Chapter 37

Batavia, Java.
Friday 17 October, 1924.

Clifford sits alone in the hallway, listening to Father pitch (through the walls) to the Principal. Batavia wouldn’t be his first school, no. The cheerful thirteen year old has learned in London, Hamburg and Nanking. The Principal hears tales of monasteries and warlords and the pirates of the Yangtze. They left China only days after Wu Peifu’s forces suffered a major loss to Zhang Zuolin in another fruitless Zhili–Fengtian conflict. He had warned Wu, and General Chi. Trebitsch hopes his youngest will become an entrepreneur or political advisor. With his back to the hall’s stained crème plaster, Clifford sits still while his father talks of investment.

Java was wild and wet, yet large and free. At Palabuhanratu, the rice paddies touch a black sand beach. Looking out to the shore, the green stretches are squared, hedged, serrated; a half dozen palm trees before the baby blue and periwinkle Indian Ocean which floats rafts by misty asparagus hills. Astride two black buffaloes, the males waddle in. Seven volcanic mountains rise over the bay. There are thirty-eight in total, snaking west to east. Clifford is a ray of light as they track the lush and scenic forests nearby. At Cipanas Hot Springs boiling water bubbles up from river rock pools and he sees his father smile.

Trebitsch lifts up a shoe at Pasar Baru market. He studies the sole from heel to toe and places it back on the rack. The great concentration of people in these narrow streets slow them to look at the china, the silver-ware and herbal remedies.

The Batavia school is English language and the children have been lifted from all parts of the globe. They are from Java and Sumatra, Vietnam, Indochina and China. They are British, Dutch, Hindi, Muslim and mixed sex. One of the boarders has heard Clifford’s father is famous. A spy, a criminal? The boy has been told not to answer these questions. Did he change his name like Mrs. Jamu?

He barely knows his father but is fixed to his side at every chance. Trebitsch wears a white linen suit with a high collar; a pith helmet plumped on the back of his head. Soon John wears one, and then Clifford. They will be a family of planters. From the Great Post Road they can see all of Java’s lush, rugged countryside. It is only weeks after John’s twentieth birthday. Spirits rise as they’re climbing Puncak Pass, fifteen hundred metres up. Clifford and his parents laugh at the sight of John on the rug, fallen asleep under Australian Eucalyptus. When he awakes they descend to fertile, cultivated fields.

This is unlike any place he’s known. The curtains seem to shine. Stray cows wander dusty and humid paths. This vision, of the Lincoln family future, won’t come cheap. The parents must travel to Europe in search of finance, a loan. The world takes them and Clifford thinks he understands his father’s sadness. Christmas days are just like any others. On New Years Eve, this youngest son dreams in snippets of his father visiting them in Bucharest with great news about oil. He was three years old at the time. The memory is happy and uncluttered.

There are twelve boys in bunk beds, farting and slinging and snoring; hanging out to dry sweaty vests and towels. The wet season gurgles at the windows. Concentration during lessons is strained. On the first weekend John takes him out past the tall Dutch country houses lining the Molenvliet Canal. The people who live there own shipping and trading companies in Weltevreden: to the south. They are in Weltevreden the next weekend. They re-trace the steps around the Pasar Baru markets. Containers of quinine bark from the old town storage centres of Kota trail, then pass them, bound for the shops.

Clifford makes friends, prized for his football skills. The pitch soil is wet and dark, and sticks to him like it is supposed to. He is not so good with the books. The temple bells, once a joy, now nag and he is distracted with gossip and capers. Mrs. Jamu scolds him. He is falling behind, and does not want to visit the Principal. When Clifford sees his brother he says he shouldn’t worry. They’ll not be here long. They trek again to Cibodas Gardens, where John fell asleep on the rug. He has a job there now, harvesting quinine from the cinchona trees. Quinine is a key anti-malaria remedy and an active ingredient in Indian tonic water. Lake-side, under European conifers, they talk of Ignatius: employed at Trowbridge Barracks, England. When asked why Ignatius changed his name to John, John quickly says it was so he can be more like him. Clifford doesn’t believe his brother. John talks about how he and Ignatius had travelled from school in London to visit their mother for Christmas in Bucharest ten years before. Ignatius had insisted on making all the travel arrangements. Lining up the timetables and buying the tickets, he led the pair of them across Europe. A black swan glides across Mandalawangi Lake in front of them. A gamekeeper’s shot startles it into flight, and it leaves ripples that slosh against the edges after they’ve gone.

Clifford would like to live with John at Cibodas Lodge and the whole dorm hear of it. He’s ingratiated himself with one of the popular gangs but isn’t smart enough to duck a beating. He plays hooky at Hindu temples, abandoned when Islam came, were rice is left out for gods and rats. He sees the protests for Jakarta independence, the martial artists and the shadow puppet theatre. The Principal had assumed Clifford was as trustworthy as his father and cannot understand why John is not as capable as him. Clifford’s behaviour, they say, is completely inappropriate. It flies in the face of everything he should be doing. John says all his work may as well be for nothing. Clifford leaves, sure in himself, that all their problems are his fault. He tries harder: at Maths; History; neatens his hand-writing and develops consistency of style. John works over-time the following two weeks. Clifford wonders if it’s because he isn’t important enough to be with. He buries this. He dreams of a pile of gold, fading, and his mother’s hair. A letter from her arrives from south-eastern France. They were in Marseilles, are now in Nice, and proceeding to Monte Carlo. Father has calculated a full proof method of winning at baccarat.

Mrs. Jamu takes the boys to feed and pet the horses. They are warm and firm and brave. Spring is here and with his parents return imminent, Clifford knuckles down. The geography teacher singles him out for best homework. He passes a test, then another.

Beyond the sports pitch, hanging cocoa pods are macheted and piled. Other labourers work the palm oil plantations: fields of green shrubs under a blue sky. Clifford runs track laps rain or shine, managing his pace and time. He no longer needs John or Mrs. Jamu to tell him he is doing well. He has enough.

Mother writes to John again. The youngest son is quietly angry with the elder’s demeanour; how he drags his feet along the road, and his tired eyes. Clifford, though, has the same bitterness associated with his parents. They had travelled to Rome to see the Pope, The Hague, then Cologne, where they met Julius and his new wife. Trebitsch has gone on to New York and Margarethe is in Hamburg. The boys are to come to her. They both expected it. John is off on a rant. Where will he find the money for the travel? What about Clifford’s school fees? His boss may let go of him at any moment if he doesn’t work more over-time.

Clifford’s fourteenth birthday is spent alone in the dorm. He thinks about how John is so sick: perhaps it is his fault. He is driving his brother away. They will take him; just like the Viennese police took his father three years before. With these things in mind it makes much more sense to fail his Summer tests.

John secures the travel permits. He finds no way around it but to explain that he cannot afford to go with his brother. It is the job. Their debts will be paid in no time. He hugs Clifford goodbye and the boy steps onto the heavy and lumbering boat. Fish swirl in a mud pond underneath. The engine whinges and purple bellows of smoke fail to surf the wave. The boat bounces and Clifford takes his seat on the wooden bench. They leave behind water buffaloes, a floating bamboo raft, fields of horses and the snaking volcano horizon. He moves away from Christmas Island, Sumatra, leaves Indonesia. Everywhere around are tiny tidal pools, little self-contained swirls. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Past the Bay of Bengal but before the Arabian Sea lies Colombo. Off its coast thunder strikes water and springs hard upon the vessel.

He spends many more weeks by train crossing Eurasia to find his mother. He thinks of Ignatius and John’s trip to Bucharest a decade before. He knows they will be proud. He is taking the long way back.

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Chapter 36

St. James’ Square, London.
Friday 28 September, 1923.

