Imagine lingering above a sea of fedoras and shoe leather moving in waves across the open expanse of Gare du Nord. A grand ballet. Paris. 6.00 pm, 1943. Silent except for the snap of a paper match striking, and the quiet sizzle of a newly lighted tailor-made. Then a face looks up from the mass, and he sees you. You recognise him. Target and predator. He smiles at you from down there. His face is paper white beneath the brim of his brown hat. His eyes are all pupil. Black. And when he smiles, he exposes the yellow sabre teeth of a carnivore. You fight to breath.
Trudy Parr woke from the dream, perspiring. She says the name: Orav. Reaching for the nightstand, she retrieves a pack of Black Cat cigarettes. It’s dark. It’s 2.45 a.m. “What the hell do you want now,” she whispers. From somewhere distant, he whispers back: “You have something of mine, I think.” “Fuck off,” whispers Trudy Parr. Then there’s laughter like the hiss of steam. Paris returning in evil little nightmares.
A man wearing a hat and trench coat walks down West Hastings near Cambie, smoking a French cigarette. It’s 10:30 a.m., wet and grey. Though he carries no weapon, he does carry a private investigators license for the province of British Columbia. The name on the license, typewritten in fuzzy courier script, is Crispin Dench. The license describes Dench as male, born in 1911, five foot eleven inches tall with light brown hair and green eyes, weighing 180lbs.
At the door of the Dominion Building, he ducks in under an awning and removes his hat. Then he looks over his shoulder at the cenotaph in Victory Square across the street. “Here’s to Victory,” he says under his breath and flicks the remains of his cigarette into the gutter. He walks inside. On the fifteenth floor are the offices of The Dench & Parr Agency.
“Good morning, Gladys,” Crispin Dench says to his secretary as he enters his office. “Wadda ya know?”
“That crumb Worthy Morgan called,” Gladys says. “And so did Lieutenant Egon. Messages on your desk. Here’s your mail. I’m going out for a doughnut and some fresh air.”
“Any coffee made?” says Dench.
“On the burner,” Gladys says putting on her coat. “Fresh ten minutes ago. Miss Parr was in, and now she ain’t. Said she’s made some headway on the Schneider case. She didn’t say what. She seemed a little tense, but you know she don’t talk much. That’s all I got to tell you. Oh and it’s payday, Mr Dench.”
Dench pulls an envelope from his suit jacket pocket and hands it over. Gladys takes it, turns and goes for the door. “Back in twenty minutes, boss. Try not to burn the joint down.”
“I’ll try not to.”
In his office, Dench sits in a swivel chair, turning his back to his desk and looking out the window. The rain keeps coming. Cambie Street is black and slick. He sees the cenotaph again. Memories creep like insects. Moments and events that repeat like a 78 skipping on a turntable. The phone rings.
“Dench & Parr Agency, Crispin Dench speaking.”
“Where the hell you been, Dench?” says Worthy Morgan, City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. “I got a goddam deadline.”
“Ham and eggs at the Ovaltine, Worthy. I was reading your rag, lost in its eloquence. What’s rattlin’?”
“That shindig last night down Shanghai Alley,” Morgan says. “We sent a reporter down, but he couldn’t get past the police line. Now no one’s talking. My reporter said he saw you behind the line conversing with Egon. So spill. My reporter says he could see a body under a tarp. You were standing right next to it. What was it, murder?”
“There was a tarp,” Dench says. “And a body. That’s all I know. Let the cops do their job. They’ll brief you piranhas later this morning.”
“Had to be a murder,” Worthy Morgan says. “No one in that neighbourhood dies of natural causes. And why were you there? You’re just a civilian where the cops are concerned. You’re involved somehow, right?”
“You missed a typo,” says Dench, picking up a fresh copy of the Sun from his stack of mail. “I caught it as I ate my sunny-sides. You guys crack me up. The Op-Ed piece on page ten. According to Virgil Hathaway, ‘When it comes to the reform of City Hall, there are no scared cows.’ Shouldn’t that read sacred cows, or is that what you really meant?”
“Fuck Virgil Hathaway. He’s an overpaid hack. C’mon, be a pal. Tell me about Shanghai Alley.”
“Since when are we pals,” Dench says. “Wasn’t it the Vancouver Sun that described Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr as the two greatest menaces to the city’s peace and safety since the 1886 fire? Wasn’t it Virgil Hathaway himself who called Trudy a psychotic, straight razor wielding trollop who should be either married off or imprisoned?”
“He wasn’t far off.”
“Look Morgan, why don’t you just be a good little editor and send a man down to 312 Main Street for the morning brief.” Dench hangs up and smiles. Worthy Morgan would be having a sacred cow about now.
