lost ironies

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Tag: Crispin Dench

The Rule of Nine

Eyes Only

The V-shell, along with the need for its reported use, are both myths.

— Crispin Dench, January 17, 1946, testimony, The MI5 Hearing into Wartime Occult Phenomena, Paris Sec.

______________________________________________________________________________

The decency of flesh and bone, independent of mind and character, isn’t obvious until overcome by its closing stillness, when the delicacy of atomic bonds is revealed, and the eyes speak the fated honesty of the dead.

Franco Durante wiped his mouth with his sleeve, then laid the boy’s ruined body down onto the damp grass. The boy’s last words, clear in his dead eyes: terror, hell, deliver me from….

“He’s empty,” said a young Oriental woman, standing nearby. “You want more, Honey? I’ll find you some more.”

“No, Kiko,” he hissed, still lusting. He shuddered and wanted more. “We’ve gotta be careful.”

The hunger was like that; it wasn’t rational. But survival hinged on caution. Cautious Ages, Ages of caution. There would always be more like this one lying on the grass. Franco kicked the body gently, almost with affection, wondering if there was a shred of life remaining. But there wasn’t.

The moon had set and the suburban streetlamps surrounding the park were dim. Discovery was always possible, nonetheless, and awkward.

“Let’s blow,” he said.

“No,” said Kiko, taking his hand and falling in as a lover, her cheek against his chest. “I know we have to go, but I’m always afraid we’ll forget such lovely suffering. Just look at him, at how the dead pose so handsomely.”

“The dawn is hunting,” Franco said. “We’ve got to go.”

______________________________________________________________________________

From Vincent Fountain Column, “Blood and Shadow”, Vancouver Sun, October, 17 1947:

To assign gender to a genderless thing, or human traits to a thing that lacks them under its surface, is often done for the purposes of clearer narration. But this writer will not opt to call what I have pursued for the last month either a “him or her”, or say that it holds any wholesome human qualities.

Instead, I will report that it is a lurking thing that feeds on blood and shadow, and has committed crimes so heinous that the police won’t reveal their nature to the public, or even to the dead’s own next of kin.

Trudy Parr didn’t read on. Instead, she put down the previous day’s newspaper, determined to return to the article later. She knew Vincent Fountain to be an excellent investigative reporter, but also a writer of some flamboyance who was not above overstatement. It was how he kept his desk on a top floor of the Sun Tower. But she could only take a crumb or two of his plummy prose at a time. She knew what the column was about, anyway. She’d assisted him in his investigation.

It was hoped that the column, and the ones in the series to follow, would blow the trashcan lid off of a story that would stun the city, the world. But she couldn’t help her doubts. The citizenry was still absorbed with the war’s end; Berlin, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And the police were stonewalling, an unnamed City Hall source stating that the Mayor didn’t want panic in the streets, and that the families of the victims had been gotten to in some way that had cooled their yearning for justice.

Changing her focus, she opened a file folder on her desk, and considered its significance—what she’d taken on.

The folder held details of a meeting with a surviving loved one. A woman named Willie, short for Wilhelmina. An old friend of Trudy’s from before the war, from the old days in the East End. Murder had strolled recently into Willie’s life, and it had been a strange murder, like so many of late. So strange, in fact, that though the police held a corpse cooling somewhere in a closet, they denied the murder had taken place, in hopes that more acceptable facts could be manufactured. For Willie Urquhart, though, it was a certain detail in the murder of her beau, Doyle Wells, that had become her obsession.

“It’s such a small thing,” Willie told Trudy Parr, as they sat at Willie’s kitchen table, each with a cup of tea, the morning of their meeting. The furnishings in Willie’s apartment were sparse and threadbare.

“It’s just a little square of paper,” she said, sliding it across the table to Trudy Parr. “But it has a mysterious sort of weight to it. I only have a few things of Doyle’s left, like his pool cue, some clothes. This little sheet of paper too, I guess. I even had his gun, for a while. I don’t know why he needed it. It was so small. He told me it was a thirty-two.” She shrugged. “It sure didn’t do him no good when he needed it, though. I pawned it because it made me sick to look at. I never understood what he did to pay the rent, or the circles he moved in. I asked, but he wouldn’t say. I guess it was pool, but how do you make a living off that?”

“Carefully,” said Trudy.

“And he died so awfully,” Willie said. “But if the cops wanted to keep it a secret, then somebody made a big mistake because they asked me to identify his body. I was all he had, so who else? Then, after that, the cops came and told me to keep my mouth shut, or else.”

Willie stopped talking a moment, and sipped her tea.  Then she said, “You should’ve seen him, Trudy.”

“Why? What did you see, other than that he was dead?”

“Half his neck was gone.” She shook her head, still in disbelief. “I asked if it was a bullet that done it, but the cops didn’t say nothing. It looked like a dog had ripped his throat out. And the look on his face….”

“Yes?”

“It was awful, but there was something pure about it. There was something pure in his eyes. As pure a thing as I’ve ever seen. Do you understand?”

“I don’t know that I do, Willie.”

“It was like pure,” Willie struggled. “—oh, I ain’t got the words. It was something like—pure horror. That’s it. Frozen there in the eyes. I wanted to touch him, brush his brow maybe, touch his hair, to make that look go away, but I couldn’t. I could’ve always taken his worry away when he was alive, with just a touch, but I was afraid to touch him when I saw him lying there. I loved him, but couldn’t touch the horror. There were traces of bloody brown tears down his cheeks, too. He was crying blood when he died, and he wasn’t the crying type.”

Trudy shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I’ve seen that face on a lot of corpses, Willie,” she said. “Most people don’t want to die.”

“Not like this you ain’t. I don’t care what you saw, or where you saw it.”

Trudy Parr paused a moment, thinking of Paris. She’d found friends there with those wounds, on the streets in the bloodless dawn. Fearless members of the night-blue La Résistance, torn to shreds when a simple bullet in the head would have satisfied any SS agent. And their faces—horror was a good word. There were things in the old city too ancient to explain, that could tear a man apart, then vanish or stand watching arrogantly in the distance. The Nazis got eaten, too. The evil didn’t take sides. She and Dench had devised a material defence, but had abandoned it to the cache of weaponry they’d left behind, believing—hoping—it would never be necessary again. Now, though, the evil was surfacing in her city, and she blamed herself. She’d sensed it coming since returning from the war, where she’d learned the things to look for. Now the truth of it was a nightmare she took to bed each night, rather than facing it down at twilight. That was her fault.

Willie tapped the note with her finger, bringing Trudy back into the present.

“It’s simple,” Trudy said. “It’s an IOU.”

“That’s what I thought,” Willie said. “I guess it’s how a guy gets killed, the wrong people owing him money. He left it with me before he went out that night. That’s what’s crazy. As though I could cash it in, when he couldn’t. And he made out like it was a going away gift, like in case he didn’t make it home. ‘I don’t know what you can do with it,’ he told me. ‘Under the circumstances, that is. It’ll be hard to cash in. Maybe you’ll never try. That’d be best, but it’s all I have to give you. Be careful with it.’

“See how mixed up he was? He made it sound like I should just tear it up, so why give it to me? I don’t know who belongs to this name, either.” She pointed at what, to the uninformed eye, would look like an indecipherable scribble. “That adds to the mystery. Is it who wrote the IOU?”

“That’s usually how it works.” Trudy Parr recognised the scribble. It wasn’t a signature, naturally. Signing such a document with a legitimate signature was dangerous, leaving little wiggle room if questioned. It was a symbol, and she knew to whom it belonged. She wished she didn’t.

“So,” she asked Willie, “what do you want me to do with it?”

“It’s ten thousand dollars,” said Willie. “That’s a lot of money, in my book. I guess I want you to collect it for me. You do that kind of thing, right, since you opened the Agency?”

“Not really,” she said. “This is work for an entry-level thug. I don’t use brass knuckles.”

“Well, I can’t cash it in,” Willie said. “And there’s another thing that was kind of scary.”

“What?”

“It’s sort of weird,” she said.

“Tell me.”

“Well, this woman knocked on my door the other night. Japanese I think, and wearing a real fur coat and this swell outfit. She just stared at me when I opened the door, like for a whole minute. It was creepy. Then she smiled, and her teeth…!”

“What about them?”

“They were like animal teeth. Is that possible?”

“Kiko,” Trudy said, almost a surrendering sigh. “What else?”

“She said that if a guy like Doyle was to leave behind a certain document after he died, the person who held on to it might be in some real trouble.”

“What then?”

“Then she jumped at me. It wasn’t much of a jump, she stopped at the threshold. But her mouth was open wide, like she was gonna take a bite outta me.”

“Then what happened?”

“She laughed like hell. I’d screamed and fallen on my ass because she looked like some kind of monster when she came at me—a pretty monster, though. I mean she was real beautiful in an eerie sort of way. Pale, pale skin. Dark eyes. Like someone a knight in shining’ armour would want to rescue if he could, except she didn’t need no rescuing. Then she held out her hand, reached in from the hall and helped me up like we were old friends. It was real cold, though.”

“What was cold?” Trudy said.

“Her hand, it was like ice. When I got up, she said she didn’t want me to be one of those things that went bump in the night. I guess that means I shouldn’t go after the money, huh. But it’s all I got right now to set things straight. I can take it and leave town, maybe.”

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr, “but these are some nasty characters.”

“What do you say? I’ll give you a cut, of course. What do you charge for something like this?”

“Street says twenty-five percent,” Trudy said, looking across the table at Willie, a woman who’d been drawn into a very dangerous world few could comprehend. “Let’s say five, though.”

“Thank you.”

An IOU is a white flag, a tangible token of surrender. In the case of this marker, however, the issuer was a poor loser who rarely paid a debt.

She left Willie’s without another word.

Now she sat at her desk. She’d finished Vincent Fountain’s column, and had moved on to a story of a missing child, found dead in a park. The circumstances of his death too ghastly, the reporter said, for the police to release the details. There’d been a lot of that going round lately. She paused at the end of the article and considered doing the crossword, but she never did the crossword. It was the pastime of victims and inmates. She was realised that she was procrastinating. She wanted to change the feeling of dread in her gut to something else, maybe her typical contempt for enemies and monsters.

She took the IOU, and began to copy it onto a page in a small notepad.

There was a knock on her door. Looking up, she saw a familiar and welcome silhouette through the mottled glass.

“Come,” she said, and Crispin Dench entered her office.

“G’morning,” he said, taking a seat. “And a lovely morning it is, no?”

It was raining, torrential. She looked over her shoulder, through her office window, and saw it falling.

“So, what’s cookin’ this morning?” said Dench. “You’ve got that disagreeable look in your eye. Someone’s gonna get it, right? Can I watch?”

“Don’t be funny.” She copied on.

“What’s that?”

She handed over the IOU.

Dench gave it a glance and grunted, “This is an interesting document,” he said. “Why’s it in our offices?”

“So you recognise the scratch at the bottom.”

“Franco Durante.”

“Just so.”

“And for ten grand.” He whistled. “That’s some chunk of change. You intend to collect it?”

“I guess.”

“This guy’s dangerous.”

“I know.”

“Yeah,” Dench said. “A guy who’d rather kill you than pay a debt. Or at least try.”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah,” he shrugged, “possibly.”

Trudy Parr looked him in the eye. As she did he changed his posture in the chair, and looked back like a silent code had passed between them.

“Collecting on an IOU is a chump’s gig,” he said.

“I’m doing it for a friend, and some chump off the street would mess it up. This one’ll take more than a bad attitude and a baseball bat.”

“I hope you’re charging the full 25%.”

She pulled a Gitanes from its pack and lit up.

“So you’re not charging the full twenty-five,” Dench said.

“We’ve got a good thing going here, Crispin,” said Trudy Parr. “Government contracts, consulting work, bank investigations, real pennies from heaven. We’ve got a duty to provide the occasional job, pro-bono.”

“Not this one, though.”

“Yes, this one.”

“Okay then, you’ll need my help. When and where?”

“No. I’m going in solo. Too many of us will just complicate things.”

Crispin Dench stared silently, across the desk. Then, “I repeat myself,” he said. “Durante’s dangerous.”

“So am I,” Trudy replied, “and I don’t need you to rescue me.”

“He’s more than dangerous,” Dench said, “and we left this work behind when we left Paris. We’re civilians now. It’s up to the police to handle this.”

“We’re the only ones who know what we know.”

“But we aren’t equipped, like in Paris.”

“I know that’s what you told MI5,” said Trudy Parr.

“You don’t believe it?”

“Sometimes we keep secrets, even from one another. Let’s not deny it.”

She had a point. He didn’t rebut.

“Just let me see if I can handle this without starting a war,” she said, then grinned. “I’ll be subtle and cunning.”

Dench smiled.

“If I do start a war, though, then there’ll be plenty of time and opportunity for us to arm ourselves. If anyone can, we can.”

“Death wish,” said Dench. “If it is a war, it’ll be a like nothing anyone’s ever seen, not in this little burg. Not anywhere this side of the Atlantic or Pacific.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said, “but I’m ready for it. They found a dead kid in a park this morning.”

“I heard,” Dench said, considering the angles. “Fair enough.” He got up and went to the door.

“What’s on your agenda for today?” said Trudy.

“I’m going to the courthouse,” Dench said. “They’re sentencing Dexter Rice today. We worked hard on that case, and I wanna see the judge give him the rope. Then, all of a sudden, I think I want a shoeshine. After that, a late lunch and then the Mercy City Lounge for cocktails.”

“Swell.”

“You should forget all this and come along,” he said. “We don’t have to take on every lost cause that comes our way.”

She drew hard on her cigarette, then said, “Call me a sucker.”

“Not a chance.”

The five childhood rules of hunting vampires:

  1. Never speak a vampire’s name, especially in his presence—doing so will instantly turn you into his slave.
  2. The number nine repeated nine times in a vampire’s presence will turn him to sand.
  3. Surrounding a vampire in a ring of Bazooka Bubble Gum and butterscotch Lifesavers will immobilise him.
  4. An oak stake is always the best tool for killing a sleeping vampire, but a four inch galvanized nail taken from your father’s workshop during a full moon, will do in a pinch.
  5. Not all vampires are evil, but they all eat people. So, they’ve all gotta die.

As a child, Trudy Parr, and her small cadre of friends, each a savage outcast, lived by this list of rules that existed nowhere but in their own splendidly intrepid minds. Dark cellar quorums had been convened, and arguments made for the inclusion of more conventional rules that already existed in the mundane vampire annals. And once a bucktoothed boy with crazy eyes named Eddie Strange said nine said nine times would never work. Why not just say eighty-one? ‘Cause things are just that way, the nine year old Trudy said, and suddenly she believed it more than anything else in the world. The other four rules might just be imagination, but the Rule of Nine was gospel.

The list of rules remained as it was, and was strictly adhered to whenever young Trudy was the first to enter a dark room in an abandoned house, with nail and hammer in hand.

It was 11:45pm.

She parked a few doors down from Franco’s Barbershop, thinking it funny the things a woman thought about when facing death. Maybe it was what they meant by a dying person’s life passing before her eyes.

He’s more than dangerous, Dench had said.

The Rule of Nine, she mused.

She lit a cigarette and waited until midnight.

Franco’s was an all-night operation. Barbershop out front, booze-can and gambling in the back. And it was a man’s place. The barber who greeted her at the door said as much.

“This is a man’s place,” he said, dressed in his white barber’s tunic, comb and hair tonic in his chubby hands.

Women weren’t welcome.

“This ain’t no place for a woman,” he said. “You ain’t welcome.”

In fact, it wasn’t a place for a woman under any circumstances, unless she was a hooker passing through, looking for her pimp or a customer.

“This ain’t no place for a dame unless she’s a hooker looking for her pimp,” said the barber. “You a hooker looking for your pimp? You sure don’t look like a hooker. You look like a whole other kinda trouble. That your kink?”

“No,” Trudy Parr said. “I’ve got kinks that’d kill a man, so mostly I leave ’em alone. I’m looking for someone, but not a pimp.” She handed him her card, and he held it at arm’s length, squinting as he read it aloud—

“Trudy Parr, Dench and Parr Investigations. You some kinda private eye, that it?”

“Some kinda,” she said.

“Who’s this Dench character?”

“My partner.”

“He’s a guy, right?”

“Yes he is.”

“Then why ain’t he here, then? Why’d he send a skirt? He think a pair of legs and a set of tatas are gonna make a man cough up the dirt?”

“Dench doesn’t send me anywhere, fat boy,” said Trudy Parr. “And who says there’s any dirt to cough up?”

Looking round the shop, she saw a man in a barber chair with his face wrapped in a hot towel, and another whom she recognised, reading a copy of Dime Detective Magazine. He was dressed in a silk claret vest, a starched white button-down and bow-tie, and a freshly pressed pair of blue pinstripe trousers. He was seated at the shoeshine stand, “Justice Weekly,” she said, surprised. The man gave her a casual wave. “Since when do you shine ’em this side of town? I thought you worked downtown.”

“I get around,” Justice shrugged. “Just started here tonight. They couldn’t get no one for the late shift. So I thought I’d take it on, and make a little extra cash.” He flipped a page. “I do women’s shoes, too.”