The sale goes in Hamptons’ ledger, another commission earned. The nineteen year old tells Brian he can maybe sell the properties on Lambeth Road. The rain lashes on the glass front of the office. It is only a silver street by the time he’s out onto the embankment. There’s a homeless man, about fifty, and he gives him a penny; tells him he was once on that same bench and they wish each other better days. John’s home is a single room in Spitalfields. He sits on his bed, letter pad in his lap and writes to Ignatius at Trowbridge Barracks. He returns the ten pounds. Though his brother had asked him not to repay him, John derives small mischief from the gesture. He goes to bed thinking how lucky he is. He thinks of Edward, living with his adopted parents in York, and Linda, the office secretary with smooth black locks. His sleep is warm and restoring.

Each morning he slows down at the pawnshop looking for his mother’s ring. He scrutinises the display and it is gone, for the cobblers, a heel mended against Westminster’s showers. Perhaps he can make it up to her, to both of them. He gets to the office early. There’s another letter from his father: the Chinese job is very important. He needs John’s help. He must understand. John wonders why only Magnus is in the office and puts the letter back in the envelope. He counts and piles the receipts, makes short tallies. Magnus sits down beside him and tells John about the changes. Brian was too soft on the staff and Linda wasn’t what they were looking for. Somewhere between memories of his paternal, good humoured boss and the day-dream of Lincoln & Sons Ltd, John is asked if he wants to continue under the new company appointed manager. He casually tells them no, not really, and it is a decision he will regret.

The timetables say he can arrive in Zurich on the afternoon of October 29th. He has no belongings to sell, some money in the bank and time on his passport. Before he leaves his father writes again. His commands are to be obeyed. He must come. John takes a boat from Dover to Calais. The Wagons-Lits carriages speed him from there to Paris. A different track and he ascends the Morvan peaks of Burgundy. The train sidles along the Doubs river until Saint-Ursanne, across the Swiss border. At Zurich Hauptbanhof his father waits on the platform. Trebitsch holds his arms out as if waiting to embrace John, then he disappears momentarily: the hug was not meant for him. He stops his father as they’re leaving the platform: Bauer; Suez; Chiang and Viktor, introduced at length drop their guard back at the hotel. They are impressed with how he looks over their projections, prospectuses and balance sheets. He feels like one of them. He is alarmed to discover that his mother and Clifford are due any day. His father had forgotten this, the clash with their very important meeting with Stinnes. This pains John because it feels familiar. General Chiang says Margarethe’s arrival necessitates a special welcome.

The next day Suez is ordering specialist porcelain and arranging for Chinese food and drink to come. He brings long silk robes to John, and a skull-cap. The men each have one, which they wear to Hauptbanhof Station. His mother does not see them: for each person disembarking a thought spins unresolved behind her travelled face. Clifford points to them. They are like five monks, he says. Margarethe looks at them twice over, and they bow respectfully.

John is not pleased that his mother and brother, just come from Hamburg, have to return there after only days. Mother says nothing but the twelve year old questions the decision openly, to Viktor’s amusement. They travel the longer route, via Berlin, and already John is regretting coming. At Berlin, his father puts them on the next train and goes back to Zurich. Mother laments the missed opportunity of visiting Julius who is stationed nearby.

I met Ignatius over the Summer. And his girl, Lily Morgan,” John says.

That’s good. You know not to call him ‘John’ around his father. It was fine when Ignatius was a boy, but his reasons–”

I can see the sea!” says Clifford, as he paws the windows.

Through the ages, Hamburg was decimated by Vikings, The Black Death, The Great Fire and a cholera epidemic, and each time she was rebuilt. The city was spared the worst of the hyperinflation punishing Germany, on account of her large port trade. Margarethe took her sons along the river Elbe where their grand-father once worked, and to the Jerusalem Mission House where their own father had studied. There were no extra items to pack or loose ends to tie. John suspected the only reason they were there was so they were not in Zurich. He would walk along the jetty at nights, thinking of taking a liner to Canada. Two weeks later, Father wanted them back with him.

They returned to a blazing row. Colonel Bauer had been asked to Russia as a guest of the state. Trebitsch said it couldn’t have been worse timed, that he was letting Wu Peifu down. Bauer put his hands up and told him to calm himself. Moscow was only temporary: he would likely be in Nanjing in two weeks. As he went, Bauer gave John a firm handshake, the sort that nearly breaks bones. Their own journey to the Italian port of Genoa took a long day by high speed tracks; a week’s sailing to Shanghai. Aboard the liner, John noticed Clifford was not like other boys his age: he was pensive and still. Their parents talk with the Chinese about schooling and the arts, and he wonders if they aren’t overlooking the kid. Wang Suez is telling the story of how Shanghai first opened to the West; where Christian missionaries physically forced the city gates. John tells Clifford they had to fight through dragons thirty feet tall. Their father begins to talk about the serious business of railways. Already there are services connecting Shanghai, Beijing and the North. John knows this, and that the expansion boom passed ten years ago. His skills, developed as an estate agent, trained him to read up and he has Nanjing facts stored away just for sharing with Clifford. The gardens there have enormous tortoises and elephants made from stone. There are old, old burial sites: the body of the Emperor’s brother, from the fifth century.

Shanghai is a bustling cosmopolitan port. There are many political and Jewish emigres from Russia. Father is constantly out meeting them all. Mother is at once uncomfortable. John recalls another Christmas, ten years past, when she lived in Bucharest. Lost as to the language and prices, she depends on her sons to help her shop and this is no different. Boldly, John corners Suez at the Oriental Hotel and explains she needs help. A guide is discretely arranged.

Several weeks later the train brings them to Nanjing. The weather is like London’s: cold damp rain every day. The street sellers tout lamb kebabs and salted duck, honey duck, duck oil blood, all duck, all the time. Also radishes, which locals are obsessed with. Neither John nor Clifford care for radishes.

Nanjing was once China’s capital and size is everything. The City Walls are fourteenth century granite, limestone packed layers of gravel, yellow earth and broken bricks, their joints coagulated by mixed lime, tung oil and cooked rice water. Mid January masses rclimb the walls as part of some festival which John never truly understands. He walks on the banks of Qinhuai, ‘Nanjing’s mother river’, tributary of the Yangtze, where there are barges, bazaars, lanterns and Fuzimino the old Confucius Temple, now a barracks, and the New Year’s fireworks whistle over, popping in showers of green and red. In the mornings he looks out at Purple Mountain, named for the ethereally covered clouds signalling his transportation to this alien world. Pink cherry blossom trees are in bloom.

All these spells distract John from the vaguest murmur that says he is unemployed. After all, he is taking Chinese lessons. They were arranged by his father so that John can act as translator. Yet Trebitsch is never around. Clifford attends Hillcrest American School, while their mother fusses over their spacious home, dusting its rectangles and ethnic baubles. There are silk screens and hanging scrolls, though the floor is covered with garish kitchen linoleum, one of many anomalies Wu Peifu had installed in the mistaken belief that the designs were ‘wordly’. Trebitsch briefs Marshal Wu and General Chi Hsien-Yuan, and ratifies the Knolls agreement; he tutors Wu’s son; goes to meetings with Bauer and his secretary; he writes articles for the local English paper and seems to have a new job every week.

The passport office in Nanjing is like most others: world maps on white walls and uninspiring plants; dour wood framed dusty glass kiosks. John finds this both mundane and reassuring. He hands over the Trautwein passport which his father needs endorsed for his trip to Zurich. The clerk asks why Trautwein is returning after only two months. If John is not Trautwein, then Trautwein must appear in person if he wants the privileges of an updated passport. John’s father sends him back. It takes a third visit for John to be successful. Trebitsch is gone a matter of weeks when Suez delivers the news he has been detained by police in Zurich. The charge is of carrying false papers though it is likely he has been released already. John enquires about the contract with Knolls and Suez says he is worried. Not a single dollar has been received.

