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).
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.”
“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.”