lost ironies

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Tag: Vancouver : fiction : Mystery : Detective : 1949 : Crime : Murder

the bone settlement – part 1

Stanley Park – October 31, 1949 

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

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

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

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

“Thank you,” she said.

The items in leather bag began to shake and clatter.

-1-

Vancouver, October 20, 1949

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Bellamy looked wounded.

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

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

She closed the knife and pressed the trigger again.

Snap.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You still there, Trudy?” Gladys said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah?”

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

“But what?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

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

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

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

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

“And you need to get re-elected.”

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

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

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

“Has anyone spoken to them?”

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

“What do you say to that?”

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

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

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

“Wow. I, uh….”

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

“No, that’s fine.”

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

-2-

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

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

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

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

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

“In town?” he said.

“They live in town.”

“Where’d he disappear from?”

Trudy Parr smiled and kept mum.

“Boarding school or in town private?”

She remained quiet.

“Who was the flatfoot heading up the search?”

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

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

“Nope.”

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

“How do you know that?”

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

“You’re killing me,” said Trudy Parr.

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

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

“The other one?” said Trudy Parr.

“William Bellamy.”

She tried not to look surprised.

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

“William Bellamy’s shirt?”

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

“And they dropped the case?”

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

“You know better.”

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

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

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

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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.

doppelgänger fantasia part 4

read part 1 here, read part 2 here, Read part 3 here

the abduction of Bethany Rafael

Trudy Parr sat at her desk with her .45 calibre M1911 pistol field stripped and laid out before her. She held the slide in her hand and studied it closely. Then she wiped it clean with a soft cloth dipped in a mild solvent. Her mind was at peace. She counted her breaths. It was a meditation on semi-automatic firearm maintenance.

The intercom buzzed.

“What is it, Gladys?” Trudy Parr said.

“Some gal named Bethany Rafael,” said Gladys. “Says she knows you.”

“Put her through,” said Trudy Parr, picking up the recoil spring. The phone rang.

Trudy Parr put down the recoil spring and picked up the gun’s barrel. She looked threw it as if it were a telescope and panned the room. She put it down gently on the fifth ring, perfectly aligning it with the other dismantled parts. On the sixth ring she picked up the phone. “Hello, Beth. What’s rattling?”

“It’s that Bittle character again,” Bethany Rafael said. “He just sits there. Sometimes I catch him staring at me. He’s giving me the creeps.”

“Want me to come down, shake the guy up?” As she said this, Trudy Parr weighed a .45 calibre cartridge in her hand. Its heft was comforting.

“No, I don’t wanna squawk. It’s just that we’ve had some eerie personalities in here before but this guy wins the prize.”

“Call the cops.”

“Can’t. The manager says it’s bad for business.”

“I’ll drive you home.”

“No, Trudy. You can’t drive me home every night. I guess I just needed to tell someone. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I guess I can take care of myself.”

“Okay. Call if you need to.”

Woolworth’s lunch counter

Among the many things she knew, the ephemera of which waitress wisdom consists, was that the troublesome customer was never a permanent customer. He or she could not be listed among the regulars. They always grew bored of pestering the same girl, day in and day out. The troublesome customer, man or woman, might became infatuated with her, fall in love with her and bring her unwanted gifts. When she responded to them with indifference, they would wheedle and cajole. And ultimately, they would rage against her and curse her name. But even the worst of them would eventually disappear into an abyss of their own erroneous affections.

Despite her confidence in this theory, though, Bethany Rafael would always worry when a new problem customer entered her ordinary life. What if this was the one, she’d ask herself, the one who is completely uncontrollable. The one that disproves what she had comfortably come to know. The one that doesn’t disappear. The one so besotted and obsessed that he takes her along for the fatal, unknowable ride.

She looked down the lunch counter at the man who’d introduced himself a week ago as Dr Alasdair Bittle. He sat on his lunch counter stool and chain smoked. It was 5:55 pm. Five minutes to closing. His cup was full of cold coffee. There was a half eaten doughnut on a side plate at his elbow. He didn’t read a newspaper or a magazine. He only stared at himself in the mirror across the counter, in a haze of blue smoke.

“We’re closing soon, Dr Bittle,” she said.

Dr Alasdair Bittle looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. Beth could smell the booze. He had the appearance of a thoroughly defeated man. “I’m waiting for a colleague but it seems unlikely he’ll arrive before closing time.”

“Well maybe you should pay your bill, Doc.”

“Yes,” Bittle said placing a two dollar bill on the counter. “Please keep the change. My associate may still make an appearance. He’s a tall Russian fellow named Alexei. Tell him, if he does come in, that I’ve returned to the laboratory.”

“Yeah sure, Dr Bittle,” Bethany Rafael said.

Bittle left the Woolworth’s store and Bethany Rafael closed the lunch counter. By 6:30 she was walking east on Hastings Street toward the BC Electric Interurban Line. It was dark and fellow pedestrians were few along the block in front of Woodward’s Department Store. She was aware of the heavy footsteps trailing her and she gripped her umbrella tightly. At Abbott Street, as she stopped for a red light, the heavy footsteps stopped behind her.

“Hello again,” Dr Alasdair Bittle said as he stepped out from a shadowy doorway.

