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Beatrice Beecham's Cryptic Crypt
Beatrice Beecham's Cryptic Crypt
Author: Dave Jeffery

Prologue

PROLOGUE

Unlocking Evil

The shop has been in existence for over thirty years, its huge plate glass window a lidless eye gazing out upon an ever changing street. The window has watched a country turn into something quite unrecognisable—quite incomprehensible. Where there had once been chaos, there is now order. Where there had once been civilisation, there is now only brutality. This is a country that has lost its soul in a quest to find a heart. This is a country in the cold, unyielding grip of Nazi doctrine: cruelty in the name of order.

This is Vienna, Austria, 1941.

Vienna is now an extension of Nazi Germany, since its annexation by the German army in 1938. A climate of oppression is symbolised all around the plaza; the quiet streets, citizens exiled by the evening curfew. Huge flags are draped from the third floor window of the Heldenplatz; bent, black crosses encircled in white, and languishing on a field of blood red.

Swastikas.

These flags may flap lazily in the chilly Austrian breeze, but those they represent are far from lacking fervour. Their will to inflict prejudice, oppression and inhumanity in the name of order knows nothing of laziness; a thing of incalculable evil.

Within the shop, the owner is a testament to this. He is middle aged and his body bears the scars of oppression. Some can be seen, his arms play host to wicked wheals that criss-cross his wrists like river tributaries on a map. Some scars hide beneath his shabby shirt, vicious, thick bands of tissue on his back and stomach.

But it is in his mind where the real wounds lie, held at bay by a resolve that has been his only protection over the past few years. On occasion he has stared into the face of madness and felt its lure, its potential sanctuary from what has been going on about him.

When the Nazi troops entered Vienna, they came as saviours. Now they are merely demons—soldiers of evil. The shopkeeper plays with the crude, yellow Star of David sewn on to his right breast pocket. Once it had been a sign of faith, now it is a sign of hatred and exclusion. Of the 160,000 resident Jews, only 40,000 remain. The others have been deported to work as slave labour in the unyielding war machine that is The Third Reich.

Or worse.

The shopkeeper shivers, yet the room in which he works is not cold. He has been luckier than most. He has a trade the fascists value, making and mending locks. In these times of want and food rationing, such things are of great importance. Over the past eighteen months he has excelled at his craft. The mechanism he has created is unique and at any other time he would revel in his accomplishment.

But he is unsure what it is he has really achieved and for what purpose. Yes, these devices will ensure protection when they are applied, but what do they protect? Is it a thing that should be kept safe?

He knows that, in reality, he must only be concerned with the safety of his own kin. This is why he has adhered to schemes and kept himself ignorant.

This is why he, and his family, is still alive.

The man senses movement.

Silhouetted by the late spring sun, distorted shapes waver through the frosted panel in the shop doorway. As the door swings inward, the shopkeeper jolts in cold horror, the chill filling each chamber of his heart, threatening to stop it dead. The bell above the door chimes brightly—a stark contrast to the grim face that enters beneath.

The newcomer is tall and string-thin. His uniform is ditch black and peppered with silver icons stolen from more civilised cultures and made to serve desire and hate. His appearance incites crippling fear. It is what he does. It is the only reason his kind exist.

Slowly, deliberately, the man in black closes the door.

‘Do you have them, Jew?’ His voice, like his physique, is thin and emerges from a slit of a mouth, crowned with the ghost of a moustache.

‘Y-yes, Herr Fleischer.’ The man quakes as he speaks. ‘As you commanded.’

The Nazi officer strides casually into the workshop. As he nears, the shopkeeper can smell the sweet aroma of polish emanating from highly buffed boots. The utility belt wrapped about him bristles with bullet pouches and a huge, holstered sidearm.

The shopkeeper ducks beneath the counter for a few moments. When he bobs back up again, his face is jaundiced by the sunlight filtering through the window—his cheeks becoming deep, sunken pits, the flesh from a once full face hanging like the jowls of a bloodhound.

The Nazi smiles. These are good times. These are righteous times.

‘Here you are, Herr Fleischer.’

The locksmith places an object on the work-worn counter. It is a wrapping made from coarse sheets, which the man now pulls apart with trembling fingers. When its content is in plain view, the locksmith steps away from it as though the things he has released into the sunlight are poisonous. In reality they are three fat cylinders of glass and copper. The crooked filaments lurking inside each look like the withered outstretched arms of the starving.

‘I’m sure they will not disappoint, Sir,’ he whispers.

‘I will be the judge of that, schwinehund,’ the officer hisses, moving towards the counter for a better view. The locksmith stays still, his eyes cast down to the bare floorboards, his ruined skin crawling under the officers’ rebuking glare. Fleischer’s eyes are blue ice, but there is a fire in them; passion born from a skewed sense of righteousness.