“No thanks.”

The barber, not liking her tone or demeanor, had stepped round and blocked the door back out onto the street. If it was meant to intimidate, he failed.

“Tough guys come and go,” she said, facing him. “Mostly they go. Sometimes I think they’re an endangered species.”

Then he heard a snapping sound, and when the barber looked down at her small hand, he saw an open switchblade, six inches of glinting steel. The barber was one of Franco Durante’s human lackeys, sensitive to the possibility of a gutting.

‘You know how to use that thing?” he said.

She gave him a calm and practiced assassin’s stare, and said, “Try me.”

It was enough. In spite of pretending otherwise, he knew Trudy Parr by reputation. He licked his lips.

“Ha! That’s rich,” said a dapper man, sticking his head out a door at the back of the shop. “She’s got you cold, Burt. By the short hairs. Yer in a real pickle, too. This one’s the killer, for real.”

Burt had gone pale, stepping back a half step. Trudy Parr folded her hands in front, the knife blade pointing down. Then she looked past the fat man, at the man at the rear of the shop.

“Franco Durante,” she said. “Frankie, the fucking torpedo, Durante comes out from his hole.”

“Ain’t no hole,” Durante said. “This is a swell joint, you know that.”

“Word on the street says it’s a dump. You water down your booze and your cards are marked.”

“Those are mostly lies,” said Durante. “Come on back, and I’ll show you. We can talk while Burt goes and changes his drawers.”

“Alright,” she said. “Outta the way, Sweeney Todd.” She gave Burt an easy but firm shove as she passed by.

Justice Weekly chuckled, as he read on about damsels mummified by Martians, found beneath the Empire State Building.

The backroom was a windowless chamber, dimly lit by low wattage bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was smaller than she expected, thick with shadow and tobacco smoke. Four uniform cops and a priest in a collar sat at a table, each holding a poker hand. A vampish looking Kiko sat in a dark corner, her face eerily lit by the ember at the end of her cigarillo.

“You in Franco?” said the priest.

Durante picked up his hand from the table and looked. “Nah,” he said, throwing it back onto the table, facedown. Then he sat and invited Trudy Parr to do the same.

“So, what’s it about?” said Durante. “Don’t worry. I ain’t got no secrets from this crowd. Father Russo even hears my confession occasionally.”

“The ongoing saga,” Russo grinned.

“It’s an IOU,” Trudy said, holding a chit in her hand. “Says you owe Doyle Wells ten large. He gave it to his girlfriend before his demise. She’d like to collect.”

“Ain’t no one owes nothin’ to someone as dead as Doyle Wells,” Durante said.

“That’s verging on a double negative,” said Trudy Parr.

Franco Durante sat back and put on a serious face. “Doyle Wells,” he said, “that little shit, was a pool hustler. No one legitimately beats me at pool ‘cept a hustler, right fellas?”

The men round the table nodded, shrugged nodded and looked dubious.

“Then I guess you got hustled,” said Trudy, “too bad. It’s your mark. That means you pay.”

“Let me see it.”

She handed over a small square of paper.  Durante scanned it briefly, then lit it on fire with a Zippo.

“Now, like I said, I don’t owe no one nothin’.”

The mood in the room had suddenly changed.

“Partner and me gotta get back on the road,” one of the uniforms said, placing his hand face down on the table. “We fold.”

“But you each got twenty bucks in the pot,” said the Russo.

“We gotta go,” said the cop. “There’s crime to fight.”

“Me too,” and “Me too,” said the other two cops.

They followed each other out, through a door onto the back alley, as Durante picked up a hand one of them had left behind. Full house. “Fuck,” he said.

“I call,” said Farther Russo, laying down a pair of sevens. “And now I have to go say Mass.” He raked his cash winnings into his hat.

Durante check his watch. “Mass? Now?” he said.

“Eventually,” said Russo, putting on his coat and disappearing into the alley.

“You can sure clear a room, Trudy Parr,” Durante said.

“It’s a gift,” she said, still standing.

“Yeah? Well fuck you. Go home. Your IOU’s ashes. Our business is over.”

“That how you deal with your debts Franco, by burning them. That doesn’t make ‘em go away.”

“Does in my book,” he said.

“Well I’m calling you on it,” said Trudy Parr.

“How?”

“Maybe that was a counterfeit you torched. I do pretty good work, as it turns out.”

“You’re full of it.”

“BS ain’t my style,” she said, “and you know it.”

“Then where’s the original?”

“In my sock drawer.”

“People die for less.”

“There’s also the matter of the recent body count,” Trudy said. “I didn’t care when you were feeding on your enemies, but why’d you turn to little boys”

“What body count?” said Durante.

“You’re a fucking vampire.”

He stopped, nonplussed. “You don’t know anything,” he said.

“The hell I don’t. I smelled it on you first time we met, back when I was a kid and you were just a cut-rate neighbourhood mafiaso.  I didn’t know what it was all about back then, your eyes a little too green, your tint a little too anemic. And that dead smell that just won’t wash off. You had it then and you’ve got it now.”

“I got bad kidneys. I see a doctor.”

“Funny,” said Trudy, “but you know, Dench and I iced a few of your kind in Paris.”

Trudy Parr was pissing him off. Durante had finally passed the point of denial. He smiled broadly, hoping to make a game of it. “Yeah,” he said. “I heard rumors about that, but I never figured out how you did it. The Paris coven’s ancient, deadlier than most.”

“And you’ve turned some of your mob, too. Sure, Burt out there’s one of your human minions, but Chief Vampire’s gotta have others nearby, to keep him company. How many of your mugs are out there feeding, besides you?”

“Some,” he said.

“And the cops?”

“Some of them, too.”

“So, you gonna eat the whole city?”

“Like a plate of Gnocchi,” said Franco Durante, suddenly all fangs, and a white steaming flesh.

Trudy Parr drew her .38 automatic, and took aim.

“You should know better that,” Franco Durante said.

She did know better, and felt the fool as she pulled a crucifix from her handbag, holding out and hoping for the best, hoping Durante was weaker than members of the Paris Coven.

Durante laughed out loud. “Damn it woman,” he said, “didn’t Paris teach you anything? How do you expect that work if you don’t even believe it?—you don’t, do you.”

He was correct, she didn’t.

“A trinket like that just gives me gas,” he said.

She tossed it aside.

“Looks like you showed up to a vampire slaying without a stake. Unless there’s one in that spiffy Versace bag of yours?”

“Forgot my galvanized nail, too.”

“So you’ve come to sacrifice yourself, is that it?”

“Just pay the IOU, Franco. This doesn’t have to get ugly.”

“Maybe I should turn you,” he said, “instead of just eating you. Then lock you in the basement and feed you rats.”

“That would be stupid. You have your little sect to protect. I’ve left instructions round town, suggesting what to do in the event of my disappearance or demise.”

“With Vincent Fountain, no doubt. I’ll eat him, too.”

“And a lot of others,” said Trudy Parr. “Fountain knows he’s on thin ice, himself. So he’s shared instructions of his own, with others. People you’ve no way of tracking them down.”

“So it’s a war you want. You’re here to instigate a war between my people and yours.”

“Why’s it always the cowards who shout the word war first?”

“You’re unhinged,” Durante said.

There was a moment of silence.

She was running out of options and things to say. It was time to stop winging-it and start improvising.

“You’re right about one thing,” she said. “I don’t believe in crucifixes, but I do hold some things to be true.”

“Such as?”

“The Rule of Nine,” she said, hoping her belief in it was strong enough. Her childhood vampires were imagined. Durante wasn’t.

He sneered, “What’s that shit?”

“I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again—nine. Now that’s twice.”

What happened next, happened fast as Durante’s rose from his chair and grabbed Trudy Parr by the throat.

“You’re wasting my time,” he said.

“Nine,” she gasped, eyes wide. He was lifting her off of the floor by her neck. “Nine, nine, nine, nine, nine….” That was seven.

Then Franco threw her down onto the floor, fell on her and covered her mouth with his hand. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you better shut your mouth.”

Struggling beneath his supernatural strength, she only managed to shift his hand once and choke out the number—for the eighth, and maybe last time—”Nine!”

Hearing the racket in the backroom Justice Weekly looked up from his magazine and said, “That might be our cue.”

“I think you’re right,” said the man in the barber chair, getting to his feet, and throwing down the towel. It was Crispin Dench. “Sounds like playing nice isn’t working,” he said. “Where’s the weapon?”

Reaching round behind his stand, Justice Weekly produced a shotgun and tossed it across the room. Dench caught it, midair.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“It’s dinnertime,” Durante hissed, holding Trudy down, his fangs growing sharper, his breath an August abattoir. “I’m gonna make such a lovely mess of you.”

Trudy struggled to spit out the final nine, and almost did when the door came crashing in. Crispin Dench stepped in and drew a bead on Franco Durante. Justice Weekly followed close behind.

“Damn,” Durante said, looking up at the shotgun, still holding his hand over Trudy’s mouth. “Another fucking armature.”

“You know about Paris,” Dench said.

“I know that the Paris vamps were eating the city alive,” said Frankie the Torpedo. “And, sure, I heard rumors that you came up with some gizmo that saved the day, but I figure they were only rumors. I think you were just lucky. You laid low until the Nazis quit, and then you came home.”

“That’s real interesting,” Dench said. “So you don’t know what a V-shell is.”

“No,” Durante chuckled. “What the fuck’s a V-shell.”

“Some say it’s a myth,” said Dench. “Just like you.” He pumped the shotgun.

“I hear it’s a real killer,” said Weekly.

“Looks like you’re the appetiser,” Durante said, standing.

He ran at Dench, and Dench took aim at the vampire’s heart. The voice of the gun firing in the small room sounded to Trudy Parr like every car-bomb she’d ever rigged and detonated.

“Holy fuck,” Franco said, looking at the wound, then up at Dench. “So that’s a fucking V-shell.” He fell down dead.

“That’s quite a toy,” Kiko said, rising out of the shadow.

“Who’s that?” Weekly said.

“Another one,” said Dench, pumping the gun again.

“Wait!” Kiko said, moving too fast to see. “Me and Franco’s trolls have got a lot of cash stashed round town. I’ll give you the ten grand, and a lot more.”

“For what?” Dench said.

“Peaceful coexistence.”

“No,” said Trudy Parr. “The body count’s too high already, and now you’re eating kids.”

“Yeah,” Kiko shivered, showing her fangs. “They’re sweet, but we can change our ways. There’s still enough bad guys in this town to sustain us—half the Police department and City Council for starters.”

“Shoot her,” Weekly said “right in the heart.”

Kiko vanished, and reappeared behind Justice Weekly, grabbing him from behind, her arm tight round his neck. “This demonstrates a major flaw in your weapon,” she said. “A vamp moves too fast, and once she knows she’s in yer sights, she’s gonna move, faster than you can see.”

“Shoot her,” Weekly coughed. “She’s fucking strangling me.”

“No,” said Dench. “It’s got to be a heart shot. She’s holding you in the way.”

“Don’t worry shoeshine boy,” Kiko said. “You’re relatively safe. I don’t strangle my food before I eat it.” She opened her mouth wide, ready to sink her fangs into Weekly’s neck.

“Hold it, Kiko” said Trudy Parr, “I’ve got a question to ask before you finish him off.”

“Finish me off?” Weekly choked. “Waddaya mean, finish me off?”

“Life’s hard, Justice,” Trudy said. “She’s got you cold.”

“Damn it, Trudy,” he cried, “at least try do something.”

“Working on it,” she said.

“Working on what bitch?” Kiko shouted. Her preternatural voice shook the room. “What are you working on that’ll make a damn bit of difference?”

Dench look at Weekly, in desperation, then back at Trudy Parr.

“Just one question,” said Trudy.

“What for Christ’s sake? And you know yer pissing me off when I say something like that.”

“As I understand it, you’ve been in this room all night?”

“Yeah, why?” Kiko said.

“And did you hear me mention a certain number?”

“Yeah, multiple times. It was really pissing me off, too.”

“So you heard me say that number eight times, right?” Trudy said, “And I know how much vamps love to count shit, so don’t lie.”

“Okay, you said it eight times,” said Kiko, her interest piqued.

As she spoke, Trudy Parr saw Eddie Strange’s shitty buck-toothed grin in her head, wondering if he was right, hoping any fleeting crisis of faith wouldn’t spoil the moment. “Then I have something to say,” she said.

“What?” Kiko shrieked. “Spit it out.”

Dench took aim again. “Maybe a head shot will work.”

“Damn it, Crispin,” Weekly said, feeling Kiko breathing into his ear. “You’ll take off my head too.”

“One of life’s hard choices,” said Dench.

“What?” Weekly wept.

“Wait,” said Trudy, stepping between Weekly and the shot gun. “I want everyone to pay attention.”

The room went quiet, frowns and dark curiosity.

“Nine,” she whispered, and waited.

Nothing.

Then—

“What have you done?” Kiko screeched, blowing open the back door, popping lightbulbs and violently shifting furniture. Her eyes wide and oddly innocent as she collapsed into a pile of sand, the colour of pink cherry blossoms.

There was just sound of rain falling in the back alley, in the hush that followed.

Dench whistled.

Weekly stood alone. “What just happened?” he said.

“You’re gonna live to shine more shoes,” Trudy said.

“All’s clear?” said Burt, skulking into the backroom.

“Don’t push your luck,” said Trudy Parr. “Get out before more of Durante’s trolls show up.”

“That’s the plan,” he said. “I’ve got a Roadster parked out front. Tank full of gas and a suitcase in the trunk. But first….” He held out an envelope. “Take this for that Willie dame. Doyle was a good guy.”

Dench took the envelope and opened it. “The ten grand?” he said.

“More like fifty,” said Burt. “It’s half of what we had onsite. Half for me, half for her.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Top Secret

The V-shell (V for vampire), though reported to be a myth of war by its developer, Crispin Dench, is in fact a reality. See below.

A V-shell is a self-contained cartridge containing “shot” made from oak wood, and replaces the “stake” traditionally used to slay a vampire. It is fired from a smooth bore shotgun, and differs from oak “bullets” in that, unlike a wooden bullet, the pellets of the V-shell do not disintegrate when passing through the barrel of the gun.

— Squadron Officer Natalie Falls, January 20, 1946, testimony, The MI5 Hearing into Wartime Occult Phenomena, Paris Sec.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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an end to Paris part 3

read part 1 here
read part 2 here

August 10, 1944 — 02:00

She knew it from the moment she left the curb, by the headlights in her rear view mirror. It was too late for unauthorised road traffic on the blacked-out London streets, and the stalker’s intent was entirely unambiguous. Natalie Falls had turned and turned again, accelerating where possible, relying on her Jaguar’s speed and turning prowess, even on the wet streets, but the headlights remained in the mirror. The Navy dockyard was more than a mile away, and she was being forced further in the wrong direction.

Falls had already taken the automatic pistol from her satchel and was now accelerating along Whitechapel Road at speed. Her pursuer’s car was as fast as hers and he was an expert driver. The chase had to end; where and how was up to her.

Turning right onto a nameless narrow lane, she braked past the intersection. The Jag slid on the wet pavement, grazed a hoarding and stopped at a ninety angle, blocking the road. Opening the door she stepped out and took aim with her handgun. The car behind had taken the turn hard, and swerved onto the sidewalk to avoid impact with Falls automobile. It stopped short of colliding with a lamppost.

Her car was positioned so that its headlights shone into the other car. She’d a clear shot, if she wished to take it. The driver, a grim looking man, stared and smiled out of the widow.

“You’re chasing the wrong woman, mister,” said Falls, holding her aim. “I’m not the sort of person people question when she kills a man.”

Then spinning his tires, the grim man drove off down the sidewalk and onto the road. A pre-war MG Roadster. Red with Black fenders and spoke wheels. The number plates, unreadable.

The chase had ended in front of a block of row houses. A second floor window opened and she saw the dim glow of a single candle.

“You on the road,” a man called down, “you alright?”

Now she heard other windows opening. “Yes fine.” She pocketed her pistol.

“What’s all the noise?” said another voice. “Why you parked like that?”

“An unexplainable event,” Falls replied.

“Woman driver, if you ask me.”

“No one asked you, Norman,” a woman said.

“Where’s the coppers?”

Squadron Officer Natalie Falls wondered that too. She got back into her car, and started the engine.

“Hey, you can’t leave.”

She might be late for her appointment, but the war would carry on nonetheless.

*   *   *   *   *   *

She drove slowly up to a barricade, and handed her identification to a guard. He consulted a clipboard. No salute passed between them; she was in civilian clothing. The guard handed back the ID.

“Pin this on your lapel, mum,” he said, handing her an official visitor pass. “Now, left at the next intersection and onto the wharf. Ultra will be at the end, on your right.”

He spoke in a low voice, as though the existence of the Royal Dockyards was a secret.

The barricade arm rose, and she drove on.

