Part Nine of Angel Maker: Hamlet’s Ruse by B. B. Wright

Steamer trunk

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 Nine

Hamlet’s Ruse

Collier was preoccupied with a phone call from Detective Inspector Ellis Smyth from Scotland Yard when Sergeant Snowden popped his head around the partially opened door to his office. Waving him in, Collier directed him towards the two chairs in front of his desk as he swiveled about to open his notebook on the table behind him.

“So the dead man hasn’t been identified yet?” Collier asked Smyth.

“Not yet. What we have is a wardrobe steamer trunk that had been sent from Bournemouth on November 16 containing his body, the dead man’s fingerprints and a number of prints lifted from the trunk.” Smyth replied.

“There must be a record of who had sent it?”

Smyth chuckled on the other end of the line. “Funny you should ask. Does the name Shakespeare Hamlet ring a bell?”

“Oh…To be or not to be, that is the question…”

“You know your Shakespeare, Inspector. Check the train station at your end. My thoughts are that sending an unaccompanied wardrobe steamer trunk to Vic Station would be out of the norm. So, there’s a good chance whoever tagged it will remember what the sender looked like.”

“Will do. Could you courier copies of those prints to me? Hopefully, I can come up with something at my end. Any ideas about when he died and how?”

“Decomposition was quite extensive but the examiner figured three maybe four weeks. His neck was snapped. I’ll send along a copy of the autopsy report as well. You should have everything in your hands sometime late tomorrow morning. If something breaks, I’ll let you know.

“I will do the same and thank you, Detective Inspector.”

Turning back to hang up the phone, Collier noticed that Sergeant Snowden was still standing at the door. Beside him was a tall slender woman in her late twenties dressed in a tweed skirt with matching jacket and white blouse.

“Um…ah…Sergeant?” Collier stammered as he slowly returned the telephone receiver to its cradle.

Sergeant Snowden stepped forward and introduced Captain Hall

Collier couldn’t hide the shock that registered on his face since he had never entertained the thought of Captain Hall being anything other than a male. Clearing his throat, he recovered his composure and came around his desk to greet her.

Walking to him with a noticeable limp, she reached out and firmly shook his hand.

Her eyes were cold and grey like gun barrels that had him firmly fixed in their cross-hairs. And, as he released his grip, it was the first time he felt slightly unnerved in someone’s presence.

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 Seven by B. B. Wright

A Storm is Brewing

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 Seven
The Gathering Storm

 

Preoccupied with the disturbing crime scene he had just left, Alexander Collier made his way down the hall to his office oblivious to the pitter-patter of shoes following closely behind him.

Leonard Scoffield and some of his team had been pulled from fingerprinting hospital staff to process the crime scene in the back alley of the cinema while the remainder of Leonard’s team at the hospital had been placed under the command of Sergeant Snowden.

Collier wrapped his hand around the doorknob just about to enter his office when he was startled by a brisk tap on his shoulder. Turning, he came face to face with the classified section of The Echo held up by a rather agitated ‘Queenie.’

His eyes gave it away immediately to her. “Oh…” Her hand which was holding the classified section dropped to her side. “This is one of those times I wish that I had been wrong. I can see that you’ve found her.”

Collier slowly nodded: “Yes…she was where you dreamed she would be. But…How…?” Abruptly he waved off the question and stepped aside to let her in.

“Then what I have here takes on a higher degree of urgency,” she continued, slipping past him into his office.

“How can I help you, Mrs Stoddard? …Please…here…sit down,” he encouraged. His encouragement was nothing short of insincere since she was the last person he wanted to see at this moment. He pulled out the chair in front of his desk. “I’ll make us some tea.”

Still standing she retorted: “I don’t give a sausage about the tea, Inspector” And, she slammed the classified page down on his desk. “The lives of two little children are at stake and I have no idea how long we have before…he kills them.” Her eyes frantically skirted his desk in search of a writing utensil and finding a worn down pencil she picked it up and circled an address. “They’re here at this boarding house.”

Turning on the kettle, he sighed deeply. When he replied, he did not attempt to hide his incredulity: “How could you possibly know such a thing?” Mentally he chastised himself for even remotely believing in her predictive powers.

“Inspector, I’m a medium. And a damn good one I might add. This is what I do. Why would you have visited me early this morning if you had thought otherwise?”

Collier had attended his share of murder scenes but the murder of small children had been especially heinous and most difficult for him to shake off.

Unable to provide ‘Queenie’ with an answer that even he could remotely accept, he decided to listen further.

