This story appears in the Comet Press Anthology The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Twilight Towers. 4D.
Trench stood in the corridor and eyeballed the lipstick swastika on the door. He reached for a grenade that wasn’t there, his madcap impulse to open the door and blow up a lost nest of Nazis. Instead, he knocked on the door and then waited with hands jammed in the pockets of his pleated trousers.
The bolt clacked back and the door opened inward to reveal a buxom blonde in her early thirties, Veronica Lake hairdo and striking blue eyes. A white silk dressing gown that would’ve looked slinky on someone with a slenderer figure.
“Hotel security,” Trench said. Then he aimed a finger at the red swastika and said, “You know anything about that?”
The woman looked at the lipsticked graffito and frowned. She muttered a curse in German, then turned her flashing eyes on him. “I want that removed. Immediately!”
He gave her a little nod. “Any idea who did it?”
“No. The world is infested with fools and malcontents.”
“True enough,” he said, noting the deep frown lines bracketing her mouth. “You are German, right?”
“Naturally. But that doesn’t make me a war criminal.”
“War criminal,” he echoed. “That’s a funny thing to say.”
“Funny?” Her lips curled and thinned. “Funny?”
“Yeah. Nobody said anything about a war criminal. Except you.”
She seemed to compose herself, crossed her arms over her chest and said, “You are the hotel detective, yes? The dick, as you say?” She pronounced it deek.
“Then do your job,” she said, her accent thickening with emotion. “Find the person who did this and see that it is not to happen again.”
She stepped back and slammed the door. It sounded like a gunshot.
* * * *
Trench sat alone at a table in The Twilight Tavern, nursing an iced glass of ginger ale and thinking about halfway marks. He figured his life was half over, barring fatal disease or a violent end, and here he was in the middle of a century that had already seen two world wars and was ticking toward the next one, what with the Commies in China and Russia raising Red hell and things in Korea just about ready to boil over. At the moment he was halfway through his shift as house dick for Twilight Towers, which he sometimes thought of as the Halfway Hotel because it was about that far from being one of Miami’s finest.
The Twilight Tavern was next door to the hotel, and Trench was also responsible for the safety and security of its patrons, most of them being guests of the hotel. He figured a house dick was half a step up from a run-of-the-mill bouncer—not that it mattered. Again with the halfway marks.
He sipped his drink and watched platinum-haired Lola’s long fingers stroke the ivories as she coaxed dreamy tinkles from the Steinway. He couldn’t look too long at her, not when she was dolled up in that tight sequined evening dress with the low-scooped neckline. A sight like that hit him where he didn’t want to be hit, not since he’d come upon that stinking Sicilian field littered with dead German and Italian soldiers so bloated with rot that they sported ghoulish erections. Until he could scrub that obscene picture from his memory, he would be no good to a woman in an intimate way. That sex-and-death combo played hell with romance, zombie cocks standing at eternal attention while his was alive and as limp as a soft-boiled noodle.
He let his peepers drift off lovely Lola. They slid along the bar, pausing a moment to watch a cigarette bobbing on the lips of a chunky bald man talking to a slender woman too young to be his wife, then on they slid, finally coming to rest on the German woman from 4D. She was seated at a table with a handsome young man with slicked-back black hair and a scimitar-shaped scar along the left side of his jaw.
Since finding the swastika lipsticked on her door last night, he’d been keeping closer tabs on the fourth floor in hopes of catching the artist if she—or he—came back for another crack at a vandalistic masterpiece. He’d also checked the guestbook and learned that the German lady had registered as Greta Goff from Peoria, Illinois. You didn’t grow an accent that thick in Peoria.
Trench lit a smoke and cocked an ear and tried to catch a snatch of conversation from Greta Goff and her dapper beau, but thanks to Lola’s piano playing all he could hear was the occasional bust of the fraulein’s honking laughter. From this distance she looked good but Trench had seen her up close, without the paint, and he knew her good looks were in harsh decline. A few minutes later the man got up and headed for the men’s room. Trench decided to follow him, flash his house-dick buzzer and brace him for the skinny on his date, but then out of nowhere a small woman in a dark raincoat and black beret was bearing down on Greta Goff, approaching her from behind, and Trench froze, knowing something about her was all wrong. Maybe it was the odd look on her ferret-like face or the way she had her right hand buried in the pocket of the raincoat.
