The Port of Shanghai.
Friday 9 March, 1928.
Colonel Max Bauer boarded the steamer for Hong Kong. At sixty he was no less imposing. The triple turbines took them into the East China Sea. She was a large ship: 480 feet by 146 metres. Cruising at twelve knots made it a three day journey and Bauer spent the first in his cabin, reading and preparing papers. On the second day they’d only passed Pudong when he found three Germans to lunch with. The men spoke a while longer, the Zhoushan Islands flanking them on one side and Hangzhou Bay on the other. He found them again on the final day as the five year old liner sailed by Taiwan. One pointed out the extensions down the corrugated hull which acted as stabilisers.
“Oh look, there’s the funny fellow again.”
“Who is it?” asked Bauer.
“He’s a German. A strange one. He told me his name is Hermann Ruh,” said the first man.
“He told me his name was Jack,” said the second.
“Fascinating man,” said the third. “but he gave me some Buddhist name.”
“If you’ll excuse me gentlemen,” said Bauer.
Walking, he scrutinised the thin cheekbones and Roman beard, the skullcap and robes. Next to the monk he sat down casually.
“Not such a big world after all,” Bauer said.
“Max Bauer, hello! What an unexpected surprise,” said Trebitsch.
“You look… changed. What is all this?”
“I am finding enlightenment on the Buddhist path.”
“I nearly didn’t recognise you.”
“I believe the self and ego are unimportant so I will take that as a compliment.”
“You have been travelling?”
“I was in a Buddhist house in Peking and before that San Francisco. Of course, I had to leave.”
“The Americans kicked you out.”
“I told them after I arrived I was in the country with the purpose only of growing a church.”
“I read you had been arrested for the murder of the Italian premier,” teased Bauer.
“Do not even joke about that. How did things pan out in Russia?”
“They were not as bad as all that. I assisted in co-ordinating the Red Army in response to the Rapallo treaty. Russia is very powerful, and yet no threat to Germany.”
“There is no reason for war, really. I hope you did not take Wu Peifu up on his job offer. The man is a liar.”
“Wu allied with his former enemies, the Fengtian; but Chiang Kai-shek is the new power in China. He drove Wu out of his base in Hubei, with my help of course, out to the North-west. I assumed you knew of this.”
“I do not bother much with newspapers these days. They are full of violence and exploitation. There is little of relevance.”
“This is how we inform ourselves of the world around us, Trebitsch. Or is it Hermann? Or Jack?”
“I went by both in Peking. I also go by Anagarika Pukkusati. It is a Buddhist name, meaning ‘homeless one.’”
“I like Jack. Jack Fisher!”
“We cannot influence the world unless we stand apart from it. The current state of things is no example.”
Trebitsch looked along the deck as he spoke. The boat accommodated ninety-eight passengers in first class and a hundred and forty-two in second. Folk strolled by them and drinkers laughed far off. An orange sun bowed to the shy grey moon.
“This is the ship I was on when they executed my son.”
“Dear God,” said Bauer.
“They were to dock at Marseilles but we went on to Amsterdam.”
“How did he die?”
“By hanging. I had hoped to… see him before… we spoke to one another by telepathy. I am sure you balk at the notion.”
“No. I did not lose a son. If anything happened to Ernst… my condolences.”
“Thank you. Ignatius was my eldest.”
“A father should not outlive his son.”
“Indeed. Then, I had only set foot in Amsterdam when I was surrounded by reporters. ‘How do you feel about what happened, Mr. Lincoln? Where will you go next?’”
“Yes. I had spent all my money on telegraphing Ignatius so had no choice but to sell them my story. Then they made me haggle; and printed lies. ‘How he met the Kaiser!’ I told them I did not. It was humiliating.”
Baldness had set in on Lincoln emphasising his shell eyes, angled nose and funnel mouth. In brown robes he seemed to take things in stride but it was defiance. Beneath the folds of meditation was damaged goods. The boat rolled him about like a bag of bones.
Bauer said, “You have family in England. Where they with him at the end?”
“The boy’s mother and our youngest travelled from Hamburg. She saw me in Amsterdam after: begged me to give up Buddhism and return to Christianity. That part of my life is over. I had to tell her we could not live together as husband and wife. She was in tears.”
“When was all this?”
“Two years ago. It has not been easy for me.”
