Chapter 29

Vienna, Austria.
Monday 2 August, 1920

The last time Trebitsch had been to that cafe was over a decade before, when he saw the funny little man shit himself. For that reason, it wasn’t his first choice, and he chose the seats carefully.

BISKUPSKI
(THE WHITE RUSSIAN)

Biskupski looked ordinary. Slim, groomed; handsome to some. An affixing stare had burned through many nights and the cool breeze from the Danube could do nothing to soften it. Biskupski’s eye-bags were caked in sun. He was dressed in a white shirt and Russian military jacket, free of insignias. On the buttoned pocket flap was one removable metal badge: a swastika.

The British wanted to colonise us,” he said. “Their actions ended with my people driven from their country and the rest ruled by tyranny.”

We will help you take back Russia, General Biskupski,” said Bauer.

If the Austrians and Bavarian Ogresch help. We must be united. Three years ago Moscow put me in charge of the Ukraine. Brutal. Chaos. Six armies fighting it out: the French, the Ukranians, Bolsheviks, yours, mine…”

The Poles,” said Bauer.

The Poles. It was hard. Civilians everywhere. We were in the Lviv suburbs. The Austrians and ours firing across the streets. Maybe the Austrians, it was hard to tell.”

Biskupski thumbed a side of black moustache three times. He glanced quickly at the next table and the two rigid Hungarians, then dropped his voice to a whisper.

There was a commander, an old man, white moustache sticking out like antlers. He had pinned us down in a garden. I thought I had a clear shot: but I missed him. Blew the head off a woman!!”

The sharpness of teeth gave away Biskupski’s cruelty. Then it was concealed behind perfect cheekbones.

Well it was war, I suppose,” said Trebitsch.

She might have been one of them. Or a Jew. The commander got away, but before he did, the woman’s brains had spurted out all over his uniform: like a fountain!!”

Biskupski laughed, showing a glimpse of utter domination.

You were stationed there after the war too?” asked Trebitsch.

After? There was no ‘after’. It only got worse. They kept pushing and pushing. Then, the fucking treaties.”

What good was a treaty in stopping that?” asked Bauer.

You understand, Colonel. When they’d done killing everyone they pulled the corpse apart like a child would a spider. The Poles took it’s legs off, the Roumanians, and the rest: Uzhorod, Mukachevo…”

Taken from Austria-Hungary by the Czechs,” said Trebitsch.

I executed former comrades. Those with red mist in their heads were put out of their misery,” said Biskupski.

He looked past Trebitsch to the Hungarians. They had been silent: the trim bearded muscle-man and the thin youngster, his whole head covered in short hair.

Lenin had his army ready to invade Roumania but the blow we dealt them in the Ukraine? They couldn’t spare the number. So, the Roumanians swept into Budapest and brought down Bela Kun.”

The Hungarians looked at him like he wasn’t supposed to be looking at them.

Oh, lighten up,” said Biskupski, and turned away from them.

I’ll tell you what I think of your plans for a new entente, Bauer. I want the Red Army and the Whites together, going into Poland. We will take back our 1914 borders. Once Poland is ours we’ll cut up any of the Reds in our ranks and put the military under a firm Tsarist dictatorship. Then, as members of our alliance have their revolutions we’ll get rid of every Communist in Russia.”

Bauer and Trebitsch were stunned. Their mouths hung open and the gears turned. Suddenly, Bauer got to his feet.

Krauss is here,” he said.

KRAUSS
(THE AUSTRIAN)

Trebitsch leapt to his feet and shook the old man’s hand. “General Krauss, greetings. I am Dr. Johann Lange and….”

Colonel Bauer,” said Krauss.

Bauer rose and took his hand. “At your service, General.”

Alfred Krauss wore his average stature like a hulk, from turtle shell shaped head to toecapped boots. “Your goings-on in Budapest have probably reached Australia,” he said.

He wore eye-glasses, no ears on black frames. White slathers of hair streamed on top but his moustache was broad, reaching out like a pair of antlers. He looked at the two Hungarians, their jackets hanging heavy. The Russian remained seated.

Welcome. I am General Vasilly Biskupski, and those men are two of Pronay’s finest: Giczey and Faber.”

Neither Giczey nor Faber moved. Krauss shrugged with his throat as he sat.

Austria’s help and yours is paramount in this great undertaking,” said Bauer. His eyes shone. “I have followed your career: managing the infantry in Belgrade and Tyrol…”

Krauss studied the youths playing round fountains and statues. Handelskal’s straight lines and box hedges. He scrutinised the hundred canopies covering the market, the horses over tramlines, the cart pushers and road holers digging in.

The last few years when you commanded the Imperial and Royal armies in Italy,” said Bauer.

Krauss gave a sigh. “Yes. At the same time Vienna put me in charge of the occupied territories in the Ukraine,” he said.

Bauer, Trebitsch and Biskupski held their breath. Giczey and Faber looked to one another. Krauss appeared not to notice.

We had to protect the Ukraine from Soviet influence, and organise the exploitation of their natural resources.”

The wind whistled. It blew silver balls of mercury toward Trebitsch.

Only days ago we were south of here, at Villach, and met the Italian General Nascimbene. Well, he and Colonel Bauer have arranged a meeting with an influential journalist there. A man named Benito Mussolini who is of a like mind. Our Dr. Theodor Lakatos is going to meet with him. We hope!!”

A strong Austrian-German alliance befits our task to reclaim Russia,” said Biskupski.

As we unite all those wronged, we enjoy great support from Hungary,” said Trebitsch.

Really?” asked Krauss.

Yes,” said Trebitsch excitedly. “We are expecting General Ludendorff to lead Marinebrigade Ehrhardt and the armies of Bavaria!!”

Krauss had not smiled once and the veins appeared to burst through his cranium. His eyes, like an old baptist’s fires, peered deep into Trebitsch’s soul.

It’s true,” said Bauer. “Mobilisation is already under way. Come with us to Budapest as Biskupski has done. See for yourself.”

Budapest. What is Horthy doing about the rise in Communist attacks?” asked Krauss.

Trebitsch laughed. “General, you jest!!”

Then Krauss was shouting to spitting at Trebitsch. “Horthy’s parliament have been trying to disarm Pronay, give him the snip. The White Guard in Hungary, Ogresch in Bavaria, Orka here in Russia. It’s the same over! Who will protect us when the Reds are killing us in our sleep?”

We will,” said Bauer. “And as President of the Association of German Officers -”

You have my respect, Bauer, but I did not think you of all men would sugar my ego. Austria is having it much worse. More land is seized, more industry leaders are killed and their children drowned. If we were talking seriously which we are not, but if we were, I would want assurances opposing armies would be put down and their leaders arrested.”

We are not talking seriously?” asked Trebitsch.

Orka will take the lead but to seize all public buildings and transport systems… well frankly, this is all a pipe dream, isn’t it?” asked Krauss.

What?” asked Bauer.

A great Germany, a great Austria and a great Hungary! I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it,” said Biskupski.

If you were serious we would be discussing it somewhere discreet. Somewhere we haven’t the enemy at our gates.”

Krauss got to his feet and looked down on them. His cheeks were puffy red.

It’s a pity your plans can’t include Austria at this time. Good day, gentlemen.”

Ministry of Defence, Buda Royal Palace, Budapest.
Tuesday 24 August, 1920.

Biskupski took large strides through the foyer. He found Trebitsch and ox-shaped Stephani looking out onto the St. George’s Square garden.

Gombos wants us in the meeting room. We’re about to start,” he said.

Trebitsch’s face lit up. “General, it is good to see you. I was surprised Krauss came here. I thought you and he might come to blows.”

Biskupski moved in closer as Trebitsch drew on his cigarette.

About Krauss… in Vienna, he heard you were a Jew, and was also convinced you were an undercover British agent. He received several warnings: a woman from the Hague, a journalist, Reventlow…”

The bastard!” said Trebitsch. “Reventlow is–”

The Colonel and I assured him you are capable, loyal and trustworthy,” said Biskupski.

Stephani grinded out his cigarette. “We should go in. Ludendorff has obviously made sure Bavaria is on board.”

Bauer promised Ludendorff would be here! We cannot manage them without him!” said Trebitsch.

The Bavarians have sent Escherich,” said Biskupski.

Nobody sends Escherich,” said Stephani.

ESCHERICH
(THE BAVARIAN)

There were nearly twenty men packing the room. There were Kapp Putschists and White Internationals, a great many of them Trebitsch recognised, and a few he didn’t.

Bauer was at the front helping Georg Escherich to sit. Escherich was aided with a cane made by his own hand. Surly Bavarian soldiers guarded the spots behind his chair and were well armed. Stephani, having worked closely with the Bavarians, greeted Escherich as he entered, then took his place at the back with Trebitsch.

Bauer lowered his palms onto the table, compressing the whispers around the room.

Gentlemen, we have a special visitor from Munich. Colonel Escherich, would you begin?”

Out of fear or respect, every whisper stopped. Veins rippled on Escherich’s head as he spoke. His accent was thick and he spoke with total control. He had a clear plan in mind and no doubt.

Thank you, Herr Bauer. Organisation Escherich has close to a million members. A third of the Ogresch are in Bavaria. I am joined here by General Maercker and Captain Rohm. If we like what we see, we’ll match you with financiers and strategists. We can supply weapons through Rudolf Kanzer in Rosenheim. In Austria, we’re working with Rich Steidle and our counterpart, Orka.”

Bauer smiled sleazy. “Thank you, Colonel. Captain Ehrhardt, can you give us an update on troop movements?”

Stormtroopers disguised as farm labourers have been smuggled into Tyrol and Salzburg. We have mobilised along the lower regions and the Austrian-Italian border: Carinthia, Judenburg and Steiermark.”

Anyone able to fight will be given arms, trained and organised,” said Stephani.

Simultaneous revolts have a tactical advantage in releasing Germany from the red danger,” said Ehrhardt.

In that case you will want to target pro-coup areas, especially the East: Upper Silesia, Pomerania,” said Escherich.

Berlin must be induced to provoke Bavaria,” said Trebitsch. “At the moment when Bavarian forces begin north, the Kapp supporters will strike in Pomerania and East Prussia.”

A reunification of Austria and Germany is not the subject here. We are facilitating a campaign of many nations, not the building of a superpower,” said Horthy.

Neither Krauss nor I are plan to conquer you,” said Colonel Escherich.

Admiral Horthy. You will need a new munitions factory here in Hungary,” said Bauer.

The Alpine Montangesellschaft are the largest heavy industry concern in Austria. It’s owner, Walter Pfrimer, is one of ours. Committed to the cause,” said Escherich.

Trebitsch was watching the back and forth between Horthy, Bauer and Escherich intensely. He was already filled with an intense loathing for the Bavarian.

The Soviets will not like this unified anti-Entente action. Until it leads France’s vassal Poland away from Russia to defend against Germany,” said Biskupski.

Hungary and Poland are on good terms. I do not want to alter that,” said Horthy.

Escherich raised his head slowly and looked Horthy in the eye. Then he shook it no, wildly. “They are putting together this ‘Little Entente’ with the Czechs and Roumanians.”

We are well aware of this,” said Horthy’s Defence Minister, Gombos.

Then,” said Escherich, “you know it is because of ‘the Hungarian menace’. Fears of the return of ‘the Habsburg monarchy!’ Respectfully, your Excellency, do you seriously think they, or the Czechs, are your allies?”