The eyes of the dead girl staring back at him continued to haunt him as he picked up the classified section and looked at the location ‘Queenie’ had circled: “Point made, Mrs Stoddard… Continue.”

“The man is pure evil, Inspector. He is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I know you are skeptical of me but we do agree that he is real and so are his murderous intentions.”

He nodded his agreement.

She took the page from him and spread it out on his desk. “There are two small children, a boy and a girl, at this location. I don’t know the family’s name but I’m almost certain that they are Jewish. He’s going to kill both of those little children. I think he thought I was blocked out when he circled that rooming house. And, there’s something else.”

She opened her purse and handed him a small pocket notebook size sheet of lined paper. On it, she had written: AOSS DTLLTFUTK ITOS IOZSTR.

“What’s this?”

‘Queenie’ shrugged and shook her head. “It was written beside the cross-word. The one was circled in the puzzle, also. After that he blotted me out singing ad nauseam some Irish ditty.”

She had decided not to mention to Collier that the murderer had got into her head. A chill went up her spine when she remembered the image he had sent her of her impending murder. The focus had to be on saving the two children. Not on her. For the moment she felt relatively safe since the murderer didn’t know who she was. But she knew that that would only last for a short time until he discovered that she was the only medium in the Bournemouth area.

The whistle on the kettle heralded that the water was boiled.

Collier poured some of the water into the tea pot and swished it around before pouring it out.

“Are you sure you don’t want a cup?” he asked looking back at her. Seeing her nod, he reached for another cup. “Mrs Stoddard,” he began as he busied himself making the tea, “why should I believe or for that matter why should anyone believe anything you say? This business of who is in whose head is difficult to swallow. Don’t you agree? You see my dilemma, Mrs Stoddard, is that I must be able to justify my decisions. Always.” He tested the tea to ensure that it had been brewed just right. Putting the tea-cosy on the tea pot he poured the tea. “You still take two sugar and milk?”

“I’ve learned to do without,” she replied, sitting down.

“I too, or should I say my wife encouraged…no…insisted on it,” he chuckled as he patted at his waistline.

Collier passed the cup and saucer across to her before sitting behind the desk. And, for a long time the two of them sat opposite each other without saying a word as they drank their tea.

Finally, ‘Queenie’ leaned forward and said: “I recollect him saying something about a mission.”

In light of the unsettled political and military conditions in Europe, the word “mission” conjured up a number of troublesome thoughts as Collier pressed forward against his desk.”Mission? What mission?”

This conversation was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable as he felt his rational, no nonsense thinking was on a sharply descending and slippery slope. He did not believe in the powers inherent in this medium or any medium no matter how contradictory at the moment that statement appeared and he had no intention of becoming loony like her.

‘Queenie’s’ forehead became deeply furrowed with concern for the fate of the children.

She pushed her empty tea cup toward Collier and asked: “Would you mind? It might help me…find more clarity.”

Collier refilled her cup and placed it in front her then regained his seat.

She took a long sip and then slouched down and tried to pluck from her memory anything that might have defined the mission.

When she sat bolt upright it was obvious to Collier by her demeanor and facial expression that a light had definitely clicked on in her head.

“Does the name Eberhart Von Stohrer mean anything to you?”

Collier sat back in his chair massaging his chin.

“He’s the recent German Rumanian ambassador,” he said after much thought. “If my memory serves me correctly, there was a failed attempt to assassinate him about a month ago. Why? “

“Well…it has to do with that attempt on Stohrer’s life. Some kind of revenge is my guess.”

She quickly finished her tea and stood up.

“On another point,” she added, “I’ve had a lot of thoughts and images about your son since we met this morning.”

“Uh-Huh. “ Collier picked up the pad of paper with the coded message written on it. As he perused it, Lila’s words from earlier that morning echoed through his mind: “Should I be worried about you? It’s not like you to cavort with the likes of her. My god! She’s been in jail. She’s known for swindling gullible people. Where’s your head, Sandy?”

“Inspector?”

Collier glanced up from his preoccupation with the code with a disturbed look on his face. “Yes, Mrs Stoddard. I’m listening, ” he lied.

“You will be receiving a phone call later today from Home Office about your son. There is a Captain Hall you will soon want to meet that may be able to find him.”

“Now wait a minute, Mrs Stoddard…how could you possibly…?”

“Inspector, please don’t finish that question,” she interjected. “Let what I just said unfold first. Perhaps then you will see me through a different set of eyes. And by the way, you’re not going loony. It’s perfectly natural what you’re experiencing.”

She began to walk toward the door but stopped and turned around.

