Read Swastika Online

Authors: Michael Slade

Tags: #Canada

Swastika (9 page)

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Something was up.

Like a child leading his parent across to a candy store window, the führer, dragging his left leg, shuffled toward the portrait of Frederick the Great on his study wall. Everyone in the SS had heard about “Old Fritz,” the oil painting by Anton Graff that Hitler had purchased in Munich in 1934. As der Chef had moved from HQ to HQ, through six long years of war, it was the perquisite that always flew with him. Chefpilot Hans Baur’s irksome chore was to handle Old Fritz with tender care, and nothing inside the führer’s plane took precedence over the special bulky packing crate. Even generals were left behind to make room for it in the narrow corridor between the Condor’s seats, where the wood-and-steel obstacle scratched the fancy leatherwork of Baur’s flying domain. Of flaming Bavarian temperament, Hitler’s pilot had complained, but his murmured exasperation always fell on deaf ears. Back and forth across the Reich, Old Fritz had flown, before ending up in the bunker for the last stand.

“Argonaut,” muttered Hitler. “That was the code name. Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin. Used by the Big Three.”

“Code name, Führer?”

“For Yalta. The Crimea. On the Black Sea. Where they met to plot how to conquer me.”

“Argonaut? From the Greek myth?”

Hitler nodded. “To the Black Sea. That’s where they sailed. Jason and the Argonauts. On their hunt to find the land of the mythical Golden Fleece.”

“I see.”

Actually, Streicher didn’t see at all. So addled was the führer after nine years of injected poisonous drugs that he was barely able to speak a coherent thought. From 1942 until April 1944, the Crimean peninsula had been held by the German army. In selecting it as the place for their recent rendezvous, the Allies were trumpeting that the Nazis were in full retreat.

“Frederick the Great. Remember, General?”

The führer let go of Streicher’s hand to gesture at the painting in a shaky sweep. The portrait of Old Fritz—was that a wig or his own hairstyle?—showed him with a huge medal on his chest. So jittery was Hitler’s other hand that he had to corral it with his good arm and pin it against his Iron Cross.

“The enemy at the gates,” der Chef added.

So that was it. The Frederick the Great connection. The reason the führer had sat in the dark, motionless, as if in a trance, his chin buried in his hand, gazing at the portrait by candlelight. He was looking for hope, inspiration, a reason to believe. What the SS general had interrupted was a besieged man at prayer.

The triumph was a familiar tale to every German schoolboy who’d been raised on the drum-and-trumpet history texts of Streicher’s generation. In 1762, toward the end of the Seven Years’ War, the king of Prussia—Old Fritz himself—was holed up in his ruined palace in Silesia, with his capital of Berlin under siege. His army was greatly outnumbered by a coalition of Russian, Austrian, and Saxon forces, so Frederick the Great was left with two options. He could fight to the death in a losing battle, or he could swallow the poison in a small glass tube.

A tube like the one that Hitler now pulled from his pocket.

“Cyanide,” said Hitler, holding up the vial.

Streicher recognized the tube as one of those that Himmler had distributed to those Nazis who might be forced to commit “self-murder” in the days to come. The cylindrical container looked like a lipstick: a translucent plastic ampule encircled with a blue band. It went into a leather pouch that could be worn around the neck. At the moment, the SS general’s own poison was in his cheek, ready for him to bite down on if he learned that a Gestapo meat hook was his fate.

“Kriegsglück,”
mumbled Hitler.

Now, two centuries later, Hitler faced the same catastrophe as Old Fritz. That Yalta coalition of Britain, America, and the Soviet Union was tightening around Berlin, where the führer—like his predecessor—was holed up in a ruined palace. Der Chef faced the same choice between the lesser of two evils. Fight to the death in a losing battle. Or crunch the vial of poison with his teeth.

Unless …

“Dr. Göbbels has seen it!”

“Führer?”

“In the stars!”

“Seen what?” Streicher asked, taken aback.

“Victory!”

“When?”

“Before the end of this month. Herr Doktor had them bring forth my horoscope.”

“Who?”

“The astrology department of his Propaganda Ministry. The stars foretold of disaster in the early months of 1945, followed by an overwhelming victory in late April.”

“That is good news,” said Streicher.

“It is written in the stars.”

This physically senile has-been was fueled by shredded nerves and dubious medicaments, but abruptly the general caught a spark of that old fury and willpower that had driven the führer to the apex of Nazi influence. Grabbing Streicher by the arm, Hitler sank his fingers into the engineer’s biceps.

