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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.”