Falls had been told that the HMS Ultra was a small submarine, that its small size was its greatest asset. As she approached, however, it seemed impossibly large. Its profile was too high, its deck gun too obvious in silhouette. This was meant to be a covert mission. Natalie Falls parked her car a few yards away from the dimly lit gangplank, and got out.

“You there, on the wharf,” a man called from above, “state your business.”

Falls looked up at the conning tower.  A pale faced man in a pea coat looked down at her.

“Squadron Officer Natalie Falls of the Special Operations Executive, to see Captain Findlay.”

“He’s asleep, miss.”

“It’s Ma’am not miss, if you please.” Falls checked her wristwatch. “Our appointment is at 02:15.”

“But it’s only 02:10.”

“Look, it’s bad enough that I have to keep to Navy time. Please wake him, and tell him I’m here.”

“Oh he won’t like that, miss.”

Fall called up, “Name and rank, sailor.”

“Seaman Quinten Kennedy, miss. But it won’t change nothin’.”

“Well, Seaman Quinten Kennedy, do whatever you must to summon your Captain, immediately. And since I out rank you by some considerable amount, I suggest you refrain from calling me miss. Now scramble your arse.”

“Don’t look like no Squadron Officer to me,” Kennedy mumbled, as he keyed the intercom. “Is the Fin about down there?”

“He’s in the mess with a cuppa cocoa,” a voice crackled back.

“Someone’s here for ‘im.”

“He just woke up. Says to keep an eye open for some SOE bird, whatever the SOE is. Probably some crusty old maid.”

“That might be who this is, says so anyway.”

“I tell ya mate, I just can’t keep up with all this SOE and SACE malarkey.”

“I can’t help there. I’m just tellin’ ya she’s here.”

There was a brief silence. Then—

“Officer on deck says send her aboard. Don’t know why we’d have a scrubber on board, though. It ain’t right. Nothing’s right no more.”

Seaman Kennedy looked a little sheepish, as he keyed off.

He called down, “Permission to come aboard, miss.”

As Natalie Falls stepped into the full light of the gangway, the Seaman noticed for the first time that the Squadron Officer was indeed no old maid.

“Ain’t you somethin’ for sore eyes,” he said, and nearly whistled.

“Pardon me?”

“I said please proceed with caution up the gangplank, miss.”

“Very well.”

The interior of the sub was warm, close and smelled like it needed a bath. It was a tunnel of pipes and brass gauges, of bulkheads and oily hatches. The untidy sailors were sallow in the low yellow light. A Lieutenant greeted her as she came aboard. He asked to see her identification.

“We don’t get many ladies down here,” he said, examining her credentials.

“I imagine you get none at all,” said Falls.

“This way.”

Captain Findlay sat in the mess with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He was reading logs, and sat back as Falls entered.

“Sit,” he said.

A Midshipman stood nearby.

“Coffee?” said the Captain.

“That would be very nice.”

“Coffee for our guest, Billy.”

The Midshipman waited a moment.

“Black,” said Falls.

“You have something for me?” Findlay said. “Orders? Or does SOE issue orders by conventional means? Perhaps I should listen for them in Morse code, tapped on the hull.”

“Official paperwork would be inconvenient in this case.” She took an unmarked file folder from her satchel, and placed it on the table.

“What’s this, then?”

“A plan—time line, rendezvous coordinates, passenger manifest.”

“Anything else?” the Captain said. “An explanation? Something to motivate me?”

“It’s top secret,” Falls said. “You don’t need to know anything other than what’s in the folder.” Then she took a book from her satchel and placed it on the table. “You’ll be within radio distance throughout the mission. You’ll receive instructions along the way, based on outcomes. These are your codes.”

“So, you expect me to place my men and my boat in jeopardy, without official orders.” He opened the folder, and read the single page it contained. “This is very unusual. Some would say that it’s a mutinous act, to sail without orders.”

“You can be assured that I’ll protect you from any of that.” Falls couldn’t mention Churchill or the petty conspiracy that had led to his involvement, and therefore couldn’t mention that the operation would take place with the Prime Minister’s blessing.

“Reassuring,” Findlay said, closing the file. “But you’ve nothing else?”

“I have one thing to add.”

“Yes?”

“On the evening of Monday June 10th, 1940,” Falls said, “you were approached by a man in a pub in London. It was when you were still a Lieutenant Commander. He was a fat, bearded man, and identified himself as a Mr Finch. Do you remember?”

“Maybe.” He lit his cigarette.

“He sat at your side at the bar,” Falls continued, “and drank three shots of Jameson whiskey. You’ll recall that he struck up an odd conversation with you in which he said that as an officer in the Submarine Service you may be approached one day in the future, and asked to participate in a clandestine operation. He said that he didn’t know when or where, or under what conditions, or that there was any certainty that it would ever even happen. But if it did, you were to ask for a certain phrase. A code phrase that would confirm the validity of the request—that it was of the utmost importance and that it came from the highest echelons.

“You thought it nonsense, of course, but you could never forget that code phrase. It repeats itself in your head, over and over. It’s the first thing you think of when you wake, and it’s the last thing you think of before you go to sleep. That’s how it works—implanting a phase code in this way comes with some unfortunate psychological side effects. The process isn’t perfect.”

The Midshipman placed a mug of coffee on the table in front of Natalie Falls, and exited the mess.

“You’re mistaken,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” said Falls, and began to recite: “Chrome colour lights spectral colour spectral colour the dark.”

The Captain looked startled, then severe. A switch had been thrown. How could she know? He barely remembered meeting Finch, but the phrase had repeated again and again inside of his head every day since. It was maddening at times. He realised now that he’d been made a puppet, long ago and without his consent. He felt rage. “I’m not a fucking errand boy,” he said.

“No,” said Falls. “You’re an asset, and an Officer in the Royal Navy. Sworn to serve.”

“Am I the only one, or are there others you’ve done this to? Good men made robots, waiting to be activated.”

Falls sipped her coffee, and made a face. “This is dreadful.”

“That fat bastard, Finch,” Findlay said, “he didn’t pay his bar bill. I had to pay it. He just walked away when he was done with me. I’m owed half a crown.”

Falls took some coins from her satchel and placed them on the table.

“These two passengers,” she said, placing her hand on the folder, “they’re precious cargo. You and your crew will be put on furlough until further notice, but it won’t be long. You’re to remain in London. We want you nearby, not out at sea when the moment comes. Tell the crew no drinking, no shore leave violence or melodrama. And there’s certain information in this envelope you must memorise by morning. Then it must be destroyed. The paper dissolves in water. Flush it down an onboard toilet.”

Paris, August 10, 1944 14:45

The dwarf sat at the foot of la columna Vendôme, and nodded in appreciation as passersby tossed coins. He played his small guitar surprisingly well, in the style of Django, in spite of the arthritis that gnarled fingers. Crispin Dench approached and dropped a franc into the small man’s hat. Benoît Le Géant, an agent in La Résistance française, stopped playing and smiled broadly.

“Ah, Dillinger,” he said. “That is very generous.”

“I know it,” said Dench. He was dressed in a dark tailored suit and fedora.

The two men spoke freely in the bustle of Place Vendôme.

“I thought that you and the lovely Trudy Parr were at work elsewhere,” the dwarf said.

“We thought so too, but we were called back. We thought Trudy had put the fear of castration into Becker, that he would disappeared. Now we believe that he never left the city.”

“No, he has not,” said Le Géant, “and he is close to closing a deal with the Russians.”

“London’s annoyed. Trudy should have gutted him when she had the chance, but she and Becker have a romantic history. I should have intervened, but I’m getting tired of all this. I just want to go home and sit on the fire escape, listen to the radio. But now we have to finish the job.”

“And Trudy?”

“I don’t know,” Dench said. He dropped his cigarette into the gutter. “I’m not sure she’d survive peacetime, if it ever comes. They never should have sent her here. Sometimes I wonder if they’ll let her go home.”

“That is war, my friend.”

“Tell me where Becker is.”

“Everywhere,” said Le Géant, with a shrug. “He thinks it’s better than going underground, and he may be correct. You may even see Becker on the street, chasing the ladies. Perhaps he’s watching us now.

“The Nazis know they’ve lost control of Paris. Their discipline is breaking down, but they just won’t admit it. That makes them dangerous in ways they never were before. Many of them hate Hitler. Some are looting, and others are lining up their cyanide capsules. Either way Becker’s no longer a priority. But if I were you, I’d check an apartment above 12 Place d’Italie.”

“What about the Russians?” Dench said.

“There is talk of diamonds, payment for plans to the something called the Manhattan Project, whatever that is. Naturally, those holding the diamonds would rather keep them, kill Becker, and obtain the Manhattan information without paying. Interesting, no?”

Dench checked his wristwatch.

“Where is she?” said Le Géant.

“I don’t know,” Dench said. “But we’re supposed meet at Hôtel Meurice in an hour.”

*    *    *    *    *

She sipped coffee in the hotel lounge, reading Les Cloches de Bâle. A shabby string quartet played Beethoven on a small stage. Turning a page, she looked up and saw him standing there.

“Good afternoon, my dear,” Becker said.

Trudy Parr put down her book.

“You’re as good as dead,” she said, smiling politely. “You played me for a square. No one does that.”

“Well, then this should be an interesting ending to our war.”

“I’m calling you out right now,” she said. “Let’s step outside. We’ll go out back, through the kitchen.”

“You’re not indestructible,” Becker said. Once again, he was amazed at the rage so tightly coiled in her slender body.

“Then finish me off.”

“Come in on this with me, Trudy,” said Becker. “I need a sly little tough guy like you. In a couple of weeks, we can be in Brazil. With all of the money in the world.”

“No.”

“King and country, correct? The Maple Leaf Forever.” The latter he said in a flat tone. “You know that when this all over, people like you and I are going to be shit out the other end. Can you imagine going back to that little backwater, what’s it called?”

“Vancouver.” She spoke too fast. She shouldn’t have spoken at all.

“Vancouver, that’s it. What are they going to do with you there?”

“I look forward to finding out,” she said. “But now we have something to finish.”

“That’ll have to wait.” He nodded toward two men looking out of place in the threadbare-elegant surroundings, the Maître d’ looking very worried. “My Russian gorilla entourage,” said Becker. “They have an interest in keeping me alive, for now.”

“So the deals not done.”

“Soon.”

“That gives me time, then,” Trudy Parr said. “This will be our last gracious exchange, Mr Chicago. Next time we meet, it’s fatal.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

an end to Paris part 1

For those who are not yet familiar with Trudy Parr,
check out the woman in the red raincoat
here

London July 30, 1945, 22:20

The clip of her quick pace down the unlit corridor could be heard from far away. The sound was the happy result of her hanging up her RAF uniform, and donning civilian clothes. Though she remained an RAF officer, Natalie Falls’ work with the Special Operations Executive meant that her practical military shoes were in her closet. It was now the heels of her stylish non-combatant pumps that announced her approach along the darkened halls.

In her hand was the usual attaché case, filled with the day’s communications and briefing notes. Outside, the sirens sounded, and spotlights scanned the sky. She stopped at the office of Vera Atkins, SOE – F Section, and knocked.

“Come,” came a voice from within. “Quickly, don’t let out the light.”

Blackout curtains allowed Vera Atkins to have a dimly lit office.

“The war’s nearly bloody over,” said Falls. “Patton’s mopping up. Why are we still having these damn drills?”

“It only seems over,” Atkins said, straightening her desk. “The Soviets still have an air force.”

“True, I suppose. And millions of starving peasants to throw at us.”

“Besides,” Atkins said, “sirens keep us on the home-front focused. Take a seat.”

“I brought this for you.” Falls placed the heavy attaché case on the floor, and sat.

“Speaking of the end,” said Atkins, “what will you be doing now, provided we truly do have peace.”

“Secret Intelligence Service, I imagine. They’ve asked me on.”

“Really? You don’t plan to marry some RAF hero, and move to a little cottage in Scotland, so you can watch each other become fat, toothless and alcoholic over the course of the next forty years?”

“Definitely not, and that’s very cynical of you. Besides, what good’s a hero without a war?”

“Yes,” said Atkins, “and I think, from reports, that you’re more impressed by the young ladies serving cocoa in the canteen. Does SIS know of your tastes?”

“If you do, they do.”

“I, for one, will be sorry when it’s over,” Atkins said, lifting the lid of a teapot and peeking in. “The war has been good to us—women I mean. Take you, for example; you’d just made Flight Lieutenant when you came to Orchard Court. Now look where you are. I wonder if I shouldn’t salute you.”

“That’s not what I’m here to discuss, Vera.”

“Most women doing war work now will be returning to children’s runny noses and scrubbing floors,” Atkins said, trying to envision a postwar England.

“Shall we change the subject?” said Falls.

“Of course.”

“It’s Soho and Dillinger,” Natalie Falls said. “Parr and Dench. There are plans to evacuate all of our agents from France, but not them. As their handler, I’d like to know why. And I’d like to know why no one bothered to discuss the matter with me.”

“We need them there, for a little while longer.”

“They deserve to be brought home,” Falls said.

“There are always little details to attend to when war ends, Natalie.”

“Will they be spying on France for us now? What if they’re caught? Spies are executed, even in peacetime.”

“Yes,” said Atkins, “that would be ironic, after their having survived until now.”

“Please take this seriously,” Falls said.

“The lives of spies are always in danger, Natalie.”

“Needlessly?”

“Truth be known, the two of their lives have always been in greater jeopardy than the rest, and their chances of survival have never been more than middling. Even before they came to us, they were just throwaways. It’s why they excel at what they do. They measure success differently than regular people, good people. They measure it by what and how much they can steal, and the amount of mayhem they can cause.”

“That’s how we measured their success, too.”

“But for them, it’s nearly a mania,” Atkins said. “Especially for Soho, that Trudy Parr woman. Face it my dear, there will be no place for them now that the war is ending. Can you see them living normally back in Canada, some little town called Vancouver? And they’ll be no good in intelligence services, either. They lack the necessary sophistication.”

“I disagree,” said Falls.

“Don’t let their accomplishments in Paris fool you. They’re not heroes. They’re merely thieves and murderers, verging on psychopathy.

“Once again,” Falls said, “you’ve described most of the spies in service of the Empire.”

“These two don’t deserve to be removed from the chaos they’ve helped to create and have thrived in for the last five years, just because you pity them. You could bring them home tomorrow, and they wouldn’t thank you for it. Especially Soho. Her profile,” here Atkins took a file out of her inbox and placed it on her desktop. “It suggests that, for her, murder passes for intimacy. Her psychological assessments says as much. She’s a psychotic, and too dangerous to evacuate. She was useful to us when we needed her, but we never imagined she’d survive ‘til now. We have a mission in mind that will delete her as a problem, but something more important first.”

“You’re wrong, Vera. Her performance has been stellar, Dillinger’s too. What they’ve done for the war effort has taken an enormous amount of discipline, acumen and courage. I understand that Trudy Parr’s condition may be deteriorating, but if it is, it’s due to the stress of her uniquely barbaric mission. She’s done it for England and the Allies, Vera. Please don’t forget that.”

“You’re a romantic.”

“What do you intend to do with them?”

“Continue to make them useful, for the time being.”

“And what is the important mission you’ll send her on, before you delete her?”

“A target.”

“Who?”

“A fellow named Frank Becker, code name Chicago.”

Falls was surprised. “He’s an American,” she said.

“Yes, but he’s in Paris, bargaining with Soviet spies. He somehow knows about something called the Manhattan Project. It’s believed that he’s obtained specifications for the so called Shadow Makers, through some sleight of hand.”

“What are Shadow Makers? I don’t know what those are.”

“You’re not supposed to know. You’ve only just been cleared. The yanks call them Fat Man and Little Boy. They’re a new kind of weapon. The equivalent 21 kilotons of TNT in a single bomb, dropped from on high. One will destroy an entire city, on its own, if they work.”

“What are they going to do with them? I don’t imagine they’re museum pieces.”

“Japan. They won’t quit, and no one has the stomach for another invasion by sea.”

“Why don’t the Americans take care of Becker themselves?”

“They may. That’s part of the stunt we’ve had assigned to us. There are two teams going in. Ours is already there. Theirs may be, too. Both of our countries have residue agents in Paris.”

“Residue?”

“Soho and Dillinger will be informed of the assignment in seven days, by BBC Radio code, the usual thing. Until then, they have other things to attend to.”

“I don’t like the term residue agent, Vera.”

“It’ll be a feather in the cap of whichever country gets him first. We need that feather in our cap, Natalie. And the Americans need to be humbled. All of this noise regarding George Patton and his 3rd Army is quite out of control.”

“How long have you known about Becker?”

“A while.”

“So, all of this comes down to you wanting to get him before the Americans, even if the war ends tomorrow. That’s really why you’re keeping Soho and Dillinger there. You know they’ll win that race. I don’t think you believe a single word of what you just said about them.”

Vera Atkins placed Trudy Parr’s file back into her inbox.

“Not every word of it,” she said, “but many of them. There are people above me, Natalie. They must be kept contented. The use of extra judicial killing is coming to an end, officially. And killing an American is definitely off of our compass, officially. This may be our last grand escapade of the war.”