They will see it as the French and the English do: a move against the Reds. We are not restoring a monarchy so where is the threat to them?”

Escherich’s Bavarian soldiers looked at Trebitsch accusingly.

I am sorry, but who are you?” asked Colonel Escherich.

Who am I? My name is Trebitsch Lincoln and I managed the putsch that gave Bavaria its independence. I have been planning this operation from the very beginning. Now, the Regent’s National Army already have troops in Czechosolovakia and there are many Germans living there. Enough of an alliance–”

Yes, but Yugoslavia for instance,” said Escherich.

Please do not interrupt me. There is no debate about the Slavs!! An alliance exists to secure the coal districts from the German Ostrauer across Czechoslovakia to Karwin in Poland. Captain Ehrhardt will tell you this is necessary, as will your own men. Perhaps if Bavaria had responded to this alliance at the outset, you and your representatives could grasp these facts.”

Colonel Escherich was taken aback. Half the room stroked their guns.

#

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Chapter 28

To read The Watch Thief  advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Bavaria and Budapest,
January – July, 1920.

He ran, snapping bark and crushing clumps of grass. The steamboat rocked, then plunged the heart deep into the blue. Forest buds clung on the arm of his jacket as he stalked Potsdam’s streets. A train moaned long, and he sat by the dance of darkness and light, doors opening and shutting. Luis Engler’s round cheeks were pale: behind her night black hair a golden sky, and then deep blue river. Through the carriage glass, the hilly terrain and fading lakes of Bavaria sped behind Trebitsch, and Karl Weigand. The forest buds were gone and he grabbed the rail of the boat, looked to Luis. He’d seen her this afraid in their hurried rush off the Vienna Express. From the Salzburg hotel, where a stranger asked questions. Liza Ungler, Tibor Lehotzky and Dr. Búrger they were then, and were gone quickly.

Bauer was never afraid. He was smiling at the sky and the hot gust blushed his face. A fountain spurt circled their heads, drops like the stars that night they brought together Weigand and Ludendorff. The steamboat bounced up and the water hit the deck. Luis Engler laughed in the spray and twirled around the rail, looking out to the ripples of the Danube, healthy and deep. Bauer tutted. Churches, banks and luxury hotels were nestled in the sanctuary of the Buda Hills. A train crossed the Danube bound for the Hungarian parliament which guarded the water-way so majestically. He pulled green buds from his jacket and dropped them on the floor of the train carriage, five hundred miles away. Weigand was thanking him for the exclusive with Ludendorff. Hearst would be pleased.

“You will meet not just Ludendorff, when we get to Bavaria, but also Gustav von Kahr!” said Trebitsch.

“What do you plan to do after?” Weigand asked.

“The General is donating the money you will pay him for Bauer and I to travel to Budapest and meet Regent Horthy. My contacts with Tibor Eckhardt at the Hungarian Foreign Press office will open many doors for us. You should meet him.”

A newspaper truck moved through the harbour and they could make out telegraph towers and cargo shunters. Luis said it was the most beautiful journey she had taken. Margaret Island lay ahead of them, all forest parks and natural beauty. They passed a decrepit barge with TREBITSCH Of Paks in faded paint and Luis laughed. He forced himself to join in. Trebitsch had everything and anything in his custom-made bag. Bauer and his secretary packed lightly, so even when they’d crossed the gangway they were waiting for him to catch up. Count Furstenburg at the Embassy called the Foreign Office. Then he drove them to Hotel Astoria where they stayed free, guests of the state. They waited in the lobby by the marble counter, a source of angels ascending in plaster-work, singing a rapture through columns and silver chandeleirs thirty floors up. Bauer’s party lodged on the first floor. The rooms were numbered in gold. The room were clean, dusted from skirting board up William Morris wallpaper to the ceiling. A concierge presented Luis with one of the new electric hair dryers. Downstairs, Tibor Eckhardt targeted them with his eyes and extended a welcome hand.

Count Furstenburg said, “Eckhardt, Gömbös and Prónay were vital in helping wrestle Hungary from the vile Bela Kun communists.”

“Last time my counter-part Mr. Lincoln was here we talked about awakening Hungary,” said Eckhardt. “Yes, I will fix an appointment for you with the Regent.”

On the street they saw Eckhardt’s ‘Awakening Hungary’ paramilitaries beating a homosexual. They knew this because Eckhardt waved to them, and they waved back. The commander had a bullet shaped face. With each kick he yelled for more. He decided his men weren’t sufficiently motivated and grabbed the victim’s ear and sliced it off. Eckhardt led Lincoln, Bauer and Engler past. A banner on a railing read, ‘A dog can never be turned into bacon and a Jew can never be turned into a Hungarian!’

Trebitsch remembered the last time he’d been on this street. Soldiers grabbed Alexander Krausz. Margaret Lenkiet was screaming. The handcuffs were out, the officer’s stick. He reacted in time. He gave the police a newspaper clipping marking his visit to Amerongen. It had two photographs: himself and the Kaiser. The soldiers returned the paper, apologised, and helped Krausz to his feet.

The Országház, the Hungarian parliament, was the tallest, largest building in Budapest and armoured with gothic spikes. Eckhardt led them under the great dome and by the coats of arms, two angels around the Holy Crown. Hungary’s victors of centuries gone by were gravely frozen in stained glass. The Regent welcomed them and took the note Ludendorff had sent along.

“We seek anullment of all these so-called peace treaties,” said Bauer.

Horthy was uniformed as an officer of the state. A man of fifty, he had a young head of hair and a hook nose. He nodded at Bauer and gave the briefest smile.

Bauer said, “I would like Your Excellency to consider involving Hungary in the establishment of a Central International Committee to co-ordinate a unified action: one which would mobilise our peoples.”

“We aim to strike back within one year,” said Lincoln. “Mr. Eckhardt, you and I would manage a Central Press Bureau responsibe for propaganda in a new alliance. If His Excellency wills it.”

“Something like that would require utmost secrecy. A word in the wrong ear would be treason,” said Eckhardt.

“In that case those who spoke out of turn would be executed,” said Trebitsch.

“It sounds quite incredible. Too incredible. How would you realise it?” asked Horthy.

“Arms would be purchased in Germany and from there, distributed to other countries,” said Bauer.

Trebitsch said, “We aim to bring in Russian emigres into this, and because finances are essential to this, we’d pay for arms with special Duma Roubles, printed on special presses.”

“I cannot decide this anytime soon It requires large levels of organisation and development. We can carry on with the discussion. Eckhardt will set you up to meet our key ministers.”

Trebitsch plucked sticky green buds from his white shirt, and looked at the forest around him. The trees were tall, sun rays striking either side. He followed the line up to the branches. There were so many trees up there, like tracks coming together. Then, he saw the soft face of Karl Weigand. He was sat next to him, sat back on the leather upholstery of the train.

“You have met Pope Pius XI and Hindenburg and many others.” Trebitsch could hear his own voice in the sun. “You see, Mr. Weigand, I am like you. Travel, politics, newspapers – these things are in my blood! Making contacts, visiting fine establishments – I live for these!! “

They had been welcome at the Astoria with complimentary meals and drinks served around the clock. They met again with Furstenberg and Eckhardt and with Defence Minister Gyula Gömbös. They met in cafes, the restaurants, in the Hungarian parliament, at the hotels and the hidden banks; in bars with no names and rooms and apartments, in houses and palaces and often it was as if he was seeing his hometown for the first time. He went to places his mother and father must have only dreamt about, and he laughed at how he’d outwitted President Ebert and stupid, stupid Admiral Hall. Greedy Hall would be so annoyed. So inferior next to brave Horthy!!

In the forest, he flicked wood chips off his shirt. His heart was racing. Controlled breaths, he calmed it. Trebitsch followed the trail out until he saw the ruins of the thirteenth century monastery and what looked like a loose flame. He knew this to be an orange-robed monk in the garden, gazing at fat fish swimming in the pond. He told Krausz they’d given him an apartment there, among the trees and relics on Margaret Island.

“Margaret Island is in the middle of the Danube, half way between Buda and Pest,” said Trebitsch.

Why was he telling his nephew? Of course Krausz knew where it was!

“I meant to get you the money for those stamps, I did!” said Trebitsch.

Except, it wasn’t Krausz he was talking to. The monk? Stephani? Trebitsch blinked at the candle flame and found himself sat in the restaurant facing Bauer. The temperature was colder. They were surrounded by empty tables. Luis Engler was there, with Gömbös, Eckhardt, and the bullet-faced man. The one who waved at them with the homosexual’s ear in his hand. His name was Pál Prónay and his eyes were dead. He was an engine without a soul. His jaw was severe like a cliff face.

“There you have it, Commander Prónay,” said Bauer. “A new entente of Germany, Hungary and Russia.”

“The Russian’s civil war causes them much suffering,” said Gömbös. “Grain siezed at the point of a bayonet, peasants on strike, the Polish armies advancing all around them.”

“You romancer,” laughed Prónay. “My dick is hard thinking about those Commie bitches getting their hearts melted with blowtorches.”

“I had the good fortune to be introduced to one man who might consolidate the Russians, and bring his supporters to work with us,” said Bauer.

Trebitsch slapped the table. “Yes! To turn back the tide we must create a state of tabula rasa in Central Europe!” he said.

“What we will discuss is known only to us and the Regent. It should remain so,” said Bauer.

“Before we do: a private matter, Colonel?” said Prónay.

Prónay and Bauer stepped out into the hall but Trebitsch and the others could hear them from the table.

“Colonel, your dark, fat friend is a Jew – I don’t feel safe talking in front of him,” said Prónay.

Bauer shook his head and smiled, the crescent enveloping his face until his eyes were closed and open glinting. “Oh, Lieutenant-Colonel! I would put my hand in the fire for that man. You can talk in front of him without any fears.”

Prónay was deadly serious. “No. You can’t trust a Jew as long as there’s breath in his body; but if you believe in him, don’t hold me responsible.”

They returned to the table. The diners looked at Prónay, and Trebitsch, avoiding eye contact with either one.

“TREBITSCH! Trebitsch, are you listening to me?”

Not Krausz. Stephani. He was there, in the scorching light of the railway station. “You were telling me about Margaret Island and –“

The sun was glistening on the Major’s cold reptilian skin. Trebitsch stared at Stephani, then turned and ran back up the platform. He put his hand on the boy’s back. Krausz whirled around and looked at him accusingly.

“You blanked me! How dare you?” said Trebitsch.

“It’s all you will get from me. My savings and my friend’s savings went into buying those stamps. I spent days finding them. I followed you to Berlin, kept you and Bauer safe after the putsch. Still I was not compensated!”

“Oh, you are the wronged party? I lost out too. And you did well out of me in Berlin.”

“I wonder what the papers will think of this,” Krausz said, and began to walk.

Trebitsch grabbed his arm. “If you tell anybody about this, I will have Prónay’s officers deal with you!” he said.

Krausz cast him off and marched on down the platform. Stephani caught up with Trebitsch.

“What was all that about?” asked Stephani.

“Never mind. Come. We have a meeting with the Regent we must not miss.”

