a surgeon of Ravensbrück Part 2

by dm gillis

read part 1 here

Vancouver 1949 

Beware the quiet man with inscrutable posture. This was simple street acumen. It was a choir-sung hymn, voices rising from the cobble and concrete. Forget the fog and the midnight dark. The scarcely audible human wrestlings from the countless curtained windows above. All there ever is is the face of the man who emerges from the gloom, from the alley doorway that is his chosen rendezvous. Will it be a face cast in contempt and homicide, and therefore easy to read? Or will it float in space, expressionless? She knew the latter and hated it more. The face that never changes. Even at the moment of atrocity.

She checked her wrist watch in the pale light from a lamp above a loading dock. 12:20 a.m. This may have been a mistake, accepting an invitation over a telephone, from someone who could easily have been an impostor. She tightened her grip on the .45 automatic. It was a big gun, almost too big for her trench coat pocket. But it still worked very well in close quarters. As did the straight razor she had concealed in her other pocket.

There came the sound of a match being lit from several yards away. A doorway was dimly illuminated, but no one emerged.

“Knock it off, Percy,” she said, “…if that is you. You’re in my wasteland now. Show some respect.”

A form of a man in a dark greatcoat, wearing a fedora, stepped into the alley from the doorway, still silhouetted. The bright ember of his cigarette nearly betraying his identity, reflecting in his red eyes.

“But you have my complete and dying respect, Mademoiselle Trudy Parr.” The silhouette spoke with a Parisian accent. “I know that anything less might lead to my immediate termination, here in this foul little back alley, in this foul little city of yours. Your wasteland, indeed.” He drew on his cigarette and blew smoke.

“Percy,” said Trudy Parr. She smiled and lessened her grip on her weapon. “It’s a long way from Tangiers.”

“I haunt Nazis,” said Percy the Albino. He stepped out of the dark. The incandescent light turned his white face yellow. “And there is a target worthy of such a journey living in your city.”

“I think I know who you mean.”

“A certain Dr Beckenbauer.”

“Yes,” said Trudy Parr.

As Percival Archambault walked toward her, a second and third silhouette emerged from the dark and stood their ground a short distance behind him. Trudy Parr gripped her .45 again.

“Ignore them, my dear,” said Archambault. “You see them only because I wish them to be seen. There are others, of course. You know how it works.”

“Yes, I do,” said Trudy Parr, who suddenly felt like she’d, uncharacteristically, forgotten something very important.

“Now,” Archambault said in his clumsy English, “down to the tacks that are made of brass. My art is a new one, but I have discovered some truths that guide me. One of them is that there are only three reasons that a fugitive Nazi war criminal will mistakenly reveal his location and identity. They are greed, revenge and family. In that order, Trudy Parr. And it would seem that Dr Beckenbauer has revealed himself for the third reason. His son is very ill, dying in fact. He has taken desperate steps to cure the boy. Now he is mine.”

“The local constabulary might dispute that claim,” said Trudy Parr.

“He has defiled a dead body. In Canada, the maximum sentence is five years. But they will deport him, naturally, when they discover his true identity. He will merely be imprisoned in Germany. It will amount to a mere a slap on the face.”

“Wrist,” said Trudy Parr, with a grin. “It will be a slap on the wrist.”

“English is an inelegant language,” he shrugged. “But no matter. Beckenbauer has done much to hide his true Identity. He began to do so a year before the end of the war. He was clever and thorough. His accent is now that of a man who graduated from the University of Birmingham Medical School, rather than the University of Tübingen. He even had plastic surgery, though it was obviously unsuccessful, as you and I have both recognised him for who he is. I believe he has chosen Vancouver to hide because something of value is best concealed near the surface of things.

“The authorities really needn’t know I am here. Dr Beckenbauer will disappear mysteriously. And the police can move on to things they are better equipped to deal with.”

“If you’re going after him,” Trudy Parr said, “I want seats, centre orchestra.”

“That is why I called you here. I need a guide.”

* * *

Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer, alias Jervis, sat with his wife in the parlour of their Dunbar home. He knew there wasn’t enough penicillin in the city, the country or the world to fight his son’s infection. For forty-eight hours, his mind had continually flashed back to the camp, Ravensbrück, where he’d tried so hard to cheat nature. Was there something hidden in his notes, something he’d missed? How could there be?

