lost ironies

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Tag: Paris

an end to Paris part 2

read part 1 here
read part 3
here

July 28, 1945

He might have been a good uncle, sitting at his grand desk with his pipe, his broad face expressive in unguarded moments. But if one knew the truth, the terror and torture and how his cruelty and secret self-loathing eclipsed even that of Stalin’s, a person brought before him would either run or surrender without question, and hope for quick execution.

The small undernourished woman named Kisa Drugov knew this, as she was escorted into his office by two NKVD agents, and deposited into a chair facing him. He scratched away, writing memoranda with a quill tip pen, with the Great Leader’s large portrait behind him. Ignoring her until he was done, and finally putting down his pen and his pipe, he blew on the wet ink, and looked hard at her.

“You know,” he said, “I hate spies.”

The ghostly agent sitting to her left, Lieutenant Maxim Grekov, tapped her ankle once with the toe of his shoe, while remaining otherwise perfectly still and expressionless. It was code for her to answer remorsefully, and to at least try to squirm. Grekov knew Kisa Drugov was too unafraid and honest for her own good. He also knew where she’d been, and what she knew, and where she’d go with it if she were allowed. These were secrets whispered over vodka, by candlelight in a crumbling flat above a butcher shop on the wrong side of Moscow.

And now here they were. The obvious irony—blessing or curse—was that Grekov was the one ordered to bring her in.

Being summoned to 1st Commissar Slivka’s office was unusual. Having Kisa Drugov called in from active duty in Paris, even more so. Normally, Enemies of the People were simply made to disappear by night, without ceremony. Which was why Grekov usually worked on graveyard shift. And if Drugov was truly disgraced, hers would have been just another body in the Seine weeks ago. That was Joseph Stalin’s silently spinning lathe of terror, cutting continually.

It made this meeting a mystery. The Commissar must have caught wind of something.

Grekov’s plan was simple: to get her out alive, without Slivka ordering him to shoot her where she sat. Once that was accomplished, no matter what he was ordered to do, he would arrange for her escape. His fellow agent, Koshkin, who sat to Drugov’s right, was usually too drunk to pay attention. Even now, he was in a daze.

“I understand, Comrade 1st Commissar,” Kisa Drugov said humbly, at risk of saying too much too well. “Spies are liars, and selfish.”

“Yes they are,” the Commissar said. “Even Soviet spies, especially Soviets spies.”

One tap on her ankle.

“Yes,” she said, staring at her hands, “and I have lied in the past for purposes of my own aggrandisement.”

“That’s very honest of you. Good,” Slivka said. “We’re done here.” Waving his hand, and addressing Grekov, he said, “Torture her. See what she really knows, then put a bullet in her head.”

“If I may, Sir,” said Grekov, his belly boiling. “I believe, based on our best information, Comrade Drugov has established herself well within a network of operatives, both fellow Soviets and foreign, and is close to obtaining valuable information regarding a very secret American weapons research operation, supported by England and Canada. She’s very close to obtaining this information. It can be ours, if we return her to the field.”

“She lied about Leningrad,” the Commissar said.

Drugov had not lied about Leningrad, nor had any of the others who had signaled warnings. Comrade Stalin had simply ignored them, and as a result, the city had fallen under a Nazi siege of over eight hundred days.

“But tell me more,” said Slivka, now trying to light his pipe.

“It is a very powerful weapon, Sir,” Kisa Drugov said. “A single bomb able to destroy an entire city.”

“Nonsense.”

“One has already been detonated in the New Mexico desert, a test. There was a mushroom cloud several miles high, shock waves felt a hundred miles away.”

“Forget the torture,” Slivka said. “Take her into the toilet, and shoot her. Try not to make a mess.”

“But the war is ending,” Drugov said, too loudly for her own good, her fists clenched, nearly standing. “For all we’ve sacrificed, Russia may only get a few scraps of Europe in return. The West will take the rest, but not if we have this weapon.”

Now Grekov tapped her ankle twice, and she knew it meant shut up.

“Rubbish,” said the Commissar. “Now you’re lying to save your own life. Next you’ll be on the floor begging.”

“Of course I want to save my own life,” Drugov said. “What fool wouldn’t. But only so I can fight on.”

Grekov tapped again, harder. A kick, really. Kisa Drugov tried not to wince in pain.

“I want to save Russia,” she said. “Make it greater than any other nation, as much as anyone. And we’ve never been so ready, so well positioned, so well-armed. That can buy us time. We could detonate this bomb over New York, when we get it. We have the planes to deliver it.

“Don’t delude yourself, Comrade. Don’t think that Churchill and Roosevelt won’t order Allied forces to roll into Russia, once they’re finished with the rest of Europe. Even now, the Americans are infiltrating Germany and stealing the secret Nazi plans to their own bomb.”

Grekov gave up, and slouched in his chair.

“The West has never been so ready, either,” said Kisa Drugov, “so well positioned and well-armed. The Nazis are finished, and the US will use this weapon on Japan first. Of that you can be sure. Then us, if they can. That’s why with the Axis out of the way, there’s only one logical next step for us to take, Russia and the West. Both must establish new fronts, and fight on, against one another. We must finish it once and for all. If we don’t do it, and win, we’ll have nothing to show for our millions who have died. We need the bomb to assure our victory. I’m so close to acquiring the secrets, but time’s wasting.”

Slivka finally managed to relight his pipe, and blew a foul cloud of smoke.

“Tell me more,” he said. “Be brief.”

“A spy for the Americans says he has a copy of the plans,” Drugov said, “on microfilm. The blueprints and specifications. He’s 90% reliable—my estimation based on past dealings with him. He’s in Paris now, and he’ll sell to the highest bidder. That must be us. Then all we’ll need is the plutonium.”

“Plutonium?”

“Yes, it’s necessary. We can get Nazi uranium, and transmute it into what we need. But I must return to Paris. Now.”

“And what about these two,” asked Slivka, taking a different tack and a sheet of paper off of his desk, “Soho and Dillinger? How will you get round them?”

Kisa Drugov was startled by the question. “You know about them, sir?”

“Someday I’ll drown in a sea of all I know, Miss Drugov.”

“They’re incidental,” she said.

“I think not,” said the Commissar. “My intelligence tells me that they’re very effective, and quite deadly, for two people so invisible. Especially this Soho woman. Though she does seem to have lost her mind, no? But maybe that raises her to some divine next level. Even more dangerous, and invisible.”

“Yes, Commissar.”

“But you’re sorry for her,” Slivka said. “I can hear it in your voice, even though she’d happily cut your throat.”

Drugov remained silent. He left it at that.

“And what do you think, Lieutenant Grekov?” the Commissar said. “Since the two of you are so close, playing house together in that shabby little flat. And exchanging messages since little Miss Drugov was sent off to Paris.”

“I—,” Maxim Grekov began, then swallowed. Slivka had been toying with them all along.

“There are those in the Politburo,” he said, “who insist that there might be something to this. The General Secretary wants to see for himself, though. Have you a way out of Moscow, back to Paris, Miss Drugov?”

“Naturally.”

“Alright, but don’t fail to return with what you’ve promised. You still have family in Moscow, under surveillance. Gulag bait, or worse. And take Agent Grekov with you. He’d have to be shot if he remained in Moscow, since the two of you are so close. As for you, Grekov, you shoot this little bitch if she deviates from the plan.”

“What plan?” said Grekov, shifting in his seat.

“And no more pillow talk,” the 1st Commissar said. “This isn’t a honeymoon.”

“But I—,” Grekov stuttered again, wishing Slivka would actually drown in what he knew.

“Thank you,” said Kisa Drugov. “Soon the world will belong to Russia.”

“Yes,” Slivka said, “or it will be a mound of ashes.” He picked up his pen again. “Now get out, and have that bruised ankle of yours attended to, Miss Drugov.”

*    *   *    *    *    *

New Mexico desert, July 1945

The sad eyed J. Robert Oppenheimer drank coffee and read the New York Times in a booth at a diner on the highway outside of Albuquerque. He was already haunted. Little Boy and Fat Man were ready, waiting to be dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was late in the evening, and the faces of the ghosts yet to be, of those two cities were already peering at him, through the plate glass window. Their faces were bizarrely illuminated by a flashing neon sign.

Closing his eyes, he beheld his recurring vision. A little Japanese girl on the ground looking up, as she watches a silver bead falling in the sky. Wonder briefly sets in. Raijū, she says, a second before she is blinded.

Then for a moment, he meditates on the Sanskrit. He could smell Los Alamos on his skin. He would become the destroyer of worlds.

 

 

 

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I must agree, Mr Haddar

It troubled him, if he allowed it to, just how long it took to arrive again where once he’d briefly been, and where, from whence, he was cursed to depart again. It had taken long enough for him to forget things, details of creed and sect, how the mob required no prerequisites, no references or basic education, to tear a planet from its orbit. And here he was once more.

The news on the widescreen television on his office wall was sedate now, a ribbon of minutia running by beneath the talking heads, filling in the empty corners of the a.m. primetime cycle with newly manufactured memes and worn cliché. There was a slideshow behind them, frames of world landmarks slowly fading into one another, lighted or otherwise colourised, in blue white and red: A world mourns, it prays for Paris.