They criss-crossing away from Rakoczi and Erzebet, talking about Bauer’s General Biskupski, the Ludendorff of Russia. They zig-zagged from the opera houses on Andrassy until the Danube was by their side. Trebitsch pointed out Margaret Island, his new home, before they entered Kossuth Lajos Square and the Parliament. In the meeting room Bauer, Engler and Prónay sat around the table. Trebitsch was seated next to Gömbös. The Defence Minister rested his fingers on the table, dried blood spread across his knuckles.

“They want to take away two thirds of our country, to exclude three million Hungarians from our nation,” said Defence Minister Gömbös.

“In four days time, I will sign this Treaty of Trianon,” said the Regent. “I have written an accompanying statement that we do so under the pressure of political circumstances.”

“Much like your people, Colonel Bauer, we do not want to be under armed siege,” said Gömbös.

“However, that is not the end of the matter,” said Horthy. “Your scheme? Hungary is behind it. All the way.”

Trebitsch stood with Bauer on the platform; the carriages began to shore up at the station and he was remembering two months earlier, riding to Bavaria with Weigand. The reporter listened intently to Trebitsch’s every word.

“We are birds of a feather,” he’d said. “You saw the action at the Eastern front lines, and our insurrection in Berlin. Dangerous times and some dangerous people, but the stuff of adventure!”

Then the passengers were swaming all around them. There was a sudden commotion at the rear: travellers changed direction; walked around the putschists. From out of the space strode General Vasili Biskupski. He was possessed of great presence and though young, every atom of his being was self-assured. He wore a tight fitting buttoned suit and jacket and the Russian-Ukranian accent was deep and heavy.

“Colonel Bauer, Mr. Lincoln, very good. Now, let us talk of how we will drench Europe and Russia with the the blood of every Communist.”

#

 

The Watch Thief – Chapter 27

Apartment of Elsa von Nagelein, Berlin.
28 April, 1920.

Elsa von Nagelein was dressed in navy shirt and drab fawn dress; streaked mascara and glumness. Her apartment was books and ordered files, the little she’d brought from The Hague to Berlin. She swept back her long wispy hair and told her angry story.
“They shouted at us… not so much Trebitsch, but the soldiers. Then Ehrhardt’s men on the way back to Doberitz… god, all those people… We heard the machine guns and the screams. I remember Trebitsch checking his passport for the third time, as if looking for a reason to smile.”

Unter den Linden, Berlin.
Saturday 27 March, 1920.

Trebitsch, buttoned up in black jacket threw one arm round Elsa and another to the world, as if all was right with it. She was in the arms of joy, her mood bubbly, splashing back hazel hair, long beige coat flapping as they walked. He twirled his cane proudly, having just explained to Haider the political geography of Berlin.
“And Elsa?” he asked. “She was around for most of it. You may ask me anything in front of her. I trust her completely.”
Elsa looked inside him and swam.
“Now,” he continued, “you may tell your friends at the New York Times, Trebitsch Lincoln remains in Berlin to wind up the business of the plotters: and to ensure their escape!!”
They turned right onto Wilhelmstrasse. The journalist, Haider, took a sudden panic. His hand remained on Trebitsch’s arm.
“Mr. Haider, I can lead you to a few good bars. I’m sure you would like a scotch,” said Trebitsch.
“It’s not that, Herr Lincoln. Should we be going this way?”
“It is true that an indictment has been drawn up against me: ‘Illegal Assumption of Authority and Unlawful Requisitioning of State Property!’ Appar-ently!!”
Elsa, hand-in-his, announced, “Herr Lincoln knows no fear!”
Trebitsch stopped them on the corner and raised his cane across the road to a building of box window: red, yellow and blue flying from the verandas.
“There is the Hungarian embassy. I have my country of birth on my side. And good friends. Wilhelm Ludwig for one!!”
“I’m not acquainted with Mr. Ludwig,” said Haider.
Trebitsch took out his Hungarian passport. “Wilhelm Ludwig!! You see? Haha! Come, sir!”
Elsa tittered and Haider took a friendly slap on the back and followed Trebitsch.
“But Ebert has returned? How did you even get that?”
Elsa and Trebitsch were full of a giddy glow.
“The locals think I am still a British subject!!”
“They’re not going to do anything against him,” she tittered.
“The Putsch’s failure is not complete,” he told Haider. “A good seed has been sewn here.”
And then, they were at the British embassy gates and Trebitsch raised his arms facing it.
“We shall come again!!” he roared.

Elsa von Nagelein took a cigarette from the carton and Weiss lit a match. She took a drag and put her slim hand around the wine glass.
“He was living with me around the time of his birthday. His forty-first.” The cigarette shook in her fingers. Her lips searched around for a smile and glistened. We went to the wax-works and saw the Wilhelm Vogt sculpture.”
She took another draw. “You know, the crook who pretended to be an officer and robbed a bank? Well, Trebitsch almost tripped over the wachs-figur!”Elsa laughed out loud.
“He went terribly pale. It was too close to home. I mean, Vogt conning those soldiers: that’s Trebitsch and Bauer’s relationship!”

British Foreign Office, London.
Mid-April, 1920.

Lord William Tyrrell rapped and opened a familiar door to a familiar office. Eyre Crowe, though fifty-six, sprung to his feet and shook Tyrrell’s hand. Crowe was tall with arch hair, magnet eyebrows and poultry lips.
“Lord Tyrrell, William: I’m glad you didn’t send a courier. It is good to see you. How are things at Political Intelligence?”
He had to ask. Tyrrell was not physically dissimilar to how Crowe remembered: big shoulders; big moustache; hair combed right; grey and white strands at the ears. Yet since his breakdown, Tyrrell looked far away, like he’d erected a screen around himself, observing remotely.
“Things are better, thank you, Eyre.”
Tyrrell took a seat in front of his old desk. “We have a strong team. How is work under Lord Curzon?”
“He shares my doubts over the P.M., but with Curzon everything is a ceremony,”
“I heard about Leipzig,” said Tyrrell. “I know you were born there and I wanted to say how sorry I am. What was it, a hundred and thirty dead?”
Crowe looked down to the ruby uniform pattern carpet. Tyrrell reached over: his hand doubled in the desk’s reflection. Every piece of wood in the Ministry shone, from door to dada rail to table incline. Tyrrell finger brushed the felt inset and looked up, into Crowe’s dark eyes.
“They arrested Kapp in Sweden last night.” He took a deep breath. “Ludendorff and Bauer have been seen around the Austrian border and my sources tell me that bastard, Trebitsch Lincoln, was with them in Munich. He’s since gone back to Berlin; trying to hawk Bauer’s writings.”
“Has the pressure we put on law enforcement borne fruit?” asked Crowe.
“They want him in chains, and seem determined about it,” said Tyrrell.
“It can’t have escaped your notice, Mr. Tyrrell, that he continues to talk to every press man he finds. General Malcolm heard from one of them that he and Bauer are organising a new putsch. He even dragged Churchill’s name into it, saying this putsch had his support. Please find out what you can.”

Elsa glugged back half a glass of wine and held it out for a top up. It never came.
“Fine, Weiss. Fine.” She withdrew the glass.
“He got a manuscript from Bauer: the colonel’s memories of the Kapp Putsch. Well, Trebitsch took me with him when he was trying to sell it to reporters.”
Weiss’s oval face and round lenses were buried in the notebook, scribbling detail enough that Elsa could reach across and grab the bottle of Sauvignon back. He looked at her, hurt.
“I guess he thought I’d add some style to his pitch. There was the Times, Chicago Tribune. Trebitsch wanted $2,500, but they all turned him down. One time, I accidentally left the papers at a restaurant. We got them back, more’s the pity.”
“All his letters were here?” asked Weiss, as she drank.
Elsa slapped down her glass and took out her cigarette case. “Yes. From Kapp and Ludendorff. Along with his books, his watch and that stupid cartoon he shows everyone. He went to Bavaria for a while to meet Bauer and Ehrhardt… shaved off his moustache and glasses for fear he’d be recognised. So much for the fearless one.”

Cafe Stefanskirchen, Bavaria.
Mid April, 1920.

“Oh delicious irony. Ebert passed through here as he fled. Now the new government-in-exile rest comfortably under the protection of Bavaria’s new Prime Minister and Chief of Police!! The fruits of our labour, gentlemen, the fruits of our labour!!”
Six tables lined the cafe front, sun catching partitions of ambient coloured glass. The staff respected patron privacy but intuitively knew when to be chatty. Free bonuses awaited valued customers. Customers such as Max, and the various guests that stayed with him. That day a number of them were visiting Max at once: Hermann Ehrhardt, Franz Stephani, Erich Ludendorff, and Ignacz. They had each made their own way across the country.
“It is just the beginning,” said Bauer.
“We should explore relationships with the Russians, everyone kicked out by Lenin,” said Ehrhardt.
“Yes,” said Bauer, gripping his teacup near to smashing. “The Anglo-French criminals are as good as in league with the Red Internationals and it is they that we shall over-throw.”
Trebitsch raised a finger in the air. “We’ll be White Internationals!”
“Regent Admiral Horthy would be a fine ally,” said Ludendorff. “There are interesting developments afoot in your birthplace, Trebitsch. I think you and Colonel Bauer should bring Horthy into it.”
Trebitsch nodded enthusiastically. “Ideal! On my last visit I met a fellow named Eckhardt in Horthy’s press office.”
“Well lets try and keep this out of the press,” said Stephani.
“I only meant that we know many in advantageous positions who will be of use to us.”
Trebitsch noticed the loon at the other table, staring at them, and Stephani did as well. He was sat alone, with sunglasses on, a long ginger beard and a stupid smile. Too stupid to be trouble, thought Trebitsch, and he continued his tirade. “We share the same aims as the Italians, the Austrians; Hungarians and White Russians: a glorious end to the Entente awaits us!!”
“Well, for God’s sake keep your voice down,” said Stephani.
“Franz, mind your tone,” Bauer warned. “We are safe here.”
Ehrhardt leaned over and whispered. “Franz has seven counts of murder against him, so you see my friend values discretion.”
Trebitsch faced Stephani and said, “Major, the apology is mine to make. Here.” He put his hand in his pocket and handed his passport over to Stephani. “Perhaps you should get one of these.”
Stephani read the name aloud. “Heinrich Lamprecht.”
Trebitsch said, “It came care of our Bavarian friend, Chief Pohner.”
Bauer rocked back on his chair. “And mine says Dr. Becker!”
The men laughed: except for Ludendorff. “Alright. Alright. Captain Ehrhardt, call on Pohner and get Stephani his I.D. Then ask him to set up a meeting with Minister-President von Kahr.”
Stephani whispered, “I really don’t like the way that ginger is looking at me.”
The loon was still watching them, mouth freakishly shaped in frozen cackle. He wore slacks, braces and beard over his shirt. Occasionally his head would nod, and he took none of Stephani’s visual cues to get lost.
“I have business in Berlin next week,” said Trebitsch. “Max, how about we leave for Budapest in early May?”
“That suits me,” said Bauer.
Stephani put his hand over his eyes. “He’s coming over.”
They all looked at the loon. Ehrhardt went cold, but did not flinch. He kept his hands at his sides. Trebitsch, who had a cup in his hand, also did not move. The loon had little body mass: he was a stick figure, almost Chaplinesque, but his shadow fell large over General Ludendorff. He leaned in, his eyes hid beneath the sunglasses, still flashing that unsettling smile.
“What do you want, old man?” Ludendorff said.
“Away!” Bauer said.
The loon didn’t seem self-aware, rocking from side to side, and his breath was imposing.
“Is he drunk?” Stephani said.
“Hold on a moment…” Trebitsch said. “Pabst…”
“Hello there,” giggled the loon. “Would you like to buy some plots?”
Stephani stood up and tore the ginger wig off him. Bauer and Ludendorff laughed.
“Ingenious,” said Trebitsch.
Ehrhardt wagged a stern finger. “I almost shot you!” he said, as a smile wriggled from his teeth.

