Chapter 40

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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?’”

Bloody parasites.”

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.”

“Why?”

“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

Communications

– Transport systems

The Watch Thief: Chapter 39

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Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
Wednesday 23 December, 1925.

The silence was tangible. The houses at night barricaded by wall and leaf were remote and vulnerable. The Triumph bike stood still on the tarmacadam at the front Edward Richards’ home. Ignatius ‘John’ Lincoln was looking from open door into the unlit kitchen. On an overcast morning at Trowbridge Barracks, a soldier devoid of passion stood fixed outside the armoury, his eyes far away. No one spoke their names. Nothing stirred at night in the prison grounds. Wings A through C where silent. William Tyrrell, like many other men and women all across Britain, slept quietly. In Sussex the Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, laid back in his easy chair. He did not go to see the King. The rope hung from the ceiling. Margarethe prayed. The silence came from the mouths of those who did not know what they could offer, minds scraping for perfect words to bridge reality with a better state.

The hush was concentrating into pockets. Their first foot-falls in Edward’s home in Victoria Avenue. Clifford Lincoln in the visitors room at HMP Shepton Mallet, Julius next to him, Margarethe’s eyes welling up with tears. In the office of his mirror Tom Pierrepoint buttons his white shirt. The calm was a brief gap in the passage from the basement generator to the upper court. The noise squashed the word on Lord Hewart’s lips and the public gallery. It struck the moments between the nine bells that Tuesday morning.

Ian Stewart’s motorcycle growled out of the barracks and tore the night open. Ignatius held tight as they wound with Victoria Road. The wind was like a barrage of tiny pellets. The cylinder was a vague echo when Ian parked it. The two off-duty bombardiers entered through unlocked back door with less grace. They knew Edward had a gun and it turned up in minutes, Ignatius scraped it by a cupboard door and put in his coat so both sides weighed even. Ian brought out the brandy and glasses. They had their breath warmed and rummaged some more. Bitter and pale ale. They clinked a toast to their prizes, and sunk to the floor. They approved of Edward Richards’ decor. The conservative and modern layout. The comfortable linoleum.

Ian said, “Put the empties back in the crate like they never went anywhere!”

Upstairs was a-creaking. The drunken soldiers raised themselves as steps crossed the landing.

It’s Edward. John, the bike!” Ian pointed to the lounge and broke ahead. The armchair arm pushed him on the way in. Ignatius, beer sloshing, avoided it. Ian swung at the front door lock, shook it left and right.

Edward shouted, “Who’s down there?”

Ignatius pulled out his automatic. “Get back,” he shouted, and fired a bullet into the stairs.

As the bullet thumped dully, Ian defied the urge to wince, his face screwed up from the loud retort of the pistol however and he yelled against the front door – “We are warning you!”

Ignatius blasted twice into the bannister. Ian gave the lock a final shove and then doubled back into the lounge. Ignatius followed. In his haste his foot caught in the folds of the rug, tumbling towards the ground, the darkened room spun before his eyes. In desperation he reached out for support – his hands finding a table, searing pain in sprained wrist. Someone else entered the room with him. He felt the breeze of the open back door. A pistol flashed. A bullet whizzed by and pounded the plaster wall. The pistons hammered on Ian’s bike as he revved it up. Ignatius raised his automatic and fired and fired. He fired until Edward screamed out.

Four officers marched them into Shepton Mallet. The prison housed just fifty; seven per cent of its capacity. Christmas Day was their first day. Acoustics made the carol singing sound like a haunting. But unsettling festivities settled in to something more hopeful, genuinely happy inmates and guards. His sweetheart Lily Morgan visited. She knew him as John. He used the name to avoid the stigma of association. Seeing her took his mind from the depression. At nine o’clock, the lights went out.