Bathers are jumping in their number into the Qinhuai signalling the beginning of Spring. The rain is of the particularly wet kind that clings to John, and he wanders, and thinks of Thames embankment. He dreams of escape to Vancouver, not happy with the prospect of looking for work again. A letter from his father brings tears to his mother’s face. Everything is in ruin he says. Knolls turns out to be a small furniture business, a two-bit operation, in no way positioned to deliver the loan they agreed. It is surely Viktor’s fault, and that of Bauer, who has disappeared again. He has been betrayed, embarrassed, six months of his life wasted. There is no point to any of this. John suggests they should move on. His mother agrees but fights the words out through her tears. She has no passport, neither does Clifford. John tells her he will look after them.

Early April is the solar Qingming Festival: observing ancestors with the burning of joss paper and incense sticks. All the departed are similarly honoured on July 15th with Zhongyuan, the Ghost Festival, when the gates of Hell are said to open to let spirits eat and drink. This was the day when Trebitsch returned. On the way home he had learned Chi Hsien-Yuan and Wu Peifu were preparing for war. Suffice to say he was not in a good mood.

After all I have given you here, John, you try to slip away, like some snake! And to add insult to injury you try betray my location to the British government!”

I have a right to my passport, just as mother and Clifford do,” he says.

Oh, you may leave whenever you like,” said Trebitsch.

Well I can’t. He impounded my passport. The consul Harry Steptoe. He said he knew all about me, who my father was, what the passport was really for…”

Steptoe? Right then. We shall take it to his superior, and to the London Foreign Office. Marshal Wu will hear of it!”

He went on and on, making up stories about me using a fake name. Do you know him? This Steptoe seemed to think passport was for you. Now I am stuck here!”

I think I have heard enough back-talk, John. I have enough trouble from bloody furniture men without all this nonsense!! Go and get your writing pad.”

A month later, Eyre Crowe and Basil Thomson discuss the letter mailed through Nanjing consulate. Trebitsch Lincoln’s tone, in angry five point outline, sways them against the whole family. Eventually, after speaking with the Home Office, they grant Margarethe Lincoln and her sons a one-way emergency certificate. Crowe, and Steptoe, receive a response from John Lincoln. The conditions they have imposed upon him are humiliating. He will remain in China against his will until he has a passport like any other British citizen. When John has written as he is told to, Trebitsch instructs him to sign the letter. A few weeks later, Wu Peifu gets involved in the doomed Beijing Coup. Father is tired of the Generals’ cold callousness, the political corruption, and tells the family to pack their bags.

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Chapter 35

Piazza San Marco, Venice.
Monday 3 September, 1923.

Venice’s centre and everywhere is calm; life relaxes. People buy fish and hand-crafted lace. The rain from the night before has created a mini-canal across the centre of the square. On the south side a brass band plays ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and a man feeds pigeons. They hobble around the porch, under the tables of Caffe Florian, established 1720. Maximillian Bauer is in tight fitting clothes; clean shaven; unflinching. He looks just as he did at their first meeting. Trebitsch’s hair is cut short, flecks of grey and a few of white. He wears a chequered tweed overcoat and silk shirt, a gift from the Zhili clan. He thanks Bauer for coming. Bauer says nothing. He watches a boy loose a black painted wooden boat on the puddle. The child steps back and imitates the long swings of a gondolier to the amusement of Chiang and Suez. Neither man has been outside China before. They see the flapper girls with eyebrows done in India ink, the men with Broadway hats and moleskin coats. Everything is a wonder to them. Trebitsch’s eyes sink into the stained chequered tiles as a cripple hobbles past him with golden-tipped cane.

Finally Bauer replies. He says Trebitsch’s letter was timed so he had to come, or let them down. He smiles gently at the Chinese. Bauer asks Chiang about his military service. Chiang recounts how the provinces tried to remove the generals from politics, how Beiyang’s Premier made an alliance with Marshal Wu, then betrayed him. Bauer says he recognises every detail. His wartime government were the same. Ebert was the same. Their decisions have led to the hyperinflation currently destroying Germany.

Yet isn’t this a fine thing?” says Trebitsch. “Two of the finest Generals and diplomats each – proven teams – gathered to make great international changes!! Italy, China – Britain’s weak spots – plans in action, unfettered!”

Trebitsch’s chair has one uneven leg which wobbles as he talks. Bauer cold-shoulders him. Trebitsch only wants to redevelop China, make her a first rate global power. Suez says he is sure they will all get along just fine. Bauer has a few ideas to secure the loans China needs. They have a map of Chongqing showing coal deposits and projected railway lines; banks and addresses; persons of interest, points of contacts and overheads. It is only when Bauer is planning with Chiang and Suez does Trebitsch see the familiar light in his eyes.

They spend a week in negotiations: mostly fruitless. Trebitsch insists on being known as ‘Ludwig Tolnai’. They travel to Vienna and Bauer’s friend, Professor Viktor Otte, joins them. He dresses in a chequered tweed overcoat. Trebitsch takes an instant dislike to him. He says Viktor is a pigeon-breasted fake of a man. On their last night they unwind inside Schweizerhaus, corner of Prater public park, a raucous bar. Suez is quickly intoxicated. Chiang and Bauer bond over war stories and Trebitsch watches as they drift from him. Viktor comes back with two beers. There are two more at the bar. Bauer smiles; he will get the others. Trebitsch says he will get his own. The band are loud they shout to be heard.

A lager please! Max. You must be careful using my real name. The Chinese–”

The Chinese are the only reason we are talking,” says Bauer coolly.

Yes, yes, I betrayed you. And I am sorry. But put yourself in my shoes. Stephani would have had me shot!”

He swore to me –”

You were naive to re-employ him and it put me in an impossible position. No matter, it is all done. Let us think of the present, the future, rather than what has gone before.”

Bauer stares into him a moment then lifts the beers and walks away. They are calling for him. Trebitsch pays for his drink and walks around Viktor and Bauer, his chair set apart from the others. Suez has fallen asleep against Chiang’s shoulder. Chiang is offering Bauer a job as Wu Peifu’s foreign advisor. Trebitsch misses the toast. They will celebrate until closing time, says Viktor, but Trebitsch disagrees. They have an early start. Suez ought to be wakened. Viktor says Suez will be a rich young man soon and can sleep where-ever he likes. Trebitsch is not sure whether to scowl or laugh with them.

Ludwig Tolnai’ will not speak with some in Vienna. Some will not speak with him. Alone by Josefstadt Prison and courthouse, people are caught up in new drama, White International revelations long forgotten. Half a mile from there, Cafe Central – six moon chandeliers, satin drapes and marble pillars; a polished wooden tile floor and grand piano – the others are talking excitedly. Suez welcomes him. Viktor has come up with a list of potential investors in Berlin.

The Hungarian embassy refused me a passport. And with this ‘Interpol’ operation.. it seems I will not be joining you all. There are men in Berlin who would have me jailed; or worse.”

I see no reason why this should up-end the mission,” said Bauer.

The Colonel and I will take his place,” said Viktor.

I will stay here and try to make other contacts. I am sorry General Chiang.”

Actually,” says Bauer, “If you are alone here, I do not know if I can protect you. Maybe you should explore our opportunities in Zurich.”

It is neutral territory, more or less,” says Viktor.

