lost ironies

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Tag: WW2

The Rule of Nine

Eyes Only

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s blow,” he said.

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Carefully,” said Trudy.

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

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

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

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

“Yes?”

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

“I don’t know that I do, Willie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

“It’s sort of weird,” she said.

“Tell me.”

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

“What about them?”

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

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

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

“What then?”

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

“Then what happened?”

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

“What was cold?” Trudy said.

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

She left Willie’s without another word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be funny.” She copied on.

“What’s that?”

She handed over the IOU.

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

“So you recognise the scratch at the bottom.”

“Franco Durante.”

“Just so.”

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

“I guess.”

“This guy’s dangerous.”

“I know.”

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

“Maybe.”

“Yeah,” he shrugged, “possibly.”

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

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

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

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

She pulled a Gitanes from its pack and lit up.

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

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

“Not this one, though.”

“Yes, this one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t believe it?”

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

She had a point. He didn’t rebut.

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

Dench smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Swell.”

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

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

“Not a chance.”

The five childhood rules of hunting vampires:

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

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

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

It was 11:45pm.

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

He’s more than dangerous, Dench had said.

The Rule of Nine, she mused.

She lit a cigarette and waited until midnight.

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

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

Women weren’t welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

“Some kinda,” she said.

“Who’s this Dench character?”

“My partner.”

“He’s a guy, right?”

“Yes he is.”

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

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

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

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

“No thanks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You in Franco?” said the priest.

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

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

“The ongoing saga,” Russo grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me see it.”

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

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

The mood in the room had suddenly changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does in my book,” he said.

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

“How?”

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

“You’re full of it.”

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

“Then where’s the original?”

“In my sock drawer.”

“People die for less.”

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

“What body count?” said Durante.

“You’re a fucking vampire.”

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

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

“I got bad kidneys. I see a doctor.”

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

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

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

“Some,” he said.

“And the cops?”

“Some of them, too.”

“So, you gonna eat the whole city?”

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

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

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

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

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

He was correct, she didn’t.

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

She tossed it aside.

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

“Forgot my galvanized nail, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re unhinged,” Durante said.

There was a moment of silence.

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

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

“Such as?”

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

He sneered, “What’s that shit?”

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

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

“You’re wasting my time,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” he said.

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

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

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

“You know about Paris,” Dench said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s that?” Weekly said.

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

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

“For what?” Dench said.

“Peaceful coexistence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Working on it,” she said.

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

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

“Just one question,” said Trudy.

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

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

“Yeah, why?” Kiko said.

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Kiko shrieked. “Spit it out.”

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

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

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

“What?” Weekly wept.

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

The room went quiet, frowns and dark curiosity.

“Nine,” she whispered, and waited.

Nothing.

Then—

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

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

Dench whistled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________

Top Secret

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1947

There’s a feeling a guy gets when the creases in his pants are straight, and the part in his hair is just right. His shoes are shined and his tie is knotted into a perfect Windsor. He walks down the street and everyone smiles, and when they do he knows that they’re smiling with him.

It was the autumn of 1947, and my first hit single had made it onto the radio. It was called Samantha Samantha, and it was recorded by the Atticus Chips Orchestra with vocals by Ignacio Esposito. Samantha Samantha was on every radio and in every jukebox in the free world my agent said, and was being played by every band in every club and dance hall from here to Okinawa. The royalty cheques were rolling in, and the record company and the song-pluggers were screaming for more.

So on that late September morning, I was standing on the curb looking like a guy smitten with the world. A month ago I’d decided to purchase what a guy like me needed most, a brand new 1948 Cadillac. And now I was trying to hail a cab to take me to the dealership where I would finally take delivery.

I’d chosen the Series 62 from a brochure filled with elegantly portrayed models of the car, cruising down limitless summer sunny highways with jubilant drivers and joyous passengers all headed toward some undiscovered place worthy of their wholesome American euphoria. Other brochure models were depicted sitting fat in front of luxurious sky-high burgundy draping beneath massive gold, red white and blue Cadillac crests. And still others were parked in front of rustic heirloom Connecticut churches, very old and of obvious Protestant significance with drivers and passengers standing on roads admiring their cherished vehicles with their backs turned to God in His Yankee-built Temples.

The 1948 Cadillac represented the finest lines in ultra-modern design. It possessed a luxurious interior, and was propelled by the precision-built 90º V type 8 engine. It was going to be a joy to possess for a guy who half a year earlier was eating one meal a day of dry toast, sitting at an out of tune piano in a cold water walk-up. I was ready for a little bit of joy, so I’d chosen the two door convertible in Madeira Maroon. It was sporty, and oozed swank. Just like me, my ego said, inflated and ready to pop.

Now if I could get a cab, I’d be on my way to the Bean & Flintch Cadillac Land dealership to pick up my new baby. I finally caught the attention of a Blacktop stuck at a red light, and got in.

“Howdy, partner,” the driver said. “Call me Jimmy. Where to?”

“Bean & Flintch,” I said

“That’s that Caddy joint, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

He engaged the metre.

“You gettin’ yourself a Lac?” he asked.

“I’m taking delivery.”

“Hey that’s swell,” Jimmy said. “You must be some kinda operator. Them cars ain’t cheap.”

I thought about that for a minute – some kinda operator – and heard in my mind the down beat and chorus of Samantha Samantha, remembering the months it took to get it right on paper and then what it took to convince my agent and the studio that it would be a hit. Then there was the executive who’d said he was unable to discern the line between melody and harmony, insisting I was too young for a hit.

“Mozart was young, too,” my agent had said, pleading almost on his knees. Then there were the bribes and payola.

“Nah,” I said to Jimmy, “I was just lucky.”

Bean & Flintch was in the heart of the city and my previous trips by cab had been quick, but the traffic was heavy that day and Jimmy seemed to be taking all the wrong turns.

“You sure this is the right way,” I said, after he turned north onto Granville Street.

“Just enjoy the ride, Mac.”

“But you’re driving like a tourist.”

“I’ll get you there for less than two bucks,” Jimmy said. “Or I’ll eat my hat.”

His hat was a faux military style officer-looking number, with a brass Blacktop shield on the front. He wore it tilted on his crewcut head, with a taxi licence badge pinned on one side.

“That hat would be a mouthful,” I said. “And hard to swallow.”

“Then take my word for it, and relax.”

We stopped in a stationary line of traffic and he turned up the a.m. radio, and after an ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Samantha Samantha came on. I sat back and listened. It wasn’t my best work, but it was going to pay the bills for a long time to come.

Almost instantly Jimmy said, “That’s a red tune.”

“Red?” I said. Samantha Samantha had been called a lot of things, but….

“Yeah sure,” he said. “It’s red—pure commie. Just listen to the lyrics.”

“I have. It’s impossible to avoid. It’s been on the radio for weeks. Just sounds like a jukebox ditty to me.”

“That’s what they want you to think,” Jimmy said. “But it’s actually mass subliminal conditioning.”

