riddle of the keys, part 1

the present

Narrator’s Note:

Love is angry and afraid. Cowardly like a gun, but it bites like a bullet. Disagreeable. But love is the theme of what follows. Or maybe not, entirely. Dear Reader, you must be the judge. Perhaps this composition is only about pain.

I am 97 years old now, and the account delivered here is a fragment taken from the diary I began in 1939. It is an endowment I give to the world. I don’t know why. The impulse came to me one day as I looked out of a window at the rain.

The story describes very little about me, except that I was once a notorious voyeur, with the wealth and time to gain that reputation. Some of it is speculative; some of it is gossip. Not out of dishonesty, but due to an unpleasant lack of knowledge and poor memory.

If the characters are sympathetic, it is only because they defy understanding, as do we all.

Call me Simone, a wartime alias that still suits me.

So, let us begin. 


October 27, 1947

To be small and homosexual, and having never achieved conventional manhood, has its advantages. Androgyny served me well in the occupied city. It helped me infiltrating the world of powerful men, away from their homes and family orthodoxies, able for the first time to pursue the gender ambiguity they craved, and their love of boys. Yes, there is no polite word for it; I was a child prostitute. (Though I am the age of majority as I write this.) And there are stories I can tell that would bring men down, if one day I am reduced to chipping out a living though blackmail. But until then, I am a slave to an obsession—a woman, strangely—who was once a spy and an assassin in the darkened City of Light. Slender, green-eyed and blond. Her name, then, was alias Avalon.

She is Canadian, again strangely. No one wants to think of a citizen of that good Dominion as a cutthroat. But she was and is, and deadly.

Hers is a story whose last chapter ended as the Nazi enchantment faded across Europe and the world, and the once most-mighty were reduced to suicide or fabricating tales of innocence, but not before she killed as many as she could.

The next chapter begins now, as this DC-3 lands at the airport that serves a grim little city called Vancouver. The place where I’ve followed Trudy Parr, my Avalon, and two others. One who will remain nameless for now, and someone else—one alias Monet, who never stopped being a spy.

Monet: (Once a double agent?) (Reluctant Vichy sympathiser?) (Fascist turncoat, turned Allied turncoat, turned shadow, turned ghost?) And the lover, once, of my dear Avalon.

Yes, to be honest, I am not only obsessed with Avalon. But also with an extraordinary love story, that began during the shank of the war. As Avalon and Monet were at their busiest and most fatal.

They had both been in the occupied city from the beginning. Unaware of each other. Distracted by their separate missions and trespasses. Neither of them a romantic candidate, when seen at their work. Each walking their own corridors of war. Avalon, a gallery of inborn rage and the pursuit of prey. Monet, the halls of vengeance for the loss of country to a rude race and its vulgar philosophy.

But a passion did begin between them, somehow, as their lines crossed. Only glances at first, and small careful words at the edge of all the perversion. Then devotion, surrounded by all of the cruelty. Meeting where mysteries met—abandoned lofts, and the elegant rooms of the freshly dead. And also, the very secret Peony Club. The ever-moving underground cabaret, where some, so surprised to be still alive, would come together.

Neither Monet nor Avalon knew when love arrived, because it said nothing. Hiding wretchedly. Waiting to bite, like a bullet.

So, that when la Résistance took back the streets of Paris, as the Nazis ran and fell, and the diesel musk of the US Third Army wafted over the horizon, after one last night of love’s tender violence, Monet’s word was final, “I may have waited too long.” A final long kiss on a stone terrace above the street fight, and the spy faded into the bedlam of the la Libération.

And how can anyone really know, but it is rumoured that alias Avalon wept and pined for days, and for the last time. Days later, she made her long way home.

Now, as I sit writing, waiting for my luggage in the airport terminal, I ask you to anticipate with me, what will soon be revealed.


The afternoon, October 28, 1947

There is a marmalade cat seated with its back to the room, next to the ghostly flowering spathiphyllum on the sideboard, with the filmy October afternoon sunlight, blue, green, gold and red, filtering through the stained glass.

There is a man in the room, also, pale and of medium height, once blonde, neither old nor young, who calls himself Fabien Lévêque, sitting in an armchair reading a French translation of The Fountainhead, raising an eyebrow now and then, and occasionally shaking his head slowly.

Turning a page, and sighing, he looks up and says, “Come to me Molly.”

Molly, the marmalade cat, ignores him.

“You’re a bitch,” says Lévêque. “I brought you home for companionship. You might as well be a woman.”