It was raining in Vancouver. The low cloud over Stanley Park made it a brooding day. He was a slender good looking man with a dark complexion. He pointed the television remote like a gun at CNN, and pulled the trigger. The screen went dark.

His office phone beeped.

“Yes,” he said, picking up.

“It’s Barry Winters,” his secretary said, “on line three, Mr Haddar.”

“I’m ignoring him,” said Saif Haddar. “Take a message.”

“I’ve taken four, already.” His secretary was a good and patient woman.

“He’s evil, you know,” Haddar said – evil in a Hollywood North sort of way.

“Yes, sir.”

He sat back and exhaled, everything from within himself, while twirling his computer mouse on its pad. The arrow always stopped on Vin Diesel’s doughy face. Haddar was on the actor’s IMDb page, and was losing at Vin Diesel roulette. How a mutt like him, in his dotage, remained associated with fast cars and sexy young women was a mystery to Haddar. But that was show biz. He checked his watch, seventeen minutes until his next appointment, ninety-three minutes to lunch. He consulted the daybook in his head. There were no lunch meetings.

“Has my next appointment come in early, by any chance?” he said.

“No, in fact they called to say they’d be late.”

“Shit.”

“I must agree, Mr Haddar,” said his secretary.

“Then put Winters on.”

“Yes, sir.”

Haddar listened for a second to the dim standoffish buzz of cloud farms and orbiting telecommunication satellite relays, then he pressed line three.

“Saif Haddar speaking,” he said.

“Saif, baby. It’s Barry Winters here. How does it hang?”

“There is nothing hanging here, Mr Winters. Please state your business. My next appointment is in two minutes, and I cannot be late for a very important lunch meeting.”

“Alrighty, then,” Winters said. “I hear you’ve got Vin Diesel’s agent coming in today.”

“Yes, I help her when he’s in town. She reciprocates when I need her to.”

“What’s it about, pal? New movie? You can tell me.”

“That information is confidential.”

“Ah, c’mon….”

“Is this why you called?”

“Naw, it’s about Felix Wheeler. He’s come over to our agency, now that his contract with you’s expired. I need you to send over his file.”

“No.”

“But I faxed you his signed release.”

“Then tell me what you need, and I’ll send you copies.”

“It’s his file, Saif ol’ buddy.”

“No, it’s mine, and you know it. He’s welcome to view it at any time. In fact it’s in storage at the moment, and it will be an effort and some expense for me to get it back to my office, but he need only make an appointment and I’ll bill you.”

“Jeez, that’s hardball, Saif.”

Haddar didn’t reply. There was nothing more for him to say. This was obviously an exploratory expedition on Winters’ part, focussed primarily on property acquisition. Haddar spun his mouse again.

“Well can you at least tell me what his last job was,” Winters said. “Felix says it was some Pixar thing, but I can’t find it on the web.”

“I got him a reading with them,” Haddar said. “He auditioned for Additional Voices in Up. He didn’t get it, though. His file went dormant after that. His last actual paying job through me was Customer at Checkout in a 7-11 television commercial. He almost got bounced for demanding a pink grapefruit Perrier rider in his contract. He is not worth the trouble, Mr Winters.”

“Call me Barry, Saif.”

“No.”

“So, that’s it then.” Barry Winters said. “You say Felix Wheeler’s more trouble than he’s worth, and you won’t send over his file.”

“That’s it,” Haddar said. “Now I really must go.”

Winters hesitated for a moment, and Haddar wondered if it was the shrewdly pregnant pause of an astute businessman, or if Winters had simply drawn a blank.

Then Winters said, “Say, you know, it’s really too bad about that whole Paris thing.”

“Paris,” said Haddar, flatly. So, there it was, on the first day of business after the fact. Had he been expecting this? Yes, he decided, he had. His therapist might even have suggest that he had asked for it, in some occult way worthy of her hourly rate. It had been bound to come up somehow, somewhere, and Barry Winters was just the buffoon to broach the subject.

“Yeah,” said Winters. “All that shooting last Friday, the bomb belts and shit. You must have heard.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mr Winters. Of course I heard. How does this relate to our conversation?”

“I just wanted to say that I sympathise, man. I mean, here you are an established and respected Vancouver businessman, and your people are over there shooting the whole goddamn place up.”

“My people?” Haddar sighed.

“Yeah, all them ISIS Muslim types.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” Winters said, “the ones with all the AK-47s, chopping peoples’ heads off. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got so many traffic tickets, sometimes I feel like going into traffic court wearing a bomb belt. See, I sorta get where your people are coming from, just not totally, really. Get it?”

“I don’t know any terrorists, Mr Winters, nor anyone remotely related in any way to ISIS. Besides ISIS is hardly Muslim. They slaughter more Muslims than anyone else. Surely you’ve discerned that much from the media coverage.”

“I’m just sayin’, buddy.”

“I really have to go, Mr Winters.”

He silently but bitterly thanked Barry Winters, as he hung up the telephone. Now there was the unwelcome knot in his belly, and he sensed the onset of a familiar flashback. This assault of memory had ended some years before, but potential triggers were legion of late. There was no logical self-defence, no safe territory to claim.

The memory was of the streets of West Beirut, 1982, where he grew up. A group of boys, a twelve year old Haddar among them, standing on a pile of rubble, throwing rocks at a platoon of militia soldiers. It was only a late afternoon distraction. They were playing childish warrior games. The soldiers, however, stood their ground, tense, with their automatic rifles at the ready.

Haddar and his friends laughed and shouted names, and were soon joined by three young men, strangers, maybe university students, each with a slingshot in his hand and faces covered.

Haddar and his friends stood and watched as the newcomers began firing stones at the soldiers, all of them missing at first. Excited, but not understanding the gravity of the attack, Haddar and company began collecting projectiles for slingshot ammunition.

A non-commissioned officer shouted for the slingshot shooters to cease. But they didn’t, and finally one of them hit a target, with a cue ball sized fragment of brick. A Private staggered, blood having sprayed from the region of his left eye, and he fell.

Immediately, the air was filled with Galil assault rifle fire, and Haddar’s friends began to fall round him. Then, he felt a burning shock to his arm that twisted him round, and he fell onto the rubble, facing an eleven year old boy named Adeem, Adeem who always won at chess and backgammon. He had a wide pulpy black wound to his forehead, his eyes opened wide but lifeless. As the gun fire and shouts of a Sergeant and a Lieutenant subsided, Saif Haddar closed his own eyes and lay very still.

The militia left, quickly and quiety. No one checked for survivors. In the end there were none, other than Haddar. After dark, he crawled away. When he looked back, he saw that all of his friends were dead. Tomorrow, his neighbourhood would be nearly empty of boys.

The bullet had only grazed his shoulder, and a doctor came to his house to dress the wound, and provided a course of antibiotics. Days later, an investigation concluded that Saif Haddar had been among the boys that afternoon.

The bulldozer had come at dawn, during the call to prayer, while his family slept. They barely escaped the crushing of their home. Now they were refugees, and shortly afterwards found themselves in Canada, where Haddar spent his adolescent years in a shock of rage and mental chaos.

But none of that was what woke him screaming in the night, or paralysed him in the day. It was seeing Adeem’s wide eyes and dark bottomless wound, again and again, that did that. Now sitting at his desk, he saw it clearly once more. He perspired and breathed deeply, having difficulty exhaling, and watched as his trembling hand picked up the phone.

“Yes, Mr Haddar?” said his secretary.

“Cancel all my appointments.”

“That may be difficult, sir.”

“Why, for goodness sake?” Haddar said.

“Mr Diesel and his representatives have just arrived. They’re in the waiting area. Mr Diesel is pacing; he won’t sit down.”

“But it was only supposed to be his agent and her assistant.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Shit!”

“I must agree, Mr Haddar.”

 

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 Foncie photograph

read the rewrite here

Vancouver, 1951 

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 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, smiling at Roscoe Finch. “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. It was a sunny day, and they both smiled 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. He knew it would be useless as soon as the Nazis surrendered. 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.

“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 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 across the desk at Finch.

“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.”

“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 cuttin’ 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.

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

“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.

As he came round the desk, Finch got an unexpected size six Chanel pump to the groin, and another 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.

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.”

Trudy Parr watched 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.

find out about Foncie Pulice here

the Persian rug

Vancouver 1949 

The Agent drank coffee at a lunch counter in the railroad station. He was young, casting a lonesome glow. The waitress had flirted, but he’d been cold. It wasn’t his training, but his inclination. She wasn’t a target, and therefore unworthy of notice.

He had made the telephone call, the one upon which all things hinged. Now he sat idle, in wait. He’d studied his target thoroughly, her image hung on a wall in the evening light of his mind. He’d try for a quiet kill, something restrained, close-in so that he could experience the life drain from her. Garrotting suited him best. Or a knife, so he could look into her eyes as she faded from the world. But a bullet wasn’t out of the question, either. He carried a .38 revolver, and hated it. It was a repulsive way to kill, the stuff of armatures.

