Posted by: righthandblink | December 28, 2016

Murder at 11 Wellington

Murder at 11 Wellington

Disaster struck Parliament Hill late on February 3, 1916. The bitter cold played havoc with rescue attempts and the freezing of fire fighting water lines. Reports indicated that the fire raced quickly but by early morning was mostly under control, although there was another outbreak.
       Confusion reign on Capital Hill with the city full of war refugees and soldiers – French, American, British, German – many standing in the cold watching the inferno.
       “Who’s in charge?” He asks of the first person he finds in a uniform.
       “Renault, … Inspector Louis Renault, head of the Dominion Police (DP). He’s over there,” pointing.
       “Renault? I’m Ferguson. George Ferguson, special investigator from the Attorney General’s office.”
       “Yeah, you can see I’m a little bit busy.”
       “I’m not here to be a bother. I need to know if everybody has been accounted for. Who’s missing?”
       “It’s a bit early to tell.”
       “Is there a team searching for bodies yet?”
       “They started a couple of hours ago, even though the rubble is quite hot. We’ve set up a temporary morgue across the road at the Dominion Police offices. Check with the coroner, a guy named Fiennes. He should be there.” Looking at his watch, “I have to get back anyway so I can introduce you.”

Due to the weather, the buildings had already cooled enough for the Fire Marshall to start looking to confirm suspicions of arson and possibly find bodies. Extra constables were brought in to help with the search and they were receiving assistance from the local police and the army.
       In the morgue, introductions seemed almost automatic as they do in times of crisis. Staff Sergeant Lacelle was already with Fiennes. Seven bodies were lying on individual stainless steel tables. The coroner was looking forlorn.
       “Preliminary autopsy results have identified the seven bodies that appeared on your list of missing staff,” he said, “but they just brought in another two bodies.”
       Ferguson looked at Renault.
       Fiennes continued, “There is obviously something underhanded going on here. The last two had their hands and feet tied. They were gagged. And it appears that their heads were hooded. What’s going on here?”
       Renault said, “At present, that’s classified; as will be your autopsy results. Eyes only to my attention. Understood?” Fiennes stared at Renault. He understood.

Back in Renault’s office, Ferguson couldn’t take it anymore. “Are you going to let me in on what’s going on, or do I have to pull rank?”
       “Ok, ok, ok. Lacelle, shut the door. . . . What I am going to tell you two is top secret. Not even the Prime Minister knows. Absolutely top secret, and classified. . . . During the evening last night, there was a meeting on the Hill ‘bout the war. A highly sensitive, very secret meeting. I can’t emphasis that enough. The meeting was to discuss the Canadian war commitment: topics ranged from staff changes, troop buildups, code books, new armaments design, production figures and manufacturing locations. They were also going to discuss intelligence and counter-intelligence operations.
       “What are even more sensitive are the names of those who attended that meeting. Sir Albert Edward Kemp, Minister of Defence, Sir George Halsey Perley, Minister of the Overseas Military Forces and John Douglas Hazen, Minister of the Naval Service. There was also a Dominion Police constable Jacques Vanaire present acting as a body guard and providing security.
       “Our staff has already interviewed their families. Kemp and Vanaire are still unaccounted for. Perley and Hazen had left the meeting early, but we don’t know what happened to the others.”
       Ferguson was going to speak but Renault held up his hand and said, “Let me finish.”
       “The House was in session last night. My staff is continuing to meet with families of those who were known to have been in the House. We expect to have a complete list by tonight. The list the coroner had been only preliminary.
       “I have also had the Ottawa Police confirm that all hotels and motels registrants within the city have been accounted for. Some may have been visiting or on a tour.”
       Right then loud knocking at the door and a flustered man in uniform burst in. The Fire Marshall, Jake Cameron.
       “Search efforts were initially concentrated in the area of the DOD Ministry office. When we look for aspects of arson, we look for the obvious. In this case it is reversed. Nothing’s there.”
       “Jake, what are you talking about?”
       Jake sat down and took a moment to pull himself together. “Due to the nature of the files and documents that the Defence department handles, they are kept in steel ring binders, old steel filing cabinets with combination locks and steel bookcases. But they’re all empty. Well at least most of them. . . . Most of the files appear to be gone. Disappeared. Flew away. Poof . . . It also appears that a cigar bomb was the ignition source that started the fire in the reading room, and I have a feeling that it was a diversion.”
       Ferguson said, “That missing information would certainly be of interest to German intelligence, and that ties in well with what we were starting to suspect and already know.”
       Renault repeated himself, “Jake, before we continue I have to say that everything related to this discussion has to be classified. It’s top secret. To my eyes only. . . . We have two bodies in the morgue that had their hands and feet tied. It looks very much like we are dealing with sabotage. The Germans are here.”
       Ferguson said, “Your group has been keeping a watchful eye on German activity in Canada and monitoring ‘enemy aliens’ especially those who have been identified as secret agents.”
       “Well that is true, probably more so than most people are aware.” replied Renault.
       “May I suggest, due to the situation, we issue an alert to immediately increase surveillance? I agree that this fire is probably sabotage and who knows when we will find out what they accomplished. We as yet don’t know what else, if anything, they may have done but we can’t wait to find out. We have to act now. They may be long gone.”
       “That’s a good idea,” replied Renault.
       “As well, we also need to monitor potential escape routes like the airfield, the bus and train stations and the waterways for any German activity,” continued Ferguson, “and can we get updates on all these activities as soon as possible.”
       To Lacelle, Renault stated, “Round up the usual suspects.”
       “If these unknown suspects somehow got through the Hill security, and into that meeting and then absconded with all those documents. . . . Those documents didn’t just fly away,” said Ferguson, “but I don’t think that they would have chanced getting it all out during the mass exit during the fire. The risk of getting caught would just be too high. So how did they get the stuff out? Have you done a complete search of the grounds?”
       “Not yet, there has just been too much to take care of,” replied Renault.
       “Let’s get a couple dozen constables and search for footprints leading away from the Hill, all the way down to the Ottawa River bank. We know there are going to be countless tracks from fire fighters all over the place but maybe we can find tracks leading away. Those files had to be heavy and would affect their walking in all that snow. We will start on the far western edge and sweep north to the river, then east to the canal, and back around.”

