another gripping Trudy Parr/Crispin Dench mystery
It was the Gypsy’s funeral. We all stood waiting for the rain to stop, but the clouds never parted. Nothing ruins a good funeral like rain. It isolates the grieving beneath dripping umbrellas, and adds to the bleakness of the moment. But this was February in Vancouver. A city at the edge of a rain forest was supposed to get rain. The Gypsy knew this, and she’d opted for a concrete lined vault with drainage. She’d obviously put more thought and money into the inevitable than most of the rest of us. After the slab was laid on top, she’d have the driest joint in town.
I was at the funeral for Trudy, providing support. Trudy had known Gypsy Anne Kaufmann for most of her life. Their friendship began in elementary school, and lasted until a week ago when the Gypsy was found dead in her east end home. It was a mysterious death, and the police were keeping mum. I’d talked to officers who’d been on the scene, and I’d been to the Coroner’s Office to get what I could. But they were all part of the same quiet choir. It was enough to make you want to smack someone. But I knew that some information, the good stuff, had to be waited on. The important part was letting the right people know just what you wanted, so they could spill when they couldn’t hold on anymore. That’s what I was good at. I was almost always the first person the pigeons would call when the time was right.
Trudy and I shared an umbrella. She wore crimson kid gloves and red shoes that contrasted well against her blonde hair, a black wool coat and hat, and a black Dior dress. She placed a small bouquet on the casket that lay beneath a canvass shelter next to the vault, and then she turned away.
There were several similar gestures before the small crowd began to mill about, and old friends were reacquainted after so many years. Trudy, however, walked away toward the Jaguar, slowly in the rain with her hands in her coat pockets. I followed. When I caught up with her, she was leaning against the passenger side door. Gorgeous, even in the rain, but she looked startled. A Vogue model on a bad day, but no. The war had made her too much of a potential menace for polite society. It was safer for everyone that she worked with me, chasing leads and going after bad guys. The war had ended four years ago, but she and I had been changed by indoctrination and duty. Maybe we should never have come back when it was all done, but that was an old and pointless conversation. We’d missed our chance to go out in a hail of bullets when the Nazis evacuated Paris.
“Times like this make me think about the war,” I said. “The last days, I mean.”
“You shouldn’t,” she said.
She smiled weakly, and for a brief moment lost her startled look. Now under my umbrella once more, she took a package of Black Cat cigarettes out of her purse. She pulled one out, and I retrieved my lighter holding it ready. She bit the cork end off the cigarette and daintily spit it out to the side. I lit it. We’d done this a thousand times before. I had never asked her why she didn’t just buy plain cigarettes without the cork. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t ask why she still carried a nickel finish .38 automatic in her handbag, either. Asking would sound like disapproval; I didn’t disapprove.
“I think about the war the way you drink whisky,” she said. “A couple of shots at a time, and then only occasionally. But you, Crispin. When you think about the war you do it like an angel on a mission, always weeping for the dead you might’ve saved. Always looking for what went so wrong, looking for a solution that you think must have been there all along but that was never obvious enough — always looking, always. Sometimes you seem obsessed with the past, maybe trying to rewrite it. Trying to make out like your reasons were noble, that you were never capable of a wrong action. That’s very Canadian of you, of course. But nothing about Paris under the Nazis was right. Our country trained us to be spies and assassins, and Paris turned us into exterminators. Now you, me and a few others, we’re the only ones left who saw it all happen up close. And sometimes the best we can manage is avoiding eye contact.”
“And now that Gypsy Anne is gone?” I said.
Trudy drew hard on her cigarette and said, “Now that Gypsy Anne is gone we’re even more alone than ever, the two of us.”
“She used to promise that she’d return from the dead, remember?”
“She said she’d bring chocolates,” Trudy said. And then she said, “It’s cold. I want to go back to the office.”
I wanted to say no, that this town’s infidelities and transgressions could go on without the two of us for one day, in memory of the Gypsy. Maybe I’d suggest we go for a couple shots of rye. But then Detective Lieutenant Egon waddled over from the thinning crowd with something on his mind.
“Hello, you two,” Egon said. “Sorry about your friend, Trudy. I hear you was in the war together.”
“That’s still classified,” Trudy said.
“Yeah, well,” Egon said belatedly removing his hat. “Just so you know, we’re still looking into who might have been responsible for her death. There weren’t many clues.”
“’…weren’t many?’” Trudy said. “That means there were at least some.”
“Fingerprints, mainly. We’re still working on those,” Egon said. “The door was forced; there was a broken mirror and some blood. I don’t think it was hers, though. She wasn’t cut the coroner says.”