Prison’s threat only nibbled at the edges: the Governor’s approval of him; Lily’s visits; New Years Eve. Ignatius had seen the light flicker in Edward’s eyes. He was afraid the feeling of asylum would last the three weeks to his trial. The officer who found the vomit in his cell pressed his nose in it. Later, in mad thought, he was grateful. Each day he followed the bell to inspection and the canteen. On one occasion he recognised Tom Pierrepoint, walking with the Governor. Both were well dressed, large aristocratic figures. He’d heard Pierrepoint didn’t like the American method. He preferred to get the inmate out quickly. They were on their way to the brick building forty-three metres from the prison wall. In the exercise yard, speckled dry concrete led to a metal fence mounting barbed wire, and an enclosure of mottled stone framed portcullises. The steps and walls were cold. There were only stone corners. In A-Wing less people meant guards could watch the walk-way slips and stop any jumpers. The other levels revealed a mirror image of the hive. Ignatius was in a cell on his own. Sat on his bunk, he thought about Edward Richards: his voice; how he knew Ian. What did he do in his twenty-five years? The final shot had lit up the lad’s face with the bullet hole in his skull and the blood streaming out of his eyes. Edward Richards was looking into him. He didn’t know much about Edward, but he knew he killed him. Neither man could lie about that.

In Cologne, Julius Lincoln took his bag from the hall. He closed the door of his house and walked the streets to Trankgasse. At Köln Hauptbahnhof, he bought his ticket for Hamburg and waited. In Hamburg, Margarethe wailed and flung clothes into her case. Four times she checked their passports and emergency certificates. ‘Mother is in dire straits’, Clifford wrote in a letter to John. ‘We all are. Can you get to England?’

The lawyer said they had a good case. The evidence was inconclusive: he should plead not guilty. He nodded obediently to make Lily happy. Edward’s dying cry was with him every moment. Lily seized on the notion he might be released. He asked her not to call for a week. He slept, knowing it was not enough. He slept contented, forgetting what he had done. In the night, the grounds of Shepton Mallet were quiet. Lily wrote to him. He wrote back, even when a jailer warned him not to. In the visitor’s room, Julius said they would get him out of there. Margarethe assured him anyone could see it was an accident. They were praying for him. Clifford said he would be there at the trial, they all would.

The criminal law courts were in Devizes, central Wiltshire, a four-column Grecian building. Custodians led the charges past the chugging generator and stink breath of the boiler. Out of the tunnel, they found the steps into the court. A hundred jarring threads of conversation clustered around their fates. Amid the babble-storm he saw his family and Lily, who smiled with dewy eyes.

“Unfortunate parentage,” said one of the gawkers.

“All rise,” said the clerk.

“Edward was my neighbour,” said Walter.

“You found him, Mr. Stouton?” asked the prosecutor.

“I held his head in my hands an’ went with him to the hospital. Fifteen minutes after we got there, they said he was dead.”

The arresting officer said, “I found them later that morning. The captain at barracks did not release them to us easily.”

The prosecutor told them, “There is an indication joint enterprise might be applied here. Each man went to Mr. Richards home armed, and must face the penalty.”

A reporter called out, “Mr. Lincoln! Mr. Lincoln. Can we have a word? Mrs. Lincoln. Just a moment?”

He saw the family disappear in newsmen before he and Ian stepped down dark stairs to the dust swirling by the flatulent generator at tunnel’s end. The next day was Wednesday 20th January, when court heard from the defence.

“An investigation of the crime scene has shown Mr. Richards fired at Mr. Lincoln at close range.”

Ignatius said, “It was only to protect myself.”

“Objection! Being drunk is no excuse.”

The judge said, “A distinction should be made for Mr. Stewart. Since he did not discharge his firearm, the jury should consider acquittal in the charge of murder.”

The prosecutor said, “Your honour, new evidence has surfaced in a letter from Mr. Lincoln to his friend, Miss Morgan. Obtained by the staff at HMP Shepton Mallet, it contains a full confession.”

On Thursday morning, after the clock struck nine times, the jury met. They did not retire long. Stewart would serve a long sentence for burglary. For Lincoln came the black cloth.

“Ignatius Emanuel Napthali Trebitsch Lincoln, I pronounce the only sentence that can be passed for the crime of wilful murder.”

Margarethe sunk her mouth into her handkerchief.

“You will be taken to a place of execution to suffer death by hanging.”

Julius froze as their mother clung to his chest. Clifford gasped. They took Ignatius down.