Trench was up and moving, crossing the floor in long strides and reaching out to grab the petite woman’s hand as it came out of the pocket with a small-caliber gun. “No,” he said softly as he wrapped his other arm around the woman’s waspish waist and firmly guided her away from her obvious target. Greta Goff lit a cigarette, oblivious to what was happening behind her.
The small woman’s body was stiff with tension but she didn’t resist as Trench led her to his table. He took the pistol out of her hand and dropped it in his coat pocket. He planted her in a chair and sat opposite her. She looked at him with wide eyes, as if she’d just come out of a dream and wasn’t sure where she was or how she’d got there.
“I’m the hotel detective,” he said. “You wanna tell me what that was all about?”
She shot a glance at Greta Goff and said, “The Beautiful Butcher of Auschwitz.”
Her accent was European but Trench couldn’t precisely place it. She appeared to be in her middle thirties, may have been pretty at one time, but now worry lines marred her face and her eyes were a bit sunken from having seen too much of the world’s horrors.
“You were there?” he asked.
She nodded. Her shoulders slumped and random raindrops ran down them. “She murdered my sister. And many others.”
“You’re sure she’s the one?”
“I am sure. Her hair is longer and she has put on the pounds but I am sure. She beat me near to death with a riding crop.” She looked at the woman in question. “There is no doubt. That is Gerda von Falk. Murderess!”
“Keep it down.”
She nodded and dropped her eyes. “She and Irma Grese were in charge of the female prisoners. They liked to cut off the breasts of the prettier ones. They were Doctor Mengele’s whores. Irma Grese was hanged as a war criminal but Gerda von Falk slipped out of Poland. And now, as you see, she is here for the good life. I saw her on the street two days ago and followed her to the hotel.”
“And you’re going to throw your life away as her executioner?”
“I have no life.” She clutched at her small bosom. “No soul. I am like the golem.”
Trench waved the waitress over and ordered a double shot of whiskey. He noticed a small man in a dark suit sitting alone at the bar, shooting furtive glances their way.
“Why not call the FBI and let them take her?” he asked.
“Why would they believe me? I am a Polish Jew. I am not yet a citizen here. I have no proof.”
“So you were going to shoot her and wait to be arrested?”
“No. I would kill her, then flee.”
“That guy over there at the bar with you?”
“My cousin. I live with his family.”
“He was your get-away guy.”
“Why did you draw that swastika on her door? Didn’t you think it would scare her off before you could do her in?”
“I wanted her to know she is not free, I wanted she should taste the fear.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I wanted her to run so I would not have to shoot her.”
Trench nodded in the direction of the blond German. “She’s not exactly shaking in her boots.”
The waitress delivered the double-shot. Trench set it in front of the would-be assassin and said, “Drink that. A toast to your freedom.”
“You are not going to arrest me?”
“I should turn you over to the police,” he said, “but I won’t if you promise you’ll forget about killing her. Let me take care of her.”
She made a sour face and downed the double-shot. “What will you do?”
“I’ve got a couple of ideas.” He pulled an ink pen from his pocket and slid a cocktail napkin in front of her. “Write down a phone number where I can call you. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
She wrote down a number and her first name: Anna.
Trench said, “I’ll give back your gun when it’s over.”
* * * *
Trench walked back to the hotel and called his friend Morgan at the Miami Herald. Morgan was a fact checker and sometimes pulled duty on the paper’s night desk. He’d lost an arm at Anzio and worked extra hard to prove he was as productive as any man with two arms.
“I may have a scoop for you,” Trench said when Morgan answered.
“What? Did Hemingway get caught stealing hotel towels again?”
“See what you can dig up on the Beautiful Butcher of Auschwitz. Gerda von Falk. If you can find a picture of her, I’ll buy you a steak dinner.”
