"A 1945 Twisting, Turning Spy Story in Washington, D.C."
Reviewed by Katherine Petersen
Posted June 30, 2016
David Krugler's fiction debut, THE DEAD DON'T BLEED,
brilliantly blends a spy mystery into historical context.
As a historian familiar with the close of World War II, his
story rings true with authenticity from the slang used and
clothing worn by his characters to the overwhelming fear of
communism and to the landscape of Washington, D.C. during
this time period.
The body of navy intelligence officer Logan Skerrill turns
up on a cobblestone back alley in a rundown section of
Washington, and Lt. Ellis Voigt and his partner handle the
investigation. A member of Navy Intelligence's espionage
squad, Voigt must ferret out who killed fellow spy
Skerrill. Voigt and Skerrill trained together but didn't
like each other.
With fear of communism and Soviet spies all over the place
in the capital at this time, Voigt's boss tells him to go
undercover at a newspaper clipping service
suspected of serving as a front for a Soviet cell. Voigt
does, and the plot gets even more interesting and
complicated. Voigt learns of a defecting German physicist,
a secret project in New Mexico and Uranium-235. The reader
knows it's the information on the atomic bomb the Soviets
want but must not get, but if Voigt succeeds, well, you'll
just have to read and find out.
Not only does Krugler handle the historical aspects of the
story with ease and grace, but his characters resonate
well: whether you like them or dislike them, they're
credible and draw out an emotional response. Emotional
engagement is most of the battle for me to
like a book. I thought he did an incredible job with Voigt
who really is two characters because of his undercover
persona. But his commander, his partner, his love interest,
the receptionist at the clipping service: they all brim
Krugler writes for everyone. No dictionary required to
understand what he's saying, and the tale has a good
balance of description and dialog. Fast paced but not
hurried, the story will draw the reader along, making it
hard to stop once you've started. After all, you get the
dead body on page 2, so Krugler certainly doesn't make the
reader wait for details. The twists and turns will
intrigue, but the ending just might make your mouth hang
open in awe. I look forward to more fiction from Krugler.
In a gripping World War II mystery set in Washington, D.C.,
a young naval intelligence officer goes undercover to solve
a murder and prevent the Soviets from stealing the secrets
of America’s atomic bomb project.
Washington D.C., 1945. Victory in the war looms, but a new
fear transfixes the wartime capital. Fear of communist spies
and the atomic secrets they covet. When the corpse of a Navy
Intelligence officer is found on a cobblestone back alley,
Lt. Voigt is called in to investigate. It’s his first
murder, but in the plot that he quickly begins unraveling,
it won’t be his last. Pursuing crosses and double-crosses,
Voigt goes undercover and the fragments he discovers (a
defecting German physicist, a top secret lab in New Mexico,
and Uranium-235) suggest something far larger than the usual
spy v. spy shenanigans. Soon enough he’s in a race to
identify the killer, to keep the bomb away from the
Russians—and to keep ahead of his own secrets.
ExcerptTHE DEAD DON’T BLEED by David Krugler: Chapter 1
The alleys of Washington, D.C., are unlike those of any
other city. Small carriage houses, one after another, abut
the cobbled or clay backways. Within certain long, wide
blocks, the alleys intersect, creating labyrinths as complex
as a casbah. Here the two-story dwellings—woodframed and
sorely in need of paint—pitch and lean, like a drunk who has
stood up too fast. Stray cats slink along weed-choked walls,
the stench of shit wafts from outhouses. Residents slump in
rickety chairs and makeshift benches, drinking, throwing
dice, sleeping. Here and there, scattered signs of
neighborly pride. A vegetable garden tucked away, a
whitewashed fence, a woman scrubbing her two-step stoop.
Washingtonians who live streetside rarely venture into these
slums pocketed dark and dank between the city and the
capital. Why would they?
“Maybe rolled?” suggested Terrance. His listless tone could
hardly hold up the question mark.
“Here?” I flicked my hand at the open windows of the
dilapidated houses lining the alley south of M Street and
west of Second Street, SE. Two young Negro boys watched us
from a corner yard, thumbs hooked shyly at the corners of
their mouths. Curtains fell back from an elderly Negro woman
at a sill. Though it was 1 a.m., I doubted any of the alley
dwellers were still asleep, but other than the two boys, no
one had come outside.
