Kowloon, Hong Kong, South China.
Monday 16 April, 1928
Rain sloshed by the glass, fall shelves of transparencies, damp seeping into the crammed apartment. He moved, skinned head above ochre robes. His identity: kitchen cleaner. The moments of surface wiping, cloth folding and dusting re-energised his space and his health. Then he became tenzuo, cook. He arranged two carrots, a potato, parsley, as knock bang knock reverberated at the door.
“Trebitsch Lincoln? I’m from the South China Daily News.”
The voice was male, British with a hint of American, forty-something.
“There is no one here of that name,” said Trebitsch.
“Are you plotting more intrigue against the British Empire?” he asked.
Breathing calmly, Trebitsch opened the door. The man was five foot and forty-something. He’d a full head of grey-red hair, slits of blue eyes and was clean shaven.
“Now listen. My time in politics has ended. I simply wish to be left alone,” said Trebitsch. And they talked.
Peking, North China.
Three Weeks Later: May, 1928.
At her temple, Alice Cleather raked sand in n gentle geometric motions. Her moves reflected the changes of the city: new streets and public parks, changing attitudes to food, waste and water. Though replaced by Nanking as the capital, she was not done yet. For a half hour the woman in her mid-eighties had forgotten this and forgotten the burden of leadership. The once graceful round curves of her body has become thin, sharp and jagged. She hears the detective’s approach, and quieter, Basil’s steps. She didn’t look, just carried on marking out the furrow.
“You’d do well to keep your people close,” said Doyle. “Thirty dead in Jinan last night. The Japanese and Kai-shek’s forces each converge on Peking.”
“Yes we heard,” said Basil. “Where is Trebitsch Lincoln?”
“I spoke with him in Kowloon,” said Doyle. “Pretended to be a journalist. Didn’t get much; the authorities deported him two weeks later.”
“Good,” said Basil.
“They deported him by sea,” Doyle said. “I have a contact that puts him in Dalian.”
Cleather slowed her rake down to a vibration near stillness. For the first time she looked up, into the chubby face and grey-red hair of her sleuth. Her calm fell into distress, mouth and eyes knocked wide open. Tall Basil Crump was usually unflappable. The news of their competitor reflected Cleather’s panic in his tired dark eyes.
“He’s in Manchuria?” asked Cleather. Though English she’d grown a Chinese accent, a venomous one, and the words came out like a spit.
“Possibly Manchuria. Rumours grow easily round this fellow,” said Doyle.
“What did he say to you in Kowloon?” asked Basil.
“Very little. That he devotes his life to spiritualism. He intends to reach Tibet.”
“Dalian is three days by foot from Mudken…” said Cleather.
“The Panchen Lama is in Inner Mongolia,” said Basil.
“Far from persecutors and pretenders. As it should be,” said Cleather.
“We need to address the bill,” said Doyle, taking a sheet from his jacket.
Cleather waved it away. “Basil will pay you on the way out.”
She watched them leave and then turned back to work. A monk behind her threw a seed out in slow motion.
“Jiahao, come here,” she said.
The Foreign Office, London
One Year Later: June 1929
William Tyrrell took Lincoln’s file and slapped it on his desk. Each time there was a new Minister, especially a Labour minister, he was required to train them up. Official policy stated Lincoln was to be ignored. Reports on his activities were also discouraged. The existence of his file was a paradox-fuelled headache emblematic of the man himself.
There were many reports the previous year, most from friends of Buddhists and Theosophists in Peking. They were international, of course, right down to a Croydon bank manager. Tyrrell turned the pages faster. April: Shanghai, Hangchow; Mid-May: Tientsin, Manchuria, and then Tientsin again in August. There, Vice-Consul George had ignored orders, and listened to Lincoln’s paranoid tales. Lincoln had stalkers and George wanted to know if he should be offered police protection.
Tyrrell remembered this was when he’d tired rebuking officials with bothersome sightings. George’s superior, Jamieson had written the next day, of Lincoln’s sell-out public lecture to the Tientsin Rotary Club. Jamieson had written them a strongly worded letter. Then the same from Ambassador Lampson in Shanghai the very next day! The previous Autumn Tyrrell had reprimanded Lampson’s second, Steptoe, on the Lincoln matter.