Apartment of Elsa von Nagelein, Berlin.
28 April, 1920

“He was in town to see Stinnes,” said Elsa. “The industrialist. Stinnes told him he wanted nothing more to do with Trebitsch, or Bauer or their putsches. He accused them of creating a fiasco. Trebitsch came home and threw a tantrum: ‘Stinnes doesn’t know anything’, ‘Stinnes shall rue the day when he betrayed us.’ All that nonsense.”
Elsa laughed.
She took a draw then stubbed the cigarette bent in the ashtray. “Before he left, he was talking about travelling abroad with Bauer. I don’t know where.”
The cigarette end smoked: Deputy Weiss. lifted it out and ceased it. “Well, Fraulein von Nagelein. All this is a tremendous help. Where do you think he might be now?”
Quick as a flash she answered. “Potsdam! Shacked up with that bitch of a secretary. He’s a fat liar, a lying bastard!”
“Potsdam, you say?” asked Weiss.
Elsa smiled wickedly. “I have her address. Let me get it for you.”

Near Potsdam Station, Berlin.
3 May, 1920.

Margaret Lenkiet was rooted to the open door of her apartment, showing Deputy Weiss the way out. Weiss had no intention of leaving. Behind them Officers Flax and Teal looked through boxes, and examined artefacts and arrangements. Officer Weir set a fob watch on top of the pile of books and lifted a folder of newspaper clippings.
“Where is he, Mrs. Lenkiet?” asked Weiss.
Lenkiet folded her arms and looked out to the street through spectacles and her straight black fringe.
“If he’s on the premises…” said Weiss
“He’s not,” she said.
Weir arrived at Weiss’s side. He had a tidy collection of papers. “Sir. I’ve got Lincoln’s plans for a newspaper; correspondence from Bauer and Ludendorff, before and after the putsch. This one’s dated today… a letter for Ludendorff that’s not been sent.”
Weiss smiled, and looked again at Frau Lenkiet.

Trebitsch watched the last of the light die as he waited at Potsdam Station. Another train would be along soon. He wore a padded brown overcoat to keep the chill out, and a fedora.
“Trebitsch Lincoln.”
He felt a hand on his back and the hand remained. He turned. Weiss, with swept back hair stared at him, street-lamps twinkling twice on his oval face.
“You’ve made a mistake. My name is Ploheimer,” said Trebitsch.
Weiss brought out a newspaper clipping about the putsch. The page bore Trebitsch’s photo.
“What do you want of me?”
“To arrest you of course. Come on.”
Trebitsch exhaled a hard sigh of defeat. “All right then. But you’ll let me fetch a couple of things from my rooms?”
“If you’re quick,” the deputy told him.
Weiss walked Trebitsch three minutes to Doblingerstrasse keeping him within grabbing distance at all times

Ten minutes later, Weiss was by running water taps in Trebitsch’s bathroom, looking out to a wide open window.

#

c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 26

To read The Watch Thief advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome commentaries and comics, come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Hotel Fürstenhof, Berlin.
Sunday 14 March, 1920.

The dining room was almost empty: just the French, and the reporters. Daniels greeted Hardinge and Gumble and pulled out a chair.

“I heard Gustav von Kahr’s people took the ministry in Bavaria,” said Hardinge.

“Not that you’d know, dear. There’s no papers getting in or out,” said Gumble. “Bloody Trebitsch,” he added

“My editor’s trying to get a statement from his wife,” said Daniels. “Oh, a cooked breakfast please. Thank you. Yes, there’s something Olympian about this scoundrel. Arguing sentence by sentence! I’ve had plenty of experience with political censorship, and this is by and far the worst.”

“We’ve told Kilmarnock,” said Gumble. “Though what will he do? I’ll tell you: he’ll register a complaint with Kapp and poof! Nothing!”

“There he is,” whispered Hardinge.

Two tables away, Trebitsch pulled a chair out and jumped into it. A waiter sighed.

“What sort of backward children would put Trebitsch Lincoln in as their press secretary?” asked Gumble.

“The Cold meat platter,” said Trebitsch.

“We have none,” said the waiter. “No meat left.”

“Kilmarnock is already furious at the suggestion Lloyd George supports the coup,” said Gumble.

“Oh, he didn’t say that!” exclaimed Hardinge.

She took a deep breath, while Daniels re-arranged the cutlery. A second waiter carried an English fry past Trebitsch and set it down in front of Daniels.

“But he has bacon and eggs!” said Trebitsch.

“I can do them cold for you,” said the waiter.

Hardinge dived her laughs into her napkin and Gumble had to turn his head completely.

Trebitsch scowled. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” said the waiter.

Trebitsch pointed at the Frenchmen. “Those people there have ham, chicken!”

“We keep food aside for members of the Entente missions,” said the waiter.

The French, who he’d mocked the morning before, waved to him, and laughed among themselves. Trebitsch, enraged, whipped his head back round. The waiter was gone. He spied the reporters and went to their table.

“Lady and gentlemen, I’d like to invite you to a press conference.”

“That ham smells great, Mrs. Hardinge,” said Gumble, avoiding Trebitsch’s gaze.

“Oh, it’s very good,” she said, cutting across the side, while Daniels chewed gleefully.

“It’ll be outside the Chancellery at ten,” said Trebitsch.

“Mmmmm! This bacon is just right,” said Daniels.

A troop marches over empty tram lines on Unter den Linden and Bauer can hear flutes. There are people in the streets, but no synchronicity as they pass one another. No shops are open, there are no newspaper sellers. Stephani leans against a lamp-post spitting out tobacco smoke.

“Major. Shouldn’t you be at your post?” asked Bauer

The muscular soldier straightens up and salutes. “Colonel.”

“Well?”

He lowers his cigarette. His skin is reptilian cold and eyes gleam like knife points. “I’ve been at it all morning: moving on strikers; trying to get the power back online…my men still haven’t seen a mark.”

“Stephani, isn’t it? I thought Ehrhardt was getting your wages.”

“We found the Reichswehr man. He refused to even look at the cheque.”

Bauer rolled his eyes and looked away. It is just after noon and everywhere are unhappy faces, disinterested faces, with scarves wrapped tightly and hands kept in pockets. Oblivious, a young boy tosses a rubber ball, and a tantrum is thrown by his parents. A face in a window disappears quickly. Stephani drops his cigarette and stubs it with finality.

“Good lord,” said Bauer. “It makes one almost sympathise with the strikers.”

“What? No. We should shoot the lot of them.” Stephani shook his head and pulled a cigarette tin from his jacket and offered one to Bauer one.

“No. I don’t smoke. Did you hear Kapp’s speech this morning? It was terrible. Trebitsch translated, but couldn’t save it.”

“Trebitsch Lincoln. Who is this man?” asked Stephani.

“He is a Ehrenarier, an honourary Aryan like you.”

“I didn’t ask if he was a Jew, Colonel! Do you trust him?”

Suddenly, Trebitsch appeared beside them with a spasmodic waving of arms, flinches of the face, bearing his teeth. “It’s a mess! It’s a mess! It’s all gone to hell.”

Bauer began to speak.

Trebitsch continued. “I just saw Schiffer walk down Unter den Linden! Kapp’s released him. He’s walking around unguarded!”

“What?” said Stephani.

“I’m sure that’s not the case,” said Bauer.

“Kapp is a disaster. Ebert has escaped and is giving orders from Stuttgart, and Ludendorff… Ludendorff!! He said he would remain in the background, and he’s walking around in full uniform.”

Stephani tightened his face and evil-eyed Trebitsch.

“He said he would remain in the background and he’s walking around in full uniform, giving orders!! Sorry, you know I have the highest respect for him. But this is not his time yet!! WE…WE took Berlin. WE took Germany without firing a shot!!”

“You haven’t heard about Leipzig?” asked Bauer.

Silence. Neither Trebitsch or Stephani knew what he meant.

“The Bolsheviks took up arms. There are fifty dead, a hundred wounded,” said Bauer.

“I knew it!!” said Trebitsch. “I told Kapp not to let the Reds march!!”

“They’re fighting in the Ruhr too,” said Stephani. “I hear you have weight, Lincoln. Any chance I might get paid?”

“WHAT?” Trebitsch’s fingers gripped palms, shoulders arched, head hunched as he tightened into himself, with heels burning off the ground. He let loose an almighty scream. “Can this get any worse?”

Suddenly Unter den Linden was immersed in darkness and thunder. They instinctively ran for cover as it roared low over the city. Then they chased the craft, pistols un-holstered, as it’s cargo fell: leaflets gliding out like a blizzard. Tens of thousands of papers whited out the street. Trebitsch bent down to pick one up. Everywhere soldiers and strikers did the same.

A Call To A National Strike! By Decree of President Ebert, supported by the National Union of Workers.’

Trebitsch’s hands shook as he held it, and he growled.

Monday

Trebitsch saw the bus over the horizon, and walked back a few paces to wait for it at the stop. It would take him the rest of the way to his office. Absent was the breeze that always blew on Unter den Linden. It was due to arrive and so he stepped out to the roadside. The bus didn’t move. He wondered if the engine had stalled, and walked towards it. As he drew closer, it remained still. He drew his pistol. A minute later Trebitsch peered into the empty cab.

Wilhelmstrasse was neatly organised geometric shapes, hundreds of square windows in white brick. He reached Wilhelmplatz Press Office, out of breath. There was not a soul. It was cold and dark, too dark to sit at his desk so after a minute he retired.

Outside, he waved to Captain Ehrhardt. Unmistakeable, with his managed goatee strip that ran like a long black tongue to his sharp chin.

“Ehrhardt! This is a joke! The offices are completely empty and without power. It is useless!”

“Some of the new order meet in the Chancellery, though many have relocated to the Adlon.”

Trebitsch clapped his hands. “I shall go there. I am keen to put some hot food in my belly.”

“The Adlon will be of no use,” said Ehrhardt.

“The finest hotel in Europe cannot get me a meal?” asked Trebitsch.

“No trains are running to bring in food.”

“A word then with our friend, Mr. Stinnes.”

“Bauer’s already seen him. Stinnes can’t help. Most of his staff didn’t turn up,” said Ehrhardt.

“But he’s one of the richest men in Germany!!!” Trebitsch sighed, and after a moment asked, “Who is in the Chancellery building?”

“Kapp… Luttwitz. Ludendorff. They’re in negotiations with Schiffer.”

“SCHIFFER?? NEGOTIATIONS???”

The captain was not pleased either. “He’s representing Ebert.”

“WHY MUST WE NEGOTIATE? We’re the government. Not Schiffer or Ebert!! This is a disgrace!!”

“I agree.”

“Luttwitz has got complacent and Kapp is just incompetent. Captain Ehrhardt, if you wish Germany to get through this Red paralysis, you need a real man who will get things done. You need Bauer in that meeting! He will get the gas on and the water flowing. Make that clear to Chancellor Kapp whatever it takes.”