Then he thinks about Shanghai Alley.
5.45 a.m. A dim, yellow flame from a wooden match partially illuminating the scene. The right hand of the corpse lay open on the alley’s tar and gravel surface. Then the headlights of a black police Ford lights everything up. The passenger door opens before it stops, and an obese man steps out. He has salt and pepper hair, and wears a poorly fitted trench coat. It’s Detective Lieutenant Egon of the Vancouver Police Department.
“Well, looky here,” says Egon. Other police cars arrive behind him. “You know, Dench, I look forward to the day when you don’t arrive at a crime scene before me.”
“I called it in, and I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for you characters to show up.”
“Your call broke up a damn fine poker game, Dench. One or two of these fine officers left the back of Josie’s down a considerable amount of money. You’re lucky we showed at all.” Looking down at the tarp over the corpse, Egon says: “What’s this heap?”
“I’ve been shadowing this citizen for a week and a half now. His wife says he’s been stepping out behind her back. This isn’t how I expected the investigation to end.”
“How did you expect it to end,” says Egon crouching over the body.
“His name was Robert Owens. This gig was strictly observe and report, Egon. Only, it was starting to last way too long without the usual results. I was going to give the missus her deposit back the other day and cancel the contract, but he kept showing up in some very intriguing places.”
“Like dead in an alley,” says Egon.
“Like dead in an alley,” says Dench, kneeling next to the body. “But maybe you should take a closer look. I think he may be the third in a series.”
By now the scene is populated with patrolmen drinking coffee from thermos bottles and plainclothes men reading racing forms, sipping from hip flasks. Egon goes to his car and pulls out a flashlight. He crouches down and lifts a corner of the tarp.
“You lay the tarp?” Egon says
“Yeah,” Dench says. “The least I could do. Shine a light over there on the right side of the neck,”
Egon shines the light and is repulsed. “Lord, what a mess.” He holds his free hand to his mouth like he might be sick. The wound in Robert Owens’ neck exposes tendons, veins and arteries, along with a torn section of oesophagus.
“A big chunk of the throat and neck torn out,” Dench says. “And not a drop of blood on the ground. It’s the third like this since August, no?”
“Drained of blood,” Egon says. “He should be swimming in it. The killing took place elsewhere; the body was moved here by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Similar to the others.”
Dench looks Egon in the eye and says, “You’re so full of shit. There may be no blood on the ground around the body, but there’s plenty on the wall.” Dench points to the area around the back entrance of a laundry a few feet away. It’s splattered with dried blood, black in the low yellow light. “Just like the others,” he says. “Owens was killed right here. Just match the blood on the wall to his.”
“That stain on the wall don’t represent all the blood a man’s got in his body. Where’s the rest? Why didn’t he bleed out on the ground?”
“You’re the police detective, so detect. But if it’s what I think it is….”
“It ain’t what you think it is, Dench. Ain’t no way. Fucking cannibals,” Egon mutters. “I’m starting to hate this town.”
“And then there’s that other item on the other side of the doorway,” Dench says. “That little bit of graffiti written in blood. That was at the other two killings, too.”
Egon looks up and shines his flashlight on the wall. Next to the blood splatter is a simple drawing familiar to World War 2 allied troops. The big eyes and nose of a cartoon character looking over a wall. Killroy was here.
“Don’t mean shit,” Egon says. “Just some back alley graffiti.”
“It’s a signature,” Dench says. “It was at the locations of the other two murders.”
“How would you know all this, anyway?”
“I can drop a sawbuck at the foot of a hungry cop, same as the next guy.”
“Well did your hungry cop tell you that the other two were found in back alleys, as well? Back alleys have graffiti.”
Dench lights a Gitanes and says, “Written in blood? I tried to tell you this after the first and second kills. Killroy is significant. It goes back to Paris, 1943. When Trudy and I were there. There were eleven known killings exactly like this. Same modus operandi. It never made the papers because the Nazi’s wouldn’t allow it. Very few knew about the Paris murders, so this can’t be copycat. We finally tracked the killer down but….”
As Dench speaks, Egon signals for a uniform. “…but Paris was lousy with Nazis,” Egon says, finishing Dench’s sentence. “You were distracted, is that it? Why didn’t you just let the fatal Miss Parr take care of this Paris bad guy?”
“We came close. He was singling out resistance operatives, so snuffing him was a priority. But he was being protected. He was Gestapo. And at the scene of every kill, we found the same graffiti signature, Killroy was here. Like he was mocking us. And there’s more, Egon. Important details you need to know. I mean, this guy isn’t even human.”
A uniform police officer arrives at Egon’s side. “Escort Mr Dench off of the crime scene,” Egon says.
