Chapter Thirty-Six of Angel Maker by Barry B. Wright: An Unexpected Visitor

Avenue Foch is one of the most prestigious locations in Paris. Located close to the Champs Elysees, its location provides easy access to bakeries, cafes, restaurants and superb shopping.

Using one of the riding trails as a footpath, Lynn and Melissa hurriedly made their way through the Bois de Boulogne. Lynn’s apartment sat near the edge of the park. Their route was criss-crossed by alleys canopied by chestnut trees against a background of ornamental lawns filled with the aroma and eye-candy from the plethora of exotic flowers and plants. Unfortunately, they had no time to appreciate this special kind of arboretum they travelled through.

When they stepped out onto Avenue Foch, Melissa stopped. She could no longer resist. Wide-eyed, she took in the palatial dwellings and lush verges and elegant chestnut trees which lined the Avenue.

The avenue was extraordinarily wide, one-hundred twenty meters, and Lynn was well into crossing it when she realized Melissa wasn’t with her. Glancing back, she understood Melissa’s awe and her need to take in the Avenue’s elegance. She, too, felt it each time she visited. But today was different. She returned and pulled Melissa along with her.

Once inside her apartment, Lynn drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly while she absorbed her surroundings. “It’s my little slice of heaven. But, I fear it may not be for long.”

“Are you referring to what happened at the Hotel Crillon or Daladier?”

“Both, really. For a while, there’s been a call for a good dose of authority in the Republic. And, Daladier delivered up last month by proroguing parliament. It’s unprecedented in peacetime.” Deep furrows began to form on her forehead. “He’s too cozy with the Munich bunch for my liking. Reinhold and his Nazi friends strutting around at the Hotel forebodes darker days sooner than later.” Briefly, she chewed on her thoughts. “How we enter Germany may have to change.” Escorting Melissa into the living room, she encouraged her to sit while she began to pace the floor.

“Do you really have to do that?” Melissa asked. But, it appeared Lynn did not hear her. “One-Zero-One-Two-Zero?”  she injected loudly with a smirk, assured it would capture her attention.

Lynn stopped. Her eyebrows pinched together at the bridge of her nose. “Okay, I’ll bite.”

“Reinhard’s SS number.”

“Why would you ever need to know that?” she asked in astonishment.

Melissa lit up her cigarette and, swinging her legs over the arm of the chair, dislodged her shoes from her feet. They flopped onto the lush carpet with a gentle thud. She purged the smoke through her nostrils. “Sometimes my penchant for knowing such things has made the difference between life and death.”

Lynn stared at Melissa long and hard. “Are we in one of those situations?”

She returned her enquiry with a matter-of-factly, who knows, sort of shrug. “Whereas in Berlin…it could very well be a different story.”

“I’m not sure I understand… unless…you think my meeting Reinhold has somehow compromised our mission.”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Melissa bit down on her lower lip and glanced away. Swinging around, she sat upright in the chair. She needed time to think.

“My vote is never with those who say it can’t be done. You’ve known me long enough to know that. We’ll think our way around it and if need be through it. This mission shall be done.”

“Why don’t you open one of those expensive bottles of red wine from over there and then we’ll talk.” She watched while Lynn fastidiously perused the wine bottles behind the glass-fronted mahogany cabinet doors situated against the far wall.

When Lynn had finally chosen the bottle, and had popped out the cork, Melissa shivered in delight. “What a sweet sound to my ears.”

With her glass in hand, Melissa gently swirled the wine and enjoyed its nose before taking a sip. “Wow! This is yummy Bordeaux.” She lifted the bottle of Lafite-Rothschild from the coffee table between them and examined the label. She could feel Lynn’s stare boring a hole straight through her. “Nectar from the gods, surely, Lynn, you’re going to pour yourself a glass?” She quickly discerned that her jovial invite had fallen flat.

Lynn’s right eyebrow hoisted to full mast. “How the hell can you take what transpired at the Hotel Crillon so nonchalantly?”

Melissa shifted forward and placed her glass on the table. “Lynn, you know just as well as I that deception is the name of the game we’re playing in. Believe me, I’m not taking what happened lightly.” Silence met her ears. “But it does make our mission that much more dangerous. Don’t you agree?” Lynn sighed and nodded reluctantly. “That’s reassuring.”

