Angel Maker: Part Eight by B. B. Wright

Nazis Enter Austria

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.

Part Eight
Dicey Premise

Collier had unwillingly missed another Remembrance Day. He had hoped for new beginnings to his healing process but circumstance and devotion to duty steered him along a different path. The trauma of trench warfare and the emotional ties associated with the death of his brother at Passchendaele remained raw in his psyche and continued to insinuate itself into his well hidden daily nightmare. The killing he had done and seen had taken a piece of his soul that he knew he would never get back again. A product of his past, he was slowly learning how to live beyond just existence within its memories. But the glowing embers across Europe woefully interjected in his transition by casting its ominous shadow across the landscape. Feeling the fresh air of his hopefulness being sucked away from him he watched as the world plummeted into the stale, tangibly evil and sociopathic morass of failed yesterdays.

Aware of the orgy of anti-Jewish disorders in Germany and the wrecking and looting of Jewish shops and burning of synagogues, he worried for his son, Richard, and his fiancé, Elsa. The news out of Vienna was no better when he learned that Jews waiting outside the British Consulate in the hope of getting visas were all arrested—ten thousand in all—and sent to a concentration camp. Nationality did not matter. If you were either Jewish or a Jewish sympathizer, irrespective of your nationality, you became part of the roundup.

As it turned out, only one of Mrs Stoddard’s (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) predictions had come true. Namely, Collier did find out from the Foreign Office that his son had likely been imprisoned either at Lemberg or at Posen near the Polish border. But, they had been unable to corroborate it. Collier had concluded that they really knew nothing about either his son or about Elsa and her family.

When he had inquired about Captain Hall, Collier had been unceremoniously cut off. When the Foreign Office had called him back a half hour later, he found himself the interrogatee to a barrage of questions none of which he could comfortably answer without revealing that his source was a psychic. And that he had no intention of doing. At the end of it all, Collier had concluded that Captain Hall did exist but learned nothing more. Whoever this Captain Hall was left no doubts in Collier’s mind that the Foreign Office had no intention of sharing it with him. And that pricked his curiosity even more since he now wondered how ‘Queenie’ could have known that name.

On the same day that ‘Queenie’ had told Collier about the Jewish family and the fate of their two children, he and Constable Dubin had gone around to the boarding house late that evening. But, to his chagrin, none of the families living there met the criteria she had related to him. He and the constable had then driven to the Stoddard household only to find it in darkness with the front door open. Within minutes of entering the home, they had quickly ascertained that neither ‘Queenie’ nor her husband was present. Their bedrooms and consulting rooms in disarray, whatever their reason, the notorious couple had vanished into the night in great haste. Fearful for ‘Queenie’s’ safety in light of what she had told him, Collier had sent Leonard Scoffield’s forensic team to the Stoddard household the next day to sniff it out for clues. Except for a porcelain doll and a child’s blanket found in one of the bedrooms, nothing of useful consequence had been discovered.

By the time Collier had finished that day’s investigation, he had broken a promise along with one of Lila’s ten commandments: “When you make a commitment, follow through with it.” Not showing up for dinner—especially this dinner—was the major gaffe on his part. And the Hyde who met him at the door had every right in his opinion to hold back nothing in her stinging rebuke of him. He had retreated into silence so as not to inflame an already volatile situation with weightless excuses. After all was said and done, he reluctantly accepted the fate that she had meted out and moved his belongings into the guest room. Other than the very casual of conversation, real communication in his household had become mute. He had learned later from his very irate niece Diane that her mother, his sister, had delivered a tongue lashing to all present that evening before taking her “anti-Semitic ass out the door.” It was a dinner that never was and he rightly blamed himself for allowing it to occur.

The coded message left by ‘Queenie’ turned out to be easy to decode. On reexamination, it had become painfully obvious to Collier that it was the QWERTY code; a code often used in his youth to keep messages exchanged between friends secret. For him, the circled one in the crossword had been the giveaway because it told him where to begin the alphabet: namely to place the A under the Q. If it had been a two or three circled then the A would have been placed under the W or E, respectively.

QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLZXCVBNM
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
AOSS DTLLTFUTK ITOS IOZSTK
KILL MESSENGER HEIL HITLER

When Collier had finished decoding, a cold chill ran up his back. It meant that another murder had been committed and it had not yet been discovered.

