Once Upon a Time. Barbara Fradkin

Once Upon a Time - Barbara Fradkin

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I pay off that little vinyl-sided cube I bought at the End of the Earth.” Green turned for one last glance around the room before closing the door. “Check out the kitchen while I do the basement.”

      Downstairs he found a ceiling bulb controlled by a chain and turned it on to reveal a dank, cobwebby cellar. The corners were stacked with the relics of a lifetime—old bicycles, buggies, broken chairs, a sewing machine, boxes of old clothes. Green tried to dig through the clutter and immediately began to sneeze.

      The hell with this, he thought to himself. No one’s been near this stuff in ten years. He was just about to leave when something caught his eye. He had moved some boxes and a card table aside, and in the process uncovered three cartons which looked less dusty than the rest. Pulling them out into the room, he opened them to reveal thirty-two quarts of cheap Scotch whiskey. Surprised, he called Sullivan down to photograph them.

      “So this is where the old man kept his stash!” Brian observed. “Jesus, there must be almost five hundred bucks of whiskey in there.”

      Green closed the boxes and stepped back, dusting off his gloves. “Let’s get Ident to fingerprint this stuff too. I’d like to know who brought it in here. It’s too heavy for Ruth, even if she did want to feed her husband’s habit. And I don’t think Walker could have carried it, either, in his poor health.”

      The two men began back up the stairs. “Find anything in the kitchen?” Green asked.

      “It was easy to search,” Sullivan replied. “Nice, neat lady. Not a packrat like her husband seems to be. I bet he wouldn’t let her throw out one damn thing in the basement there when they moved. Looks like they ate simply but managed okay. I didn’t find anything weird. Except this,” he remarked almost as an afterthought, picking up a small black box from the kitchen table. Inside were some rusty instruments and a bunch of oversized keys. “I found it at the back of the pantry. Looks like an old tool box that hasn’t been used in at least ten years. I found a newer tool box in the cupboard over the fridge with the usual screwdrivers and wrenches in it.”

      Green examined the pantry from which the box had been removed. A rim of dust and grime marked the spot where the box had long sat undisturbed. It was virtually hidden behind household cleaning equipment, bottled drinks and cans—all dust free, fresh-looking, and neatly arranged by contents. By contrast, the rusty old tool box seemed out of place.

      Green carried the box over to the window. On closer examination it looked more like a small metal storage box painted black with a hand-painted border of coloured flowers barely visible beneath the rust and the grime. It had a small lock like a jewelry box, but it was broken. Inside the box was an old rusted screwdriver with a badly worn wooden handle, a hammer of similar vintage, a hand gimlet and a pair of blackened pliers.

      “Jeez, these tools look really ancient,” Green muttered, turning the hammer over in his hands. “I know the guy owned a hardware store, but was he into antiques?”

      “They remind me of some old tools I found in the back of the barn once when I was a kid. My mother said they were used by the early farmers who settled the valley in the nineteenth century. Handmade by a blacksmith—that’s what gives them the primitive look.”

      “Let’s take them back to town and see if we can get any information on them.” Green turned his attention back to the black box. He turned it over, scrutinizing the metal carefully. On the bottom, in the corner, he found what he was seeking—a name. Kressman, Ozorkow.

      “Ozorkow. Sounds Polish,” he muttered. Then to his surprise, he felt the bottom shift and as he turned the box over, a false bottom came away in his hand. In the tiny space between the inner and outer plates, he found a small, tattered booklet. Inside, it was covered in cramped, foreign script. He flipped through it, then gasped.

      “Fuck! This could be why Walker didn’t fit in with the Polish community. This is a goddamn German identity card!”

      * * *

      Back in the car, heading down the lane to the highway, Green sat in the passenger seat and pored over the document. The black metal box and the rolls of film sat on the seat behind them. The Ottawa Ident Unit had been called to come up to dust the house and check out the tracks in the snow.

      “Jeez, this language has long words. My German’s not the greatest, but it’s a lot like Yiddish. I can’t understand everything, but enough to tell that these papers belong to a Wilhelm Ganz from Potsdam, and he’s some kind of rank in the Wehrmacht. Unterfeldwebel or something.”

      “Walker a Kraut? Do you think Mrs. Walker would lie about something like that?”

      “I wonder if she even knew. If he’d even tell her. After two world wars, the Brits hated the Germans’ guts.”

      Sullivan whistled. “Boy, that would be some secret to keep from her.”

      “Still think this is just an old stiff in a parking lot?”

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