“Mass subliminal conditioning?”

There was a lot of this going round. Cheap intrigue was in the air. Screw-loose politicians, pulpy postwar science fiction, and the dawn of the A-bomb. No more Great Depression, WW2 had been over for two years and the dead had left the room. People now had time on their hands and there was a fear vacuum, rapidly filling up with manufactured panic.

I lied: “I don’t get it.”

“You heard of a guy named Joe McCarthy?” Jimmy said. “He’s the new Senator of Wisconsin.”

“I read the papers.”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “McCarthy claims that there’s Communists and Soviet sympathizers inside the US. In the government and everywhere. And I figure the worst of ‘em’s gotta be the intellectuals and show people, like the crumb who wrote this song and the homo who’s singin’ it.”

Ignacio Esposito, a homo? What would his ever-orgy-ready teen-aged bobby-soxer harem say?

“Interesting.” I hoped it would end there.

“I mean it, brother,” Jimmy carried on. “Have you ever really listened to the lyrics?”

“I guess.”

“Well I know ‘em by heart. I made a point of learning ‘em.”

Jimmy turned down the radio.

“Listen,” he said, then he began to sing —

Share with me your selfish love
Don’t leave it on a shelf above
In a jar where it can never be seen
Don’t keep it private property 

Samantha Samantha
This is my manifesto
I want to be love’s virtuoso
Samantha Samantha
Let’s not show caution
And share all we have in common 

Jimmy said, “What do you think, huh?”

“You have a lovely voice.” Actually, he didn’t.

“You gotta agree; if that’s not some kinda commie malarkey I don’t know what is. All that sharing! — and a manifesto! — jeez!”

“It’s shocking.”

“And that’s just the first verse and the chorus. You wanna hear the rest?”

“No,” I said.

“Too bad, but I guess I got you convinced.”

“It’s free, by the way,” I said.

“What?” said Jimmy.

“First verse, third line is: In a jar where it can never befree’. You sang it, seen.”

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You a Soviet sympathiser?” Jimmy looked at me in the rear view mirror, suspicion in his eyes.

“No,” I said.

“‘Cause I don’t want no Soviet sympathisers in my cab. I didn’t fight in the war to drive Soviet sympathisers around.”

“Would a Soviet sympathiser be on his way to pick up a Cadillac?” I said.

“He might.” Now he looked unsure, the suspicion momentarily gone.

“What colour is it?” he said. “Your Cadillac, I mean.”

“Madeira Maroon,” I sighed.

“Maroon? That’s like red, ain’t it?”

“As close as it gets, this model year.”

His look of suspicion returned.

“Red,” he muttered and shook his head. “Mass subliminal conditioning.”

Then he dropped the bomb. Others had before him. Now it was his turn —

“You fight in the war?” he said. “Asia or Europe? How many Japs or Nazis did you kill?”

“None. I wrote Allied propaganda in Toronto, for pamphlets, posters and movie trailers.”

“So you sat it out,” he said. “And now you’re making the big bucks.”

He was right. I did sit out the war. My talent for antipathy and jingoism had earned me a job writing debauched conflict dogma. The work was crucial, they said. So I ate in restaurants and slept in warm clean beds, often warmed by lonesome war brides, while other men did the fighting. Mine were the soft disgraceful hands of a propagandist. I’d always believed apologising for it would be insincere, but things change.

“Since the end of the war,” I said, as though it mattered. “I’ve tried to make a living as a song writer, living in slum hotels, starving, murdering cockroaches and using a communal toilet down the hall. Maybe that’s my meā culpā.”

“You don’t look like you live in a slum,” Jimmy said.

“I’m sorry. Things change”

“Say, what’s your name?”

“Wyatt Ziegler,” I said.

“So you wrote that song, then!”

“Yes I did.”

“You ain’t got no shame, fella.”

When we pulled up to the main entrance of Bean & Flintch the metre read $2.83, not two bucks.

“Are you going to eat your hat?” I said, pulling bills from my pocket.

“You’d like that wouldn’t you.”

“It’d be something to see,” I said. “Worth the extra eighty-three cents.”

“Get outta my cab,” he said. “Go get your Cadillac and run it into a wall.”

I handed him four dollars.

“You know,” I said, “maybe what I wrote for the war made a difference. Maybe I helped end it early, saved a few lives.”

“Maybe,” he said, staring at me deadpan in the rear view mirror, telling me without words to vacate.

I did.

On the lot, a man named Daryl was washing my new car. Tobias Flintch had escorted me from the office. Daryl was rinsing away the soap suds with a hose, using it to make unhurried figure eights. He was humming Samantha Samantha.

“It’s a pip,” Flintch said, grinning and holding out both hands as if to say, ta-da!

“Yes it is,” I agreed, quietly. “A real pip.” I weakly touched a whitewall with the tip of my Florsheim.

“Where are you going to drive her first, Mr Ziegler?” Flintch said. “I hear Oregon is nice in the autumn.”

He was a gaunt but dapper old man, coughing hard as he lit a cigarette. He wore a Masonic ring, and had a Rotarian pin on his lapel. But if removed from his dark suit and tie, and put blue bearded into unwashed plaid and dungarees, he’d look like any other bum I had to step over to get into my old hotel room. It was his thin cloudy smile and poorly disguised cruelty that set him apart from the rest of humanity. That, and all he’d left unsaid over the course of his sixty plus years. He didn’t give a shit where I drove my new car, now that he had my money. Tobias Flintch just wanted me to get it the hell off the lot, the same way Jimmy wanted me out of his cab.

“I don’t know where I’ll drive it,” I said. “Maybe I’ll just park it at the curb and shoot at it from my apartment window, with a .22.”

“Ah,” said Flintch. “Well, remember to bring it in for servicing.”

“I will.”

Flintch was now re-inhaling through his nose the thick smoke slowly issuing from his mouth, like a pimp in a tattoo parlour.

“Why don’t you take these?” he said, handing me a set of keys on a Bean & Flinch Cadillac Land key ring. His fingernails were sharp, and too long.

“This car doesn’t seem so important to me anymore,” I said.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Finish it up, Daryl. And you have a pleasant day, Mr Ziegler.”

“Yeah,” I said, watching him walk away.

Daryl waited a moment, then said, “Flintch sleeps in a coffin.”

“That seems possible,” I said.

“And never sneak up on his left.”

“Okay.”

“And never try to hand him anything made of pure silver.”

“Is my car ready?” I said.

“You know, a guy form the eastside bought one of these a week ago,” Daryl said, changing the subject and peeling the wrapper off of a stick of Juicy Fruit. “Right off the lot. No options. No custom work. Paid cash. He said that his wife had been foolin’ around behind his back, and that she’d fit real pretty into the trunk. Then he laughed like he was gonna choke, just so the salesman knew he was jokin’. But he wasn’t jokin’.”

“What? How do you know?”

Daryl stared at me a second like I was daft, like I wasn’t keeping up. Fear vacuum, I thought. The authentically dead had left the room.