“Just strangled,” Trudy said.
“You’re right,” I said. “That ain’t much. You going to take a second look?”
“The boys go in again this afternoon,” Egon said, and then went quiet. He stared at his shoes, and then he said, “In the meantime you two might want to look at this, come over here.” He walked back in the direction of the Gypsy’s grave and stood over a tarp on the ground. Lifting the corner of the tarp, he revealed the slab that was going to be laid over the Gypsy’s vault. It was polished British Columbia granite with a shining blank copper plate in the centre measuring three feet by two.
“Either of you know what that’s about?”
“It was among her final wishes,” a man said behind us.
We turned to see a man in overalls, work boots and a peaked cap. “I’m Arturo Grapelli,” he said holding out his hand, “cemetery keeper.” Egon took Grapelli’s hand and gave it a shake. Then Grapelli tipped his hat to Trudy. “In her will, Mrs Kaufmann instructed that this slab should be laid today, as is. Tomorrow at 12.05 pm, a framed piece of tempered plate glass must be placed over the copper sheet and bolted down.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Have to ask her,” Grapelli said, and stuck a toothpick in his mouth.
“You two sure know some odd ducks,” Egon said.
“She’s got nothing to prove to you, Egon,” Trudy said.
“Ah, come now, Tru…”
“Let it go, Egon,” I said.
“All I know,” Trudy said, “is that I’m going to be here tomorrow to see the glass placed over that copper plate. The Gypsy never did anything without a reason.”
I took Trudy gently by the hand and walked with her back to the Jag.
The cemetery was on high ground. Below us was Vancouver shrouded in low clouds. We exited, and turned onto Fraser Street.
“I don’t think Egon is smart enough to really insult anyone,” I said to Trudy.
“I’ll decide whether I’ve been insulted, Crispin.”
“Okay,” I said, and shifted down for a light.
“Are you afraid that I’ll spank his big fat ass?”
“A little, I guess,” I said.
“After all the previous opportunities I’ve had?”
“Sometimes these things are cumulative. Shit builds up, no?”
“Maybe,” Trudy said. “But maybe Egon is far more valuable to us alive.”
That was good thinking, and I smiled. I looked across at her and saw that she smiled, too. All of which meant absolutely nothing as far as Egon went. Trudy was a very reactive girl, and someday Egon was going to mouth off at exactly the wrong moment. I hoped that moment was a long way off, and made for the office.
When we arrived, there were two characters waiting in the hall outside of the office. One of them was Horis Weld, a local who’d taken a severe hit to the head at Normandy. He hadn’t been right ever since. The other character, I didn’t recognize. But I knew the type.
“What’s the score, Horis,” I said unlocking the door to the office.
“Just wonderin’ if yer spittoon needs cleanin’,” Mr Dench.
“Horis,” I said. “I’m willing to bet that there’s not one spittoon in this whole building.”
“Just one I know of, for sure,” Horis said.
“Oh,” I said. “Who’s still got a spittoon in this day and age,”
“Mr Boughwraith, but he says his wife cleans it for him.”
Trudy said, “No money in that is there, Horis,” and placed a dollar bill in his hand.
“Oh thanks, Miss Parr. But I ain’t done nothing for you yet. You got some chores or odd jobs?”
“Just think good thoughts,” Trudy said. “And spend it on lunch, not hooch.”
“Okay, bye. I’ll be at the Ovaltine if you need me.”
The other character followed Trudy and I into the office and said, “Your line of work seems to attract some interesting persons.”
I looked at him and told myself that he was right. Then I said, “Horis there’s a good fella. He’d give you the shirt off his back if he could find it. Who are you?”
“My name is Klaus Finn,” he said as he fixed the lapels on his suit jacket. He walked toward me holding out his hand, and I sensed that there were likely things about Mr Finn that I really didn’t want to know. Maybe I should have sent him on his way, but business is business. I invited him into my private office, and asked him to have a seat.
Once settled in, I asked Finn what it was he needed to see me about.
“It’s about Gypsy Anne Kaufmann,” Finn said. “The woman whose funeral you and your secretary attended this morning.”
I heard my door open and Trudy stepped in, “I heard the Gypsy’s name. May I sit in?”
“Of course, Trudy. Pull up a seat.”
“Please Mr Dench,” Finn said in his hard to place accent. “Surely it’s inappropriate to have one’s help allowed in on a sensitive and private discussion.”
“It’s the damnedest thing, Mr Finn,” I said. “Miss Parr and I don’t have help, unless you include the night janitor. You might say we’re helpless. Miss Parr and I are partners. You hire me, you also hire Miss Parr. Anything you have to say to me, you can say to her.”