Molly licks her paws.

It’s a tidy suite of rooms, built at the end of the previous century, mirroring an old mahogany and beveled glass aesthetic. Something Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand’s cumbersome novel, would have found hopelessly quaint. But it was just right for Falcon Lévêque, so weary of the megalomaniacal blood and soil design of the fascist Europe he’d left behind.

And he loves the city he’s chosen for his temporary home, surrounded by an endless northern rainforest. So unselfconsciously rustic. The neighbourhood he’s settled in is called Kerrisdale, a whistle-stop on the city’s interurban. What could be more whimsical?

Here there is no Résistance, no murderers in the shadows. No Gestapo operatives listening in the next room. And no Jews concealed in the woodwork, though they walk the streets here, plotting against the future.

Lévêque has been careful to cloak himself in the guise of a Québécois, trading his Parisian accent for the feral French Canadian. He’s shaved away his pencil moustache, changed his hair and has even intentionally gained weight, achieving, all-in-all, the look of a kind uncle. As a realist, however, he knows that one day his past must catch up to him. His hope, in that case, is that the Nazi cachet will have faded, and be mostly forgiven. If not, he had money and plans to escape help him escape.

It wouldn’t happen here, though. His time in Vancouver will be too brief.

The telephone rings, and he checks his watch. It is 3:00pm.

“Hello,” he says. “Rachel?”

“Yes, Mr. Lévêque.” It’s a young woman at the other end. “Your cake and cocoa are ready.”

It is the tea shop downstairs.

“I’ll be right down,” Lévêque says, then hangs up. Looking at Molly, he says, “They ate cats in the Ghetto, you know”

Molly says nothing, watching birds through the window.

In the tea shop, Lévêque takes a seat near the back at a table reserved for him. Moments later, a young woman arrives with a slice of apple torte and a  steaming cup of cocoa.

“Ah, thank you Rachel,” he says, taking up a copy of the Vancouver Sun. “You are an angel.”

Rachel performs a shy curtsy, the way Lévêque has taught her, and leaves him to read his paper.

Lévêque grins. On the front page is a story of more European Jews recovering stolen property, taken from them by Nazis. He’d been careful. None of the Jews he’d stolen from had survived to recover anything.

He strokes the face of the 18-Carat Audemars Piguet Chronograph on his wrist. The one he’d stripped from the art dealer’s wrist; the Jew art dealer who had bled-out with a bullet in his head, sitting tied to a chair in the basement of 84 Avenue Foch, in Paris.

Lévêque was thrifty, using only one bullet.

There’d been enough money in the Jew’s billfold to buy Lévêque a new pair of shoes, but it was the ring of keys in the art dealer’s pocket that excited him. The larger keys would open the dealer’s residence and shop. But two others, smaller, had been a mystery, until Lévêque asked the dealer’s wife.

It hadn’t taken long, a few standard questions. Especially after a cohort of his had whispered into his ear that she was a pianist, not famous but talented. That was when he called out for a pair of garden shears, and threatened to remove the thumb from her each of her hands.

She’d been brave at first, saying nothing. Unsure with her chin held not too high. Such a possibility was inconceivable, was it not? But Lévêque proved it wasn’t, as she screamed and he cut through flesh and bone, while functionaries held her down.

He would remove the rest one by one, he told her, if she didn’t reveal the secrets of the small keys. And when she did, he slapped her repeatedly for her weakness. A week later, she was in Natzweiler-Struthof.

He’d stolen much Jewish treasure by similar means during the occupation, converting most of it to cash, and the cash into gold. Making himself very rich.

But now, as he read, he found something disturbing in the newspaper story. In the middle of the third column. A featured photograph of a man referred to as a war criminal. A familiar face. A man when he was young. A man named Falcon Lebeau.


Evening, October 28, 1947

Like nearly everyone in this story, Dracul had another name. The one his loving mother gave him. But no one knew what it was. He had arrived in Vancouver from Romania so many foggy nights ago that people had stopped counting. Some said that he was a spy left over from the First War, who didn’t know how to retire. And though he remained a reliable wealth of current and archival intelligence about foreign wars and nearby espionage, he was insane. Elderly, too. Agedness and insanity, an unfortunate combination.

He’d been handsome once, but no longer. And once he must have enjoyed a certain elegance. Now, however, his all black costume—suit, shoes, shirt and tie—verged on shabby. This, with his long knotty hands and his hunched back, made him more of a nightmare shadow than a man.

