Part Twenty-Three of Angel Maker: The Stoddards by Barry B. Wright

At the beginning of 1939, the English south coastal resort of Bournemouth proudly proclaimed a population of one hundred thirty thousand. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne River—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. The ideal vacation destination, it attracted all types of tourists searching for a place of respite.

Vacationers wanted something different, exciting and unique that contrasted sharply with the commonality of their usual daily existence. That’s what drew the Stoddards to Bournemouth in 1934; they had a service that fitted the bill. And they had no qualms about relieving their clients from the burden of carrying too much coin.

When they found a house suitable for their business and had it suitably furnished, Mary Elizabeth proudly hung out her shingle displaying her shtick: a psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psychic-analyst, and folklorist. While her husband, Lawrence, advertised his prowess in the local newspaper, The Echo, as a “powerful deep-trance medium.” They did not have to wait long before the clients flooded in. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

Mary Elizabeth had been known only as ‘Elizabeth’ in the many towns she had visited. Though rarely her choice, she had never stayed long in any town she visited. More often, than not, she had been unceremoniously ushered out of town by the local constabulary.

The line between law and outlaw in her business was razor thin. But, as in any business, experience finally paid dividends. The key to her success was learning how to stay out of reach of those who would have preferred her jailed.

As her business flourished, overtime a comfortable coexistence developed between the Stoddards and the local community of Bournemouth. As far as the community was concerned if she stayed within the letter of the law, the occasional grey areas could be ignored. The Stoddards attracted commerce to Bournemouth during the high season. And, when all was said and done, that, by itself, made everything tickety-boo.

On December 11, 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite. He was reluctantly succeeded by his brother, Albert, who became King George VI. His wife, Elizabeth, became the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Lawrence, were gregarious, convivial individuals. People easily succumbed to their charming, warm and inviting ways. So, it was, though not without reservation, that they eventually became an integral part of the landscape that defined Bournemouth. And, Mary Elizabeth became fondly known in the community by the nickname, ‘Queenie,’ after the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth’s ‘special gifts’ unexpectedly expanded in 1937. Haste was a virtue to her way of thinking. The very thought that haste made waste was outside her immediate experience. And, when Lawrence encouraged her to slow down and had pointed out that she had become more accident prone, she dismissed it as a ridiculous observation. That is, until she fell down the flight of stairs in her two-story home. Rushed to hospital, she remained unconscious for two months.

During her convalescence, her usual dream-scape changed. She discovered that within days of her dreams, the events she dreamt about showed up in the news. The frequency of occurrence convinced her that this was no lucky coincidence. Turning this newly found gift into a monetary venture was never in question for Mary Elizabeth or Lawrence. What was in question was how to safe-guard it since they had no idea how long lasting her ability would be.

When Inspector Collier phoned her shortly after Kristallnacht, she was genuinely taken by surprise. Not an ardent fan of hers, she was suspicious of his request for an early morning visit. Still, it could not have been timelier. Her most recent nightmare necessitated that they meet. Witness to the horrific murder of a young child and experiencing it through the eyes and mind of her killer had left her discombobulated and chilled to the bone. So, she easily acquiesced to their rendezvous.

Lawrence poured two glasses of Port and handed one to Mary Elizabeth. They sat opposite each other in silence in front of the unlit fireplace.

“So…What are you going to tell him?” He crossed one leg over the other.

“The Inspector?” He nodded. “The truth. There’s no need to be concerned, Lawrence. So, wipe that look off your face. I have to tell him about what I dreamt.”

“I guess I understand…But…don’t you think he’ll think you’ve gone crackers? He’s well respected in the community. I’d hate to lose what we worked so hard to create.” He got up and poured himself another glass of Port. She refused when he proffered to refill her glass.

She let out a long sigh. “It’s a chance I must take,” she continued. “You didn’t experience the horror I lived through the other night. It was a child…The son-of-bitch murdered a child.” She pulled a hanky from her sleeve and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I may be the only one who’s got the goods on that bastard.”

“Maybe so…I’ve learned on too many occasions never to cross you when your mind is made up, Mary Elizabeth.” There were playful undertones in his comment. He took a sip from his glass and scrutinized her long and hard. “And his son?” He asked raising an eyebrow. “What are you going to tell him about his son?”

She bit down hard on her lower lip and, with a slight shrug, replied: “I’ll have that worked out before the mornin’. But, I can assure you that whatever’s said about his son the Inspector will leave with lots of hope and promise.”

Lawrence returned to the side table and poured another Port.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Lawrence?”

“I feel I’m on the verge of quicksand,” he replied, ignoring her question. “Is playing him a good idea?”

“I would never do that.” Joining him, she wrapped her arms around him. “I will never forget that for such a brief time, we, too, were parents. I can feel what he feels. No, I only want to allay his pain until I can learn more, nothing else. I’ll be careful about how tell him.” She took his hand and led him back to sit down.

“Are you alright, Mary Elizabeth? Since the night our wee Robbie passed, I’ve never seen such a forlorn expression.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Whatever for?”

“These new powers or abilities, whatever you call them…they’re growing. And, the murderer of that little girl has them too.”

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.”