Ehrhardt nodded swiftly, then gestured Trebitsch to follow. He left him behind in a lightning march, to the soldier at the Chancellery door.

“You there. Tell the Chancellor that Captain Ehrhardt must speak to him at once.”

They walked through the open door to the foyer watching the guard depart. Floor tiles, wall tiles, the columns and ceiling, all were squared, except the crystal chandelier and sprouting palm tree. They sat on the wicker chairs at the edge and waited.

“I’m glad you share my opinion,” said Ehrhardt.

“What is taking him?” asked Trebitsch.

The soldier returned with a salute. “I relayed your message. His Excellency is in a meeting and does not wish to be disturbed.”

If looks were actions, Ehrhardt might have stripped the flesh off the soldier. “Tell Kapp if he doesn’t come out, I’ll come in and fetch him.”

“Yes, sir, right away, sir.”

Ten minutes later, Chancellor Kapp wobbled into the hall. He was overweight and perspiring, cleaning his brow with a rag from his pocket. His face arched over his spectacles and he had the looks of a startled shopkeeper. “What is it? What is wrong?” he asked.

“What is wrong you say?” said Ehrhardt. “The trains are not moving. Every shop is shut. The police are about ready to come off the fence. Look at me when I’m talking to you! God knows how long you have the Reichswehr for. You’re dawdling and what’s more, Noske and Ebert could be in chains and you’re, you swine, negotiating with his representative?”

Kapp was shaken. “We must establish connections if we wish to–“

“Establish connections?” asked Trebitsch. “With a government you have stigmatised as sunk in corruption?”

“I did not bring my men from Doberitz to put nincompoops in charge!”

“Bring Bauer into the government. There are things that need done,” said Trebitsch.

“You heard the minister,” said Ehrhardt.

“Yes, yes, of course. I will find a post for him by all means if you consider he can do the work”

Ehrhardt said, “There is no shortage of work, is there Kapp? End this strike. I have much to do. Good day.”

He and Trebitsch left.

Tuesday

In the corner of the Adlon, were Pabst and Trebitsch sat, Neo-Baroque carvings of faces looked down. Plaster rosettes and pattern paper layered the walls, and roped curtains. Commander Pabst’s whole demeanour was casual. He appeared to sink into the deep upholstery if not for the boot rested on his knee. His hair was black and deep and his eyes were like uncharted waters. The chief features of his face were joined by the contorted angles of his twisted smile. He spread his arms in the air.

“Kapp is not the right man, but so what? We stood up to those Versailles bastards. The whole country is out on strike: but they are angry at the betrayal of Ebert and the November 18th criminals. In that sense we are united.”

Trebitsch put his hand over his lip and considered the idea, which made him sad. “When will socialists and conservatives work together?” he asked.

Reinhold Wulle and Kuno von Westarp appeared behind them. Trebitsch arched his head back and flashed a smile at his editors.

“Trebitsch,” said Wulle. “We would like a word if you have time?”

“Mr. Wulle, Mr. Westarp, I always have time. However I cannot tell you when the ban on the press will end.”

Oh come. The government surely needs a loyal press,” said Westarp.

I am doing the best I can. Who knows when though?”

It’s not like we’re going to present the siege of Leipzig in any unfavourable light,” said Wulle.

Or put the march on Dortmund on the front page,” said Westarp.

Dortmund? What’s happening in Dortmund?” asked Pabst.

The Red Army have fifty thousand men on their way,” said Westarp.

How did we not hear about it?” asked Pabst.

Because all the power’s out!” cried Trebitsch. “No phones, no telegraph! Every military transmission has been hand couriered for forty-eight hours!!”

It was the British who told us,” said Westarp.

Then Ludendorff was there and the editors instinctively stepped aside to let the towering General through before he even said, “Gentlemen. I need a word with these men.”

Absolutely, General,” said Wulle.

Westarp saluted them. Pabst gestured to Ludendorff to join them on the seats. He didn’t. His legs were astride as if anchored to the world and if he should move it might move with him. When the editors were out of earshot, he spoke. “I’ve just come from the Chancellery. Schiffer had a deal on the table. He wanted Kapp and Ludendorff to resign.”

Why is he offering deals?” asked Trebitsch.

We don’t need him!” said Pabst, and added, “Of course, Kapp can resign, no harm done.” He nudged Trebitsch; both men laughed.

We are taking deals,” said Ludendorff, gruffly, “because we have lost the security police – nine thousand men, seventy five percent of our forces! Now. I’ve come to inform you Kapp has taken the offer and is packing for Sweden at this very moment.”

The deal?” asked Pabst. He was now deadly serious; both of them, thrust into an unfamiliar situation.

Schiffer wants resignations rather than forceful removals. Marinebrigade Ehrhardt would withdraw to Doberitz and Ebert’s government would return. The strike would end and a full amnesty given.”

Trebitsch was enraged. “We’re not taking it surely?”

Pabst protested. “The army will still have to disband. The French will still ruin our economy!”

If Luttwitz resigns, Schiffer promised his replacement will be our General Seeckt. Seeckt is willing.”

We do not want this,” warned Trebitsch. “We have done the unthinkable and we need to stand firm!”

We have much to discuss,” said Ludendorff, gruffly. “Tomorrow morning, the Chancellery,” He nodded his head, and departed.

It’s true then,” said Pabst. “He doesn’t do small talk, does he?”

Wednesday

Oil paintings of the masters hung on brown board, illuminated by mounted candles. Waistcoat rebels and pressed officers looked at Luttwitz, faltering. The bronze German eagle was perched at table’s end, the flag behind like wings. Over the table smoke hung in the air, cigarettes burning long at the end for no man moved. Not even Trebitsch.

I started this…” said Luttwitz.

He held a long finger to his lip. The cold reminded Luttwittz he was already more civil servant than senior officer. He side eyed the figures around the table from under the shadow of his cap. The bag under his eyes took over all his frame.

We…”

Ludendorff rested his hand in front of his chin and stroked the underside with his thumb.

…must keep calm…” said Luttwitz.

Ludendorff’s face had frozen over. He stared at Trebitsch, a ball of suppressed energy scrutinising the predicament.

Which company mutinied?” asked Pabst.

Bauer is looking into it,” said Ludendorff. “General?”

I can’t…” said Luttwitz. “I won’t.”

Suddenly he was decisive, flicked like a switch and looked right at Ludendorff. “You said I should continue.”

For God’s sake,” said Trebitsch. “There is violence in the Saxony, the Ruhr…”

Luttwitz took his hat off and set it on the table. His fingers brushed away the centre parting on his old white hair.

Nothing is coming in or out,” said Ehrhardt. “What did Seeckt say?”

Luttwitz replied. “If we all just lay low, for a few months…”

Suddenly both doors opened and Bauer entered. All heads turned He took the seat opposite Ludendorff. They stared at one another, neither speaking.

Luttwitz tried to catch Ludendorff’s eye. “General, if you are with us –”

Ludendorff took his eyes off Bauer and put his hand in his pocket. He pulled out keys.

Trebitsch, fetch my things from the Adlon.”

Luttwitz slammed his fist down on the table.

What’s going on?” asked Pabst.

How bad is it, Colonel?” asked Trebitsch.

All is lost. Of the commanding officers, only six remain loyal to us,” said Bauer.

Ludendorff’s head sunk, for the longest time.

Trebitsch stood and took the keys from the table.

Pabst’s head was in his hands.

Bauer, we are the richer for a bitter experience,” said Ludendorff.

Dietrich Eckart had flown from Munich into Berlin on Tuesday. The playwright, and his passenger, had hoped for a great revolution. Seeing the capital brought to a stand-still left them cold. Trebitsch cut across them in the foyer of the Adlon, and bounded up the curling stairs.

Eckart’s friend knew Trebitsch, from somewhere.

You’re one of the leaders?” he called out. “Where’s Ludendorff?”

Trebitsch momentarily startled, turned. “Disappeared!”

And Kapp?” the man called out.

Fled to Stockholm. They are not to be found. It is all over! Spectacles and beards for all!!” Trebitsch carried on springing up to the landing.

That man is a stinking Jew,” said Eckart. He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Come on Adolf, we have no further business here.”

Corporal Adolf Hitler shook his head. He and Eckart turned, and walked back outside.

#

c. Andy Luke.
Image source: The Kapp Putsch on Wikiwand. Plundered soldiers with banner “Stop! Anyone who goes on is shot dead”,  on Wilhelmplatz in front of the sealed-off government district
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 25

Berlin.

13 March, 1920. 6:15 a.m.

President Ebert, Defence Minister Noske, Foreign Minister Muller and most of Germany’s cabinet ran; feet echoing across empty Wilhelmstrasse. Trebitsch passed by at the other end of the road and heard their motor cars spark like thunder in the dawn air. It had begun.

Pabst was met at Brandenburg Gate, the Athenian Propylaea. Sunrise beams starred off its columns, lighting the path to troops in the distance; catching nearer balconied windows of the Reichstag.

Trebitsch sang. “Good morning, sir. Oh what a beautiful morning, what a way to start the day!”

Pabst had been awake for some hours. “Yes it is. Do you see them? They set out from Doberitz at ten. However, listen. Late last night…oh, hello, Bauer.”

Bauer raised himself as if to the size of a column.

“Late last night,” said Pabst, “Ebert ordered General Seeckt to open fire on any armed force: be they Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, Freikorps or Reichswehr.”

They looked to the road where five minutes away thousands of soldiers marched.

“And Seeckt told him to go fuck himself,” said Ludendorff.

Atop broad shoulders, a rare smile flashed across the Old Sinner’s face. Chief von Jagow had arrived with him. They grinned back at Ludendorff, and then looked ahead.

Pabst continued. “The officer corps will not be wiped out by turning against one another.”

“Marinebrigade Ehrhardt!” It was Luttwitz, his wrinkles lit up as if renewed by primordial heat. His golem ears were practically luminescent. “That’s an incredible sight”

The army band played and they sang and Trebitsch caught himself mouthing along: Heil dir im Siegerkranz, Herrscher des Vaterlands! Heil, Kaiser, dir! They walked in double file and by now the horizon was a mass of jeeps and horses and six thousand men in military dress, helmets with swastikas.

“Where’s Kapp?” asked Bauer. “He’s not slept in?”

They were still chuckling at that when Kapp came running up from behind. He had a shirt tail out of place and a scrap of paper in his hand. “I had to borrow my wife’s typewriter for the proclamation.”

“About time!” said Trebitsch, and took the carbon copy from his hand.

The army were upon them then. Captain Ehrhardt stepped forward, and saluted them. Kapp read the proclamation and they cheered.

“Position men to secure the Reichstag!” shouted Luttwitz. “The rest of us will proceed to the Chancellery.”

Kapp nodded. Trebitsch looked at the six thousand soldiers and turned laughing as he led them through the arch, swinging the proclamation in the breeze.

Kapp caught up to him. “I’ll need you to deliver that to the presses,” he said.

“Yes, I know what to do. Give me both copies. I will guard them.”

They crossed Pariser Platz and marched toward Hotel Adlon. Bauer and Pabst were laughing too, moreso when Trebitsch pointed out the French delegation on a balcony in their pyjamas.

