The girl with the Maroon lipstick (excerpt from Eagles Hunt Wolves)
March 1946 -Zürich
Anyone walking along the riverside of the Limmat would have noticed her; a pretty girl of about twenty, whose maroon-looking lipstick accentuated her wan complexion. Her arm though, crooked at an awkward angle might have caused pause for thought, as if she had balled up her fist into a permanent clench and buried it deep into the pocket of her expensively cut overcoat. It would have been then that an attentive eye might have noticed the small spattering of blood in her wake; tiny droplets that pooled from the crooked elbow before dropping onto the ground.
But it was a busy rush-hour Monday; the trams rattled, buses and bicycles fought with the cars as busy citizens dashed to some urgent appointment or pressing matter at some desk or counter at their places of employment.
If someone saw the girl stumble and steady herself with her free arm, they would have put it down to her high heels; black crocodile skin with a buckle and peep toe; a dress shoe rather than a practical one on the unforgiving pavement. If they had seen her pause, leaning against the wall that followed the course of the river, they might have thought she had forgotten something, or had simply stopped to admire the unseasonably azure March sky.
But the pretty girl with the maroon lipstick was badly injured. The pretty girl was bleeding. Glancing around, she dropped her purse into the river. She watched it float away, gradually slipping into the depths.
Pushing away from the wall, the girl resumed her dash to Zürich Hauptbahnhof Railway Station, urgently mingling with the pedestrians as a lethal looking black, Mercedes Benz turned onto the strasse, moving with deliberate intent. Glancing back, the girl increased her pace, her deep brown eyes glittering, a strand of blonde hair coming loose beneath her stylish felt hat. A fine glaze of sweat betrayed her fear.
She reached the main doors of the station and lurched toward the train timetables in the main concourse. She had to stem the flow of blood, she was beginning to feel light-headed – but first she had to make the rendezvous.
Taking up position in front of the timetables, she looked up and down the destinations – the railways from Zürich could take you to anywhere in Europe. She suddenly longed for her small brass bed. The pretty girl swayed on her heels and buried her fist deeper into her pocket. Her exertions had made the blood flow more freely; she could feel it pooling around her tailor-made leather glove. Her blouse felt glued to her arm with it.
“I believe the waterfall at Rhine-Falls is the source of the River Rhine itself, Fraulein?” said a man’s voice; it was the correct code.
“Does it go all the way to the ocean?” she replied. It was the compromised code.
She turned to the man. He was middle-aged with florid razor burn, dressed in garish tweeds.
“No, only to Berlin,” he replied. His moustache was as white as the snow on the alps, and waxed up to two fine points. Message received and understood.
“I think you will find this map useful then, sir,” she replied.
Reaching into the folds of her coat, she handed him a map, a passer-by would have noticed its title ‘The Canton of Zürich’ in bold type. Inside it was a microfilm.
The man, in return, handed her a rail ticket,
“Thank you, Fraulein, your train is the 10:15 to Bern. A representative will meet you there.”
She glanced up at the departure board, her train was´t advertised yet. It was 9:05.
“Thank you. I must fix myself up a bit first though; best look presentable.” Her maroon lips drew a thin, sere smile.
The man, her handler, section head, Swiss desk, Douglas Gageby, paused.
“I’m quite alright, sir. No need to worry,” She said.
Tipping his trilby hat, Gageby turned on his highly-polished tan Oxfords and strode out of the station, a beige raincoat draped nonchalantly over his arm - concealing the map and its contents.
The girl glanced around and spied the ladies’ toilet.
Paying the attendant an extra franc, she murmured,
“Unwanted attention. Need a moment.”
The attendant grinned, a gold tooth winked mischievously, she whistled as she mopped the tiled floor.
The girl found a vacant cubicle, fastened the latch and peeled off the overcoat and bloody blouse beneath. She hung them on the hook and placed her fashionable felt hat on top. The knife wound was deep, she thought the tendons in her shoulder might be severed, every movement resulted in a bolt of white-hot pain.
Removing the gloves revealed lesser nicks and cuts; one ran deep beneath her right thumb. Holding the gloves between her teeth, she could feel her tongue drying out and the tasted the coppery blood off them. She needed a cold drink of water.
Pulling wads of toilet paper, she made a crude gauze. Tearing strips off her blouse, she fashioned a rough bandage, winding it around her shoulder with her free hand. Her breath was coming out in muffled rasps. She could smell her sweat in the antiseptic-smelling toilets. The cubicle swam in her vision; she eased herself onto the toilet seat. She closed her eyes.