“I guess,” he said, “that a Cadillac is never the same thing from one buyer to the next. The tank’s full of Hi-test, Mr Ziegler, and I’ve checked your oil. You’re ready to roll.”

“Thanks.” I tipped him a couple of bucks.

That evening I drove up into the north shore mountains, and watched the sun fall into the Pacific. Before the daylight vanished completely, though, I checked the trunk to make sure it was empty. It was. No Tobias Flintch rising from the dead. No bodies of cheating wives. Only an upholstered crypt too huge for my meager life, where a jack and a spare were buried like artifacts. Ignacio Esposito was on the radio, singing (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Foncie photograph

read the rewrite here

Vancouver, 1951 

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

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

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

“Yeah, they showed me some.”

“Then send them in.”

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

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

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

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

The two men sat down.

“Well?” she said.

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

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

“What’s a secretary need a gun for?”

“This is a private investigation agency,” said Trudy Parr, smiling at Roscoe Finch. “We attract undesirables.”

Finch shifted in his chair.

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

Finch pushed it back.

“Take a closer look,” he said.

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

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Finch said.

“It’s Timothy Amsterdam,” said Brandt.

“Swell.” She pushed the photo back again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s it got to do with me?”

“We figure you know where he is.”

“That’s a surprise,” said Trudy Parr.

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

Trudy Parr lit another cigarette.

“You was in Paris,” Brandt said.

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

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

“Just tell us if you’ve seen him.”

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

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

“It ain’t him,” she said.

“Oh, come on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roscoe Finch clenched his fists in his lap.

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

“I have some ideas I haven’t shared.”

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

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

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

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

“I ain’t goin’,” said Brandt.

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

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

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

“Oh boy,” Brandt said, grimly.

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

“Don’t do it, Trudy,” Brandt said.

Finch coughed and whimpered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amsterdam checked his wristwatch.

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

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

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

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

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

Trudy Parr watched as Timothy Amsterdam exited onto the street below, and walked toward the CPR station.

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

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

find out about Foncie Pulice here

Mr Shine and the diamond dice

After the dust had settled, he remembered that the old broad had said something about the ending of a song.

wartime
35 Blood Alley

The old woman’s parlour of clairvoyance and spiritualism was a busy one. They came from all over the city to witness her divine powers, and ask how they could better themselves in business, choose a lover, reap petty revenge. And that was where the man was that Saturday night, a week before he lost everything. He’d borrowed two dollars from Wilma Briar Yeats to pay for the visit. He considered it an investment, and when the old woman beckoned, the man anxiously entered her inner sanctum. It was a familiar place; he was a regular.

The old woman’s name was Elga Coal and the room was dimly lit by cheap sputtering candles. She sat at a round table with what looked like a crystal ball in the centre. “The spirits told me of your arrival,” Elga Coal told the man. “An old gypsy knows.” Her thinning hair was grey and bound in a faded bargain basement scarf. Each of her fingers had a ring.

The man couldn’t help notice a distinct odour in the air as he entered the parlour. One that differed from the mouldy smell in the waiting room. Something was strange. There was a glossy looking fellow dressed in an expensive suit and bright red silk tie sitting on the settee. Next to him was a gold handled walking stick. Though he was a regular, the man had never seen this character before. But the crystal ball was familiar, a snow globe from the Chicago World’s Fair.

“Allow me to introduce Mister Shine,” Elga said, nodding at the interloper on the settee. “He has generously consented to sit with us tonight. Haven’t you, Mister Shine.” Mr Shine bowed slightly, where he sat. Shine smoked a slim cheroot. The man wondered if the cheroot was the source of the strange odour, but realised that it couldn’t be. The prevailing stink wasn’t that of fine or even inferior tobacco. Mister Shine couldn’t help it. He always smelled like a freshly lit match.

As soon the man handed over his two dollars, Elga Coal began to wave her hands over her Snow Globe and squint into the past and future, her face illuminated by candles. He’d had bad luck all of his life, Elga said. It was a fact well known to her, since the man was a constant customer. Coal then said that there was a woman, devoted but regularly disappointed. Again old news, the man had told Elga about Wilma many times.

“But there is an opportunity in your future,” Elga said. “A game of dice that travels through the city.”

“A craps game?” said the man, leaning forward.

“Yes,” said Elga. “And I see….”

“Tell me,” the man said.

“I see….”

“Yes? C’mon. Tell me.”

“I see….”

“Oh, for the love of God! Tell me what you see.”

“I see nothing.” Elga threw up her arms in frustration. Her snow globe had gone blank.

Now it was Mr Shine’s turn.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Perhaps I may be able to offer some assistance.”

The man had forgotten about Mr Shine for a moment. Now he looked over at him.

“I have certain charms at my disposal,” said Mister Shine.

“Charms?” said the man. He was suspicious. Mr Shine didn’t seem like a straight shooter. Besides, charms were a dime a dozen.

“Just so,” said Mister Shine, as he dug his hand deep into his breast pocket. From there, he retrieved two small objects and presented them in his left hand.

Elga and the man both looked, and saw a curious pair of transparent dice.

“Diamond dice,” said Mister Shine.

They appeared to be diamond dice, sure enough—if there was such a thing. Could it be? The two objects caught the room’s dim yellow light and returned it pure white and exquisite to the eye.

“They’re magic,” said Mister Shine, with a grin. “They’ll change your luck.” Then his smile disappeared as he leaned forward on the settee. His eyes blazing, he said, “They’ll change your life.”

The table trembled and the snow swirled in Elga Coal’s crystal ball.

“I can’t throw those in a craps game,” the man said. “It ain’t allowed.”

“But they’re only a charm,” said Mister Sine, smiling once more. “Their value is in their hidden magic. Keep them in the pocket nearest your heart.”

“But remember this,” said Elga Coal, interjecting and cocking an eyebrow. “The song never knows when it’s about to end.”

The man stood up from the table and looked at the pair of dice in the palm of Mister Shine’s hand. Then, with a tremor in his fingers, he quickly reach out to take them. But as he did, Mr Shine’s fist closed round them.

“Be certain,” Mr Shine said. “Be very certain that you want these.”

“I am,” said the man, though he wasn’t sure why. What could the dice possibly do for him? He could buy lucky charms anywhere, each one as useless as the next. But that was immaterial, he realised. He couldn’t help wanting these glistening items, seemingly free for the taking. He had to have them.

Mr Shine opened his hand again, and there they gleamed. The man snatched them up, quickly as he could. And as he did, it seemed that his name was at once confirmed on a list in some dark ledger in some far darker and unknowable place.

“We’re done here then,” Mister Shine said, and then faded from the settee with his gold handled walking stick in hand. The smell of a freshly lit match disappearing with him.

* * * as luck would have it * * *

It was December in Vancouver, 1942. And Canada was at war with half the world.

