Face Cards Serial
(shot in glorious black and white)
Jack Sharper drove the borrowed Cadillac for more than ten miles before he found a gas station with a pay phone. After purchasing a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes, he inquired about where he was and got directions back to the city from the gap-toothed attendent. Then he deposited the necessary coins into the pay phone to call Margaret, his faithful assistant and the only person he felt he could trust under the present circumstances.
"Jack, I've been waiting for you to call. I've had this woman here for hours. I went by the office to see you and she was there crying in the hallway. She was a mess Jack, so I brought her back to my place. What is going on?"
"I was hired to follow her.
Wait there for me.
I'll be there in about forty minutes.
I was taken on a little side trip through the countryside."
Jack lit another cigarette and got back behind the wheel of the Cadillac. He pulled the flask of whiskey out of his jacket, looked at it for a moment, and then threw it out the window before pulling away from the gas station.
Margaret had an apartment in the most desolate part of the downtown section of the city. The building surrounding her apartment tended to be a roaming ground for panhandlers and dope fiends, but the apartment itself was an oasis. Margaret was often an oasis for Jack when events of his life took difficult turns and her apartment often reminded him of this fact. Each time he came to her place he made a mental note to stop taking her for granted. Of course, a few jolts of liquor often helped clear most of Jack's mental notes or at least put them on the back burner.
The scene inside Margaret's apartment placed Victoria Berger stretched out on the sofa with a lace handkerchief in her hand while Margaret made coffee in anticipation of Jack's arrival. She immediately handed him a cup of the strong, black, hot liquid and watched as he sipped it before placing it down on the table beside the sofa.
"Describe your husband for me, Victoria."
"Hans Berger is not my husband. I know that's what you want to know. It is a very long story."
"I have plenty of time.
Why don't I sit down and you can tell me all about it."
Victoria looked nervous about speaking any further, so Margaret handed her a glass of brandy and Jack offered her a cigarette. She accepted both and sat up slowly and began to tell her life story. She had been in Bulgaria during the war, living in her hometown when things became very difficult. With her husband, a Czechoslovakian man named Erich Rudzek, she fled in an effort to escape to America. Along the way, her husband had disappeared and Victoria fell into the hands of a group of Nazis led by Hans Berger. Taking into account Berger's desire to take advantage of the young woman's situation, the SS officer retained Victoria rather than send her off to a prison camp. She was forced to please Berger and his associates under the threat of being placed in a concentration camp, and Berger even went so far as to offer Victoria to visiting officers and dignitaries that Berger dealt with on a regular basis. When she tried to escape, she learned that Erich Rudzek was being held and tortured. Berger reinforced his control over Victoria by reminding her that if she disobeyed him or tried to escape again that her husband would face a painful and excruciating death.
After the liberation of most of eastern Europe from the Nazis, Victoria had received assistance in emigrating to America from one of her former "customers." There she had waited for any word on what had become of her husband. Two years had passed before the American embassy in Sofia contacted Victoria with news that her husband was alive and well. Things were worked out so that they could be reunited, but when Erich Rudzek arrived in America and Victoria met him at the train station it was not him. It was Hans Berger with papers that claimed he was Erich Rudzek.
Berger had brought with him very incriminating photographs. He had secretly photographed many of Victoria's sessions with his henchmen and associates. They were the kind of photographs that could cause her to be deported based on violations of codes of morality. Beyond that, she feared the release of the photographs, as she had absolutely no desire to have anyone see her nude on all fours in the company of men in Nazi uniforms. No matter where in the world she went she would be ruined.
Jack Sharper had no reason not to believe Victoria Rudzek's story. Once in America and legally known as Erich Rudzek, Berger had become involved in the criminal underworld and Victoria had taken jobs that helped expedite his operations. Her job at the book store was a front for Berger's drug smuggling operations. However, it had been weeks since Victoria last saw her pseudo-husband. He had disappeared and she had been contacted by another man who claimed to be holding Berger and the pictures. She had never met the man, but he passed messages along to Victoria through Detective Dick Haynes, which reinforced the fact that the new player held key police contacts.
"I did not know why you were following me or who asked you to, but I had a dream that it was Erich come back from the dead."
"You may be right.
What does Erich look like?"
"I have not seen him in many years, you must realize. He is tall and had light brown hair and big brown eyes and wore glasses. I don't really know how to describe him. He is so gentle and he was really just a boy--"
"I suppose you would know him if you saw him.
You may get that opportunity tonight.
Stay here with Margaret.
I have to go back to the office and make a phone call."
Margaret stepped outside the apartment door with Jack. He kissed her on the forehead and told her not to let Victoria out of her sight. He reminded her there was a gun in the kitchen cabinet behind the sugar and suggested she put it in an easier place in the event of trouble.
"Are you coming back?"
"I'd rather not answer that question now.
I think I am about to upset all the wrong people."
"That shouldn't be too much of a stretch for you."
Next: Part Nine: King of Spades
Back to the Beginning: Jack of Diamonds
Back to Part Two: Queen of Clubs
Back to Part Three: Jack of Spades
Back to Part Four: King of Hearts
Back to Part Five: Queen of Hearts
Back to Part Six: King of Diamonds
Back to Part Seven: Jack of Clubs