His father sent a letter nineteen pages long. A friend was bringing money so he expected to set sail from Ceylon within days. The German-Lloyd steamer, SS Coblenz, would take him to Marseilles and he’d fly to England if he had to. He asked forgiveness. There was a terrible regret for the past, for if he had been a better father, none of this might have happened. His sins seem to have been visited upon the head of his favourite son. ‘Nat’ stood by him when they were arrested at the Hotel Viktoria in Vienna; and before that, when in Prague he told his father Czech spies were trailing them. Ignatius remembered them board the train and watch the Czechs get into the next carriage. As the doors were closing, father and son leapt back onto the platform.

Julius raised funds from the public for an appeal the following week. The man from The Times watched him, impressed. The coroner’s jury refused to return a guilty verdict. Lord Chief Justice Hewart rejected that motion and set March 2nd for the date of Lincoln’s execution.

There were echoes in Shepton Mallet. Ignatius saw him still: Edward Richards, his hair matting with blood, looking at his attacker. Ignatius smashed the cut bottle down on his face clawing the tissue. A cold wave spread over him as he did so, and Edward’s head slumped. Twenty-five years old, a representative for a brewery, a hard-working honest man wrenched out of his sleep. Ignatius could feel the weight of his head in his hand: the warmth; the wet. His eyes flickered. The louder cough of the motorbike engine was at the back. He set down Edward. Out to the back yard, out, out, Walter the neighbour shouting, “Hey! You there!”

Ignatius looked right past the open door of his cell. He could still hear the captain and constable bicker. Still Ian Stewart telling him he gets a high from risk. Ian was on a different wing and he tended to avoid him, tactfully. Margarethe rarely got in a visit without crying. His father telegraphed the both of them from the Coblenz each week. Meanwhile, Julius wrote to the Home Secretary to make sure he could come onto British soil. There was a lot of public support, he said. The telegram from Java expressed regret. John hoped to see him in the Summer.

Four weeks later, Thursday 24th, thousands swarmed Trafalgar Square. Placard carrying bodies close to one another sang and prayed. They clustered in lines to sign the petition and talked of what was to be done: activist Quakers and Anglican clergy; miners and dockworkers; a whole spectrum of society. Margarethe was over-whelmed and receptive to journalists’ whys, where’s and hows. One-time manager for Houdini, Colonel Harry Day, found Julius near the steps.

We’ve all been moved by his plight,” said Day. “I will pursue this in the Commons.”

We’ve seen him every day this week,” said Margarethe.

This is murder for manslaughter. Where’s the Edward Richard’s say in this?” said Clifford.

Is it true the boy’s father entered a monastery?”

A paper earlier this week ran an interview from Victoria Station. Can you confirm that?”

Attention! Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. My name is Julius Lincoln. John Ignatius is my half-brother. He would appreciate this show of protest and solidarity. A man of good nature and humour, your support is getting him through tough times. Like all of us, John served this country in the war. Unfortunately the judge was out to make an example. Out to make an example of my father’s son. The verdict was decided before he set foot in court. The appeals jury disagreed. It is my hope another will grant his reprieve. Please sign the petition which tomorrow, I will present to the Home Secretary.”

Julius took the petition by St. James Park to the Home and Foreign Office building. Over four weeks he’d collected fifty thousand signatures. William Joynson-Hicks was well acquainted with the case. It was he whose constitutional function it was to advise their monarch whether to exercise the prerogative of mercy. The P.M., Baldwin, was a close friend and reacted by praising the Home Secretary’s expertise regarding British prisons. Archbishop Randall Davidson, back from an anti-theosophy conference, said he would pray for him. A telegram from the SS Coblenz begged for a stay of execution.

In another room, Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain asked Tyrrell for a report on Trebitsch Lincoln. The file hadn’t been updated since the incident with Mr. Davidson. Basil Thomson had only written of Trebitsch in a stock article he sold to the Northern Whig and Belfast Post. Workaholic Eyre Crowe sailed the Foreign Office through three governments in four years. A vacuum was left after his death the previous April. It was Tyrrell’s opinion Trebitsch should be allowed to see his son. Chamberlain told the House he’d be under guard for three days and leave immediately afterwards.

In the Liberal Club, on-off friends Lloyd George and Asquith spoke of Lincoln. In Piccadilly, the solicitor John Goldstein listened to the report on the radio. At Savoy Hill House BBC Director Jack Pease peered through the glass at his newscaster. Seventy-two year old Conyngham Greene, once minister to Roumania, listened in his Plymouth home until the weather flickered the signal into absence. Basil Thomson read the paragraphs in his parlour, curtains drawn.