Finn remained seated for a moment working the angles. Then he stood up saying, “It has been my mistake. Please forgive me. I shall seek assistance elsewhere.” He started for the door. Trudy also stood and put her arm across the door to block Finn’s path.
“You ain’t going nowhere, Jasper,” she said. “You used my friend’s name in vain, and now you’re going to tell us what you’ve got on your polluted little mind.”
“Please, miss,” Finn said. “I beg you not to force me to exercise my superior male advantage.”
“Oh, brother,” I said shrinking into my chair.
“I will allow you a moment to move and then….”
“And then?” Trudy said. “You gonna belt me one?”
Finn looked at me and said, “Have you no control over this woman, Mr Dench?”
“None whatsoever, Mr Finn.”
“In that case,” Finn said. “I have no choice but to….”
In 1938, in an overwhelming fit of infatuation, I asked Trudy Parr to marry me. I had purchased an engagement ring from an Italian jeweller on Commercial Drive, and presented it to her while on a stroll to Third Beach in Stanley Park. She refused me, saying that she was unworthy and would, if married to me, eventually drive me insane. I pleaded with her, but in the end found myself the soul owner of a nearly flawless half carat white diamond mounted in a white gold setting on an eighteen carat gold ring. The Depression was still on, and asking the jeweller to take back such a costly piece of jewellery didn’t sit well with me. So I left it with Trudy, who eventually accepted it as a token of friendship. On a night of fireworks in the park, I slipped it into the pocket of her dress. Several weeks later, it appeared on her right hand ring finger where it has remained ever since.
Whatever violent act Mr Finn was planning to perpetrate against Trudy Parr, it was interrupted by her swift right hook. The fist upon which was placed the engagement ring. My gift to Trudy had ruined the good looks of many a miscreant. Finn called out for my assistance. Then there was a thud, as Finn hit the ground. The pugilism ended, Trudy took a seat.
“You think that sort of thing might be bad for business?” I said to her.
“He was walking out. Now he’s not. He may still write a cheque.”
“He could sue,” I said.
Trudy shrugged, “Maybe. But then again, dead men don’t sue.”
From where Finn lay there came a pitiful moan, and then a sharp yelp, “I’m bleeding. You fiendish woman, you’ve cut my face.”
I walked over and stood looking down at him where he sat on the floor, and dropped my handkerchief into his lap. “You got something to say about the Gypsy, Finn?”
“Not to you,” he said wiping the blood off his chin. “I will be calling the police, and reporting this to my attorney. I am not common human trash off the street. I have influential friends who….”
I bent over and grabbed Finn by the lapels of his pricey suit, and pulled him up face to face. “You think my partner here can kick some ass, you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you don’t start answering our questions, I’m going to throw you out of that window. That’s the back of the building, so you’ll land in the trash fifteen floors down.”
Finn gasped and clenched his fists. His eyes narrowed, and then he slouched. I let go of him, and he sat gloomily down on the leather sofa.
“I came to you,” he said, “because of your association with Gypsy Anne. I know that you were an Allied spy in Nazi occupied Paris.”
“As was Miss Parr, here,” I said.
“Yes,” Finn said, dabbing his bruised and bleeding chin with my handkerchief. “Gypsy Anne was your primary intelligence contact in England. I’m aware that she communicated with you via the BBC, Morse code and smuggled satchel. But she wasn’t the heroic figure you imagine. And before you choose to pummel me again or throw me out the window, please hear me out. You may have known that the Gypsy was an occultist.”
“That’s old news,” Trudy said. “It’s why she was called Gypsy in the first place.”
“Just so,” Finn said. “Now, like the Nazi’s, the Allies were investigating the occult in search of an ultimate weapon. Gypsy Anne was very high up in the Allied secret Occult Weapons Program. She was an extremely gifted person, and was something of an ultimate weapon herself.”
“Meaning what,” I said.
“She could manipulate matter, conjure spirits, move solid objects through time and space. Her kind comes along only very rarely. With Gypsy Anne’s help, the Allied Occult Weapons Program was on the verge of some great discoveries. That was when Churchill found out about the program. He had a bizarre puritanical fit, and put an end to it. Gypsy Anne was demoted, but remained your England contact until the end of the war. Her record of achievements is still classified.”
“And,” Trudy said.
Finn said, “This will be difficult for you, Miss Parr, but Gypsy Anne was a thief. She was not the only person to line her pockets, taking advantage of the chaos of war. I admit to having done the same, on a much smaller scale.