“Won’t stopping a double agent from selling the Soviets plans to a weapon that powerful make the two of them worthy of retrieval?”

“Soho and Dillinger are formally considered irredeemable by SOE,” Atkins said. Then, with a broad smile, she lifted and peeked under the base of her desk lamp. “I see no reason to stray from that point of view.”

With a tug, she pulled a listening device out from beneath the lamp, and held it up by its broken wires for Natalie Falls to see. Then lifting the lid of the teapot, she dropped it in, where it made a wet plopping sound.

“Oh dear!” she said, looking into the teapot. “What have I done? Clumsy me!”

Falls looked astonished.

“Oh well,” Atkins said, shrugging, and reclining in her chair.

“They bug your office?” said Falls.

“Not anymore.” Atkins placed a hand on her teapot. “That was the last one, for now. And don’t be naïve.”

Now Falls was embarrassed.

“Let’s talk more freely,” Atkins said.

“I’m starting to lose track of what’s happening here,” said Falls.

“I regret having to be the one to tell you this in such an unambiguous way, Natalie, but you must understand that no matter how well they’ve performed in the field, and no matter how well they perform this last assignment, SOE will never knowingly allow Soho or Dillinger to return alive.”

“I know this sort of thing happens,” Falls said, “usually for very good reasons. But now that we’re talking more freely, why?”

“The answer remains the same. It’s been determined that their assimilation back into civilian life would be too difficult. Especially in light of what they’ve done for us, and Soho’s failing mental condition. They’re too clever, too difficult to contain. Soho is too unstable, and Dench too devoted to her. They are therefore considered at risk to divulge classified information, not intentionally, of course, but under many predictable and unpredictable forms of duress. They’re not alone. Some have already been dispatched for similar reasons, as operations wind down; identities erased, paper trails torched, names forgotten.”

“Why are you divulging this to me, in such detail?”

“I don’t know, Natalie,” Vera Atkins said. She picked up a pencil, and studied it. “Maybe it’s because I’m overworked, and in my state of fatigued, I just let it slip out. Bad luck, too, because as their handler, you might try to intervene on their behalf—mightn’t you?”

“I might,” Natalie Falls said, after an uncertain moment.

Atkins opened her desk drawer, and pulled something out.

Then she said, “You might even arrange for a Group 2 submarine called the HMS Ultra to arrive at a certain location, at a certain time, indicated in documents contained in a certain envelope. Once there, Ultra could, perhaps, pick them up and take them to a safe harbour, where they may be provided with false identities, passports and enough currency to get them back to Canada, or to wherever else they might like to go.”

Vera Atkins slid an envelope across her desktop.

“As a high level Intelligence Officer,” Atkins said, “you could arrange and authorise this sort of thing. No need for paperwork in light of the confusion that will shortly ensue. Naturally, you’ll properly dispose of the contents of this once you’re done. I know nothing, of course.”

“Of course,” said Falls, taking the envelope.

“And now,” said Vera Atkins, pulling open a side drawer, “I have a lovely tin of pâté and a box of these dreadful American Ritz Crackers. I may even be able to locate some tinned peaches. Shall we have a nosh?”

“Yes,” said Natalie Falls, “that would be very nice.”

Paris, same night, 02:55

“Keep your eyes open,” Crispin Dench whispered, as he fixed a silencer onto the muzzle of a .38 automatic.

He and Trudy Parr stood on the landing between the second and third floors, in the dimly lit stairway of a hotel on rue Hérold. They had agreed that that night’s kill would be Dench’s. The assigned target was SS-Obersturmbannführer Ritt Gerst, of the 33rd Waffen SS Grenadier Division. Gerst was normally accompanied by an armed aide, Obersturmführer Wolfric Hueber. This night, however, Gerst was visiting his mistress, alone.

Dench climbed the stairs silently, and turned down the hall to room 3E. There, he put his ear to the door and listened. There was soft talking, languages shifting from German to French and back again. Dench tried the door knob. Locked.

Meanwhile, Trudy Parr stood perfectly still on the landing, surrounded by faces staring out from dark corners, the too many ghosts of her victims that followed her everywhere. She held safe within her the memory of each of them, each private final breath, each last evidence of thought. She remembered each name, and how each life had ended, by the gun, blade, poison or other means. She loved them all, and wished to remain with them forever.

There came a sound from below. Someone beginning to climb the stairs. She backed away from the light, to stand amongst her departed.

In the hallway above, Dench stood at the apartment door and considered the possibilities, of which there were too few. Picking the lock was risky and would take too long, and though the desk clerk had provided the room number, he refused to offer a key. So, Dench stepped back and kicked the door in, the peace of 3:00 a.m. making it sound like thunder.

On the landing, Trudy Parr heard the footsteps cease momentarily as the door went crashing in, then begin again, rapidly now and in earnest. As the footfalls came closer, she stepped out of the shadow.

In 3E, Dench found Obersturmbannführer Gerst in bed with a girl no older than twelve years, his mistress. Gerst began to struggle, encumbered by bedsheets, for the nightstand where he had placed his Luger. As Dench waited, and watched, he thought of how tired he was of war, of his and his partner’s faultless precision in their orbit of chaos. And now, this privileged fool in his bed with a child, scrambling for the only thing that might save him.

Back on the landing, Gerst’s aide, the trim blond Obersturmführer Hueber, had come face to face with Trudy Parr. He held a bag of groceries and wine in one hand, and his sidearm in the other, but was startled to see this woman standing there, with her disturbing violet eyes and serene demeanor.

“Bonsoir, monsieur,” she gently said

The razor she drew from her garter made a curious metallic sound as it snapped opened. Then she swiftly slashed Hueber’s throat, severing the carotid artery. Out of habit, she was careful to step back in order to avoid the resulting spray of blood. It was a calmly executed series of graceful movements. Hueber dropped his Luger, and she kicked it away. His eyes were wide, and he held his hands to his throat, as though that might save his life. As he stood there dying, Trudy Parr reached out and softly stroked his cheek. She spoke in English this time, and tenderly said, “Bye-bye, baby.”

In 3E, Dench stood with Gerst in his sights as the man fought to pull his weapon from its holster. Dench believed that giving the SS officer a chance at defending himself was the least he could do. But clearly Gerst wasn’t used to working under pressure.

“Oh, c’mon,” Dench said, and waited a moment longer. The girl had by now fallen out of bed and lay flat, facedown, on the floor. “…fucking master race…,” Dench said, finally, and squeezed the trigger.

The first bullet struck Gerst in the head, spraying grey matter on the wall behind him. Then Dench strolled up and shot him in the heart.

“Get dressed,” he said to the girl, in his best street Parisian.

Taking a billfold from Gerst’s tunic, he pocketed the officer’s ID. Then he walked round the bed to the girl, and gave her the money it contained. Far more than she’d ever seen in one place before.

“Get out, as fast as you can,” he told her. “Exit through the kitchen.”

When he returned to the landing, Trudy Parr was crouching next to Hueber’s body. She looked at the dead young man with her strange, adoring eyes. Crispin Dench had seen this before, and had stopped worrying about it. Though Trudy’s methods had become bizarre, her work remained otherwise flawless.

“He died like a darling little soldier,” she said, his blood pooling as she ran her fingers through his hair.

”Swell,” Dench said. “Now, let’s get the hell outta here.”

 

 

 

 

the casefile

Vancouver 1949

Her name was Rachel Wild, and she had never married. Instead, she’d spent her years at a kitchen table, smoking and looking out of a window. She’d not been doomed to this. She felt no self-pity. It was just what happened. Like an unexpected incident that makes a woman say, Oh!, the moment she discovers her involvement in it. A lifetime passing. Focussed on a past personal moment. The way she might have worshipped an idol or a scrap of text. The sacredness of which was dependent upon context known to her alone.

Perhaps it had come down to a battle of anxieties, hers and those of another. The failed unsaying of a word. When the unsaying of a word might have meant so much. She’d become content in never knowing the truth of it.

But the world is news and dispatch. Story upon story expelled through the reflective conduit of time. In shapes of sparrows and sorrows. And news had finally come to her. But the news had only been a fragment of a larger story. A fragment chipped away from the end of something much larger.

Knowing this, she’d made a cup of tea.

* * *

Detective Olaf Brandt wasn’t a bad police officer. But popular opinion was that he just wasn’t sergeant material. He wasn’t afraid to use his wide Norwegian feet to chase down leads. But it was thought by those higher on the cop food chain that he had to be fed those leads. He wasn’t the sort to independently deduce his way through an investigation. He could, however, be relied upon in a street fight, to inform families of criminally dead loved ones and to go on coffee and doughnut excursions as required. It was generally accepted that he’d retire in a few years, and parish shortly after of an unremarkable illness related to the lonely excesses of a mostly friendless life.

For the time being, though, he was vital and healthy of mind and spirit. And as he sat leaning forward in the waiting area of Dench and Parr Investigations, he stared determinedly ahead at an empty point in space.

“Olaf, old boy,” Crispin Dench said, calling Brandt in. “Come into my office and tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Hello, Mr Dench,” Olaf Brandt said, getting up and giving a half-hearted wave. He stepped into Crispin Dench’s office and took a seat. Dench seated himself behind his desk.

“Coffee?” Dench said.

“No,” said Brandt.

“A Coke?”

“No.”

“Water?”

“No.”

“A shot of rye?”

“No, Mr Dench, nothing. Look, I’ve been sent here to ask you to surrender a case file.”

“Drop the mister, Olaf. Call me Crispin.”

“All right, Crispin. I’m here to ask you for a case file.”

“A case file.”

“Yes. One we, the police I mean, believe contains important information on a case that went cold some time ago, but that has now warmed a bit.”

“Case files are private property containing confidential information, Olaf.”

“Yes, Crispin. This is understood and I had hoped that we’d be able to skip this predictable part of the conversation. But if you don’t surrender the file to the police in the amicable, mutually beneficial way I’m suggesting, we’ll just get a court order.”

“Mutually beneficial?”

“Yes. One hand washing the other. That sort of thing.”

“This is a business, Olaf. Our clients have certain reasonable expectations. They pay for privacy and confidentiality. Those are products this agency sells.”

Brandt shifted in his chair and crossed his legs. There was a moment of silence.

“You still with me?” Dench said.

“It’s that Edgar Tully thing,” Brandt said. “The body, or what was left of it, in the car they pulled out of Lost Lagoon last week. It was in the papers.”

“Yes it was.”

Brandt took a notepad from his inside jacket pocket and flipped through it. It was a well practised move, meant to add gravity to the moment. But it was wasted on Dench. Brand stopped at a page and said, “You conducted a missing person investigation in 1947, for a Rachel Wild.”

“Did I?”

“Edgar Tully was the subject of that investigation.”

“Was he?”

“That’s the case file we’d like to see.”

“Are you and I involved in the same conversation, Brandt? Dench and Parr Investigations doesn’t hand out case files. Not to the cops or anyone.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Tell me something, Olaf. Why’d they send a B team player like you here for this? What was the last case you really worked on? They know I’d never give you a damn thing.”

“I worked on the Edgar Tully case back in ’42,” Brandt said. “So, it’s personal in a way. It was just a missing person case to most. But when you scratched the surface….”

“What? What was revealed beneath the scratched surface?”

Olaf Brandt stood to go. “I’ll return with the court order in a day or two, Crispin. See you then.”

“You know, I’ve heard your fellow officers talk about you,” Dench said. “They never have anything good to say. But you’re not as dumb as they make you out to be, are you? Why’re you still just a detective?”

“Good-bye, Crispin.” Olaf Brandt left the office.

Vancouver 1942

Sleep was somewhere in his room, hiding like an outlaw. Edgar Tully knew it would expose itself eventually, and crush him. He lay on his bed, drinking cheap rye from the bottle. Could he drink enough not to dream? Most nights he could not. It was August and the night was humid and warm. He closed his eyes and returned once more to the dream.

He walked a little behind the Canadian lines. Vimy Ridge. A Master Corporal in the Canadian First Division. The 12th of April, 1917. His rifle was clean but his body was filthy. Seven days out. Most of it spent marching. Then three days of concentrated battle. No promise of leave. Who knew how much more action there’d be. His section was on a routine patrol. They were also looking for the wounded and the dead left behind by the advance. He hated doing it. They never found the wounded. There were none. Only the bodies of the dead. With their blank faces. He recognised every one.

They’re with the angels now, a chaplain once said in a sermon he was duty-bound to attend. Fuck that, the Master Corporal had said when they all bowed their heads to pray. A sergeant next to him heard this and said amen, brother.

There were shell holes and blasted trenches here. Each shell hole filled with rain water. The dead were often in these. Some floating; some held submerged by the weight of their kit. He stopped at the edge of a shell hole where he saw a body, face down in the water. Tully’s section wasn’t a burial detail. They’d only have to get the name on the dog tag and record the body’s location for later retrieval.

“Private Crumb,” the Master Corporal yelled. “Bring me the hook.”

A frightened boy arrived holding a pole upon which a hook had been securely tied with wire. The Master Corporal used it to reach out into the shell hole and hook the collar of the corpse’s greatcoat. He tugged and the body began to move toward him, a great fish intent upon beaching itself. The Master Corporal felt a deep and familiar apprehension then. The kind reserved for nightmares. The sound of shelling in the distance ceased, replaced by a loud hissing sound. He was alone now. His section had disappeared into a mist. He hesitated as the dead man came within reach. He wanted to drop the hook and run. Like he’d never run before. Even under fire. But then he crouched down, grabbed the dead man’s collar and pulled him out of the hole.

He saw the corpse’s grey face when he turned the body over. Contorted with its eyes and mouth opened wide, having died in mid-scream. There was a perfectly round and bloodless bullet hole perfectly placed in the centre of its forehead. And the foul odour of decomposition. He thought he saw the fingers twitch. But how could that be? Then the corpse resumed its scream. Impossible. A horrible and wretched noise. And the Master Corporal saw the echoing geography of it. It was a scream of headlands and gullies. The roads that ran through it. The gutted homes and foetid rivers. Ranks of the dead marching on to nowhere in lockstep. Then the corpse stopped its screaming and smiled. Its eyes at once dull and piercing. Its sudden exhalation smelling of the battlefield dead. And Edgar Tully awoke yelling. His fists clenched and raised. Swinging at the empty air.

Someone in the neighbouring room banged on the wall. “Shaddup in there,” a voice hollered. “I gotta get some sleep, gawd dammit.”

Edgar Tully sat by his window for the rest of the night. Sleep had left the room. Vimy Ridge was 25 years ago. He was forty-five now. The dreams and visions were never going to end. He took a pen and paper and wrote a short note.

In the morning he drove his Ford Coupe up the busy retail section of Commercial Drive, in the east end of the city. He expected it would be a standard handoff and delivery. He parked near Graveley Street and waited, reading a Faulkner novel, As I Lay Dying. And he wondered how descending into Hades would differ from a morning of the Drive.

It looked like rain, but he left the passenger side window open. After ten minutes or so, a large man with a pencil moustache, wearing a freshly pressed summer suit,  walked by and dropped a fat leather satchel onto the car seat. Then he stuck his head through the open window. His face was doughy red and scarred, but his hair was Hollywood perfect.

“Take this to the Water Street office,” he said. “And by the way, this ain’t your average delivery, Tully. Better you should die than fuck this up.”

“I don’t fuck up,” Edgar Tully said. “That’s why you trust me.”

The big man dropped twenty dollars in tens onto the seat, and said, “Just sos you know. Experience tells me that the fatter the bag, the more likely a driver is to fuck it up. And you’ve been smelling like a real juicer lately. A man’s gotta be drinking most of the day and night to smell the way you do. Take a bath, brush your teeth and don’t dream of bettering yourself on my nickel. Get it?”

Edgar Tully looked back at the big man with his red and rheumy eyes. “Sure, Mr Vaccarino. I get it.”

“Swell.”

Tully reached out and placed his hand on the satchel as the big man disappeared into the crowd. He was feeling lucky for once. Hopeful. He’d done his planning. But he hadn’t planned on this.

He opened the bag. It contained several large bundles of bills. Twenties, fifties and hundreds. That’s how Tony Vaccarino’s customers paid him. Because they owed him big time. He counted it. It was over twenty thousand. The Water Street office would prepare it for laundering. He’d delivered envelopes there a thousand times before, but never a package this large. The big man’s business was improving. Tully started the car.

* * *

The Hotel Balmoral rose ten stories high over East Hastings Street and advertised Black Watch Chewing Tobacco on its side. It had never been a glamorous local and now it catered mostly to retired loggers and fishermen, transients and a few unemployed women thought to be of ambiguous character. Rachel Wild fit into the last category. Though it was a mystery to her how it had happened.

She lived in a room on the seventh floor, sitting at her window smoking most days, and watching the traffic pass below. It was from there, that day, that she saw Edgar Tully park his car and cross the busy street with a bag of groceries in his arms.

She got up and fixed her hair in a small mirror over the sink, busying herself tightening curls and repositioning bobby pins. Then she freshened her lipstick and stared for a long moment into the mirror. She was thirty-seven years old, and she wasn’t pleased with the wrinkles round her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. Her youth was gone and she resented it. She had a hazy resentment of her poverty, as well. Something inside of her always hurt. And though she would have had difficulty saying it politely, part of her was certain that only money could take the pain away.