“That Beautiful Butcher moniker rings a bell. No, no, that’s not right, she was the Beautiful Beast and they hanged that Kraut cooze.”
“No, that was the other one. They were like a tag team. The one I want got away. And I think she’s a guest here at the Twilight, under another name.”
“Holy mackerel, Kingfish! I’ll get right on it.”
“Good. I don’t want this chick to fly the coop before I know for sure.”
“What’ll you do if it’s her?”
“Wring her fucking neck.”
Ten minutes later Trench was in room 4D, searching the German woman’s belongings. He’d told the kid on the front desk to call the room if the woman showed her face in the lobby. He went through the two suitcases after picking the locks with his penknife and a paperclip. The first one contained nothing but clothing and makeup, but with the second suitcase he hit paydirt: three passports with the same woman’s photo but with different names, and a loaded Luger. The passports were damned good forgeries with three different names—none of them Gerda von Falk. Wrapped in black panties was a pristine Luftwaffe dagger, and the feel of silk and steel sent a thrilling current through his crotch.
He put the items back where he’d found them and shut the suitcase. As he was about to leave the room, something under the bed caught his eye. He bent down and picked up a black-leather riding crop and smacked it against his open palm, wondering if it was a souvenir of her Nazi past, a prop for sadistic sex games, or both. He put it back and left the room.
When he returned to the lobby, the night clerk handed him a phone message from Morgan. Trench returned the call. Morgan said he had found one photograph of Gerda von Falk. “It’s not a very good shot,” Morgan explained. “It’s a partial profile and the lighting is bad, but it’s all we’ve got.”
“Meet me at the Rod & Reel Grille at eight and I’ll treat you to a steak and eggs. And don’t forget that photo.”
* * * *
“Don’t spill coffee on it,” Morgan said, “I have to return it to the morgue.”
Looking up from the page of newsprint with the photo on it, Trench said, “The morgue?”
“The storage room where we keep all the back issues. Reason I found it so quick’s because I remembered the story, the-ones-that-got-away angle.”
Trench looked a few seconds more at the photo of the blonde in a Nazi uniform and then said, “I’m pretty sure that’s her. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but I’d sure as hell bet hers.”
Morgan grinned and said, “Not for nothing do they call you the Twilight Detective.”
* * * *
Trench was in the office behind the front desk waiting for the FBI agent to come back on the horn when the desk clerk stuck his head in and said, “The lady in 4D just phoned down and said she’s checking out a day early. Today. Right now.”
Trench motioned the clerk over and handed him the phone. “When he comes back, tell him to get here right away if he wants to nail this Nazi cooze.”
Trench took the elevator to the fourth floor and knocked on 4D’s door.
The blonde opened the door and gave him a big-eyed stare. She was wearing the same silky gown, but this time her bags were packed, ready to go.
Trench said, “The FBI wants to talk to you, Miss von Falk. Have a seat and we’ll wait for them.”
Her face showed nothing. Then she smiled and pulled the straps off her shoulders and let the top of the gown fall to her waist, exposing her voluminous breasts. Trench looked at them and froze, feeling as if he were looking down the barrels of a couple of howitzers.
Too late, he realized his mistake. But before he could tear his eyes off her tits, she shot a beefy fist into his face and rocked him with a hard right to his left eye. Then she grabbed his shoulders and kneed his nuts. He went to his knees, nauseated. With a move that would’ve made a female wrestler proud, she seized him in a headlock and wrangled him into the room, shutting the door with her hip.
He grabbed one of her muscular legs and yanked it upward as he straightened his spine and threw himself backward. They both hit the floor but the woman rebounded quickly, springing to her feet and spinning to kick his face with the ball of her bare foot. Then she grabbed a suitcase and swung it with both hands, the heavy blow ringing his skull like one of hell’s lost bells.
He heard suitcase latches snap open and looked up at her through a red haze of dull pain to see her tits and the Luger all pointing at him. Her lips cut a cruel smile. He smiled back, meaning it.