In a comfortable bed in Trowbridge, Tom Pierrepoint fancied an early night and loosened his tie. Lily Morgan returned from prison early evening to her home. She was exhausted and asleep within minutes, but woke a few hours later. In Sussex, Joynson-Hicks turned the page of his newspaper. He ignored the nine chimes of the grandfather clock. Through the night he slept without interruption, oblivious to the world.

Ignatius walked to the scaffold without visible emotion, standing rigidly to attention as the noose was adjusted. Until late last night he had waited in the death cell for his father’s promised visit, and when told that it was impossible for him to arrive he broke down and wept.”

– New York Times, 3 March 1926

Chapter 38

Colombo, British Ceylon/Sri Lanka.
Tuesday 8 December, 1925: Bodhi Day.

Prismatic a rainbow colours the sky. Monks sit in damp; and think; and walk barefoot over twigs, while bells sing. The deities are ever present: watchful eyes; multi-tasking hands with candles, scripture and birds. Red lanterns are set at the foot of the sacred Bodhi tree. Under the Bodhi, the Lord Buddha sat for seven days without moving. This tree was grown from one of thirty-two saplings brought by King Asoka’s daughter, the nun Sanghamittra, in the 3rd century B. C. It is said a child treading the ground under this tree will never fail in life. The main building is built around it, the domed temple, the shrine room, and monk’s cells. By ficus religiosa, disciples bless one another with the peace of the Buddha.

The new arrival professed an interest in Theosophy, the esoteric group that teach of the Tibetan Masters. From Colombo he was to journey to Annie Besant’s school in Adyar, Southern India. On the stop-over he learned of this place and the Buddhist philosophy of liberation, suffering and rebirth. From a hotel window months ago he saw low yellow buildings line dusty roads and quiet lanes. There was a serenity, a cleanliness to the air. This was what took him out to the countryside. He walked, soothed and mesmerised by the fields, drawn there to Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya. Before the resplendent arches are seen, everywhere the disciples are heard in long chanting, ascending harps and drum beats.

This is one of the smaller monasteries. The central building is orange-gold, two storeys and columns lovingly carved with bas-reliefs. Inside are the library and seminary. Behind the building is the mosque-shaped white prayer house. Magnificent trees sway and bow in these heavy rains of monsoon season. These skies of indigo are expected to pelt another month or two. Rains ricochet on a glass cover over a twelve foot praying gold Buddha. It swamps green shrubs and sweeps grey stone steps.

Language cannot truly manifest the voice of the spirit, which in this modern world is shackled to The Self. However, communication can turn the key. Listen to the universe. The early morning song of the swallow. The strong wind is cut apart by the leaves of the palm trees. These things are the extensions of The Creator. Pali, the language of the original Buddhist writings, is said to be a dead language. How can this be so when it breathes wisdom through the ages?

The newspapers do not teach the fundamental principles of Buddhist thought or practice. They impart no knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit or even modern Sinhalese! The New York World, for example, is the antithesis to the state of quiet study. It is loud and crude and insincere. For five Sundays Summer past it carries the series, ‘Lincoln World War Spy Plotted to Control China!’ It told of his making bridges with Britain: Captain Corlett and Consul Steptoe. Lincoln was advisor to Wu Peifu, ‘In the Centre of a Struggle for the Destiny of The Orient!’

Leo Tandler’s concentration breaks. His feet he sees, crossed where he sits. His palms are upturned on his knees. A cloud colours the sun. There is pain in his thin bones. There is pain everywhere. He thinks of our slavery to modern life with its noisy technology and petty grievances. It may be the selfishness of the soul, ego that must be left behind. Dr. Tandler breathes to centre himself. He is in the carpeted, warm apartment of Joseph Schlesinger. The newspaper is in Joseph’s hand. He reads how Lincoln wishes to pay off his debts and gather his scattered family to retire to some quiet corner of the globe. Flapping the pages back, Joseph reads a line aloud.

“’He claims Britain is the greatest political institution that has ever existed, and desires to be reinstated as a citizen of that nation.’”