“Well of course. Women often forget we have emotions because we do not arm ourselves with them. Why do you set yourself apart from your family?”
“Do not judge me, Colonel.”
“I meant no disrespect, sir.”
“The spiritual path is my prime concern. I sent several letters to the British to ask if I may visit my son’s grave. They would not allow it.”
“That is a shame.”
“I have tried my best to make amends there: I wrote to apologise for past mistakes; re-applied for citizenship; asked them kindly if I may enter Calcutta to go to Tibet. They ignore me.”
“This is the pig-headed British, and bureaucracy. I endure similar frictions from Weimar in trying to further Sino-German relations. Kai-shek, on the other hand, has been very helpful. When I return to Berlin, I will have his top man, Chen Yi. We could use your expertise too.”
“No. Thank you. Even were I interested they would not allow it.”
“They called an amnesty for all those involved in the putsch.”
“I tried to see Margarethe in Hamburg. I was told I would not be let in.”
“Trebitsch, if you are with me, and you have Kai-shek’s backing, they will not challenge it.”
“Look at me, Colonel. The mobilisation of armies is everything I oppose. The Noble Eightfold Path is my focus. Where would my place be in your operation?”
Twelve balls of light materialised on deck as if cast from the silvery moon or reflecting sea. They moved with Trebitsch as he looked to Bauer, who could not see them. They coalesced and from the centre a brittle, translucent humanoid emerged, with notepad and pen.
“It is not all about ordering guns and explosives or engaging in warfare. I am working with the Julius Berger Konsortium to develop China’s railway system.”
Trebitsch could make out the words the spectre wrote:
To Kreitner. Autobiography.
1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu
– Developing railways
The words then were blotted out by grey speckles over-writing the transparent form.
“We’re developing communications with the help of Beier-Ifa, and Junkers have asked me to be their representative in Nanking. The W33 and 34 are new commercial aircraft. They’ve been very successful.”
The creature gained definition. It was Trebitsch, several years older, but there, in robe and skullcap. It was strange to view himself in this way.
“The Chinese still have to learn there must be interdependency in all aspects when running a country. A central plan with the military at that centre. I tried to tell the Russians, and my own people.”
The other Trebitsch did not look up from his notepad. It might have been an unsettling feeling: it should have been. Trebitsch felt as if he understood, even though he did not.
“For example, Kai-shek’s pride and joy is the Whampoa Military Academy. I said, move it, Canton to Nanking. Let me hire fifty German officers to advise and train your men.”
The second Trebitsch was de-materialising from grey particles back to translucent form. Then the first of the mercury balls slowly began to re-form.
“He considered this plan and approved it: no sentimentalism. This Summer Chen Yi and myself will interview the candidates.”
The twelve balls drew out into a circle, hung over the deck for a moment and then sped off like shooting stars. Trebitsch stared out to sea, not flinching.
“We aim to improve the quality of China’s produce and open their market to German goods”
“They only want you for the moment. Colonel, they do not want foreigners.”
“You are wrong about that.”
“Am I? You are dealing with provincial dictators intent on slaughter and oppression.”
“No. Rule under Kai-shek will be different. You said they would not drop their Marxist ways, but there’s been mass expulsion of Russian advisors.”
“I heard thousands were massacred,” said Trebitsch.
“Communism simply does not fit with law and order there. Nothing to do with ideology.”
“And now China has civil war. Anyway, I am out of politics. I do wonder about Yang-Sen.”
“I never met him. Did you say he had a friend who claimed to be 250 years old?”
“I believe in the immortality of consciousness and the soul. I am not a fool.”
“I wondered if I might meet the two men we were with in Europe, but no. I did meet Ehrhardt and Von Jagow. The Chief of Police?”
“Yes. They hung the whole putsch business on him.”
“Four years inside. He sued the Imperial Court to have his pension back-paid.”
“So they had no choice but to bring in the amnesty,” said Trebitsch.
Age fell on Bauer: his smiling cheeks given to depressing creases; a back which stooped. Always neat in shirt and dress trousers but the weather of his life had bitten his hands to the veins.
“Kapp died in prison in Leipzig: cancer. General Maercker’s gone. We lost Hugo Stinnes to a burst gall bladder.”
“How is Captain Ehrhardt?”
“Healthy. As opinionated as ever. He’s been getting job offers. Escherich in Bavaria wants to form a new Ogresch army. And from Pabst. Vienna put him in charge of the Heimwehr. Mussolini is funding him, but I think you might want to stay clear of Waldemar Pabst.”