It was nuts but he had a ferocious hard-on. For the first time since he’d seen that field full of dead soldiers with bloated boners, he felt real lust for a woman and had the hard evidence to prove it. He’d taken a few beatings since the war—most recently from Iron Skillet Scarlotti’s goon squad—but never with this crazy result. It had taken a sadistic bare-breasted Nazi broad to raise his cock from the realm of the dead.
Trench figured he’d reached one of those turning points people talked about. A freak twist sure to take him to some very dark places if this buxom bitch didn’t kill him first. Maybe he felt he deserved punishment for all the Krauts he’d killed or maybe just for surviving the war when so many others hadn’t. He knew this wasn’t the time to figure it out.
“Hold on,” he said. “Look what you’ve done to me.”
He rolled onto his back so she could see the erection tenting his trousers. She cocked a brow.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” he said. “You take care of this and I’ll call off the Feds.”
She laughed. It was a dirty laugh coming up from the diaphragm and shaking her breasts.
“I’m not joking,” he said. “I told the desk clerk to talk to them while I came up here to stop you. Let me use your phone and I’ll call ’em off. Then you and me can settle up. Whaddaya say?”
“What are you saying to me, take care of this?” She pointed the pistol at his crotch.
“Make it go away and I’ll make sure you get away. Unpack your riding crop. And don’t shoot off that cannon or you’ll queer our deal and the Feds will nab you.”
He stood, picked up the phone and called down to the desk. “Kid, did you talk to that Federale?”
“Yeah, but I think he thought I was some crackpot. He finally said he’d send somebody out.”
“Call him back and tell him we were wrong about the lady and that she’s already checked out.”
“Do it.” Trench cradled the phone, unfastened his trousers and dropped them. His cock popped out of the slit in his underwear and pointed at the woman still pointing her pistol at him. He said, “Not exactly a Mexican standoff, but you can see I’m serious about this. Call it a hard bargain.”
* * * *
She tore off his shirt and undershirt, then handcuffed him to the bedpost and worked him over good with the riding crop, each stinging lick pumping up his lust to the point where he could no longer distinguish pain from pleasure. Finally, she peeled her slinky gown off her hips, straddled him and took him inside with practiced ease. She rode him hard, whipping his hip with the crop to urge him on. Her gun was within easy reach on the edge of the bed, and it crossed Trench’s mind that she could finish him off with it when the fun was done, but that only added to his twisted excitement.
When the big moment came, Trench felt as if the planet had flung him into the stratosphere, where he hung blissfully suspended, briefly free of worldly concerns and cleansed of wartime sins. Then gravity yanked him back down into the gooey thick of things and the Nazi vixen astride him whipped him mercilessly as she spouted spirited curses in her native tongue.
He stayed hard and she rode him harder, her pelvis and tummy gyrating like a belly dancer’s. She whacked his face with the leather crop and all he could do was clench his eyes and grit his teeth. She shouted “Heil Hitler!” Then her eyes rolled up in her head and she brayed like a dying donkey. She went rigid all over as if an iron rod had been jammed up her ass, then she fell forward, breasts flattening on Trench’s chest, passion spent.
He thought he should be feeling some kind of post-bang remorse now for having trafficked with the enemy to satisfy his twisted desire, but what he actually felt was grateful relief that his family jewels and scepter were no longer defunct. He wasn’t much worried that he was now at the dubious mercy of a sadistic woman notorious for her gleeful practice of genocide. Maybe he was a little worried that he wasn’t worried. But he was still hard inside her and he was already thinking of an encore performance.
But then the woman sat up, picked up the Luger and a pillow to muffle the shot and put the gun against his head. She smiled, clamped her pussy on his prick and pulled the trigger.
Laughing, she tossed the pillow away and looked at the smoking bullet hole in the mattress next to his head.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Trench shouted.
“I wanted to see if you would shit yourself like a scurvy Jew.”
He drew blood from his tongue to keep from unleashing a long stream of hard-bitten G.I. profanity upon this nutso Axis Sally in the flesh. Instead, he said through clenched teeth, “Well I didn’t, did I.”