“Is it safe?”

“Führer?”

“The secret down in the mine?”

“The Mittelwerk is in crisis. It has about a week. That’s when the U.S. First Army will reach Nordhausen.”

Hitler dismissed that concern with a flap of his trembling left arm.

“The East!” he snapped.

Streicher sensed instantly that he, too, was in jeopardy. The wrong answer now would cost him his life.

“The
Flugkreisel
works!” the general confirmed.

Another flap of the arm dismissed that breakthrough as well.

Hitler was getting angry. His yellow-gray face flushed. As his lips nervously nibbled each other, a strand of drool dribbled from the corner of his mouth.

“Die Glocke!”
he shouted at last. “Is it safe?”

“It is, Führer.”

“And does it slow time?”

SS-General Ernst Streicher carefully weighed his answer. “If time doesn’t run out on us, you
will
see the glorious future of your thousand-year Reich.”

Cyclops
 

Vancouver

May 25, Now

Sgt. Dane Winter awoke the next morning to learn that whoever had carved that Nazi swastika into the forehead of the Congo Man had been turned overnight by
The Vancouver Times
into a hero straight from the pages of Greek myth.

Dane was an early riser. Morning was his time. He liked to get the jump on dawn to start his day, which invariably began with orange juice and the newspaper while he steeled his resolve for his five-mile run along the seawall of False Creek to watch the sun come up. So with juice glass in hand and still in his dressing gown, he fetched the morning paper from the mat of his second-story condo overlooking the narrow inlet that English Bay surveyors had mistaken for a creek back in the 1850s and read this:

Vigilante Kills Alleged Cannibal
Settling the Score?
By Cort Jantzen

 

In a crime that had striking parallels to the killing of the Cyclops in Homer’s
Odyssey
, a vigilante may have settled the score with an alleged cannibal killer who was released from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital just two days ago by the Court of Appeal.

“Whoever killed him is a hero to me,” the father of the six-year-old girl allegedly murdered by Marcus Cole, a Liberian refugee, told
The Times
in an emotion-charged interview. “This vigilante gave us the justice we were denied by the court …”

 

The story was accompanied by a front-page photograph that had been shot with a telephoto lens from across Mosquito Creek. It showed two Mounties—Winter and Chandler—standing over the huge hulk of the “one-eyed” monster on the bank under the bridge. It caught the patch over one eye and the stake rammed through the other to pin the head to the ground, but thanks to the bloody face and the camera angle, the “hold-back evidence” of the Nazi swastika carved into the African’s forehead wasn’t visible.

In addition to the photograph, the main story had a sidebar next to it. It read:

Blinding the Cyclops
By Cort Jantzen

 

Odysseus was the Greek hero who thought up the ruse of the Trojan Horse in Homer’s
Iliad
. During his ten-year voyage home in
The Odyssey
, Odysseus—known as Ulysses in Latin—stopped at the island of Sicily for provisions. There, he got trapped in the cave of a Cyclops named Polyphemus, a gigantic, one-eyed cannibal who feasted off Odysseus’s crew. To escape, the Trojan War hero hatched another plot. He got the Cyclops drunk on potent wine, and when the man-eater passed out, the Greeks blinded him by ramming a big, heated, pointed stake into the single eye in the center of his forehead …

 

The other half of the front page was taken up by a rival story on a stealth killer who was loose in boy’s town. Between them, those two scoops had pushed the report about Zinc Chandler’s killing of the Ripper at Colony Farm to the inside pages. Dane read, then reread, everything on the Congo Man, satisfying himself that there was no leak concerning the swastika. That secret, had it been known, would have changed public perception. As it was, the paper focused on the idea of a vigilante hero “settling a score.”

Bottom line: Dane was investigating the murder of a monster that the public was glad to have dead, and the killer he was stalking was seen as a mythic Greek hero.

The Mountie changed into his jogging suit and went for a run.

*    *    *

 

The undertaker knocked on his door at just after eight and handed him a cardboard box containing the cremated remains of his grandfather. He signed for the ashes—all that was left of the man who had raised Dane after the deaths of his parents and his grandmother in that plane crash in the Cascade Mountains—and carried the box into the living room. Opening the package, he took out a plastic bag filled with six pounds of human soot and elemental bone fragments as dismal gray as a bout of chronic depression.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, he thought.