“Colonel, I have a matter to attend to. I shall meet you on Wilhelmstrasse,” said Trebitsch

Bauer nodded, and Trebitsch fell out. Residents crowded at the Adlon’s entrance but split to form a path for him. One or two clapped. Most were frightened. He bounced up the curving stairs and skipped along the hall until he got to Karl Weigand’s room whereupon he rapped the door three times. Weigand was in his robe and his thin hair stuck out sharply. Trebitsch thrust the proclamation into his hand.

“Mr. Weigand, you will want to get outside. You have a story you can sell to Mr. Hearst, presuming no one can bid higher!”

Bauer exited the Wilhelmstrasse Chancellery, and saw Trebitsch walking his way. His news burst out of him like a bull exploding methane. “Ebert and most of the cabinet have fled to Stuttgart!”

“I’m not surprised,” said Trebitsch, and flapped the newspaper he’d taken from the Adlon. “Reporters heard about the march last night. We’re on every front page already!”

“Well,” Bauer said, “Kapp and Luttwitz are in there. They’ll probably be in there all day, phoning every barracks from Hamburg to Dresden.”

“Keep in line, traitor!” shouted Pabst. He and Ehrhardt were marching officials from the building.

Bauer explained, “Vice-Chancellor Schiffer and some of the others refused to leave. They’ll be taken to the jail. He told us Ebert plans to mobilise the unions for a General strike.”

Trebitsch laughed. “And what? Stop the whole country in it’s tracks? Germany has never been stopped by a strike! Do you know what we should do, Max?”

“What, Trebitsch?” he asked.

“It’s nearly half seven and we can’t rule on an empty stomach!”

Seven minutes away, crispbread and toast permeated the Excelsior’s dining room. Waiters brought out steaming filter coffee and poured tea while diners unfolded napkins and snacked on fruit and cereal. They dabbed their lips and between bites talked of family and business as waitresses gracefully curled round one another, carrying plates with poached eggs or kippers and fresh bread. There was the slamming of wooden frames out in the hall and the blue curtain was swung aside. Flanked by Bauer and Chief von Jagow, Trebitsch entered waving a revolver. A woman screamed.

“Power is in our hands!” he announced.

It was a full breakfast and served promptly.

After, they found a printers. Von Jagow threatened to shoot the man if the proclamation wasn’t his immediate priority. Soon after they found Captain Ehrhardt. He was about to go to the telegraph office, Haupttelegrafenamt, and asked Trebitsch to join him.

Ehrhardt drove across Berlin in a shining black Ford and they greeted the soldiers who lined every roads, setting up barbed wire and other barricades. Every so often they would stop to hand the proclamations to the officers.

“My men were promised special wages today but the Reichsbank are being difficult,” said Ehrhardt.

“If they refuse, seize the bank,” said Trebitsch. “They would pay up with a gun to their heads.”

“True. Listen, Kapp asked me to request that you serve as our Minister for Press and Propaganda.”

“It would be an honour, an honour!”

Trebitsch excitedly stood up, raised his arms and shouted. “People of Berlin, order is restored!”

A half hour later they arrived at Oranienburger Strasse. Captain Lieutenant Lensch, a wireless expert, was enlisted to help bring the new government nationwide reports. Realising Lensch and Ehrhardt would be a while and he could do little meantime, Trebitsch demanded keys for a jeep.

He crossed the River Spree twice, saluting at men along the way, driving whatever twists and turns he liked before finding his way back to Wilhelmstrasse. The Press Office was in the Ordenspalais, next door to the Chancellery and the jeep bumped hard upon the kerb.

He claimed a double office with a varnished oak desk, typewriter, telephone, antique grandfather clock and filing cabinets. A call was put through to Kapp telling him the Ministerial role was filled and a call was made to Ehrhardt requesting the use of Lensch when he was done. Every so often a civil servant would enter, confused by Trebitsch’s appearance there.

“Never you mind who was here before!” he yelled. “I’m in charge now and I mean to handle the flow of information. Any journalist wishing to correspond with their paper must go through me. Particularly the British! Now do you understand??”

Several hours later, Lensch arrived amid chaos. It was a Saturday, and therefore most clerks were soldiers ill-suited to managing bureaucratic dilemmas. He recognised the actual civil servants as those most frightened. Lensch called for help but his words were lost to ringing phones, panicked voices grappling with the changing circumstances.

“Yes, Mr. Westarp. We are aware of your paper’s support. I’ll pass your complaint along.”

“I’m looking for Trebitsch Lincoln,” said Lensch.

“No, Mr. Wulle,” said another operator. “Arrangements have been made to have all newspaper buildings occupied.” He looked to Lensch, and thumbed toward the back.

Lensch made his way through the crowd. The stocky Hungarian stood aside a desk, talking down the telephone with a mouth of menacing glee.

“Hello, Mr. Reventlow. Oh, von Jagow is with you now? That’s right. Yes, your poxy rag will not be printed this week. Perhaps not ever. Look for a new line of work, Mr. Reventlow.” Trebitsch gave a boisterous laugh and hung up.

“Mr. Lincoln?”

“Ah! Captain!”

“Chancellor Kapp ordered me to work directly under you. I’ll tell you what I told Kapp. I will serve but as an official of the wireless office I am not the right man for the job.”

Trebitsch looked him up and down. Ironed shirt and jacket: he prized discipline. Spectacles: a studious approach. Forty years: some experience, about the same age as himself. “I asked for you specifically, Lensch, so I completely disagree. Walk with me.”

Trebitsch led him onwards, through the many soldiers still shocked at Kapp’s choice of Press Minister. “The police, as you know, have forbidden the papers to appear, presumably to stop provocation. Von Jagow has made a mistake of course. In the meantime there is one respect in which our job is easier.” Trebitsch opened the door into his office, and kept walking toward the door on the other side. “We shall concentrate on dealing with the foreign press! Now, you will occupy this room or this roo – huh!”

The handle would not turn. “Who has the key to this door?” he shouted. “Achtung! Who has the key?”

A soldier was quick there. “That’s Councillor Elksop’s office.”

“And where is he?” asked Trebitsch. “Open it!”

“I don’t have the key,” said the soldier.

“Then kick it in! Shoot the lock! Your government is giving you an order!”

At 2pm, Trebitsch stepped out for a cigarette and bumped into General Luttwitz.

“War Minister Luttwitz, how are things progressing?”

“Little resistance across the North and East. Some trouble in Thuringia. Ebert arrived in Dresden, but General Maercker is loyal to us. A warrant is out for their arrest.”

Trebitsch rubbed his hands together as if witnessing the re-invention of fire. Luttwitz cautioned him. Strikes were breaking out and even in safe areas like Leipzig and Saxony, the unions were supported by weaponry. He was particularly worried by the Ruhr district, were a Red Army had begun to mobilise in great number. Trebitsch said he would see to that, and they parted.

He was feeling heavy and intended to go to the bathroom, but was distracted by shouting coming from his office.

“Who opened the door or had it opened? I must protest strongly!”

Then Lensch’s voice, firm and cutting. “You will speak in a more moderate tone.”

Trebitsch opened the door to their rooms and found Councillor Elksop on the offensive.

“I cannot find another tone for people who break open other people’s doors!”

“I had the door opened,” said Trebitsch. “What is more, quite a lot of other things are going to be happening to you.”

Elksop stepped close to Trebitsch’s face. “By what right do you address me in this manner?”

“Chancellor Kapp and General Luttwitz have entrusted me with responsibility for foreign propaganda,” he said, not flinching.

Elksop took a casual step back. “Really? Aren’t you a foreigner? I hardly believe German official functions would be assigned to a foreigner.”

“Ho ho! That is where you are wrong!” Trebitsch clapped his hands twice. “Until now foreign propaganda has been conducted on false principles. I will demonstrate how it is to be done properly. Guard, get this man out of there!”

Tact is not among the qualities of the new German government. The truth about the latest coup d’etat in Germany begins and ends with what they have to say about it. Communications offices in Berlin have rebelled against the restrictions, hoping the rule of a clique of soldiers and officers will soon come to an end.

Not. And ends with what. Have to. Rebelled against. A clique of. To an end.

Trebitsch had these words on the press report covered with blue lines. He looked up at the man from The Telegraph. “There,” he said, and handed it back.

“But there’s nothing left to it!”

“Then I suggest you stick to the facts in future,” said Trebitsch.

“These are the facts!”

“Not my idea of them. Biased personal opinion, speculation…” Trebitsch let out a fart and was rather pleased with his timing.

“This sentence here…”

“Does not convey proper respect.”

“There are legitimate concerns among the working class. They’ve already begun to strike in great numbers! The people who light and heat the city, the people of Berlin who –“

“The people of Berlin welcome regime change! And I wouldn’t call a few Communists a nationwide strike! I suggest you re-write it.” Trebitsch sent him from the room.

A call came from the adjoining office. “H. G. Daniels of The Times!” announced Lensch.

Daniels entered and handed Trebitsch his sheet. “Let me see…no…no…” The pen went through every line. “No.” He shook his head. “No.”

“What in good heavens?” asked Daniels.

“Bring it back when you do not take such damning liberties!”

“I will not!” said Daniels and planted the page back on Trebitsch’s desk. “There is nothing offensive there!”

Trebitsch smiled cordially and further inspected the report. “Then, allow me to re-draft it for you, Mr. Daniels,” he said, and ripped the paper from top to bottom, and threw it in the bin. “You can tell Viscount Northcliffe that’s an official statement.”

Daniels left and was replaced by another. Trebitsch stood up, and pointed to the clock. “Five o’ clock on a Saturday,” he said. He packed his papers into his black leather brief case and walked from the room. “I have been working on behalf of Germany’s Foreign Press since before you even knew of my existence.”

Lensch and the Chronicle man followed him into the hall where the reporters waited.

“You would be hard pressed to find any government minister with an open door on a Saturday,” he told them. “Which I had!” He closed the door and brought out the keys. “Let alone on a Sunday!” he remarked jubilantly.

“How are we supposed to file for the Sunday editions?”

“This is an outrage! Lord Kilmarnock will hear of this!”

Trebitsch laughed at that one. He left through them quickly and made his way to the bathroom. He was already sat down when he realised there was no toilet roll. Then the lights went out.

 

#

c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 24

March 3rd, 1920.

Platform 2, Budapest Keleti Railway Station.

The return to Budapest was a wild ride. When the hotel mixed up their bookings the second night, Trebitsch involved the German ambassador and the Foreign Office. This yielded a free room at the Astoria, five weeks complimentary for himself and Margaret Lenkiet. Alexander Krausz, he’d sent to buy up rare Bela Kun postage stamps. They’d fetch high prices in Berlin. He kept abreast of the crisis of course. The Crown Prince offered to trade himself for nine hundred war criminals, the bloody fool. When the ambassador invited him to the Prime Minister’s home to celebrate the opening of Budapest’s new parliament, Trebitsch hid his embarrassment. He said proudly that Ludendorff would not stand by and watch it happen.

Alexander Krausz stood on the platform, a wave through the glass. He’d spoken of visiting Sandor, not much fun, Krausz said, and still angry with Trebitsch over Simon’s term in Alcatraz.

Wire me the money for the stamps!” mouthed Krausz before Trebitsch and Margaret glided away.