She laughed, clucking like the Queen Kong of hens. Then she got up, walked across the room and dug a deck of cigarettes from her purse and lit one, tossing the mussed tresses of that Veronica Lake hairdo with a heavy air of melodrama as she blew smoke at the ceiling. She sat on the bed and crossed one knee over the other, pursing her lips and blowing on the cigarette’s ember. She spit a strand of tobacco off the tip of her tongue and took another drag.
“What shall I do with you?” she asked, blowing smoke in his face.
“Get these cuffs off me and I’ll get you out of here. That FBI guy might be curious enough to come nosing around anyway.”
She looked at the faded ink of the American flag on his left shoulder. “What did you do in the war?”
She made a clucking sound with her tongue. “Die jungen Blumen des Vaterlands.”
“The young Flowers of the Fatherland.” She reached over and stroked his half-mast penis with one hand and blew on her butt’s ember again, making it glow red-hot.
Trench began to sweat. He squirmed. The cuffs rattled against the bedpost.
“Let me see what you’re made of, Yank.” She touched the ember to the root of his cock, the tender spot just above the scrotum. He gritted his teeth and tried not to flinch as the cigarette sizzled his flesh. Amazing as it was, his dick remained rigid.
“Not bad,” said the Beautiful Butcher of Auschwitz. She took another drag off the butt, then dropped it on the carpet. “Now I will make my mark on you so that you will not forget me.”
She opened a suitcase and dug out the Luftwaffe dagger. Smiling as she unsheathed it, she sat on the edge of the bed, smoothed the hairs on his chest with her empty fingers and then set to work with the dagger, cutting a line in the flesh above his left nipple. Trench sucked wind through clenched teeth. He didn’t try to fight the knife. The pain was sweet and he figured he had it coming for fraternizing with this sadistic Nazi cunt.
Couple of minutes later, Trench had a bloody swastika etched in his chest. And a cold-blooded hard-on that refused to flag.
Gerda von Falk chuckled and pressed the dagger’s point against the underbelly of his penis. “Your little soldier remains at attention for me, his commander. But I must go now and leave him to his sad little outpost.”
“Get these cuffs off and I’ll carry your bags.”
She lit a cigarette, then said, “I do not think you are as dutiful to me as your little ramrod trooper with the purple helmet. I think perhaps I should leave you as you are as I go to make my getaway.”
“I’m going with you,” he said, “wherever you’re going. I’m done being a house dick.”
“You see?” She pointed with the two fingers clamped on her cigarette at the bloody swastika on his chest. “I have marked you and you are mine. Like a Jew, yes?”
“Yeah, yeah, I see. Take me with you.” As soon as he said this, he realized it was something a woman might say. What the hell’s wrong with me? But he knew the answer. Something had been wrong with him but this witch had worked her evil magic and now he was cured. Did he actually want to go with her or was he just playing out the string to make sure she didn’t leave him cuffed to the bed for the housekeeper to find? He wasn’t sure. Not yet.
With an unreadable expression on her face, she keyed the cuffs open and he was free. Completely free. It was the freedom of not having a plan, of not knowing what you were going to do until it was done. Trench was amazed at how liberating this was. He could make things happen or he could let them happen. Either way, he was alive, and that was reassuring. He was more than a walking corpse with a hard-on. He was still in the game, and no matter how twisted it got, the game was only for the living.
She tossed him a towel. He blotted blood from his stinging new swastika while she got dressed. Ten minutes later he was carrying her two suitcases as they stepped off the elevator and into the lobby. He ignored the puzzled looks his battered face drew from the desk clerk and patrons. He kept his eyes glued on his blond companion’s back as he followed her outside and into the hotel parking lot. He was subservient to her; it was right that he should walk behind her. And it offered a nice view of her undulating ass cheeks.
The car was an old Packard and she said he could drive. He put the suitcases in the backseat.
“West. To California.” The way she pronounced the state’s name, it conjured mental images of forbidden forms of fornication.