His instructions were this: Wait three hours from the designated time. If she doesn’t appear, hunt her down, at her office first. She’d be there alone.

They said she was unpredictable, dangerous even. He was both those things, too. A small part of him wished he could have met her under different circumstances.

* * * * *

the offices of Dench and Parr Investigations

It came in the morning office mail, a parcel wrapped in brown paper and butcher string, the size of a detective novel. There was an envelope attached, held fast by cellophane tape. It had a Winnipeg post mark. Trudy Parr held the package in her hand for a moment, recognising the sender’s handwriting. She gave it a shake, something moved inside. Then she decided it could only contain bad memories, and dropped it into her inbox. The telephone rang.

“Dench and Parr Investigations, Trudy Parr speaking.”

“There’s a parcel in the mail,” a voice said. “It should be there by now. It should be on your desk, I reckon.”

“Who’s speaking?”

“Doesn’t matter. Open the package.”

“I know the handwriting on the label. It doesn’t match your voice.”

“The fellow who sent it to you, Bertrand Mosley, he’s dead. This is between you and me now.”

“Bertrand’s dead? How? Why?”

“Never mind that. Bertrand said you was a clever little Chiquita. It’s all about the parcel now, so get clever and open it up.”

“I don’t like your tone, buster. I think I’m gonna hang up and toss your package in the trash.”

A third voice came onto the line. “Another thirty-five cents for the next six minutes, mister.”

“Long distance,” Trudy Parr said. “Where you calling from?”

There was the sound of coins dropping into a slot and bells chiming.

“Where I’m calling from is immaterial. Open the package.”

“You just wasted thirty-five cents, boyo.” Trudy Parr hung up the phone.

Picking up the package again, she examined Bertrand Mosley’s flamboyant script. He’d been sweet to her, strange for a heartless, solitary killer. They’d met in Paris in 1943. He’d been notorious as an Allied spy. A homosexual ridiculed for his proclivities, but valuable for where they could take him. Could he actually be dead? She wondered how any of them, who’d been present for the slaughter, could still be alive. She cut the string and opened the envelope.

Dear Trudy, 

I hope this correspondence finds you well. I have landed here in Winnipeg, on my way to Montreal and then New York, after a brief time in your little city. Sorry I didn’t contact you, but I was on a selfish mission. Please take the contents of this package and proceed to the CPR Station to retrieve a certain asset of mine. It’s something I hold very dear, but that I can no longer have in my own possession. I hope leaving it with you doesn’t cause you any difficulties. I’ve been as stealthy as possible. I know I can trust you with it.

Say hello to that man of yours, Crispin Dench, the one you always claim is just a business partner. Well if you don’t want him, I certainly do.

TTFN,

Bertrand

PS: The package you’ve just opened contains one very valuable little item. I placed it there to spark your interest. It’s yours in payment for services rendered in this matter.

Trudy Parr tore away the brown paper on the package to reveal a blue box embossed with Tiffany & Co. She lifted the lid and found two objects wrapped in tissue. One was a locker key with the number 237. The other was a small red velvet pouch with a drawstring. She recognised it from what now seemed like another life, and picked it up and felt for the contents. It was exactly what she expected, a hard object, pointed at one end and flat at the other. She’d felt that shape before. Memories of Paris returned. She opened the drawstring and dumped the object out onto her desk. It wasn’t from Tiffany & Co., of course. That was just Bertrand’s sense of humour.

She wasn’t an authority, but she guessed it was flawless. And that there were more of them somewhere, unclaimed because they were lost to the world. Lost because Bertrand had made off with them, late in 1944.

“I have in my possession something very valuable,” Bertrand told her in a pub in London. It had been Christmastime, and she’d had just enough Jameson’s to feel a warm appreciation for the fairy lights strung across the bar.

“It’s something that I was able to smuggle back from Paris in a SIS satchel,” he said, sounding as though he were in Confession. “I’m telling you this now because in order for me to enjoy the value of this possession, I must disappear completely. The war’s all but over now anyway, and we spies will soon be made redundant. Besides, an ageing queen like me needs to know when to exit with dignity. But I didn’t want to disappear and have you think I finally got my throat cut. No, dear Trudy, this is a voluntary departure, and I wanted to wish you all of the best in your postwar post-assassin life. Though what it will mean for us is anyone’s guess. I feel like I’ll never be anything but what they’ve trained me to be, and what does a spy with a flair for silent killing do when the hostilities end?”

And it was in that moment at the bar, for the first time since the whole thing began, she wondered the same thing about herself.

It was an open question. Bertrand gulped back his gin.

Bertrand hadn’t said in the pub what his valuable possession was, but Trudy Parr had an idea. The two of them had handled some very valuable items a short time before, thousands of them at once in fact, just before they were extracted from Paris. It had been a special mission that included her, Bertrand and Crispin Dench. There’d been an astonishing number of the shiny little things. Each one either perfect or near perfect. Each one stolen and hoarded by the Nazi’s, then found and hoarded by the Allies. They’d been graded and inventoried. Trudy, Dench and Mosley were charged with bringing them to London, but their exit from Paris had been difficult and dangerous. And when they arrived in London, the actual count didn’t match the tally. Who could say why? War is chaotic, and the expectations of spymasters are often unrealistic.

Now she used her finger to roll the diamond round in a small circle on her desk blotter. It was over a carat, perhaps one and a half. And it caught the light from her office window in the way a diamond will. It was gorgeous. But she still wondered at the value of it versus its utility. The telephone rang again.

“You’ve opened it, I reckon.”

“’Reckon’,” Trudy Parr said. “That’s an American way of saying ‘I guess’, isn’t it?” As she said this, she quickly scanned a list in her mind of people she and Bertrand had in common.

“Maybe,” said the man on the line.

“And you have a slight accent. I’d say northern Illinois, near the lake. Chicago, right?”

“Don’t mess with me, Chiquita.”

“Are you calling from Chicago?” said Trudy Parr. “Is this extortion via long distance?”

“The locker that key belongs to,” said the man, “Mosley put a bag in it seven days ago. The locker has a seven day rental limit. Sometime within the next twenty-four hours, it’s going to be emptied out by train station management. That will complicate things for me.”

Trudy Parr reclined in her desk chair. “You know,” she said, “I used to know a mug that used words like Chiquita and reckon all the time. He was with the OSS, worked the Counter-espionage Desk outta London during the war. His name was Larry Flannigan, from Chicago. A real smarmy bastard with bad hair, used a cheap eau de toilette that really stank up the place. Is that you, Larry? Why are you calling me from a pay telephone in Chicago, why not your office? You’re with the CIA now, aren’t you?”

There was a moment of silence, faint clicks on the long distance line.

“I never liked you, Trudy,” Flannigan said, “you bitch. You’re arrogant, a loose cannon, not a team player, a liability.”

“And you’re a real company man, eh Larry? What do you drive now, a Buick? Not a Cadillac or a Lincoln, no no no, too showy. Got a nice little sports model for the wife to drive to the country club too, I bet. You’ve got a townhouse in the city and a country house just outta town on the lake shore, somewhere quiet where there’s still a few trees. And it’s all paid for with the war swag you stole on the job in London. That’s right isn’t it, Larry? And that crowd you run with now, they think you’re a bit of a poser, don’t they. They think you’re swinging above your pay-grade. But you don’t care. You’re way off their radar. You keep your savings under your mattress. And now it’s the Agency that matters, right? Your new source of potential loot.”

Another silent pause.

“Those are some good guesses,” Flannigan said. “You want in on this? I can cut you in.”

“You killed Bertrand.”

“Fuck Bertrand, we’re talking millions here.”

“I liked Bertrand.”

“He was a fucking homo. The world’s a better place without him.”

“What did you do? Did you cut him, shoot him, throw him in front of a subway car? Just tell me it was quick, you fucking bastard.”

“He had a heart attack, potassium chloride and calcium gluconate. He died fast, in a New York City bath house. Now can we get on with this?”

“So how was this caper supposed to play out, Larry? Was I supposed to cheerfully mail you the goods when I got them? You’ve got a shadow up here waiting for me to retrieve the bag, don’t you? I’m your last chance at the ice, and once I’ve got it, I’m dead.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Why did you call me, Larry? You needed to know that the key had actually arrived, didn’t you.”

Trudy Parr got up from the desk and locked her office door.

“You’re sending your boy up right now,” she said, “you sick fuck. You should know me better though, Larry. It’s your job to know better. I don’t die easy. Why didn’t you just have your man pick the lock?”

“I know you’re alone up there, Trudy. Dench is following up on a missing person case, and your secretary’s off with a cold. That’s why you answered your own phone.”

“That will be thirty-five cents for the next….” — the third voice again.

“Fuck!” – the sound of coins dropping and bells chiming.

Suddenly there was a sound in the outer office, a door opening and closing. Trudy Parr listened. The Agent stepped into the reception area, appreciating the well kept Art Deco surroundings.

“You still there, Trudy?” said Flannigan.

She didn’t answer Flannigan. She listened.