Those cold eyes give some reprieve as they drop to the package lying open on the counter.

‘Good,’ Fleischer says.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ the shopkeeper mutters, relief evident in his voice.

‘The compliment is not to you, dog!’ Fleischer snaps. ‘This will serve its purpose, just as you have.’ There is a hard and dangerous edge to his voice.

‘I meant no disrespect, Sir,’ the man splutters. ‘Forgive me. I am just anxious to please you.’

‘Anxious to save your scrawny, Jewish neck is more likely.’ The silver skull on the Nazi’s cap shows more humour than the cold, calculating grin beneath.

There is an awkward silence and the man squirms under the officer’s stare. He knows the Nazi is enjoying his torment. It is the only enjoyment these brutes allow themselves. The tormenting of Jews is now a sport to them. The locksmith considers if God has truly forsaken his kind and placed devils upon the earth to test their faith. Devils in black uniforms that march through the streets pretending they are soldiers when they are nothing more than dishonourable butchers.

The atmosphere in the shop is oppressive. Time seems to pass like treacle through a sieve. The smile that slices across Fleischer’s face shows he relishes the moment.

He folds the swatch and picks it up, his mind racing. In contrast his heart beats heavily, a surge of pride threatening to swamp him. He is close to success: a plan that seemed impossible is coming to a close. It would seem to those looking from outside that there is ambiguity in his actions. Fleischer has done this in secret—without sanction from the Führer. He knows the higher order will not understand, they may even call his actions “heresy”. They would not understand the concept of contingency. It has taken several years to get to this point. Many have died in the quest to build and protect a secret. His superiors would only see his plan as a loss of faith. A sign of weakness.

But he was bigger than this - his intentions as close to honour as someone with his black heart could understand.

‘Now,’ Fleischer sneers, turning his attention back to the locksmith. ‘What of you?’

The man shuffles uncomfortably. ‘There is our bargain, Sir?’ he says, his voice quivering.

‘Bargain?’ The Nazi smirks at the locksmith’s discomfort. ‘I appear to have forgotten it. Maybe you could remind me?’

‘That I, and my family, would not suffer the same fate of my kind,’ the shopkeeper mutters miserably. ‘An assurance of mercy.’

‘Ah, yes! Now I recall!’

To the shopkeeper’s horror the Nazi un-holsters his pistol and aims it at him.

‘B-but, Sir! Have I not kept my side of the bargain? Are you not pleased?’

‘I am most pleased, shopkeeper,’ the Nazi replies. ‘But even if you had not been part of a race of conspirators, you were never going to live. Not when you have been party to my intention.’

The locksmith leans back heavily, only the shelving unit behind him preventing his body crumpling to the ground. ‘But what of justice? What of mercy?’

‘Those words have no meaning here,’ the Nazi says coldly. ‘They are the doctrine of the weak.’

A single shot ends their discussion; the shopkeeper disappears behind his counter as a stream of gun smoke rises lazily into the air.

For a pensive moment, Fleischer looks at the place where the shopkeeper had been standing. After a single nod of his head he then turns and exits the shop.

On the other side of the door stands a Nazi soldier. He snaps to attention as his commander walks past him. The black, steel helmet rammed onto his head, reflects little of the pale sunlight. Beneath the steel brim is a face heralding nothing but staunch loyalty. Blind obedience is the keystone of the Schutzstaffel—or the “SS” as they are more commonly known—adherence to a sworn oath of allegiance to their Commander in Chief, the Führer: Adolf Hitler. An oath that has changed them from men to unfeeling robots.

‘Tidy this mess, Sergeant,’ Fleischer mutters before walking towards a waiting staff car.

The trooper reaches down and pulls at an object that has been wedged into his boot. He stands and inspects the grenade. It is a stubbed, metal cylinder screwed to a long wooden stave. With a fluid motion, he unscrews a cap at the base of the stave and a length of cord drops out. He yanks this and the fuse begins to hiss. His actions are unhurried as he kicks in the shop door with his heavy, shining boots and throws the grenade into the gloom.

The sergeant trots to the staff car and climbs in beside the driver.

From the back seat, Fleischer smiles and nods at his sergeant in the rear view mirror. The engine purrs as the machine pulls away.

The vehicle is turning out of the plaza when the grenade detonates, sending a ball of glass and flame out into the street. The noise is loud and devastating. But no one will come because it is a Jewish shop, and no one here cares for such matters.

On the pavement, the window is now a myriad of sugar sprinkles that glisten like tears of mourning on the cobblestones. It is as though this eye on the world may no longer be able to see but it still weeps for what is to come.

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