The tropical sun returns, cumulo-nimbus coming and going like the waves of the sea. He can feel its faint breeze, its perpetual rise and fall. These are mere waves of existence. Behind the unconscious mind is The Breather, experiencing by act of will, seeking truth. He lets the tension slip away, red to violet, risen from the base of the spine leaving through the top of the head. The breath can take you all the way to Nirvana.

Behind him are 2,243 miles of conical mountain and forest trail: Adam’s Peak; the Jewelled Hill; the Climb to Heaven; Butterfly Mountain. It has as many names as worshippers. From December to May pilgrimages gain momentum. They seek a rock formation at the summit, held as the left footprint of the Buddha. In Pali, it is known as Sri Prada. From the peak the Kelnai River brings its drinking water and fish ninety miles down into Colombo. The Kelnai River’s flow empties into folk poetry, and shrines.

When he first arrived he existed on one meal a day. He did not realised how little his body required. The teachers became fearful and encouraged the Austrian to change his diet. Each morning he rose at six to clean his cell and meditate. Then he consumes a simple breakfast of fruit, a rice cake, and tea. No sugar or milk. After three more hours of meditation the monks have a small bowl of rice and vegetables. He will teach some of them English before six o’clock prayers.

He only vaguely recognises the man in New York.

I am sick of life,’ he had written to her. ‘I have experienced too great adversities. But what is the use of lamenting? I am engulfed in impenetrable darkness.’

Under the Bodhi tree outside the chapel he knows this is the suffering of all existence. Those words are the past. They are also a moment of clarity among commerce’s poison illusion. When he looks at the work-book of one of his novices he sees his own hand, his true hand. The moment of a great revelation came to him in a room at Astor House in Tientsin; rooted to that spot, for who can say how long? The weight lifted from his back, of Jupiter and Zeus; a burden greater than he’d known, it shot through the tall ceiling and he fell to his knees weeping, weeping with happiness in the gaze of beauty. He made the great renunciation then. He made the great decision to quit the world, force the doors of the lunatic asylum open, and walk out. The novice’s hand-writing has his curls and dips. He returns the work-book with a gentle nod.

Each monk has his own cell with a pink roof and grey walls. Inside are a bed, table, chair, water jug, wash-basin and mug. Their clothing: black robes, skull-caps and slippers. Offerings are made but sometimes the monks must walk the six miles to Colombo, which is another world away. They beg at Kayman’s Gate, entrance to Pettah market. Tourists gather by Indian traders with stalls of gold and jewellery, and mull around the candy-striped Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. There are five hundred Muslims resident there, and another hundred monks from the central Gangaramaya Temple, a kitschier tourist trap. Tram car tracks line the roads and doorsteps of businesses are fronted by granite flooring brought by their British town planners. He does not like the shops; the newspapers; the government buildings. Too easily they trigger him. He is reminded of the British diplomat in Tientsin who billed him for a wire to the Home Secretary in London. It evokes a feeling in his spleen like bile.

This monk will preach at the temple instead. All who meet him speak highly of his enthusiasm and sincerity. The Most Venerable Master will ask him again to address the Buddhist Working Men’s Club. Tandler will forgive the British, remembering the official in Manilla who granted him a visa for India months before. Yet he does not need it. Theosophy, with its schools at odds, is not something he pretends to comprehend. He gradually practices and develops mindfulness of the in-and-out breath as taught by the Enlightened One. He is in search of illuminating the entire world like the moon when it’s freed from clouds.

In the shrine room are great tapestries of worshippers and students gathered by ascending ones: hands at chins; hands on heart; a painting of the Bodhi tree. Under patterned ceilings are significant images from the Buddha’s life. Glistening sculptures of celestial hosts lurk in alcoves with bejewelled foreheads or blue skin. They dance and share, their feet on wisps of clouds. The sage Gautama Buddha levitates cross legged beyond orange fire.

Stars in violet night skies draw in after January’s Moon-Day, after the revellers have gone. He strolls through town near Kayman’s Gate, the Khan Tower Clock and water fountain. A young Sinhalese newsboy is in front of him, then behind him, and keeping close. The boy calls out: buy paper, buy paper. The monk gestures ‘no money’, but the boy keeps following. Eventually the tabloid is pushed into the man’s hands, taken when all other means have not sent the boy away.