Rufus Piggs walked down the street snapping his good fingers. The song on his mind had something for everyone, pessimist and dreamer alike. But though the tune ran endlessly through his head, he’d never really stopped to learn the words. Something like, Momma may have, Papa may have….. Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood and his Orchestra. That’s about all he knew, and he didn’t care. His luck was going to change that December.

You see, Rufus Piggs was a compulsive gambler. And like all gamblers, he almost always lost. It wasn’t his fault. He was just born that way.

People love to point and whisper, though. And what they whispered, as they pointed at Rufus Piggs, was that he was a hopeless loser. They all said this while failing to practice much in the way of self-examination, since most of them were hopeless losers too. But that wasn’t their fault, either. They, too, were just born that way. Seemed the whole damn town was just a bunch of boobs waiting for the fast hand of chance to slap them silly.

By the autumn of ’42, Rufus Piggs’ losing ways had put him in Dutch with some of the fishiest characters in town. And his reputation was plummeting faster than a clipped Spitfire over the white cliffs of Dover. He had markers outstanding all over town, and he’d been living through one of the worst streaks of hard luck ever.

One outstanding debt was to Roscoe ‘The Pearl’ Margolis, who wasn’t a good person to owe money. His Jewish mother, the Widow Margolis, hated that her son was a loan shark. She dreaded the tag Shylock. And she knew ‘The Pearl’ would cut the throat of any wisenheimer who’d use it.

“Join the Navy and fight the Nazis,” the Widow Margolis told her son, during tearful telephone calls. “Be a hero,” she said. “You’ll look good in a uniform.”

But Roscoe ‘The Pearl’ wasn’t dope enough to enlist.

“I ain’t getting my ass shot off for some chump cause,” he said.

He sneeringly endured the contempt of all those who knew he was a shirker. In fact, he spent most of his time shooting pool and lending cash to suckers at the Commodore Billiards hall. And he’d blind anyone who gave him trouble with the silvery glint of his deadly bone handle switchblade.

For Rufus Piggs, on the other hand, joining-up might have meant some relief. He could have hidden a while from his creditors in Nazi occupied Europe or even Jap infested Borneo. He even considered the tank core. But he’d been wounded in the Spanish Civil War fighting on the republican side, and suffered partial paralysis in his left arm. He tried to disguise it by placing his left hand in his suit jacket pocket, a fashionable pose in Hollywood at the time. That might have made him look dapper, had it not been for his pockmarked face and unmanageable hair. All this combined, made him look desperate and sinister, which some were convinced he was.

Now there’re a couple of characters of consequence occupying this yarn, and some others of less significance who might just pop up here and there as events unfold. But the one worth bringing up here is Wilma Briar Yeats. She lucked into the Yeats portion of her name when her Swedish mother married a fellow by the name of Fergus Yeats, who was an Irish-American member of Clan na Gael, cooling his heels here in Canada after blowing up a railway station in Wisconsin.

Fergus named his daughter Wilma Briar Yeats because the name could be shortened to WB Yeats, after the Irish Poet and reluctant nationalist. This was a fact lost on most, including Rufus Piggs, who was all soft for Wilma on account of her brown melancholy eyes and ironic smile.

Wilma was more than a bit stupid for Rufus Piggs, too. They’d talk for hours over coffee at the Ham ‘n Egger Café. Everyone said they made such a great couple because not only was Rufus Piggs all broken up from the Spanish Civil War, Wilma Briar Yeats had six fingers on both of her hands.

It was like a romantic union of misfits that some said made each of them whole again. It was all ballroom manoeuvres in the Valley of Balloons, and screwy crap like that. Seeing them together even made some people weep a tear of two, and have hope for humanity after all. What a load of crap.

“I’m gonna score real big,” Piggs told Wilma Briar Yeats, more than once over coffee. His cold, nearly vacant blue eyes looking into hers a split second at a time, then darting away to track something unseen by the rest of the room. “I’m gonna roll big one night soon, and then it’s just you and me, baby.”

Wilma smiled weakly at this every time.

“Sure you will, doll,” she’d say. “You was destined for it.”

But she knew better, and she knew she could support him with the little she made from war work, if he’d just get sick of losing and stopped gambling.

But Rufus Piggs would never stop. Wilma knew she was just a moon orbiting his compulsion, like a million other dames that had fallen for a sucker. She watched as his obsession tore him to pieces. Gambling was going to kill him, and then she’d be alone. But that didn’t matter. He was her man, win or lose.

It was on a foggy night that December when Rufus Piggs really got himself into a jam. He’d been following a floating crap game, suggested to him by an old broad named Elga Coal, for a week and was actually doing pretty good for once. He was up for the first time in a long while. Up by over $3000.

But when a guy like Rufus Piggs starts to win, people he owes start coming outta the cracks like cockroaches. And one of those people was Roscoe ‘The Pearl’ Margolis, who Rufus Piggs owed $1739.87. The amount was growing daily due to the peculiarities of street economy, and ‘The Pearl’ wanted his money before the amount owed made payment impossible.

That night ‘The Pearl’ stood at the rear exit of the Balmoral Hotel with a brawny associate named Gleason Quinn. The Balmoral was that evening’s location for the floating crap game. They stood in the back-door gloom because ‘The Pearl’ knew that the rear exit was always the deadbeat’s exit. He had a chain smoking heel by the name of Nester Dayton watching the front.

Hastings Street had a haloed neon glow that foggy Saturday night that made things seem exotic, in a dime store sort of way. There were cops on Harleys and working girls smoking in dim doorways. There were radios playing jazz in the windows above the street. And a drunk had caused a near-riot by wondering out onto Hastings to direct traffic. It was unseasonably warm, and deals were being made on every dark corner. It was greasy wartime port city chaos.

Nester Dayton was watching dames hanging off the arms of sailors, rather keeping his eyes peeled for Rufus Piggs. He lit an endless succession of next cigarettes on the ones preceding, and scratched himself nervously while trying not to pick his nose.

Upstairs, Piggs had been rolling point numbers all night, and had turned his $3000 into $12,000. From a radio somewhere down the hall, he could hear Billie Holiday singing God Bless the Child. He knew that tune, but was damned if he could ever remember the words.

He figured his luck had really changed, the dice were hot, and players were betting on him for once. He wondered how long it could last, even with the charms in his breast pocket. The ones that the strange Mr Shine had handed him.

His last rolls that night went like this.

He placed his twelve large on the pass line. Then he blew on the dice and let ‘me fly. The dice soared down the green felt, past the stacks of chips and loose currency. And then they tumbled until they hit the rubber on the back wall and finally came to rest. Two threes smiled up at the crowd. The point was six, Rufus Piggs’ favourite number. Winner! He blew and rolled again, a four and a two. Winner! The crowd gasped then cheered. Rufus Piggs’ eyes bulged. Mr Shine’s charms were working, all right.

It was the kind of luck that always causes consternation and suspicion. Which in this case was leading to some profound eye contact between the dealer and a heavyset zoot-suited boxman named Smoothy Cox, sitting in a chair near the door. Then a barely perceptible nod passed between them.