“What’s reassuring?”

“That we’re on the same page.”

“Melissa, that has never been in question, at least, not in my mind.” She scrutinized her closely before finally pouring herself a glass of the Bordeaux. “I get it.” She slammed the bottle hard onto the coffee table. “Damn that Reinhold! It’s a goddamn SNAFU!” Limping Lady, the Gestapo’s nickname for her, invaded the swirling cauldron in her head. Exasperated, she stood up, her elbow knocking the phone onto the floor from the table beside her. “And damn it too!”  She marched to the window and peered out. “You do know we’ve been followed here.” She glanced back at Melissa, who nodded as she picked up the phone and returned it to the table. “I should have known as much. When?”

Melissa butted out her cigarette in the ashtray and crossed the room with her wine glass in hand to join her. “The moment we left the hotel. I thought you picked up on it, too.”

“Well…I didn’t. And, that bothers me.” Lynn returned to staring out her second story window at the plumpish, moustachioed man on the other side of the street leaning against the lamp post. “Strange.”

“What’s strange,” Melissa asked, taking a sip of wine from her glass.

“He makes no attempt to hide his presence.” Her eyebrows knitted together. “I wonder…” She crossed the room to the telephone. While she dialed, she strolled down the hallway toward the bedroom.

When Lynn returned, Melissa said with an askance glance, “You look rather pleased with yourself, what were you up to?”

“You’ll see. It shouldn’t take long.”

Ten minutes later, a Citroen pulled up and two men got out. They had a brief discussion with the moustachioed man and a scuffle ensued. One of the men then forced him into the back seat and climbed in after him while the other entered the driver’s side and drove off.

“Should I ask?” Melissa enquired unable to hide her astonishment.

“I’ll tell you while I’m changing. Right now, we’ve got to get our asses out of here.”

Melissa turned too quickly to follow Lynn and sent the remainder of her wine splashing across the front of her blouse. “Shit!”

“While you’re squeezing out the last few drops,” Lynn chortled, pretending to capture drips with her tongue, “I’ll find you a clean one.”

In the bedroom, Lynn handed Melissa a passport. “It’s time to put your make-up artistry to good use.”

“Pardon? I haven’t done that sort of thing since…”

“Good old Radcliffe College days.” Lynn interjected.

“What was the name of that play? It was an Agatha Christie play. I think it was her first.”

Black Coffee and you’re right it was her first.” Lynn pulled out a large black case from the closet and set it beside her make-up table. “Well you up to it?”

“Who’s… Madame Henriette D’Amboise?” Melissa asked, staring at the signature on the passport then the photo.

“Me,” replied Lynn. “That is, it will be me once you help me make the transition to her. By the way, there’s a clean blouse in the dresser, bottom drawer.”

“I would have chosen to be someone more fashionable instead of some crusty old bird,” Melissa said as she put on a clean blouse. “What do you want me to do with this?” She held up the wine stained blouse.

“Oh…just leave it on the bed. The crusty old bird idea was Pavel’s. He thought this was the better choice considering…” she tapped on her prosthetic. “We agreed that the Gestapo would more likely be looking for a young woman with a limp than an old woman with a cane. It was a role I expected to play exiting, not entering Germany. Reinhold changed that. So, this will be me for the duration of the mission.” She screwed up her face in disgust.

Time squeezed together like a closed fist as Melissa worked quickly and fastidiously to transform Lynn’s facial features.

“Finished! What do you think?”

“Get me the wig in the hat box on the shelf in the closet and I’ll tell you.” When she received it, she carefully adjusted it on her head, then strategically placed some pins to secure it in place. For a moment, she stared at the stranger staring back at her in the mirror. “Melissa…you haven’t lost your touch.”

“And you sound like The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.” With a chuckle, she pretended to shiver with the thought. “Maybe you can tone it down just a tiny bit?”

Lynn picked up Georges Duhamel’s Civilisation from the nightstand and read a passage. “Is that better?”