In his cell the next morning the monk reads the words ‘Trebitsch Lincoln… facing charges in London.’ Will the English not leave him in peace? Old upsets in his appendix flare and clog his solar plexus, yet he reads on. The story is not about Trebitsch Lincoln, but his eldest son. The monk’s eyes quickly fill like pools and he is anything but centred. He stands, and looks around him, feels the space in his fingers. His instinct is to grab the chair and smash it, smash it over and over until the walls fall down.

#

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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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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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Chapter 31

Supreme Court of Justice, Vienna.
Friday 20 May, 1921.

My application for legal counsel has been denied once more: I will continue to represent myself. This week, the court heard of my experience as a British member of parliament and leader in the German putsches. Reaching Vienna last September, I was knocked down by a horrendous fever. Appendicitis? An assassination attempt? I do not know. I was laid in the sick bed, while Bauer and Miss Engler went off to Villach. Two weeks, thinking I would die. In that room was my custom-made large leather travel bag. It was usual for me to carry the paperwork. Yes! In that bag was the key correspondence and plans of the White International movement. Dirty deals struck with the Hungarian government, Russian emigres and German paramilitaries. The conspiracies of Bavaria, and Italy, seeking revenge: it was all there! And something I had not seen: evidence Bauer re-employed my would-be assassin, Stephani. Well, my friends, too often was I caught in the company of thieves and killers. I resolved to have nothing more to do with them. I did the only thing I could do. I took the papers and ran!

While the people of Vienna were enjoying their wonderful balls and green parks, I registered at the Archduke Charles Hotel under the name Thomas Lorincz. It took only a fortnight for Pál Prónay’s men to locate me. Giczy. Faber. Men who once guarded my life, now sought to end it. ‘Return with us.’ ‘Bauer and Prónay merely wish to talk.’ Well, you have read of the White Guard’s cruelties. They hack off women’s’ breasts, whip men to death, if they are Jews or Communists. When we were in Budapest, Giczy boasted to me of using socialists as fuel in the boilers of their trains. You can understand why I denied I had the papers, why I did not go. They were nervous about killing me on Austrian soil. I am a very lucky man and also a very smart man. As soon as I was able, I gave them the slip. I went to another hotel and they went back empty-handed!

Nevertheless, the race was on. I reasoned that the French would be very interested in a plot to re-ignite the Great War. I met with their attaché, then a minister, and they were on the brink of buying when the deal fell through. As you know, I eventually found a buyer in the Czechoslovakians. In going to them, my actions prevented a new rising. How can it be that they have brought the charges to me of high treason, and fraud? The Czechoslovakian government have asked you to decide the White International papers are forgeries. Yet the French, and the rest of the world, know they are real. Miss Engler and General Krauss, key figures in the movement, said the very same before this court. Two men were prepared to kill me because they are genuine. You have no doubt heard some dastardly lies about me, perhaps even believed a few. Yet the Czech government have me locked in a Viennese cell and they ask your complicity in keeping me there. I see the clock is against us. On Monday I will explain how the British government, which also hates me, believes I am innocent.

Thank you, your honour.


Monday 23 May, 1921.

Hello and thank you for being here. There are a few making their way in I see. Come, come in!

Last week I told you the British government framed me with a tale of monetary fraud and forgery to suppress real intelligence. Today, the Czechoslovakian government insist key intelligence is a forgery, in order to commit monetary fraud against me!! When the documents I sold them are proved genuine, and I am freed, I will sue them for the reward I was promised.

Let us begin to examine the role of the British in the current matter. I approached Reginald Bridgeman at the embassy. I knew it would not be an easy sell, so I asked Bridgeman to cable London. I wanted them to grasp my readiness to make amends for past mistakes. Europe was on the eve of an action on a much larger scale than the Kapp Putsch, I said. Let me help. Would Britain extend a forgiving hand toward me? No. She would not. Definitely not! Word reached me Bridgeman was sternly rebuked by his superiors for daring to mention my name! It was rebuffed by MI5’s Basil Thomson, Lord Kilmarnock in Berlin, Eyre Crowe of the Foreign Office; probably even Admiral Hall, who particularly hates me!