“He’s there, isn’t he?” Flannigan said. “So, it’s too late for dealing. Make it easy on yourself, Trudy. He’s a good man. His name is Malcolm Corey. He’s a family man, goes to church every Sunday. He’ll shoot you clean in the heart, no strangling, no rape, no torture. One bullet, I promise. CIA agents are a new breed, respectful, sane, squeaky clean. They’re sharp, though. He’s been briefed on you. That straight razor shit ain’t gonna work on him.”

Trudy Parr pulled a .45 and clip out of her desk. She put down the receiver and loaded the pistol, and picked up the receiver again.

“Did I just hear you loading a gun, Trudy?” Flannigan said.

“Damn straight.”

“Well now you’re just being wilful. This is why I hate the whole idea of lady spies.”

“Wrong again, Larry. I ain’t no lady, and I’m not a spy anymore. I’m just a citizen who enjoys protecting herself.”

The doorknob turned slightly.

“I’m putting the receiver down now, Larry. I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Ahh, Trudy, this is so unnecessary….”

Trudy Parr’s name was painted neatly across a frosted window in the upper half of her office door. The Agent was crouching low beside it, not in front, trying the doorknob. Locked, a small obstacle, but it meant a silent kill might be out of the question. He pulled his revolver.

From behind her desk, she guessed at the Agent’s approximate location, took aim and squeezed the trigger. She fired three times, the bullets flying through the wall above the crouching Agent’s head.

She listened for a body falling to the floor, but the gun fire was deafening. The kill was unconfirmed.

She knew that if he was still alive, in a second, the door would come crashing in. She reached under her desk. There was a straight razor there; there was always a straight razor there, held in place with two strips of masking tape. She pulled it free and, lacking a better place, secured it under her dress in the top of her stocking.

Then she saw the Agent’s silhouette through the frosted glass The door came crashing in, and she took refuge behind her desk heavy oak desk.

He was in her office now, silent but moving. She’d been trained this way, too. Never be still. Never stop listening. Use your instincts. Feel the room and its hidden target on your skin. Given a choice, a man will instinctively move to the left when he enters a room, a woman to the right. Don’t count on it, however, when dealing with a trained assassin. He may move neither left nor right, but in a straight line, over obstructions as best he can. Listen for his breath, his clothing, moving on his body, his body against the walls, the drapes. Listen for footfalls, the floorboards.

She did that now, and heard all of those things. It was like radar. Then, a familiar creak in the hardwood to her left. But the Agent heard it too, beneath his foot, and he fell and rolled left, all the time aiming in Trudy Parr’s general direction.

She crawled left also, to the other end of the desk. Timing was everything now. She grabbed the wastepaper basket and threw it over the desktop. The Agent was on his knees, saw the basket and fired. He reproached himself immediately, as Trudy Parr thought he might. It was the error of a novice. Now she had only a split second. She struggled to her knees, firing twice at the Agent over the desk. The first shot went wide, the second hit the mark. The Agent spun backward, onto the floor.

She ducked back behind the desk. It was quiet now. The post gunfight quiet she always found disconcerting. It meant someone was dead, or dying. She stood up, maintaining her aim. But blood pooled round the Agent’s body on the Persian rug. A good sign, the living don’t bleed like that.

Cautiously, she stepped toward him, kicking his revolver away. Then she knelt next to the body, feeling the neck for a pulse. The pulse of a dying man could be very hard to detect. Did she feel something there, some beat of life? She decided to back off. It was the wrong time for conjecture. She’d call the cops, and watch him until they arrived.

Standing, she turned toward her desk telephone. She’d have to hang up on Flannigan, but that didn’t happen. The Agent grasped her ankle. She looked down and saw he’d pulled a knife, and moved her foot enough for it to miss by less than an inch. His grip remained strong, in spite of his condition. Trudy Parr kicked him in the face with her free foot. He recovered quickly and reached up, grasping her dress and pulling her down. When she hit the floor, she released the .45 and it spun out of reach.

“Fucking bitch,” the Agent hissed, swinging his knife, cutting her cheek.

Her eyes narrowed as her hand went to the wound. She took it away and saw blood.

“Not so pretty anymore,” he said, and swung the knife a second time.

This time he missed and loosened his grip on her ankle. She pulled herself away and scrambled for the gun. But he grabbed her ankle again and pulled her back. In seconds, with the macabre strength and agility of a rapidly dying man, he had an arm around her and the knife to her throat.

“We die together then,” he said, tightening his hold. “Go ahead and struggle. I like that.”

Trudy Parr felt the keenness of the blade on her throat, and knew she may have lost the last fight of her life. But then her hand fell onto the razor in her stocking. She reached under her dress and pulled it out, giving it a shake to release the blade from the handle. Then she sliced the strong arm holding her against the Agent’s fading body.

“Fucking bitch,” he yelp as the razor cut in.

She’d escaped, but the Agent lunged toward her once more, and she swung the razor as he did. Aiming well, she opened his throat. The wound went deep. He grabbed at the gash that bubbled as the blood spilled. There was a peculiar look in his eyes. She’d seen it before. He wasn’t used to loosing to a woman.

Trudy Parr stood up again and looked down at him. Soon, he’d most certainly be among the confirmed dead. But she lamented the loss of the Persian rug, upon which he bled.

After a moment, she heard what sounded like frantic whispering and picked up the telephone receiver.

“You still there Larry, you bum?”

“Where’s my fucking agent?”

“He’s bleeding to death on my 600 knots per square inch Persian, you bastard.”

“You killed an American, you bitch,” Flannigan said. “We’re coming for you.”

“Go ahead, send in the Marines,” Trudy Parr said, picking up the locker key. “I’ve gotta get down to the train station.”

Standish returns

a Parr and Dench action adventure

Vancouver 1949

She’d been thinking of noble acts that morning. There was a .40 calibre round in her hand. She felt its weight. How many noble acts could a person commit in a single lifetime? Not many, she thought. Not enough. It all came down to a scarcity of opportunity, she supposed. And when opportunities presented themselves, how many people rose to take advantage?

The phone rang and she glanced at it. Maybe this was an opportunity. Unlikely, she knew. She was in the wrong business for noble acts. She answered on the third ring. “Parr and Dench Private Investigations, this is Trudy Parr.”

“Overseas call from Monsieur Percival Archambault for a Mr Crispin Dench,” an operator said.

“Mr Dench isn’t available. I’m his business partner. I can take the call.”

There was a faint click on the line, and then, “Trudy?” It was a man with a heavy Parisian accent. Trudy Parr could hear jazz playing in the background. “You’re still there in Vancouver?” the man said. “Why is it you remain in that tiny mud puddle when the world awaits you? I’ve opened a club here. A little underground establishment. For lonely European ex-pats. Very off the radar. Come and be my protégé.”

“You!” she said. She began fishing a Black Cat out of a package on her desk. “Percy the fucking Albino. You’re the last sorry SOB I needed to encounter this morning. And Percy,” she said lighting her cigarette, “I’m no one’s protégé.”

“That is nicely feisty of you, Trudy. But isn’t it Dench and Parr Private Investigations? What is with the Parr and Dench malarkey?”

“It’s Parr and Dench when I answer the telephone, brother. What’s on your mind?”

“I am telephoning you from Algiers.”

Algiers. Well, wasn’t that just like Percival Archambault. The pale man who’d graduated from la Résistance after the war to become an all-star Nazi hunter. He plied his new found trade worldwide, under many aliases and fronts. His establishment in Algiers was probably flypaper for Vichy and Nazis escaping justice.

“Huh, I didn’t know the Dog stopped there.”

“Very clever, and don’t call me Percy.”

“It’s your name, Percy.”

“Not of my choosing, and you know it offends me. Please don’t antagonise an old friend on an overseas line. It could be cut at any moment by a runaway trawler, and my last memory of this call would be of your fiercely unfeminine and completely unattractive scorn and cynicism. By the way, I just purchased that apartment building in Paris where you lived while you spied against the Nazi cause. I’m having the Rococo restored.”

“I’m sure that’s very popular in the more flamboyant quarters of the city.”

“You are correct. And though I do not share in their love of the same sex, give me homosexual tenants any day. They’re very reliable rent payers and obsessively tidy, when they’re not slicing one another up with stilettos over wallpaper patterns, that is. Why don’t you move back? Leave that smoky latrine by the sea behind. You can have your pick of the flats, perhaps the penthouse with the dining room view of the river. You can relive the romance of eluding the Gestapo and having a freehand to castrate any man who looks at you the wrong way. Now, where is Crispin? It is to him that I really must speak.”

“He’s in his office with a client, and doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Surely you can interrupt him for me, can’t you?”

“No. And whatever it is, you can discuss it with me.”

“Now Trudy, you know that I don’t discuss business with the weaker sex. A young lady such as yourself was created for nobler pursuits than chasing after the dreary world of masculine endeavours.”

Nobler pursuits, she thought. Noble.

“Fine by me, mister.” She hung up the phone and looked out of the window onto Hastings Street. It took a moment, but the phone rang again.

“Overseas call from Monsieur Percival….”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Trudy Parr. “Put the monkey through. Hello, Percy.”

“You’re wicked.”

“I’m a busy woman.”