A month had passed and still there were no leads in the murder investigation of seven year old Rebecca Grynberg. The Divorce of Lady X, which had been showing at the time at The Palladium, had been replaced by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes staring Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. People had become distracted by the approach of Christmas and by the heightening tensions with Germany as the possibility of war grew more likely since Hitler’s successful diplomatic coup over their Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, for control of The Sudetenland in October. As a result, the news worthiness of her murder had slipped from the front page of The Echo to languish in the inner folds of the paper.

In a way, the police were happy to see this shift in attention since it gave them a reprieve from the enormous public pressure to solve this heinous crime. But, the shift in public attention neither lessened their efforts nor did it allay the emotions that ran hot in the precinct. It was these pitched emotions that Inspector Collier feared could potentially shroud good police diligence with lapses in judgment stained by expediencies and improprieties. As a result, he tightened his grip on the investigative process.

Accepting what ‘Queenie’ had told him about the murderer being a resident of Bournemouth, Collier began to formulate a method to catch him. He knew its application would be exhausting for his limited personnel; if it worked, though, its science would be irrefutable in a court of law. Unfortunately, the premise was dicey since it was based on the comment of a psychic. Nevertheless, he decided to forge ahead with his plan.

To catch this murderer, Collier had decided to widen the search and to fingerprint the whole adult, male population of Bournemouth over the age of sixteen. Using the electoral register as a guide, the police would go house to house fingerprinting. Anyone who had left the area or who had travelled abroad would also be included. So as not to alert the murderer, The Echo and surrounding newspapers would be asked not to report on it.

Collier had not had a good night’s sleep since becoming a nightly outcast to the guest bedroom. He had hoped with Christmas approaching and with the family traditions surrounding it that civility would once again reign within their household. But, Lila had still not budged from her position and remained non-communicative. With no resolution in sight, Collier unwillingly resigned himself to the impasse. Though possible solutions seemed few and far between, he nevertheless knew he had to find a solution, and soon. So, he decided that he would phone Lila later to tell her that he needed time to think through their situation and in order to do that he would be staying overnight in his office. He had already decided to risk the gossip likely to erupt when he used the local Bathhouse to clean up the next morning.

Rocking to and fro in his chair, Collier shifted his attention back to his plan to capture the murderer when his intercom buzzed. Rolling his chair closer, he flipped open the switch. “Yes…Sergeant?”

“There’s a Captain Hall here to see you, sir.”

Angel Maker: Part Six by B. B. Wright

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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.

Part 6
The Hunch

Two significant clues had been discovered in the missing girl’s hospital room: a Winchester bottle under her bed with several fingerprints on it and on the highly polished floor the stockinged impressions of an adult male’s footprints. It had been established early in the investigation that Rebecca Grynberg had been the sole patient in this room.

Though the immediate objective was to account for all fingerprints found on that bottle, Collier, who recalled the hospital administrator’s odd sock combination, asked his good friend, Leonard Scoffield, who was the senior officer in charge of the forensic side of the crime scene, to check Becker’s foot size first against the stockinged impressions left in the room. Also, after he had cleared it with Leonard, Collier took the photo of the little girl with her family from its frame on the bedside table and placed it in his inside pocket.

Diane, poked her head around the corner to the entrance of the room and tried to get her uncle’s attention. Leonard noticed her first and directed Collier’s attention toward the doorway.

Massaging the taut muscles in his neck Collier walked over to where his niece was standing.

“Is everything alright?” he asked. “You have a worried look about you.”

“I see your neck’s bothering you. We do have Minnard’s liniment here.”

Shaking his head, he replied: “That foul smelling stuff? Nice diversion…You’re not getting off the hook that easily. Now what’s troubling you?” He cupped her elbow and led her down the hall away from the room’s entrance and into a small alcove.

“It’s about tonight’s dinner,” she replied, “and I can’t help but feel stressed over it especially if you’re not there to…support us.”

“Oh…I see. You’re afraid that you and Lenny might not be able to handle facing your mother on your own.”

She nodded.

“I shall be there. I promise you. But, if I am late for whatever reason, your Auntie Lila can handle my sister quite handedly at the first sign of trouble.” From Diane’s expression he wasn’t sure she had bought into what he had just said. “May I make a suggestion?”

“Of course uncle!”

“If I’m going to be late I’ll forewarn your Auntie Lila. You call her first to get the lay of the land and then me at the station to coordinate our arrival times. I think that should allay any concerns you may have. What do you think? Does it work?”

She wrapped her arms around him. “It works uncle!”

“We’ll tame your mum by evening’s end,” he assured her. “Now off to do your work. I too have much to accomplish by day’s end. And, again, congratulations on your engagement.”