“I think he wants to put the White International back together.”
“Goodness. No! That time has passed, Colonel!”
“Krauss leads the National Officers Association in Vienna. It may happen”
“Time has not altered your wit. It would seem it has not altered Pabst’s either.”
Bauer rumbled with laughter. Trebitsch too, holding a smile as he recounted Pabst’s sneaking up on them with the fake red beard, Bauer gesturing wildly to portray the size of it.
“What else did Ehrhardt say?” asked Trebitsch.
“We talked about Hitler. Of course they’re all around him. The fools Wulle, Reventlow and Stephani. The smart men, from Ludendorff to Weigand. I heard Biskupski is bankrolling him. Anyway, Ehrhardt did not have much in the way of kind words about Hitler.”
“Ludendorff has fallen out with me, or rather his new wife has.”
“Erich is old and not always in his right mind.”
“She is a mad occultist. In with all sorts of poison creatures. This began when I approached a Buddhist group in Peking led by Alice Cleather and Basil Crump, followers of the late Madame Blavatsky.”
“Black magic. What did you want with them?”
“Blavatsky herself went to Tibet, but yes, Theosophy is fake Buddhism trapping Europeans. I only learned this after I asked Cleather for an introduction to the Panchen Lama.”
“I don’t know that one.”
Trebitsch looked to the black, dull Taiwan Strait and the forms of the Penghu archipelago. Only the nearest of Japanese controlled islets, Magong, burned its lights back at them. The chill was jabbing now as the boat bounced on the waves.
“He is the senior monk. Where the Dalai Lama provides access to Westerners, we in the East look to the Panchen Lama. His teachings are purer, closer to the source. I have been corresponding with Dr. Grimm in Munich about this.”
“So this ‘Lama’ can help you to reach Tibet?”
“Yes. Well, he was in Mongolia… and these… kooks! They think they have exclusive rights to him. In a week they’re smearing my name over Peking, blabbing my whereabouts to all the press and police. One local official asked if I was spying for the Russians!”
“Maybe it was the beard.”
“I saw them go to the British consulate. Perhaps they plot with Lampson and Steptoe there!”
“That seems extreme. Why would they do this?”
“Jealously! They think I wish to lead their silly group. I have no time for such nonsense! The Theosophists have detectives tracking me all round Northern China. I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Tell the Shanghai police. In turn, that puts the British on them. Or work for us in Nanking and you could use your position to kick them out. Alright, alright. The offer is an open one.”
The wind flapped away at Trebitsch’s robes and he bundled his arms together. A moment’s thought and though it was so dark Bauer could barely see him, Trebitsch gave a gentle smile.
“I will get to Tibet. I thought long on it. ‘Burma? India? Ceylon? Siam? I cannot stay in those areas legally.’ Though truthfully with Hong Kong it’s the same, and we will be there by morning. Who knows? Next year, Munich??”
“Ha ha. Very good, Trebitsch. Now… it is past my bedtime. I will see you in the morning. Good night.”
“To you also.”
At Victoria Harbour, Bauer said he was sure their paths would cross, and they parted on good terms. Both sailed on SS Coblenz again: Bauer on his frequent trips between Germany and China. Trebitsch was mostly off-grid that year. He was not aware of the pressure put on his comrade by the German and Japanese governments. Among others, Lampson and Steptoe were watching Bauer, aware of his violations of the Versailles Treaty.
Trebitsch returned to that night many times in solitary meditation. It was a month after his fiftieth birthday, May 1929, when the mystery of the spectral doppelgänger, and Bauer’s public journeys were revealed to him. In a church in Shanghai, Madame Kai-shek placed a wreath of white roses on the coffin. Outside the church, the German war banner hung with that of China’s Kuomintang party. Trebitsch struck up conversation with one of the soldiers.
“What did he die of?” asked Trebitsch.
“Smallpox. He’s the only man in the village infected. It is sure evidence of assassination.”
“We have all suffered a terrible loss. You must excuse me. Thank you for your time.”
Trebitsch returned to his room above the Hollandisch Restaurant in the French Concession. It was a simple abode; he’d few belongings. He took out his pen and notepad and began to write.
To Kreitner. Autobiography.
1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu
– Developing railways
– Transport systems