Matthew’s fingers and toes were connected to awkward electrodes as small impulses were channelled through a metered transformer. His father believed it would reverse rejection of the transplanted organ. It had nearly worked in the camp. All the procedure needed to be fully effective was a few adjustments. He failed to make them at the camp as the Allies had advanced and the supply chain crumbled. Now the term pseudo-science went through his head, and not for the first time. Were they too optimistic at Ravensbrück? Perhaps it had been because of the endless number of subjects on which to experiment. Was the optimism merely Nazism, deep in its pathological, militaristic faith? The true believers thought they had a thousand years. In the end, they’d only had a little more than ten. A small cluster of superior, dedicated men and their descendants could have saved the world, given a thousand years. He’d been given three.

“He is dying,” he told his wife, winding his stethoscope too tightly round his hand. He spoke in German now, for the first time since they arrived in Canada.

“The police will come again,” she said. “We must plan. We will not survive the attention this will bring. You must make the call.”

“We might. I have invested heavily in our identities.”

“No more Third Reich fantasies, Max. The dreaming is over, for now. Now we must find a way to survive and endure. You should never have assumed such an obvious identity. You should have come here to sweep floors. We needed obscurity, not eminence. We were lucky to get out alive in the first place.”

He clenched his fists. The words hurt, but she’d spoken the truth. He had believed so absolutely in the cause and had risen so high. He’d believed he was untouchable, even in an Allied country. He’d believed that the aliases were an idiotic formality. But he was wrong. He reluctantly picked up the telephone and dialled.

“Hello?” he said after a moment. “It is Asclepius.” It was an almost forgotten code name. “Yes…yes…. We need evacuation….. But of course, I would never have called otherwise…. I avoided the newspapers, but they print what they like. They have no fear. They are controlled by toothpaste advertisers and car salesmen here, not firm government…. Of course I stole it. It was the only hope…. Yes,” he paused, “there will be a body…. I don’t know where, a church perhaps…. A park? A trash bin? You’re mad. Do not test me…. No, a Catholic church. We will leave him on the doorstep in the night…. I will…. Yes, of course my wife will come…. Brazil…? Venezuela? I didn’t know we’d have a choice…. Yes, Brazil would be preferable, Rio…. A steamer, yes…. Ballentyne Pier, very good…. Through the canal…. When…?” He looked at his watch, then at his wife. “That soon…? Yes, of course we want out…. You’ll send a man…. Code name Nathanial. I’ll watch for him.” He hung up the telephone. He’d written nothing down.

* * *

Trudy Parr had her feet up on her desk reading To Have and Have Not when Crispin Dench rolled in to the office at 9 a.m.

“Coffee’s on,” she said.

“What’re you up to?” said Dench, looking in on her. She never arrived in the office before 11 a.m.

“Catching up on my Hemingway,” she said.

“You pull an all-nighter?”

“The albino’s in town.”

“I heard.”

“Really? It’s supposed to be a secret.”

“I don’t like secrets,” Dench said, cocking an eyebrow. “Percival Archambault arrived on Air France 1724 the day before yesterday at 11:33 a.m. He’s and his entourage are holed up in safe rooms at the Balmoral Hotel. They’re complaining about the food. The two of you met in Shanghai Alley early this morning.”

“Were you there, somewhere?”

“Where else? Who needs sleep? I don’t keep a sniping rifle, silencer and scope in my trunk for nothing.”

“I don’t like being spied on.”

“You’d have done the same for me.”

Trudy Parr began to read again.

“I brought doughnuts,” Dench said, holding up a bag, giving it a shake.

Trudy Parr turned a page.

“Fresh and warm….”

“Crullers?” she said, peaking over the top of the book.

“A whole half dozen.”

“Gimme,” she said, putting the book down. “I only want one.”

“Am I forgiven?” he said taking a seat.

“No.”

“Might have gone bad for you, you know. A dark alley after midnight in the fog. Forget Hemingway, you need to read some Dashiell Hammett.”

“What we do isn’t pulp fiction, Crispin. And it ain’t a Bogart flick.”

He opened the bag and offered it to her.

“Lend me your car,” she said, reaching in and taking a doughnut.

“The Jaguar?”

“Is there another?”