They smoked in silence and soon they were outside the city, the Floridian flatlands drawing them toward the promise of landscapes less monotonous.
“I think you are a secret Jew,” she said as she tossed her cig’s butt out the window.
“Maybe you don’t have the Jewish blood but you are weak, submissive. Like the Jewish vermin we exterminated. No fight in you. You cower and piss yourselves like docile dogs.”
He balled his fist and threw a crazy roundhouse left against the side of her head. Her head bounced off the passenger door, and the car swerved and just missed dropping a wheel into the roadside ditch. He hit her again to make sure she was out like a refrigerator light with the door shut.
That was when he knew he’d reached the end of his tether. He felt it and understood. It felt like a rubber band was attached to his belly, an invisible umbilical band that had let him get just this far and was now ready to snap him back to reality, back to his Twilight life.
Her eyes were half open, glazed and unseeing. Trench got the cuffs out of a suitcase and hooked her to the metal frame under the seat. Then he drove ten miles to a hick town with one traffic light and bought a garden hose and a roll of duct tape from a hardware store. Whenever the Kraut opened her eyes, he socked her jaw and put out her lights again. After the third punch, she didn’t open them anymore.
Ten minutes later he was driving along a dirt road into a shadowy backwoods jungle. He pulled over at a small clearing. Black dirt salted with white sand. Lush vegetation surrounding. The woman’s head bobbed. She moaned. Fluttered an eyelid.
Trench shut off the motor, got out and set to work with his hardware-store purchases. He stuck one end of the garden hose into the exhaust pipe and secured it with duct tape, making sure the seal was good. Then he ran the other end of the hose through the narrowly opened rear-door window of the Land Cruiser. He used duct tape to make the window as airtight as possible, then he slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine.
The woman looked at him with heavy-lidded eyes. She mumbled something in German.
Trench grabbed her purse and rummaged through it until he found her tube of bright red lipstick. He scooted next to her and drew a swastika on her forehead and then, as an afterthought, he drew another one on her mouth so that the four angled arms of the hated symbol surrounded her pouty lips.
Already the exhaust fumes were filling the car, burning his eyes and making him cough. He slid out and shut the door. He looked up at the thunderheads piling up in the east and said, “Jesus? Tell me not to do this.”
Thunder rumbled, sounding too much like distant artillery.
Gerda von Falk was coming to now, coming to the realization that the end of her life was at hand. She rattled the cuffs and began shouting, first German, then in English. Thunder hammered the earth and sky, coming on like well-placed artillery rounds.
“Speak now, Lord, or to hell with her,” Trench said to the sky. “And you know I don’t speak thunder.”
He watched the light leave the sky. He listened hard. Looked for signs and wonders.
He looked at Gerda von Falk sitting in a glassy cube of smoky exhaust. “God forgive us both,” he said. Then he started for the highway.
Half a mile down the dirt road, he stopped, turned around and went back to the car. He knew he had to see it through as witness, knew he was bound by the executioner’s unwritten code. He owed it to all those dead Jews and gypsies and to all the innocents mutilated and mangled by the mad Nazi doctor and his murderous bitches.
She was coming undone fast, suffocating in the devil’s cloud of unmaking. She’d yanked against the cuffs so hard that her wrist was ripped raw and bleeding, her shoulder dislocated. Her blouse had popped buttons and her bra was full of vomit. A thick string of puke hung from her lips, which were going blue. She gasped for air like a decked grouper. She went fish-eyed as her brain no doubt began to die in a haywire shower of panicked thoughts and maybe even fear of divine retribution. She would be pissing and shitting herself by now.
Trench lit a smoke and watched her die. He ached in a hundred places and that was good. It was right that he should. It was the way of the world. You bought your ticket with suffering, and dead or alive you took the ride. He didn’t know where he would end up but he knew it didn’t much matter.
He was doing the Lord’s work or the devil’s. As things now stood, it didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference which. Either way he was damned.
In halos of lightning, storm-cloud angels played hell on heavenly kettledrums. Then came the roaring downpour and the Nazi bitch was gone for good.
Trench walked away in the rain.