“Maybe it happened in one of these houses. He fights back,
the buck pulls a gun—he and the whore drag him out front and
I turned to the Detective Sergeant from the Metropolitan
Police Department. He stood a few feet away, his brim pulled
“Any prostitution here?” I asked. “Robberies?”
He exhaled cigarette smoke, shook his head.
Terrance and I looked down at the body.
“He didn’t go easy,” said Terrance.
On that he was right. Lieutenant junior grade Logan
Skerrill, U.S.N., had fought hard. A deep scratch,
congealed, swept down his cheek from his left eye. Blood
matted his scalp and encrusted his nostrils, another cut
slashed his chin. Torn shirt cuff, his pants smudged and
scuffed. He had been a handsome man. Dark, curly hair, a
little long in the front. Aquiline nose, jawline like a
cutter’s prow. Six feet tall, maybe. Slim, but strong. Would
take an even stronger, or very reckless, man to bring down
“Why go to the trouble to beat up a man you’re gonna shoot?”
I looked at the reddish brown stain across Skerrill’s shirt.
“S’why we know this wasn’t a two-bit con or robbery,” I
answered Terrance. “Someone wanted to hurt him first.”
“Tough break. A month more, maybe, to this war, and he gets
it back home in an alley.”
The police photographer, a plump middle-aged man with a
florid, sweat-slicked face, watched us expectantly. He had
knotted his tie too high, his charcoal gray suit was wrinkled.
“How much longer you think?” I asked.
“Not long.” He shifted the bulky Leica in his arms. “Ten
more minutes, probably.”
Terrance and I stepped back from the body. The photographer
leaned slightly over Skerrill’s feet and pointed the camera
down, at the chest wound. Ka-plunk. The flash
sounded like a billiard ball dropping fast and hard into a
pocket. The light burst turned the body’s face a brilliant
white and, for an instant, lit every crack, crevice, and gap
in the alley cobblestones. The failure of the eyelids to
clench shut was unsettling, and one pupil was larger and
rounder than the other. I walked over to the police
detective, a man named Durkin. A few years older than me,
gray eyes, ruddy face traced with acne scars, reddish brown
“Takes awhile,” I commented, tipping my head at the
photographer. Now he was standing close to the splayed
fingers of Skerrill’s left hand, which lay palm-side up.
“Yeah.” Durkin seemed to give further reply careful
consideration first. “He’s good, though,” he finally said.
“Maybe you could measure when he’s done.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, okay.” Hands in his pockets, he walked
slowly to the black Chrysler with the M.P.D. insignia on the
door. Grit on the soles of his wingtips scraped audibly on
the cobblestones. He leaned through the open passenger-side
window to speak to the driver, a patrolman who hadn’t yet
left the vehicle. Two other patrolmen stood by their squad
car, chatting—no gawking bystanders to keep away tonight.
Terrance ambled up, nodded toward Durkin. “How’s our boy?”
“Unhappy. How much, hard to say.”
He nodded absently. “We’re gonna need to estimate time of
“Me or you?”
“I’ll do it. You can do the blood.”
“Thanks a lot.” Grimacing.
He patted me on the shoulder. “Give you something to talk
about at your high school reunion.”
“Lieutenant . . . ?” The photographer’s voice tapered off.
“Voigt,” I answered. “Lieutenant Voigt.”
“Yessir. I’m all through.”
Terrance and I returned to the body. The photographer smiled
nervously. “About the prints, Lieutenant Voigt, should I—”
“Two sets,” I cut in. “Otherwise develop and log ’em like
any other scene. We’ll get our prints from Detective
“Thank you, sir.” He nodded and walked back to the patrol
car, passing Durkin. After the photographer loaded his gear
into the back seat and got in, the car pulled away, the
headlights reflecting off dark windows.
Durkin was all business now. He strode to the body’s head
and slipped a tape measure from his jacket pocket. He
pointed to the alley dwelling behind me.
“We’ll start there.” He extended the tape end toward me. I
tugged it with me to the house’s front wall, pressed it to
the bricks. Durkin snapped the tape taut and jotted the
distance in his notebook. We repeated this routine, neither
of us speaking, from the feet of the corpse and on the other
side. Durkin took other measurements as well: length of the
body, which lay crumpled on its right side, legs slightly
bent, both arms extended; the width of the blood pool
beneath the abdomen; the distance from the alley mouth,
which he paced off, counting his steps. He returned, flipped
his notebook to a new page, and started sketching the scene.