The dealer stepped forward and checked the dice Piggs was throwing. They were legit, but he removed them anyway. The stickman offered a bowl of new dice to choose from. Piggs was too hot to care. He snatched up a pair, indiscriminately. Then he rattled them in his fist and let ‘em go. Six again. The crowd dropped a collective jaw and then cheered once more. Piggs was relaxed now. Suddenly, winning was what he did. It was what winners naturally did. And he was a winner. No need for excitement here, folks.

Smoothy Cox didn’t see it that way, though. He stood up and blocked the doorway out of the room.

Rufus Piggs let his stacks of loose bills stand. Winning the next roll was worth nearly a hundred grand. Every promise he ever made to WB Yeats was about to come true. The house in the country, the nice car and the respectful neighbours. All only a roll of the dice away. And he had the diamond dice next to his heart. He was made in the shade.

He pitched the dice and watched, knowing in all confidence that another six was just around the corner. The dice flew again, like a couple of fiery ivory meteors flying past the unbelieving eyes of onlookers and fellow punters.

But this time, when the ivory meteors hit the end of the table, the six never materialised. He had rolled a twelve.  The crowd moaned quietly, stoically.

“Bastard,” one of the losing players muttered.

Rufus Piggs watched his hard won money disappear in the hands of the dealer, and Smoothy Cox moved away from the door and took a seat once more. Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of God Bless the Child had come to an end down the hall, without Piggs noticing. And now that it had, he remembered what Elga Coal had said — The song never knows when it’s about to end.

Piggs’ good hand fell at his side. He felt a nickel in his pocket. Enough for a morning time cup of java.

No one round the table would lend him a dime to start over. He knew it. Maybe he could go to ‘The Pearl’ for another loan. A small one this time, just to hold him over until his luck changed. After all, this wasn’t how it was supposed to have happened. That bastard Mr Shine had promised the world was his, hadn’t he? But what a nickel and a promise could get you in this town wasn’t much.

He shouldered past a grinning Smoothy Cox on his way out.

“You’re still a loser,” Smoothy said. Then he said, “Come back anytime – and bring money.”

Awaiting him was the familiar lonesomeness of hallways and stairwells navigated after all the money was gone. He’d broken distance records walking these. He ignored the elevator and left through a door with an exit sign above it. Then he descended the stairs and went out through the lobby onto Hastings Street. He was blind to the carnival there, but Nester Dayton spotted him in a second. Dayton nodded to a newsy across the sidewalk, and the boy ran round to the back of the hotel to alert ‘The Pearl’ and Gleason Quinn.

Dayton watched Piggs through the dense crowd as best he could, while looking back over his shoulder for ‘The Pearl’. ‘The Peal’ appeared in a minute, shadowed by Gleason Quinn, and the three of them ran to catch up with Piggs.

They did at Columbia Street. Gleason Quinn grabbed Rufus Piggs by the collar, and dragged him into the alley behind the Broadway Hotel.

“I hear you been winning big,” said The Roscoe ‘The Pearl’. “Maybe it’s time to share the wealth and pay me back what you owe.”

“I ain’t got nothin’,” Rufus Piggs said. “I bet it all and lost.”

“That’s too bad,” said ‘The Pearl’. “I think you ain’t never gonna pay, so that means you’re only good for one thing. You know what that is?”

Piggs looked down at his shoes and shook his head, like he didn’t know what ‘The Pearl’ was driving at. But he knew good and well.

“A deadbeat bum like you,” ‘The Pearl’ said, “is only good for being made an example of.”

“Yeah yeah,” Nester Dayton said, lighting another cigarette. “An example of, yeah.”

Gleason Quinn pulled a knuckle knife out from under his coat and ran its point down Piggs’ cheek.

“I ain’t gonna squawk,” Rufus Piggs said, looking Gleason in the eye. “Maybe it’s better like this.”

“Give it to him in the belly, Gleason,” said Roscoe ‘The Pearl’. “Let’s watch him roll round on the ground fer a while.”

“Yeah, on the ground, on the ground,” said Nester Dayton, as he scratched himself and picked his nose.

And that was how it might have ended in that moment, but then Rufus Piggs remembered the charms.

“Wait!” he said, as his hand went to the pocket nearest his heart. “I’ve got something you might want instead of money….” Then he pulled out the diamond dice. They shone in the palm of his hand, under the single naked incandescent bulb that swung above them.

“What the…?” said Roscoe ‘The Pearl’, as his eyes bugged out. He seemed to recognise, with his street cunning, what the dice truly were.

“They’s just some glass dice,” said Gleason Quinn.

“They sure as hell ain’t,” said ‘The Pearl’. He reached out and was about the snatch them up, when another man spoke.

“Sure as Hell?” said Mr Shine. “It’s funny, that little turn of phrase. You all pray it doesn’t exist. And yet you say it everyday – sure as Hell.

“Who’s this chump?” said Gleason Quinn. “And what’s that smell?”

Piggs saw Shine and knew why he was there.

“Don’t worry, Quinn,” Piggs said. “He’s here for me.”

“Yes I am,” said Mr Shine. “You’ve had your little moment in the sun. Now it’s time to go.”

“I thought there’d be more,” said Piggs. “More to win and more to keep.”

“Well,” said Mr Shine. “Like the lady says, You can help yourself, but don’t take too much.”

Suddenly, Rufus Piggs knew the words to the song in full. He looked down at his shoes again and shook his head, his good hand still clenching the diamond dice.

“I want ‘em,” said ‘The Pearl’. “I want them dice.”

“Are you certain?” said Mr Shine. “Really, really certain?”

“Walk away, Roscoe,” Piggs said.

“Shut up, Piggs,” Roscoe greedily shouted. “Hand ‘em over.”

“Do it,” said Mr Shine. And Piggs handed the diamond dice over to ‘The Pearl’.

“Now you two scram,” ‘The Pearl’ said to Piggs and Mr Shine.

“That’s fine,” said Mr Shine. “See you soon, Mr Margolis.”

“Like hell.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Mr Shine. And he and Rufus Piggs faded into the fog.

read the other two stories in the Elga Coal trilogy
Billy Romance and the dirt

the dirt

Vancouver, some time ago

Back in the war, Vincent ‘Vinny’ Bologna was the Don of the east end made boys. And he actually did some good work, raising money for the YMCA Military Service to run their tea cars over seas. But really, the guy was a major dick. I mean he was a rude farting-in-public, spitting-on-the-sidewalk, nose-picking-slob son of a bitch. And he was a bully, too. He liked to pick on dames and little kids. During the 1939 little league season, he stole every baseball in the city and packed them away in a warehouse that belonged to his brother in law. For a whole month, there wasn’t one goddam baseball in the whole city that wasn’t in that warehouse. The fat prick laughed ‘til he wet himself. It ruined the whole little league season. But Vinny Bologna ran the east Vancouver mob, so whatta you gonna do?

