Sunday Stories features original fiction every weekend by Langley writers.
The Armature Winder’s Daughter
Written by John Hurst
(continued from previous publication on Sunday, March 8. Read last week’s installment here)
A Dead Reckoning
I had a house in Kitimat, at the head of the Douglas Channel. I had a real job too, a masculine, productive, challenging job as editor of the Ingot, a tabloid newspaper published by our company, every other Friday. It was real work and exasperating at times, but my small staff and I never missed a deadline in all those years. It wasn’t the country club atmosphere that Kodak once was; we wore jeans and helmets to work and our office was right in the middle of the smelter. I had a good boss who gave me plenty of room to grow and the money beat Kodak’s by a merry mile. My kids were growing up and leaving home.
I became involved as a team member with people in the community who wanted to start a hospice in the old Kitimat hospital, offering palliative care to men and women who were about to die. As a welfare recipient, I had worked in White Rock as a hospice volunteer and was proud of the varied experience I’d gathered there. We succeeded and our hospice opened. I am proud to say a commemorative plaque was fixed to a wall in the new hospital years later – and my name is still there, numbered with the others.
I visited some of the residents of Kitimat who would spend their final days on earth, gazing out the windows on their town with only a short time to live. One day, I was called to visit a Mrs. Notker, who had only then been admitted. I thought she might know Theoline and Ignaz.
The female form on the bed was curled up and turned away from the door. Instead of family photos and keepsakes, the room was filled with a quiet group of empty spaces. But it was peaceful. The woman turned, looked and sat up. It was Theoline. She looked so very old and as I slowly walked to the chair beside her bed, she patted it and directed me to sit down.
“You’re a damn long way from Dunnville, John.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.”
She wanted to confess. As it turned out, Theoline Notker was an old lady, 15 years older than I. When she arrived with Ignaz at Dunnville High School, she was 30 years old.
“I lied my age,” she said. “I always wanted to go to a Western-sort of high school and get a good education, better than in Germany. I could still pass for a teenager and in a quiet place like Dunnville, who would know or care.”
Her father had been a Nazi in wartime Germany and somehow he became associated with Nazi party members who were beginning to profit from the businesses and homes they had seized from Germany’s Jews. When most of his fellow crooks were specializing in stolen works of art, he alone specialized in women’s clothing. It was all expensive, high end and French – designer dresses and fur coats. Eventually, he opened a department store on Rue Faubourg Saint Martin in Paris, now the seat of an advertising agency. Theoline was his first model and at that time, she jumped at the chance to leave her restrictive Catholic boarding school and be a lady. Ignaz, her brother, needed no encouragement to begin his criminal acquisition portfolio.
But those heady days ended with the defeat of Germany and the liberation of Paris. The Notkers had to flee and because so many people recognized them, they were always found out by people who had been victims of the Nazi plunderers. But they managed to hold on to a large fortune in cash and properties and kept them well disguised. She continually met rich men because she was richer than they were and she found anonymity as a rich man’s friend.
“That school trip to McMaster University in 1957?” Theoline told me in that last room of hers, “Someone who worked in the kitchen at the university recognized me. I had to run and I guess it’s been like that ever since.”
“What about Beau Milliard? Didn’t he care for you?”
“Yes, but not when the FBI started knocking at our front door.”
“But why have the police been running you down all these years, Theoline?”
“Shame,” she whispered. “If you heard that women sentenced to the gas chambers had their personal clothes taken from them. And if you knew I was modelling their nylons and their knickers for fat Nazi cow women, you would never give up chasing me, for generations even.”
When the FBI got tired, Israel’s Mossad spy agency took over, along with freelance operatives hired by Europe’s wealthy Jewish families. After that time, the whole family was on the run, in three separate, corkscrew directions. Her father, Mr. Paul Notker, had died in Anaheim, California, of a heart attack, on one of the rides at Disneyland. No one knew of Ignaz’ whereabouts, Nutsy the Nazi.
“Hold my hand, John,” she whispered. She exhaled and I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with my thumb. One last time she left us, now for a better place.
I often wondered why people appeared, left, and then came back into my life. But I was just fascinated by the details and not the underlying lesson. In my early middle age, I asked someone for the answer and she told me, “Simply put, you have forgotten what you learned before now.”
We keep making the same dumb mistakes because we forgot what they taught us before. And that goes for everyone on the planet.
This concludes the short story The Armature Winder’s Daughter by John Hurst. Stay tuned for new stories by local authors – published by the Langley Advance Times, Sunday, March 29.