“I am very sorry for what happened to that little girl but please don’t let your personal bias against me cloud your judgment. Because if you do, you will be sending those two children to their death,” she implored, pointing at The Echo’s classified section on his desk. “Oh…and there’s something else, Inspector. His fingerprints won’t be found among the hospital staff. But I can assure you that he is a resident of Bournemouth.”

“Before you go, Mrs Stoddard, may I ask you something on an unrelated matter?”

“Nothing is really unrelated, Inspector. But if it’s about your supper today, your niece and her mother will never see eye to eye but they will agree to disagree.”

Dumbfounded by what had just occurred, Collier stared at the closed door for a long time after she had gone.

Everything for Collier had suddenly become more complicated. With ‘Queenie’s’ revelations, he was not only trying to find a murderer now but he was also caught up in a race against time to find and protect that Jewish family and to decipher a code.

 

Angel Maker: Part Six by B. B. Wright

500ml_clear_winchester_1

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.

Angel Maker: Part Five by B. B. Wright

1930 England Two

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 deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) sometimes found in the text of the story.

Part 5

The Visit

Particles of dust danced in the thin wedge of light that sliced through the narrow opening between the curtains before fattening out across the lower half of the bed. At the foot of the bed against the wall was a sparsely filled clothing armoire with a jacket hanging from its opened door. Toward the window angled at the corner was a chair cluttered with his previous day’s clothing with a pair of highly polished shoes and a pair of scruffy work boots neatly placed under it. Beside the window was a three drawer dresser squeezed into the space between the wall and the head of the bed while on the opposite side was a small bed table with a light on it.

Lately, Werner Gruener was afraid to sleep. His dreams were being touched by an intruder. He knew the same way someone knew or sensed that their private belongings had been violated. He rolled over to his side, his back to the window, and began to drift off until he felt her probing presence. He had not established in his mind how he knew it was a woman intruding into his thoughts but, somehow, he just knew. He had a good sense for such things. This morning he had planned a very special surprise for her; a set of images that she would soon not forget. Perhaps, he mused, she would enjoy the images of her demise to the tune: I’m late, I’m late for a very important date. The unexpected sound of a key entering his lock spoiled his moment and slipping his hand under his pillow, he gripped his Luger.

The door to his room opened and quickly closed. Pressed against the door was a man submerged in the thick morning grayness of the room. A deep black shadow masked his face.

“You are awake, Werner?” The man whispered.

Werner did not answer as he slowly withdrew the gun from under his pillow and pointed it at him.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” the man snickered. “It’s me, Heinrich.”

“I didn’t recognize your voice.”

“It’s this damn cold. English weather and me don’t get along.”

Werner threw back the covers and sat up and turned on the small light by his bed. “Heinrich…Ernst was explicit.”

“The drop off point has been compromised. I had no choice but to come here. Surely you knew that?”

Werner went to the window and peered through the curtains looking for any unusual activity on the street below. Seeing none, he turned back. “Where’s the message?”

Handing him the sealed envelope, Heinrich said: “I was careful, Werner, very careful.”

Without responding, Werner placed his gun on top of the dresser and picked up his pants from the chair and pulled out the switchblade he had used to cut a lock of Rebecca Grynberg’s hair not more than eight hours ago and slit open the envelope.

“So the drop off has been compromised?” he asked, returning his knife to his pant pocket and then pulling out the expected neatly folded page of the Bournemouth Echo classified section and unfolding it.

“The Boemelburg cell has been arrested. I thought you knew?!”

“I didn’t,” he replied disconcertingly, as he read the coded message along the side (AOSS DTLLTFUTK) and bottom (ITOS IOZSTK) of the crossword puzzle:

The QWERTY code was easy for him to quickly translate in his head. Used sparingly and only to communicate immediate action, it was hoped that its location associated with a cross-word puzzle would be attributed to the idle scribbling associated with the puzzle solver and therefore of no significance to anyone except to the solver.

Turning over the page, Werner smiled when he saw the circled rental. “Good,” he mumbled under his breath.

The final Jewish family in Werner’s assignment had been found and his task now was to shadow them and to strike when the opportunity was ripe. Unlike the previous two families, this family had both a boy and a girl at the right ages and he had to ensnare both at the same time to ensure fulfillment of his fantasy.

Werner licked his lips with anticipation.

“Good? Surely, Werner, you don’t…”

“No, Heinrich,” he interjected.”My comment is about an entirely different matter. You are sure that you haven’t been followed?”

“Absolutely, Werner! Absolutely!”

Waving the page at him he asked: “Exactly how much, Heinrich, do you know about these messages?”