“I recognise your intransigence; it is all too familiar. Since you’re so rigid, I will confide in you. Though I do so in protest. It’s about that Standish fellow. You remember him? The double agent on your 1942 target list.”

“What about him?”

“Word is that he’s re-emerged. Back from the dead. Been seen in Paris. Said to be living in an old haunted mansion on the outskirts. Appropriate for an evil emissary, no?”

“And…?”

“Well,” Percy said, “I thought Crispin would want to know, considering Standish was supposed to be one of his most celebrated kills of the war.”

“That was propaganda,” she said. “Crispin never claimed Standish as a confirmed kill. There was a car fire and there was someone in the car. Standish was the intended. We never knew for sure whether it was him, though. But he’d disappeared when it was all over, so people assumed it was a done deal. Crispin and I never did. The SOE played fast and loose with the truth of it because those were dark days. They needed a fairytale to tell Churchill. ”

“Reliable rumour is that he’s back, notwithstanding. He’s playing the recluse, but making his presence known through proxies. He’s asking after the two of you, none too delicately. Paying money for information.”

“We’re in the Yellow Pages.”

“Yes, and I sense that he’s only just begun his search. Paris was a natural place to start. But my information is already out of date. He could be on an Air France flight even as we speak.”

“I’ll mention it to Crispin.”

“If I didn’t know you better, Trudy, I’d say you were being entirely too cool about this. Standish is a dangerous customer, you know. But then, so are you. Do you still slash them up with your trusty little straight razor?”

“Only if they’re naughty.”

“I’ve thought often of what it would be like being naughty with you. So, now I know. Disappointing.”

“This call is costing you big time, Percy. And I have work to do. You have anything else to say?”

“Do not worry about the cost of the call. I’ve found a way of redirecting charges to the local constabulary. Modern communications technology is a wonderful thing. Still, I’ve said all there is to say. Good-bye, Trudy Parr. But do give the Paris apartment some consideration. I’m willing to offer you below market rent. Your presence there would add a certain iniquitous mystique.  Your reputation lingers in the city like a fine perfume, after the lady has gone.”

“Ciao, Percy.”

She hung up the telephone. And as she did, there came a familiar collage of ugly uninvited images. She’d often wondered if another person could have endured them. She wondered if she could. Even on a good day, the smallest thing triggered them. An unexpected telephone call from the Albino made it all come back at once.

A busy intersection in Paris. A 1939 Citroën sedan burning from the inside out. The man in the driver’s seat. Barely conscious, stunned by the detonation that caused the flames. But not yet dead. Pawing in vain at the blackening windows. His fingers charred and bleeding. His face blistered and twisted. His eyes wet and too bright. They examined her as she stood by, watching it all. Playing the civilian. Until she walked away. Wanting to witness no more.

He’d looked like the man, codenamed Standish. They’d tracked him for weeks. This should have been a textbook kill. But the car bomb was a little extra polish. A little fiery icing on the cake. Suggested from on high to drive home the idea that no one was safe. No one was too clever to avoid detection and elimination. Not even someone like this man. But was it this man? An eighty-five percent chance of certainty, she figured. Not good enough by her standards. She knew Dench would have preferred a simple garrotting in some dark and lonely place. It was only when you got in close and saw the life fade from their eyes, felt their last exhalation on your cheek, that you really knew for sure. That was her training and her experience. This botched sideshow was the Special Operations Executive showing off. The blast wasn’t even strong enough to kill the target outright. No dead non-combatants littering the surrounding area, the SOE had said. So, a proper charge of TNT had been out. Sloppy. Unprofessional.

She walked across reception to Crispin’s office. No matter how cool she’d played it on the telephone, Percy’s news was significant. She stopped when she got to Dench’s door. From inside, she heard the sound of a scuffle and a muted feminine whimper. Then a giggle. Trudy Parr knocked.

“Everything all right in there?” she said.

“Ah, yeah,” Crispin answered. “Just a second.”

There was more scuffling and the voice of a woman asking for her shoe. Then a yelp and suppressed laughter.

“Hey, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said, “you know, I can go for lunch. Office business can always wait ‘til later.”

“No!” said Dench.

The door opened, and there he stood with his tie askew and his hair needing a brush. There was a red smudge on his cheek. A young woman stepped out from behind him, straightening her skirt and trying to attach her hat to her slightly undone hair with a hatpin.  The seams of her stockings were crooked. Trudy Parr cocked an eyebrow. The young woman smiled awkwardly and exited the offices of Dench and Parr.

“Tough client?” said Trudy Parr.

“Had me on the ropes,” said Dench with a smirk.

“Percy the Albino called.”

“Really?” Dench said, straightening his tie. “I thought he was just a Paris apparition.”

“He’s real enough. Says Standish is poking round. Last seen in Paris. Apparently on our trail.”

“That’s almost impossible.”

“Almost?”

“We got him, didn’t we?”

“You believe your own press all of a sudden?”

Dench paused a moment to think. Then he said, “Part of me asks why he’d bother. The war’s over. The bad guys lost. Another part of me says vengeance would be logical in his case. Hell, maybe we even have it coming.”

“I don’t speculate on motivations, Crispin. I’m just telling you what Percy said. And Percy’s skinny is gold.”

 * * *

A hired limousine pulled up to the Hotel Vancouver, and a dark man wearing a silver silk suit got out. A Moroccan by the name of Harrak. He arranged for the retrieval of luggage from the boot of the car and then entered the hotel to check himself and his employer in. Only then did the man who remained sitting in the back of the limousine get out and enter the hotel. Despite the springtime warmth, the man wore a scarf over his mouth and nose, and his hat was pulled low on his head. He wore sunglasses and gloves, and had the wide lapels of his overcoat pulled up to hide his face.

Their suite was on the tenth floor. They rode up in a private elevator car.

When they entered #1005, Harrak took his employers scarf, hat and coat. But the mysterious man kept his gloves and sunglasses on. Then Harrak opened a satchel and removed a bottle of absinthe, a bottle of spring water and a small collection of necessary items.

“The water will be warm, sir,” Harrak said.

The man had taken an overstuffed chair next to a picture window. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Please hurry.”

Harrak placed a parfait glass on a sideboard and poured a substantial shot absinthe. Then he laid a slotted spoon on the glass and a sugar cube upon the spoon. He poured the spring water over the sugar cube, stirred, and then delivered the drink to the man in the chair.

The man gulped it down. “Another,” he said. The next one he sipped slowly while viewing the city’s north shore mountains. “It’s beautiful here. European cities have their appeal, but this is very nice.”

The sunglasses he wore stood in contrast to his pallid, scared complexion. His head and face were ghostly landscapes of once melted skin, now solidified into a horribly furrowed, misshapen mass. He struggled to sip his cocktail with his sneering, misshapen lips.

“Any word on our two friends?” he said.

Harrak came and sat on a nearby couch with a city business directory in his hands. He read as he ran his finger down columns. Then his finger stopped.

“Here,” he said. “Dench and Parr Private Investigations, Fifteenth floor of the Dominion Building, 207 West Hastings Street. They are incorrigible. They make no effort to disguise themselves.”

“They are incapable of shame,” Harrak’s employer said. His was a British accent, his words slurred by way of his injuries. “They were on the winning side when the war ended. For that, they believe wholly in their innocence. I hate them,” he said, struggling to sip.

“I have arranged for a car,” Harrak said. “We must kill the woman first.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said the man after a moment. ”But is that because she is a woman? Don’t be fooled, my friend. She will not be so easy to execute. Several have tried. They are all in their graves. In many ways, she’s more quick-witted and dangerous than her sly partner. But at times, she does demonstrate a rather shaky grasp on reality. It can be her greatest strength, however. I observed her at work in wartime Paris, and saw often enough how she delighted in her killing. The act of it seemed to put her in some bizarre ecstasy. Now, however, with no war to fight, no state sanctioned victims to assassinate, she exists precariously on the very edge of what is considered civilised.”

“What you describe, Mr Standish…. It is madness.”

“Indeed, it is.”

* * *

She lived near the Park, at the Sylvia Hotel. And she had walked there that evening from the office. It was after 10pm. She sat on a park bench beneath a street lamp, across from the hotel on Beach Avenue. Cargo carriers were islands of incandescence on the bay. It was the dark quiet she enjoyed, punctuated by the occasional passing car or the cry of a gull.

She thought of the slow moving car that had shadowed her during parts of her stroll home, and considered the possibilities. Standish would be wrong to imagine she’d been made careless and complacent by her relatively new and comfortable life. But Crispin may have been correct; Standish was now driven by vengeance. And she knew that vengeance enslaved the assassin.

She lit a cigarette, and confirmed as she did, that she was carrying the stubby .40 calibre automatic she’d taken from the office safe. There were two extra clips, as well. Satisfied, she looked back out onto the water.

It was a long black Packard that stopped at the sidewalk behind her. She continued to smoke, seeming relaxed and absorbed. A car door opened and closed, as she had imagined it would. He should have just shot her without even getting out of the vehicle. Standish had become sloppy. In a moment, he was sitting next to her, in his hat, overcoat and sunglasses. He placed an orange can on the ground next to him and folded his gloved hands serenely on his lap.