The Danube blurred as they crossed, at Kelenföld Power Station, horn honking as in the calling of Trebitsch’s dreams. The sound of carriages on steel rails slow catalysing adrenalin in his bloodstream. His hands clawed the margins of the paper and he leaned so intensely he appeared to crash his whole body into it. ‘Talk of a coup in Berlin imminent, said General Malcolm.’ The image of Malcolm, typical alpha English statesman, slipped out the window into Bratislava’s parks. ‘Lord Kilmarnock issues warning to the Government. Defence Minister Noske orders two Doberitz units disbanded.’ Their photographs flitted off, past Margaret who watched Prague, the half-way point, drift into a winter smudge. Trebitsch dozed lightly. Luttwitz and Ehrhardt had refused to disband their squads. They would parade anyway. Trebitsch thought he saw them as the carriage neared the suburb. These faces slipped away too.

He met Bauer several days later. It was like they had never parted. They were in the Excelsior, full of holiday makers and visiting dignitaries. He left Margaret at the table with his journalist friends, Wulle and Weigand.

Max! What is Luttwitz doing about this nonsense?”

Not here.”

Max was as he remembered: an immovable brick wall with his head held high: a voice that was demanding. Trebitsch noticed he held a smile and wondered if Max had become sentimental. Max despised sentimentality. They walked Budapester Strasse towards Potsdamer Platz with the Tiergarten in front, swans flying to the lake and squirrels flipping dead leaves. Trebitsch made good sport of the inefficiency of the government and praised the loyalty of Von Jagow, the chief of police.

They have not arrested you? How could they? And the same of Luttwitz?”

Haha. Yes, Luttwitz. He’s in a meeting with the President.”

Wolfgang Kapp answered the door at the General’s flat. There were nine of them. Ludendorff had a map of the city unfolded on his drawing table. Pabst circled the Brandenburg with a marker and turned to them.

Luttwitz and I made various plans. If anything goes off Kapp is to be our front man, our figurehead.”

Trebitsch could not believe it. “Kapp?” he asked.

His experience with the credit societies has shown up the Chancellor for the fool he is. Founder and chair of the Fatherland Party: he’s well placed to act as our official figure-head,” said Ludendorff.

Trebitsch shook his head. “I mean no disrespect, Herr Kapp. You are an excellent choice and eminently qualified. However, General Ludendorff, your status would present the people with a greater understanding of our legitimacy.”

I quite agree,” said Bauer. “Official? I’ll take authentic over official every time.”

Ludendorff squared up to Bauer. “The people want political not military legitimacy. That is the way of it, Max. This is a young man’s game. I wiould remain in the background until our new government establishes itself. Then you can present me as your secret weapon!”

Kapp considered the lay of the room. “We are speaking hypothetically. Our plan is fluid. It will be some time before we solidify it. Ebert and Noske owe us and will likely see reason.”

Ludendorff finger-pressed the map. “In case they don’t, troops will march here, to the Brandenburg and take the Reichstag.” He moved his finger along the lines opposite. “At the same time, divisions will take the ministries on Wilhelmstrasse. Foreign embassies there will be left alone to relay that a new power is in office.”

The British are aware we are up to something,” said Bauer. “I spoke with Malcolm earlier. I barely hinted at a putsch but he leapt on that hint. He smells this. He said England would not stand anything of the kind; that any unconstitutional action would be sheer madness.”

The men considered this. Lieutenant Lensch and Bredereck, their shady lawyer. Pabst scratched his head nervously.

Malcolm knows the government is weak. He’d rather we ran the show,” said Bauer. Noticing the confidence which Malcolm’s views inspired, Bauer added, “that said, he’ll follow his orders.”

Ludendorff returned to the map. “Trebitsch, you can maybe use your embassy contacts to intervene,” he said. “I would recommend brigades on the bridges at Schlossplatz and Jungfernbrucke. and secure the railway station.”

The Behrenstrasse post office for Reichstag business,” said Kapp, “and the one behind Potsdamer Platz. Make sure the soldiers do not get in the workers’ way. Soon after we take back the government we’ll need to have the militia take the Reichsbank on Jagerstrasse.”

We’ll have them marching down Unter den Linden. Let Berliners know who’s in charge,” said Bauer.

We had only five thousand to put down the Spartacists,” Pabst said, straightening his cap. “This is a city-wide deployment.”

Indeed! Oh, we can do this. We shall have more than that number,” said Trebitsch.

Yes, though Pabst isn’t wrong. We’ll need loyal men at the ports and the electricity stations,” said Ludendorff.

Trebitsch gleefully rubbed his hands, Bauer watching him like a proud father. “I am certain we can do this,” said Trebitsch. “Be not afraid Herr Kapp, you will bring in a new age.”

For the Empire!” said Bauer.

Kapp pondered the excitable elf for a moment and said, “Lincoln, you’ll be needed for several jobs. Foreign diplomacy springs to mind. We also discussed what to do about the press. With your qualifications it might be best if you lent your skills to the task.”

Oh, I would be honoured!”

The next day, Kapp addressed an open air meeting of the National Union. It was at Pariser Platz, right in front of the Reichstag, and he attracted a crowd. He spoke of great ambitions for the German peoples in the coming days. Chief Von Jagow stood on the cobbles with Bauer and Trebitsch.

Colonel,” whispered the bald vulture, “you need to be very careful. Noske is aware of my loyalties and may take Berlin’s police out of my command.”

Bauer mocked him and Trebitsch joined in with the laughter. Everything would be fine. From the crate where Kapp stood he announced, “There are great, respected men in the international community. Men who have seen Germany’s plight and will not sit by idly. There is one here. Trebitsch-Lincoln. In some senses, he is the spiritual leader of the movement.”

They looked to where Kapp pointed, saw Trebitsch nod modestly, and they applauded him.

That evening he was smoking cigars with Karl Weigand in the Hotel Adlon when Max Bauer collected him.

Oh, I cannot tell the details, Herr Weigand, but you are well placed to bring an exlusive to Mr. Hearst and other bidders! Oh yes. We shall see each other soon!”

The Adlon, on one side of Paritser Platz with it’s bicycles and rickshaws, was only a few minutes walk from Ludendorff’s apartment. They climbed the steps to the sound of arguments. Inside, Pabst and Ludendorff had Luttwitz cornered. This worried Bauer. Captain of the Horse Guards, Pabst, always wore that violent grin, but the General was noticeably emotional. Trebitsch saw it too. Dapper Luttwitz, as short as Kapp, dapper against stocky secretary and co-conspirator.

Kapp raged. “You didn’t even think to consult me?”

Max barked at them. “What’s this about?”

Tell him what you told us,” insisted Ludendorff.

He refused to see me without Noske present. They wouldn’t give an inch, but they were frightened. So I told them: give into our demands. Dissolution of the Reichstag, new elections and the people will directly elect the new President.”

We agreed no such thing,” thundered Bauer.

Well neither did they. So I gave them the ultimatum,” said Luttwitz.

That was rash,” said Bauer.

Make sure everyone is here tomorrow. You have forced our hand,” said Ludendorff.

President Ebert seeks to force our hand. Well, let him play his game, and we’ll see if he can play ours,” said Trebitsch.

Bed linen caught between Trebitsch’s toes and dragged to near trip him as in striped pyjamas he answered the banging door.

Get dressed, Trebitsch. We have work to do. Dress now,” said Bauer.

He turned his back as Trebitsch picked out his clothes. “The orders have come down. Noske put a warrant out for my arrest and for Kapp. They are looking for me and Kapp has gone into hiding. You must find him and bring him here.”

Bauer checked in on his friend’s shadow. Trebitsch was naked, and Bauer sickened himself. He took a breath and summoned his raging tones. “Late last night Luttwitz was relieved of command. Aren’t you going to bathe? This place smells filthy. Clean it up. We will have to meet here tonight. Ludendorff’s is no longer safe. You are to send word to our circle. Now is the time for decisive action.”

Trebitsch emerged beside his friend. Bauer did not want to look until he was sure he was dressed.

Trebitsch said, “I wil be able to slip by undetected. Oh, the moment of revenge is at hand!”

Bauer’s luggage was with him. He’d packed his medals, uniform, the plan for assault and some provisions. He set the bag in the corner and Trebitsch cleared his own belongings, put a stolen fob watch and his new Hungarian passport into a drawer. The reproduction of the Punch cartoon, Land and Labour, Revelations of an International Spy, all these were neatly placed on his bookshelf. Bauer stood to attention and waited for his man to strip his bedclothes.

Ten hours later, Kapp was there. His eyes were fixed on the map spread over Trebitsch’s mattress. Ludendorff, plain clothed, watched the window for threats.

Pabst says we’re not properly prepared to have it now,” said Trebitsch.

If Pabst thinks that, why isn’t he here?” asked Luttwitz.

I made sure to convey that he should be when the time comes. You know where my ideals lie!” said Trebitsch. “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

Captain Ehrhardt curled his lips smugly and nodded at Luttwitz. “It is too late to do anything but march. The putsch must take place. My men are ready,” he said, and tapped his holster.

We will have our military government in place. We will hold the city,” said Bauer.

Pabst said there have been fortifications to put down any invasion,” said Kapp.

To prevent a rabble of intellectuals and communists!” said Bauer. “Not the might of the German Army. That’s what Berlin will get, no matter if Noske plans otherwise.”

Ehrhardt made a show of agreeing, he wanted to make Kapp understand their control of the situation. “There’s a barracks inspection tonight. I’ve instructed my men to display only minimal security. The rest of them will hide. Noske’s inspectors will think we’re weak.”

Bauer laughed and slapped Ehrhardt on the back.

I must go to the Adlon,” said Trebitsch, “and there, I might tell Mr. Weigand to set his alarm clock. Gentlemen, we will all be very rich men tomorrow.”

Then it is agreed,” said Ludendorff.

Agreed,” said Luttwitz.

Ehrhardt said, “I will have our brigades march from Doberitz and reach Berlin by dawn.”

 

#

c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

The Watch Thief – Chapter 23

October 4th, 1919.
Hotel Adlon, Unter den Linden, Berlin. 

Giant square marble columns flanked Hotel Adlon. Max Bauer was only there because of Wulle, who had the highest respect for the Hungarian. Max had his standards so was impressed to find Lincoln tidy, his boots shone and shirt pressed. He felt Lincoln’s scrawny hand wilt as he squeezed it. Reventlow walked by then. He greeted Max, who caught his sneer at Lincoln. It was warm in the Adlon: gas heat and electric lit. Coffee was poured and Trebitsch counted thirty-five marks from his wallet. Max’s stomach churned at the sight of it. The waiter said there was no charge for one of the great war heroes.

“Colonel, I sense you don’t trust me and I know why. It is because of my Jewish birth. You should know I turned my back on Judaism at thirteen. My wife is a German. You worked with Fritz Haber on chemical weapons. His wife was a Jew who became a Christian.”

“…you have an incredible memory,” said Max.

“I have left both Judaism and Christianity far behind me.”

Max was taken aback at his forthrightness though soon they talked of Amerongen. The Kaiser should have enforced mandatory war service before I advised him to step down. Could the Crown Prince take the throne? Max smiled. The son was a good man. He’d served with him at Verdun, bloody mistake of a battle. Trebitsch asked the Colonel if it was true he developed the Krupp mortar? Max laughed. He did so without approval and was nearly dismissed but that High Command saw how effective it was!