Heinrich shook his head. “Nothing. Except that they come directly from Ernst himself. That’s all I or you need to know. Why are you asking?”

“Would you like to know? Surely, you’ve felt a twinge of curiosity from time to time?”

“Like you, Werner, I follow orders. Again, why are you asking?”

Werner shrugged and waved it off.

“No matter. I was just curious, that’s all.” He opened the armoire and took down a half empty bottle of J&B and a shot-glass and passed it to him. “I know it’s rather early but one or two for the road should do you no harm,” he said smiling and knowing full well that Heinrich was an alcoholic and unlikely to refuse.

“Not going to join me?” Heinrich asked greedily grabbing the bottle and glass and beginning to pour.

“I must get something from the dresser first and then I’ll join you. There, sit there on the bed and make yourself comfortable. It won’t be long.”

With Heinrich’s back toward him, Werner watched him drink and waited while repeating under his breath: “Oh, a drink in the morning is good for the sight, and twenty or thirty between that and night. Drink it up, go to bed and just think it no sin to get up in the morning and at it again.”

The ditty reached a frenzied crescendo when Heinrich finished the bottle and Werner pounced on him and snapped his neck

 

Angel Maker: Part Four by B. B. Wright

Unwanted Journeys One

Angel Maker

A Short Story of Fiction 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 deeper understanding or a ‘feel’ for the period follow the embedded links (high-lighted blue and underlined) found in the text of the story.

Part 4

Unwanted Journeys

 

A broad stroke of salmon pink across the morning horizon was beginning to fan out and to dance among the silvery grey clouds. Silhouettes of chimneys atop buildings black as newly laid coal in a burning fire poked smoke into the awakening skyline.

Inspector Alexander Collier felt a shiver of apprehension as he closed the door of the Wolseley and looked up at the hospital. It reminded him of the one that once housed him during Christmas 1917. Strobe lit memories like unfettered celluloid on a reel gone mad dashed through his mind as in that moment he began to relive the constant rain and the blood soaked mud and horrific sounds of death that once surrounded him and eventually took him to a hospital  in Paris. Over the roar of death, in that brief illusionary skirmish with unwanted memories that were thought so well sealed, he saw and heard his brother, Joe, as they neared the crest of their objective.

Survivor’s guilt—Why me?—had ensnared him as he struggled daily to come to terms with the horrific days leading up to that November 6. 1917 day when the unfulfilled promise he had given to their mom lay dying in his arms while the battle for the crest and town of Passchendaele swirled around them.

The usual jauntiness in his step was absent as he followed Sergeant Snowden up the stairs to the hospital’s entrance.

When the cinema in Collier’s mind went black and its doors opened once again to release him into the fresh, uncertain clarity of the present, only then, did he hear Sergeant Snowden calling out to him.

“Watch your step, sir.”

Too late, Collier stumbled, hitting his knee against the sharp edge of the next step.

Sergeant Snowden quickly extended his hand and helped Collier to his feet. “Sir?…Are you alright?”

“That’s what I get for not paying attention, Sergeant.” Feeling embarrassed, he preoccupied himself with brushing away the dirt from his pants. “I’m alright,” he lied, feebly attempting to reassure the sergeant while rubbing his knee vigorously to allay the pain. “Carry on, sergeant. I will be more circumspect from here on.”

On the opposite side of the street and in the shadows of the closed shops, the outline of a woman nodding in his direction and motioning him with her hand to move on caught his attention. He would have sworn it was Elizabeth Stoddard (a.k.a. ‘Queenie’) but dismissed it as his imagination when he looked back again to find that she was gone.

Sergeant Snowden opened the heavy wooden door to the hospital and stepped aside to allow Inspector Collier to precede him.

Collier hesitated, took in a deep breath and slowly let it out, before limping across the threshold. As he stood in the open, empty marble foyer he remembered when a similar floor space had been at a premium and movement next to impossible. The paintings on the walnut grid wall panels reminded him of the ones he had forced himself to memorize to escape the smells, sounds and agony of the multitude of others, who, like him, waited for hours on stretchers for medical attention.

“Greetings Inspector Collier! A pleasure to meet you, a pleasure indeed! I have heard lots about you from your niece.”

Collier looked up to see a tall, lean, clean shaven man in a three piece business suit with an outstretched hand quickly moving across the foyer from an office beside the stairwell to greet him.

“And… who…are you?” Collier asked, shaking the man’s hand.

Collier reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and took out his notepad and fountain pen.

“Oh, of course, forgive me. My name is Klaus Becker. I’m the hospital’s administrator.”

“Are you normally here this early, Mr. Becker?”

