A Surgeon of Ravensbrück Part 1 (draft)

Vancouver 1949

Police Detective Olaf Brandt stood on the doorstep waiting. He’d rung the bell and now listened to a small dog barking inside. There were quick footsteps, and the door opened. Natalie Jervis stood there looking stunned and bitter, dressed in black. An excited schnauzer danced round her feet.

“Good morning, Mrs Jervis,” Olaf Brandt said. He awkwardly tipped his hat.

“This is not a good time, Detective,” Natalie Jervis said. “We’re mourning. Can’t you people just give us some time to recover from this horrible thing?”

“Yes, Mrs Jervis,” Brandt said. “We would ideally prefer to do just that, but some aspects of the investigation are time sensitive. May I come in?”

Natalie Jervis hesitated.

“No,” said a man with an English accent, at first just out of sight. “You may not come in. We will not speak to you or the press anymore. Not until our son receives a proper funeral.” It was Dr Maxwell Jervis. He came to stand next to his wife.

“Surely, doctor,” said Brandt. “You are not placing the police in the same category as the press.”

“I am. You’re equally predacious.”

“The first hours of an investigation are very important ones, doctor. Evidence is still fresh. It’s painful, I can imagine….”

“It is hell,” said Mrs Jervis, fresh tears in her eyes. “He was only fifteen, and all you care about is fresh evidence. I have a mind to complain about you and your complete lack of judgement and tact.”

“Allow me to encourage you to do so,” Brandt said, handing Natalie Jervis a business card. “Call the second number there. In the mean time, you force me to discuss this on your doorstep. Dr Jervis, it has come to my attention that you were at St Paul’s Hospital on the night when the pancreas was stolen.”

“Why is that a problem? I am a surgeon there.”

“Yes, but you were spotted at approximately 1:15 a.m.?” Brandt said. “And of course, there’s the fact that you said you were at home that night.”

“Whoever says they saw me must be mistaken,” Jervis said.

“But you just justified your presence there, doctor. What do you know about the theft? Anything you saw or heard may be valuable to the investigation.”

There was a long silence, like a stand-off at the door. Jervis’ eyes were hard blue stone. Brandt’s eyes, moist and filled with empathy.

Then Jervis said, “That name, Brandt. And that accent of yours. You’re Norwegian, aren’t you?”

“Why yes, doctor. That’s very good. Most people take me for a German. It was a bit tricky during the war, I’ll tell you. But what has that to do with our discussion.”

Dr Maxwell Jervis slammed the door.

Paris, October 1943 

“There he is,” said Trudy Parr. She sat with Crispin Dench in a black Renault near a subway entrance in central Paris. They watched as a well dressed man with a briefcase purchased apples at a cart. “I say we decapitate this asshole.”

“You know we can’t,” Dench said. “This is strictly observe and report.”

“Yeah, well I scored low on my observe and report tests at assassin school,” Trudy Parr said. “Besides, this creep’s a monster.”

“Someone in London wants him alive,” Dench said. He didn’t like it either.

“I’m starting to wonder whose side London’s on.”

“I guess they figure there has to be people left over to hang when this shit’s all over.”

“Meanwhile he gets to cut up more women and kids.”

“War’s hell.”

“What about the briefcase?”

“That’s a different thing altogether,” Dench said. “I’d like to see what’s in it.”

“Now you’re talking,” said Trudy Parr. “Let’s go,” She opened her door, and Dench followed.

The two of them crossed the street and stood on either side of the well dressed man as he accepted his change from the apple vendor. Trudy Parr chose an apple, held it up, and addressing the man in perfect Parisian French, she said, “The apple is a perfect thing, no?”

“Yes, it is,” said the man, smiling and taking note of the stunning young blonde standing next to him. “Allow me,” he said, offering the vendor a coin to pay for her apple.

She dropped it then and shouted, “What did you say? You fiend. How dare you? Is there no decency left? And you seemed like such a dignified man.”

“But I….” The man stammered. “I simply….” He spoke inadequate French, with a German accent.

