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4 August 2008
  Charlie Bellman: A Funeral in Berlin
by Antonia T. Tiger
Sometime before his arrival in the Spontoon Islands

A Funeral in Berlin: A Charlie Bellman story
Sometime before his arrival in the Spontoon Islands
by Antonia T. Tiger

It was cold and damp, almost foggy, and none of the mourners was there from any strong connection to the late Arabella McKenzie. But all had a connection, professional, and shared a sense that nobody should be without mourners. Not even a butchered foreign whore in a pauper's grave. It was May, in Berlin, in a country clawing it's way out of depression, but it didn't feel like springtime: not for anyone.

And then a few reflective, almost private, minutes in the mist, heads no longer bare and exposed to drip of tree-trapped water, feet gently crunching along gravel path towards the cemetery gate and two waiting taxis.

"Herr Fischer," said Bellman. The Inspector stopped, and turned a little. They were the same type, height and bulk and nondescript canine muzzles, the ordinary unbred peasant stock of England and Prussia, There was a trace of something wrong in the Inspector's eyes, an anxiety, and something of embarrassment. "My Ambassador has asked me to convey to you his deep personal appreciation of all the effort you have put into resolving this case."

"It is my duty, Herr Bellman."

"Damn duty," said Saunders, with a general, indiscriminate, bitterness. "I wanted to see somebody on the end of a rope."

"Indeed," said Sergeant Schmidt. He stood there, hands stuffed into the pockets of a slightly shabby dark-brown overcoat, another canine, born in Pomerania, with a touch of the blood in his tail. "Did you know I saw her once, at the club?" He glanced at them, almost defiant. "The others, they were trash, but that one had talent."

"I know," said Bellman. "Herr Fischer, it was a mindreading act, and I am sure you would recognise the way she could tease answers out of a man, pretending she knows everything already."

"And then she would turn it all around into a mockery, until we were in helpless laughter." Schmidt smiled for a moment. "When she came around later, selling cigarettes, I bought three packets, and I don't even smoke."

"So that's where they came from?" Fischer slowly shook his head. "I think we are better mourners than we anticipated." He looked up. "Mockery?"

"She explained that she was teaching one of the other girls, then bring one out on the little stage, sit her on a stool, and blindfold her. And then she would borrow some small item, something she could hold in her hand, from an audience member, and said she would project an image into her assistant's uncluttered mind."

"Oh, I know the trick," said Fischer. "There are code words."

Bellman, despite everything, chuckled, and quoted, " 'Ah, this is a remarkable item. I see, sir, that it is of great value to you. Lucille, what it is I hold in my hand? It it the Brandenburger Tor[1]?' "

Schmidt, in a rather squeaky voice, answered, " 'I don't think so.' "

It took a couple of minutes before Fischer stopped coughing, with the help of half the contents of Saunders' hip flask. Bellman stood silent, remembering a tall, rather skinny, feline girl, with the same haunted eyes of almost every girl in the place, and how, one night, there had been a single packet of John Player's Senior Service in the tray, almost appearing out of nowhere, which she had almost seemed to force on him, like a stage magician forcing a card.

He'd bought them, for later. Like Schmidt, she deserved it for her performance that night. That night, she had brought the audience to paroxysms of laughter. She had asked Lucille, while pretending to lick a cigar that a fat banker type had given her, if she chanced to hold in her hand Herr Hitler's testicles.

Lucille had risen to the occasion, with the querulous response, "Herr Hitler's testicles?" Then a pause. "But that means..." And then she had snapped to attention, giving the Nazi salute. "Sieg heil! Sieg heil!" The audience had joined in, until Arabella had, somehow, brought them to silence, and said. "No, Lucille. Not even one of Herr Goering's.[2]"

Collapse, as they say, of stout party.

"She had talent," said Bellman. He never know how she had been able to photograph the documents: the negatives were narrow, less than half an inch, but clear. There had to be something special about the film, that much he knew. And it was a neat trick to somehow get them into a sealed pack of cigarettes.[3]

Schmidt took a deep breath. "There are, alas, people in this town who would not have appreciated her performance." Fischer glared at his subordinate, and then brusquely nodded. "The last time I interviewed Lucille she said she was going home to find a safe farm-boy."

"Gentlemen," said Bellman, "May I express my deep personal appreciation at all you have been able to do to resolve this tragic case." There, he thought, that's it. He watched Fischer, and saw the reaction. He knows that I know. Probably those bastards at Prinz-Albrecht-Straße.[4] They certainly wouldn't like Herr Hitler's testicles.

There was a long silence. Fischer seemed to be fumbling in his overcoat pocket. Saunders passed Schmidt his hipflask. Schmidt looked at it, eventually shook his head, and handed it back.

Fischer held out his hand. "Thank-you, Herr Bellman." They shook hands. Bellman thought Saunders would notice the folded paper that Fischer had palmed, and which had passed to his hand, but Schmidt was in the wrong place. Fischer was somebody you couldn't recruit, but he had a dangerous amount of clue. "Herr Saunders." He sighed. "Gentlemen, I have enjoyed your company and your insights."

"Indeed," said Schmidt. "Alas, while there may be more satisfying conclusions, our lot in the Kriminalpolizei is one of perpetual sorrow."

"Hans, you are getting philosophical. To the taxi, lest I have to explain the bill."

"Charlie, I think we face the same problem." Saunders had reverted to English. He carried on, in German. "Better times, Herr Fischer. Better times."

They walked briskly, slightly apart, not talking, and boarded the taxies. Saunders, in suddenly badly-accented German, directed the driver to 70 Wilhelmstraße.[5]

"Back to work," said Bellman in English, wearily.

"More paperwork!" Saunders urged the driver to hurry, and flicked water droplets off his whiskers. "And we'll miss the teabreak!" Saunders flopped back onto the seat, "God, what sort of fiend kills a girl that way?"

"A murderer," said Bellman. "And I'd put the rope around his neck myself." He sounded weary. "I think we'll have to sweet-talk Lorretta, but she'll understand a funeral. You'll get your tea. And I have a packet of squashed flies in my desk drawer."

Saunders pulled his hat down to shade his eyes and quoted the Book of Common Prayer. "In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our sister Arabella; and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious unto her , the Lord lift up his countenance upon her and give her peace."

"Amen," said Bellman.


(with following eventual events shown in "A Proper Little Charlie")

Comments from Antonia T. Tiger:

[1] A gigantic monumental arch in the centre of Berlin, erected in the 18th Century, and still there. Generally, Lucille could be sure of success if she chose the first plausible object suggested, rather than a battleship, an automotive torpedo, or a railroad locomotive. See, now you know how to be a stage mindreader.
[2] According to the WW2 song, Herr Hitler had only got one ball, while Goering had two, but very small. Himmler was then declared to be similar, while Goebbels, who actually had several children, was unfairly alleged to have no balls at all. Perhaps he employed a stunt-double?
[3] You would think that Arabella used the famous Minox spy-camera, but it didn't go into production until 1938. At least, as far as we know.
[4] Gestapo headquarters, the street is now Niederkirchnerstraße.
[5] The location of the British Embassy in pre-WW2 Berlin, and of the current British Embassy. The Agriculture Ministry is still in the same place, too, while the Finance Ministry occupies the building contructed for Goering's Air Ministry.
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