And yet the clock ticked. Tick, tock, tick. And the assassins are on my trail. So I went to Prague: a place of great industrial progress, and great history too. The Old Town Square has the Orloj, a mechanical clock with astronomical dial. It is five hundred years old! The ordinary Czech is optimistic and friendly and keen, and this was my initial experience with Jan Hajšman, a senior official in their press department. In a day or two we had a deal. I handed over fifty papers and spent four days with his aide, Novotny, who transcribed my aural commentaries. They would pay me five hundred thousand Czech crowns, two in down-payment, three to come after authentication. I am still waiting for the three and I was prescient to keep some papers to myself! They also furnished me with an identity document in the name of Thomas Lamprecht so as to hide from my pursuers. Hajšman, and Foreign Minister Beneš, had big plans. My revelations were to be invaluable propaganda weapons which would humiliate Czechoslovakia’s enemies. Yet they completely failed to light the touch-paper then. Their own papers ignored the story and they failed in the European press too! In November, one paper carried the tale, a low-circulation Russian rag. I should have taken it as an omen against Hajšman and Beneš.

That’s right. The White International plot, which has since been famous the world over, was not exposed by Czechoslovakia. I suspect as you might, that the Czech government brought this action against me is to mask their own incompetence. I am in no rush to go back to my cell but I find myself quite tired. I would ask that we reconvene tomorrow. Then, I will be happy to tell you how, ironically, it was the British that came to my rescue.

Tuesday 24 May, 1921.

The White International – Plans to Destroy Czechoslovakia!’

I expected it to hit the front pages much earlier. When it did, my mind was already elsewhere. From the down-payment, I cabled money to my wife and children in England. Several weeks later, we were re-united in Vienna. Have a look at them now. Margarethe, pretty and wise: her love and support boundless, her hard work an inspiration. Next to her, Clifford, nine years old, handsome, and on any other day, full of joy. Edward, observant and shy. The giant is John, a young man with goodness in his heart; and my eldest, Ignatius. Though not an adult he had to become the breadwinner, since Britain forbid their father entering the country. I wanted to give them the new life they deserved. Our reunion has been full of joy. Picnics in the Prater, a ride on the Ferris wheel, tours of the twin museums of natural history and fine art.

The three thousand crowns were to be paid via the Czech plenipotentiary in Vienna. You have met him already: Robert Flieder. If you thought Flieder’s testimony to this court brief, you have the size of the man. All I got from him were excuses. Truthfully, I do not know what purpose he filled! Back in Prague, the British Consul-General, George Clerk, was doing his job for him. This is how it all occurred. Clerk brought my revelations to Seton-Watson, the pro-independence activist and journalist. What Hajšman and Flieder could not manage in months, Seton-Watson did overnight. The story was in every newspaper across the globe! The secret intrigues of the Hungarian government were out in the open. The powerful machinations of the armies of Germany, Russia and Austria were exposed. New York Times: ‘A New International Revolution!’ The Times: European Plot Divulged – A Three Part Series!’ The vendors and their hoardings all carried it. Many papers rightly guessed the source and printed my name, even the Czech ones. Though not their government. That would be an admittance of guilt. ‘Trebitsch Leaks!’ The matter was being discussed at the highest levels. The Czech president cabled London’s Foreign Office. Only then were the blinders removed from Sir Crowe’s eyes!!

Was I happy? No! Not at all. The job was done and I had not been paid and of course worse. To the men who had been sent to kill me over this information this must have been seen as a bold attack! I had a target on me, on my family too!

I had to think quick and I came up with two actions to slow my demise. I wrote to a friend in Berlin. If Stephani and Prónay were determined I be six feet under, then so be it! At my instruction, my friend spread the story of my demise. Stephani heard of it. Bauer and Weigand too. Had the Czechs not arrested me three months ago they might still believe it. The second course of action was to get out. I took the family by train to Semmering, the delightful winter ski village. Snow covered the forests and hills as far as the eyes could see. Margarethe and I got reacquainted. The boys built snowmen and raced on toboggans. It was an immensely happy time, one I fear I will not see again.

