doppelgänger fantasia part 1

by dm gillis

read part 2 here, read part 3 here, read part 4 here

Vancouver 1949

“It’s a matchbook,” he said, and threw it back across the desk at Trudy Parr.

“Yeah,” she said. “But your name and phone number are written inside.”

“So?”

“So it was found last night, next to the body in a tunnel under Chinatown.”

“There are no tunnels under Chinatown,” he said. “That’s a myth.”

Trudy Parr looked at him.

“Okay,” he said. “It sounds incriminating. So, why don’t you just hand that little item over to Oly Schmidt? He runs Chinatown for the cops.”

“Because he’s a dope. He doesn’t give a damn about a Chinatown Jane Doe.”

“And you do?”

“Why not?”

“What were you even doing down there?”

“Down where? I thought you said the tunnels were a myth.”

He looked at his wristwatch.

“She had no ID in her purse,” said Trudy Parr. “The killer likely snatched it. But I recognised her. She was in the Lily Lounge last night. Were you in the Lily last night, Barney?”

“I don’t go to Chinatown, Trudy. I’m a white man. And the Lily ain’t my kinda joint.”

“What is your kind of joint, Barney?”

“Look, this ain’t none of your business, whatever it is. You’re just a skirt with a PI license who should be home raising kids. You got no business grillin’ me.”

“It’s my business if I say it is.”

“You see,” said Barney Polenski, “this is why I don’t like you and that partner of yours, that Dench bastard. You do way too much pro bono work in this town. Who’s gonna pay you for looking into some dead hooker’s murder?”

“Who said she was a hooker?”

He hesitated. “Hooker, Blessed Virgin – who gives a damn? But dead in a tunnel under Chinatown probably means hooker or dope fiend. And the matchbook. Don’t it make it mine if my name’s inside? What if I just take it? What are you gonna do?”

“That’s a dumb question, Barney. You’re smarter than that.”

He stood up and looked down at her. Trudy Parr remained seated. She could see that the wheels were turning in Barney Polenski’s head. He tugged at his earlobe.

It was all just a rumour as far as he was concerned, nothing substantiated. Just a lot of barroom stories. The fatal Trudy Parr of Dench and Parr Investigations. A spy for the Allies in Nazi occupied Paris. That was where she’d become a killer, supposedly. Now she sat there looking all Veronica Lake. Eyes too blue. Skin too pale. Demeanour too calm. The matchbook in front of her. Both of her hands on the desktop.

“I don’t yield to no dame,” he said. “On principle.”

Trudy Parr smiled.

“Give me the matches, nice like.”

“Take ‘em, tough guy.”

His eyes moved over a small area in front of him. The matches, her hands, her face, her cold eyes, back to the matches. Then he moved as fast as he could. But it wasn’t fast enough. Trudy Parr’s hand snatched the matches away. She wheeled back on her desk chair, and reached underneath. There was a straight razor there; there was always a straight razor there, held in place with a single strip of masking tape. She retrieved it and got to her feet. All he’d remember later was the silver glint of the blade. He knew what it was and stumbled backward, reaching into his jacket pocket for his revolver. Trudy Parr stepped out from behind her desk quickly and coolly and applied the blade to the throat of Barney Polenski. He walked slowly backward, hands out in plain view now, and stopped when he hit a wall. “Go ahead, tough guy,” she said. “Pull your gun. I’m already drawing blood.” A red bead dripped and stained his white collar.

“Jeeze,” he said. “Lighten up, Trudy.”

“You’re a big bully of a man, Barney. I hate that. I brought you in on this as a courtesy. One east-ender to another. And you go and get all tough. Like I’m gonna fold all of a sudden, and play the quail. Well fuck you. The inlet’s just down the road, and who’d weep over you being fished out of it in a day or two all cold and wet and dead?”

She reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out his Smith and Wesson. Dropping the razor and holding the gun, she took a step back and said, “Now reach down and take that .32 off your ankle and slide it over.” He did what she said, and then stood up.