There was a knock at the door. Rachel Wild let several seconds pass until there was another, this one quieter.

“Yes?” she said. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, baby. It’s Edgar.”

She put her ear gently against the door to listen closer. Sometimes she could hear him breathing. “Why, Edgar,” she said. “I had no idea you were coming.”

“Sure, baby. Why not? Let me in. I’ve brought you some things.”

“Some things?”

“Sure, baby. Groceries.”

“Groceries? Edgar, dear, you don’t need to bring me groceries.”

It was an absurd statement. She lived daily on the verge of starvation.

“Just let me in, baby.”

She opened the door and let him in. The room was long and narrow with dirty walls, dim light bulbs and exposed wiring. There was a dresser with chipped paint and a free-standing closet with a broken door. Beneath the window there was a small kitchen table and two metal chairs. On the table was an ashtray and a dog-eared copy of Women’s Own Magazine. He handed her the grocery bag and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’ll get you a drink,” she said, putting the groceries down.

“Ah, no,” he said, licking his lips.

“No?” she said. “Really? You okay?”

“Yeah, baby. Everything’s jake.” He looked at his feet for a moment and said, “Let’s sit down and talk.”

“Sure, Edgar. What’s goin’ on?”

He sat across from her at the table and took her hand.

“We’ve been swell together,” he said, “haven’t we, doll.”

“Sure, Edgar. It’s been okay.”

“We’ve had some real laughs, eh?”

“I guess. A few, I mean.”

“But I know I ain’t so good to be around,” Edgar said. “I get so low sometimes….”

“What’s happening, Edgar? I hate it when you get all serious like this.”

“It’s the dreams,” he said. “Baby, they’ve gotten real bad lately.”

“Oh,” she said, looking away, out of the window. “The dreams again.”

“Yeah. Look, I know you don’t get it about the dreams, and neither do I. But they make me crazy. My head’s a haunted cave. I see all of the shit from the war again and again. Only it’s weirder. It’s so spooky. I wake up screaming.”

“Well that war’s over, mister. Haven’t you heard?” She lit a cigarette and threw the match out of the window. “There’s a new war on now. Can’t we just go out and have some fun? It’d take your mind off of those lousy dreams, wouldn’t it? All you do is lie in that room of yours and drink yourself stupid. There’re a lot of Navy boys in town that wouldn’t mind havin’ me on their arm, you know.”

“I know it, baby. And I know it ain’t never gonna change for me. It’s just the way it is. So, listen to me. I want you to wait an hour after I leave, then read this letter.” He slid an envelope across the table to her.

“Sure, Edgar,” Rachel said, taking the envelope. “But you’re kinda scarin’ me. You look all crazy in the eyes.”

“Never mind what I look like, see? Just do what I tell you, understand?”

He stood then and took her by the arm, lifting her out of her chair. He held for a moment, long enough to search for something in her eyes. Maybe he found it there; maybe not. Then he kissed her too hard on the lips, joylessly and without passion. But with rage and shame. His fingers dug into her shoulders and she would have screamed if she could. Then he let her go, threw her away almost. And he disappeared out the door.

Vancouver 1949

Detective Olaf Brandt laid a court order on Dench’s desk and said, “We Norwegians are more than the jowly, bellicose race that the world sometimes takes us for, Crispin.”

“I never said otherwise,” Crispin Dench said.

“The case file please,” Olaf Brandt said. “And perhaps you wouldn’t mind sitting with me while I read it through. You can help me understand those bits I find ambiguous.”

Dench retrieved the file in question after reading the court order and deciding it was legit. It wasn’t a thick file. Dench hadn’t had to do much after he promised Rachel Wild complete confidentiality, and that he wouldn’t go to the police with what he found. He returned to his office with it, and Brandt read the file in ten minutes.

“It wasn’t a simple caper,” Dench said. “More of an inspired heart-breaker, really. But I’m not the crying type.

“The envelope he’d given Rachel Wild contained a suicide note. For Edgar Tully, the dreams and memories of World War One had become too much.

“Rachel had waited an hour, as requested, before opening it and reading the note. That’s something she says she’ll always regret. By then she didn’t know what to do. She hates the cops and never went to them. She went to the street instead, and looked for him there. Asked the people she knew and didn’t know. She made such a show of it, that later on it didn’t take much to convince Tony Vaccarino that she really didn’t know where Tully was.

“That was important. Because Edgar Tully was an errand boy for Tony Vaccarino, a soon to be made man. It was Vaccarino’s money that Tully had placed in the bottom of the grocery bag he’d dropped off at Rachel’s that day. All twenty grand of it. He meant it as a rainy day fund for a girl who’d spent her whole life standing in the rain.

“After that, I figure Tully punched his own ticket. Drove his Ford into the lagoon as it turns out. But not before he bought a reserved room on a train to Montreal and paid someone else to board instead of him. That someone must have gotten off before the train even hit the prairies, because the train manifest showed a man using Tully’s ticket boarding, but that person never got off in Montreal. And Vaccarino had his people at most of the stops between here and there.

“It looked like Tully had skipped town with the cash and vanished into thin air. And that let everyone he knew off the hook. Vaccarino leaned on them, but how hard could he lean when it appeared obvious that Tully had gotten away with all of the cash.

“So, now they’ve found him in the lagoon. I read it in the papers yesterday morning. I guess that’s how Tully ended it all. And I guess that’s why you’re so interested, suddenly. Probably drove his car in that night. We know Vaccarino didn’t put him there, because Vaccarino couldn’t find him. And if he had, he would have made Tully’s execution a community event, to warn others with similar ideas.”

“This file,” Brandt said. “It says none of what you just told me.”

“Sometimes I forget to write things down.”

“That could be considered withholding evidence, in a thin sort of way.”

“So call a cop.”

The two men stared at each other across the desk for a few seconds. Then Brandt closed the file and said, “Repeating what you just told me would be bad for Rachel Wild.”

“Yes it would,” Dench said. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

“She still lives at the Hotel Balmoral,” said Brandt. “It’s a dump. Why do you think she didn’t buy a nice little house?”

“Maybe she likes it there,” Dench said. “Or maybe she’s smart. It wouldn’t take long for Vaccarino to figure things out if she made a move like that. Maybe she decided to just paint the place and buy some new furniture. Maybe even a new pair of shoes. Maybe now she can buy fresh flowers everyday, brighten the place up.”

Brandt slid the file back to Dench, across the desktop. “Maybe this should remain a mystery,” he said.

“That would be preferable to the situation,” said Dench.

 

 

 

 

the Foncie photograph (rewrite)

Paris, May 1945 

She stood on the wet cobbles at the river’s edge, and looked across at the Eiffel Tower. The foggy dawn was clearing. There’d been a meeting arranged.

The Tower had survived, and the city had been liberated for eight months. Now she just wanted to go home. Back to the east end of Vancouver, where she’d no longer be a code name floating on encrypted radio waves between Paris and 64 Baker Street. Where she’d no longer earn her keep by killing silently.

Her neighborhood, back home, would be coming into bloom about now, in its own slightly savage way. But there was still so much to do in The City of Light. Mopping up, the Special Operations Executive called it. They who sat in London, sipping tea. Ink on their fingers, instead of blood on their hands.

“Soho,” said a man, as he came up behind her. He spoke in prefect street Parisian.

“Hello, Vicker,” she said without turning around.

Vicker was the alias for an American agent named Amsterdam, Timothy. Soho was her own. The hostilities were over, and the use of code names between spies was no longer strictly necessary. But survival habits die hard.

“I must be the first man ever to creep up on you,” he said.

“I’ve been listening to you approach for forty-five seconds,” Soho said. “French made leather soled shoes, with composition heels. Likely size nine or ten. Colour unknown. A tall, athletic man. I’d need to fire first. But I assumed it was you. Or you’d be bleeding right now.”

He was impressed, not for the first time.

“You’ll be missed by London,” he said.

“They can go to hell.”

“And Dillinger, is he nearby?”

“Very nearby.”

“But invisible.”

“It’s part of his charm,” she said, turning to face Timothy Amsterdam.

“Why am I still alive, Trudy?” he said, dropping her alias. “I understand that I’m at the top of your list.”

“Officially you’re not alive,” said Trudy Parr. “Officially, I did my job. And you were fished out of the Seine with your throat cut last night. It was the body of a Vichy operative I’d been letting live for a moment like this. He had fake papers with your name on them in his coat pocket. So the heat’s off for now. They’ll know it’s not really you when London gets the finger prints. That’ll take about a week, though. By then you should be securely underground.”

“Straight razor and slight of hand,” he said. “Your calling card.”

She said nothing.

“So, I’m free to go then.”

“Any way you can, Timothy,” Trudy Parr said. “But you should be more careful. Money isn’t everything. If it’s found out that I purposely let you live, that it wasn’t some dumb female error, I’ll be as dead as you’re supposed to be. I still have some explaining to do. Consider it a favour between professionals who worked well together in the past, but don’t expect another.”

“There’s booty involved, Trudy,” said Timothy Amsterdam. “A lot of it. And I could use an accomplice. Two, if Crispin wants in.” He looked around the general area for a trace of Crispin Dench, code name Dillinger. But Dench was playing shadow, for the moment.

“The Russians are throwing money around like mad men,” Amsterdam continued. “They’re being sloppy about it, too. They need intelligence, badly. They’re not stopping at Berlin, you know? Americans or no, they’re planning on taking Europe.”

“And you’re going to help them?”

“No. I’m giving them crap. It looks good because I can counterfeit anything, as you know. But it won’t get them anywhere, and they won’t know it until I’m long gone.”

She watched him talk, his body moving to the words. His steady eyes. And she knew he wasn’t lying. She was paid to know.

“We can’t go home, Trudy,” he said. “You, me or Dench. Not really. You know that, don’t you? We can go back and try to make it, but they’ve used us up. And no one wants to know what it really took to win this war.”

“Crispin and I are going to try.”

“Where do two assassins fit into postwar Canada? Or greasy little Vancouver, for that matter?”

She didn’t know. But spies weren’t heroes — she knew as much. They were dirty secrets.

Vancouver, 1951
the offices of Dench and Parr Investigations 

Trudy Parr picked up the phone. It was Virginia in reception.

“There’s two mooks out here,” Virginia said. “They got revolvers stickin’ outta their jackets, like it’s a Cagney film. Say they wanna see you.”

“They show you any tin?” said Trudy Parr.

“Yeah, they showed me some.”

“Then send them in.”

“All right. I’ll tell ‘em to wipe their feet before enterin’ your office.”

Trudy Parr hung up, sat back in her desk chair and lit a Black Cat. There was a soft knock, and two men walked in, taking off their hats. It was detectives Olaf Brandt and Roscoe Finch of the VPD.

“What’s the good word, Trudy?” said Brandt.

“I don’t deal in good words,” Trudy Parr said. “You know that, Olaf. But pull up a chair, anyway.”

The two men sat down.

“Well?” she said.

“That secretary of yours is kinda rude,” said Finch.

“Maybe,” said Trudy Parr. “But she types fifty words a minute, and she’s good with a gun. That kind of makes her indispensable. Sorry if she hurt your feelings.”

“What’s a secretary need a gun for?”

“This is a private investigation agency,” said Trudy Parr, looking Finch over like he was a street shill. “We attract undesirables.”

Finch shifted in his chair.

“Never mind that,” said Brandt. “Finch and me got something we want you to see.”

“What?”

“This,” Finch said, reaching into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a photograph, and slid it across the desktop face down. Trudy Parr looked at it lying there, and smoked her cigarette. It was 5×7, and had a phone number and the name Foncie Pulice stamped on the back.

“It was taken by that Foncie character,” Brandt said. “He snaps you on the street, and hands you a card, and….”

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Finch said. “ We all know — take a gander, Trudy.”

She flipped it over and saw a black and white image. It was a Vancouver street scene. Olaf Brandt and a skinny woman walking hand-in-hand down Granville Street on a sunny day, both smiling for the camera.

“Nice,” said Trudy Parr, pushing the photo back at Finch. “You and your girlfriend look very pleased with one another, Olaf. I wish you many years of happiness.”

Finch pushed it back.

“Take a closer look,” he said.

She’d seen something strange in the photograph on first glance, but had ignored it out of mounting boredom. She looked again. Behind the smiling couple was a man in a trench coat and fedora, his face circled with grease pencil. It was a familiar face. Handsome in spite of the dark scar on his left cheek and jaw. It brought back cold memories.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Finch said.

“It’s Timothy Amsterdam,” said Brandt.

“Swell.” She pushed the photo back again.

“He was an American spy,” Finch said. “During the war. Mostly in Paris. He turned commy near the end.”

“That’s not what I heard, Roscoe,” Trudy said. “I heard he’s all free market and apple pie. Sure, he cashed-in selling the Ruskies dirt. But that was a couple weeks before VE day. He was gonna be out of a job soon, I heard he was real selective in what he sold. It was out of date, redundant or generally misleading. Useless, in other words. The Russians were paying in captured SS bullion, so he took the gold and ran. You know, a spy needs a plan at the end of a war. They don’t fit back into society so well.”

“Really?” said Finch. “What was your plan?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That still makes him a double agent,” said Brandt. “There’s a warrant.”

“Okay,” said Trudy Parr. “So call the RCMP and the FBI. It’s a US federal rap. He’ll be extradited.”

“We want him,” said Finch. “The RCMP will get him eventually – we’ll hand him over when the hoopla’s over. But we want to make the arrest.”

“You want your pictures in the papers, is that it?.”

“Sure,” said Brandt. “Why not. We spend all our time sweeping up other people’s messes, and don’t get no thanks for it. Now we gotta big fish in our shitty little pond, and we wanna hook him.”

“What’s it got to do with me?”

“We figure you know where he is.”

“That’s a surprise,” said Trudy Parr.

“You were a spy, yourself,” said Finch.

Trudy Parr lit another cigarette.

“You was in Paris,” Brandt said. “Your paths must have crossed.”

“C’mon, Trudy,” Finch said. “We’re the cops. We know you were an Allied spy. You’re on at least three watch lists. And we know you worked with Timothy Amsterdam. We ain’t supposed to know it. It’s classified, I’ll grant you. But we know it all the same, and that makes you a semi-legitimate lead.”

The traffic hissed by on the rainy street fifteen storeys below. Trudy Parr smoked.

“Just tell us if you’ve seen him.”

She picked up the photo once more and looked. Timothy had been a good agent. He deserved whatever he could scam out of the chaos. And he’d need it, too. He couldn’t have come back after the horror show and work in a hardware store. No one could.

She tossed the Foncie photograph back at Finch, across the desk .

“It ain’t him,” she said.

“Oh, come on.”

“Look, Trudy,” said Brandt. “We’re colleagues, you and us. We don’t wanna have to bring you in, and make this all official.”

“Don’t you?” she said. “I wonder why that is. Perhaps because you’ve obtained most of your information illegally, from classified documents. State secrets.”

“We don’t gotta bring her in,” said Finch. “We just gotta make her life difficult.”

“No,” said Brandt. “Let’s keep this friendly.”

“Friendly, my ass,” Finch said. “We cut this bitch way too much slack. She’s always slicin’ some poor bastard up or breaking an entry. Most of the private dicks in this town are standing in soup lines while she drives round in her little red Porsche and has a top floor office in the Dominion Building. Where’s the money comin’ from for all that, Trudy?”

“We solve more cases than your standard soup line dick.”

Roscoe Finch clenched his fists in his lap.

“You know what your problem is, Trudy?” he said.

“I have some ideas I haven’t shared.”

“You’re not afraid of nothin’,” Finch said, standing up. “And that ain’t healthy. It ain’t like a dame. And maybe you’re not afraid of nothin’ because you need a lesson in what to be afraid of.”

“That’s dime store talk,” said Trudy Parr.

“Take it down a notch, Roscoe,” Brandt said.

“Naw,” said Finch. “No way, She’s comin’ with us. Down to the docks. See how smart she is when she comes back with a busted nose.”

“I ain’t goin’,” said Brandt.

“What? You yellow over a skirt?” Finch said. “Ha!”

“No,” said Brandt. “I just don’t think you understand the seriousness of what you’re suggesting.”

“Fine,” Finch said, starting to move. “You go home and arrange some flowers. Me and Miss Parr are going for a ride.”

“Oh boy,” Brandt said, grimly.

Finch moved round the desk like a locomotive. When he arrived at Trudy Parr, still sitting in her desk chair, he got an unexpected size six Chanel pump to the groin, and another one hard in the chin. And as he stumbled to the floor, Trudy Parr retrieved a straight razor from where it was hidden under her chair. Then she stood, grabbed Roscoe Finch by his thinning hair, and held the razor’s edge firmly against the general area of his carotid artery.

“Don’t do it, Trudy,” Brandt said, standing up.

Finch coughed and whimpered.

“What else is there to do?” said Trudy Parr. “If I start letting this sort of thing slide, I might as well close the agency.”