Becker chuckled nervously and shook his head while unsuccessfully attempting to discern what Collier was writing in his notepad. “Normally I wouldn’t arrive until mid-morning. But…well…exceptional circumstances, don’t you think?”

“Yes…Exceptional. Do you mind?” Collier’s knee was throbbing as he pointed his pen in the direction of a small desk with two chairs a short distance behind them.

“We could use my office, Inspector.”

“No, this will suffice,” Collier replied curtly, hobbling quickly to the chosen destination. Relieved to be sitting and rubbing his knee, he waited for Becker to join him.

“Is there a problem, Inspector? You appear to be in obvious discomfort?” Becker asked as he sat opposite him.

“It’s nothing more than discomfort to give me a sharp reminder not to be inattentive,” he replied with a smile. “Thank you for your concern.” He rubbed his knee a few more times before picking up his pen and opening his notebook. “Now, Mr. Becker, when did the young girl go missing?”

“I was told that she was discovered missing during 4 A.M. rounds.”

Collier checked the time on his wrist watch and re-read something he had written earlier in his notepad. “How frequent are these rounds?”

“In the section of the ward Rebecca was located, they are every two hours.”

Collier looked at him quizzically.

Becker crossed one leg across the other and leaned back in his chair. “The frequency of the rounds depend on the severity of the problem. In Rebecca’s case she was well on her way to recovery from pneumonia. In fact, she was scheduled to return home by mid-week.”

“When were you informed, Mr. Becker?”

For a man so meticulously dressed, Collier was surprised to see that Becker wore mismatched socks.

“I’d guess shortly after 4 A.M.”

“Why did it take you so long to call the police?”

Becker sat straight up in his chair, shifted uncomfortably and with a shrug replied: “It’s not the first time a child has pulled a prank on us. I thought the little girl may have been playing some sort of hide-and-go-seek game on us. So, I directed the staff to check every possible nook and cranny where she may have hidden.”

“I see…So she was that kind of little girl?” Collier asked with a slight smile.

“No…Yes…I really don’t know. I was just covering the bases.”

“I see. We’ll come back to what bases you were covering later. What I need from you right now, Mr. Becker, is an auditorium or meeting hall that could temporarily house the staff presently on duty. Do you have something like that? ”

Becker thought for a moment before answering. “The only room large enough to do that, Inspector, is the solarium on the top floor. But, I’ll need to get to the intercom in my office before the shift changes to alert the various departments.”

Collier noticed that his niece, Diane, had just come down the stairs and was walking over to Sergeant Snowden.

“When do you expect the Grynbergs? Rebecca’s mother and father?” Collier asked.

Becker’s eyes went blank and he said nothing.

“I take it from your reaction that you haven’t yet informed them? Why?”

Shifting on his chair and looking away, Becker replied: “I thought that would best be done by the likes of you, Inspector.”

Collier looked at him long and hard before continuing. “I guess that’s a fair statement though I’m not sure what you mean by “the likes of you,” but no matter.  Is it normal hospital procedure to do that, Mr. Becker?”

Becker leaned forward and locked eyes with Collier. “There’s nothing normal about what has happened or the times we live in,  wouldn’t you agree, Inspector?”

“To my very point, Mr. Becker…still, I wish to know if this was normal procedure for all patients. Or, was it just for your Jewish patients?”

The small smirk at the corner of Becker’s mouth told Collier what he needed to know and he decided it would be unwise and fruitless at this time to pursue this line of inquiry. He noted it in his notepad.

“How many exits does this hospital have?” Collier asked flatly.

“Four.” Becker stood up and began to chop through the air with his outstretched arm as he turned: “North, South, East and West.”

“Well, Mr. Becker, before this shift heads home I need them in the solarium. It’s imperative that no one from this shift leaves.” He recorded the time in his notebook. “Why are you still here, Mr. Becker?” And, he derisively dismissed him with the wave of his hand.

With a deep sigh, he watched Becker scurrying back to his office and wondered whether he knew or cared that the time-wasting search he had sanctioned may have cost the little girl her life. Before he closed his notebook he wrote: Could Becker have had another reason to delay the call to police other than his obvious anti-Semitic attitude? Closing his notepad and replacing the cap on his fountain pen, he returned both to his inside pocket and stood up and with a slight limp walked over to where his niece, Diane, and Sergeant Snowden were standing. He took Diane’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze before turning to Snowden, who had already come to attention.

“Sergeant, no one can leave this hospital. Time is of essence. I need constables to cover the four exits.”

“Yes sir! How soon do you need them?”

“Four hours ago.”