“After Churchill put an end to Gypsy’s program, she became bitter. She had worked hard, and achieved much. In the end, however, she saw it all go to waste because her abilities frightened the powers that were. In a way, with all she knew and was capable of, I was surprised that they didn’t exterminate her.”
“Five hundred years ago, they’d have burned her at the stake,” I said.
“Not at all,” Finn said. “The only women burned as witches were those in the wrong place at the wrong time, the powerless, the mentally ill, those who held property that others wanted. Gypsy Anne would have been untouchable and all powerful.”
“Then how did she get strangled in her own home,” Trudy said.
“It must have been someone very powerful, both psychically and physically. And whoever it was was very motivated. The thing that the Gypsy stole is a very attractive item. You see, in 1941 Gypsy Anne was made aware of a very large cache of captured Japanese gold bullion in a high security facility in London. She became obsessed with having it, and eventually she devised a way to have it transferred from there to here.”
“Here?” I said.
“Yes, and she was finally killed by someone who knew she had it.”
“Would she have revealed the location of the gold to the assassin,” Trudy said. “Was she tortured? Egon didn’t mention anything.”
“No, Miss Parr. You must think like a magician, like an occultist. Many authorities on the topic believe that only in the spirit state can a person be compelled to tell the whole truth behind the events of his or her life. In Gypsy Anne’s case, among other things, where the gold is hidden. According to this logic, Gypsy Anne had to die and be summoned later. But a spirit can only be compelled to answer truthfully once, to the first inquisitor. After that the spirit is free, and need not answer anyone else.”
“This makes me want to spit,” Trudy said. “What’s your role in this, Finn?”
“Well, I’m only human. I too would like to get my hands on the bullion. I’ve pursued Gypsy Anne with this in mind since the end of the war.”
“What’s your connection to her,” I said. “You ever work with her?”
“Yes and no. We knew about each other. We admired each other’s work. You see, I was employed by the Nazis on their occult investigations.”
“You’re a fucking Nazi?” Trudy said. “Hold him down Crispin; I’ll get your straight razor.”
“Please don’t, Trudy,” I said. “The war’s over.”
“Miss Parr,” Finn said. “I was nothing more than a fortune teller in Berlin when Hitler came to power. I am almost everything the Nazis hated: a circus performer, a Catholic, I had leftist leanings, and I am a homosexual with a penchant for cross-dressing. In the end, all that kept me from going to a death camp was some minor psychic power. Calling me a Nazi would be like calling Stalin a capitalist.
“I simply came to see Mr Dench, an associate of Gypsy Anne, because I’d hoped he would have information that I would find valuable. You still may have such information, Mr Dench. However, by revealing myself in this way, it appears that I have acquired two unexpected partners in crime. Of course there is more than enough gold to go around.”
“How much,” I said.
“According to the price of gold reported in this morning’s newspaper, more than $27,000,000. It isn’t easy to move wartime bullion, so I have enquired about a fence and have been provided with the names of some supposedly trustworthy individuals. So, the actual amount we take home may be far less.”
“Except we don’t know where it is,” I said.
“And there’s some spook out there,” Trudy said, “trying to bring the Gypsy back from the dead in order to discover its location.”
“So what now,” I said.
“This meeting has exhausted me,” Finn said, looking at Trudy. “And I have injuries to attend to. I have a suite at the Hotel Vancouver. I wish to return there, bathe and sleep.”
“Hotel Vancouver’s a pretty swell joint for a second rate fortune telling transvestite,” Trudy said.
“I was fortunate enough to walk away from the war with a full purse, as it were. My current wealth allows me time to seek out more. May I use your phone to call a cab?”
“Yeah sure,” I said. “It’s on the desk.”
“Wait a minute, Crispin.” Trudy said. “You sure you want to let this little worm go. Maybe Egon will want to talk to him.”
“Na, let him go,” I said. “My psychic powers tell me that he may be no good, but he ain’t no murderer.”
It was dark, and I closed the office after Finn left, and drove Trudy home. Afterwards, I stopped along Lagoon Drive to watch the lights. Some time later, I awoke to someone tapping on the window. It was Lieutenant Egon.
“I thought you might be here.” Egon said. “Your favourite view of the city.”
“What do you want, fat man? I was sleeping real nice.”
“You know a little fella by the name of Amyl Grimm?”
“Never heard of him,” I said.
“How about Klaus Finn?” Egon said referring to his note pad.
“Finn? Yeah, what’s the beef?”