Sometime later, the frustrated search party walked south along the canal up to the lockmaster’s office and storage area. To the west of that building there is a small concrete block building which looked as though it was built right into the cliff face, maybe it was a storage shed. The area between the office and small shed is covered with footprints and a set of tire tracks. At the entrance door to the shed, they found blood in the snow.
       “The door’s locked.” said Lacelle.
       Ferguson yelled, “Break it down.”
       The inside was dark and as they entered they tripped over something. The light from a flashlight showed that it was a body. An Ottawa police officer. Shot dead. They all paused and stared at the far wall examining an old iron gate through which one can see a tunnel heading west toward the Parliament Buildings.
       “Ok. Where now?” asked Lacelle.
       Both Ferguson and Renault shouted their epiphany at the same time, “The train station.”
       Renault said, “Sergeant Brierre, take four men and get into that tunnel and find out where it goes. I need to know where it comes out. Look for anything that will help us determine how many there were. Maurice, we also need to know how long it takes to make the trip. Time yourselves. The rest of you to the train station.”

As they walked to the station, Ferguson and Renault threw ideas back and forth.
       “The simplest way to get away would’ve been to drive a car or truck, but this operation was well planned and they couldn’t count on the weather. A bad snow storm, like last week, would foil everything. Same for a bus.”
       “The ice would have stopped them using the river and the canal.”
       “A snow storm would close any airfield. The train is the only option.”
       “On top of all that, the whole place is crawling with police, firemen and the army. They would have had a plan already in place to get out fast, before things got bogged down. It’s been eighteen hours since the fire first started. That would put them down at the lockmaster house between ten or eleven last night. About fourteen hours ago.”
       “We’ll have to find what trains have left. My guess is that they would target Montreal, then Halifax. I’d be looking for a ship or freighter to Europe and Halifax is the only place this time of year with water access. Unless they tried for New York.”
       Renault said, ”The train station has always been under surveillance. But we got the army to station troops at strategic points around the city, one place being the train station. The man in charge of the army unit is Lieutenant Glen Bainbridge.”
       “Lieutenant, we are looking for those responsible for the Parliament fire. We don’t know how many there were. We believe that they have with them large containers of some sort. Like trunks or duffel bags. The quantity is unknown. They are probably Germans. Search everywhere. Question everybody especially any on duty after midnight last night.”
       “Contact us through my office.”