“Doctor,” Bethany Rafael said, startled. She looked over her shoulder at a large man behind her, the source of the heavy footsteps. When he smiled at her crookedly, it all began to make wicked sense. She looked back at Bittle. “What’s this all about?”

A dark Chrysler drove up to the curb, its passenger door open.

“We have need of you in our laboratory,” Bittle said. “Please accompany Alexei and me in our car.”

Alexei put a hand on her shoulder and leaned over her from behind. He had beer and onions on his breath. She felt the umbrella in her hand and thought about hitting him with it. It seemed too weak a response. Instead, she turned on Alexei and shoved the blunt point of the umbrella into him like a shiv. She saw a dark patch of blood emerge and pulled the umbrella out.

Alexei looked stunned and held his hands to the wound. “Fuck,” he said and bent over.

Bittle got into the Chrysler as she turned to run down Abbott Street. The car did a u-turn in the middle of Hastings, stopping traffic, and followed after her. But by then, however, she was gone from sight.

“That bitch,” Bittle slammed the dashboard. “Turn down that alley.” Bittle pointed to the right and the driver turned.

The car stopped at the alley entrance. “You drive,” the driver said to Bittle. He was a stocky Russian with tattoos on his fists and neck. “I get out and hunt.” Bittle shimmied over when the Russian got out.

The Chrysler’s headlights illuminated the alley as the Russian looked behind trashcans and in doorways. Bethany Rafael knew then that she should have kept running. Now she knelt absolutely still in a shadow cast by a stack of empty boxes, listening as the car came closer and the Russian’s breathing got nearer.

“Come out little girly,” the Russian sang as he looked everywhere. “Come out, come out, come out. I am not Alexei. You cannot stop me. I chew the bones of little girlies like you. I am the devil. Don’t make me work so hard to find you.”

Suddenly the Russian was in front of her, scanning the other side of the alley but seeing nothing. He violently scattered trashcans and refuse. Then he turned around and looked in her direction. His fists were clenched with blue and red star tattoos. She stood and ran again and he ran after her. A car winged her as she ran through traffic where the alley crossed Carrall Street. She spun and fell. The Russian caught up and looked down at her lying in the street. Another car blew its horn but manoeuvred round them when the tattooed Russian gave the driver a stern look.

The Chrysler came to idle in the middle of Carrall and Bittle got out. He opened the rear passenger door and the Russian heaved Bethany Rafael inside.

“She’s useless to us now,” Bittle said, gritting his teeth. “She was a perfect specimen but now she’s injured.”

“It’s nothing,” said the Russian. “A bruise. If it’s worse, we’ll dump her in the ocean. But we can’t leave her here. She can identify us. Get in and drive. We must see to Alexei.”

Bittle turned onto Hastings and headed back to where Alexei had been stabbed with the umbrella. When they arrived, Alexei sat against Woodward’s below a display window where a happy family of mannequins frolicked in the latest fashions. The tattooed Russian stepped out of the car and looked down at the wounded man.

“This is very inconvenient, Alexei.”

“Please, Vlad,” said Alexei. “It’s not so bad. Dr Bittle can fix me.”

“You fool. He’s a Doctor of Theoretical Physics, not medicine.”

“Then leave me at a hospital,” Alexei said. “We were once soldiers together, Vlad. We were brothers. You owe it to me.”

The tattooed Russian looked up and down Hastings. There were still a few people on the street but no one paying attention to what must be a drunk on the sidewalk. He pulled out a TT-33 pistol.

“No,” Alexei shouted, holding up his hands.

The tattooed Russian fired two rounds in his head.

doppelgänger fantasia part 3

Read part 1 here Read part 2 here Read part 4 here

Evil Science Comes to Vancouver
BY ROSCOE PHELPS, THE VANCOUVER SUN October 28, 1949 
Ain’t it the truth, Vancouver? That beneath our rainy Pacific skies, we walk on streets of gold. We’re a city of blameless citizens confronted daily with boundless opportunity. Every family housed and fed, every woman safe and every child schooled and rosy cheeked. Government is good and the bad guys quiver in fear of our brave and robust police force.
    But maybe it’s time to grow up a little bit. Is Vancouver really the virtuous City upon a Hill that we believe it is?
    Maybe not. Up until this moment, who could have known? That our small metropolis could be home to a criminal mob of foreign spies, experimenting with the very composition of the universe. It came as a shock to this reporter, I can assure you.
    Picture, if you will, a gaggle of intellectual goons bent on inventing a machine that can duplicate matter. A gizmo that when one chicken is put in, two chickens come out. Now imagine that this machine is here now. In a Chinatown warehouse where this band of maniacal geniuses is testing it on the innocent citizenry of Vancouver.
Imagine this coven of shadowy academics creating this machine for its own wicked ends. Creating female armies of salacious hedonistic slaves from a single loose-minded harlot; or perhaps a fighting army of malicious minion warriors, each a copy of the most violent, mindless and sadistic ogre imaginable.
    Then imagine it happening here, in our quiet paradise by the sea.
    The first light shed on this evil plot came in a phone call from a distraught woman, a hysterical citizen of Vancouver, claiming that she’d been part of a depraved experiment.  An experiment in replicating matter. That’s right, dear reader, she, let’s call her Lady B, claimed to have been duplicated by a gang of seedy itinerant highbrows who have come to our home and native land to turn science on its ear.
    Lady B maintains that she was kidnapped from her work-a-day world as a waitress at a Woolworths lunch counter. Then brought to Chinatown and held for several days in a fetid cell. She was finally placed in a chamber connected to a wall of gauges and flashing lights. And it was there that she witnessed her reproduction in another chamber across from her in the same room.
    As fantastic as it sounds, Lady B and her doppelgänger escaped from their Chinatown prison and found themselves pursued by a gang of punks and thugs. Sadly, one of the two Lady Bs was murdered in a tunnel beneath Chinatown. She died alone and confused at the hands of a callous killer who snapped her neck like it was the fragile stem of a delicate flower. Her lifeless body left discarded there in the dark, beneath the weight of the ignorant city above.
    Where’s the justice in this? What have the police done? And what, dear reader, was the reason for last night’s clandestine meeting of the Godfather of Chinatown, Agustin Ho, and two of the city’s most notorious private investigators, Crispin Dench and Trudy Parr? Why did they meet in a dark lot behind the BC Electric tram garage?
    You can depend on this reporter to crack this case and expose these alien miscreants and their accomplices. That’s my commitment to you, Vancouver.