Anyways, it turns out that Vinny Bologna was big into having his fortune told. He based every business decision he made on what some broad in a dime store gypsy costume told him. He even said he knew when the war was gonna be over because this Roma dame with a glass eye named Elga Coal had told him. He never told no one the actual date, though, even if it would’ve been some first-class inside skinny for the Allies. And if things hadn’t changed, he probably wouldn’t have told a soul until the cessation of hostilities made the headlines. What an asshole.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I never had nothing against Elga Coal. She paid her taxes, and she relied on dimwit chumps like Bologna for her daily bread. One of the ways she sucked ‘em in was with this sign she had over her parlour door. It read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die. That really cut to the chase, and she knew it. The fact is, no one ever wants to know all the dirt, just the juicy bits that might give them a leg up.

And that was Vinny all over. Like this time a rival was running prostitutes down in Chinatown. The crumb doing it was some kingpin wanna-be named Tang Ho. He was Chinese and it was Chinatown, after all. But Chinatown was still part of the east end mob’s turf at the time, and Vinny Bologna had a right. So, he goes to Elga Coal to ask what he should do, and Elga says she sees a hearse proceeding down  Keefer Street. That was it, a hearse on Keefer. For that she gets $20 and a two buck tip. Vinny Bologna’s happy. He figures that since Keefer Street runs through Chinatown, the hearse must be the one that carries the future dead body of his rival, Tang Ho.

On Christmas Day 1940, Vinny Bologna sends a hit squad into the Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street. It’s Tang Ho’s hangout, where he holds court and counts his money. The hitters were Vinny’s cousin Antonio, his other cousin Sammy and a dark-hearted bastard named Tomaso ‘The Card’ Fontana. They called him The Card because he always flipped a card onto the bodies of his victims. It was like a business card that read: O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet. That’s from St Augustine, of course. But what it meant in regards to mass murder, no one knew. It was just that Tomaso ‘The Card’ got a charge out of it.

So, when they arrive, the hit squad opens up with Thompson submachine guns, and slays Mother Chang and twenty-seven of her mahjong playing customers. It’s a blood bath. I mean, the blood soaked right through the floor and fell like rain from the ceiling of the tea shop below. The only survivor was a sixteen year old girl, who played dead in a corner. The murders and the blood raining down from the ceiling below were considered bad juju, and the whole joint needed to be torn down and rebuilt to get rid of the ghosts. That really pissed Tang Ho off.

Thing was, though, Tang Ho wasn’t at the Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour on Christmas Day 1940. He was flying the Clipper down to Panama to visit with his brother Melvin who ran a couple of hotels in Panama City, and controlled a big chunk of the Central American cocaine trade. Tang Ho had mules running coke into Vancouver 365 days a year, so it was like a business trip over the festive season. Long story short, Antonio, Sammy and Tomaso ‘The Card’ missed their primary target. There never was a hearse on Keefer Street, at least not then. The procession of hearses that carried the dead from the Christmas Day Mother Chang Mahjong Parlour hit went down Georgia Street.

Lousy fortune telling is easily forgotten, and life goes on. Vinny Bologna put out another hit on Ho. Only he doesn’t go so big this time. He figures Tomaso ‘The Card’ still owes him, so he sends him out on a solo job. Get in close somehow and cut that fucking chinks head off, says Vinny Bologna. And Tomaso ‘The Card’ says OK. He stalks Tang Ho for a week, waiting until Saturday night when Ho’s goofy on opium. The Card sees the Chinatown mob boss stumbling down an alley behind Powell Street. For some reason, Ho’s body guard leaves him in the alley and goes back into the opium den they just exited. The Card moves in with his balisong knife, but ends up with a .38 slug in the back when Tang Ho’s body guard re-emerges from the den with Ho’s sable collar coat.

A Sable collar, can you imagine? Geez, what a pimp.

So now Tang Ho doubles his security and doubles the number of working girls in Chinatown, just to spite Vinny Bologna. Vinny goes nutso. He offers ten large to whoever can ice Ho, good money for a whack back then. A few hitters try, but none of them can get past Ho’s goons. Tang Ho lives on, and Vinny Bologna gnashes his teeth.

It wasn’t long, though, until Tang Ho got his. In late 1942, he got a Niagara Falls souvenir letter opener in the heart. It was a floozy named Shanghai Leola who settled Ho’s hash, in a room on the second floor of the Sam Kee Building. It was a scuffle over broken promises, the reason a lot of gangsters get it in the end. But still, to Vinny Bologna’s dismay, there was no hearse rolling down Keefer Street. Ho’s hearse left Holy Rosary Cathedral and proceeded west on Dunsmuir Street, pulled a left onto Richards, and eventually made its way up to Mountain View Cemetery from there.

Who knew the chump was a Catholic?

On the day of the funeral, Vinny Bologna makes a special trip to Elga Coal’s parlour, walks in under the I won’t tell you you’re going to die sign, and says, what the hell? You promised me Tang Ho in a hearse going down Keefer Street. He didn’t even get close.

I never did, says Elga Coal. Be careful how you interpret what I say.

What’s that supposed to mean, Vinny Bologna says.

Sometimes, Elga says, with her glass eye looking right at him and her good eye looking out a window, two plus two equals Wednesday. And that’s it. She shuts up tighter than a nun in a navy yard, except she tells Bologna that he owes her $20. He pays but doesn’t tip.

Now it was well known, back then, where Vinny Bologna would be everyday at 1:00 p.m. — in Roco’s Café on Commercial Drive, having a head cheese sandwich and spinach salad. And oh man, Vinny loved his head cheese. He called it brain food, which I guess it was. And local head cheese wouldn’t do, no way. He had Roco bring it in from Chicago once a week. Vinny had him slice it thin and stack it high on a pane con le olive roll, smothered in fried onions and slathered in Keen’s Mustard. It was all washed down with several glasses of Barbera Barricato. And by the time 2:30 rolled around, Vinny Bologna was half cut, singing O Sole Mio and pinching Roco’s Mama’s ass.

Vinny’s cousin Antonio and his other cousin Sammy were his body guards, and they always sat in the same booth together, near the door, eating pasta, talking race horses and drinking espresso and Galvanina.

And so it was on New Year’s Day, 1943. Vinny paid Roco extra to stay open, especially for him, on all holidays except Christmas and Easter, just so he could get his favourite sandwich. The CBC radio news that day was all about Soviet troops encircling two German divisions in Stalingrad, and Vinny Bologna declared that it was the end of those Nazi pricks. He was sloppy drunk and held up a glass of wine, as Antonio and Sammy tucked into their gnocchi and linguine and consulted the Daily Racing Form. It was just your typical Friday on the Drive, until Molly Chang strode into Roco’s with two members of what was once Tang Ho’s Chinatown gang. She had evil in her eye, and a nickel plated .45 automatic in her hand.