The nation needed a strong government. Yes, Lincoln, under one leader, preferably instituting siege law. Some suggested Ludendorff could take command, Trebitsch said. Maybe. Though he was not the same since the day the tanks smashed through their lines at Paris. The words came out hurt. Max wasn’t used to opening up. Poor Erich, it almost destroyed him. He gazed to the palm tree in the corner. Trebitsch sympathised, but reminded Max it was plausible. They had fought a war at home as well as overseas. Commander Falkenhayn, Chancellor Hollweg and other weak politicians fell because of your intervention, Colonel. How easy it would be to remove President Ebert, Minister Noske and their lackeys! Max said they were a fucking phantom government. Politicians were all apes who sat at home, blew their big mouths off and couldn’t care less. Trebitsch cursed Ebert and those who bent the knee at Versailles. Why should Germany be the only country to suffer, to be legally guilty? However, said Max, the existing government had made themselves into a lightning conductor, taking the blame for all the wrong choices. In some senses his military dictatorship was operating already, silently.

In days ahead they met to talk justice and revenge, and finished one another’s sentences. At the end of the second week Max brought Trebitsch to Hotel Eden. As palatial as the Adlon, the function room was loud with forty soldiers boldly in debate and song. Most were in uniform, decorated with an even barred gold Baltic Cross or crescent mooned emblems on the wings of a Silesian Eagle. Versailles plotters could think they decimated the Army, said Max, but the bastards had instead run a recruiting drive for our Freikorps. He introduced Commander Pabst, a jolly fellow with a toothbrush moustache and an air of mischief. His cavalry guards were all around the room. Pabst told them that on this very spot he had communists executed. I killed Luxemberg and Liebknecht myself! Canaris, of the military court, hung his head. Von Jagow, the ex-Berlin head of police, drank half a tankard. One of the soldiers said they were doing their duty. Ebert and Defence Minister Noske wanted us to put the Spartacists down. We put them down! To the President! Men laughed all around. Somebody slapped Trebitsch on the back and encouraged him to sing with them.

Max walked and young soldiers moving aside like quicksilver, saluting him too. Waiters carried silver dishes of sandwiches and wrapped figs. There were veterans in search of stability, some mercenaries too, but all he knew were patriots. Captain Ehrhardt and his men from Dobertitz were there that night. Ehrhardt’s unmistakeably expressive face and goatee strip chin popped up across the room. Before Max could get to him, he had to get around Reventlow.

“Colonel, it is good to see you. I hope tonight we will begin to fight back against the Jewish globalist conspiracy.”

Reventlow had short black hair on a fat face which sloped from his eyes. He’d served in the navy and as a journalist backed Max’s own calls for submarine warfare.

“Have you read the Protocols of the elders of Zion? It is the Jewish master plan to take over the world.”

“The socialists are to blame,” said Ehrhardt’s man, Runge. “How could we pay five trillion? Even the British thought it ludicrous.”

“Russia shows us where that road ends,” said Max. “A conspiracy of socialists and liberals and fucking intellectuals. And the women! They should have been conscripted too.”

“Well,” said Reventlow, “they’re all round here aren’t they? The orientals, the faggots, the homeless. Nürnbergerstrasse is full of the snails, ones with their countries on their backs. We need to stop the country going to the Bolsheviks,” he said.

He and Reventlow followed the spirits trolley to Ehrhardt and Wolfgang Kapp, an elderly activist whose face was like the eruption of a volcano around a pair of spectacles. They asked Max about his meeting with General Malcolm, the head of the British mission. It was a positive meeting. Malcolm appreciated their protection from the socialists; perhaps he would not challenge a coup.

Trebitsch found them then. The journalist who went to Amerongen. Max led the cheers. When they settled, Kapp said they would soon have a monarch again. Max casually suggested they didn’t need one, and Reventlow nodded in time.

“The Crown Prince should not be difficult,” said Ehrhardt. “We should ask. General Luttwitz says we should demand fresh elections.”

“We’re having elections already, we don’t need another!” thundered Max. “Democracy is the last resort the rule of capitalists and the demagogues and press whom they pay!”

“The Crown Prince could take over from his father and someone should secure his approval for any putsch,” said Trebitsch. “Something has to happen!”

The first grand hotel on Wilhelmplatz was the Kaiserhof: two hundred and sixty modern rooms with electric, bathrooms, telephone, pneumatic lifts, gas kitchens and steam heating. It was as big as a street. Max caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror: a balding, tired man with eyes that saw blood atop the body mass of a rhinoceros. Trebitsch met him and broached the subject of travelling to see the Crown Prince at his Wieringen sanctuary. Karl Weigand had interviewed the Prince and though Weigand found Trebitsch journalistic contacts he needed, his trip was not for that purpose. This would need a special introduction. I’ll provide it, Max said, but I can’t guarantee you will be seen. Colonel, please do not tell anyone, even my secretary, Mrs. Lenkiet, must not know. Max said a woman’s place was in the home, then gave a wink and laughed.

Max kept his medals with his clothing. They weren’t for hanging from the walls. His apartment was tidy and conservative. In the study he sat at the bureau desk reading the October 7th Deutsche Tageszeitung. There was a column by Reventlow, who said Mr. Trebitsch Lincoln represented no-one. His visit to Amerongen was a fairy tale, a Republican provocation designed to discredit the monarchists. Readers were warned to ignore him at all costs. Max was incensed. A few days later, Officer Kummer at Wieringen wrote of meeting Trebitsch. He had good intent but was too pushy and might easily compromise the Prince. Max wondered did Kummer not know that was the point? Was he too blind to see that action was called upon? The first letter from Trebitsch came a few days later. He was optimistic about meeting the Prince but was appalled at Reventlow’s actions. Would Max confront him and make clear they had known each other some time?

When Max went out it was never the same faces: industrialists, politicians, journalists and always the loyal men of the Reichswehr and Freikorps; the German Army. Their accents were from Wustermark and Potsdam, Leipzig and Kopenick and when they weren’t talking they were swigging beer and munching grub. Erich Luttwitz was there, without his usual unpredictable energy. Luttwitz was sixty, black eyebrows over white hair and wrinkles spread around his sickly skeletal face. Was it not enough, he moaned to Max, to reduced their army by seventy percent, now to half that? Anywhere in the room Max went that evening he heard defeatism: the confiscated territory in China and Africa; the Saar mines; hyper-inflation; the war guilt clause. The few men not in a dark night of the soul talked big plans for revolution made of hot air. Luttwitz and he were heroes. They knew it and knew men talked just to impress them. Max’s ears suddenly pricked at the droning sound of Ernst Reventlow.

“Trebitsch Lincoln? The man’s either dangerous or a buffoon. All his talk of propaganda and overseas support is quite worthless.”

Max charged forward and stabbed a finger at him.

“How dare you?” he guldered. “Trebitsch Lincoln has worked successfully and reliably in the direction that we desire!”

Silence crashed the room. All eyes scorned the journalist. Though three feet away Max could feel him shaking and smelled the gas in his pants.

“Right now Trebitsch is there talking to the Crown Prince about backing our action. And what are you doing, Reventlow? Any of you? Sitting here, moping. Or fantasising!”

Luttwitz wiped a serviette over his lips and smiled.

“I am sorry I have offended you, Colonel Bauer,” said Reventlow.

“Oh shut up you damn fool,” he said and then turned away.

November frost cut across the Spree as Trebitsch, Luttwitz and Bauer passed a soup kitchen line on Reichstagufer. They were lost souls, crippled by war or unemployment. The Americans at The Hague were sympathetic to their work there, Trebitsch said, and he’d brought home a new woman. You’ll get gonorrhoea or syphilis Max warned him sombrely. She worked with German prisoners of war, he said. Luttwitz joked he was definitely at risk. They passed the Reichstag and through Brandenburg Gate. The wind gathered like a mugging and along the hedges of the Tiergarten. Max had sworn Luttwitz to say nothing about the identity of ‘Herr Neumann’, the man they were visiting. When the Old Sinner answered the door he watched Trebitsch trying to place the mashed frown, looking back and forth between Neumann’s broad shoulders. His eyes popped wide open when he recognised Ludendorff. He shook the General’s hand again and was laughing giddily.

Upstairs, Max talked passionately of contributions, agreements and frontier rectifications. He means military dictatorship, said Luttwitz. The military would rise, Max told them, it was only a matter of time. They lost because politicians kept interfering with High Command, and now were fighting a war behind enemy lines. Total warfare, said Ludendorff. The foundation of human society, said Max. Trebitsch confessed he wasn’t admitted to the Prince at Wieringen. It was an island of mud, no place for a future King. Max wondered if they might just assassinate the Kaiser: clear the line of succession that way. Luttwitz was Supreme Commander since Ludendorff’s dismissal and said he would convey any order they saw fit but hoped it wouldn’t come to killing the Kaiser. They could tell people he was mad, Ludendorff said. Trebitsch could plant stories through his contacts in the papers. He even had plans for his own paper. Bauer said he would introduce him to the former vice chancellor. When the time comes, said Luttwitz, we can dissolve the Reichstag, outlaw strikes and abolish unemployment insurance. Our men will support us. Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr. Between them they would throw out the undesirable elements and make Germany great again.

Max and Trebitsch met every few days, for drinks or to plan with the others. Sometimes he had the brunette from The Hague, Elsa Von Nagelein, on his arm, or Margaret Lenkiet. His cousin from Budapest, a skinny lad named Krausz joined them and was awed by the company. Max was running late to the meeting at Pabst’s home the night Trebitsch walked out on them. Kapp said he had left half an hour before and didn’t seem quite himself. Ehrhardt was more forthcoming. The Hungarian announced their meetings were a waste of time and they should have overthrown the government already. They carried on without him but Max had a bad feeling. The next day he marched to Trebitsch’s flat on the Doblingerstrasse, near Wulle’s paper. Max found him with a half-packed suitcase laid on the bed, brimming with his friend’s new clothes. His voice was excited and mean.

“I’m going home to Budapest. I don’t know if I will return. I’m tired of politics here. I heard last night the Crown Prince’s adjutants were in Berlin! Did they not even call on you?”

“No, they did not, nor did they call on the General. It seems we were snubbed, however…”

“The Prince is making foolish remarks in the press and if you can’t bring him in line, if we are unable to organise a united action in his favour, well, it is damn pitiful!”

Max nodded. Trebitsch rolled another shirt into his case and said, “the men you surround yourself with? Max, they are just as foolish! The English have a saying: strike while the iron is hot. But for Ludendorff and yourself they’d give the iron away! It’s a miserable shame the lot of it!”

The winter sun passed the window passed and threw a cold shade thrown across Max’s face. “I respect your decision. I am not sure I agree entirely.”

“There is no point in me continuing to be involved in this charade. I must withdraw my services.”

Max heard little of him after that. A friend in the Foreign Office said he’d provided Trebitsch an introduction to the embassy in Berlin. Max’s thoughts were more concerned with the disillusionment among his soldiers as well as the enemies in his own government who kept close watch on him.

It was an early February morning air when insistent knocking came to his door. A brittle winter air slid into his bones as he opened it. Waldemar Pabst, normally in the habit of showing the Colonel due respect, invited himself in and pushed a newspaper into Max’s hands. He was shaking like a leaf. Max took a minute and scanned the lead story. The Allies had called for the arrest of nine hundred military men, including Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Luttwitz and himself.

“The shit has hit the fan,” said Pabst.

 

#
c. Andy Luke.
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