* * * *

“Dead? She’s died? How can this be?” Alasdair Bittle buried his head in his hands.

“It was a business decision,” said Wilfred Beacon.

“You’re mad,” said Bittle.

“No, just practical.” Beacon sat behind his desk, sipping a scotch and water. The two men were in his Marine Building office.

“You murdered her. We might at least have tried to reverse the experiment.”

“Are you certain you could?”

“No, of course not,” said Bittle. “This is science. It’s replication theory. Nothing is certain.”

“In that case,” Beacon said, “you’ve confirmed the correctness of our actions. We couldn’t risk the discovery of the replication. We have the interests of our investors to consider. There are several hundred patents pending. Besides, we only killed one of her. We’re almost certain it was the duplicate. And if it was the duplicate that got killed, then it isn’t really murder?”

“You’re rationalising. The replication was human, as surely as you or I.”

“Not anymore,” said Beacon.

“But what will be the future outcomes of this?” said Bittle. “You may have put the entire universe out of balance.”

“You replicated her, Doc,” Wilfred Beacon said. “All we did was eliminate an inconvenience. And since it’s almost certain that the original survives, we might have put the universe back in balance.”

“Almost certain?” said Doctor Bittle, “What if you’re wrong? What if you killed the original? What if the replication is still loose out there? We don’t know yet how stable the replications are. There are a hundred different ways that a replication could self-destruct. What will happen if it does? What if it falls into the wrong hands? What if there are bizarre physiological aspects we never considered? That only prolonged scientific observation can discover? What if the replication turns out to be a breeding ground for a deadly virus? There’s so much we do not know. That’s why we needed to keep the replication alive. Innocent lives could be at risk.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to ice the survivor, as well.”

“You’re a monster,” said Bittle.

“I’m a Project Manager, Dr Bittle. I deal with reality. And the reality is that you should never have created that replication in the first place. Not before we had trials with lower life forms.”

“It was accidental,” said Bittle.

“Accidental?” said Beacon. “You placed her in that chamber and you pulled the switch. You instigated the sequence of events that resulted in the replication, Dr Bittle.”

“I was drunk.”

“You’re always dunk, you juicer.”

“And this outcome demonstrates that the technology isn’t ready for humanity – or, more likely, that humanity isn’t ready for the technology. Either way, what has occurred proves that we cannot continue, that we mustn’t continue. I have to publish my findings and face the consequences.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind,” said Beacon. “Your findings are Company property.”

“This company is unethical,” said Bittle.

“No more than any other, Doctor.”

* * * *

Trudy Parr let it ring seven times and then picked up the phone. “Dench and Parr Agency,” she said.

“We need to talk,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “You, me and that partner of yours.” It was Lieutenant Oly Schmidt of the Chinatown Squad. “Says here in this morning’s Sun that you were hobnobbing with known underworld types last night. You know the piece I mean, this thing Roscoe Phelps wrote? He implies that you’re in cahoots with Agustin Ho. That true?”

“It’s all the lies of a desperately lonely newspaper reporter,” Trudy Parr said. She turned round on her office chair and looked out onto Hastings Street. It was raining.

“We still need to meet.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re lying to me,” Schmidt said. “Or at least holding back. I hear you recently had Barney Polenski in your office. I hear he was shadowing the murder victim. I hear you nearly cut off his head before he spilled a ton of dope on the case.”

“You’re only partially correct,” said Trudy Parr. “Polenski played dumb under rigorous interrogation. I made the mistake of believing him. That was wrong of me. Maybe I’m going soft. But word is that he’s still in town, even though Crispin told him to vamoose. I’ve got calls out. People street side know I want him. I should get news of his whereabouts soon. Then maybe I’ll start by cutting off his smaller more delicate pieces, before I threaten decapitation. There’s a notebook of his I want to see.”

“There’s a warrant out for his arrest, Trudy,” Schmidt said. “That makes him ours, not yours. So hands off.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Trudy Parr. “I’m a real hands-off kinda girl.”

“Don’t push, Miss Parr.”

“You just grab a doughnut and stand down, Oly,” Trudy Parr said. “You’ll be called in to mop up and take all of the credit. Until then, stay outta my way.” She hung up the telephone.