So at last, at long, long last, he too was on a collision course with the Mountain.

*    *    *

 

His usual drive to work took him due north from the south shore of False Creek, across Burrard Bridge to the downtown core, and through Stanley Park on its bisecting causeway to Lions Gate Bridge. Spanning First Narrows, the constricted seaway that joined English Bay to the west with the harbor sheltered behind the park, the suspension bridge reached across to the peaked North Shore. Dane’s detachment policed the southern slopes of the towering mountains as far east as you could see.

Today, however, he was required at HQ.

So he headed south along Cambie Street, the warm rays of the sun shooting in through the driver’s window from beyond the green hump of Little Mountain. As he wheeled his way through the post-rush-hour traffic, Dane mulled over the status of the stalled Congo Man case. In breaking the neck of the Ripper, Inspector Chandler had also snapped their best lead. Assuming the Ripper had convinced the African to snuff his nemesis in the Mounted Police, who had a motive to impale the Congo Man to the bank of Mosquito Creek? And why gouge a swastika into his forehead?

The Congo Man was dead.

So was the Ripper.

So if the death of the African was the result of a falling-out between the partners of a killing team, that lead was dead too.

The strongest motive for killing the Congo Man belonged to the parents of the six-year-old girl he had allegedly kidnapped, killed, and cannibalized. But both had watertight alibis for the time period in which the crime could have occurred. They were at a convention in San Francisco with at least a thousand corroborators.

Dane had checked yesterday afternoon.

Of course, that’s one of the oldest tricks in the book: contract with a hired killer to do your dirty work, then set yourself up with an ironclad alibi. There’s always the possibility that your hit man will squeal, of course, so if you’re really cold-blooded, you cover your tracks by taking out the contract killer yourself.

The recent death of his granddad had Dane grieving too, so he wanted to make sure he had the evidence he needed before he closed in on the bereaved parents of the cannibalized child. At the moment, he didn’t have that evidence.

So what was left?

Perhaps the Congo Man was the random victim of a gang of neo-Nazi thugs. Or perhaps
The Vancouver Times
was right, and a vigilante had taken justice into his own hands. If so, then unless someone phoned in a tip, Dane would have to wait for forensics to indicate the path of investigation.

One thing was certain: the killer was no hero. You could never be a hero if you adopted the Nazi swastika as your calling card of revenge and retribution.

*    *    *

 

Little Mountain was crowned by Queen Elizabeth Park. The park—which was named not for Elizabeth II but for the Queen Mother, whom Hitler had dubbed “the most dangerous woman in Europe” for her defiant stand in London during the Blitz—ended at 37th Avenue. Dane turned right off Cambie and found a parking space at the curb.

RCMP headquarters was an L-shaped complex of buildings. Dane entered the administration building on 37th, which made up the short arm of the L. His first stop at HQ was Internal Affairs, where he wrote out a statement backing Inspector Chandler to the hilt. Medical opinion held that Rudi Lucke, the psych nurse at Colony Farm, would have died, and not just been blinded, if the Mountie hadn’t stopped the assault at that exact moment.

Exiting the admin building, Dane crossed Heather Street to the operations building, in the crook of the L, then turned right along the side street that ran parallel to Cambie, walking back in the direction he had just driven.

The RCMP forensic laboratory at 5201 Heather was a mushroom-shaped building that had lost its uniqueness when the stem was recently bricked into a square to create more space. The lab was halfway between the ops building and Special X. After being buzzed in, Dane signed in at the counter just inside the automatic door, then the sergeant was ushered into the case receipt unit. A large, open space, the unit was full of benches with computers. Yesterday, Dane had electronically transmitted a C-414 request for analysis, so the tech dealing with him—a petite East Indian woman—pulled that filing up onscreen.

“Known document?” she asked.

Dane passed her a sample of the Ripper’s handwriting that he’d seized from his room at Colony Farm. After documenting that exhibit, she attached a barcode label so it could be tracked every step of the way by LIMS, the laboratory information management system. The RCMP lab ensured that
nothing
got lost.

“Questioned document?” she asked.

Dane handed her the crumpled scrap of paper with Zinc Chandler’s home address. He knew the procedure from here. Both exhibits—and the third one in his evidence case—would be packaged up and couriered off to the documents section in Edmonton. There, both known and questioned documents would be compared visually and by a low-power microscope for similarities. The exhibits would also be swabbed for DNA traces, and their paper would be checked for telling indentations. Tomorrow, he would receive a report directly from Edmonton.