“Mirrors eat me in the morning,” he told Trudy Parr without prompting, as they sat together late by candlelight at a table in the Sylvia Hotel lounge. His accent was thick. “Then they spit me out in the night. Ptew, onto the floor. And every time, my face has changed.” Here he leaned in—he always did—and lowered his voice. “Completely unrecognisable, each time. That is my gift. Only you ever know me to see me, Miss Parr. That is why I love you.” Grinning, he rubbed his long hands together. “That is how I walk freely, incognito, upon the sidewalks of this New World.”

It was an old story, and he enjoyed telling it. Loved its possibilities, Trudy imagined. A different man each night. It kept him young at some place inside of him he called his heart.

And maybe the story was true. Many swore that he had no shadow. That he was clairvoyant. That he could vanish and reappear as he pleased. He could call down angels, and performed the trick of producing an incorruptible Joan of Arc in the palm of his hand. A Goddess at the stake, in command of her red and golden fire.

“People don’t call me Miss Parr,” Trudy said. “People call me Trudy. Don’t make me say it again.”

“An honourable familiarity, I’m sure.” Dracul nodded his head, a seated bow, and sipped his whisky.

Trudy sipped her vodka and Coke.

“You said you had something to tell me,” she said.

“Yes, and I must admit that it was only a theory a day or two ago.”

“Theories bore me, Dracul.” Trudy looked at her watch.

“Hmm, never dismiss a theory,” the old man said. “A theory attracts evidence, as gravity attracts mass.”

“Alright.” She extinguished her cigarette, and stood to put her coat.

“But wait!” he said, “Please sit. It’s not so much a theory anymore. There’s evidence in its orbit. And so it has become an opinion, just short of a truth. Diamonds and rubies.”

She stared down at him for a moment. A man without a shadow. Reborn nightly to mirrors.

“Answer me this,” said the old man. “Can a key do more than open a lock? Sit now, Trudy Parr. Listen, and I’ll order more drinks.”

“No, I’ll order the drinks,” she said, hailing the waiter as she sat down again. “You just do the talking. Tell me about the diamonds and rubies.”

“Vast rooms, miles wide,” he said, spreading out his arms. “Passageways like avenues that coil the Moon. And a dent in space in the shape of a man.”

“Get on with it,” Trudy said.

“You know a demon,” said Dracul. “You tried to kill it once. It tried to kill you. You both failed. Sometimes you don’t sleep, thinking about it.”

“What the hell are you trying to say.” She was whispering, almost shouting. Her words overlapping his.

“That you have a chance to kill it, now.”

“Kill who?”

“It’s the Falcon, Trudy Parr. He is here. In the city.”

“I’m getting bored again,” she said.

It was too much—the Falcon in Vancouver. And Dracul’s lunacy was too much. She had her own madness to tend. It was sniggering at her now, peeking through a shroud.

“Maybe you’ve lived too long, you old witch,” she said. “Maybe I’ve got a razor my bag with your name on it.”

To this he said, “I read minds, you know.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

She took a breath, placing both of her hands palm down on the table where she could see them.

“So, read my mind.”

“I know that you would cut me with that razor at your side, if I pushed a little further. Your world is a moment. One moment that will not end as long as you’re alive. Like a circle, you stand alone in the centre of. With the world looking in. And I know that if anyone steps into the circle, into your moment, with you, he runs the risk of death.”

“Bastard.” She clenched her jaw. He was reading too deeply.

“The Falcon almost took that step,” said Dracul. “By following someone else.”

She saw Monet’s face fade into the black.

“Is that your opinion?”

“No. It is my opinion that the Falcon has cocoa and cake each afternoon at a tea shop, nearby. A dent in space in the shape of a man. He’s hiding behind an alias.” He slid a piece of paper torn from a note pad across the table. Trudy Parr stared at it.

The drinks had arrived. She sipped long on her vodka, and thought of him. Falcon. The traitor to France. The Nazi. The butcher. His ghostly acrimony. Body counts, hers and his. How he lacked the elegance he insisted was his. And how he made children his victims between assignments.

He’d gotten away from her, half through stealth, half by luck—the end of the War.

“Why here?” she said, wondering as she lit a cigarette.

“You know. A key can do more than open a lock.”

“A key.”

“The key.”

“Do you need money?” said Trudy Parr.

“You always ask,” said Dracul, “and I never do.”