“How could you imply such a thing? I see you wear a wedding ring, Monsieur. Is your wife aware that you speak to innocent women this way?”

“I didn’t mean to offend….”

“What is the trouble here?” said Crispin Dench, playing a stranger intervening.

“This man,” said Trudy Parr. “He offered me an apple to meet him in an alley round the corner.”

“My, my,” said Dench, cocking an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“I did not,” the man protested.

“Do you think that is all I am worth, Monsieur? An apple?”

“No, no,” the man said in confusion. “It’s obvious you’re worth far more, of course.”

“Far more, you say?” said Dench. “Then you are attempting to procure her services. Has it occurred to you that not all of the women in Paris are starving prostitutes?”

“But I never meant to infer she was.” The man turned his back on Trudy Parr to face Dench.

“I must ask you to defend yourself, Monsieur,” said Dench, now taking a boxer’s stance. “I cannot allow you to smear the honour of the women of France.”

The man put down his briefcase and held up both hands in placating gesture. “But I am an honourable man,” he said. “A good German. A good Nazi. We can discuss this, surely.”

“The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.” Trudy Parr whispered from behind, into the man’s ear. She spit the words out, using the English of far away east end Vancouver. Then she picked up the briefcase and returned to the car across the street.

As Crispin Dench handed the apple vendor a five franc note, he kicked the good Nazi hard in the knee and then the stomach. The man fell over, writhing in pain. The apple vendor accepted the five francs with a smile and a wink. Dench kicked the man in the belly once more, and walked back to the Renault.

“We’ll have to dump the car,” he said, getting in. “What’s in the case?”

Trudy Parr did an inventory. “Medical equipment requisition forms. Carton of cigarettes, Gitanes.  Lucky you, your brand.” She dumped them in Dench’s lap. “Mont Blanc pen. Stack of punch cards. Address book. Appointment calendar. Various folders containing typed and hand written documents we can read later. And bingo, an official Ravensbrück doctor’s notebook.” She flipped through the pages. “Full of notes,” she said. She read silently for a moment, and then aloud, translating the German into English. “Rejection and necrosis of transplanted limbs and acromioclavicular joints is manifest in all subjects to date, resulting in massive infection of previously healthy tissue and eventual death. Perhaps this is exclusive to the Jew, but they seem so similar to superior races in so many other ways. Awaiting permission to experiment with criminal inmates of full blooded Aryan decent.

“Charming,” she said looking at Dench.

Dench started the car. “We’ve got to get that to London,” he said.

“Next satchel out,” said Trudy Parr. Then she said, “He’s just across the street, Crispin. We can still exterminate the bastard. You know it’s better to ask for forgiveness.”

“Now’s the time to be a good soldier,” Dench said, and drove away.

Vancouver 1949

Olaf Brandt sat at the White Lunch counter, looking off into space and stirring his coffee. He’d been doing so for five minutes.

“Penny for your thoughts, Officer Brandt.” It was Trudy Parr. She took the stool next to his. “The usual,” she said to the waitress.

Brandt laid his coffee spoon down and lit a cigarette. “A boy has died,” he said.

“You mean the Jervis kid. You got that case?”

“Yes, and it’s a strange one.”

“Wanna talk?” said Trudy Parr. “I read that they found the kid in a park near where he lived. That it was mysterious circumstances. The papers didn’t say much else.”

The waitress placed a cup of coffee and a slice of pecan pie in front of her.

“It’s very peculiar,” said Brandt. “The boy died of a massive infection. A surgical incision in his belly was sutured shut, and autopsy results say he had juvenile diabetes and somebody else’s pancreas. That was the cause of the infection. It’s a strange thing to find in a municipal park.”

“That is strange,” said Trudy Parr. She took a thoughtful bite of pie. “Say, isn’t the boys old man a surgeon in town?”

“At St Paul’s,” said Brandt. “Dr Maxwell Jervis. Graduated from the University of Birmingham Medical School in 1924.”