Zurich is infernally quiet. He can feel the temperature dropping. He wears items of Asian jewellery and his Chinese skull-cap, to meetings arranged with dead-eyed men. ‘Maybe.’ ‘Perhaps.’ ‘We’ll see what can be arranged.’ The Foehn wind crosses the Limmat River and cuts to his bones. He sits at Confiserie Sprüngli turning his spoon, a gesture rumoured to lure rich old ladies. It doesn’t and he feels old and fat. He is not used to the seat next to him being empty. St. Peter’s, with the largest clock face in Europe, looks down on him. The city is built around Lake Zurich which has less swimmers every day.

On Heimplatz, a dozen streets intersect. He regularly sits at the covered tables of Pfauen Restaurant, known locally as Peacocks, stirs his tea and talks to anyone. His grasp of Swiss-German is poor. He is oblivious to their wishes for solitude. It is at Peacocks he opens the first letter from Bauer. Ludendorff is well, though spends too much time with Hitler. Scheubner-Richter, who introduced them to Biskupski, is positive he can smooth things over with Hugo Stinnes, financier of the Kapp Putsch. Bauer laments it will not to do much good. Money is worthless and he cannot see a future for his beloved country. Trebitsch looks up to the aeroplane from Dubendorf passing the Uetliberg mountains. Then it is gone. He knows for any German deal to pass he must remain outside it all.

He kicks a stone along Heimplatz, and another. He chain smokes, alone at the tables, watches trains around Zurich Hauptbanhof. The tea is low in the mug and the spoon scrapes against the sides. Near Peacocks is the Museum of Design, the ‘combination of aesthetic and functional qualities translating the themes of visual communication’. There are prints and illustrated books going back centuries. Looking closely at a drawing of an 18th century explorer he sees his face reflected in the glass. He is kicking more stones when he remembers Kreitner, the Austrian who discovered China in the 1870s. Kreitner’s son is in Zurich and at the apartment he writes to arrange a meeting. He writes also to Margarethe in Hamburg, and to John, in England.

Gustav Kreitner is in his late thirties: handsome with a bushy head of brown tufts. He is also a former Vienna police director. They laugh when it transpires he knew Trebitsch’s arresting officer. Kronenhalle restaurant is expensive but serves a veal stripped, sautéed, with tagliatelle, paprika and lemon juice. It reminds Trebitsch of Lajos’s kitchen in New York.

Look, Mr. Kreitner. I am Trebitsch Lincoln. I cannot be humble about that. I do not have time for any flash-in-the-pan article. Still, the truth about my life be told. What say you to helping author such a book?”

In October mornings he is at Peacocks most mornings waiting his audience. Kreitner transcribes the tales of the Canadian cleric; the British politician; the American spy; the European revolutionary. The more Trebitsch hears from himself, on himself, the more his enthusiasm is stirred. He shares Bauer’s latest report, how the Chinese have been gifted a signed photo from his good friend Ludendorff. Details of his family are kept to a minimum. Margarethe cannot get a travel permit, or find the right clothes. One delay after the next. He writes that she should come at once or he will send someone to fetch his son.

It is nearly two months since he has seen Bauer. He embraces him on Hauptbanhof’s crowded platform. There is a meeting with Stinnes’ East Asiatic Department in Berlin that Saturday, but Bauer is not returning to Germany. Viktor will accompany the Chinese. Trebitsch will join them part of the way: he has to deal with family in Hamburg. His seething contempt for Viktor has not passed. On that journey he eyes Viktor suspiciously; undercuts the man; briefs Chiang and Suez to do without him.

Back in Zurich the following week, he finds two letters: Chiang says Stinnes has turned them down: they will return soon. The other letter is from Scheubner-Richter: Hitler plans a putsch in Munich. He finds Bauer packing a case and tells him to sit.

You have seen the letter then? It means that Germany will rise,” says Bauer.

No. No. It’s a second ‘Kapp Putsch’, I tell you. I think we two have had a little experience of these affairs, haven’t we?”

You think that nothing will come of it?” Bauer asked.

I not only think, I am certain of it. They will not stand by Hitler. They will betray him before the day is out. Perhaps it is not too late to send a telegram and warn Ludendorff. First though, we must deal with this Chinese matter.”

I have been feeling out a company called Knolls,” says Bauer. “Their base is Stuttgart but they are also in Stammheim, about forty kilometres away.”

Yes, I know Stammheim but I am unfamiliar with this bank,” said Trebitsch.

They are a large industrial concern. I think just what we are looking for.”

They are shocked by Scheubner-Richter’s death and the arrests of Ludendorff and Hitler. Regardless, they open negotiations with Wilhelm Knoll. Wilhelm is a handsome man, well groomed and polite. ‘Ludwig Tolnai’ takes an interest in his family, his brother Walter in Stuttgart, and his young nephew, Hans. Wilhelm finds this endearing. Bauer is all business. If Knolls are willing to supply a loan equal to twenty-five million U.S. dollars, he says, they can have concessions to exploit minerals and operate transport across China. Wilhelm expresses concern over the amount. ‘Tolnai’ says the concessions are exclusive, a virtual monopoly. Wilhelm will confer with the board of directors.

A week later Chiang, Suez and Viktor join them in Stammheim. While they wait in the conference room, Trebitsch steals Bauer’s attention. He has a new photo passport under the name ‘Hans Trautwein’. Bauer laughs. Trebitsch hides it before Viktor can see. Over several hours Wilhelm and his people go over contracts with them. Finally, an agreement is reached. Bauer slaps his chair and rises, shaking hands with everyone.

That evening they celebrate. When asked how he did it, Trebitsch advises Chiang that it all happened with Viktor out of the picture. The next day, Suez tells Viktor his services are no longer required.

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The Watch Thief Chapter 34

Yang-Sen’s Home, Chongqing.
Thursday 19 April, 1923.

From the mouth of Trebitsch’s New York brogues a cockroach raised its bulbous head. It climbed out, onto the concrete floor, and made for the desk as monastery bells rang. It trekked to the bed where Trebitsch slept and remembered Chi’s message: Wu Peifu had given them tens of thousands of men to call upon. Still, Yang-Sen wanted another recruitment drive. The bell’s chimes continued and he dreamt of looking down to a serene and leafy enclosure in the Wu Mountains. It was a temple, and Seebohm Rowntree was there in monk’s tunic. He spoke Italian, and quietly assured Trebitsch that the new army were his army, loyal men all. Then he heard Yang-Sen’s soldiers drilling outside and awoke. It would happen today.

Each of the five sampans carried seven men including two specialist rowers. They twisted in the tantrums of the Yangtze River. Trebitsch watched his crew wrestle the currents. One sailor held on so fiercely the rapids turned his oar against him and bash it back against his skull: he fell to the deck, still clutching it. Blood trickled from his temple to cheek. Trebitsch met his gaze, and then, got it into his head to help him. He rose, just as the next wave forced itself over the bow and his shin crashed into the bench. Roaring waves muted any snap or scream, and nobody else noticed.

Forty men ran across a mud shore. He limped behind on lost ground. They climbed the craggy incline. Trebitsch looked back at four battered sampans.

It was a small settlement. They were burning bamboo roofs and kicking in doors when he got there. The women were beaten with clubs, the men more-so. One of the villagers pulled a gun. They were quick to carve his throat. He flapped in the death rattle and blood swamped the soil. The girls and women had their arms strapped; soldier’s hands at their backs. The sharp-toothed lieutenant targeted one, taller and more defiant than the rest, and the men laughed as he violated her.

Four days later, they were in the workshop. Over eight long tables slaves filed and sanded wood blocks held in steel vices. They were those taken from the village earlier that week. The dummy rifles were Trebitsch’s idea. The one called Wei looked up instinctively as he approached. The look was fleeting. Trebitsch remembered he could have him killed just for doing that. The knife-toothed lieutenant glanced at the advisor, thinking the same. A minute later heavy boot-steps sounded in the hall and the lieutenant punched Wei to the ground. As he was dragged upright he saw the General had arrived.