“At first you were difficult to locate,” he said. “I assumed, incorrectly, that you had concealed yourself. I was looking under rocks when I should have been looking in a phonebook or in the back of cheap newspapers where cheap private detectives advertise. You’re an arrogant bitch, aren’t you? And Crispin Dench is a conceited rogue. You were both lucky in Paris, you know. Your run of successes was beginner’s luck. But you failed to kill me, because you were amateurs.”

“It was a bad plan,” Trudy Parr said, snuffing out her cigarette with her shoe, “made up by people who’d never worked in the field. We were following orders. We never made that mistake again, believe me. But the outcome was solid. You disappeared for the rest of the war. That’s all London wanted.”

“But can you imagine the pain of being burned alive?” Standish said. His gloved hands now in tight fists. “Of surviving it only to look like this? Convalescing on the run. No hospital or medical attention. Fearing discovery by both sides. Enmity the only thing keeping me alive.” He removed his hat and sunglasses. His eyes grotesque and glistening. His face had a molten appearance in the dim street lamp light. His lips unable to close over his broken teeth. His nose partially burned away. “I saw you walk away that day,” he said. “An act of a coward.”

“I wasn’t being paid to watch you roast,” Trudy Parr said. She reached into her purse and clutched the automatic.

“Not so fast,” Harrak said. He stood behind her and drove the muzzle of his handgun into the base of her neck. Then he leaned over and took the gun out of her bag.

“Who’s the coward now, Standish?” Trudy Parr said. “Bringing a hired gun to do your killing.”

“Not a coward,” Standish said. “Just semi-retired. Harrak is a very capable accomplice. We met in Morocco after the war had ended. He pitied me at first.”

Harrak said nothing.

“I can no longer enjoy a cigarette, you know,” Standish said, standing up. “My lips cannot close tightly enough to adequately draw in the smoke. It is a small thing, really. I have replaced that vice with absinthe and morphine. Morphine being a habit I developed while in recovery. But I still carry some of the accoutrements of smoking.” He dug his hand into a pocket and pulled out a silver cigarette lighter. He held it out for Trudy Parr to see. “It’s platinum, you know. I retrieved it from the body of a fellow British spy whose throat I cut back in 1938. He’d been all in a tizzy about the potentialities of Germany invading Poland. He carried information that may have put an end to Hitler’s little plan. I’d been paid to make certain that that information didn’t get into the wrong hands. Or is it the right hands? It’s so hard to keep track of these things when you’re working both sides of the fence. He died, at any rate. And I got his satchel of secrets, and this little treasure.”

He lifted the cap and ignited the wick to demonstrate how well it worked. “You see? Fully functional.” Then he bent down and picked up the orange canister, holding it aloft for her to see. “It’s petrol, my dear. I brought it along for a bit of fun. Because you’re so lacking in necessary empathy, I thought I’d teach you a lesson. It’s high-test, you know. Nothing but the best for Trudy Parr.”

“Why don’t you just shoot me and have done with it?”

“No, no, my dear” Standish said, unscrewing the lid. “I intend to see you dance.”

Harrak grabbed her collar and held her down as Standish began to pour the fuel over her.

“You’re such a little thing,” he said, holding the can up shaking it. “I brought too much.” He put the can down next to him. “Now we’ll just let it soak in a moment. No one would blame you for begging for mercy. But you won’t, will you my dear.”

“Fuck you, you underdone pork chop.”

“I say! There’s eloquence for you, eh Harrak.” Standish sparked the lighter. “Under done pork chop! That is a good one, indeed. But now it’s time to light your night on fire. Good-bye Trudy Parr.”

Standish held the cigarette lighter over Trudy Parr with mocking daintiness, between his thumb and forefinger. She stank of gasoline. The yellow light of the flame sparkled against the deep blue of her eyes. She smiled and calmly said, “I’ve been ready for this all of my life, pork chop. Do it and I’ll see you on the other side.”

Standish hesitated a moment and said, “Be sure to step away when the moment is right, Mr Harrak.”

Then there was the blunt pop of a silenced high calibre automatic weapon. Harrak’s head exploded, spaying blood and grey matter onto Standish’s face. He shook his head like a man emerging from a pool of water, splattering blood and gore onto Trudy Parr.

“What the bloody hell….”

Trudy Parr stood and ran.

“Put the lighter down, Standish,” Crispin Dench said. “Fun’s over.” He stepped out from behind the Packard.

“It took you long enough,” Trudy Parr said. “You son of a bitch, what were you waiting for?”

“Hey, it’s not like you told me you were going to just sit and wait for the bastard. And let me tell you, it was a toss up between hitting the bars and looking for Miss Right tonight and coming here to make sure you weren’t sitting on a park bench ready to play Joan of Arc.”

“Well,” Standish said. “Anytime you two are done….”

“Blast him, Crispin!”

“I’m not sure that’s the fix here,” Dench said.

“Well, what the hell is?”

“Something more in keeping with the current set of circumstances,” Dench said. He walked over and snatched the cigarette lighter out of Standish’s hand. “You were a victim in Paris, Standish. I’ll give you that. But you were a bad guy before that ever happened and you’re a bad guy now. I figure there’s justice in finishing what we started.” Dench swung and hit Standish on the side of head with the butt of his .45. Standish went down. Then Dench picked up the gasoline can and splashed some on the prone man’s body. “That’s for treating my friend over there so poorly.” He splashed more onto Standish, and said, “That’s for working for the fucking Nazis.”

“That might be a bad idea, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said. “Even for this crumb.”

Now Dench held the gasoline canister up side down and poured the rest of its contents over Standish. And that’s for being so fucking ugly.”

“Don’t do it Crispin,” said Trudy Parr. “The cops are probably on the way.”

“Let ‘em come. I’m sick of bastards like this disturbing my sleep.”

Dench sparked the cigarette lighter and tossed it onto Standish. Standish was quickly bathed in flame.

“No!” Trudy Parr yelled, struggling to her feet. She ran toward Harrak’s body.

Standish was suddenly pulled from unconsciousness, eyes wide, and began screaming. He stood somehow and embarked on a gruesome dance, jerking and slapping himself, as his personal inferno consumed him.

Dench’s face was impassive, illuminated by the flames.

Then there was a gunshot and Standish fell to the ground. His body continued to burn.

“That wasn’t your greatest moment, Crispin,” Trudy Parr said. She was holding a smoking gun.

“I know it.”

* * *

The sun rose the following day and the papers were full of news about unidentifiable bodies in StanleyPark.

She spent a moment pondering noble acts again. But only a moment. There was an open missing person file on her desk and clients waiting outside of her office.

She also gave a moment over to the consideration of an offer of an apartment in Paris. In a neighbourhood that held a certain unsavoury allure.

doppelgänger fantasia part 5

Read part 1 here, Read part 2 here, Read part 3 here, Read part 4 here

Paris July, 1944

Round midnight. There was an air-raid siren in the distance. He entered through the alley door, climbed three flights of stairs and walked the corridor maze to her door. He was a tall rangy man whose face seemed always to be in shadow. He knocked.

“Oui?” came the quiet pensive voice from within.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle.”

“What the hell…?” She opened the door part way. “Your can’t be here. Beat it.”

The tall man, Henry Caine, American OSS, pushed his way in. The apartment was dimly lit with candles and a Tiffany desk lamp. There was a Boldini on one wall, a Picasso on another. “Ah, my Soho,” he said, removing his hat. “So distant and haunting. Please close the door. We have to talk.”

“No, we don’t,” said Trudy Parr. She was dressed in a pale blue silk kimono. She closed the door. “I’ve been instructed not to talk to you. We shouldn’t even be seen together.”

“Those instructions are dated,” Caine said, lighting a cigarette and handing it to her. “The Nazis are old news in Paris. The elephants are in the trees.”

She accepted the cigarette. “Perhaps the Nazis don’t share your point of view.” She drew on the cigarette then looked at it. It was a Camel.

“They wouldn’t, would they,” he said. “But isn’t that always the way with an extinct species. They’re already looting the city. The swag trains heading into Switzerland are overflowing.”

“You’re risking our lives to tell me that?”

“No,” he said. He lit a second cigarette for himself, removed his coat and sat in a Royère chair. “It’s about Doppelgänger. That thing the Nazis are doing in Lyon, at the École polytechnique, with anomalistic microwaves. You know what I mean. Anyway, I understand the Russians want it when the fracas ends. Just because the Germans stole it from them, like that still means anything now. Point is, the English are willing to role over and let them have it. Something about sharing the spoils and all that. But I’ve decided that ain’t in the cards.”

“What have I got to do with it?”

“Two things, actually. First, in time, you’ll tell them in London that I’ve decided that the Russians can’t have Doppelgänger. We’re probably going to give them a piece of Germany and Berlin. And they should be damn glad we are. The US army’s rolling now. We could take it right into Moscow if we liked.”

“Tell them yourself,” said Trudy Parr. “Have someone stateside do it. I’m not your monkey.”