She thought of her little wrought-iron balcony. On it she had a little table, a folding chair and a delicate china vase she’d purchased in a market in Montmartre, she loved to place little bunches of flowers in it. On Sunday mornings she liked to doodle fashion designs along the margins of the newspapers, the sounds of the American big bands drifting up from a café in the street below.
Her head rocked back and struck the cistern pipe; snapping her back to the present. The gloves had fallen from her mouth and lay splayed on the toilet floor. Strangely, she felt the urge to cry. The attendant’s whistling had stopped. The girl rose and stuffed the blouse behind the toilet. She gingerly pulled on her overcoat and reached for the gloves. Then, with difficulty, she tilted her hat, shadowing her eyes.
She needed a hospital and a sympathetic doctor – and knew both were just a train ride away in Bern. For a second, she debated flushing the ticket, but thinking about the comforts of a train stopped her.
Opening the door, the girl saw in the mirror a statuesque blonde applying lipstick. Carefully placing a handkerchief between her lips, she dabbed off the excess gloss.
Her eyes were ice-cold blue.
The injured girl opened the door and stepped out into the toilet. Too late she noticed the attendant lying on the floor, just out of view of the dwindling rush-hour crowds. Blood was pooling around the attendant’s head, the mop casually tossed on top of her.
The woman at the mirror spun suddenly, striking the injured girl full-force to the face. The girl staggered and collapsed, landing on her injured shoulder. Her head struck the tiles and she could feel her wound opening again, blood bursting through the bandage.
“Where is it?” asked the woman. Her accent was German, not Swiss.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Madame,” replied the girl.
She knew then she was going to die right there on the toilet floor.
“Not sure? Allow me to help.” She delivered a ferocious kick to the girl’s face. Blood flowed from the girls ruptured nose. With her free arm, she feebly tried to wave away the next incoming blow.
The blonde crouched down and ran her fingers all over the girl. Thorough and precise, no area was out of bounds. Hunting through the cubicles she found the sodden blouse. Shaking it out and finding nothing she expressed her rage with a single stamp of her foot. It echoed around the walls.
“Who did you give it to?” she hissed.
The bloodied girl was growing faint; consciousness was slipping away.
The blonde motioned to the two back-suited men in identical hats who were loitering just outside the toilet door. One came in and hauled the lifeless attendant into the nearest cubicle. The other stood over the girl, produced a syringe from a small leather pouch and tapped its lazy, lethal contents.
“A ticket to Bern,” said the woman, holding the ticket up to him like a trophy.
“Then let’s send a message to Bern,” he replied. His voice was cultured; it was laced with the cadences of an aesthete.
“Yes, let’s” said the woman.
The man who had moved the attendant now stood sentinel at the toilet entrance, a long tapering blade lay sheathed along his arm. His pock-marked complexion twitched with a stressful tic.
“It will dissipate in a few hours, a new recipe from our friends in Romania,” said the man with the cultured voice. He handed the blonde woman the syringe.
She plunged it into the girl’s jugular, just below her hairline. The girl’s eyelids fluttered for a second and her left leg juddered in a spasm, then with a slow exhale,
the pretty girl died. The tall blonde wiped the blood from the girl’s face and rolled small balls of tissue paper, forcing them into the girl’s nostrils.
“She’s presentable enough,” said the cultured man.
“Did you see her talking to anyone?” asked the woman.
“Could have been anyone here,” replied the man.
The rush hour was almost over. The shunting of rolling stock, blasts of steam and whistles announced departures and arrivals. The men hoisted the girl and draped her arms over their shoulders; a silly young girl wasted on casino champagne. Led by the tall, voluptuous blonde they joked with the station attendants and the conductor, flashing the ticket before placing its owner in an empty compartment on the Bern train.
Seeing them alight laughing and shouting “Au revoir, mon cheri”, a casual observer might have clucked their tongue at the antics of these Sunday night revellers.
And anyone glancing into the compartment or looking at her pale face pressed against the glass would have though the pretty girl with the maroon lipstick was simply taking a nap.
Outside the station the cultured man motioned discreetly to the driver of the black Mercedes waiting obediently where they´d left him. The trio climbed inside and the funereal sedan accelerated smoothly over the bridge, blending seamlessly with the traffic heading for Lake Zürich.