Part Twenty-Five of Angel Maker: Facing A Hungry Old Lion by Barry B. Wright

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.

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Part Twelve of Angel Maker: Hoping For A Break by B. B. Wright

Pipe and Pouch

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 Twelve

Hoping For A Break

Shortly after Captain Hall had shut the door behind her, Collier retrieved his pipe and pouch of tobacco from the side drawer of his desk. Filling his pipe he returned the tobacco to the drawer and walked over to the window. He hadn’t smoked in several months but as he drew in the smoke and purged it through his nostrils he found it soothing almost liberating in its effects.

Experience had taught him that the unexpected always happened and, no matter his attempt to deny it, he had self-imposed a discomforting litany of cruel possibilities for his son’s fate. He understood the difference between what he could affect and what he couldn’t. Still, he found it agonizingly difficult to not only reside in absolute secrecy but to relinquish control of his son’s fate to another.

He walked back to his desk and sat down.

Collier had no direct experience in the kind of battle Captain Hall was about to wage because her battle would be fought in the shadows of the garden of beasts. And the special set of skills of cloak and dagger inherent in her, he knew he did not possess. Yet, there was commonality joining them. It existed in the hot blood coursing through their veins and the shared knowledge that losing was far more dangerous an option than winning.

An hour had drifted by unnoticed since Captain Hall’s departure and he snarled at himself for allowing such a wasteful lapse in time.

The public and newspapers had let up somewhat on the Rebecca Grynberg Case. But, like hot coals, their stinging words had left their mark on the unsolved investigation. Now, with the Wardrobe Steamer Trunk Case, he had a second murderer on the loose and sparse resources for follow up.

Hoping for a break in at least one of the cases, Collier grabbed the phone book from the table behind him and began to slap through its pages, stopping long enough each time to record two numbers on his ink pad.

His first call was to the Bournemouth train station. Robert Shaw, who was the shipping agent, told him that November 16 was one of his slowest days of the month and, as a result, he remembered the wardrobe steamer trunk quite well. When Collier asked him if he could describe the person who sent it, he assured him that he could and went on to explain why.

According to Shaw, the elderly Scottish chap, who owned the trunk, was associated with the London Corinthian Theatre. This news had garnered great interest for Shaw because he had been one of the Theatre’s original members in the Cambridge play-reading group and, as a result, knew the Theatre’s founders: Jonathan Doone and Archibald Medley. The lengthy exchange of catch up history which had ensued between them ensured that the trunk owner’s image was securely locked in Shaw’s memory.

Assured of Shaw’s willingness to wait at the station until a constable arrived, Collier made his second call to Andre Bertillon owner of the Bertillon Art Studio located in town. Though a commercial artist, Andre was a damn good forensic artist, too. His sketches had helped Collier to develop leads with subsequent identification and arrests in three previous cases. He held his breath as he waited for Andre to pick up at his end. Christmas was only a couple of weeks away and he knew that Andre would most likely be short on time. After the tenth ring, Collier was about to hang up when he heard Andre’s voice. Keeping his conversation brief and to the point, Collier explained the urgency of his call while sweetening his request for assistance by suggesting he would add a few more quid to Andre’s usual stipend. A short squabble ensued over the exact amount to be added until Collier finally complied with Andre’s demand. Though the amount was greater than he would have liked, Collier was satisfied that it would be money well spent.

Hanging up, Collier called Constable Dubin into his office. He briefed him on the Wardrobe Steamer Trunk Case and then sent him on his way to pick up Andre for their interview of Robert Shaw.

Collier let out a long sigh as he looked at the map of Bournemouth on the wall opposite the window. His decision to have all males over the age of sixteen fingerprinted in the Rebecca Grynberg Case suddenly felt daunting. He knew, though, that if ‘Queenie’ was right, it might very well save the lives of two young Jewish children slated for death by the same hand that had murdered Rebecca.

Are ‘Queenie’ and her husband hiding those children and their parents? He thought. The porcelain doll and child’s blanket found at the Stoddard’s residence points in that direction. Or, are they already dead? Bloody hell! People as well known as ‘Queenie’ and her husband don’t just disappear into thin air without someone seeing them.

Pushing the intercom button, he asked Sergeant Snowden to bring in the electoral register. He was about to make what he knew would be a very unpopular decision. Scrooge would be the kinder of labels he expected soon to be thrust on him.  He picked up the phone book and threw it toward the door that Sergeant Snowden had just entered through.