Dead Man in the Harbour

Detective Robichauld Mysteries #1

by H. Paul Doucette

When one woman kills another, it falls to one to uncover why ... even in wartime.

The job was hard enough since Halifax became the focal point as the major staging area for the convoys supplying the war effort in England. Robichaud had his hands full dealing with the influx of people looking for work, foreign merchantmen looking for distractions from the perils of convoy duty and servicemen waiting transport across the Atlantic. Compounding his headaches was the growing shortages for affordable housing and the prohibitions on liquor sales in the city.

Now he had a murder to deal with.

The dead man with a hole in his head was fished from the water just outside the anti-submarine nets by a local fishing boat. His name was Denny Cafferty, a suspected IRA soldier who fled Ireland and the British Special Branch.

Robichaud and his partner, Pete Duncan, would soon find themselves up to their necks with more murders and a homicidal German spy.


Excerpt

Prologue

September 11, 1939

It was Saturday morning and my turn to pull weekend duty. I was sitting at my desk drinking my first cup of coffee of the day, reading the paper. I have been a detective with the Halifax Police Department for over eight years. It was a small department located in the basement of the city hall building on Duke Street. Small and quiet, but then there really wasn’t that much serious crime here, not like what I had to deal with when I was on the Boston force.

My name is John Robichaud, Robie to my friends.

I was reading the morning edition of the Chronicle, keeping up on the situation in Europe. Today’s paper leader read: ‘DOMINION AT WAR WITH GERMANY’

I wasn’t surprised. I was expecting this because Britain had declared war days earlier.

“Mornin’,” my partner, Pete Duncan, said when he entered the squad room. “Anythin’ interestin’?”

I flipped the paper around showing him the front page.

“Guess that’s that, then,” he said, hanging his overcoat on a peg on the wall. He went and poured a cup of coffee, then raised the pot to me.

I shook my head. “Thanks, I’m good, and yeah, no big surprise. Anyone who didn’t think this was comin’ had their heads in the sand.”

“Or up their arses,” Duncan said from his desk.

“Yeah, or that. So? What’re you goin’ to do?”

We had discussed what he would do if Canada went to war: enlist or stay on the force.

“Don’t know. Morrison said that we were bein’ classed as exempt from enlisting because we’re workin’ in one of the essential services.”

“I heard. So, that mean you’re thinkin’ of stayin’ on the force?’”

“Yeah, I suppose it does. I’m thinkin’ things are about to get a bit innerestin’ around here pretty soon. Besides, an old fart like you will need someone to carry the weight.”

“Whaddya figure the chances are?” I said with a hint of sarcasm.

In fact, everything did change. Within weeks, the city went from a quiet commercial port to a bustling military port with the influx of war materials, men, and merchant and naval shipping, as the Atlantic convoy system was gearing up. There was also the inevitable increase in illegal enterprises looking to profit from the circumstances, namely, prostitution, bootlegging, gambling, and black marketers. Fortunately for the small 70-plus police in the force in general, much of the policing was shared with the three services, especially in matters of port security. However, events were about to transpire that would draw me and my partner into the world of naval intelligence.

“Anythin’ special come in overnight?” Duncan asked.

“Just more of the usual—monitor the local German, Italian communities, like we got that many,” I said.

“Guess we should expect more of that sorta stuff these days.”

“Yeah, I know. So, what’s the latest on that business on Bauer Street?”

“We got the guy. He’s a Greek merchantman likes to gamble. Got into a floating game run by our buddy Jacobs. Seems he was losin’ too much and accused the dealer of cheatin’. Pulled a knife and cut him up a little. The uniforms managed to deal with most of it. The Greek is in lockup along with a coupla of the others.”

“Jacobs?” I asked.

Duncan shook his head.

“Figures. He’s almost never at any of the games. What about this dealer? The one who was cut up?”

“Minor injuries, stitches mostly, will be released later today. Want to bring him in?”

“Yeah. Let’s talk to him. Maybe he’ll give us somethin’ we can use.”

“Okay. I’ll send a uniform over,” Duncan said, picking up the phone on his desk. I went back to my paper, thinking that the news would be a lot worse in the days and months ahead.

There had been a marked increase in military activity in and around the port as preparations were underway to bring the harbour defences up to standard. The military also began a steady growth in personnel in the three services based here, anticipating the escalation of hostilities in Europe. Halifax was woefully unprepared both with its port infrastructure and security capabilities, which had declined significantly since the end of World War I. Fortunately, steps to address these issues had begun early in the year.

The British Admiralty recognized the importance that Halifax would play if war was declared and, with the cooperation of the government, took steps. One of the first steps taken was in the area of port defence and security. It was believed that the Abwehr had positioned agents throughout Canada and the United States. Acting on this belief, they installed an intelligence unit in Halifax.

 

November 1939

It was a clear, moonless night. Off to his right, he could just about make out the silhouette of the net tender; looking seaward, he spotted the intermittent flashes from a signal lamp. A convoy ship approaching, he guessed. Luckily for him, the patrols did not pay too much attention to this side of the anti-submarine nets.