William Tyrrell wondered why they had so much intel on a man supposedly dead to them. Today’s entry was a plea from Lincoln, asking to be let into England to see his sons. It came through the PM’s office, wired on a boat from Shanghai to Hamburg. Before Tyrrell put it with the others he flipped the next page forward and back and found a strange thing. Six months before, an official statement from the Indian government denying Lincoln (nor T.E. Lawrence) were in Afghanistan.
Other than the report of no report, and the PM’s message, there were, well, no reports. For a year, Lincoln had seemingly disappeared.
Shanghai, East China Coast.
One Year Later: May 1930.
The central waterfront strip, The Bund, was home to the five floor Cathay Hotel. Completed only a year before, it was a luxurious sanctuary from the world’s cares. Noel Coward and Emily Hahn stayed here. Charlie Chaplin called by. Brawls erupted in the streets outside but arrangements between police and crime gangs kept the parties in swing. It was a magical time in a magical city with an edge to it: the storm that was about to break.
Walking through the ground floor brasserie, property magnate Silas Hardoon waved to his tenants: the shaven-headed monk and the silver haired ex-politician. They waved back as Hardoon passed. It was eight years since Lincoln waited for Bauer in Vienna, and enlisted Kreitner to ghost write his autobiography.
“I missed his funeral. He had me on a job in Berlin,” said Kreitner.
“Energy is the true matter of the universe. Bauer is still at work. After I was barred from entering Germany I made it to Rotterdam, and crossed the Netherlands into Belgium. I worked on the book on the train and when I arrived in Paris. It is ready.”
“Did you change those names?” asked Kreitner.
Trebitsch bent over for his satchel. In the space behind him Cleather’s monk, Jiahao, faced Kreitner. Trebitsch raised his head. In his hands were two hundred typed and marked pages. He ran his fingers across ‘his’ first chapter, liquid metal flapping from beneath his nails. He repeated the motion on chapter two as the silver formed tiny spheres. A dozen floating pearls circled Trebitsch’s field of vision. As he spoke they seemed to spark.
“There are people who have wronged me. While I have a platform, I will not be idle while they wrong others.”
Kreitner lifted a chapter from the pile and flicked through to the second page. “They won’t print this. And if they do, we’ll be sued in court!” he said.
Trebitsch countered, “We name names or foist obsolete negativity upon the world.”
“We’ll be open to libel,” said Kreitner as he put a pen through two lines.
Trebitsch sunk his head and Jiahao watched.
Peking, North China.
One Year Later: May 1931.
Political power and wealth are leaving Peking. Bank capital disappears to nothing. It becomes the old world again, in narrow dusty streets. Yet the people continue. There are street kitchens, barbers, cloth shoe cobblers, and one man theatres. Men walk their birds. Cigarette stubs are turned to new rollies by coolies. Cleather’s monks stroll along Wangfujing with it’s many shops. The cool air stirs their consciousness. On a bench, a balding old Westerner with a full grey-red beard reads a hardback.
Cleather said, “I like the beard, Mr. Doyle. Three years has made all the difference.”
He stared up at her and the two acolytes. “Speak of the devil. I guess you’ve seen this?”
Doyle raised the book. Cleather’s acolyte, Basil Crump took it. The cover title was ‘Die Autobiographie eines Abenteurers’, authored by I.T. Trebitsch-Lincoln.
“Autobiography of An Adventurer,” said Doyle. “Berliners can’t get enough of it. Have you had dealings with him lately?”
“We have not,” said Cleather.
Doyle told her, “He’s in Nanking. His latest nom de plume is Chao Kung.”
“Yes, we are aware of this,” said Basil. He passed the book to Cleather who waved it off.
“Yes, you’re watching him,” said Doyle. “How many updates has Jiahao sent in the last year?”
“Our decision has been made,” said Basil.
“We do not require your services, Mr. Doyle,” said Cleather.
He leafed back through to his place in the book. “The British employed me to track him. I thought you might appreciate some of the benefits of that at a discount.”
“We have no need of rude outsiders,” said Basil.
“Good day, Doyle,” said Cleather.