“Well? He’s gotta be a prime suspect, considering all of that.”

“I am currently walking that road, Miss Parr. But a surgeon in good standing in the community, working at a local hospital, is difficult to implicate in such a crime — any crime, in fact. I have been instructed to find other leads, ones that do not lead to Dr Maxwell Jervis.”

“That’s just crazy.”

“Yes,” Brandt said. “Crazy.” And then he said, “I wonder, Miss Parr. Is this a chance meeting, between you and me, in the White Lunch? Or is there, as in most things you do, some intended design?”

* * * * *

The soiled glare of a basement morgue never changes, but the bad lighting always seems more bizarre after midnight. The slant of shadow is more severe, and the colours become muted as they devolve toward shades of rusty blood.

The suicide had been delivered to the St Paul’s Hospital morgue two hours before, a young man with pale hazel eyes and a deep vertical slash running up each forearm. No one had yet bothered to wipe the blood away. The organ collector had arrived with an ice-filled cooler chest and a twenty dollar bill for the attendant. He carried his medical instruments in a small leather bag.

“It’s cooler number ten,” the attendant said as he pocketed the cash. “I’m going out for lunch now. That gives you half an hour, doc. Get it? Half an hour. Don’t be here when I get back.”

“Be careful how you address me,” the organ collector said. “I’m a physician. Don’t think that this arrangement gives you license….”

“Just be gone when I get back, doc” the attendant said, smiling. “A man’s ego ain’t worth a damn in this joint, and I don’t care about yours.”

The attendant walked away.

The collector opened the door to cooler number ten. The tray inside slid out at waist height. He removed a scalpel from his bag.

Gray’s Anatomy describes the human pancreas in this way: The pancreas is a compound racemose gland, analogous in its structures to the salivary glands, though softer and less compactly arranged than those organs…the pancreas has an important internal secretion…which is taken up by the blood stream and is concerned with sugar metabolism. Its length varies from 12.5 to 15 cm., and its weight from 60 to 100 gm.

He quickly opened the corpse’s abdomen, removed the gland in question and packed it in the ice chest. Then he pushed the rolling tray upon which the body lay back into the cooler. In less than ten minutes, he was speeding south on Burrard Street. He’d be home in twenty minutes. He hoped that Matthew was properly prepared in the basement of his Dunbar residence.

When he arrived in the basement, Matthew was fully sedated and being monitored by a nurse in full surgical garb. The organ collector’s wife helped him into his gown, and he commenced to thoroughly wash his hands in the basement sink.

Matthew was fifteen and had had juvenile diabetes for ten years. Beef and porcine insulin injections were no longer effective and the boy’s kidneys were failing. The collector and his wife could no longer stand by and watch their only child die a slow agonising death. Doctors had experimented with pancreas transplants, but none had been successful. Among other things, there was the question of mismatching and antigens. The collector believed he’d solved the problem. He’d nearly done so at Ravensbrück, but the war had ended too soon. Discovering the secrets of ant-rejection had been so close. Once discovered, they could have mended armies of battle broken soldiers. And healed innocents like his dear son with transplants of harvested organs.

But the body was too quick to refuse new tissues. And effective immunosuppressive drugs had yet to be discovered. It was an awful puzzle. He had faith now, however, in a new procedure. One that involved electrical impulses applied discretely after surgery. He’d seen evidence that it might help to match unmatchable tissues. It was their only hope. How long could Matthew hang on?

He stepped up to the surgical table, a work bench draped in a sterile blanket. He placed the ice chest containing the stolen pancreas on a side table. Mathew’s anesthetised body lay before him, under sheets arranged so that his abdomen was exposed. Both the collector and the nurse wore surgical masks. Their eyes met.

“Are you certain about this Dr Beckenbauer?” the nurse said.

“Do not use that name,” he said. “I’ve told you already.”

“Yes, doctor. I apologise.”

“And yes,” he insisted. “I’m certain.” He held out his hand. “Scalpel,” he said.

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