He rowed the small skiff against the incoming tide, struggling to keep the unstable boat from rolling and tossing him out. His arms ached and sweat rolled down the inside of his heavy woolen overcoat, despite the cold wind that blew down the narrow inlet known locally as the Northwest Arm.

Looking over his left shoulder, he spotted the low wooden dock jutting out into the water. He manoeuvered the boat quietly up to it, shipped his oars and grabbed one of the posts. He sat listening in the darkness under the dock. Satisfied, he secured the boat, then took out a small flashlight and, covering the glass end with a hand, turned it on over his watch: two twenty-two.

He was running late. There was only an hour and a half, if he was lucky, before the fishermen started down to their boats, which were anchored at various points along the rocky shore. He had time, he thought, as he stepped out of the boat.

He made it about a hundred feet down the dirt trail leading to a hill under York Redoubt: his final destination. This was a reconnaissance mission to locate the power source for the newly installed searchlights used by the British as part of their port defence system. According to information he received from one of his contacts in the city, the army had built a generator station somewhere in the wooded area below the gun placements.

He made his way to the edge of the wooded area where he found the path that would lead to the site’s location. Suddenly, he heard the sound of an on oncoming vehicle from the top of the hill. He quickly stepped off the path and into a clump of trees, pulling his gun from inside his coat.

The vehicle was a three-quarter-ton army truck with six soldiers in the back, all armed with rifles. A staff sergeant sat in the front in the passenger seat.

The truck came to a stop and he got out, ordering the men to dismount.

“Okay, lads. Fan out and keep an eye peeled. The bugger’s s’ppose to be in here somewhere,” he said, taking his sidearm, a Webley Mk IV .38, out of its holster, and holding up a large torch in the other hand, fanned it slowly across the area.

After a few moments, one of the men shouted out, “Over here.”

Cafferty knew he had been set up and that there was no way out. He might get one of them, maybe even two, but they would surely gun him down. He decided to give himself up and take his chances. He liked living.

Letting the pistol hang from a finger, he stepped from behind the tree as the staff sergeant’s light landed on him.

“I give up. Don’t shoot.”

Five hours later, he found himself in a windowless room back in the city, sitting at a small wooden table with two chairs. They had left him a pack of cigarettes, a box of matches and a glass of water. A single stark white light at the end of a corded wire hung from the ceiling over his head. When they brought him in they removed everything from him except for his shirt, pants and socks. So far, no one had spoken to him or threatened him in any way. It wasn’t what he expected. He remembered being “‘questioned’” by the bastards back in Ireland.

The door opened and a young looking naval officer, a lieutenant, entered carrying two mugs of tea and a file tucked under his arm. He came over and passed one of the mugs across the table, setting it down in front of him. He pulled the other chair closer and sat down.

“My name is Parks,” he said, setting his mug down and opening the file. “You are Denny Cafferty, correct?”

Cafferty saw no point in lying or not answering since they obviously knew something.

“Yes,” he said, without any rancour.

“You are a member of the IRA, correct?”

“You know that already, so why ask?”

“Just answer the questions,” Parks said, looking back at the open file.

“I see that you have been busy back in Ireland.”

Cafferty just sat there waiting.

“In fact, we have been advised that Special Branch would like to get their hands on you.”

Again, silence.

“Right. Let’s get to it, shall we? What were you doing at the Redoubt?”

Parks sat staring at him for several minutes but said nothing.

Cafferty closed the file and leaned forward.

“You are in a very difficult position. We have caught you at a secure military installation under suspicious circumstances to say the least, and armed. We have an arrest-on-sight order from Special Branch with instructions to ship you right back to England where you will face subversion and sabotage charges against the state in time of war. I believe that means a visit to the hangman.”

He paused to let it all this sink in, then said, “Your choices seem to have vanished.”

“Get to it already,” Cafferty said after a moment. “What do you want?”

Parks sat back. “I think you already know the answer to that question.”

Parks watched as Cafferty sat considering his fate. He knew they had him. It would be a simple matter to wrap him up and send him back to England, but this was too good an opportunity to get a foothold into any German operation here in Nova Scotia, provided they turned him.

“Right, so what’s it to be? Work for us or Special Branch?” Parks asked after a few moments of letting his situation sink in.

“Bastards.”

“Is that a yes?”

Cafferty sat sullenly glaring at the young officer as the reality of his position took hold. He knew he was done for and had no other options open to him. He sank back into the chair in resignation.

“Right,” Parks said, pulling out a sheet of paper and sliding it with a pen across the table.

“What’s this?” Cafferty said, sitting forward.

“The Official Secrets Act. Sign where you see the X.”

“Why do I hafta sign this?”

“Let’s just say it’s additional insurance of your, uh, new loyalties. Also, it means that if you contravene the act, then you will be subject to certain very serious consequences.”

“You mean you’ll hang me if I don’t do what you want.”

“Not at all, old chap. We don’t hang people in the service. We put you against a wall and face you before six men with rifles and shoot you in the heart,” Parks said complacently.