“Your name was in his personal phone book. We’re still not sure who he really is. Grimm and Finn were just two of five passports he had with him. He was found by the hotel dick in his suite after some complaints about the noise. His throat was cut, and, well.…”
“Well what, Egon?”
“Whoever did him in, castrated him as well. This town gets stranger and stranger.” Egon paused for a moment, and then said, “You do it, Dench? You know I gotta ask.”
“Who else?” I said.
“Okay, okay. Go back to sleep. I’ll have to talk to you soon about why you were in his phonebook, but that can wait.”
Next morning, I showered at the office and ate breakfast at the Ovaltine. I let the morning fly by, reading a Chandler novel and drinking coffee. At 11.00 am, Trudy came in with a bouquet of flowers.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“The Gypsy’s vault, they’re putting the glass over the copper plate at noon, remember?”
“Oh right,” I said. ”You hear about Finn?”
“Yeah, tough luck.”
We drove up to Mountain View Cemetery, and arrived just as Grapelli was fastening the glass over the copper plate.
“There you are,” he said standing over the slab. “Pretty cute trick if you ask me.”
“What?” I said.
“This?” Trudy said kneeling down over the slab. “It’s an Ouija Board, etched into the glass. It stands out well against the copper plate.”
Someone behind us said, “Hello.” It was an Oriental man in a formal blue business suit standing behind us. We turned around and he said, “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Boris Nishimura, and this,” he said pointing to another Asian man, this one dressed in a black tuxedo, “is my associate Mr Koji. We know who you are,” Nishimura said bowing. “Miss Parr and Mr Dench.
“When Mrs Kaufmann was alive, I was her lawyer. A few years ago she instructed me, in the event of her death, to meet Miss Trudy Parr here at this time and give her this package.”
“What is it,” Trudy said, taking the box.
“I have no idea,” Nishimura said. Trudy lifted the box’s lid and pulled out a gold pendant on a long gold chain. “Mrs Kaufmann said that you would understand, Miss Parr. That it was an important tool to be used with the etched glass that Mr Grapelli just installed.”
“A pendulum.” Trudy said. “The perfect tool to use with an Ouija Board.” Trudy began to say thank you to Nishimura and Mr Koji, but when she and the rest of us looked up, they were gone.
“This is getting to be too much like a cemetery,” I said.
“Well, that’s the Gypsy for you.” Trudy said. “Let’s get to it, then.”
She knelt over the etched glass Ouija board while holding the pendulum over its centre, and began with simple questions.
“I’d like to speak with Gypsy Anne Kaufmann, is she here?” The pendulum moved in a circle, and then pointed straight to the word Yes.
“Gypsy Anne, have you, indeed, passed onto the other side?” The pendulum went slack, and then pointed at Yes again.
“Will you use this Ouija board to communicate something to me?” Yes again.
“Why through an Ouija Board?” The pendulum slackened, and bounced erratically for a moment. Then it began to spell out an answer. T-O G-I-V-E Y-O-U A M-E-S-S-A-G-E
“What is the message?” Trudy asked. L-O-O-K F-O-R B-U-L-L-I-O-N U-N-D-E-R
“I don’t have a spittoon.” I said. “It’s 1949, for the love of God.”
Now the pendulum twisted and spun as though the Gypsy was having a fit. I-S
D-E-N-C-H D-E-N-S-E Trudy looked over at me, and smiled like I hadn’t seen her smile for days. Then, O-F-F-I-C-E S-T-O-R-A-G-E D-O-N-T S-P-E-N-D A-L-L I-N O-N-E P-L-A-C-E F-A-R-E-W-E-L-L And that was all there was. The gold chain from which the pendulum was suspended snapped, and it fell on the glass.
Trudy and I drove back to the office, and spent an hour looking for the key to our storage locker. For some reason, I had hung it in the washroom medicine cabinet. We took it and a couple of flashlights down into the basement, and after ten minutes of tripping around in the dark we found the locker for our office, #1510.
We shined our flashlights into the locker, and saw a corroded old spittoon sitting on top of several stacked crates of which I had no recollection. I opened the locker, and went in with Trudy close by. Turning on the light, I was able to see that the crates had no dust on them. They had arrived recently, but without my knowing. I took the spittoon off and placed it gently onto the ground. No matter what, that little artefact was coming back up to the office with me.
Stencilled on the side of the mysterious new crates was the red ensign of the Imperial Japanese Army. Portions of a bill of lading were glued onto the side of the box. The disjointed pieces of yellowing paper displayed many fragments of Japanese text, but “bullion” and “1941” were also written in English. I took a crowbar from the wall, and lifted to top of the first crate.