* * * *

Crispin Dench owned and drove a white 1948 Jaguar Xk120 with red leather interior, but he left it at home that night. Instead, he borrowed a ’46 Chevrolet sedan from Hatless Andy Picard, a broad shouldered labourer for hire who’d earned his nickname for his vast collection of hats. Dench preferred the big backseat and trunk of the Chevrolet for the work he had that evening. Hatless Andy rode shotgun. It was 10:00 pm. Dench tuned the radio to a jazz station. They listened to Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli play All the Things You Are.

There was a large bundle in the backseat. It squirmed, grunted and convulsed. It was held together by a series of knotted ropes.

“Settle down back there, Barney,” Crispin Dench said. “Save your energy.”

Barney Polenski was gagged and nearly silenced. But there came a run of muffled expletives.

“We’ll be there in a minute, Old Man,” Dench said.

The soft suspension of the Chevrolet allowed the car to rumble smoothly over the railroad tracks that crossed the road leading onto the Rogers Sugar refinery wharf. When it was halfway out on the wharf, the Chevrolet stopped. The wharf was dimly lit. Dench had counted on that.

“Shall we?” he said.

“Sure, sure,” Hatless Andy said.

They got out of the car and pulled Barney Polenski from of the backseat. Then they positioned him on his knees at the edge of the wharf, under a light standard. Dench placed a noose round Polenski’s neck and Hatless Andy shimmied up the pole with the other end of the rope. He tethered it there securely.

Crispin Dench removed Barney Polenski’s blindfold. Polenski felt the noose round his neck and looked out over the open water twenty feet below. He nearly swooned, fighting to keep his balance.

“What the fuck,” Polenski said. “You can’t do this, Dench. They’ll find out if I fall over. You’ll hang for it.”

“Not before you do,” Crispin Dench said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t leave town,” Polenski said. “That Trudy bitch cut me bad. I wasn’t in any shape to travel.”

“Be nice with what you say about Trudy Parr,” said Hatless Andy.

“Yeah be nice, Barney,” Dench said. “The hatless one here believes that I should just push you over the edge and let you swing. He thinks I should do that because you’re a goon and a liar. I, however, believe you have some redeeming qualities and at least one item in your possession that might save you.”

“Name it, Dench,” Polenski said, “and it’s yours.”

“Well there’s really only one thing, Barney. Only one thing that I’d risk handling after you’ve molested it with your grimy meat hooks.”

“What? What is it?”

“It’s that notebook you took notes in while you talked to the now murdered woman in the Lily Lounge. I have a golden source that says you took plentiful notes during your chats with her. That’s what makes you a liar; you said the notes were all in your head. You lied to me Barney. What made you think I’d let that slide?”

Hatless Andy tightened the noose. Barney Polenski choked and coughed, and then he spoke. “It all comes down to this, Dench. I got myself in a real pickle. I gotta choose who’s gonna kill me, you or that bunch of foreigners with that duplicating machine. I tell you what’s what and the foreigners ice me. I shut up about it and you push me off this wharf with a rope round my neck. Maybe you can understand my reticence.”

“The time for reticence is over,” Dench said.

“Are you and that psycho partner of yours gonna protect me if I spill, Dench?” Polenski said.

“No, but maybe we can use the information in your little notebook to mop these bastards up and eliminate all the perils you face.”

“Or maybe not,” Polenski coughed. “Maybe you’re out of your league with these characters. Maybe they’re smarter than you.”

Crispin Dench bent down and looked at Polenski in profile. Polenski turned his head and faced him. Polenski’s throat hurt. The rope was burning into the open wound Trudy Parr had inflicted. “Do you really believe that, Barney?” Crispin Bench said with an uncanny calm.

Barney Polenski licked his lips and looked down at the water he’d hang over if he was pushed. “No,” he said. “I guess I don’t.”

“Is that book up in your room, Barney?” Dench said.

“Yeah,” said Polenski. “It’s in a safe in my closet under some shoe boxes.”

“What’s the combination?”

Barney Polenski hesitated, hating to give in. Dench saw this. Standing up, he said, “Alright, Andy. Kick the fat fuck over.”

“Be a pleasure,” Hatless Andy said.

“No, wait,” Barney Polenski yelped. “10 right, 4 left, 9 right.”

“Say it again,” Dench said, “so I can write it down,” Barney Polenski did.

“So now you cut me loose, right?” Polenski said. “We’re square, right?”

“What do think?” Dench said to Hatless Andy. “Should we release this lying bitch? We don’t even know if this combination’s correct, do we?”

“It’s good,” Polenski whined. “The combination’s correct.”

“I say we leave him here,” Hatless Andy said. “Let him watch the sunrise.”

“That’s a damn fine idea,” Dench said.

“No,” said Polenski. “I could slip and break my neck.”

“You should have thought of that before,” said Dench. “There’ll be some longshoremen round in six or seven hours. They’ll cut you free, one way or the other.”

“Dench, you prick, cut me loose.”

“See you in the funny papers, Barney.”