Terrance, crouched beside Skerrill’s left arm, shot me an
“We’re turning him,” he called loudly.
Durkin raised his head briefly, nodded, busied himself again
with the notebook.
Terrance grasped Skerrill’s left shoulder and pulled, gently
but firmly, and the slack, pliable body fell onto its back.
Terrance slipped his hand under the arm for a moment. “Still
warm. No rigor mortis.”
“So in the last few hours?”
He nodded and pointed to the dark pool of blood, now fully
exposed. Looked at least twelve inches in diameter. “Try the
pencil,” he said.
Gingerly, I dragged a pencil tip through the blood while
Terrance held his flashlight. The track of the pencil
remained on the surface of the pool.
“See how it’s dry around the edges?” he asked. “Been
clotting two, three hours, I’d say.”
“This a lotta blood?”
“Depends on how many times he was shot. One thing for sure,
he didn’t die right away.”
“How do you know?”
Terrance gestured at the stain covering the bricks and
filling the mortar lines. “Because the dead don’t bleed.”
Crouched beside my partner and the body, I surveyed the
alley. The two young boys were gone. This close to the
ground, the shadows cast by the lone streetlight spilled
across the alley like ink blots. Weeds, garbage, slum—if
Logan Skerrill had been conscious when he fell to the
bricks, his last view of this world wasn’t pretty.
I reached into the front left pocket of Skerrill’s chino
trousers, found only a few coins and a book of matches. The
back pocket was empty. Terrance checked his right pockets.
No wallet, just a silver clip of cash, and Skerrill’s
“Traveling light,” Terrance murmured.
“Could’ve had a satchel or briefcase with him,” I suggested.
“Killed over it? Maybe.” He quickly counted the bills in the
clip. “Thirty-two bucks—so not a robbery.”
Durkin leaned in. “What’d you find?”
Terrance showed him the clip and ID and said, “Change and
Durkin scribbled this down. “So not a robbery.”
“No kidding,” Terrance replied flatly.
I stood up slowly. I had eight inches, easy, on Durkin—I
gauged him at about five foot six. “How long till the wagon
He peered past my left shoulder, as if the coroner was just
now pulling into the alley. “I told them we’d be a while.”
“Then let’s start the canvass. Be sure to ask when they got
home.” I pointed to the north side of the alley. “You can
take those houses.”
He walked off, just slow enough to be noticeable. Terrance
sighed heavily and rose to his feet, briskly swept dust from
his trousers. “My clairvoyant powers have already told me
what we’ll get.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples
with his fore- and middle fingers. “Nah suh, didn’t see no’
hear nothin’,” he drawled.
He was right—we got nothing. No surprise. Half-a-dozen cops
and two uniformed naval officers, all white, had descended
on a Southeast alley in the middle of the night because a
white man turned up dead. What’d we expect, a confession?
Most of the Negroes muttered one or two-word replies.
Did you hear men fighting? “Nah.” Shots?
“Nah, suh.” When did you get home? “Don’
“Think a colored cop might get something?” Terrance asked,
exasperated, when we reached First Street. I shook my head.
Durkin finished a few minutes after us. The residents had
stonewalled him, too. “That it?” he asked me.
“Your men looked for casings, right?”
“Nothing. Too dark.”
“So then we’re just waiting for the coroner.”
“Need me for that?”
Terrance suppressed a snort. “Hell, coroner shows up and
there’s a body and no M.P.D.—he’ll think we did it.”
Durkin failed to hide his annoyance at letting himself be
shown up. “I’ll check on the wagon.” He strode back to the
remaining police car.
Terrance grinned broadly. “If I’m not mistaken, he wanted to
leave us out here by our lonesome.”
“I’m sensing his spirit of wartime cooperation is fading as
fast as the Nazis.”