An hour later, Basil remarked to Cleather that Doyle must have faith in his sources. If Trebitsch was in the South, in Nanking, what was Doyle doing there in Peking, a thousand kilometres away?
At the same moment Doyle was sat aboard a train, across from the Venerable Master. He rolled in and out of sleep eight hours to Nanking, eyeing the monk occasionally. The carriages paused at Tientsin then carried on twenty minutes to the new capital.
Nanking still rebuilt from Kai-shek’s power grab four years before. Then raided embassies and mass looting drew reprisals from the international community. The British had sent heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, explosive rounds and bomb craters, Snipers returned fire and forty people died, mostly the Chinese, until one of Kai-shek’s commanders reigned his men in. Deserters and communists were blamed. Now Nanking was home to a fast growing population. The Kuomintang party hosted national conferences and outlined progress toward a constitutional government.
The next day two birds winged by as Doyle followed the bells toward the laurel trees. The brick building he sought was at the heart of Pao-hua Shan temple. Inside, public observers of the ceremony were sat on chairs around the edges. He joined Prop-Moller, a Dane expert in Buddhism, as twelve monks read the twelve precepts of the Bodhisattva.
Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t engage in sexual misconduct. Don’t lie or engage in wrong speech. Don’t sell or consume alcoholic beverages or other recreational drugs.
The Venerable Master’s palms were together in prayer and Trebitsch Lincoln a.k.a.‘Chao Kung’ kneeled to the left of him. A triangle chimed between the chanting of each commandment.
Don’t discuss the faults of the Buddhist assembly. Don’t praise oneself and speak ill of others. Don’t be stingy or hostile to others who are less fortunate.
Doyle got that this was a big deal. The initiation of the Bodhisattva, the one who stays behind; he who delays reaching nirvana out of compassion for all.
Don’t harbour anger or resentment. Don’t slander the triple Jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha.
Then, the Venerable Master said there were forty-eight other precepts and the monks began to chant each in turn. Doyle stifled a sigh. He wasn’t one for sitting around, hence checking on the Master in Peking. Twelve candles smoked, and would have warmed his heart but they had first been dipped in India ink and the fumes stank. Cleather’s man Jiahao was there, knelt on floor cushions with other monks. Among the guests he spied a monk he saw with Cleather and Basil Crump before leaving Peking. Doyle was sure of it. Perhaps they, or ‘Chao Kung’, would recognise him. He’d have an excuse to leave. He wondered how many pages there were to the ordination booklets.
The monks rose and Master spoke and they chanted more and he didn’t understand much of it. Then, one stepped forward and covered the head of ‘Chao Kung’ with a shawl. ‘Kung’ was led to the foot of the Master, literally, taking the ankle in both hands. The first candle was brought forward. The Master dipped a pen into it and scribed a star into Kung’s forehead. He gripped the Master’s leg tight as the pen seared his flesh. A second star was tattooed on the initiate’s head, then, a slow third carving and Doyle’s face was pale. The initiate’s face contorted. He trembled and squeezed the Master’s leg through the fourth and fifth. There were twelve stars in all and the pain was immense. He resisted screams that would have been heard throughout Nanking.
Peking, North China.
Six Weeks Later: June 1931.
On her walk through Tianamen Square Alice Cleather tried not to think about the second man she’d sent to follow Lincoln, or the news he’d brought back. It was the morning Lincoln’s book had been reviewed in the London Times. ‘Short and summary, makes amazing reading.’ As she turned onto Dongjiaomin Alley she saw the English edition in the window of a book-store. Cleather breathed in cold morning air to keep anger at bay. She approached the Grand Hôtel des Wagons-Lits on Qianmen East. On the hotel wall, Lincoln’s face looked sombrely down on her.
The poster read, ‘The Abbot Chao Kung in Three Public Lectures: The Mysteries of The World, Of Life, Of The Self.’
The fire gathered in Cleather’s breath. She whirled her head around and saw two monks walk the pavement opposite.
“You see this??” she screamed. “They have taken this ‘creature’ into their confidence!! The Europeans think he is some holy one!”
As blood mist evaporated from her face, she recognised the monks. The first was Chao Kung, the second was disloyal Jiahao. Disappointed, Jiahao shook his head before returning to the noble eightfold path.