By the time Inspector Collier left the hospital to return to the station with Constable Dubin, he was satisfied that Sergeant Snowden had everything well under control. This included securing the exits and monitoring the comings and goings at the hospital as well as a plan to ensure that all personnel were fingerprinted in the solarium

The actual fingerprinting of hospital personnel was the responsibility of Leonard Scoffield’s team who also matched and validated names and addresses associated with each set of fingerprints as well as the foot size of males. Based on the list the hospital administrator, Klaus Becker, gave them, there were over 2000 people—2017 to be exact—to be processed. At least a month’s worth of work to complete.

The sunshine and nipping chill felt good against his cheeks as Collier descended the steps from the hospital to the Wolseley parked at the bottom. Though he still felt some discomfort from his fall earlier on the same steps it had become quite bearable.

By the time Collier had reached the bottom of the steps, he had decided to follow a hunch that had been bubbling in his mind since he learned of the girl’s disappearance and ‘Queenie’s,’ recounting to him of her reoccurring dreams—though he would have described them as nightmares.

He directed Constable Dubin to make a detour to the local cinema rather than returning directly to the station.

The crowds from the Remembrance Day ceremonies had long since dispersed and the streets were relatively quiet as Dubin parked the vehicle in front of the Palladium Cinema. The unlit marquee above its entrance advertised The Divorce of Lady X starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier and Collier could see someone cleaning up in the main foyer behind the glass doors.

By the time Constable Dubin and he reached the front doors of the cinema whoever had been in the front foyer had disappeared and they were left with no other choice than to bang heavily on the doors with their hands to attract attention.

After several fruitless and loud attempts, an elderly gentleman with tufts of white hair on a mostly bald head and sporting a white handlebar moustache and work clothes appeared. Barely paying attention to them, he pulled out his pocket-watch, pointed to it and waved his bony arm for them to go away. Their persistent banging against the doors drew his full attention and forced him to maneuver his glasses from their strategic position just above his forehead to his nose. Once he saw Constable Dubin’s uniform he quickly traversed the foyer to open the doors.

“Sorry aboot that. Thae auld een o’ mines dinnae see as guid wi’oot thae,” he apologized pointing to his glasses.

“May we come in?” Collier asked.

“Aye o’ coorse ye kin.”

After Collier and the constable stepped inside the doors, the elderly gentleman relocked them.

“Ye cannae be tae canny.”

Collier smiled replying:”No you can’t. Best to be too careful than not careful enough.”

“Aye. Noo whit kin ah dae fur ye?”

“I’m Inspector Collier and this here is Constable Dubin. What’s your name?”

“Robert, Robert McTavish.”

“Is the owner…Harry Mears by any chance here, Robert?” Collier asked, casually surveying the surrounding environs.

“Na tis juist me. Cleaning up afore tomorrow’s matinee.”

Collier reached into his pocket and pulled out the photo. “Have you seen this little girl around here recently?”

Robert looked at it long and hard before answering.

“She doesn’t keek kenspeckle. Bit thae auld een see a lot o’ fowk while th’ week while this auld brain o’ mines doesn’t mind as weel as it used tae.”

“Too bad, I wish you had. Do you mind if we look around?”

“Na nae at a’. Ah will tak’ thae garbage bags oot back ‘n’ return shortly.”

“Thank you, Robert. You’ll find us in the lower section of the theatre.”

As Collier opened the doors to the theatre, he could hear Robert loading the garbage bags onto his trolley. Turning back he watched him wheel the garbage down a dark corridor to the back entrance.

“Tell me gov, did you understand everything he said to you? I know I had trouble following him.”

“Pretty much. The Scottish brogue was a daily part of my life growing up. My family on my mother’s side was Scottish and they often took care of me while my parents worked.”

“Do you mine gov if I ask another question?”

“Not at all.”

“What do you hope to find here?”

“I really don’t know, Constable, except that little girl safe and sound and hiding somewhere in here.”

“But why here?”

“For now, let’s just call it a hunch. Now check along the rows on that side while I check this side. After we’re finished here we’ll head upstairs to the balcony.”

Barely into their search the doors behind them burst open and Robert McTavish,  frantic and breathless, stood partly into the opening clinging to the door handles on either side of him.

“Mah god! Mah god! Come quickly! ” he screamed, pointing behind him as he turned and exited.

Tears swelled Collier’s eyes once he stepped out into the back alley behind the theatre and saw the child’s lifeless and broken body in a pool of blood. Unable and not caring to hide his emotions, he hunched down in front of her sobbing.

Dull as stone and open, her eyes stared back at him.