After leaving the train station, Ferguson met Renault at the Hill’s Café next door to the Dominion Police Offices. They sat in a booth at the back of the place out of earshot of curious onlookers and reviewed the train departure schedule as they ate.
       Renault asked, “Do you think they would just hole up in a farmhouse or something?”
       “Probably not. If they think they have gotten away with it, their handlers will want what they took as soon as possible. It could affect the outcome of the war.”
       “We could use it to our advantage. Let them think that they got away with it, but change all the codes anyway.”
       Ferguson said, “But the problem is with all the other stuff they got. We can’t change that. Troop numbers, production figures and manufacturing locations.”
       “Ok. So they are probably going on a train to Montreal, through to Halifax. On that we can agree.”
       “Get the army and local police to monitor all points en route to Halifax. We’ll issue arrest warrants and photographs of those we suspect. Include that they are considered armed and dangerous,” said Ferguson.
       “Sergeant McGrath is in the DP offices as we speak questioning suspects that had already been brought in, trying to find others, and will bring us a list of those who appear to have vanished. He has had informers scouring the streets and hangouts since early this morning.”
       “Renault, there are a number of questions that needed answering,” said Ferguson, “and I don’t want you to think I am casting a veil of suspicion over your organization, it’s just that we can’t assume anything and the hell with anybody’s pride. Understand? I really don’t know who to trust. Somebody is feeding somebody information. See for yourself, here’s a list of questions that have popped up.” He showed Renault a page in his notebook.
       While Renault was perusing the questions, McGrath mysteriously appeared through the cigar smoke, “We have narrowed the list to four people. They were all seen yesterday, but for some reason, they are not around today. Nobody seems to know why: Heinrich Strasser, Howard Koch, Conrad Veidt and Torben Meyer. This may also help. It’s a telegram from Signals branch that have been monitoring all radio transmissions. Seems that the army’s code-breaking section broke a German agent’s cipher that they thought might be of interest.”
       Renault read the telegram, “‘Operation proceeding. Shipment en route. Arrange transport.’ . . . . Time-stamped 7 a.m. this morning. Sent from the Château Laurier.”
       “Inspector Ferguson?”
       “And you are?” as he looked at another uniform that appears through the smoke.
       “Captain Isaac Singleton, aide to Major-General Sam Hughes. On behalf of General Hughes we would like to extend our complete co-operation and assistance. Can you give me your latest status report?”
       “Thank you Captain. We believe the suspects have escaped Ottawa by train and headed east possibly to the coast. About an hour ago, the train stopped somewhere outside of Halifax, near a crossing at a place called Milford Station. Someone pulled the emergency cord. According to onlookers, a number of passengers got off the train and loaded some large trunks onto the truck that was already there, obviously waiting for them. Then they took off. Details are somewhat sketchy but the local police are questioning the remaining passengers and have sent a car to attempt to follow the trail from where the train stopped. Milford Station is not far from the coast.”
       “This war isn’t contained just in Europe,” expressed Singleton, “We have information that may coincide with your case.”
       Sitting down, he continued, “Here’s the story: Dartmouth police are investigating concerns received from neighbours about three men who had quietly moved into a vacant house without the owner’s permission. Folks noticed that the men avoided even the most casual contact with the community, and slunk back and forth from the house through the woods rather than travelling the main roads. Their behaviour aroused suspicions that the three were German spies or fugitives from other crimes. Fear of German spies has been common since the early days of war.
       “The investigating constable, who went to the house with three local men to back him up, came face to face with one of the occupants, who fired two shots at the constable. He’s dead.
       “The three strangers slipped away during the confusion. Witnesses described them as between thirty and forty years old, well-dressed, with plenty of money to spend on provisions.”
       Ferguson looking at Renault said, “There may be more going on here than we realize.” then looking at Singleton, he said, “We need to get some more manpower on the ground searching for these guys.”
       “That’s why I’m here,” said Singleton, “there are two Battalions of the Nova Scotia Rifles 106th Battalion stationed in Halifax; and the No. 2 Construction Battalion, The Black Battalion, is in Truro. Both groups are waiting for deployment overseas. They’ve been sitting around and could use some action.”
       “As you can see here on the map, this road, County Road 224, runs almost straight from Milford Station to Sheet Harbour. If we make the assumption that they are headed for the coast, that would be our best guess. Can you deploy those troops along the coast between Halifax and Port Dufferin just north of Sheet Harbour. Maybe we can still intercept that truck. What are the odds that they’re planning to rendezvous with a submarine?”
       “We need to get the navy to patrol along the coastline north and south of Sheet Harbour.” Pausing Ferguson said, “You wouldn’t be able to get a plane in the air, say from Halifax, and monitor the roads for that truck? We also need some troops at the Halifax harbour, just in case. And at Sheet Harbour.”
       Singleton smiled, “Done. Done. Done,” then left in a hurry.
       Ferguson asked “When can you have them in place?” but he was already gone.