Molly Chang was the daughter of Mother Chang, the owner of Mother Chang’s Mahjong Parlour on Pender Street before Vinny Bologna’s crew walked in with their Thompson submachine guns On Christmas Day 1940. And Molly was the lone survivor of that massacre, having played dead in a corner. Vinny, Antonio and Sammy sat still and stared back at her. Molly Chang had ’em cold. She stood on the café’s welcome mat, looked Vinny in the eye and said, you’re the dumb fucking wop who killed my mother, aren’t you? And Vinny Bologna shrugged like a wino in a three hundred dollar suit and a hand polished pair of Florsheim wing tips. I don’t know, he said, I gotta wax a lotta bums in this job.

So, Molly stepped aside and the two former members of Tang Ho’s gang stepped in and opened fire with their own Thompsons, being careful not to shoot Roco or his mamma. What a mess. Roco’s melancholy brother in law, Pasquale, worked until 3:00 a.m the next morning mopping up the place. And for months after, people were picking bits of Vinny Bologna’s heart, lungs and brains off the walls.

Roco sold the joint to a nice family from Parma two weeks later, and retied to his stamp collection and seven children. His mamma took to sitting on the porch of his Sixth Avenue home, chewing tobacco and knitting socks for Allied troops.

A week after the shooting, there was a big funeral for Vinny Bologna and his cousins at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The Rector was very pleased. Over the years, the church had cashed in big on the Vancouver gang wars. On his way to the Cathedral from the S.R. Bell Funeral Home, the driver of the hearse carrying Vinny’s body had to take a detour round a traffic accident at Main and Hastings. He was forced to turn left onto Main, right onto Keefer, through Chinatown, and then right again onto Abbott Street to get back onto Hastings. The S.R. Bell Funeral Home hearse had proudly carried Vinny Bologna down Keefer Street, as Elga Coal had almost predicted –

For, after all, as the sign over the entrance to her parlour read: I won’t tell you you’re going to die.

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.”

whisper agent

Vancouver 1949

There is a fundamental blue to cigarette smoke, floating fresh in the air above a bar past midnight, seeing yourself through it in the mirrored spaces between the bottles lining the wall across from you. It’s almost triumphant, like the fog after a gunfight. Survival, another lucky event in a world short on lucky events. How long could that last?

She lit another one and finished her Glenlivet. The bartender poured a fresh one into a clean glass. She checked her wristwatch. There were hours to go before she could truly claim victory, a clean escape from the night time quiet that deepens the hiss of whispers. The thousands of them without origin. That said nothing, but dripped intelligence. They might be ancient, having been bounced off the moon. They might be the ghost vengeance of gunfight also-rans. The ones who hadn’t made it. The quiet ones who’d come for her, now with unseeing eyes and dead wilted hands. She’d stepped over them, leaving this beef or that, a hundred times. They’d have plenty to whisper about, if they could.

“What day is it?” she asked the bartender.

“It’s Friday, Miss Parr. Has been for twelve minutes.”

“I had to stay awake once for five full days and nights,” she said. “No food, no water. They kept asking me questions and made me do these puzzles. They wanted to see if I’d hold up.”

“Did you?”

“Right up to the end. I surprised the hell out of them.”

“What they do that for?”

“They were sadists.”

“You were in the war, weren’t you Miss Parr. I mean, that’s what they say.”

“I don’t remember.”

* * * * *

The Standing Committee on Wartime Intelligence Gathering
~Eyes Only~

In the matter of the Legality and Permissibility of Project Whisper Agent at Special Training School 103.

Hearing held at: XXXXX

Before:

Kenneth Smallday, MP                              Presiding Member
Peter Cheshire                                          Member

Appearances

Vera Atkins                                               Special Operation Executive
XXXXX
XXXXX
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Talbot Moscovy                                         SOE Counsel
XXXXX                                                    RCMP
XXXXX
XXXXX
XXXXX                                                    XXXXX
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Index of Proceedings 

Description                                                                                         Page No.

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XXXXX…………………………………………………………………….……..XXX
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XXXXX…………………………………………………………………….……..XXX

Exhibits

Description                                                                                          Page No.

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XXXXX…………………………………………………………………….……..XX
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Undertakings

Description                                                                                              Page No.

