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.
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