In a few minutes, Barney Polenski heard the Chevrolet start and drive away. He remained kneeling until morning, listening to the song of foghorns.

doppelgänger fantasia part 2

read part 1 here, read part 3 here, read part 4 here

Vancouver 1949

…when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. That was Sherlock Holmes’ spin on things. But Crispin Dench had never bought into it. It was too flowery for starters. Besides, he’d never been interested truth. All he ever wanted were verifiable facts. He had his own practical theory; it went like this: There’s nothing more distracting than the obvious. And nothing more obvious than a distraction. He tried to live by those words. But he was frequently sidetracked by the accuracy of the principle.

He stood next to a dark and idle BC Electric tram. It was 1:00 a.m. There were no streetlights; that part of Chinatown was too low rent. The glowing end of his cigarette was a beacon. It informed anyone who cared to know that he was there, waiting.

When it finally arrived, the headlights of Agustin Ho’s immaculately preserved, chauffeur driven 1938 Packard Super 8 illuminated the rain soaked street. As the vehicle stopped, a bodyguard riding shotgun stepped out and opened Agustin’s door. Crispin Dench watched as a pair of glossy black and white spectators preceded an elegantly suited Chinese man of about forty years onto the wet pavement. Ho put on his hat, lit a cigarette and waved the bodyguard off.

“What’s the hullabaloo, Dench?” Ho said. “I don’t like being away from the office this time of night.”

“Maybe I just want to talk over old times.”

“We ain’t got no old times to talk over,” Ho said, taking off his glasses and wiping the drizzle away with a blue silk handkerchief.

“Then let’s talk about tunnel activity.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say about that either,” said Ho. “I don’t use the tunnels. The tunnels were my father’s turf. I run legitimate businesses, street side. I don’t need to sneak around.”

Dench smiled. He knew Agustin Ho ran one or two legitimate operations. But mostly he squeezed Chinatown businesses and ran a bizarre array of booze cans, dug parlours and cat houses. The kind of places cops and politicians were paid to overlook. Places where respectable citizens went to get smoked, laid or stabbed. Where a square got to make like he had a personality and street credentials were rented, not earned.

“Yeah, you’re legit,” said Dench, “but you also know better than anybody what goes on round here. And you own the Lily Lounge. A patron of the Lily ended up dead in the Keefer street tunnel the other night. Why do you think that might have happened?”

Ho looked over at his bodyguard. Meng was a deadly number with a balisong knife in his pocket and a .45 in his shoulder holster. He and Ho communicated with discreet gestures and eye contact so subtle and fleeting the average civilian would never catch it. It was a complex language of menace, silently spoken in a world where nothing was ever written down. And nothing was ever done in the light of day.

“Boss say he’s already spoken to the police about that,” Meng said. “Boss say he doesn’t want to talk about it again. Boss say it disturbs him to talk about such unpleasantness and that he is offended that you presumed to summon him here for this reason.”

“Talk to me, Ho,” said Dench. “I don’t want your goon translating your facial ticks for me. At least tell him to stop talking like he just got off the boat. He was born here same as you and me.”

“Watch how you talk, sei gweilo,” Meng said.

There was some more mysterious eye contact between Ho and Meng. Meng moved away and into the shadows. Then Ho said, “What do you care what happens underground, Dench? This dead dame a friend of yours?”

“Let’s just say the case intrigues me. And you owe me a favour or two. Don’t forget that Yakuza thing a year ago.”

The mention of the Yakuza and favours owed made Agustin Ho wince. He knew Dench was right. But he hated it. “I heard it was your own Trudy Parr that found the body,” Ho said, “I hear the dead broad had a tiff with her boyfriend, or maybe he was her pimp. She got slapped and then she ran through my kitchen and down into the tunnels. That’s when Trudy Parr followed her down, like some kind of storybook heroine. You know, I don’t never see Trudy round town with any men. I think maybe she goes in for the ladies, don’t you? Maybe she had the hots for that little chiquita. Maybe that’s why she followed her. And now Trudy’s got you out late asking questions about her dear departed little chippy. We’re both getting rained on while she’s at home getting her beauty sleep. That seem fair to you, Dench?”

“I get my beauty sleep when the works done,” said Trudy Parr walking out from behind the tram. She wore a trench coat with the collar turned up. “As for you, Ho. I hear the sunlight burns your skin so you sleep in a coffin during the day.”

“That’s just a rumour,” said Ho with a grin. He continued wiping his glasses with the silk handkerchief.

“Watch out for her, boss,” said Meng, stepping out of the shadows. “She a tricky sister.”

“I’ve got this,” Ho said and Meng disappeared again.

“And another thing,” said Trudy Parr, “my nocturnal roundabouts are my own business.”

“Fine by me,” Ho said, grinning some more. “Look, I don’t know nothing about why that woman got her neck broken underground. It can be a bad neighbourhood down there. What I do know is that a landlord on Georgia Street rented a warehouse out to some shady tenants about a month ago. Since then, everyone’s been talking about bad luck. The mah jong parlours are losing customers and fortune tellers are making a killing off of good luck charms.”

“I thought you controlled Chinatown,” Crispin Dench said. “Why don’t you step in and do something?”

“Sure,” said Ho, “I control Chinatown. But as long as a landlord pays his ice, what do I care who he rents to?”

“What’s so shady about these tenants?” said Trudy Parr. “What’s their connection to the corpse? Why are they bad luck?”

“I don’t know,” said Ho. “These peasants in Chinatown believe everything’s bad luck.”