This time when she stood up, she really did put on her coat. And when she looked, wanting to say goodbye, Dracul had disappeared.


Round Midnight, October 28, 1947. The office of the Dench & Parr Agency

Trudy Parr hadn’t seen it until she turned the key to open the door, the silhouette of a man and woman embracing on the other side of the frosted glass. The woman was struggling, just a little. Trudy could hear giggling. Stepping in, she found her business partner and an auburn haired woman holding one another.

“Hello Romeo,” said Trudy to Crispin Dench, giving the startled couple the once over. “Who’s the centrefold?”

“Oh,” Dench said, his tie undone and his shirt half untucked. “Trudy. Hello. Unexpected.” He let the woman go, and then sheepishly introduced her: “This is Daphne.”

“Who’s this, Crispy?” said the centrefold.

“Crispy?” Trudy smiled.

Dench had always been a sucker for this kind of lunch counter redhead, so rare in Vancouver. He must have felt like he’d won at the races.

“She’s the Parr, in Dench & Parr,” he said.

“Golly, a woman? What is she, the secretary?”

“I’m in a crappy mood, Crispin,” Trudy said.

“Keep your mouth shut,” said Dench to Daphne. “We might yet get out of this alive.”

“What’s this about, anyway?” Trudy said. “I think I recall you saying there’d be no shenanigans in the office. That fooling around onsite wasn’t how professionals operated.”

“Well, it’s just that Daphie’s a Dashiell Hammett fan. And she wanted to see a real private dick’s office. You know, where it all goes down?”

He was off his rocker.

“Okay, Mr Crispy Dick,” Trudy said. “I’m going into my office to brush up on my Sam Spade. Nice to have met you, Daphie.”

“She’s a bitch,” Daphie said. Just loud enough, as Trudy Parr closed her office door behind her.

“Alright, Daphne,” Dench said, looking out the window, “get your things.”

“What?”

“There’s a cab downstairs at the curb. You got fare?”

“Yeah, I got fare. You’re a crumb.”

“Here, let me help you with your coat.”

“Is she your girl? Is that it?”

“No, but we’ve been places.”

“I could be home listening to Arthur Godfrey, you know.”

“Well, now’s your chance.” Dench gently pushed her into the hall. “I’ll call.”

“Don’t bother.”

He sighed, then lit a cigarette as he listened to the elevator door slide shut. He was rarely at work this late, but knew that Trudy sometimes slept on her couch. He tapped on her door.

“Come,” she said.

“Want company?” said Dench, looking in.

“Did she abandon you?”

“She wanted to listen to the radio.”

“Sweet. C’mon in, then.”

On Trudy Parr’s desk was a telephone, a blotter and an appointment book. Also, two glasses, an ashtray and a bottle of Smirnoff. Dench sat down opposite her, and filled each glass half full.

“You wanna talk?” he said

“I spoke to Dracul tonight. That might be enough.”

“What he have to say?”

“Too much,” Trudy said.

“Yeah, well he’s brain cancer. You shouldn’t talk to him.”

“He knows things.”

Dench took a swallow of vodka. “What’s he know.”

“That I live in a circle, pretty much by myself. That’s what he says, anyway. And anyone who tries to get in gets killed.”

“That  ain’t half wrong.” Dench sat back in his chair.

“What’s that make me, Crispin?”

“Unique?”

“Being unique is awfully fucking lonely, sometimes.”

“Is there someone else you want to be?”

“No.” She shrugged and took a drink.

 

End of part 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

an end to Paris part 1

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

London July 30, 1945, 22:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you do, they do.”

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

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

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

“Shall we change the subject?” said Falls.

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please take this seriously,” Falls said.

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

“Needlessly?”

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

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

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

“I disagree,” said Falls.

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

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

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

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

“You’re a romantic.”

“What do you intend to do with them?”

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

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

“A target.”

“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Residue?”

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

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

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

“How long have you known about Becker?”

“A while.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falls looked astonished.

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

“They bug your office?” said Falls.

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

Now Falls was embarrassed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atkins opened her desk drawer, and pulled something out.

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

Vera Atkins slid an envelope across her desktop.

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

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

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

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

Paris, same night, 02:55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bonsoir, monsieur,” she gently said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

the 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 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.”