For Dane, the lab work was backup. He already knew the answer. Having examined both documents himself, he was convinced that all the words had been penned by the Ripper.

“Tool marks?” the lab tech inquired on receiving the exhibit from Dane’s evidence case.

“It’s a blown-up photo. They were carved into a victim who’s still in the morgue.”

At the autopsy—performed late yesterday afternoon by the pathologist, Dr. Gill Macbeth—the sergeant had taken detailed photos of the swastika in the skin of the Congo Man’s forehead. If a similar signature showed up in another murder, it would be crucial to know the order and direction in which the cuts were carved to determine if the same killer had left both swastikas. The documents section, which tested indentations, also matched tool marks.

Before leaving the lab, Dane checked to see if the blood found on the handle of the stake in the eye of the Congo Man had been analyzed. If it belonged to someone other than the victim, he might have a link to the swastika killer.

No results yet.

*    *    *

 

Dane’s trek up the long arm of the L on Heather Street came to a halt at the corner of 33rd. Special X was unlike the clichéd cop shops seen in thousands of movies and TV shows. The Tudor building on the corner had begun life as the barracks for two hundred Mounties and the stables for 140 horses in 1921. It was still referred to as the Heather Stables, even though it now housed the thoroughly modern manhunters of Special X. An expanse of green lawn fronted the beamed façade of what could have been, from the look of it, Shakespeare’s country home.

My kingdom for a horse, thought Dane.

Inside the front doors, Dane passed security, then paused in the high-vaulted entrance hall to take it all in. What he wouldn’t give to police here. This was the elite posting that every Horseman yearned for. You didn’t apply; you were chosen. And there was only one way around the long wait for C/Supt. Robert DeClercq to notice your service record, and that was for Special X to usurp one of your cases. DeClercq’s way of quelling the resentment caused by commandeering files was to second the investigating officer on the case to his unit for the duration of that particular manhunt. Maybe—just
maybe
—you’d be asked to stay on. That crack was almost worth having the North Shore Vigilante settle another score, turning the single-victim Congo Man case into a serial-killer manhunt that would call for Special X.

Almost. But not quite.

A wide staircase ran up the left-hand wall to the second floor, where DeClercq’s corner office faced 33rd and Heather. Alongside the stairs were hung historical sketches and photographs that traced the mythic heroics of the thin red line from the frontier days, when Superintendent James “Bub” Walsh and a handful of redcoat lancers had dismounted in the camp of Sitting Bull to lay down the law to the fugitive Sioux.

Coming down the stairs was a woman who was almost tall enough to be an Amazon. Black ankle boots under navy pants with a yellow side-stripe. Gun belt cinched around an hourglass waist, the nine in its holster, with a pouch for two more magazines, another pouch for handcuffs, and a radio. Short-sleeved gray shirt, open at the neck, bison-head crest on both shoulders, corporal’s chevron on both epaulets. Pretty face with little makeup, emerald green eyes, flaming red hair pulled back in a bun so it wasn’t grabbable in a fight.

As she reached the foot of the stairs, Dane dropped his eyes to the name tag pinned to the pocket bulging over her right breast. “J. Hett.”

Working with her would be a definite perk if the sergeant ever got the chance to join Special X.

Ooh-la-la.

Turning on her heel, the redhead entered the ground-floor squad room facing the front doors. From what Dane could see though the threshold, the room seemed more like a museum than a bullpen for cops. Mannequins displayed the various changes that had been made to the red serge uniform over time. The walls were decorated with Wild West firearms.

ViCLAS was housed in the cyber cellar of Special X. It shared a clutch of offices at the bottom of the stairs between the ascending staircase and the entrance to the squad room. Joining the online bloodhounds in the basement were the psych- and geo-profilers. Mounted above the descending stairs and below the second-floor landing was the huge, horned bison head seen on the regimental crest. The moth-eaten mascot was periodically removed from Special X and used to decorate colorful force functions, like regimental dinners or the formal red serge ball.

Staff Sergeant Rusty Lewis, another redhead who had a freckled face to go with his ruddy hair, was sitting in his office next to the officers’ mess. A whiff of curry lingered from a recent ceremony. Dane’s knock on the doorjamb caused the cyber cop to break away from the digital dragnet on his monitor screen.

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