The prosecution promised Major Stephani will appear and it is something of a threat. However, the papers show his role in the coming bloodshed so I cannot see him appearing before this court. He is too deep in this conspiracy. He has too much to risk…

Wednesday 25 May, 1921.

Today, I shall continue to demonstrate how I am not guilty of fraud or high treason, but quite the reverse. Yesterday, I began to talk of January this year. I had returned from Semmering, assumed dead by my pursuers. The papers were still full of it, and there were consequences. The Supreme Council in Paris saw our documents and reprimanded Admiral Horthy. The British also were furious. They took their revenge on Bavaria by demanding Organisation Escherich to be disbanded. Some Austrian ministers took part in early talks with me, and there position is quite precarious. Czechoslovakia is also using the files as leverage against Germany! Oh, except the whole notion is a forgery of mine and none of this bother is really happening. That is the case against me, and there is not much else to it!

We kept a low profile, but almost right away began to notice unsettling things. Ignatius, alone at a restaurant, was asked a good many questions. The men claimed to be reporters, but when asked which paper, they ducked out. A few days later, he noticed two men following us. This happened several times. We had to make sharp moves to give them the slip. There was another incident, one I have not spoken of until now. We lodged at Hotel Viktoria, near Schonbrunn Palace. I had been the last to leave that morning and the first to return. I immediately noticed items were moved around: books, clothing, toiletries, as if part of an inspection. Had housekeeping been? No. Reception saw no-one. The locks were not tampered with. Who-ever it was had gained access by the third floor window balcony! Is that not all the hall-marks of a Secret Service agent, or worse?

And Flieder still rebuffed me: your money is coming soon. It will not be long now. Some days when I could not go, I sent Ignatius. Then one day he came back with a note reading, ‘go away, we do not want to hear from you again.’ told me ninety days. It had been six months! I enlisted a lawyer who wrote to them both, and the Foreign Minister, Beneš. Civil proceedings would be instituted if they did not settle immediately. Well, I had poked the bear. Within ten days, the government responded. They contacted the police here in Vienna and demanded my arrest. It was February 18th… when they swooped on us. Can you grasp the indignity of a father being put in cuffs with his two sons during a Friday lunch? John was barely sixteen for god’s sake and he had committed no crime! It had nothing to do with him! Perhaps I might have been better taking my chances with Stephani and Prónay, if doing right by Czechoslovakia means putting my loved ones lives at risk, and being damned against the wall!!!

I… I am shaking with rage.

Your honour, I would like time to compose myself.

Thursday 26 May, 1921.

I want to begin by thanking you all for your compassion yesterday. My patience was frayed. Upon my arrest, I gave the police a full statement about my activities and the dispute with the Czech government. Had I not, certain warped imaginations may have put a noose around my neck. I have stood, before you all, addressing these charges. The government in Prague alleges I forged fifty-one documents containing precise details of a plot by powerful militias in six countries. You have, I hope, paid more attention.

I demonstrated already how I am backed by the press, by Paris and London, even the men who would want me dead! The prosecution have produced little in the way of evidence. They refused to submit the papers until Judge Ramsauer ordered them to! Surely you find that suspicious? Only at the final moment did they present a mere sixteen of the documents. There are also the items taken during a police search of my apartment: my diary and address books, copies of legal correspondence. All these were examined and corresponded with my accounts. The police also collected a memo I kept in reserve pending payment: document fifty-one, I call it.. It is also known as Die Neue Taktik’ and outlines Colonel Bauer’s strategic plans and ideas. The police thought it a forgery. They wrote, ‘it served as an indication that Trebitsch committed forgeries.’ It has been the lynchpin of their argument. Yet the prosecution witness, Luis Engler, on behalf of Bauer explicitly stated it was genuine. Engler is loyal to her employer, who has every reason to see me behind bars. They called General Krauss. He testified a certain letter was authentic, that certain talks took place. So Krauss also corroborated many of the details in the evidence!

The prosecution has destroyed its own case!

In a while you will make your decision. I ask you to find me not guilty of forgery: the documents are perfectly authentic. I ask you also to dismiss the charge of high treason. A new era of European bloodshed has been prevented, stopped in its tracks, because I brought the full details to the authorities in good time. I am guilty only of being politically inconvenient.

Thank you.

#

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