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 reign time part 3.1

Read Part 1 here, Read Part 2 here, Read Part 3 here, Read Part 4 here

I’ve written part 3.1 of where clocks reign time to add context to a TV pilot script based on the story. If you’re a Trudy Parr fan, and I know many of you are, this will definitely be your cup of tea. If you’ve never met Trudy Parr, then now’s your chance.
          In this part of the story, we find Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr in the Rothschild Mansion in 1943 Paris. They are masquerading as a SS Officer and his date attending a Christmas Party, hoping to get to the secret behind Operation Time Clock and eliminate it. This is where Trudy Parr almost assassinates the antagonist, Hansel Orav, with her trademark straight razor, and thereby sets the tone for their feature engagements. 

Rothschild Mansion, Paris 1943

Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr followed the small group of seven down a dark staircase and into the cellar of the mansion.

“When the shit starts,” Trudy Parr whispered to Dench on the stairs, “that fat fuck is mine.”

Orav led the group through a large reinforced blast door and into the laboratory. The light inside was bright white and all of the surfaces were spotlessly hygienic.

“This is the centre of our little universe,” Orav said with a sweeping gesture. “Here we are endeavouring to use our greatest enemy’s own tricks against him.”

“What does that mean?” an officer in the group asked.

“The Jews have their own magic,” Orav said. “It’s wicked and unclean, but it’s effective. And we have tapped into it.” He walked over to a tall stainless steel closet and opened the door. Inside stood a tall man-like figure made of what looked like clay. It was broad shouldered and nearly seven feet tall, and it had long cruel claws on both of its hands.

“A statue?” said another voice in the small group.

“A golem,” said Orav.

“Does Herr Hitler know about this,” asked the officer.

“To this point,” Orav said, “it has been a ‘need to know’ affair. Recent advances ensuring the projects success, however, have changed that. Hence your presence here. We are now in the process of informing the upper echelon.”

Having said this, Orav clapped his hands twice and the golem opened its eyes. There were gasps of surprise in the crowd. One woman fainted and nearly fell to the floor as the military men reached for their side arms. Trudy Parr undid the clasp on her bag.

“Golem,” Orav snapped. “Step out.”

The golem obeyed and stepped out of its container.

“Virtually indestructible,” Orav said addressing the group. “And completely obedient. Imagine sending our troops home and letting an army of these fight our enemies and conquer the world.”

Dench and Trudy Parr’s eyes met and a silent message passed between them. Dench reached into his tunic and pulled out a Walther PPK with a silencer. He stepped back from the crowd and began firing well aimed headshots. There was quiet confusion as the group began to die and fall to the floor. Trudy Parr pulled a straight razor from her bag and went for Orav.

Orav saw her coming but was as surprised by the unfolding events as everyone else. He reached for his Luger, but not fast enough. Trudy Parr slashed his throat and blood splattered on the walls and floor, but it wasn’t a killing wound.

“Bitch!” he coughed wide eyed, holding his hands to his throat.

“I ain’t done yet, you filthy Nazi bastard,” she said and lunged at him, but the golem pushed her away. Orav turned and made for the back of the lab, exiting through a sliding door. He trailed blood all of the way.

Dench dropped an empty magazine, reloaded and fired on the golem. The bullets merely passed through it.

“Stop,” said Trudy Parr. “You can’t kill it.”

“Then I’ll fucking die trying,” said Dench.

“No,” said Trudy Parr, looking at the thing inscrutably. She still held the straight razor, dripping Orav’s blood. It was a bizarre scene, but she’d comprehended something in that moment that only she could.. “It’s blameless,” she said. “Orav’s the bad guy, the one who pulls all the strings. There’s always some prick in the dark, pulling strings.”

Dench relented. “It’s a killer, Trudy.”

“I guess it is. We have that in common, don’t we. But it was conjured up by a maniac. I don’t know how I know it, but I know it’s innocent. That’s how it is, right?” She said this stepping up to the golem.

“Fuck, Trudy,” Dench said. “Back off. It’ll tear you apart.”

“No it won’t,” Trudy Parr said, reaching out to it. The golem stood perfectly still and looked back at her. “You don’t want to. Do you?”

“Then let’s get the hell outta here,” Dench said. “By now Orav’ll have the whole German army coming down on us.”

They looked around for an exit. Going back up the stairs didn’t seem smart.

“I don’t see a safe exit,” Dench said.

“How do we escape this place?” Trudy Parr said the golem.

“Try that,” the golem said, slurring its words. It pointed a clawed finger at the sliding door Orav had used.

Dench looked at Trudy Parr and shrugged. “Why the hell not?”

They exited through the sliding door, leaving the golem standing in the lab. It watched them leave and then closed its eyes.