“God! Trudy.” Olaf Brandt pointed at a trickle of blood dripping from Finch’s neck.

“Ah shit,” she said, and let Finch fall to the floor. “Mop this fucker up and take him back to the nursery.”

“Sure, sure,” said Brandt. He helped Finch to his feet and the men exited the office.

A moment later, the closet door next to Trudy Parr’s desk opened and a man with a scar on his left cheek stepped out.

“Glad to see you haven’t lost your panache,” said Timothy Amsterdam.

“They’re small time,” she said, and lit another cigarette. “You’ve got a train to catch.”

Amsterdam checked his wristwatch.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, it was a short but pleasant visit. Tell Crispin I said hello. And, oh! I almost forgot why I came by. We sort of lost touch, you and me, when the shooting stopped. I never got a chance to share the spoil with you. I figure I owe you something for not turning me over.”

He pulled three hand sized gold ingots, embossed with swastikas, from his satchel. They made a heavy, blunt thud when he placed them on the desk.

“That’s a load off,” Amsterdam said. “Those get heavy after a while.”

“You did kind of push your luck near the end,” said Trudy Parr. “Now nowhere is home.”

“I can’t stay put in one place more than forty-eight hours, anyway. Besides, there’s this new thing called the CIA. I hear they’re recruiting fellas like me. They’re kinda criminal, themselves. The outstanding warrant for my arrest will just make me more appealing.”

He exited Trudy Parr’s office with a tip of his hat.

She watched from her window as Timothy Amsterdam exited onto the street below, and walked toward the CPR station.

“You know,” Virginia said, coming into Trudy’s office with the mail. “It’s not even lunchtime yet, and you’ve already nearly cut off a cop’s head, and there’s a small fortune in Nazi gold on your desk.”

“It’s a glamorous life,” said Trudy Parr.

the Wilberforce case

Vancouver
December, 1950

She stepped out of the car, and handed the keys to the valet. The young man handed her a claim check.

The brand new 1950 Buick Roadmaster convertible really wasn’t a practical car for the city. It was more for burning up a deserted desert interstate with the top down. But Elinor Warkentin liked the chrome, the Dynaflow straight-eight and the elbow room. Besides, it was a Christmas gift from an unaware, soon to be very grateful client. Why should she leave it parked in a garage, unappreciated?

“Treat it nice,” she told the valet. “You don’t want me tracking you down so you can explain a scratch in the paint.”

The comment was only half true, and half good humour. Most people on the street knew she was a tough detective. She tipped her fedora back a bit, to make herself seem less serious in the dim evening light. She didn’t go in for spooking the little people. The valet smiled nervously, nonetheless, as he got into the long elegant automobile and drove away.

The light was low in the Hotel Vancouver cocktail lounge, but it was handsomely decked out for Christmas Eve. And it was a good crowd. Dal Richards sat at the bar, waiting to go upstairs to the Panorama Roof Ballroom with his big band. Elinor checked her hat and trench coat with the hatcheck girl, and scanned the tables for a familiar face.

Trudy Parr sat at a table near the back with a glass of Glenlivet, reading a Margery Allingham novel. Elinor sat down and signaled for a waiter. Trudy Parr turned a page.

Elinor ordered another single malt for Trudy, when the waiter arrived, and tequila for herself, neat.

Trudy Parr looked up from her book, and said, “You still drinking that paint thinner?”

“It’s mother’s milk,” Elinor said, smiling.

“Hmm.” Trudy Parr wasn’t convinced. She put her novel down, and lit a cigarette.

“So, why’d you call?” she said. “What’s this all about?”

“It’s that Wilberforce caper,” said Elinor. “The one the cops gave up on. Remember? It happened last year, a little before Christmas. Twenty thousand dollars missing from the Wilberforce family bank account. The Federated Acceptance Insurance Company asked me to poke it with a stick. I think it just bit back.”

“Yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “I remember. Twenty grand shouldn’t be so hard to find. But this bundle sure has been. So far anyway. Any leads?”

“A couple,” said Elinor. “One that’s pretty solid. But I wanted to run it by you first, to see how it sounds. Cops say bank fraud’s out. They say they pulled the string on that one. Even got the feds involved. Nothing came out of it, though. Bank staff’s a little flaky, but mostly clean.”

A waiter arrived with drinks.

“Mostly?” said Trudy Parr, taking a sip. “Let’s face it, bank fraud’s never out.”

“I think you’re right, in this case.”

“What’s so flaky about the bank staff?”

“A few bottle-blonde tellers,” Elinor said, belting back half her drink. “And a couple of despotic assistant managers. One of whom’s a crossdresser. Pretty boring stuff, actually. The General Manager’s real interesting, on the other hand.”

“What about him?” said a dapper gentleman, stepping up to their table.

Crispin Dench, of Dench and Parr Investigations, sat down and dropped his copy of the daily racing form onto the table. He had a Bacardi and Coke in his hand. Trudy Parr reached across and brushed a dusting of cigarette ash off of the lapel of his Dunhill suit. Then she discreetly adjusted his jacket, to hide the slim nickel .38 in his shoulder holster.

“Think it’ll snow?” he said, with a grin.

Elinor and Trudy Parr looked at him.

“Wow, it’s kinda Dickensian at this table.”

“We’re talking about that Wilberforce thing,” said Trudy Parr.

“Happened a year ago,” said Dench.

“That’s right,” Elinor said.

“What about the bank manager?” said Dench. “His name is Falkner, no?”

“Norman Falkner,” said Trudy Parr.

“And he likes to play Santa Clause every Christmas,” Elinor said.

“So?”

“Well, it’s how he does it. He likes to give away some pretty high end swag.”

“Like jewelry?” said Dench

“No,” said Elinor. “Like iron lungs and x-ray machines, to hospitals. Playgrounds to orphanages. Says the dough comes from his family fortune.”

“Sounds great,” Dench said, flagging a waiter. “Another round.”

“Except there is no family fortune,” Elinor said. “Just some dodgy numbers on a page in a book of ledgers. He lost most of it going after some dame from Brazil. She took him to the cleaners, and then flew home.”

Now Trudy Parr watched as a tall man in a tuxedo took a seat at the grand piano in the centre of the lounge. He began his set by playing Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On?

“How’d you find all that out about the manager?” said Trudy Parr.

“Remember the crossdresser?”

“Crossdresser?” said Dench. “I missed something.”

“Never mind,” said Trudy Parr.

“Well he’s a talkative one,” said Elinor. “Especially after a belt or two of cheap rye whiskey. I took him out, plied him with drink and he spilled the beans. Cried a lot, too. Turns out he’s a real weepy fella when he puts on a dress.”

“So?” said Dench. “Give.”

“So,” said Elinor Warkentin. “Seems this crossdressing assistant manager, let’s call him Albert because that’s his name, found out what was going on and tried to blackmail Falkner. But Falkner told him to bugger off. He was even going to fire Albert on the spot. But then he realised Albert had him in a corner. So Falkner negotiated a deal, downward. He let Albert keep his job and raised his weekly income. Unfortunately for Falkner, he didn’t raise Albert’s income enough. So when I grilled him, he sang like a badly decorated Christmas tree.”

“Why didn’t he tell this to the cops?” said Dench.

“He’s was already guilty of extortion, himself.  And, he said the cops were rude.”

“And the twenty grand?”

“Five went to St Joseph’s Hospital and five went to the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement.”

“Hold on!” said Crispin Dench. “He gave five grand to the Franciscan Sisters?”

“To help feed elderly indigent fishermen and loggers.”

“That’s one hell of a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“The man’s a real Saint Nick, sort of.”

“But that still leaves ten grand,” said Trudy Parr.

“I know,” said Elinor. “Turns out, that’s just about enough for a one way fare on the Pan Am Clipper. And to set a guy up nicely in Rio de Janeiro, where his lost love resides.”

“Isn’t she in for a surprise,” said Trudy Parr. She lit another cigarette.

“You mean the Clipper that left this afternoon?” Dench said.

“That’s the one. My source in the Pan Am office said he bought the ticket in November.”

“Well Merry Christmas to all,” said Crispin Dench, holding up his drink. “And to all a good flight.”

“Sounds like you cracked it,” Trudy Parr said. “And, what’s the Federated Acceptance Insurance Company going to pay for this epiphany?”

“I’m not sure,” said Elinor Warkentin, holding up the parking valet claim check, “But I think it’s parked just round the corner.”

the bone settlement – part 1

Stanley Park – October 31, 1949 

Her failed attempts at stillness were behind her; she was an expert now. She could finally become the colour of the trees and stone. Now she needed to become a shadow.

From where she stood, she could hear children sing. A good sign. She was welcome. She took the small leather bag from her coat pocket and placed it on the ground, in the centre of the ring of trees, the Sisters, the precinct. It was a natural basilica that rose a hundred feet above the trail.

Looking up, she saw the stars and moon. There was movement all around. She closed her eyes and listened. They had purpose.

From the forest, a glowing form emerged. A small girl in the dark, surrounded by light.

“Thank you,” she said.

The items in leather bag began to shake and clatter.

-1-

Vancouver, October 20, 1949

It was 10:00 a.m. She sat at her desk with a switchblade in her hand. She pressed the trigger, and the blade appeared. Faultless and ready. Honed Damascus steel. Handle of ebony. Custom made for her in Paris, 1942. She closed it, and snapped it open again. It wasn’t like there was time to waste, but it helped her think.

She knew it was the wrong thing to do. The knife wasn’t made for it. But she wanted to throw it, and stab Nicky No Dice Cohen in the heart. He stood ready, dukes up, head down, classic boxer’s stance, on a fight poster on the far wall, next to the filing cabinets. She had nothing against No Dice. His record was clean. So was hers. He never took a fall. But he was an easy target, pinned to the wall. And hitting the target would let off some steam. Perhaps even be inspirational.

But the switchblade lacked the balance for throwing. It was made for close-in work. She smiled, remembering Paris.

The kid was ten, when he disaapeared. That was five years ago. The cops had given up. All Trudy Parr had to go on were old photographs, and a couple of grief-stricken parents with wild ideas. But they were clients, worthy of her respect.

“You’ll forgive me for saying it, Mr and Mrs Bellamy.” She’d tried to sound empathetic when they’d met in the Bellamy’s front parlour. “But the cops said they found nothing. You’ve hired other investigators in the past, without results. Maybe William is just gone. It happens.”

“No!” Mrs Bellamy began to sob. “Oh, Billy.”

Mr Bellamy looked wounded.

Trudy Parr was surprised there could still be such emotion after five years. Maybe that’s why she took the case. The cops would take her involvement badly, and be obstructionist. There were no leads. The newspapers had sensationalised the story, ignoring the facts. The trail had gone cold. But all the same, a cold missing person case was better than chasing cheating husbands and mutts on the lam for skipping bail.

Now, at her desk, she looked at the photograph again. Young William Bellamy, a smiling youngster. His image, fixed iconically and forever onto the very bones of his parents.

She closed the knife and pressed the trigger again.

Snap.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?”

“Some fella named Thomas Armbruster on the line,” Gladys said. “Says he’s with the Parks Board.”

“And?” Trudy Parr said, running her thumb crosswise over the sharp edge of the blade.

“And, it’s a little odd. He says he’s got troubles on the Stanley Park trails. He says it could be vandals but the cops looked and can’t find nothing.”

“Tell him we don’t deal in mischief calls.”

“Heck I know that, Trudy. I’d have blown him off three minutes ago, ‘cept he said something about the trail in question being haunted. And I know you and Crispin go in for that sorta thing, occasionally.”

Trudy Parr put down the knife and wistfully picked up a .45 cartridge that sat upright and gleaming on her desk blotter, next to a fountain pen.

“You still there, Trudy?” Gladys said.

She rolled the cold cartridge between her fingers for a moment. “Alright, put him through.” Her desk phone rang and she picked up. “Trudy Parr here. What’s the beef?”

“Oh, Miss Parr,” said the man on the line. “This is Thomas Armbruster. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I’m a commissioner on the Vancouver Parks Board.”

Armbruster sounded like he wore tweed pajamas to bed. Trudy didn’t like him.

“Sorry, I don’t follow village politics,” she said.

“Well, we’re having a bit of difficulty on a Stanley Park trail.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. The police have investigated and found nothing. They’ve dispatched the Mounted Squad and they’re keeping an eye open, but….”

“But what?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

Trudy Parr lit a cigarette. “Do your best,” she said.

“Well, in a nutshell, several people claim to have been accosted by something very mysterious. Up round the Seven Sisters – that circle of tall trees on the Cathedral Trail.”

“Kids in white sheets? Halloween’s coming, you know.”

“No,” said Armbruster.  “It’s not kids. Not according to the descriptions. Witnesses report a single free floating young girl, surrounded in purple light. Naturally, it’s fiction. Though the stories are consistent from witness to witness. The point is that it’s bad for business. The park needs to be safe.”

“And you need to get re-elected.”

“Well, yes. There’s that – just between you me.”

“This happen during the day or night?” said Trudy Parr, inspecting the bullet’s primer. It read Federal 45 Auto.

“Dusk, mostly. No one’s really on the trails after dark. Except for park hobos.”

“Has anyone spoken to them?”

“They claim the whole damn park is haunted,” Armbruster said. “They say a few spooks on a trail at dusk ‘ain’t nothin” compared to some of the goings-on elsewhere in the park.”

“What do you say to that?”

“I say that it’s the rotgut talking. Look, I just need a credible private investigator to back up what the police have already said, and put it in writing.”

Trudy Parr looked over at No Dice Cohen, peeking over his gloves. Never took a fall.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stroll on by the trouble spot this evening, and see what I see. Gladys will set you up with a contract, but for now we have a binding verbal agreement. Forty-five dollars a day plus overhead.”

“Wow. I, uh….”

“I know. You thought we work for peanuts because we’re having trouble with the rent. That’s what you read in your pulpy magazines, right? But I can assure you that The Dench and Parr Agency functions devoid of any threat of liquidation. There are other agencies in town that charge less. Want the list?”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Swell.” Trudy Parr hung up, and placed the .45 shell back on the desk blotter.

-2-

She found herself in Crispin Dench’s office. The Black Hawks and Red Wings were playing in Detroit that night. He was talking to a bookie over the telephone.

“What’s the spread?” Dench said. He paused to listen to his bookie. “Hawks, then. C-note.” He paused again. “Look, Maurice, don’t try to be my friend. Last time I let that happen, I lost a bundle.” Pause. “I know the Hawks stink. Hence, the point spread.” Pause. “Just do it, Maurice. Take it outta what you owe me, and save the histrionics for that hooker you’ve been dating.” He hung up.

“What’s rattlin’?” he said to Trudy Parr.

“Missing person,” she said. “Kid. Case, five years cold. He was ten at the time of his disappearance. Parents distraught but moneyed. Cops botched the initial investigation. Twenty bucks says you can’t guess the client’s name.”

Dench sat back in his reclining desk chair, and tapped his index finger on his chin. There was an unloaded .357 magnum revolver on his desk, next to a rag and a can of Hoppe’s Oil.

“In town?” he said.

“They live in town.”

“Where’d he disappear from?”

Trudy Parr smiled and kept mum.

“Boarding school or in town private?”

She remained quiet.

“Who was the flatfoot heading up the search?”

“Okay, I’ll give you this one. But only because he handles a lot of cases. You’ll have to narrow it down. It was Olaf Brandt.”

“Brandt? He’s actually a decent detective. Five years ago, huh? We were still in Paris. That makes it tougher. You giving odds?”

“Nope.”

“Alright, in 1944 the two missing person cases Brandt was working on got dropped.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’m a detective,” Dench said, “that’s how.” He lit a Gitanes, “I read case files, and associate with a desperate crowd. Both of the cases were abandoned because the new Police Chief at the time, Donald Bond, committed most VPD manpower to solving a string of bank robberies. Which never actually got solved, incidentally.”

“You’re killing me,” said Trudy Parr.

“One of the missing person cases was an old woman, named Edna Chang. She was over eighty. She’d gone a little batty, and likely wondered off into the wild blue yonder on her own. Never to be seen again. Garden variety misadventure.”

Dench drew on his cigarette, and made like he was pondering the possibilities.

“The other one?” said Trudy Parr.

“William Bellamy.”

She tried not to look surprised.

Dench checked his fingernails. “He may have been abducted. No evidence of kidnapping. Some sick prick probably ate him for breakfast. Which will be hard to convey to the parents. Better bring a priest with you. But you should know this, the cops may have found one piece of important evidence. The skinny street-side, and in one or two of the cop bars, is that Brandt found a shirt in Stanley Park, balled-up, tossed in a mud puddle.”

“William Bellamy’s shirt?”

“Rich family,” Dench said, with a shrug. “Custom made shirt. Label embroidered with the kid’s name, Billy. If it’s for real, then there’s a good chance it was his.”

“And they dropped the case?”

“A lot of kids named Billy in the world.”

“You know better.”