“Peasants?” said Dench. “I thought these were your people.”

“Hey, I’m third generation Vancouver, man. Most times, I don’t know what the hell these chumps are talking about. I’ve gone by the warehouse and it’s all locked down like Fort Knox. And there’re some pretty rough looking characters, even by my standards, guarding the joint. There’re even rumours going round that the dead dame was conjured up out of some cockamamie magic going on in there that makes twins or doubles out of people.”

“Well, isn’t that something,” said Trudy Parr. “That’s closely approximates what Barney Polenski had to say.”

“Barney Polenski’s a moron,” said Ho.

“You know if there’s any connection between the victim and Polenski?”

“Sure,” said Ho. “They were in the Lily a few times together.”

“Funny, Barney said he didn’t go into the Lily. You say they were together, like dreamily staring into each others eyes?”

“Looked like it was all business to me,” Ho said. “The girl talking and Polenski nodding, taking notes and pounding back rye and cokes.”

“Polenski said his notes were all in his head,” said Trudy Parr.

“Polenski’s a degenerate liar,” said Ho. “I saw him writing shit down. Find him and get his note book. It’ll probably tell you more about what’s going on than I can.”

“If he took my advice,” said Dench, “He’s on a train heading east by now.”

Meng stepped out from the shadows again and signalled silently to Ho. Then he withdrew and Ho turned back to Dench and said, “Yeah, maybe he’s on a train. But sources tell me Polenski was seen going into Lady Ping’s tonight – round back. You know what that means. That bastard’s been a major dope fiend since he got back from the war. His throat was all bandaged up for some reason, too.”

Ho put his glasses back on. “So that’s it, Dench. Now we’re copasetic. I don’t owe you shit as of this moment. I’m going for a steam and a massage.”

As Ho began to get back into the Packard, there was a scuffle in the shadows and a cry for help. Then Meng appeared holding a skinny untidy man by the collar of his raincoat. It was Vancouver Sun reporter Roscoe Phelps.

“Look what I find in dark,” said Meng holding his balisong knife to Phelps’ throat.

“Hands off, you mongol punk,” Phelps said. “I gotta right.”

“Well well,” said Trudy Parr, “if it ain’t Roscoe Phelps. What hole did you just crawl out of?”

Ho signalled for Meng to release the reporter and Phelps stumbled to the ground. When stood up, he made a show of straightening his cheap overcoat and refitting his hat.

“I slice him up good for you, Boss,” Meng said. “I leave him in garbage can for dogs.”

“No,” said Ho. “Cutting down a reporter in this town’s bad juju. But that don’t mean we can’t teach you some manners, Roscoe.”

“It’ll be a headline in the afternoon Sun if you do,” said Phelps.

“Why you skulking round, Phelps,” said Dench.

“I’m collecting dope for a story that concerns all of you. Ain’t no surprise to find you all together here, like it’s a little club. I got a lead on some shenanigans going on in that warehouse you referred to earlier. I got me a pidgin singing grand opera. And some of the characters in that opera are mighty interesting.”

“What’s he saying, this pidgin of yours?” said Trudy Parr.

“It’s not a he,” said Phelps. “It’s a she-pidgin. But that’s all you’re getting outta me ‘til you read it in the papers.”

“Then get the hell out of here,” said Ho, “before I let Meng break your typing finger.”

“Fine with me,” said Phelps. “Looks like this shindig’s breakin’ up anyway.” he tipped his hat and walked away.

A few blocks west, lights burned bright in the Sun Building, Phelps’ destination. It was graveyard shift. They’d already put the morning edition to bed. It’d be hitting the street in a few hours and be blowing in the wind by 10:00 a.m. Already editors were tearing their hair out, agonizing over afternoon copy – shifts in opinion, missed deadlines, blank columns, ambivalent readers and pig-headed advertisers. There was an army up there, toiling over the minutia of a small and insignificant city. Nothing worth a damn ever happened in Vancouver. Not on the surface, anyway.

Trudy Parr lit a Black Cat cigarette. “I think Roscoe Phelps needs a special talking-to,” she said to Crispin Dench as Agustin Ho’s 1938 Packard drove away.

“Let’s read the papers first,” said Dench. “It’ll add context to the conversation.”

doppelgänger fantasia part 1

read part 2 here, read part 3 here, read part 4 here

Vancouver 1949

“It’s a matchbook,” he said, and threw it back across the desk at Trudy Parr.

“Yeah,” she said. “But your name and phone number are written inside.”

“So?”

“So it was found last night, next to the body in a tunnel under Chinatown.”

“There are no tunnels under Chinatown,” he said. “That’s a myth.”

Trudy Parr looked at him.

“Okay,” he said. “It sounds incriminating. So, why don’t you just hand that little item over to Oly Schmidt? He runs Chinatown for the cops.”

“Because he’s a dope. He doesn’t give a damn about a Chinatown Jane Doe.”

“And you do?”

“Why not?”

“What were you even doing down there?”

“Down where? I thought you said the tunnels were a myth.”

He looked at his wristwatch.

“She had no ID in her purse,” said Trudy Parr. “The killer likely snatched it. But I recognised her. She was in the Lily Lounge last night. Were you in the Lily last night, Barney?”

“I don’t go to Chinatown, Trudy. I’m a white man. And the Lily ain’t my kinda joint.”