* * *

Cafferty swore as he picked up the pen and etched his name on the paper.

He spent the next three days locked away in the basement of the headquarters building being interrogated by a couple of men. By the end of that time he had given up everything he knew about the IRA’s operations here, including the names of Sean O’Toole and Iain Kelly. However, he could not provide them with anything sufficient to pick these men up and detain them. He was also pressed for any knowledge of German activities and agents in Halifax. The only thing he could provide was that he heard of an agent being here, but that was all.

Over the next few months, he continued doing what he was sent there to do but under heavy control by the navy. They also used him to pass along false and misleading information cleverly inserted into true, but inconsequential, information.

Unfortunately for him, there was an IRA sympathiser working at the headquarters building.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

March 1940

It was a typical cold, sunless March day, the type of cold you feel deep in the bones from a stiff northerly wind with teeth in it blowing out of Bedford Basin. The sky, a flat ceiling of grey featureless clouds, seemed to press down, adding to the feeling of dreariness.

Sean O’Toole walked along the sidewalk cowering inside his great woolen coat, the collar pulled high up the sides of his face. Up ahead he saw the entrance to the Merchantman’s Club, his destination. Moments later, he stood just inside and with a brief involuntary shudder, relaxed and removed his coat. Looking around the room he finally spotted Michael Cavanaugh sitting at a table in the corner. He made his way through several men standing around the table with an urn of coffee on it. He poured a mug, then went to join Cavanaugh.

“What’s up?” O’Toole asked as he dropped his coat over the back of the chair and sat down.

“Somethin’s come up ya need ta know about,” Cavanaugh said, leaning forward.

“Yeah? What’s that, then?”

“Yer mate. Cafferty.”

“What about him?”

“He was picked up by the navy intelligence guys.”

O’Toole leaned in. “You sure? When?”

Cavanaugh nodded, saying, “Yeah, I’m sure. I was standin’ right there in da lobby when he came in lookin’ all nervous like, you know, lookin’ all over the place makin’ sure no one seen him. Anyway, he then heads fer the basement an’ ya knows what down there.”

“When was this?”

“Yesterday,” Cavanaugh said, sitting back.

“Jesus Christ,” O’Toole cursed.

“I take it dis ain’t good.”

“No fuckin’ shite, it ain’t good,” O’Toole spat. “Okay. You did real good. We’ll remember this.”

“Wasn’t nuttin’. Jus’ doin’ my little bit for The Cause, yeah.”

“Well, it was more than a little bit this time, buddy. You still safe over there?”

“Yeah. They ain’t got no idea I’m wit’ you.”

“Okay. Thanks for this. For now, you keep at it. If anythin’ changes, I’ll be in touch somehow.”

“Gotcha,” Cavanaugh said, finishing his coffee, then standing up. “I better git back.”

“Okay, and thanks again.” O’Toole shook his hand.

O’Toole sat for a few minutes after Cavanaugh left, drinking his coffee and letting this news sink in.

If Cafferty had been taken and was turned by naval intelligence, then everything the IRA was doing here could be compromised. If he broke, what could he tell them? Himself for sure. Kelly? Maybe. The German? Unlikely. What else could he give up? He had to let the others know right away. He checked his watch: three forty-five. He was meeting the German around four o’clock.

* * *

The German had arrived in Halifax in August 1939. His real name was Kurt Klepp. His cover was as Carl Borden travelling to Halifax in search of employment as a riveter. His real mission was to find his way to Halifax and once there establish contact with an IRA man named Iain Kelly who would help set him up with accommodation and work as a cover; that was four months ago. In fact, he did get a job with the railway working in the repair yard on damaged boxcars.

His father was a minor diplomat serving in Washington at the German Embassy in the Trade Department, holding this post for eight years. As a result, he received a good education there. Upon the family’s return to Germany in 1928, Klepp entered the military officer academy. When he graduated he enlisted in the Wehrmacht as an Oberleutnant, or lieutenant.

Eight months before Germany invaded Poland and war was declared with Britain, Kurt Klepp found himself sitting outside the office of Oberst von Lahousen at Abwehr headquarters in Berlin along with three other young officers. Von Lahousen was in charge of Abwehr Subdivision II, German Intelligence.

Klepp arrived wearing his dress uniform, his shoulder boards indicating his rank: Oberleutnant. He had answered a general summons for any member of the military with fluency in English to report here for a special interview. By the end of the interview he had been recruited into the Abwehr and sent on an extensive training course. When he finished he was assigned to North American operations, based in New York. Not long after the outbreak of hostilities, he was re-assigned to Canada with orders to proceed to the port city of Halifax where the Allies were staging their convoys to England.

His orders were to gather as much information as he could on troop and material movements, cargoes and convoy activities, as well as port defences, if possible. This would be transmitted to a waiting U-boat that would surface every other night for five minutes at a predetermined set of variable times. His cover was that of a riveter travelling to Halifax in search of employment.

 

"Dead Man in the Harbour" by H. Paul Doucette

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Genres


WWII
War Thriller
Suspense
Mystery

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