a surgeon of Ravensbrück Part 1 rewrite (cracked)

by dm gillis

read part 2 here

Vancouver 1949

He could tolerate the passing of empty days; it was the minutes and hours that were difficult.

His father sat next to him on his bed saying consoling things, stroking his forehead. And the boy lay there looking up at him, knowing he had all of the great man’s love. But the boy knew he’d been dealt a death sentence. As much had been said by adults, convinced that their whispered words were beyond his hearing and comprehension.

He was gaunt now. He saw himself reflected in chrome finished medical equipment and the silverware that accompanied each of his meagre meals. He was weak. He was losing his vision and his fingers and toes burned like fire. Now there was talk of a radical procedure called kidney dialysis. It was a wasting disease, and he already looked like a ghost.

His father was a doctor, a surgeon. But he was powerless, except in treating a few of the symptoms. That was the irony, and the household suffered under the paradox. The beef and porcine insulins had stopped working for some reason. An endocrinologist had called it an allergic reaction. But no one knew the real reason.

“I will save you,” his father said. “Somehow. I’m certain that last night’s procedure is a success.” He tried not to frown as he said this. He was very concerned about his son’s sudden high fever.

The boy humoured the man. He had no choice. His world was very small and his father was a powerful archetype against which there was no comparison. What lay outside of his bedroom had become a landscape of distant memory and myth.

The bright afternoon shone in through his window. He heard the doorbell shortly before he drifted off to sleep.

It was Police Detective Olaf Brandt on the step, he and Detective Wagner Dabney. Now they listened to a small dog barking on the other side of the door. It seemed to go on forever. Then there were quick footsteps, and a quiet pause before the door opened. When it did open, 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. “We are with the Vancouver Police Department. I am Detective Olaf….”

“This is not a good time,” Natalie Jervis said. “Please be quiet, Blitz.” The schnauzer didn’t stop.

“It’s a lovely dog,” said Dabney. “A schnauzer, no?”

Natalie Jervis stared at the two men.

“My Aunt Tootsie had a schnauzer,” Dabney continued. “She called him Heinrich.”

“What an odd name,” said Natalie Jervis, her tone shifting from outright hostility to derisive animosity.

“Heinrich? No, no, no. It’s very German, you know. My aunty thought it was a good fit.”

“No,” said Natalie Jervis. “I mean Tootsie. You said your aunt’s name was Tootsie. That’s very odd.”

“Well, her real name was Edna. You see….”

“If we may,” Olaf Brandt interrupted. “There’s a matter we’d like to discuss with Dr Jervis. Might we come in?”

Natalie Jervis hesitated, her eyes wide.

“I’m not available,” said a man with an English accent, at first just out of sight. “You may not come in. I do not speak to the press without an appointment.” It was Dr Maxwell Jervis. He came to stand next to his wife.

“We’re the police,” said Brandt. “Not the press.”

“The same applies to the police.”

“I do not make appointments to discuss police business,” Brandt said.

“He’s right, you know,” said Dabney. “I’ve never seen him make an appointment, not even a dentist appointment. Although what he does on his own time is his own business, naturally. Normally we just sort of show up, expecting people to answer our questions. Mostly they lie, of course. But that’s just part of the job, I guess.”

Dr Maxwell Jervis looked at Detective Dabney for a moment and said, “I don’t understand.”

“Well maybe I’ve been made cynical by the job,” said Dabney, “but whenever we talk to a witness or a suspect….”

“Suspect?” Jervis said. He was visibly angered by the word.

“You’re not suspected of anything,” Brandt said, looking over at his partner.

“I have a mind to file a complaint.”

“Please do so,” Brandt said, handing Dr Maxwell Jervis a business card. “Call the second number there.” Brandt pointed to a spot on the card. “In the meantime, Dr Jervis, you force me to discuss this with you on your doorstep. We are investigating the alleged theft of a human organ, a pancreas, from a corpse in the St Paul’s Hospital morgue. The supposed theft took place in the early morning hours, today. As Head Surgeon at the hospital, what do you know about it?”

“I know there is a discrepancy in inventory.”

“Inventory?” said Brandt. “It was removed from a dead body, not taken from a shelf.”

“When asked earlier today at the hospital, doctor,” Dabney chimed in, leafing through his notebook, “you said you were at home last night, and didn’t arrive at the hospital until 9 a.m. this morning.” The detective’s tone was no longer light and conversational. He was suddenly severe and earnest. The change in the man appeared to confuse Jervis. “Now it has come out that you were spotted in the hospital at approximately 1:15 a.m., round the time of the theft.”

“Whoever says this is mistaken,” Jervis said.

“The witness is considered reliable,” said Brandt.

“I understand you have a son with juvenile diabetes,” said Dabney. “That’s caused by a bum pancreas, ain’t it?”

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. Dabney had turned on a dime, transforming himself from a damn fool into a rock solid doorstep interrogator.

Maxwell Jervis changed the subject. “That name,” he said. “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 someone left over to hang when this shit’s all done.”

“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, Dillinger,” 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?”

“Why 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.

At this, she dropped it and shouted, “What did you say? You fiend. How dare you? Is there no decency left? And you seemed like such a decent, 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 a 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 ten 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 ten francs with a smile and a wink. Dench kicked the man in the belly twice 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, stirring his coffee. He’d been doing so for five minutes. Wagner Dabney sat next to him reading the paper.

“That act of yours,” Brandt said. “Where you play the fool with the Aunt Tootsie. It never seems to grow old.”

“Worked in the war,” Dabney said. “Why not in peacetime?”

“The Nazis were so gullible?”

“Arrogance and gullibility walk hand in hand in this world.” Dabney turned a page.

“Sometimes I think you lay it on too thick.”

“Me too,” said Dabney. “Sometimes. But Jervis is no longer merely interesting. We converted him into a full-on suspect this afternoon.”

Brandt stirred his coffee and nodded his head.

“Penny for your thoughts, boys.” Trudy Parr took the stool next to Olaf Brandt. She was wearing a fedora and a stylishly cut trench coat with a red silk scarf. “The usual,” she told the waitress. Then she bit the cork end off of a Black Cat and lit it.

Brandt laid his coffee spoon down and lit a cigarette of his own.

“You two talk to that Jervis character lately?” said Trudy Parr.

“Who’s asking?” said Dabney, scanning the comics.

“Just a girl with an inquiring mind,” said Trudy Parr. The waitress placed a cup of coffee and a slice of pecan pie in front of her.

“Maybe we don’t share intel with civilians,” said Brandt.

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But maybe I saw this mug in the papers recently, loosely associated with the theft of a human organ from the St Paul’s morgue. And maybe his face resembles that of someone Crispin and I encountered at another time, in another place.”

“Do tell,” said Dabney.

“What’s in it for me?” said Trudy Parr, taking a bite of pecan pie.

“Something that a girl in this town can’t have enough of,” said Olaf Brandt.

“What’s that?”

“How about the undying love and respect of the Vancouver Police Department.”

* * * * *

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 by then; the colours more 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. 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. He’d been so close to discovering the secrets of anti-rejection. Once discovered, they could have mended armies of battle broken soldiers. And healed innocents like his dear son with transplants of harvested organs. They might have even used the organs of inferior races.

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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