Mr. Keelan, I though I might find you here,” said Yang-Sen.

It is very inspiring to see them work,” said Trebitsch.

Wu Peifu has invited us to Loyang this weekend. Come,” he said.

Two hours later Trebitsch walked speedily across the garden. He passed the spot where the lieutenant put a bullet into Huang Shenrong’s head. The last ray of sunlight died as he reached his suite. It was a one room building and he flung his door open and launched himself into the desk chair, the quill and the paper. He wrote quickly.

Taxation must be legislative: no longer the arbitrary will of local generals.’

Outside, he heard the laughter of Yang-Sen’s lieutenants. He remembered the villager who dared stand up to the invaders. What did he look like before they cut him? He remembered the bandits hiding there. There were two of them. One was kept as a slave. The other, who had lost the coin toss, was dead before he fell. It didn’t matter. He must keep writing. Wu Peifu was to get everything he had. Trebitsch scored out half sentences going nowhere, wrote on until he came to his second point.

Official corruption: to be discouraged and rooted out. People needed to have confidence in the administration’s honesty…’

Again the quill froze. Some block; as if his mind just stopped. The lieutenant ripping her clothes off. A dozen men laughing, like it was horseplay, him trying to think the same way. He was looking away when he saw the boy hid down in the rushes. He couldn’t have been older than five. Trebitsch crossed out the word honesty’. He re-wrote it, and then crossed it out again as the image stuck with him. Who was the child? Had they killed his father, or was he the son of the woman crying as the lieutenant grabbed her hair?

Honesty… and enactment of justice.’

Stop! Let her go!” yelled Trebitsch.

The soldiers did not speak English. The villager, Wei, had shouted Trebitsch’s command in Chinese and pointed to him. Wei was punched, hard, and his arm twisted underneath him as he hit stony soil.

Three: good roads and railways must be built.’

He could feel the same rain on his clammy skin, the boy watching him as the lieutenant raped her. He’d followed two soldiers into a hut. An elderly woman was sat still in bamboo chair as they grabbed clothes from her shelves and jammed jewellery into their pouches. Trebitsch stood in the corner, watching. He didn’t know if she knew he was there.

He jotted the words down faster and faster.

Army re-organisation and discipline, provision for agricultural instruction…’

With the prisoners rounded up, the lieutenant was told there was not enough room to take the woman. He shoved her behind him, left her. They left, and Trebitsch breathed a sigh of relief.

Public health services must be developed.’

The cockroach scurried over one paper to another. He worked at the dossier through the night and next day through that night. He held nothing back. When he was done he took the papers past the factory and into the administrative office where he asked for a translator. Trebitsch retired early and left instructions he was not to be disturbed. He got into bed and the cockroach returned to his shoe.

Loyang was three days trek through the hills of Ankang were bandits shot and killed one of their men. Upon the frosty peak at Xianyang they were safe. A day east they met with a unit of guards from the Zhili faction. Wu’s men were led by Wang Suez, young, friendly, with extra food and healthy donkeys. His English was good and they talked European politics on the final day’s journey.

Soldiers milled around the dining suite, talking and waiting. Their uniforms were perfectly buttoned and strapped with bayonets and grenades. Only Marshal Wu Peifu dressed casually: in grey shirt, trousers. He was stocky, mid fifties, orange closely cropped hair and a red moustache. Forty men stopped speaking when he spoon-tapped twice on the crystal glass. He held the glass to the waiter in both hands. Rice wine was poured. Wu raised it and spoke Yang-Sen’s name. The glass was passed to another waiter who placed it at a set point on the table. Yang-Sen went and stood there.

Patrick Keelan,” Wu announced, holding glass under bottle.

During the night Trebitsch awoke several times. He’d tried to match Wu’s propensity for heavy imbibing and his bladder had fallen victim. He barely saw his palatial quarter. That morning, six armed soldiers arrived at his door. He dressed quickly.

They led him across the leafy compound, past six guards at the main house, two guarding every door off the winding corridor, four outside Wu Peifu’s office and four inside. Yang-Sen was there too.

Keelan, I have asked the General if you would stay another night. The dossier you presented me with at dinner: I think your proposals merit further consideration,” he said.

The headquarters had trees everywhere and Trebitsch strolled past barracks after barracks, gun sheds and shooting ranges. It was like a military town. He took lessons in the riding school where he was reunited with General Chi Hsien-Yuan. He attended most of the 6am inspections, the only times Wu dressed in full uniform. The Marshal was a deeply thoughtful man. ‘The Philosopher General’ they called him. They disagreed on some political matters but it was all done professionally. Wang Suez often attended their afternoon chats, along with General Hsien-Yuan, and his associate, General Wu-hung Chiang.

Marshal, we have talked about Russia’s pretended loyalty and the expanding Japanese population. Not to mention England, which listens to the whole world’s business with its Secret Service.”

There Mr. Keelan goes again,” said Suez, and the other men laughed.

Did you not say they will lose their empire to Bolshevism?” asked Wu playfully.

Something like that. Marshal Wu, I would like for you to commission an expedition. A trip to Europe to secure funding, and to establish military allies there. Overseas investment for China’s railways and roads. Just think! You could put ten soldiers at points where other Generals can only move one.”

Yang-Sen returned to Loyang for the banquet in honour of Wu Peifu’s mandarin, Patrick Keelan. A military band played the off-key opening to ‘Song to the Auspicious Cloud’, which expanded loudly into painful wails backed by eight trombones. They played ‘China Heroically Stands in the Universe’, its notes arranged in a jaunty melody layered by voice choir. They played the tunes again in the morning as Chiang, Suez and ‘’Keelan’ left by military coach.

In Genoa they ate pizza by the fast Saltarello dancers. In Venice, a naval band played Wagner as they sailed in gondolas. General Chiang was overjoyed and Mr. Suez announced, “this is an amazing journey, Patrick!”

Their boat glided gently to the dock, to where a large man stopped it with his foot and looked down on them.

Hello, Trebitsch,” said Bauer.

#

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The Watch Thief Series 4 (Chapter 33)

 

Upper Yangtze, Chongqing.

Saturday 13 January, 1923.

Geoffrey Corlett had used his charm , status and cash to borrow the sampan for bridge night. It gave cover from the pelting winds. There was a lavatory, stove, and benches built-in tight against the card table. Mark Davidson, an English banker, with tidy black fringe and a trimmed moustache looked at his cards for some combination to move the game along. Suddenly a fit of vile coughing erupted from Corlett. This set off young Steptoe, who spluttered like the sound of kicked gravel.

Maybe you both should try dragon bones. They find them in the mountains, Keelan, and grind them into powder,” said Davidson.

Dragons? I have been here a week and all I’ve seen is fog!” he quipped.

Davidson looked down, stroking the tip of a card. His dark irises were inscrutable.“They say a Szechuan dog barks at the sun…” said Davidson.

Because the sun rarely appears,” said Corlett. Corlett was ready to fold when the small boat shook violently and the choice was taken away. His cards crashed across the table. A bottle of rice wine rolled for the floor but Steptoe put his palm around it.

Dear God!” he yelled.

Goodness. It is as if we were near rapids,” said Keelan.

Davidson put the ashtray back into position. “They can be fearsome,” he said.

Yes,” replied Keelan. “Anything that is not bolted down will fly across the deck. The day I first sailed the Yangtze the hail came so hard that I thought we were being shot at. Then we were being shot at!”

Six months later, a steamer zig-zagged the Yangtze River for a week. It sailed past the junks under the Wuling Mountain range and the Three Gorges, through Wuhan, Nanjing, and finally Shanghai where it spilled into the China Sea. From there Davidson boarded the liner across the North Pacific. At San Francisco, the rakish trader crossed the yard at the docks and took the west-bound train.