“Can’t you take a cab or a hired car?” Dench said. “Let me drive you.”

“This is a solo gig, and I may need speed.”

“You’re gonna be Archambault’s chauffer, aren’t you?”

“I want to show him round town. Maybe hit Chinatown and a bar or two.”

“You on the arm of the albino.”

“Why not?”

“He’s here to ice Beckenbauer, Trudy. Maybe we should back off and let him do it.”

“Let me borrow your car, Crispin.” She looked across the desk at him. He blinked first.

“Fine,” he said, and tossed the keys on the desk. “Bring it back as pretty as you found it, and with a full tank.”

* * *

It was a red Alpha Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este Carrozzeria Touring Berlinetta. A brazen choice as escape vehicles went. But code name Nathanial was a young man, prone to brazen behaviour. He boxed at the Philliponi Gym and carried a Walther PPK left over from his days as an SS-Senior assault leader. He sat in the car a block away from Beckenbauer’s house. Beckenbauer had asked that he come to drive him to a downtown bank to empty a safety deposit box. He leaned over to open the passenger side door as the doctor walked by.

“Where is the body?” Nathanial said when the doctor looked in.

“There is no body,” said Beckenbauer. “Who are you?”

“Nathanial.”

The doctor stood up to look at the car. He shook his head and then bent over to face Nathanial. “My boy is not yet dead.”

Nathanial looked at his watch. “He must be dead soon. It is 10:00. I have to have you on the ship by 23:00. How long before he dies?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“It is the one that must be answered. I assume all of your other affairs are dealt with – papers, luggage, currency?”

“Yes, after we visit the bank.”

“Then the boy is the last detail.” Nathanial drummed his finger on the steering wheel. “If he is not dead by 18:00, I will take care of it.”

“But….”

“But what doctor? What, hmm? Much is presently being done on your behalf. Primarily because you made bad assumptions and bad decisions. But someone higher up believes you will be useful in the future. So, I am here. It is good for you that someone believes you’ll have some future use, or my business here would be very different.”

There were flecks of the fire of an unfinished war in Nathanial’s eyes, wrath and disregard. Beckenbauer had seen it before in a thousand men. He knew it was pointless to argue. He got into the car, and Nathanial drove them downtown.

* * *

Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer and Nathanial  arrived at the bank at 10:30, and parked out front.  Beckenbauer hesitated, and remained seated in the car. Emptying the safety deposit box would take him one step closer to saying good-bye to his son, forever.

“It is the Royal Bank on Pender Street,” Archambault said, reading from a notebook. “There it is. Park behind the red Alpha Romeo.”

Trudy Parr stopped for a traffic light  before they could proceed.

“Please hurry,” said Nathanial.

Beckenbauer conceded and got out of the car. As he did, he looked across the street and saw a familiar young blond woman at the wheel of a white Jaguar. She resembled a woman he’d once encountered at an apple cart in Paris. His heart sank and he got back into the car.

“We must go,” he said. “Now.”

“What is it?” said Nathanial.

Beckenbauer looked over shoulder, and Trudy Parr spotted him. There eyes met in a second of dread and discovery.

“Just go,” Beckenbauer said. “Drive fast.”

Nathanial pulled out of the parking space and sped away.

“It’s them,” Trudy Parr said and shifted into first gear. The Jaguar XK120’s rear end swerved as it shot out of zero. As the RPMs jumped into the red, Percival Archambault braced himself, placing both feet firmly on the floorboard and grasping the passenger grab bar.

Trudy Parr crossed Main Street on Keefer, steering madly through the cross traffic. The target vehicle was an Alfa Romeo. There were two men in the car. The figure in the passenger seat was a dapper man with a desperate and afflicted look. It was Dr Maxwell Beckenbauer. The driver caught sight of the Jaguar in his rear-view mirror, two car lengths behind, and began to gather speed. He turned a hard right onto Columbia Street, and Trudy Parr followed as the Alfa turned right again down a back alley and through stacked boxes of produce and banks of caged Chinatown ducks and chickens.

In seconds, they were at Main Street again and the Alfa Romeo pulled a left and headed toward the water front. Cops watched slack jawed with paper coffee cups in their hands as the two cars sped past the police station at Hastings and Main.

“Perhaps they will run out of road down here,” said Archambault, trying not to gasp as Trudy Parr accelerated.