There was a gentle knock on the door, and Crispin Dench stuck his head in.  “Oh,” he said. “Bad timing?”

“No, no,” said Barney Polenski with his back against the wall, bleeding from the wound to his throat. “Please. Come in.”

“Barney Polenski, old man,” Dench said. “You’re not looking so hot, pal.”

“Get this broad off me, Dench.”

“You’re bleeding from the throat, Barney,” Dench said. “That’ll ruin a good shirt.”

“Control this damn woman.”

“Can’t do it, Barney. Tried once. Nearly got me killed. I’m sure you understand considering your current situation. I’ll just return to my office. I just came in to ask for a file I need for an upcoming court appearance, but it can wait.”

“Which one,” said Trudy Parr, not taking her eyes off Polenski.

“Cummings, William H.,” said Dench.

“I’m finished with it. I had Agnes file it in the lockdown cabinet. Under C.”

“Ah,” said Dench, “that’s grand. Bye for now.” He closed the door.

“Grab your coat, Barney,” said Trudy Parr. “You’re stinkin’ the place up.”

“What’re you gonna do about all this,” Polenski said.

“I don’t know yet. It’ll be interesting to see if someone claims the body. Anything you wanna add before I throw you out?”

“I think you know I didn’t ice her. You’d have handled it different, otherwise.”

“And?”

“Look, this whole thing is too damn strange. She was strange. It don’t surprise me she was in the Lily Lounge.”

“Meaning?”

“You know the types that go there.”

“I go there,” said Trudy Parr.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Give me something, Barney. These things have a rapid way of unfolding on their own. Names reveal themselves, motives, lethal little details. The players who cough up early usually come out the cleanest. Later evidence can be very damning. Don’t make me seek you out in some dark place after your name starts dropping.”

He looked at his shoes, cheap Mexican straight tips. “Sometimes I play the bad guy,” he said. “I know it. But I got hurt bad in the war.”

“We all did, Barney. Let’s not cry over spilled schnapps.”

“Well I ain’t had the opportunities some others have had. So, now I’m just trying to make a living. Someone says, ‘Here, Barney. Here’s a hundred bucks to follow some broad for a couple days. Take some notes on her. Report back.’ What am I supposed to do? Say no?”

“Who hired you?”

“Just some guys. I – I don’t know. They told me where and when to show up. That’s all.”

“You took notes?”

“In my head.”

“Feel like sharing?”

He looked up from his shoes, not looking like a street thug anymore. He just looked scared. “Look, there’s some fucking crazy people in town right now. If I’d known from the getgo, I’d have declined their offer of work. Now I got you trying to cut my head off. And by this afternoon, they’ll know I was here. They’ll have to assume I spilled something. I may be walking dead already.”

“So leave a legacy, Barney. Throw me a bone. If it’s good, maybe I can save your sorry life.”

He looked at his shoes again. He looked at them as though they meant something. “The girl,” he said. “There’s two of them.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? She’s got a sister?”

“Nah. I mean there’s actually two of them. Identical, but not twins. The same person times two. Now of course, after the killing last night, there’s just one. The one that’s supposed to be here. The other one that turned up dead was the one I was hired to shadow. I think that now she’s been taken out of the picture everyone might calm down. Just some loose ends. Like some of the people on the edge of the caper who know too much.” He looked up with an ironic smile. It surprised her.

“So, one’s in the morgue,” said Trudy Parr. “Where’s the other one?”

“I ain’t got a clue,” he said.

“Give me a name,” she said.

“Bittle,” said Barney after a moment.

“Her name was Bittle?”

“No. I don’t know her name. They just gave me a photo, and an idea where to start. They never gave me their names, either. Not real ones, anyway. They were just Mr One, Mr Two, Mr Three. Get it? Some of them were Brits and some were Russian. I’m pretty sure.”

“Russian?”