“Maybe. But you may remember, Donald Bond ran for Mayor in ’47. Lost to McGeer. But he ran on his reputation for being hard on major property crime, like bank robberies. The kind of thing he hoped might stir the hearts of local voters, but never did. So, when he was Police Chief, looking ahead to an honorable political future, the Bellamy evidence was ignored. It’s probably still in a box in a VPD Evidence Room. And William Bellamy is still missing.”

“Wonder how I make this information work for me,” said Trudy Parr.

“You’re one of the few who can,” said Dench. He absentmindedly picked up his revolver, checked the hammer action, and said, “You owe me twenty dollars, by the way.”

how to invest in the future

Vancouver 1949

Crispin Dench pulled up to the curb and cut the engine. Driving up the driveway and parking at the door may have given the wrong message: that they really wanted to be there.

The house was a boxy number, an elegant ruin, set way back from the street and surrounded by tall gates and a high stone wall.

Trudy Parr sat in the passenger seat. “I still don’t know why we’re here,” she said.

“Good will,” said Dench, checking his Omega.

The residents in the neighbourhood paid well, but the work was tedious. Wives and husbands competing with one another at a game called betrayal, calling in private investigators to compile evidence to make accusations stick. The firm of Dench and Parr Investigations had stopped taking fidelity jobs long ago – leaving that work for amateurs, breaking into the business. Since then, they’d been handling cold cases, murders and missing persons the cops couldn’t be bothered with, but that families or friends would pay to solve. Whatever this call was about, they were ready to say no.

Their appointment was with a Dr Thornton Dallas at 10 a.m. It was now 9:50. They sat in the Jag listening to the radio. Trudy Parr wished she’d brought a Raymond Chandler novel. As she sat regretting the oversight, an Asian woman in a maid’s outfit walked up to the passenger side of the car and tapped on the window. Trudy rolled it down.

“Dench and Parr?” said the maid.

“Guilty,” Trudy said.

“Dr Dallas will see you now,” the maid said, and walked back up the driveway to the house.

Dench sat back and lit a Gitane, then tuned the radio to another station – Nat King Cole was singing, Nature Boy.

“This might be fun, after all,” said Trudy Parr. “It’s already a little flaky, and we haven’t even knocked on the door.”

After taking his time finishing his cigarette, Dench started the car and drove up to the front door. They parked and knocked. A grim looking elderly man answered. A butler, thought Trudy Parr. She smiled. His right hand shook a bit. He said, “Yes?” Two small dogs stood at the door, wagging their tails. The butler looked down with disdain.

“Dench and Parr,” said Trudy. “Here to see Dr Dallas.”

“That meeting does not commence until ten o’clock,” the butler said. “You’re early.”

“But the Chinese woman…,” Dench said.

Ignoring him, the butler showed them chairs in the hall next to the front door where they were to wait until summoned.

Trudy Parr looked the situation over. “This is why everyone thinks the butler done it, Jasper,” she said to the butler. Then she walked past him, into a formal sitting room beyond. It was all mahogany and leather. She took an overstuffed chair. “Tea if you got it,” she said.

Crispin Dench followed her in and began to inspect the bric-a-brac.

“The name is not Jasper,” the butler said, stoically. “It’s Julio. Please wait, and don’t break anything.”

Trudy Parr picked up a New Yorker from a stand. They waited.

“Well, Nathan is an asshole.”

The words came from a sofa facing away from them in front of a window.

“I wouldn’t su…. I did not. The prick is lying, so ignore what he says. Hang on.”

A face popped up, looking over the back of the couch. It was young and pretty.

“I have to go, Daphne,” she said. “There’re a couple of desperate looking characters in the room. Bye.” She hung up the phone and said, “Have you two been looked after?”

“What floor’s sportswear on in this joint?” Dench asked.

“Ha, ha! That’s real funny,” said the girl. “Servants and trades belong in the back, shoo.” She said ‘shoo’ while making a dismissive gesture with her hand and looking off in another direction.

“I’m not the help, Sugar,” said Trudy Parr. “Someone named Dallas called us. We were supposed to meet at ten. It’s now seven minutes after.”

“And who do you think this Dallas person is, Miss?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out, Junior,” Trudy said.

The girl’s eyes widened. “Are you Communists? Daddy just hates Communists.”

“That depends,” Dench said. “What do you think of Communists?”

“I think Communist boys always look so crazy and dreamy.”

“…and they rarely bathe,” Dench said. “As for the two of us, we’re private investigators.”

“Really?” She sat up in excitement. “Even her?”

Dench looked over at Trudy Parr, and said, “Especially her.”

“You carrying guns?”

“No.”

“Well, why not?”

“Because they go off and people get killed.”

“Don’t some people have to get killed? Isn’t it you or them?”

“I leave the gun at home in my freezer,” said Trudy, “next to the ice cream and the fish bait.”

“Some private eyes you are.”

“There’s always the movies, Sugar. They’ve got a million private dicks and each one’s got a gun, maybe two, and a million young broads laying face down in the family swimming pool.”

“I don’t think I like you, lady,” the girl said.

Then someone interrupted, “Samantha? Samantha, is that you?” It was Dr Dallas walking into the parlour. “Oh, there you are, Samantha. I’m so glad you haven’t left yet.”

“Daddy, I don’t leave for boarding school for another week.”

Dallas saw Dench and Parr. “And who are you?”

“They’re private eyes, Daddy. Not a very nice ones, either.”

“Their job probably doesn’t inspire much in the way of niceness,” Dallas said. “It’s Dench, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Dench said, “but please don’t call me by my last name.”

“Very well, what is your first name?”

“Mister,” Dench replied.

“Ah, Mr. Dench,” Thornton Dallas said, “just so. And who is this lovely creature?” Dallas looked at Trudy Parr as an afterthought. “Did you bring your secretary?”

“Maybe we should have brought guns, after all,” Trudy said.

“She’s my partner,” Dench said. “You said you wanted to see us both, over the telephone. So, here we are.”

“I’d no idea…,” Dallas said.

“Now you do,” said Trudy Parr, as she turned a page of the New Yorker.

Dallas was an obese man, balding, in an expensive suit and shoes. But Trudy Parr thought his tie was bad. He was greying and jowly, and had small porcine eyes.

“I think we should go to my study,” Dallas said. “Please follow me.”

The house was a maze of hallways and doors. Dallas stopped at what seemed a wall and slid a large panel to one side and directed Dench and Parr in.

The study was large, two stories high with a mezzanine, more of the same leather and mahogany as elsewhere. Every inch of wall was covered with books. The grim elderly butler appeared.

“Would you like a drink, Mr Dench?” Dallas asked.

“Too early for me,” Dench said. “But do you mind if I smoke?”

“Not at all,” Dallas said and patted himself down for something, a lighter as it turned out, “perhaps I’ll have a pipe at that.”

“Glenlivet,” said Trudy Parr, taking a chair and lighting a Black Cat. “Or whatever passes for a single malt round here.”

“Ah,” Dallas said, looking as though he’d forgotten about Trudy Parr. “Julio, Glenlivet for the lady. Ice, Miss Parr?”

“You should know better,” Trudy said.

Dallas started to go through a ritual of knocking old tobacco out of a pipe that had been resting in an ashtray. He filled it again from a leather pouch. Then, not having found his lighter in any of his pockets, he searched vigorously for a wooden match. He found one in a bronze elephant figurine next to a desk lamp. Striking it on the trunk of the elephant, he began puffing. When he was content that the pipe was properly lit, it went out. He began again.

The butler arrived with Trudy Parr’s drink. “Your single malt, madam.”

“This tobacco’s a special blend, you know,” Dallas said between puffs. “Bring it in from Ireland,” puff, puff, puff. “Ah, well,” he said at last, disappointed. ”Wasn’t meant to be.” He placed the unlit pipe back into the ashtray, and said, “So, Mr Dench, it’s certainly nice of you to come.”

“I have to agree since consultations are gratis,” said Trudy Parr. “But I’m not sure why we’re here.”

“Of course, of course.” He started to shuffle through papers on his desk. “Ah, here it is.” He handed something over to Crispin Dench. “Take a look and tell me what you think.”

It was an unopened envelope inside a transparent plastic sleeve. Dench examined it, looking for the punch line, but there wasn’t one.

“Just an unopened envelope,” he said, holding it in his right hand. “Addressed to some egghead at a university address.”

“Yes, I’m a professor there, myself. Do you know anything about physics, Mr Dench? Quantum mechanics, fractal theory, that sort of thing?”

“We were involved with some intelligence which involved weapon development during the war,” Trudy Parr said.

“Atomic weapons?” Dallas asked.

“That’s classified.”

“I see,” Dallas said. “Still hush, hush, eh? Well based on that, you may understand a little about mans’ quest to travel through time and the progress that’s been made.” He sat there with a straight face while digging a fleshy finger into his ear.

“Not really,” Dench said.

“Hmm,” Dallas said. “Well anyway take another look at the envelope, especially the stamp and the post mark.”

He did and was a little surprised. The stamp cost more than a dollar. It should have only cost a few cents. And it looked strange, more colourful and stylistically different than what he was used to seeing. Then he looked harder and saw something very strange. The postmark was Philadelphia. December, 2013 — sixty-four years in the future.

“I haven’t got time for bullshit, Dr Dallas.”

“I assure you that it is not bullshit, sir.” He was sounding bombastic, and Trudy Parr’s interest was waning. “A colleague of mine, a Dr Wilshire, died last month. That’s his name and office address on the envelope. I found it in amongst some of his miscellaneous papers. I had a feeling some time ago that he had made some break through concerning the question of time mobility. His were mostly experiments with inanimate objects and small lab animals. His primary goal was not just to send them forward in time, but to safely retrieve them. I was able to find full documentation of those experiments, but nothing to explain this. He must have somehow gotten himself to the year 2013, and spent time in Philadelphia, working in the time labs. Then mailed that to himself from there, for later delivery here, in 1949.” He pointed at the envelope. “But I can’t figure out why. Did he mean to return to open it?”

“And did he safely retrieve them,” asked Trudy Parr, “the small animals I mean?”

“According to his documentation, all the animals had to be put down,” Dallas said gravely. “They returned malformed.”

“But who mailed the envelope and how did it get here?” Dench asked.

“Well,” Dallas said, taking a deep breath. “We can’t know for sure unless it’s opened, but I suspect it was Wilshire, himself.”

“Go ahead and open it, then,” said Trudy Parr.

“It may be opened one day,” Dallas said, now toying with his pipe again. “But the contents of this envelope aren’t what concern me. Wilshire is dead, here in 1949. But a version of him may still be out there occupying a place in the future. It’s been proven to be a strong likelihood using the Hemming Multi-versal Theory. He could be causing irreparable damage to the space/time continuum every time he does something as simple as walking down a street or buying a cup of coffee.”

There were a few a seconds of silence. Trudy Parr lit another cigarette and said, “Where do we come into this, Dr Dallas?”

“Put simply, I want you to intercept Wilshire. We cannot know what took place when he arrived in the future or what damage he may have already done. So, I want to pay you to go and bring him back.”

Dench laughed out loud. “How?” he said.

“I’ve transferred the apparatus from Wilshire’s lab to my garage in the backyard,” Dallas said, his eyes starting to gleam. “I can send you off today to approximately where Wilshire might be.”

“You tried this out yet?” said Trudy Parr. “On the small lab animals?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he said looking distracted by more important things.

“And what were the results?”

“I’ve made improvements, based on the results. There were just some slight mutations in morphology. You know, insignificant things, minor cranial warping, some spinal vertebrae reversal, inconsequential cross species contamination, heart and colon fusion, negligible cerebellum atrophy. However, I must say that the effects on the brain are actually nearly nonexistent. Although some trivial levels of psychosis have been observed.” He tried to light his pipe again without making eye contact.

“A walk in the park,” Dench said.

“Mmm, mmm,” Dallas sounded, pipe stem in his mouth, head nodding up and down.

“And how much were you planning to offer us,” said Trudy Parr, “for this modest expedition into the unknown?”

“Mmm,” Dallas sounded again, as pipe smoke began to fill the room around him. “What’s the going rate?”

“Look Dallas,” Dench said. “I think our office will be billing you, after all. This isn’t a consultation. It’s a freak show.”

Trudy Parr stood and began walking to the door.

“Wait,” Dallas said, suddenly in a panic. “Tell me how much you want. Let’s negotiate, hammer out a deal.”

“You haven’t even opened that damn envelope. It could answer all of your questions.”

Dallas looked sheepishly down at the envelope on his desk, and said, “My lawyer believes it’s more valuable unopened.”

Trudy Parr heard this as she was exiting the study. She walked back to Dallas’ desk. He seemed to cringe like she was going to slug him. Instead she picked up the precious envelope, and retrieved a gravity knife from her purse.  She let the blade fall out of the handle and into place, and then sliced open the protective plastic sleeve.

Dallas began pulling at his hair.

“Don’t,” he shouted. She looked at the colourful stamp and thought for a moment about a colourful future, where it cost more than the price of a diner meal to mail a letter. Then she sliced the envelope open. Inside was a piece of white eight and a half by eleven paper, nearly blank. Thirty percent rag, she guessed, by its weight. Nothing special.

It read:

December 2, 2013 

Note to self: invest heavily in AlphaLink Genetics of Ames, Iowa. This company will win worldwide licence for Ebola vaccine manufacture. Epidemic to strike 2014, be planet-wide by early 2015. Hundreds of millions to die. Also invest in armament manufacturers, unbridled riots engulf planet.

ps, to anyone who might read this before me:

The future is as disappointing as the past. 

Wilshire

Dallas wept and mumble something about suing. Trudy Parr didn’t know what it meant. She and Dench read it three times, and all that made sense were the last words. The future is as disappointing as the past.

Trudy Parr thought, Halleluiah, brother.

Justice Weekley

Vancouver, 1949

Justice Weekley had had a wooden leg since the Somme, and had owned the shoeshine concession in the lobby of the Marine Building since 1930. If yours were shoes of distinction in the city of Vancouver, Justice had probably run a rag over them. His stand consisted of five seats. He employed two boys. But when sitting down, everyone hoped they’d have Justice Weekley shine their shoes.

Crispin Dench took a seat and placed his wingtips on the brass footrests. It was Monday at 2:00 p.m. Business would be slow until five. Dench had the whole stand to himself.

“Waddaya know, Justice?”

Justice Weekley looked at Dench’s shoes and shook his head. “This ain’t like you, Crispin. These shoes are a mess.”

“Been jumping backyard fences after the bad guys,” Dench said, looking around. “You got the Daily Racing Form?”

“Right next to you, between the chairs.”

“Ah, so.” Dench picked up the tab and began to read.

Justice Weekley went to work, rolling up Dench’s pant cuffs. He brushed off the surface soil, the debris of all those felonious backyards, and applied just the right amount of black Kiwi. Then he brushed again to bring out a shine. After that, he went to work with the rag, popping it now and again for effect.

“I hear Salamander in the third,” Weekley said, concentrating on the shoes. “To win.”

“I saw that written on the men’s room wall, Justice. Sure that isn’t where you got it?”

“You know better, Crispin.”

Indeed, Crispin Dench did know better. Justice Weekley was an excellent handicapper, and had track connections. Dench made a mental note. Then he said, “I like Call Me Catherine in the third. That filly’s been running real sweet lately. Three to one, though.” He made a face.

“They been dopin’ her up,” said Weekley. “It can’t last much longer. She’ll be doin’ a homestretch nosedive any day now.”

“That’s a shame.”

“That’s the horses in Vancouver, my friend.”

Dench nodded and turned a page.

“Had a guy drop off a pair of Allan Edmonds the other day,” Weekley said, smoothly changing the subject. “Soaked in this sticky rusty cakey stuff. Said he’d had an accident. Told me if I made ‘em like new again, and kept my mouth shut ‘bout it, he’d give a $20 tip.”

“Sticky rusty cakey,” Dench said, still looking at the racing form but no longer reading. “Sounds like melted strawberry ice cream.”

“Weren’t no ice cream.” Weekley gave the rag an extra loud pop.

“What was it, then?”

“Blood,” Weekley said, looking round for anyone who might overhear.

Dench let the racing form fall into his lap. “So, what you do?” he said.

“I did what he said. He came to get ‘em. He wasn’t happy.”

“Why?”

“Because they didn’t look like new. They just looked less sticky rusty and cakey.”

“He pay you?”

“He gave me fifty cents for the shine and a twenty dollar bill for a tip. Then he reminded me to keep my mouth shut. Said if I didn’t, he’d break off my good leg and feed it to me.”

“He seem the sort who could do it?”

“He seemed the sort who might try.”

“Why do you think he didn’t just throw the shoes out?”

“They were expensive. Besides, people got peculiar feelings for their shoes, especially tough nuts. It was like that in the east end. Don’t forget I had a stand there before here, on Commercial. I had some real Cosa Nostra types as regulars. I tell you, they loved their shoes. They’d bring ‘em in after this job or that, who knows what, but these characters weren’t any boy scouts. The shoes would look like they’d just done a shift on a slaughterhouse killin’ floor. But we’re talkin’ some fine Italian footwear, here. Make ‘em new again, Justice, they’d say. Where I come from, they ain’t got no shoes like these. Hey, they ain’t got no shoes! They’d say some shit like that, then laugh.”