“What is your kind of joint, Barney?”

“Look, this ain’t none of your business, whatever it is. You’re just a skirt with a PI license who should be home raising kids. You got no business grillin’ me.”

“It’s my business if I say it is.”

“You see,” said Barney Polenski, “this is why I don’t like you and that partner of yours, that Dench bastard. You do way too much pro bono work in this town. Who’s gonna pay you for looking into some dead hooker’s murder?”

“Who said she was a hooker?”

He hesitated. “Hooker, Blessed Virgin – who gives a damn? But dead in a tunnel under Chinatown probably means hooker or dope fiend. And the matchbook. Don’t it make it mine if my name’s inside? What if I just take it? What are you gonna do?”

“That’s a dumb question, Barney. You’re smarter than that.”

He stood up and looked down at her. Trudy Parr remained seated. She could see that the wheels were turning in Barney Polenski’s head. He tugged at his earlobe.

It was all just a rumour as far as he was concerned, nothing substantiated. Just a lot of barroom stories. The fatal Trudy Parr of Dench and Parr Investigations. A spy for the Allies in Nazi occupied Paris. That was where she’d become a killer, supposedly. Now she sat there looking all Veronica Lake. Eyes too blue. Skin too pale. Demeanour too calm. The matchbook in front of her. Both of her hands on the desktop.

“I don’t yield to no dame,” he said. “On principle.”

Trudy Parr smiled.

“Give me the matches, nice like.”

“Take ‘em, tough guy.”

His eyes moved over a small area in front of him. The matches, her hands, her face, her cold eyes, back to the matches. Then he moved as fast as he could. But it wasn’t fast enough. Trudy Parr’s hand snatched the matches away. She wheeled back on her desk chair, and reached underneath. There was a straight razor there; there was always a straight razor there, held in place with a single strip of masking tape. She retrieved it and got to her feet. All he’d remember later was the silver glint of the blade. He knew what it was and stumbled backward, reaching into his jacket pocket for his revolver. Trudy Parr stepped out from behind her desk quickly and coolly and applied the blade to the throat of Barney Polenski. He walked slowly backward, hands out in plain view now, and stopped when he hit a wall. “Go ahead, tough guy,” she said. “Pull your gun. I’m already drawing blood.” A red bead dripped and stained his white collar.

“Jeeze,” he said. “Lighten up, Trudy.”

“You’re a big bully of a man, Barney. I hate that. I brought you in on this as a courtesy. One east-ender to another. And you go and get all tough. Like I’m gonna fold all of a sudden, and play the quail. Well fuck you. The inlet’s just down the road, and who’d weep over you being fished out of it in a day or two all cold and wet and dead?”

She reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out his Smith and Wesson. Dropping the razor and holding the gun, she took a step back and said, “Now reach down and take that .32 off your ankle and slide it over.” He did what she said, and then stood up.

There was a gentle knock on the door, and Crispin Dench stuck his head in.  “Oh,” he said. “Bad timing?”

“No, no,” said Barney Polenski with his back against the wall, bleeding from the wound to his throat. “Please. Come in.”

“Barney Polenski, old man,” Dench said. “You’re not looking so hot, pal.”

“Get this broad off me, Dench.”

“You’re bleeding from the throat, Barney,” Dench said. “That’ll ruin a good shirt.”

“Control this damn woman.”

“Can’t do it, Barney. Tried once. Nearly got me killed. I’m sure you understand considering your current situation. I’ll just return to my office. I just came in to ask for a file I need for an upcoming court appearance, but it can wait.”

“Which one,” said Trudy Parr, not taking her eyes off Polenski.

“Cummings, William H.,” said Dench.

“I’m finished with it. I had Agnes file it in the lockdown cabinet. Under C.”

“Ah,” said Dench, “that’s grand. Bye for now.” He closed the door.

“Grab your coat, Barney,” said Trudy Parr. “You’re stinkin’ the place up.”

“What’re you gonna do about all this,” Polenski said.

“I don’t know yet. It’ll be interesting to see if someone claims the body. Anything you wanna add before I throw you out?”

“I think you know I didn’t ice her. You’d have handled it different, otherwise.”

“And?”

“Look, this whole thing is too damn strange. She was strange. It don’t surprise me she was in the Lily Lounge.”

“Meaning?”

“You know the types that go there.”

“I go there,” said Trudy Parr.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Give me something, Barney. These things have a rapid way of unfolding on their own. Names reveal themselves, motives, lethal little details. The players who cough up early usually come out the cleanest. Later evidence can be very damning. Don’t make me seek you out in some dark place after your name starts dropping.”

He looked at his shoes, cheap Mexican straight tips. “Sometimes I play the bad guy,” he said. “I know it. But I got hurt bad in the war.”

“We all did, Barney. Let’s not cry over spilled schnapps.”

“Well I ain’t had the opportunities some others have had. So, now I’m just trying to make a living. Someone says, ‘Here, Barney. Here’s a hundred bucks to follow some broad for a couple days. Take some notes on her. Report back.’ What am I supposed to do? Say no?”

“Who hired you?”

“Just some guys. I – I don’t know. They told me where and when to show up. That’s all.”

“You took notes?”

“In my head.”

“Feel like sharing?”