The January rain was like a round of pellets pummelling the bamboo curtain and the restless Yangtze swayed the sampan and her passengers.

Night rain in the Ba Mountains,” said Davidson.

Over twenty years naval service. Nearly a year in the ‘City on Rivers’. You think I’d get used to it,” said Corlett.

Give Steptoe and Keelan a tour of the Widgeon,” said Davidson.

You’re in Chongqing on business, Patrick?” asked Steptoe.

That is correct. I am chasing a vacancy as an economic advisor. One of Mr. Davidson’s colleagues at the bank, my landlord, means to introduce me to the brother-in-law of Yang-Sen.”

General Yang-Sen has many wives,” said Corlett.

I hear his star is on the wane,” said Davidson.

I was asked by a travelling companion. ‘Do you not want to see Wu Peifu?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I said. Wu Peifu has won his battles. Yang-Sen has lost his, so it is he who needs my help.”

Those warlords only seem to fight one another for the sake of fighting,” said Steptoe. “Men pressed into military slavery, institutionalised rape and looting, then a one week alliance before one warlord betrays the other. We all need to be careful.”

On Park Avenue, midday rain on Park Avenue lashed against Albert Otto’s third floor office. He needled a pen tip into his desk. One eye clasped a monocle tight to breaking as he stared over the desk at Davidson.

Patrick Keelan? Yes, I know him What is he to you?” he asks.

Sir, I represent Young Brothers Banking and Trading Corporation. Recently Mr. Keelan made in-roads with Chongqing’s ruler, Yang-Sen. You were listed as a backer in redevelopment plans financed by this ‘Keelan’ character.”

General Yang-Sen’s banqueting room was light colours: peach curtains and clean beige carpets. Wind chimes hung silver petals. Orange flames transformed lemon candles. The focus on natural harmony transported the inhabitants far from the harsh winter outside. Guards stood in each corner, strapped with multiple guns and knives. They made Davidson nervous. Keelan didn’t seem bothered. The table was laden with delicacies: pork leg and dumplings, hot pot and Jiangtuan fish. Knowing the General was a vegetarian, Davidson sought to honour him by eating from a bowl of Chongqing noodles. The Szechuan peppers were numbing and spicy.

The aim is to build up, not destroy. I know you are a thinking man. You should be thinking of the long term,” Keelan told him.

Yang-Sen’s eyebrows were like trains on curling tracks. He was used to his looking inward but now cheeks and lips followed Keelan’s spoken-aloud thoughts.

You intrigue me, Mr. Keelan. What you would do if you were in my shoes?” he asked.

Begin with the people. Give them good roads and railways. This will win them over, and give you a workforce willing to make use of Szechuan’s coal and gas reserves.”

How do you propose I do that? I have far too few men,” said Yang-Sen.

Presently you have no army but you can get one,” Keelan said. “Ally yourself with Wu Peifu. He controls half the provinces. He may loan you with an army with which you can conquer Szechuan.”

Yang-Sen exhaled heavily. His teeth protruded. “Wu Peifu waged war on me last year. No alliance is likely,” he said.

If you care, General, I will devote a week preparing a plan for you to bring to Wu. He will see you are all for bridge building and redevelopment. This province has some of the greatest resources in China. Your path to the top is assured!”

At London’s Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, Duncan Robbins wiped away the summer sweat and returned back to the mailbag before him. He skimmed an envelope addressed to Scotland Yard and threw it in the box. Inside that letter was an introduction from Blyths’ Solicitors. It came on behalf of Mark Davidson, who was at that moment crossing the Atlantic for Plymouth. Davidson journeyed by rail to London, and was welcomed by the head of Special Branch. Basil Thomson was well known to Davidson, or anyone who read the papers. His recent book, ‘Queer People’, fetched headlines when he told of bringing down Roger Casement, Mata Hari and the German Kuperferle. Beneath his flat white hair-line the spy-catcher looked tired. Thomson quick-thumbed a dossier, then set it down on the desk and snorted out over soot moustache. He leaned forward, calloused fingers spread over a knuckle.

British business interests in China are threatened by this man,” said Davidson. “My meeting with Otto only confirmed it.”

Davidson had recognised the concern in Otto’s eyes, the sincerity to his story.

I was initially attracted to him and yes, I loaned him £15,000,” Otto confessed. “The more I learned of him the lesser my opinion. Soon the demands began. He wanted another £2,000, and implied that if I didn’t furnish the amount, the original loan would not be repaid.”

Thomson paused with the transcription. “He was sure ‘Keelan’ was Lincoln?”

Yes, yes. He admitted it to him. I met him as lodger of an American banker friend. Later, he took up residence in one of Yang-Sen’s homes. Young Brothers rely on the military authorities contributions to operate. Public works, road contracts, large scale developments all go through these warlords. We had good relations with Yang-Sen prior. Yet since Lincoln got in with him all existing British contracts have been cancelled.”

A rap on the door, and an officer entered to leave an album of photographs. Davidson thumbed through the pictures: Edmund Backhouse; Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen; Bertrand Russell and, “there,” said Davidson, settling on Trebitsch. “Keelan.”

Though mid-Spring, the mountain city’s moist air immersed the heads, with subtlety. In the Yuhzong district were the Yangtze and Jialing met, soldiers drilled in this sneaky rain. Fifteen of the sixty men dressed in uniforms of dish-cloth greys with feet in rice-straw sandals. Most dressed in whatever they had when the invaders pressed them into Yang-Sen’s army. It was a choice between that and being killed outright. Across the street Davidson watched them. They were lined up in five rows. Yang-Sen and his advisor, Keelan, moved between them.

Why are your shoes not clean?” Keelan demanded.

Do you want your opponents tracking you? You, hold your head up!” Yang-Sen ordered.

Several of the coolies were staring at Davidson. He decided he’d seen enough and carried on down the road.

You need to understand discipline if you are to serve your General. This is how it is done by the Germans,” said Keelan.

You heard Mr. Keelan. I demand an improvement. Fall out!” Yang-Sen shouted.

Suddenly there was a snap of bark, heavy steps, and the men turned as one. Two officers were approaching from the South. One had his arms outstretched and wore a wide smile. The other looked nervous. Several of his soldiers had raised their guns and Yang-Sen ordered them off. Then he walked forward to greet the newcomers with a few armed lieutenants following.

Chongqing is geographically remote and getting close to Yang-Sen or Lincoln is impossible,” said Davidson. “This alliance with General Wu put fifty thousand men at his disposal, and machine guns, and armoured cars.”

Thomson drew his hand from his head, looked away from the notes. “Worrying,” he said.

Perhaps you heard of the February 7th executions along the Beijing–Hankou rail-line. That was General Wu. and the Zhili clique. Yang-Sen’s master. Presumably Lincoln has opened up channels there as well,” said Davidson.

I’ll have the department put together a comprehensive update on his file,” said Thomson.

The senior British naval officer there, Captain Corlett, became suspicious of him early on. And Consul-General Steptoe, he had a bad feeling too. The man is a waiyi!”

Pardon me?” asked William Tyrrell, whose suite Davidson was now in.

What the Chinese call an outer barbarian. A waiyi. He came in from outside to poison Yang-Sen against British firms. Mr. Tyrrell, Young Brothers are already inching toward collapse because of this…waiyi!”

The Foreign Office agrees with Special Branch,” said Tyrrell. Each word was spoken Trebitsch-weary. “We will help any way we can. Have you spoken with Yang-Sen?”

He will not see me. According to Otto, Lincoln is trying to float a company of his own, presumably to fill the trading vacuum he created!”