“And?”

“And, so I got good at cleaning up shoes after this gumba or that had committed a capital crime. Sometimes I was successful, other times not. But they were always grateful that I tried. I told ‘em, get a pair of rubber boots. No one will know. No sir, they said. Lookin’ good is part of the job. The other thing I got good at fast was keepin’ my mouth shut. Cops came lots-a-times, asked me questions that could get me killed if I answered them. But I just played the dumb one legged shoeshine jerk. The mob boys appreciated that. Good tips at Christmas.”

“You think this character from the other day knew about your reputation?”

Before he answered, Justice Weekley made a performance of seeing his reflection in the toe of Dench’s shoe. He pretended to use the mirror-like result of his artful science to pick a crumb of something out of his teeth.

“He was from somewhere else,” Weekley said. “If he was mob, that is. The Vancouver Pisans would be peasants compared to this guy. He looked like a lawyer from upstairs. Expensive suit. Expensive tie. Hundred dollar shoes. No visible scars. But he had that flip my switch and see what happens look about him. I’ve seen it in a few of the east end boys, the ones that go A-Bomb real easy and cause a lot of sorrow. Oh, and the twenty bones he tipped me was American. He might be Chicago or New York, maybe even Toronto.”

“What’s street-side say?” Dench said.

“Street says there’s a guy in town, real cool and real nasty. But the street ain’t always right. Special job. I guess it’s a done deal now, judging by the shoes. He got into town a week ago. Whereabouts unknown. Seen on the sidewalk, a couple of bars. Matches the description of the fella we’re discussing.”

“Any local wacks?”

“That’s the thing. There have been three. Two Mafia wannabes who should have stuck to knockin’ over gas stations. And, wait for it…, Walter Catalano. If he done all three, then this guy’s giving a group rate. The bodies of the two wannabes were found under the bridge over the cut at Broadway and Commercial — old news, as they say. Each with a bullet in the head and heart.”

“But Catalano,” Dench said. “That can’t be. He’s way up there in the Vancouver Family. It’d be all over the news by now.”

“You know better,” Weekley said. “It’ll be all over the news if they ever find a body. Until then, and it might take a while for the dust to settle on this, Catalano’ll just be a missing person. The mob boys aren’t gonna say nothin’. They’re just gonna reciprocate, if they can. But for now ol’ Walter Catalano’s coolin’ his dead heels in some newly poured concrete foundation round town. This is all conjecture, of course. I’m just the shoeshine jerk.”

“Of course,” Dench said. “But just think of it. All of this linked to a single pair of bloody shoes you held in your own hands. You live an oddly charmed life, Justice Weekley.”

Weekley rolled down Crispin Dench’s pant cuffs, and ran two pinched fingers down the creases. “My life’s like a fucking dream, Crispin. And I gotta tell you, it’s Salamander in the third. Swear to God.”

Luck

Vancouver, December 1949

“That’s it for him,” she said, and nudged the dead man’s hand with the toe of her high heel shoe. Swing Richie now lay in state beneath a dim yellow lamp, on the oily rain soaked gravel behind the Army and Navy store on West Hastings.

Police Homicide Detective Olaf Brandt looked down at the body, his hands in his overcoat pockets. His right hand warming the cool blue steel of his auxiliary snub-nosed .32.

“Nasty throat wound,” he said. “Sure it wasn’t you that done this, Trudy?”

“Swing was a prick,” said Trudy Parr. “But he wasn’t worth killing.”

“Somebody thought he was. Why you here anyway? It’s 6:00 a.m.”

“I got the call this morning, round 4:30. Anonymous. A desperate sounding woman. Said Swing finally got his. Told me where to find him.”

“Abigale Neistrum?” Brandt said, referring to Swing Richie’s neglected fiancée.

“Maybe.”

Swing Richie was notorious for many petty transgressions. Having affairs behind Abigale Neistrum’s back was just one of them. Of late, his philandering involved a waterfront bar owner named Amelia Tedesco. Brandt thought he might have to have a talk with her about this.

“So, you don’t know the caller? I thought you knew all the crumbs in this part of town.”

“Not the way you do, Oly. I’m not with the constabulary.” She lit a Black Cat with a paper match, blew the match out and placed it in the cigarette package.

“Why’d she call you, then?” said Brandt. “Whoever it was.”

“Who can know, Oly? Life’s a mysterious room.”

Indeed it was, Brandt had to agree. He lit a cigarette of his own with his Zippo and inhale deeply. “The whole damn police force will be here any minute. This might be the biggest thing in this town since the Anglican Church picnic last August. You have anything else to say before they arrive? Like why you got the call at 4:30 a.m. and it took you an hour and a half to get here from the Sylvia Hotel in your Porsche?”

“Caller said he was dead. He wasn’t going anywhere. A girl’s gotta put on her face, Oly. Match her dress with her shoes. Choose the right scarf. It’s important to look good, even for the early morning troubles.”

Olaf Brandt looked closely at Trudy Parr for the first time that morning. He asked himself, not for the first time, why she was a private dick in a shitty little burg like Vancouver and not a fashion model or some rich man’s wife. She could be either. But neither would be right. That was made obvious by the way she stood over the body, calmly smoking, quietly doing the arithmetic of human wrongdoing. Was there any place in mannerly society for a retired spy? She’d just be spying there, too. Taking notes on the fat cats, and holding them in contempt. That was a fact.

“Then, once I got here,” Trudy Parr continued, “I had to find a pay phone to call your office.”

Brandt nodded. It sounded feasible.

Now a black Ford rolled up close to the both of them and stopped. There were two black and white cars behind it. The Ford sat still for a moment, engine running, illuminating the scene with its headlights.

“What heel with a badge did they send this time?” said Trudy Parr.

“Day shift’s still drinking coffee, eating their ham and eggs.” Brandt said. “It’ll be Detective Sergeant Regan. He’s senior officer on the Homicide night shift. We were in the office talking racetrack handicaps when you called in. So, he’ll be your heel.”

“Hmm.” Trudy Parr had dealt with Thomas Regan before. He was bastard, had a bad haircut, didn’t polish his shoes. A hopeful prospect in his youth who’d lost his hotshot gloss by the time he’d turned forty.

The Ford remained unmoving, its engine running.

“Is he getting out?” said Trudy Parr.

“Give him a second,” said Brandt. “He likes to make an entrance. Figures he owes the taxpayer a bit of radio drama.”

“Well, he’s pissing me off,” said Trudy Parr. She began to walk over to the Ford as the headlights went out and the engine stopped. She arrived at the driver side window and tapped on it. The window rolled down.

“You getting out to look at this, Tom,” she said. “Or should we bring the stiff over for you to see.”

“It’s Thomas,” Regan said. “Or you can call me Detective Sergeant Regan; that’s preferable. Only my mother calls me Tom, and she and I aren’t speaking.”

Trudy Parr said nothing in response, only stared at the bad hair. Regan smiled back.

“Alright, then,” he said, opening the Ford’s door and stepping out. “Shall we behold the deceased, and ponder the possibilities?” He proceeded to what was left of Swing Richie, and squatted next to it. “Dead,” he said, after a second of consideration.

Three cops from the marked cars arrived and quietly chuckled at the Sergeant’s observation.

“Police Detective Brandt,” Thomas Regan said, “why is this civilian loitering here? Isn’t it bad enough that it rained overnight and possibly washed away important evidence?”

“Says she was alerted to the crime by an early morning phone call,” Brandt said. “Came down to see, and then called us. You dispatched me ahead of you, and here we are.”

“Why didn’t you just call us from home, Trudy?” Regan said. “You could have gone back to bed and still be in dreamland.”

“I like a murder scene as much as the next guy,” said Trudy Parr.  “I called it in as soon as I knew it was legit.”

“You remove anything?” said Regan.

“You know better, Tom,” she said.

Regan looked up at her. She smiled.

“A private dick license doesn’t make you a cop, Trudy,” Regan said.

“No and thank goodness. I couldn’t live on what you make.”

Regan gave her a self-satisfied wink, as if to say you have no idea what a shady cop makes in this town. Then he said, “Last time I saw a throat cut like this was when you iced a bad guy in Chinatown. That makes you a double suspect, Trudy: you were here first and this is your modus operandi. Maybe we should take you in.”

Regan stood up, trying to look like he meant it.

“Just find the killer, Tom,” she said, and walked over to the red Porsche coupe parked several feet away. “And try to do it before Christmas,” she said at the door of the car.

Brandt and Regan watched her drive away.

“Bitch,” said Thomas Regan. “I want you to get her full account of this, understand? Lean on her a bit. See if her story changes.”

“Lean on her, boss?” Brandt said. He knew it wouldn’t work, even if he was inclined to do it.

*  *  *  *  *

It was 7:00 a.m. Crispin Dench sat in a booth at the Ovaltine Café, reading the morning paper and absently stirring a cup of coffee. Trudy Parr slid in across from him. He didn’t look up. She lit a cigarette.

“I hear Swing Richie’s no longer with us,” Dench said, still looking at his paper.

“Throat cut,” said Trudy Parr. “Out back of a cut-rate department store.”

“Don’t let that happen to me, will you,” Dench said, and turned a page.

“You’re indestructible. We proved that in Paris.”

“A guy’s luck runs out eventually. I hear you were the first one on the scene, after the killer. And that you had to deal with Tom Regan.”

“Bad luck in both cases. Say, you’re well informed for someone who slept in.”

“I’m a private investigator. People pay me to know things. For example, I know the fix is in at X-Park tonight, so I’m laying a yard on October Rocket in the fifth. October Rocket’s fifteen to one at present, odds likely to go up. You want in?”

“Not me,” she said flagging a waitress.

“You think it was Abigale Neistrum that called?” Dench said this as he looked up from his paper for the first time. “I’m right, aren’t I? It was her.”

“Yeah, but I told the cops I didn’t know who the caller was. And I guess she called me because I helped her out of a scrape once. She’s a delicate customer. Swing liked that about her. He could push her round when another woman might have….”

“Might have what?”

“Never mind.”

“She know what involving you means? That the cops might pin this on you?”

“I didn’t have to go down to that alley. I could have called it in.”

“That still would have made you Regan’s number one target. You going to see her?”

“Why should I? I’ve got files open that pay.”

“You know why. Because you’re the only suspect right now. And you intimidate Tom Regan. Don’t depend on him to do the right thing, to investigate thoroughly. He’d love to tag you with something like this.”

The waitress arrived with Trudy Parr’s usual, whole wheat toast and coffee. Trudy thought for a moment, sipping the hot black java.

“Fifteen to one, eh?” she said.

“May go higher,” said Dench.

“I’ve changed my mind. Put me down for fifty on the nose.”

“Done.”

  *  *  *  *  *

Trudy Parr walked with care. The path through the dead December garden, leading up to the decrepit boarding house, was a broken twist of ancient concrete. She climbed the stairs, entered and went to room number three. She knocked and the door opened. Abigale Neistrum wore a housecoat and had her hair up. Her left eye was swollen shut and her lip was cut.

“Did I wake you?” said Trudy Parr. It was afternoon now.

“Naw,” said Abigale Neistrum, taking in Trudy’s understated daytime style. “This is as glamorous as it gets round here.”

“May I come in?”

“It’s a mess.”

“I’ve seen messes before.”

“Fine.” Abigale stepped away and let Trudy in.

The room was shabby, a tattered easy chair near a window, an unmade bed and a hotplate. There were crookedly hung pictures of faded flowers on the wall and clothes flung everywhere.

“I can make coffee,” Abigale said, sounding unsure.

“This won’t take long.”

“They called me about Swing this morning, like they didn’t know I’d called you. Thanks for not saying.”

“What happened, Abigale?”

“He was a bum.”

“That’s understood.”

“He was seeing that Tedesco dame.”

“And?”

“And so I started seeing Verner Wilks, to spite him.”

“Verner Wilks?” said Trudy Parr. Now the story was getting a little too interesting. Wilks was bartender Amelia Tedesco’s bar. “Did Swing find out?”

“Yeah. He found out everything. Anything I did, he always found out. And if he didn’t like it, I got a slapped big time. I never got a break.”

“So you got slapped.”

“Uh-huh. He said people were laughing at him. Said I’d made him a cuckold. I had to look up what a cuckold is. I guess I did make him one. But he had it coming. And beating me up couldn’t make me stop seeing Verner.”

“So how’d he end up dead in an alley?”

“I shouldn’t say.”

“Well goddammit, Abigale. I’m the closest thing to a suspect the cops have right now. You want me to quietly hang for this?”

Abigale looked at the worn carpet.

“I know it wasn’t you, Abby. Was it Wilks?”

“Swing was following us. I guess he wanted a showdown.”

“Tell me about it.”

“It was round 3:00 o’clock in the morning. I’d waited most of the night for Verner in the all night café on Richards Street. Verner came and got me there, and we went for a walk. He said we’d get a cab back here, but first he just wanted to shake the smell of the bar off of his clothes.”

“How’d he end up in the alley?”

“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Tell me, Abigale.”

“He wanted to, you know, do it in the alley.” Abigale’s face reddened. “He liked doing it at night out in an alley. It was in public, even though it was dark and late. That made him hot, get it?”

“And that’s when Swing showed up?”

“It had started to rain real heavy. But Verner didn’t care. He had me against the wall. We were just getting warmed up, and I saw Swing come outta nowhere. He had a gun, that crummy little pearl handled .22 he packed. He held it ‘gainst the back of Verner’s head and cocked it. It made this clicking sound, way too loud for such a little thing.”

“There wasn’t any gun there this morning,” said Trudy Parr.

“No.”

“Then what?”

“Then Verner did something. I don’t know what, but he got turned round and belted Swing square in the jaw. Then the fight was on, and Swing was winning. They were on the ground, fighting in the rain. Swing was whipping Verner with the butt of his gun. Verner’s face was getting awful bloody.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothin’,” Abigale said. Her voice had gone soft, and she was wringing her hands.

“Really?” said Trudy Parr.

“Well, I had to do something. Swing was gonna kill Verner.”

“What’d you do?”

“I used my switchblade. The one I always carry.”

“To do what?”

“Ha! You know it’s funny how two fellas forget that a woman’s there when they go at it. Like she wasn’t never there to start. Like she just melts into the brickwork until one of them calls for her.”

“You mean you cut Swing Richie’s throat?”

“Yeah,” Abigale Neistrum said. She held her chin up and looked Trudy Parr in the eye for the first time. “I yanked that knife outta my purse, thinking of all the times Swing had beat the hell outta me. Then I walked behind him, reached round, and cut him wide open. I never knew a man could bleed like that. But the rain took care of it. His life ran down the alley and disappeared down the drain. I remember his hands holding the wound and him looking at me like he wanted me to take it back, the killing of him. But how could I? Why would I? Then he made this strange gargling noise for a few seconds and fell over. That’s when Verner came at me. He clouted the knife outta my hand and beat the hell outta me for buttin’ in.”

“You saved his life and he beat you up for it. That’s where you got the shiner….”

“Yeah.”

There was a loud knock on the door. It rattled and the doorknob twisted without effect. Abigale had locked it.

“You open up,” Verner yelled from the hall. “We gotta talk about what happened. You gotta go to the cops and tell ‘em I didn’t do it. They came by my room today and grilled me.”

The door rattled again, more violently this time.

“Let me in you bitch.”

“Go home, Verner,” Trudy Parr said to the door. “Don’t make this worse.”

“What the fuck’s she doing in there, Abigale? You whore.” The door rattled some more. Then there was a few seconds of quiet.

“Oh shit,” said Trudy Parr, like she knew what was next. And as she pulled the .38 automatic out of her purse, the door came crashing in. Verner Wilks stepped in too fast and punched her in the face. She went down and her gun slid out of reach, near the easy chair.

“Pull a fucking rod on me, eh?” said Verner Wilks. “I’ll kill you for that, you bet.”

Trudy Parr couldn’t get her hand on the .38 from where she lay on the floor. She tried to crawl to it, and Verner Wilks kicked her in the ribs. Then he walked over to the gun and picked it up.

“What’s a bitch like you got a gun for anyway?” Verner Wilks said, as he chambered a shell and aimed. “And you’re next, Abigale,” he said without looking away from his target on the floor. Then there was gunfire, and Trudy Parr felt for a moment like she was headed to wherever it was private detectives go when they finally ran out of luck. She hoped it wouldn’t be too hot.

But instead she looked up and saw Verner Wilks with a strange look on his face.

“They’ll hang you for sure, now,” he said, and fell to the floor where he quietly bled onto the carpet.

Abigale Neistrum stood in a corner of the room holding a pearl handled .22.

*  *  *  *  *

Trudy Parr sat in her office that evening, after being questioned by the police. She sipped a short glass of Glenlivet and smoked a Davidoff panatella. She was appreciating the quiet hiss of the traffic passing on the street below when Crispin Dench knocked and entered. He dropped a thick envelope of cash onto her desk.

“Twenty to one,” he said. “It wasn’t an elegant victory, but October Rocket won. You’re a lucky girl.”

She sipped and took a puff and said, “You have no idea.”