“They don’t know stateside,” Caine said. “Maybe I don’t want them to know, not yet anyway. I just decided this last night. It’s a field decision, get it? When things start happening round here in a few weeks, they’re gonna happen fast. I don’t have time to run to daddy. The second thing is that I want you and Dillinger to help me infiltrate the Doppelgänger operation so it’s ready and in our possession when our tanks roll in.”

“Screw you, Caine. We don’t work for you. Get your own people to do it.”

“We’ve taken casualties. My numbers are down and everyone’s already assigned. Besides, no one would ever guess we’re working together. That’s the genius of the plan.”

“What plan?” said Trudy Parr. She knew Henry Caine well enough to know that likely no plan existed. “And you’ve taken casualties because you’re reckless. You treat everyone like they’re disposable. Working with you is a death sentence.”

“Look, Trudy,” Caine said, standing up from the chair. “Patton’s on his way. You and Dench are foreign spies in what’ll damn soon be American territory. You wanna come down on the right side, don’t you? It’ll cushion the fall.”

“What fall? I thought we were all on the same side.”

“Hey,” he said stepping closer, “this is war, sugar. Nothing’s for certain. The world bleeds, but the US hasn’t even reached its full war production capacity. We could take it all, baby.”

“Why would you? Most of it’s yours for the asking.”

“Don’t ask me to make it sound rational, doll.” He reached out and tugged gently on the lapel of her kimono. “It’s just what people do. They kill each other and steal their stuff. Why should the states stop now when we’re on a roll? The banks are loving it and everyone has a job.”

Their eyes met and then she looked away. There were bombs falling in the distance now. “You’re not making sense.”

“We’re Americans, Trudy. We’re God’s switchblade children. Never tell us what we can’t do, or we’ll push the Apocalypse button and eat popcorn while we watch you burn.” He took her hand and tenderly kissed the palm. “I’m bringing you in on this so you don’t get hurt. We’re allies tonight; by tomorrow that could all be over.”

She pulled her hand away. “Don’t,” she said. “That part of this war’s over.”

“No,” he said embracing her. “Not over. We never really got started.” She struggled as he kissed her. “That’s right, baby,” he whispered. “Fight it. That’s how it goes with us, isn’t it. We scrap, and you lose. Then I take what I want.”

Struggling to free herself, she brought the heel of her hand up hard and sharp under his chin. His jaw slammed shut with a loud blunt thud. He stumbled backward, dazed and shaking his head. In the second that followed, Trudy Parr opened a desk drawer and pulled out a pistol. She stood and took aim. He grinned as he regained himself, rubbing his chin.

“This is bringing back some very fond memories, baby,” he said.

“Yeah, well come on over for some more.”

“Ah, honey. You’ve never pulled a gun before. This ain’t part of the game.” He stepped towards her. “You’re not gonna shoot me, anyway. Wadda you gonna do with the body?”

“There’re plenty of corpses in Paris right now. Yours would blend in just fine.”

“We had a good thing once.” He tried to look wounded. “Remember London?”

“I remember you were a stinker.”

“But we had fun.”

“You did. I got bruises.”

“Maybe I was falling in love.”

“You can’t love anything in this world and neither can I.”

“Oh, I get it,” Caine said, as though he’d just solved a puzzle. “It’s Dench, isn’t it? He finally jumped your bones and now you’re doing the boogie woogie. Well ain’t that precious. You’re his little quail.”

“You know better than that, Henry. I ain’t nobody’s quail.”

“Then let’s do this.” He threw his cigarette onto the Persian carpet and attacked.

She knew she’d never look back to ask herself why she didn’t fire the weapon. Killing Caine would have just been plain wrongheaded. He wasn’t really bad, just an asshole. Like all Americans. Besides, she figured romance had rules – even their kind of romance.

He batted the gun away and pulled her close, grabbing her viciously by her hair. Her hand went down and caressed him. He kissed her hard, no hope of tenderness now. Then he tore off her kimono.

“Where’s the fucking bedroom in this museum,” he said. She smiled and nodded over her shoulder, never losing contact with is his hard hazel eyes. He pushed her towards it.

where clocks rein time part 1

read part 2, read part 3, read part 3.1, read part 4
_
_________________________________________________

…a dream.

Imagine lingering above a sea of fedoras and shoe leather moving in waves across the open expanse of Gare du Nord. A grand ballet. Paris. 6.00 pm, 1943.  Silent except for the snap of a paper match striking, and the quiet sizzle of a newly lighted tailor-made. Then a face looks up from the mass, and he sees you. You recognise him. Target and predator. He smiles at you from down there. His face is paper white beneath the brim of his brown hat. His eyes are all pupil. Black. And when he smiles, he exposes the yellow sabre teeth of a carnivore. You fight to breath.

Trudy Parr woke from the dream, perspiring. She says the name: Orav. Reaching for the nightstand, she retrieves a pack of Black Cat cigarettes. It’s dark. It’s 2.45 a.m. “What the hell do you want now,” she whispers. From somewhere distant, he whispers back: “You have something of mine, I think.” “Fuck off,” whispers Trudy Parr.  Then there’s laughter like the hiss of steam. Paris returning in evil little nightmares.

***

Vancouver, 1949

A man wearing a hat and trench coat walks down West Hastings near Cambie, smoking a French cigarette. It’s 10:30 a.m., wet and grey. Though he carries no weapon, he does carry a private investigators license for the province of British Columbia. The name on the license, typewritten in fuzzy courier script, is Crispin Dench. The license describes Dench as male, born in 1911, five foot eleven inches tall with light brown hair and green eyes, weighing 180lbs.

At the door of the Dominion Building, he ducks in under an awning and removes his hat. Then he looks over his shoulder at the cenotaph in Victory Square across the street. “Here’s to Victory,” he says under his breath and flicks the remains of his cigarette into the gutter. He walks inside. On the fifteenth floor are the offices of The Dench & Parr Agency.

“Good morning, Gladys,” Crispin Dench says to his secretary as he enters his office. “Wadda ya know?”

“That crumb Worthy Morgan called,” Gladys says. “And so did Lieutenant Egon. Messages on your desk. Here’s your mail. I’m going out for a doughnut and some fresh air.”

“Any coffee made?” says Dench.

“On the burner,” Gladys says putting on her coat.  “Fresh ten minutes ago. Miss Parr was in, and now she ain’t. Said she’s made some headway on the Schneider case. She didn’t say what. She seemed a little tense, but you know she don’t talk much. That’s all I got to tell you. Oh and it’s payday, Mr Dench.”

Dench pulls an envelope from his suit jacket pocket and hands it over. Gladys takes it, turns and goes for the door. “Back in twenty minutes, boss. Try not to burn the joint down.”

“I’ll try not to.”

In his office, Dench sits in a swivel chair, turning his back to his desk and looking out the window. The rain keeps coming. Cambie Street is black and slick. He sees the cenotaph again. Memories creep like insects. Moments and events that repeat like a 78 skipping on a turntable. The phone rings.

“Dench & Parr Agency, Crispin Dench speaking.”

“Where the hell you been, Dench?” says Worthy Morgan, City Editor of the Vancouver Sun. “I got a goddam deadline.”

“Ham and eggs at the Ovaltine, Worthy. I was reading your rag, lost in its eloquence. What’s rattlin’?”

“That shindig last night down Shanghai Alley,” Morgan says. “We sent a reporter down, but he couldn’t get past the police line. Now no one’s talking. My reporter said he saw you behind the line conversing with Egon.  So spill. My reporter says he could see a body under a tarp. You were standing right next to it. What was it, murder?”

“There was a tarp,” Dench says. “And a body. That’s all I know. Let the cops do their job. They’ll brief you piranhas later this morning.”

“Had to be a murder,” Worthy Morgan says. “No one in that neighbourhood dies of natural causes. And why were you there? You’re just a civilian where the cops are concerned. You’re involved somehow, right?”

“You missed a typo,” says Dench, picking up a fresh copy of the Sun from his stack of mail. “I caught it as I ate my sunny-sides. You guys crack me up. The Op-Ed piece on page ten. According to Virgil Hathaway, ‘When it comes to the reform of City Hall, there are no scared cows.’ Shouldn’t that read sacred cows, or is that what you really meant?”

“Fuck Virgil Hathaway. He’s an overpaid hack. C’mon, be a pal. Tell me about Shanghai Alley.”

“Since when are we pals,” Dench says. “Wasn’t it the Vancouver Sun that described Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr as the two greatest menaces to the city’s peace and safety since the 1886 fire? Wasn’t it Virgil Hathaway himself who called Trudy a psychotic, straight razor wielding trollop who should be either married off or imprisoned?”

“He wasn’t far off.”

“Look Morgan, why don’t you just be a good little editor and send a man down to 312 Main Street for the morning brief.” Dench hangs up and smiles. Worthy Morgan would be having a sacred cow about now.

Then he thinks about Shanghai Alley.

5.45 a.m. A dim, yellow flame from a wooden match partially illuminating the scene. The right hand of the corpse lay open on the alley’s tar and gravel surface. Then the headlights of a black police Ford lights everything up. The passenger door opens before it stops, and an obese man steps out. He has salt and pepper hair, and wears a poorly fitted trench coat. It’s Detective Lieutenant Egon of the Vancouver Police Department.