Tyrrell said, “I will write to our consulate in Peking. Mr. Steptoe has moved on but I will ask his replacement to enquire. Maybe we can put pressure on to have Lincoln removed from his position.”

Yang-Sen and Huang Shenrong, a visitor from the easterly Hunan province, walked the hall, laughing and joking. They were followed at distance by Patrick Keelan and Chi Hsieh Yuan, a short, dour looking officer.

Congratulations, General Chi. I understand you are now director of the Pukow Port project. I hope we’ll work together. Tell me this, though. That man. He dined with Yang-Sen yesterday. However I heard after that he betrayed the General?”

Huang? That is correct. However, he was here with a mutual friend. He enjoyed Yang-Sen’s hospitality, and protection,” said Chi.

The party arrived in the dining room where moments later waiters served rice, noodles, vegetables and Yunnan cheeses. There was beef and pork, pig kidney and brain, duck bowel and cow stomach. There was ice cream and tea, and a bowl of perfect oranges grown in the region. Yang-Sen toasted to his new alliance with Wu Peifu, and opened a bottle of brandy that he had sent over. Yang-Sen toasted Keelan for bringing them together. He would have a monument erected to the expert! Huang Shenrong toasted Yang-Sen for his generosity, and wished him a long life. General Chi spoke of his experiences governing Kiangsu and Anhwei. The conversation was fruitful. An hour later, Yang-Sen set down his glass and got to his feet.

Now Huang,” he said, “you can go into the garden. You will be shot there.”

The Orient Express railed from Paris. Davidson slept in Venice, and dined before Belgrade. He bussed to and from Tehran, under hundreds of tunnels. He crossed the tracks of the British Raj in Pakistan and through China where the lines were built by men from every country. He crossed Szechuan and arrived home in Chongqing. He slept very well that night. The next morning he met Corlett on the way to the bank. Keelan, Corlett said, appeared to have left town, perhaps even shortly before Davidson himself had departed. The banker settled for being happy with this, until he reached work and found the staff clearing out their desks.

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The Day Off has been Prophesied

It comes to us all. Some day this week I’ll be delving into a few of those films pushed at me. I’ve not seen ‘The Exorcist’ in full, and Richard Barr, devil that he is, has compelled me to watch it. Richard has had a few shorts published recently. ‘A Dismemberment of Corpses’ is dark beyond slapstick, a spide horror of the most gruesome. It features Danny Pongo, not-star of downedalbitros blog, and several ‘We Shall Not Be Stapled’ strips, and I probably should deny reading it, but it features on the very cultured Scum Gentry site so I’m linking to it now. He’s also got ‘Last of the Little Atlanteans’ out, a delightful cartoon horror satirising the anti-emigrant haters in Swiftian fashion. ‘Atlanteans’ is my favourite of Barr’s prose. It appears in Gruesome Grotesques Volume 2 from Trevor Kennedy. There’s lots in there. I enjoyed Samantha Lee’s ‘Hidden Depths’, a sensual bleeder of a piece and the perfect length for a bus journey.

So, it’s all holiday. Leisure before Brexit. Spend before the shops shut because picket lines of the future will happen online. A call to Forbidden Planet Belfast yesterday netted me two cheap volumes of Peter David’s X-Factor, sure to be fun. The esteemed Malachy Coney, (blog here), took time to discuss with me why Axel America wasn’t selling, (sold here), and compared my writing process (as explained in the video below), to that used by China Miéville. I’ve also been finding James Roberts’ identity sitcom, Lost Light, and loving it; via Aaron at Comic Book Guys.

Work-wise I’ve just finished Chapter 36, all but for the fifteen minute read through. The commentary is half written. Nine audio readings await editing. Tomorrow I plan on spraying anti-bacterial disenfectant everywhere! I always listen to audio when I clean. I’ll have to line up some good music. Morrissey’s politics have me weaning myself off his music. Mozza started off not unlike Grange Hill’s Danny Kendall and has wound up as Gripper Stebson.

Aha, there’s a new Comics City Cast on the air! 

I wonder if anyone’s reading the free version of The Watch Thief and if I shouldn’t just pull it to improve chances with publishers. The Facebook generations don’t comment on blogs, not like the old set. Chapter 33 is on here next week. It’s the start point for ‘Series 4’, and deals with attempts to come to terms with a war on two fronts in China, 1923. Here’s a teaser:

And just to prove I’m SERIOUS about the day off, this is where I’ll be staying during my holiday in Amsterdam.

IT’S A HOSTEL AND A TRAIN.

 

Chapter 32

Prison Vienna Josefstadt.
10 June, 1921.

Officer Daly passed the screaming addicts and the inmate mopping away the old man smell. The drip-drip-drip fell like seeds in the corner of the cell, where the prisoner looked to imaginary people and country fields. Daly’s keys turned like crashing waves and the bars rolled back with a roar. Lincoln sat under a furrow of light, fields of sparkling dust shifting. He seemed almost unaware of the guard at first. Then he stood. His eyes were hot and blinking, jittery. Daly tilted the handcuffs and the reflection hit Lincoln’s eyes like a flash-light. Then he was taken down, down to the lower court.

Michael had invented his own short-hand for high-speed transcription in court. The prosecution failed to establish their charges and now the man was facing a new charge of false identity. It was all in the paper’s files. Police evidence was presented. Found on his person were Hungarian passports under the names Thomas Lorincz and Theodor Lakatos; Wilhelm Ludwig, issued by Reich Central Office in Berlin; here in Vienna, identity papers for Dr. Johnann Lange; Theodor Lambrecht; Dr. Tibor Lehotzky; from Munich, Karl Lamprecht and Heinrich Lamprecht, and from the Czechs, Thomas Lamprecht. Michael wrote just Lamprecht. Defendant said mitigating circumstances, people out to get him, Prónay. Sentenced one month, time served four months, freed immediately. Michael found him outside the court room.

After four months in prison, where will you go next?” he asked.

My destination is a profound secret. I shall disappear as if the Earth had swallowed me, and shall reappear in an unexpected quarter within eight years.”

It is mid-July, George Buchanan’s last day on the job. The recent loss of his wife has stripped Michaelangelo’s ceiling from him. It is four years since losing his dear friend Nicholas the Tsar, and he has worked two years in Rome and never seen the empire’s colosseum. He walks back through culture-laden streets of this millennia old capital, his mind fired by the lunch conversation with an American reporter. Trebitsch Lincoln is in Rome, under some false identity, and had tried to sell his story to the press man. People swallow one another up in Rome and Buchanan wonders if he might spot this chameleon trickster among the faces. At the embassy, the sixty-seven year old cables the news to Eyre Crowe of the Foreign Office, with a promise to ascertain Lincoln’s movements.

In Washington D.C. ten mornings later, J. Edgar Hoover takes a report from the pile on his desk. It is addressed to him and from overseas, two facts which appeal to his ego. The diplomat in Rome, Colonel Matthew Smith, is concerned on hearing Trebitsch Lincoln intends to visit America. Smith has ascertained that the American missions in Europe have been warned to refuse him a visa. The deputy head of the Bureau of Investigation knew this full well. He was still at law school during Lincoln’s previous adventures in New York. Hoover nods firmly, sure the rogue will not be allowed the same liberties.