“Yeah, but not Bolsheviks. I met some Bolsheviks in Berlin in ’45. These characters were different. Smoother. More refined. But there was one name that came up real frequent. It sounded like one of those British officer names I heard a lot in Europe. Alasdair Bittle. Or Dr Bittle. I heard that, too. They liked to talk like I wasn’t there a lot, so I heard some shit. Once or twice they called Bittle the Doppelgänger Doctor, whatever the hell that is. Maybe I should leave town.”

“Maybe, Barney. But leave me with your contact information.”

She escorted Barney Polenski to the elevator. The operator pretended no to notice the bleeding.

“Lobby,” Trudy Parr said. And the doors slid shut.

Barney Polenski put on his coat in the lobby, and exited the Dominion Building. He pulled his collar up to hide the wound, and crossed Cambie Street. When he was in front of the Flack Block on Hastings, Crispin Dench stepped out of a shadow.

“Hold up there, Barney,” Dench said.

“What now? I gotta see a doctor.”

“Just one thing,” Dench said. Polenski noticed how he looked different now. How the dapper figure in the office had transformed, staring out from under the brim of his hat and lighting a cigarette. “Thing about guys like you, Barney, is that you always come back for more. That accounts for your lower than normal life expectancy. What happened up there with Trudy’s a good example. I figure you’ll go get patched up, get shit face, and plan some revenge – shaddup. Don’t make me slap you. You know I’m right. A mug like you won’t let a skirt get away with what she did to you up there, even if it means shooting her in the back.

“Your plan will involve some of your close associates, because you already failed dealing with her alone. You won’t tell them what actually happened. You’ll make something up. Outstanding debt or some other bullshit. Then you’ll wait for the right moment to get her. You figure that’ll restore your manhood. I wish she’d deal with crumbs like you differently. But she refuses to listen. I guess it’s part of her charm. But I’ve never seen her do nothin’ to anyone that didn’t have it coming.

“So, here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna get fixed up. You’re gonna explain the scar by saying you were in a street fight with some greasers. You were outnumbered, but you prevailed. Real heroic. And you’re gonna forget about what happened up there with Trudy. That clear?”

“Yeah sure, Crispin.”

“You remember Albert Falconi? That little Mafia wanna be son of a bitch they found in the trunk of his Buick up Little Mountain last year? The little fuck they found with two bullet holes in his head? He told me he was clear about an issued we’d discussed, too. Except he wasn’t clear at all. Turned out that he thought he was smarter than me. You drive a Buick don’t you, Barney? Nice fat ’48 Roadmaster? Plenty big trunk on that beast. I could fit two or three of you into that.”

“Jesus, Crispin. I thought you was legit.”

“I’m legit when it pays the bills, and when those near to me aren’t under threat.”

“I’m just small time. I ain’t gonna cause no trouble.”

“I don’t like small timers, Barney. They all want to be big timers when they grow up.”

“Not me, Crispin. I’m thinking of leaving town.”

“That’s a good idea, Barney. There’re trains leaving everyday from down the street. Sell your possessions and head east. I hear Winnipeg’s a nice town for third rate hoods to cool their heels. Forget the city of Vancouver for a while. Think of it as a bad dream by the sea.”

“Yeah, Crispin,” Barney Polenski said. “That just might be the fix.” He cautiously stepped round Crispin Dench, and began walking away, looking over his shoulder every few steps until he was lost in the crowd.

“So, what was all that about with Polenski?” Crispin Dench asked Trudy Parr when he returned to the office.

“He’s mixed up with something.” Trudy Parr tossed the matchbook across her desk. Then she pushed a copy of the morning Vancouver Sun toward him. The headline read, Woman’s Body Found Under Chinatown.

He read the headline, then opened the matchbook and looked inside. “Ahh,” he said.

“I found it on the body.”

“You were there?”

“Yeah.”

“Ain’t none of my business but may I ask why?”

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