“Wait’ll tomorrow when we ask for the photos. He’s just
Terrance and I were investigators for the Office of Naval
Intelligence, the O.N.I. A murder shouldn’t have come our
way—we worked in B-7, the Sabotage, Espionage, and
Countersubversion section. Terrance had been a cop in
Pittsburgh before the war but he’d only been a detective for
a few months before getting his Navy commission. And this
was no ordinary killing, as we had just learned. Commander
Burton Paslett, our section chief, had called us to his
office at the Main Navy Building an hour earlier.
“Know that alley on the west side of the Navy Yard, runs
alongside M?” he asked.
“No, sir,” I said. Terrance shook his head.
“You will soon.” Paslett leaned back in his wooden chair,
the steel swivel creaking loudly. He was about fifty-five,
his close-cropped hair almost fully grey. The years had
padded his cheeks, added a dewlap beneath his chin, but the
lean face of his youth was still visible.
“Not till the morning, right, sir?” Terrance asked slyly.
“It is morning.” He motioned us to sit. “Just got a call
from the Chief of Detectives for D.C. Seems one of ours
turned up dead there.”
“If he’s in an alley, he’s theirs,” I said.
“Any other alley, sure.”
Terrance and I exchanged confused looks. Then my partner
exhaled loudly, reached in his jacket for cigarettes.
“Somehow this alley is part of the Navy Yard.”
Nodding, Paslett said, “We bought the parcel between Second
and First last year. All the homes are gone except the block
along M and its alley houses. They’re due to be razed but it
hasn’t happened yet.”
“M.P.D. knew all that, sir?” I asked.
No answer, his impatient look my rebuke. I should’ve noticed
the bound folio of Sanborn Insurance maps and the oversized
diagram of the Navy Yard on the corner of the desk.
“So why do we want this murder, sir?” Trying to redeem myself.
“Because of the victim, Lieutenant j.g. Logan Skerrill.”
Paslett looked at me. “You knew him, didn’t you, Voigt?” A
statement, not a question.
I blinked, my mouth open—Skerrill was the victim? I sure had
known him, not as a friend, but as a fellow recruit.
“Yessir, we went through the Funhouse together,” I answered
Paslett. The Funhouse. Coney Island.
The Carnival. All slang for the O.N.I.’s training
program for undercover work. The facility, coincidentally
located at the Navy Yard, was housed in an enormous aviation
hangar and featured mock-ups of apartments, offices, and
even a Hollywood-quality street stage to teach aspiring
operatives how to pick locks, search rooms, and shadow marks.
Paslett asked, “How well did you get to know him?” Showing
mild curiosity, but he must’ve studied my service jacket and
Skerrill’s before summoning Terrance and me. Which meant the
commander knew precisely when Skerrill and I were at the
Funhouse, who our training officers had been, how much
contact we’d had.
“I didn’t much care for him, sir, so I avoided him.”
“Why didn’t you like him?”
“He was too good, sir. A real natural. He coulda been a
locksmith, the way he could get through doors, and he
is—was—a natural-born actor. Put on covers as easily as hats.”
“His ratings sure showed that.”
“’Specially compared to Voigt’s, huh?” Terrance chipped in,
The commander shot him a look, but my partner was right.
“Lotta men get tight in the Funhouse,” Paslett said. A
question, not a statement.
“Not us, sir. Sure, we’d end up in the mess together, we’d
shoot the breeze there, maybe we went out with the boys a
“Maybe?” The commander squashed conditional answers
like the rest of us smack cockroaches.
“Did go out with him and the boys, sir. To Borland’s.”
Terrance chortled—Borland’s was a burlesque club off M
Street, well known for serving bountiful cheesecake to
“Where you didn’t spend much time talking, you and Skerrill.”
“When you shot the breeze at mess, what’d you talk about?”
“I guess—I recall once we talked about how we came to join
the Navy, sir.”
“And what do you recall about Skerrill’s answers?”
“He made a joke. Said he ran away to sea to go whaling but
they don’t have whalers anymore. So he joined the Navy instead.”
“Made a lotta jokes, Skerrill?”
“Yessir. Another reason I didn’t like him. Everything came
so easy to him, all seemed like a big joke to him.”
“You felt like he was laughing at the rest of you.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way, but the commander had
pegged it. Rest of us, all clowns, to Skerrill. “Yessir.”
“Well, he sure ain’t laughing now,” Terrance remarked.
“Where was Skerrill assigned, sir?” I asked.