The waiting was torturous. It seemed like hours, but it was only minutes. An update from the constable at Milford Station arrived. According to the passengers interviewed, four men had left the train while it was stopped. There was a car and a truck waiting, each with their own drivers. They took six large trunks from the train. Once the vehicles were loaded, they went north.
       Looking at the map, Ferguson commented that County Road 224 goes north from Milford Station but then turns south toward the coast.
       Singleton telephoned with the first report, “No word yet but we’re airborne. We got a privately owned aircraft out of Halifax. We put a radio operator and observer on board. Presently they’re following County Road 224 toward Sheet Harbour. Reports are now being passed to the troops on the ground about vehicle movements. Troops have been dispersed and are working their way along the coast.”
       “Make sure they know that they are looking for a car and a large truck.”
       Singleton had just hung up when the phone rang again, this time directly from army intelligence, “The navy had two frigates in Halifax harbour. Together with a number of smaller craft they are now patrolling along the coast around Sheet Harbour.”
       The troops and police from Dartmouth had already arrived in Sheet Harbour. While monitoring the harbour, they recognized the three men who shot that constable and escaped capture. They are located in a boat in the harbour. Police and the army are holding back and keeping out of sight.
       “Thank goodness it is day-time. It would be a nightmare to attempt to locate those vehicles if we had to do it in the dark.” Francine, Renault’s secretary, was making another pot of coffee when the next report came in from Singleton. “Located a car with a large truck on 224. Wait . . . Are we lucky, they just turned off into a farm just north of Sheet Harbour. Troop transports have been notified and are ten minutes behind.”
       The troop transports had stopped on 224, blocking the lane from the farm that joined the road. After the troops had encircled the farm buildings, they found the truck and the car hidden in the barn but the suspects and the loot was gone, just disappeared, again. The plane that had been circling couldn’t see anything any more because it was getting dark and visibility was far from good.
       Ferguson ordered the soldiers to hold their positions at the farm and at the harbour, but to stay out of sight.
       The clock was ticking. Everyone heard this imaginary tick-tock, tick-tocking in their ears. It was now dark in Nova Scotia and in Ottawa.

The observers in the harbour waited patiently. There was only one left on the boat. Two had left a while ago. They were being shadowed. When anybody left the area they assigned one man to shadow and, in a bit of inspiration, another to walk ahead. The plan was for the two watchers to alternate positions. When the shadow charged ahead, the point man would fall back and take his place; and they’d go on switching back and forth throughout their shift.
       By this approach, they followed the suspect to a bay just south of Sheet Harbour where they waited. Not long, for others came along. They were lead back to a small row boat.
       Once they loaded their gear, the army pounced. After the arrests were completed the perpetrators and the evidence was sent on the train back to Ottawa, under heavy military guard.

Back in Ottawa everyone had gone home. It was a clear night. Ferguson stood at the window staring at the burnt out hulk across Wellington Street. He and Louis were both smoking cigars and enjoying a well-earned libation of single malt, Old Tennis Shoes. They were alone in the office.
       “Those two guys, Perley and Hazen, who left that meeting early before the fire started, we should put them under surveillance. And their aides. They’re not above suspicion. Nobody is. They may have known what was going to happen and got out. I’ll leave that with you, Louis.”
       “Those unanswered questions you showed me all point to someone inside the Dominion Police passing on information or providing information to a third party. Could be a mole working for the Germans?”
       Ferguson said, “Well, Louis, we’ll just have to wait and see.        That’s a whole other story.”

§ § §

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

© 2016, David Huffman


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