“Ah-Huh. Works for me.” She began to return the items to the make-up kit when she stopped. Scrutinizing Lynn, she asked: “Maybe I’m being a little too hasty…Did Pavel have something planned for me?”

Lynn smiled. “Nothing too drastic. Here, you can see for yourself.” She opened the drawer to her night table and pulled out the Bible. “Relax. It’s not what you think.” She opened it to the middle. In a shallow, hallowed-out section, a passport was snuggly in place. Teasing it from its enclosure, she passed it to Melissa.

Melissa pouted. “I look like a plain Jane.”

With time running short, Lynn chose to ignore her remark. “As you can see your new identity is Mademoiselle Pauline Auberjonois. You are my nurse and companion.”

“And a spinster.” Melissa stared at Lynn. “Both passports…are they from Pavel’s section in Paris?”

“I assume so, why?”

Melissa flicked her eyebrows. “How naïve of me to think that I was the only one Pavel took…photos…of….” Lynn’s face flushed. “At least some went beyond souvenirs.” She wagged the passport in the air.

“Sit down and wipe your face clean of make-up. I’ll get your uniform from the closet.” Turning, she began to cross the room when she heard a knock at the door. She signaled to Melissa to remain quiet. Tiptoeing out of the bedroom and down the hall to the front door, she peeked through the peep-hole. Bumping up against her, Melissa jockeyed for position. “Me too,” she whispered. Pushing Melissa aside she opened the door. “You are the last person I expected to see.”

“I thought you might need my help. Proximity makes everything work better.”

“Melissa, I’d like you to meet Mrs Elizabeth Stoddard, better known by the name Queenie.”

Advertisements

Fateful Choices: Part One of a murder with a twist by B. B. Wright

Bournemouth East Cliff from Pier

Fateful Choices: Part One

Inspector Alexander Collier Mysteries will often provide a choice for the reader. If you want to obtain a deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) found in the text of the story.

A Short-Story of Fiction by B. B. Wright

 

The English south coastal resort of Bournemouth in 1939 had a population of 130,000. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne stream—fringed with parkland and public gardens—stretched into the heart of the coastal community. Bournemouth’s outstanding characteristic and attraction was its breadth of view and openness.

Perhaps that’s why psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psycho-analyst, folklorist, Mary Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence Stoddard who was said to be a ‘powerful deep-trance medium,’ arrived there in 1934 to set up residence. But, then again, maybe that wasn’t the only reason they moved from Gloucester to this tourist location. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

In April 1939 the local pub was abuzz with the mysterious fire and capsizing of the S.S. Paris (the largest liner under the French flag at that time) and the expected war with Hitler’s Germany.

The bartender, Jock Mahoney, reached under the bar and slapped March’s Bournemouth Echo with the banner headline face up on the bar’s surface and pointed his pudgy finger at it: Spiritualist Prophesies Sinking Of S. S. Paris. “Last month’s paper boys! Read and weep! Told you blokes she’s the real deal. Kept this to rub your faces in it.”

“Nothing more than a lucky guess Jock,” chortled Quentin Hogg from the far end of the bar.

“Then how she’d know it was goin’ to be a fire that sunk the Paris in the port of Le Havre? Tell me that ‘Hogg-face?’” retorted Mahoney. “And, unless the rest of you soused heads missed the obvious, how she’d know it would be the Paris?”

Joseph Phillip Morris, who was often called ‘Philly’ by pub regulars, had just purloined a whiskey chaser to accompany his pint of ale from the inebriated person beside him when he leaned in to the conversation: “Maybe tha’ focken bitch,” he hiccuped, “is a spy for tha’ Hitler fella.”

The conversation stopped dead as everyone turned to look at him.

“Hey, Philly?!” Quentin Hogg called out.

Joseph took a draw from his cigarette and purged the smoke through his nostrils before he straightened to a wavering position to focus his attention at the far end of the bar. “Wha’ canna I do fa’ ya Hogg?” Unsteadily, he used the cigarette in his mouth to light up another. For a moment he stared at his deeply stained nicotine fingers holding the used cigarette until Mahoney slid an ashtray under his nose and he quickly butted the cigarette out before it burnt him.