“OP-Sixteen-Z.” The Special Activities Branch. “This last
year he liaised with Army intelligence. To give you an idea
of what the director thinks of him, he posted him with the
Terrance gave a low whistle. The “Bermuda Special” was the
nickname for a cruise a destroyer had made from Newport
News, Virginia, the previous October. Five officers from
O.N.I., all Special Activities, had been detailed to the
cruise, which the War Department had overseen. Usually when
Army asks Navy to help carry its water, plenty spills along
the way. Not this time. Word spread fast—gossip this, earn a
long billet in the Aleutians. The vessel and crew, and
whatever was aboard, had disappeared into the Atlantic and
didn’t return for several weeks.
Paslett continued, “Before that, Skerrill helped run the
Mexican op that flushed out mercury smugglers for the Japs.”
“What was he doing lately, sir?” I asked.
“Supposed to be running background on a couple of new Amtorg
arrivals.” Amtorg was the Soviet Union’s trading company in
the United States. Ever since we’d entered the war, the
Soviets had seeded agents and spy contacts among Amtorg’s staff.
“Supposed to?” This from Terrance.
“Seems our Lieutenant Skerrill wasn’t his usual crackerjack
self on this one. Spotty reports, no progress, kept raising
doubts about his subjects.”
“He didn’t think they were spies,” I said.
“Right. But I have it from a good source that these two Reds
were in it deep. So why did Skerrill suddenly go soft?”
“Blackmail?” I suggested.
Terrance nodded vigorously. “Bet he was a fairy, Reds sussed
Scowling, Paslett said, “Cross-checks usually found him
tumbling out of some G-girl’s bed the next morning. Doesn’t
sound like a swish to me.”
“You think Amtorg’s behind this, sir?” I asked.
Paslett thought for a moment. For the chief of an O.N.I.
section, his office was modest. Had his share of citations,
but none hung on the wall, just a photograph of him and his
wife and daughters. His expansive desk was clean, orderly,
polish reflecting the overhead light.
“Amtorg’s got balls, but they’re not stupid,” the commander
said. “Murdering an O.N.I. lieutenant, that’s a shitstorm
they don’t want.”
“So it’s not the commies, sir,” Terrance said carefully.
“I didn’t say that—I just said I didn’t think it was
Amtorg.” He paused, we waited. “I’m gonna share something
with you boys you gotta keep to yourselves. The Reds aren’t
using Amtorg like they used to. Early on, sure, they shipped
in spies like United Fruit brings in bananas. But it’s too
obvious to keep that up. The Russian embassy and the
N.K.V.D.”—Soviet secret police—“know we’re tracking every
single Russian who comes in with Amtorg stamped on
his visa. Now, does that mean the Reds are winding down
their ops here? War’s about to end, they’re just gonna close
up shop and go home?”
We knew better than to answer—when the commander got going
on the Reds, best you wind your watch and settle in.
“So how are the Reds doing it now, how are they
infiltrating? I just had a confab with Army SigInt—they
picked up a helluva spike in the Russians’ cable traffic.
They’re working round-the-clock on the code, no luck yet.
Now I don’t think they’ll ever break it, but that’s not my
point—fact that the cables are up fifty percent tells us
something, doesn’t it?”
We nodded dutifully.
“So forget Amtorg,” Paslett finished. “Reds seeded new
plants years ago, now they’re reaping bumper crops.”
“You think Skerrill was a Red spy, sir?” Terrance asked.
“I don’t know—yet. But I think Skerrill getting killed after
going soft on Amtorg isn’t a coincidence. And you two are
gonna find out if I’m right.”
“Sir, if I may . . . ?”
Paslett nodded curtly at me.
“If Skerrill was a Russian plant, wouldn’t him waffling on
this Amtorg investigation be a dead giveaway? To keep his
cover, he’d be gung-ho. Especially if Amtorg’s no longer the
espionage front it was. Like you said, sir.”
Being a bright penny earned me a tight smile.
“Very good, lieutenant—guess you learned a thing or two at
the Funhouse. Normally, yes, the plant would keep his cover
at all costs. But I think something went wrong. Skerrill
encountered someone he knew at Amtorg, and he panicked.”