He looked up from his shoes, not looking like a street thug anymore. He just looked scared. “Look, there’s some fucking crazy people in town right now. If I’d known from the getgo, I’d have declined their offer of work. Now I got you trying to cut my head off. And by this afternoon, they’ll know I was here. They’ll have to assume I spilled something. I may be walking dead already.”

“So leave a legacy, Barney. Throw me a bone. If it’s good, maybe I can save your sorry life.”

He looked at his shoes again. He looked at them as though they meant something. “The girl,” he said. “There’s two of them.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? She’s got a sister?”

“Nah. I mean there’s actually two of them. Identical, but not twins. The same person times two. Now of course, after the killing last night, there’s just one. The one that’s supposed to be here. The other one that turned up dead was the one I was hired to shadow. I think that now she’s been taken out of the picture everyone might calm down. Just some loose ends. Like some of the people on the edge of the caper who know too much.” He looked up with an ironic smile. It surprised her.

“So, one’s in the morgue,” said Trudy Parr. “Where’s the other one?”

“I ain’t got a clue,” he said.

“Give me a name,” she said.

“Bittle,” said Barney after a moment.

“Her name was Bittle?”

“No. I don’t know her name. They just gave me a photo, and an idea where to start. They never gave me their names, either. Not real ones, anyway. They were just Mr One, Mr Two, Mr Three. Get it? Some of them were Brits and some were Russian. I’m pretty sure.”

“Russian?”

“Yeah, but not Bolsheviks. I met some Bolsheviks in Berlin in ’45. These characters were different. Smoother. More refined. But there was one name that came up real frequent. It sounded like one of those British officer names I heard a lot in Europe. Alasdair Bittle. Or Dr Bittle. I heard that, too. They liked to talk like I wasn’t there a lot, so I heard some shit. Once or twice they called Bittle the Doppelgänger Doctor, whatever the hell that is. Maybe I should leave town.”

“Maybe, Barney. But leave me with your contact information.”

She escorted Barney Polenski to the elevator. The operator pretended no to notice the bleeding.

“Lobby,” Trudy Parr said. And the doors slid shut.

Barney Polenski put on his coat in the lobby, and exited the Dominion Building. He pulled his collar up to hide the wound, and crossed Cambie Street. When he was in front of the Flack Block on Hastings, Crispin Dench stepped out of a shadow.

“Hold up there, Barney,” Dench said.

“What now? I gotta see a doctor.”

“Just one thing,” Dench said. Polenski noticed how he looked different now. How the dapper figure in the office had transformed, staring out from under the brim of his hat and lighting a cigarette. “Thing about guys like you, Barney, is that you always come back for more. That accounts for your lower than normal life expectancy. What happened up there with Trudy’s a good example. I figure you’ll go get patched up, get shit face, and plan some revenge – shaddup. Don’t make me slap you. You know I’m right. A mug like you won’t let a skirt get away with what she did to you up there, even if it means shooting her in the back.

“Your plan will involve some of your close associates, because you already failed dealing with her alone. You won’t tell them what actually happened. You’ll make something up. Outstanding debt or some other bullshit. Then you’ll wait for the right moment to get her. You figure that’ll restore your manhood. I wish she’d deal with crumbs like you differently. But she refuses to listen. I guess it’s part of her charm. But I’ve never seen her do nothin’ to anyone that didn’t have it coming.

“So, here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna get fixed up. You’re gonna explain the scar by saying you were in a street fight with some greasers. You were outnumbered, but you prevailed. Real heroic. And you’re gonna forget about what happened up there with Trudy. That clear?”

“Yeah sure, Crispin.”

“You remember Albert Falconi? That little Mafia wanna be son of a bitch they found in the trunk of his Buick up Little Mountain last year? The little fuck they found with two bullet holes in his head? He told me he was clear about an issued we’d discussed, too. Except he wasn’t clear at all. Turned out that he thought he was smarter than me. You drive a Buick don’t you, Barney? Nice fat ’48 Roadmaster? Plenty big trunk on that beast. I could fit two or three of you into that.”

“Jesus, Crispin. I thought you was legit.”

“I’m legit when it pays the bills, and when those near to me aren’t under threat.”

“I’m just small time. I ain’t gonna cause no trouble.”

“I don’t like small timers, Barney. They all want to be big timers when they grow up.”

“Not me, Crispin. I’m thinking of leaving town.”

“That’s a good idea, Barney. There’re trains leaving everyday from down the street. Sell your possessions and head east. I hear Winnipeg’s a nice town for third rate hoods to cool their heels. Forget the city of Vancouver for a while. Think of it as a bad dream by the sea.”

“Yeah, Crispin,” Barney Polenski said. “That just might be the fix.” He cautiously stepped round Crispin Dench, and began walking away, looking over his shoulder every few steps until he was lost in the crowd.

“So, what was all that about with Polenski?” Crispin Dench asked Trudy Parr when he returned to the office.

“He’s mixed up with something.” Trudy Parr tossed the matchbook across her desk. Then she pushed a copy of the morning Vancouver Sun toward him. The headline read, Woman’s Body Found Under Chinatown.

He read the headline, then opened the matchbook and looked inside. “Ahh,” he said.

“I found it on the body.”

“You were there?”

“Yeah.”

“Ain’t none of my business but may I ask why?”