To most of the people there, Joseph ‘Philly’ Morris was a loser. The clientele of this pub he frequented had come to know that and, as a result, could barely tolerate him. A chain smoker and alcoholic, he had an ego bigger than he should ever have dared to have.

With a Cheshire cat-like smile, Quentin winked mischievously at those who could see him at the bar and nudged the person beside him with his elbow. “What’s that secret formula you use… you know… the one for picking football winners?”

A quiet chuckle rippled among the patrons listening in.

“What’s that got to do with the sinking of the Paris?” bellowed Mahoney, perturbed by Quentin’s hijacking of the conversation.

“Be patient, Jock. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. There’s a point or two to be made here. When done, I expect a round for everyone from you except for that scoundrel at the other end of the bar.”

Regularly, Joseph had been tolerantly allowed to interject his slurred wisps of ‘erudite wisdom’ about the home team to this well-informed and loyal pool of men of the Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic Football Club but, at the moment, he silently sat in a drunken stupor shrouded in cigarette smoke trying to figure out which man on either side of him was the scoundrel that Quentin referred to.

“Philly?! “

“Huh?” Joseph blinked a few times before Quentin came into view.

“Isn’t your secret formula ‘Queenie?’” asked Quentin.

“How da know tha’?…She’s no focken goude! “

Everyone’s eyes were now fixed on Mahoney, who slowly slid the newspaper from the top of the bar to the shelf beneath.

“Now tell me somethin’ else, Joey. Who’d ya bet on when the home team played in March?”

Joseph drew in the smoke and blew it out as he looked up at the ceiling. “Tha’ be March you said?…Hmm…Notts Co. Stupid woman…she got it wrong again.”

The two men sitting beside him slipped off their stools and moved further down the bar.

“Well, what doya think there, Jock? Have I made my points? A free pint for everyone?”

Reluctantly, the burly figure of Jock Mahoney nodded and began to service the rush to the bar.

It had not mattered that the home team had won in March because Joseph had committed the unforgivable act of betting against the home team. For all present, his revelation was particularly heinous because the game was against their arch-rival, Notts Co.

By the middle of May, Joseph had been shunned by even among the slightest of few who might have given him a pardon. The week of May 15th had been an unusually difficult time for him to find odd jobs and by the Friday of that week he had already paid out his last shilling for cigarettes and beer.

Joseph’s wiry and unkempt figure sat alone in an uncontested far corner booth of the pub. Several empty mugs cluttered his table as he slung over his last pint of frothy dark ale. Lifting his mug he toasted his imaginary companion opposite him and took a large swallow. Licking off his beer mustache, he lit up another cigarette and drew in deeply before exhaling. “You know…I’ve got me a new strategy.” He removed a piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took another swig of beer. “Strategy for wha’ you ask?” Why for picking football winners! Wha’ else? Not a sausage! ‘Queenie’s’ no focken good! Here’s my secret.” Sliding his half pint to one side, he bent forward and whispered his strategy to his imaginary companion.

For the first time, Joseph was just sober enough to appreciate that his alcoholic haze had made him feel untouchable by the sneering glances of the men around him. Yet, the truths those men carried about him stung deeply and had already left its imperviously permanent mark that could not be ignored. Success! That’s all he wanted to feel! To no longer feel the failure that had dogged him most of his life!

He sat back and looked at the remnants of beer in his mug and made a decision. He didn’t care that Friday would be outside his usual routine to see her. He didn’t care that she was “no focken good.” He had made up his mind to see ‘Queenie’ that evening.

Perhaps, he thought, she would get it right this time.

At 7:00 that evening, Arthur Brodley placed the Bournemouth Echo he was reading on the table beside him and got up from his armchair to get ready for his eight o’clock appointment.

He was a stout man with thinning hair and a thick, white mustache. His appearance belied a man much older than his sixty-four years. A widower, he had attended a séance every Friday evening at 8:00 o’clock at the Stoddard residence since Mary Elizabeth (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) and her husband, Lawrence, arrived in Bournemouth five years ago.

Though Arthur Brodley had paid a hefty price on each occasion for the Stoddards’ services, he was convinced that it had been money well spent because it provided precious time with the spirit of his late wife, Nancy.