“Sir, that shouldn’t happen,” Terrance put in. “Cells are
supposed to be isolated, and no one’s better at that than
Paslett’s withering look caused my partner’s shoulders to
slump an inch or two. “I did say something went wrong,
didn’t I, Lieutenant Daley?”
“And for the record, we’re better at operational
security than the Russians.”
“But sir, then who would want to murder Skerrill?” I put in.
“Jesus, you two—do I gotta fetch a towel so you can dry off
behind your ears? If Skerrill panicked and exposed himself,
the Reds would bump him off to keep all the other plants
protected.” He thumped his desk. “Fifty percent increase in
cable traffic! They’re not sending happy birthday wishes to
Uncle Joe, goddammit. SigInt says most of that increase is
outta the Russian embassy right here in D.C., and the
consulate in New York’s a close second. The Reds are on to
something big in our yard, and we’ve gotta find out
pronto—before the war’s over.”
“Yessir,” we unisoned.
“Now, I want you to let the D.C. boys do their routine but
never let ’em forget who’s in charge. I want you turning
Skerrill’s life upside down for any connection to the
Russians. If you don’t find one—and you damn well better
look long and hard—then we’ll drop his murder back in the
M.P.D.’s lap as fast as we snatched it away.”
“Sir, what if what we find takes us to the Bermuda Special?”
“If there are holes you need filled, I’ll fill them.” He
glanced at his watch. “You need to get to the scene. Take
this.” He slid Skerrill’s service jacket across the desk.
We stood up, I picked up the file, we turned to go.
Paslett spoke before we opened the door. “Sixteen-Z raised
holy hell about us taking this. I had to call in a marker
the director’s owed me for a while. A lot of fellas are
going to be watching you close, sniffing around. But this
needs to be our own little Bermuda Special, got it?”
We got it.
The coroner’s wagon arrived at the scene at 3 a.m. I helped
the driver roll Skerrill onto a stretcher and load him up.
Terrance told Durkin we’d call him later that day, after we
got a little sleep and reviewed Skerrill’s records. Night
sky just paling, wrens and robins stirring as I went home. I
had a basement flat in a row house on Caroline Street, just
off Fourteenth Street, in Northwest Washington. A friend of
my pop’s, a sour German named Kleist, owned the house. Years
ago, back in Chicago, Pop must have done something awful
nice for Kleist, because he let me have the joint all to
myself. In wartime Washington, your own place was as scarce
as nylon stockings or copper pipes. Kleist glared at me
every month when he collected the rent, like he was trying
to eyeball me into three tenants and a lot more moolah.
A short set of cement stairs led to my door. Small front
room, iron bars on the windows. Just one bedroom, long and
narrow, parallel to a hallway leading to a galley kitchen
and toilet with a shower stall. No stove, just a two-burner
hotplate and a small icebox. Came with a fourth-hand sofa,
battered easy chair, wobbly table, decent-enough bed.
Franklin D. barely lifted his head from his paws when I came
in. A brown and white tabby, a stray I’d coaxed in from the
alley colony to take care of the mice that scrabbled behind
the walls at night. He was a decent mouser, though sometimes
I had to leave his food bowl empty to motivate him. Tilted
his head at my scratch, went back to sleep when I walked to
the kitchen. I grabbed a beer from the icebox and
double-popped the can with the opener dangling from a nail.
After prying off my brogans, I stretched out on my mattress
and stared at the roughly plastered ceiling.
Took a long pull of my beer. If I ran B-7, I’d let the
M.P.D. keep this case lock, stock, and barrel. Hell, I’d
never done police work. Just because the murder had occurred
on property the Navy had a claim on didn’t mean O.N.I. had
to take the case, even with the victim being an officer.
Paslett’s instincts were good, but sometimes he got carried
away. He saw Reds around every corner, and his paranoia had
only deepened as the end of the war approached. There were a
thousand and one reasons why Skerrill might have been killed
on this particular night in late April 1945, and Paslett’s
hunch that Skerrill might be a Russian plant looked like
awful weak tea to me. But then, Paslett had
Commander in front of his name; Terrance and I just
had Lieutenant j.g.
I drained my beer and set the can on the floor. I suppose
anxiety over investigating a murder with barely a clue as to
how to go about it should’ve kept me awake, but during war,
when you’re safely stateside, you don’t sacrifice what
precious time you have for sleep to fret about the dead.
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