To the north, in the nook close to Yugoslavia, sits Trieste. It is built into a hillside and there are temples to Athena and Zeus. Coffee shops dot the streets like a plague, still carrying reference to the Austro-Hungarian empire. The spoils of the peace treaty say this is the Italian Riviera and these are now Italian people. Forced Italianisation, a victory the White Internationals failed to find, and of course anger is expected. It is September, and Joseph Haven is troubled by Trebitsch’s appearance in Trieste. In the embassy he reads a telegram from his contemporary Digby Wilson, in Budapest. Wilson’s message says Lincoln aims to chase book royalties in New York, proceeds which will fund his visit to Tibet where he will cause the natives to rise up against England. Joseph Haven sighs. Lincoln has been the talk of diplomatic circles for weeks now. Across the city, the San Giusto Castle gardens the Great Square, which in turn faces the Adriatic Sea. The coal and port industries gather around there, and millionaire Albert Otto waits in line to embark on a large passenger liner.

The new friends watch from the deck as Trieste leaves them. Patrick Keelan says this will be his longest trip by sea. He confesses to being stirred by those memories and primed for new hopes. Albert Otto of Kansas smiles. The sea air is good for the skin and Keelan is paler than most. Keelan is not Irish. Through the noise of the turbine steam engines he shouts that he is from the homeland of Houdini. Otto hears a fantastic story over dinner. Keelan is putting the seas between himself and a band of killers. There are fifteen hundred passengers but they both meet on deck the next day, over the Mediterranean.

I have contained my excitement. Is this not a great opportunity?” asks Keelan. “It is as if the past is collapsing behind us.”

The words resonate as two continents sidle round them like a pincer at the Strait of Gibraltar. Then Spain and Morocco are like tides going out. Otto notices how Keelan’s mood rises. The North Atlantic astounds them. It is a monster. Yes, says Otto, but it might be the closest we get to the face of God. The roar of the engines belongs to the ocean. They become hypnotised. On the sixth day Keelan announces they are perched on God’s shoulder, each wave an aspect, angelic voices chattering in the dark swirls that can only be penetrated by iron hulls. Otto knows his new friend’s real name and is concerned he may not be admitted to America. He is assured that a holy guardian protects them. On the eighth day, the goddess crystallises in physical embodiment. Flame eternal, she rises up from Ellis Island, lit eyes looking into their souls. She is surely looking down with approval as Patrick Keelan passes through the gate for no-one blocks his way.

Hotel lifts are like any other. Each rivet in the rail must accurately match to create a road for vertical transportation. The scaffold cage comes later and is built inside the shaft. Five years Joseph Schlesinger has been doing this. His apprentice shrugs. He would prefer to know about their brothers. Joseph relents. After your last visit, he says, we all changed our names. Lajos is Louis Tarcei and Simon, Simon does not want to see you. He curses Simon, and Joseph says they should assemble the dollies. The work is specialised, but monotonous. In the months ahead they work from hotel to hotel. Joseph notices how the passing guests make his apprentice brother paranoid.

Marshal Proctor’s brown hair was tinged silver, and sparse. He sat in that same two desk office, in the seat once belonging to Francis Johnston, Stubble clung to him like a skin condition, cleaved by no amount of shaving. He is handed The Tribune, 3rd November, and reads. The article begins with Trebitsch Lincoln admitting to breaking immigration law. The reporter sat beside Proctor sees his shock, and when he reads aloud, his weariness.

“’I will petition the government to allow me to stay here as a political refugee. If I am refused, I will slip out even more mysteriously than I came in.’”

What is your reaction to this, Marshal Proctor?”

This person is unfit to be in this country. His morals border on degeneracy. All this talk of political offence and spying? Pure bunk. He’s just an ordinary thief who violated a trust and took his employer’s money.”

Julia Trebitsch gathered her large petticoat, like pulling on life. Edward wanted to know about the coffee stain on the table cloth. Who did it? Would it not come out? His Uncle Sandor set the pot on the stand. Margarethe had been to all the Budapest diplomats: the Americans, British, Germans, and all had refused to give her a travel permit. Sandor pities her. Julia mentions that she isn’t wearing her ring. It had been pawned in Vienna, she says, so John could travel and find work. Sandor said she deserved much better than his fool brother.

Trebitsch has a special kind of brain. He thinks he might earn money in Italy,” said Margarethe.

I work in the hospital, every day,” said Sandor. “Attending to Prónay’s victims. It has always been fearful, but I provide.”

Julia said it may be much worse, but they seemed to be protected. Edward asked his Uncle Sandor if they were protected because of his father. No one answered right away.

The late January moon followed the seventeen year old. From the crypt of St. Martin’s to here on the benches of the Thames embankment it is a pummelling hydraulic freeze which grips him. At the Niagara Falls, says The Times, the cheapest publicly owned hydro-electric power system has gone operational. The rain plants a water rosette on the type, and the boy looks across the page. Trebitsch Lincoln is released on bail. Put up by Mr. Albert Otto at Ellis Island immigration office. He claims a valuable knowledge of European politics, highly sought after by American diplomats. Another pelt of rain slides down past John Lincoln’s off-white fingers. As the stranger approaches, the paper falls under the bench, onto his bag.

Change?” he whispers.

Every large paper in Britain was owned and managed by the Harmsworth boys. The youngest, Cecil, was the not-so Permanent Under-Secretary. Eyre Crowe would take his place, and Crowe’s would be taken by William Tyrrell. Foreign Office talk revolved around Gandhi’s arrest and British troops in Georgia. Over the Georgia issue the minister had been so insistent they remain he’d threatened to resign weekly. Draft letters were everywhere, and Crowe had written a few for himself.

This fellow, Trebitsch Lincoln. Washington has issued a deportation order for him,” said Harmsworth.

Tyrrell looked away. Crowe shuffled documents.

No reaction?” asked Harmsworth.

The man is an impostor and a scoundrel of little interest,” said Crowe.

The filing cabinet railed open and Harmsworth rifled through it. “He’s to leave America in thirty days, making his own way out. He’s full of anti-British sentiment, and I say, worth keeping an eye on.”

On the train through Ohio state, Isaac Laquedem told a young couple of his love for travel. At any station he could turn round for Paris or Ethiopia. At Pittsburgh, he spoke with insight about Germany being refused an international loan, and in Cleveland, he pontificated on Mussolini’s mass rallies. Rain poured down outside and the conversation was pleasantly distracting. Crossing Michigan they fixed their eyes on the wonder of Lake Erie. The couple left at Detroit. Their seat was taken by a rail-road worker, come with news of the massacre at Herrin Mine. Twenty-one strikers and police had been killed in the shoot-out. The miners were just the beginning: rail-workers were preparing a nationwide strike. Isaac Laquedem decided he would get off before Illinois, where the farmers had arranged their fields by plough. He used them to cross easily to the main road and found a hotel. At the front desk, he wired Mr. Albert Otto for a loan of £15,000 which allowed him to pay the bill a week later. The strike began early July and the news came over WDZ-AM. The maid was arranging his pillowcases, and complimented him on how they where embroidered with his initials. He took a bus for Kansas City, saw a fire smoke between a mound and a lake. A man with a horse stood between them watching the flames. Wichita was quiet. Parents reprimanded a screaming child as they left Albuquerque, where the land is red. The sound woke the wanderer from the nightmare of those gunned down by Ehrhardt in Berlin. His bus journeys followed the train route, he said, out of stubbornness. He also dreamed of Stephani and Prónay and smiled as he woke in the city of Gallup. He crossed Arizona: Flagstaff’s beautiful forest, and Kingman, where he stayed a few days. A botanist at the hotel showed him the spiderwort, it’s leaves long, thin and blade-like. This one was rare for it had eight anthers and four blue-green petals. He took it as a good luck sign for his weekend at Vegas, but he was unlucky. In golden Los Angeles, a cable reply from Washington’s said he was to leave at once or be deported to Hungary. He wrote to Margarethe of his time working on the railways and regretted doing so as the envelope dropped. The news there led with reports on China’s eastern coast decimated by the deadliest typhoon in history.

Trebitsch had never seen an ocean quite like the Pacific.

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