Manor.

Under Queenie’s wing, the Meintner family was protected. If his ploy to gain access worked, only the time factor was troublesome. It would mean several months with close proximity to Queenie. He had no idea how it would affect her ability to invade his thoughts, awake or asleep. Though a potential pitfall, he was confident of his ability to outwit her. Still, he wondered whether he would need a different set of mental barriers. Soon, he decided, if all went well, he would know.

Hobbling alongside the wall toward the entrance to the estate, he stuffed the binoculars into a small knapsack he carried over his shoulder. He snickered hatefully. Having no further use for it, he pulled out her book, Psychic Glimpses, and tossed it into the deep ditch, parallel to him. He worried. London authorities had already found the body in the wardrobe steamer trunk. According to an article buried deep in the pages of The Echo the severely decomposed body had not yet been identified. There was no mention of the description of the sender in subsequent publications. No matter, he mused. He chastised himself for talking so long with Robert Shaw, the shipping agent at Bournemouth train station. I wonder if he knew. Thespians have a keen eye for such things.

Christmas was fast approaching. Werner hoped to find the household in a generous mood. He cocked his tweed cap slightly to the right and grasped the large brass ring and knocked it against the front door twice. He heard footsteps approaching from inside.

A rigidly straight, lean gentleman answered the door. He gave the impression that he was starched from top to bottom, including his personality. He peered down at Werner. “Goodness man, I haven’t got all day. What do you want?”

His haughtiness immediately captured Werner’s ire but he kept this festered boil hidden.

“Mah nam is Rabbie Mctavish. I’m haur about yer ad fur a grounds keeper.”

Werner had decided to murder all in this household when the time was ripe. He scrutinized this arrogant bastard. You’ll be the first, he thought.

Dismissing Werner with the flickering wave of his hand, he directed him to go round to the rear entrance and slammed the door shut.