                               No Undertakings were Filed in this Proceeding

Excerpt of Proceeding Transcript  

  1. Monday, February 16, 1948
  2. Upon commencing at 9:35 a.m.
  3. ¶ Mr. Smallday:  The Committee sits today on the matter of the legality
  4. and permissibility of Project Whisper Agent at Special Training
  5. School 103, also known as Camp X.
  6. ¶ The Committee has received complaints from anonymous sources,
  7. known to be reliable. These complaints relate to, but are not limited
  8. to, the psychological manipulation of recruits as an adjunct to
  9. training as Allied spies for dispersal in the European and Asian
  10. theatres of war.
  11. ¶ Project Whisper Agent is headed by Vera Atkins for the Special
  12. Operation Executive. Mrs. Atkins is with us today. Welcome, Mrs.
  13. Atkins.
  14. ¶ Vera Atkins: Thank you, Mr. Smallday.
  15. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Mrs. Atkins, there is some question as to the legality of
  16. Project Whisper Agent. And though they are not insignificant, this
  17. Committee will reserve those questions for a later time. For now, can
  18. you explain the reason for the existence of Project Whisper Agent,
  19. and its intent?
  20. ¶ Talbot Moscovy: Mrs. Atkins will not answer the question, Mr.
  21. Smallday.
  22. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Excuse me?
  23. ¶ Talbot Moscovy: If I may, sir. Appendix C of the Rules of The
  24.  Standing Committee on Wartime Intelligence Gathering clearly
  25. states Mrs. Atkins’ right to refuse to answer the questions of the
  26. Committee, and I have counselled her to exercise that right.
  27. Answering any of the Committee’s questions may endanger the national
  28. security of several Allied countries, and may place the lives of the
  29. individuals involved in Project Whisper Agent in danger.
  30. ¶ Mr. Smallday: But she has come all the way from XXXXXX to refuse
  31. to answer our questions?
  32. ¶ Talbot Moscovy: She was subpoenaed. Her presence here is
  33.  mandatory. Answering the Committee’s questions is not.
  34. ¶ Vera Atkins: Please, Talbot. I’d rather answer the question.
  35. ¶ {Moscovy and Atkins speak quietly together.}
  36. ¶ Talbot Moscovy: Mrs. Atkins has consented to selectively answer
  37. the Committee’s questions against my counsel. I may, however,
  38. have a court order them struck from the record at a later date.
  39. ¶ Mr. Smallday: The Committee thanks Mrs. Atkins. Mrs. Atkins will
  40.  you answer the question previously asked: can you explain to
  41. us the reason for the existence of Project Whisper Agent, and its
  42. intent?
  43. ¶ Vera AtkinsProject Whisper Agent was developed as a tool to
  44. track agents after they have been decommissioned.
  45. ¶ Mr. Smallday: To what end, Mrs. Atkins?
  46. ¶ Vera Atkins: The primary reason for the planned implementation
  47. of Whisper Agent was surveillance.
  48. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Of whom, Mrs. Atkins.
  49. ¶ Vera Atkins: Decommissioned agents.
  50. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Spies. You mean spies. Trained on Canadian soil for
  51. use behind enemy lines. That’s what you mean, isn’t it, Mrs. Atkins?
  52. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes.
  53. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Why?
  54. ¶ Vera Atkins: These agents represent an enormous investment of
  55. time and capital. We were interested in tracking our investments.
  56. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Were there any other reasons, Mrs. Atkins?
  57.  {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting
  58. approximately two minutes.}
  59. ¶ Vera Atkins: The job of an agent is to gather intelligence in the
  60. field, Mr. Smallday. Much of that intelligence is top secret and very
  61. valuable. They also perform ancillary duties that should remain
  62. permanently classified. Once discharged, the best we can do is
  63.  swear an agent to secrecy. But that is not always enough.
  64. Whisper Agent was devised as a means of tracking agents, their
  65. movements and associations, once they’d been discharged.
  66. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Wasn’t their good and loyal service in the field a
  67. strong enough indication of their loyalty?
  68. ¶ Vera Atkins: It is rarely a question of loyalty, Mr. SmallDay.
  69. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Then what is it? Why the need for the surveillance?
  70.  {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting
  71. approximately three minutes.}
  72. ¶ Talbot Moscovy: I would like to request a recess at this time….
  73. ¶ Vera Atkins: {interrupting Moscovy} No, Talbot. No recess.
  74. ¶ Mr. Smallday, you have never worked with secret agents – spies,
  75.  as you put it. But I have made a career of it. Each agent chosen for
  76. training at CampX fit a certain profile. They had very specific innate
  77.  qualities, aside from their acquired skills. Some agents were chosen
  78. for skills in language, some for their proven ability as thieves. Others
  79. were tested for and demonstrated an aptitude for what we refer to as silent
  80. killing.
  81. ¶ Mr. Smallday: {Interrupting} Silent killing? Please explain silent
  82. killing.
  83. {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting
  84. approximately one minute.}
  85. ¶ Vera Atkins: It is an unambiguous term, Mr. Smallday. But I’ll clarify. A
  86. silent killer, in the context of our discussion, is an assassin.
  87. ¶ Mr. Smallday: As in the assassination of political leaders?
  88. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes, that. But smaller players, mostly. Enemy spies,
  89.  rogue and double agents, informants, witnesses. That sort of thing.
  90. ¶ Mr. Smallday: But surely Canada didn’t participate in that sort of
  91. thing in the war.
  92. ¶ Vera Atkins: Canadian agents did participate in that sort of thing.
  93. They excelled at it.
  94. {Quiet exchange between Smallday and Peter Cheshire, lasting
  95. approximately one minute.}
  96. ¶ Mr. Smallday: That is very disturbing.
  97. ¶ Vera Atkins: It was war, Mr Smallday.
  98. ¶ Mr. Smallday: But what does the existence of Canadian trained
  99. assassins have to with Project Whisper Agent?
  100. ¶ Vera Atkins: Every project has it preliminary and experimental phases,
  101. and it was this cohort, predisposed to silent killing and assigned to do so,
  102. that were the first subjects of the new, untried surveillance methods.
  103. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Why them?
  104. ¶ Vera Atkins: Because they were the most psychologically brittle at the
  105. start, and the most damaged by the end of their wartime experience.
  106. They returned fragile and vulnerable. They were assessed and found to
  107. be the most likely to display aberrant behaviour after discharge.
  108. ¶ Mr. Smallday: What do you mean by aberrant behaviour?
  109. ¶ Vera Atkins: We know more and more each day. But at this point, the
  110. cohort can be best described as unpredictable.
  111. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Is unpredictable how they can be best described, or is that
  112. all you’re willing to say to this Committee?
  113. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes, Mr. Smallday.
  114. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Well, which is it?
  115. ¶ Vera Atkins: {Silence)
  116. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Very well. Let’s move on to how the surveillance took place.
  117.  It is the understanding of this Committee that one of the core elements that
  118. sets Project Whisper Agent apart from other similar operations that have
  119. preceded it is the use of what are referred to as implants.
  120. ¶ Mrs. Atkins, what is an implant?
  121. ¶ Vera Atkins: Something that is implanted.
  122. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Into whom, in this case?
  123. ¶ Vera Atkins: In this case, a subject monitored by Project Whisper Agent.
  124. ¶ Mr. Smallday: And such subjects exist?
  125. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes.
  126. ¶ Mr. Smallday: How many?
  127. ¶ Vera Atkins: Six at this time.
  128. ¶ Mr. Smallday: {Consulting notes} I understood there were ten. What happened to the other four.
  129. ¶ Vera Atkins: They’re dead.
  130. ¶ Mr. Smallday: How?
  131. ¶ Vera Atkins: Three by suicide. Fourth, mysterious circumstances.
  132.  ¶ Mr. Smallday: {Consulting notes} That seems like a rather high number. And this one who died under mysterious circumstances, my notes say he opened fire with a handgun on police at a lunch counter.
  133. {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting approximately one minute.}
  134. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes. Unfortunate.
  135. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Will you describe the implant for the Committee, Mrs. Atkins? What it’s made of? What it’s designed to do?
  136. {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting approximately one minute.}
  137. ¶ Vera Atkins: It’s a small monopolar magnetic unit injected into the bony area of the middle ear.
  138. ¶ Mr. Smallday: How does it work?
  139. ¶ Vera Atkins: The vector potential of the monopole allows for discrete radio frequencies to be received and interpreted to our advantage by the recipient.
  140. ¶ Mr. Smallday: In other words, you can control the subject from a distance. You can manipulate them to follow your commands.
  141. ¶ Vera Atkins: In some cases. The technology is new.
  142. ¶ Mr. Smallday: New? It’s my understanding that a monopolar magnet is purely theoretical.
  143. {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting approximately one minute.}
  144. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes, theoretical.
  145. ¶ Mr. Smallday: But you’re using them to control people.
  146. ¶ Vera Atkins: {Silence}
  147. ¶ Mr. Smallday: I’ll take your silence to mean that it’s time to move on.
  148. One of your subjects, a woman codenamed Soho, she resides in Vancouver.
  149. {Quiet exchange between Atkins and Moscovy, lasting approximately one minute.}
  150. ¶ Vera Atkins: That’s classified.
  151. ¶ Mr. Smallday: According to our information, she’s one of those who isn’t
  152. responding well to your technology.
  153. ¶ Vera Atkins: That’s classified.
  154. ¶ Mr. Smallday: Well Goddammit, woman. The life of a person who served her country is in danger because of you and your failed experiment. Isn’t there anything you have to say?
  155. ¶ Vera Atkins: The experiment hasn’t failed. We continue to compile data, and….
  156. ¶ Mr. Smallday: But people are dying.
  157. ¶ Vera Atkins: Yes, that’s part of the data.
  158. ¶ Mr. Smallday: I think we’ll take that recess now.