“I’m not sure they know that,” said Trudy Parr.  “Whoever’s driving is either from out of town or insane. If they’re smart, they’re headed for Commissioner Street. If we can’t stop them before they get there, it’ll be clear sailing for them into the east end.”

She looked into her rear-view and saw two VPD panheads in pursuit. Then she heard sirens.

“Mon Dieu,” said Archambault, looking over his shoulder. “Le Gendarme. This might get messy.”

The Alfa Romeo took another frantic right onto narrow Cordova Street, but too fast. It spun between two parked cars and went up onto the sidewalk. One of the motorcycle cops passed the Jaguar and followed. Panicked pedestrians weaved and ran out of the way, hiding in doorways. An elderly Japanese man stood in terror, desperately waving his cane. The Alfa Romeo hit him square on, and his body flew over the car’s hood and roof.

“Jesus,” said Trudy Parr as she turned the corner and saw the old man’s body hit the sidewalk, the cop manoeuvring round him. “We’ve gotta back off.”

“No!” said Archambault. “This villain must die. We go.”

Trudy Parr shrugged and shifted.

The Alfa Romeo raced off of the sidewalk onto the road as she accelerated to catch up. Both cars sped toward Heatley Avenue with police close behind.

“Are rail yards ahead?” said Archambault. “These bâtards don’t know what they’re in for.”

“Fine by me,” Trudy Parr said.

As she gained on the Alfa, she kissed its rear bumper with her front. The Alfa accelerated again as Beckenbauer looked back, distraught and frantically shaking the shoulder of the driver. They were going sixty miles per hour now on the tight and congested waterfront streets of Vancouver.

An engine pulling a line of hopper cars was crossing Hawks Avenue as freight cars were shunted in the approaching rail yards. The engineer sounded his horn, two long, one short and one long, and the Heatley Avenue level crossing lights began to flash as a bell sounded steadily. It was a clear day and the rails ahead were smooth and silver in the sun. The way ahead was traffic free and the engineer relaxed and lit a cigarette. He’d later be granted an early retirement by Canadian Pacific for travelling that day at twice the posted speed.

Rushing toward the harbour now, the Alfa Romeo skidded left onto Heatley Avenue. The road was clear of other vehicles, so Nathanial shifted and pushed the gas pedal to the floor. The speedometer showed seventy-five mph as the Alfa hit the level train crossing.

As it crossed the tracks, Beckenbauer saw something moving fast toward his side of the car. Though it all seemed to happen ridiculously slowly, he had only seconds to consider the iconic beaver over the red Canadian Pacific shield beneath the single large headlight. It’s a bloody rodent, he thought as the oncoming diesel locomotive obliterated the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este Carrozzeria Touring Berlinetta. Metal on metal sparks caused the car’s half empty gas tank to explode seconds after impact. The bodies would never be identified.

“What a fucking mess,” the motorcycle cop said as he skidded to a stop. He watched a huge plume of smoke rise over the harbour. “And it was such a swell car.”

“The police will be envious of your work,” Archambault said. Trudy Parr had parked a half block away and watched in her side-view mirror as the motorcycle cop walked up to her window.

“They can claim it for themselves,” she said. “They were in pursuit, too.”

The motorcycle cop tapped on the window. Trudy Parr rolled it down.

“Hello, Officer,” she said.

The cop bent down. His face was familiar. He said, “That was a bit much for a Wednesday morning, don’t you think, Miss Parr?”

“Justice is just that way.”

“Well,” said the cop, “there’s a heap of brass back at the office that’ll say justice ain’t your job. It’s ours.”

“Sometimes you just have to follow your muse,” said Trudy Parr.

“I don’t know what a muse is, Miss Parr,” said the cop. “But I looks like it’s something that gets people dead.”

“Yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “A muse is kind of like that.”

* * *

From the following day’s Vancouver Sun

Dead Boy Baffles Police 

The police are baffled by the discovery of the body of a teenaged boy in a west side park. He’d been left lying under a blanket on a park bench.

Though the cause of death is still under investigation, a Vancouver Police Department spokesman told reporters today that the boy appeared to have had a deep abdominal wound.

Though it had been expertly sutured shut, there were clear indications of a severe infection. And it is the infection that is believed to be the cause of death.

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