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.
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