“Well, looky here,” says Egon. Other police cars arrive behind him. “You know, Dench, I look forward to the day when you don’t arrive at a crime scene before me.”

“I called it in, and I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for you characters to show up.”

“Your call broke up a damn fine poker game, Dench. One or two of these fine officers left the back of Josie’s down a considerable amount of money. You’re lucky we showed at all.” Looking down at the tarp over the corpse, Egon says: “What’s this heap?”

“I’ve been shadowing this citizen for a week and a half now. His wife says he’s been stepping out behind her back. This isn’t how I expected the investigation to end.”

“How did you expect it to end,” says Egon crouching over the body.

“His name was Robert Owens. This gig was strictly observe and report, Egon. Only, it was starting to last way too long without the usual results. I was going to give the missus her deposit back the other day and cancel the contract, but he kept showing up in some very intriguing places.”

“Like dead in an alley,” says Egon.

“Like dead in an alley,” says Dench, kneeling next to the body. “But maybe you should take a closer look. I think he may be the third in a series.”

By now the scene is populated with patrolmen drinking coffee from thermos bottles and plainclothes men reading racing forms, sipping from hip flasks. Egon goes to his car and pulls out a flashlight. He crouches down and lifts a corner of the tarp.

“You lay the tarp?” Egon says

“Yeah,” Dench says. “The least I could do. Shine a light over there on the right side of the neck,”

Egon shines the light and is repulsed. “Lord, what a mess.” He holds his free hand to his mouth like he might be sick. The wound in Robert Owens’ neck exposes tendons, veins and arteries, along with a torn section of oesophagus.

“A big chunk of the throat and neck torn out,” Dench says. “And not a drop of blood on the ground. It’s the third like this since August, no?”

“Drained of blood,” Egon says. “He should be swimming in it.  The killing took place elsewhere; the body was moved here by the perpetrator or perpetrators. Similar to the others.”

Dench looks Egon in the eye and says, “You’re so full of shit. There may be no blood on the ground around the body, but there’s plenty on the wall.” Dench points to the area around the back entrance of a laundry a few feet away. It’s splattered with dried blood, black in the low yellow light. “Just like the others,” he says. “Owens was killed right here. Just match the blood on the wall to his.”

“That stain on the wall don’t represent all the blood a man’s got in his body. Where’s the rest? Why didn’t he bleed out on the ground?”

“You’re the police detective, so detect. But if it’s what I think it is….”

“It ain’t what you think it is, Dench. Ain’t no way. Fucking cannibals,” Egon mutters. “I’m starting to hate this town.”

“And then there’s that other item on the other side of the doorway,” Dench says. “That little bit of graffiti written in blood. That was at the other two killings, too.”

Egon looks up and shines his flashlight on the wall. Next to the blood splatter is a simple drawing familiar to World War 2 allied troops. The big eyes and nose of a cartoon character looking over a wall. Killroy was here.

“Don’t mean shit,” Egon says. “Just some back alley graffiti.”

“It’s a signature,” Dench says. “It was at the locations of the other two murders.”

“How would you know all this, anyway?”

“I can drop a sawbuck at the foot of a hungry cop, same as the next guy.”

“Well did your hungry cop tell you that the other two were found in back alleys, as well? Back alleys have graffiti.”

Dench lights a Gitanes and says, “Written in blood? I tried to tell you this after the first and second kills. Killroy is significant. It goes back to Paris, 1943. When Trudy and I were there. There were eleven known killings exactly like this. Same modus operandi. It never made the papers because the Nazi’s wouldn’t allow it. Very few knew about the Paris murders, so this can’t be copycat. We finally tracked the killer down but….”

As Dench speaks, Egon signals for a uniform. “…but Paris was lousy with Nazis,” Egon says, finishing Dench’s sentence. “You were distracted, is that it? Why didn’t you just let the fatal Miss Parr take care of this Paris bad guy?”

“We came close. He was singling out resistance operatives, so snuffing him was a priority. But he was being protected. He was Gestapo. And at the scene of every kill, we found the same graffiti signature, Killroy was here. Like he was mocking us. And there’s more, Egon. Important details you need to know. I mean, this guy isn’t even human.”

A uniform police officer arrives at Egon’s side. “Escort Mr Dench off of the crime scene,” Egon says.

“But I called it in,” says Dench. “I’m a witness and a suspect. You’ve got to at least question me.”

“Don’t tell me my job, Dench.”

“Fine, I’ve got a business to run. But just one thing.”

“What?”

“If this really is the freak Trudy and I dealt with in Paris, he’s probably watching us right now.”

“From where?”

Dench looks up at the darkened windows in the stories above, then to either end of the alley. “From somewhere nearby,” he says. “Point in any direction. But I guarantee you this: Wherever he is, he’s laughing like hell.”

“Get Sherlock the hell out of here,” Egon says, and the uniform gives Dench a nod. Despite the rain, it’s getting lighter.

Back in his office now, Dench gives his head a gentle shake. He’s given Killroy enough mental energy.

He turns around from the window to his desk and sees her there. Sitting across from him. She got into his office and sat down without a sound. Pure Trudy Parr. She’s pale, wearing a blue dress. She looks tired, afraid maybe. But Dench can’t remember Trudy ever really looking afraid.

“Gotta tie a bell round your neck,” he says.

“I dreamed about Orav last night,” says Trudy.

“Killroy.”

“Yeah, like he was just dropping in to let me know he’s in town.”

“I think maybe he is.”

“That Shanghai Alley caper?”

“You heard?”

“Worthy Morgan,” Trudy says, “looking for a scoop. Called me at home. Thinks we’re both awake 24 hours a day working to supply him with copy.” Taking a package of Black Cats from her purse, Trudy says, “I guess the Owens case is closed.”

“Closed or maybe just different. I think Owens is the third of three.”

“Killroy was here?”

“At each scene. Egon’s pretending he ain’t biting, though. He’s making like he doesn’t get the connection.”

“No blood except the wall splatter and the graffiti?”

“Yeah. Egon’s settling for the same bad assumptions they made in Paris. That the body had bled out elsewhere. That it had been moved. But the splatter on the wall makes that a lie.”

“So, we wait for number four?”

“There could already be a number four,” Dench says. “As I recall, Orav’s a fast customer.”

“Wasn’t Owens just a fidelity case?” Trudy says. “His philandering days are over now, for good. Let’s just collect a fee and move on.”

“I followed Robert Owens for a week, Trudy. I never once caught him stepping out with another woman.”

“Maybe he went in for loggers, plenty of them in this burgh.”

“His prolonged absences gave his wife the idea he had something on the side. But the place he went mostly, when he wasn’t at work or at home, was a big old house up in Shaughnessy. He was there an awful lot, like it was a club or something. The wife told me he wouldn’t talk about it. He’d just clam up.”

“Lipstick on his collar?”

“Nah, but she said he sometimes smelled like….”

“Perfume, cologne?”

“Nah, she found it hard to describe. I think she really wanted it to be perfume; it would have explained a lot. But when I pressed her on it, she said it was more like incense.”

“They Catholic?”

“Methodist.”

“Then it’s gotta be Orav,” Trudy says.

“Yeah, maybe,” says Dench.

“Or maybe the old house in Shaughnessy’s a cathouse.”

“No. It’s Shaughnessy, after all. Besides, there was hardly any traffic. Never more than a few lights on. No noise. Just a few well dressed, middle aged men walking in and out late at night. In a week I counted five, including Owens.” Crispin Dench pauses and momentarily looks away.

“And what else, Crispin? Spit it out.”

“I went into the yard once during the day, and walked around the house. I looked in the front window from the porch.”

“And,” says Trudy. “C’mon, you’re starting to piss me off.”

Dench looks down at his hands. “There was an altar to Eris.”

A few seconds of silence. It seems longer. Trudy Parr no longer looks afraid.

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me this before, Crispin?”

“I wanted to be certain.”

“Certain,” Trudy says.

“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure.”

“You sure now, mister?”

“Pretty much.”

“Orav said he’d follow us,” says Trudy, “that he’d get us,”

“Seems he didn’t lie,” Dench says. “What now?”

“He thinks he’s indestructible,” Trudy says. “We almost proved him wrong once. He’s got a hate on for me. I know that much.”

“You almost took his head off, Trudy. He didn’t expect that from a little blonde in a Chanel dress.”

“Well then here’s what we do,” Trudy says. “We find him and we bury him. Deep.”

“We tried that once.”

“He was a Gestapo Superintendent in Nazi occupied Paris,” Trudy says. “He held all the cards. And then the war ended.”

“Well if he’s here,” Dench says, sitting up and straightening his tie, “we’ll have to get him before he gets us. We never missed a single target during the whole goddam war, except once. And now he’s in our wasteland.”

“Our wasteland,” Trudy says.

“You know,” Dench says. “Egon said something interesting this morning over the body. He said, ‘Fucking cannibals.’”

Trudy Parr bites the cork end off of a Black Cat and lights it. Then she says, “My, my. That is interesting.”