“But I called it in,” says Dench. “I’m a witness and a suspect. You’ve got to at least question me.”
“Don’t tell me my job, Dench.”
“Fine, I’ve got a business to run. But just one thing.”
“If this really is the freak Trudy and I dealt with in Paris, he’s probably watching us right now.”
Dench looks up at the darkened windows in the stories above, then to either end of the alley. “From somewhere nearby,” he says. “Point in any direction. But I guarantee you this: Wherever he is, he’s laughing like hell.”
“Get Sherlock the hell out of here,” Egon says, and the uniform gives Dench a nod. Despite the rain, it’s getting lighter.
Back in his office now, Dench gives his head a gentle shake. He’s given Killroy enough mental energy.
He turns around from the window to his desk and sees her there. Sitting across from him. She got into his office and sat down without a sound. Pure Trudy Parr. She’s pale, wearing a blue dress. She looks tired, afraid maybe. But Dench can’t remember Trudy ever really looking afraid.
“Gotta tie a bell round your neck,” he says.
“I dreamed about Orav last night,” says Trudy.
“Yeah, like he was just dropping in to let me know he’s in town.”
“I think maybe he is.”
“That Shanghai Alley caper?”
“Worthy Morgan,” Trudy says, “looking for a scoop. Called me at home. Thinks we’re both awake 24 hours a day working to supply him with copy.” Taking a package of Black Cats from her purse, Trudy says, “I guess the Owens case is closed.”
“Closed or maybe just different. I think Owens is the third of three.”
“Killroy was here?”
“At each scene. Egon’s pretending he ain’t biting, though. He’s making like he doesn’t get the connection.”
“No blood except the wall splatter and the graffiti?”
“Yeah. Egon’s settling for the same bad assumptions they made in Paris. That the body had bled out elsewhere. That it had been moved. But the splatter on the wall makes that a lie.”
“So, we wait for number four?”
“There could already be a number four,” Dench says. “As I recall, Orav’s a fast customer.”
“Wasn’t Owens just a fidelity case?” Trudy says. “His philandering days are over now, for good. Let’s just collect a fee and move on.”
“I followed Robert Owens for a week, Trudy. I never once caught him stepping out with another woman.”
“Maybe he went in for loggers, plenty of them in this burgh.”
“His prolonged absences gave his wife the idea he had something on the side. But the place he went mostly, when he wasn’t at work or at home, was a big old house up in Shaughnessy. He was there an awful lot, like it was a club or something. The wife told me he wouldn’t talk about it. He’d just clam up.”
“Lipstick on his collar?”
“Nah, but she said he sometimes smelled like….”
“Nah, she found it hard to describe. I think she really wanted it to be perfume; it would have explained a lot. But when I pressed her on it, she said it was more like incense.”
“Then it’s gotta be Orav,” Trudy says.
“Yeah, maybe,” says Dench.
“Or maybe the old house in Shaughnessy’s a cathouse.”
“No. It’s Shaughnessy, after all. Besides, there was hardly any traffic. Never more than a few lights on. No noise. Just a few well dressed, middle aged men walking in and out late at night. In a week I counted five, including Owens.” Crispin Dench pauses and momentarily looks away.
“And what else, Crispin? Spit it out.”
“I went into the yard once during the day, and walked around the house. I looked in the front window from the porch.”
“And,” says Trudy. “C’mon, you’re starting to piss me off.”
Dench looks down at his hands. “There was an altar to Eris.”
A few seconds of silence. It seems longer. Trudy Parr no longer looks afraid.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before, Crispin?”
“I wanted to be certain.”
“Certain,” Trudy says.
“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”
“You sure now, mister?”
“Orav said he’d follow us,” says Trudy, “that he’d get us,”
“Seems he didn’t lie,” Dench says. “What now?”
“He thinks he’s indestructible,” Trudy says. “We almost proved him wrong once. He’s got a hate on for me. I know that much.”
“You almost took his head off, Trudy. He didn’t expect that from a little blonde in a Chanel dress.”
“Well then here’s what we do,” Trudy says. “We find him and we bury him. Deep.”
“We tried that once.”
“He was a Gestapo Superintendent in Nazi occupied Paris,” Trudy says. “He held all the cards. And then the war ended.”
“Well if he’s here,” Dench says, sitting up and straightening his tie, “we’ll have to get him before he gets us. We never missed a single target during the whole goddam war, except once. And now he’s in our wasteland.”
“Our wasteland,” Trudy says.
“You know,” Dench says. “Egon said something interesting this morning over the body. He said, ‘Fucking cannibals.’”
Trudy Parr bites the cork end off of a Black Cat and lights it. Then she says, “My, my. That is interesting.”