Chapter 30

Ministry of Defence, Buda Royal Palace, Budapest.
Tuesday 24 August, 1920.

From the back of the room, Trebitsch surveyed the twenty men. The Bavarians: Georg Escherich, Captain Ernst Röhm and General Ludwig Maercker. Next to Escherich, the Hungarian Regent Miklos Horthy with hook nose and dossiers; his Minister for War, Gyula Gömbös, fat faced with cubist hair casting many shadows. There was the Foreign Office secretary for press, Tibor von Eckhardt: handsome, intense, even when he smiled; and Count Furstenburg, talking about how his coal mines, breweries and hotels were at the service of the White International. Georg Escherich was nodding as if he’d heard it before. Next to Trebitsch stood the butcher Pál Prónay and his guardsmen, Giczy and Faber. They watched the Bavarian soldiers carefully. Stephani, who had served as their liaison, was between them. Commander Pabst liaised with the Russian, Colonel Zjankhine, and they stood behind Biskupski. Opposite them, the dead-eyed Austrian, Krauss, Captain Ehrhardt and Colonel Bauer, who looked like a baby with a moustache in the shape of a razor. Who was not at that meeting was also of interest to Trebitsch.

Perhaps if Bavaria had responded to this alliance at the outset, you and your representatives could grasp these facts,” said Trebitsch.

Colonel Escherich was taken aback. Half the room stroked their guns.

Lets get back to strategy. When we occupy the industries in the Ruhr we’ll draw the working class behind us. We must not underestimate them again,” said Bauer.

That’s all very well but Austria running out of time,” said Krauss. “Communist attacks are on the increase. New borders are suffocating us out of existence. By the end of the year the Slovenians are going to take Carinthia and they are going to snatch the Burgenland.”

Prónay put a finger at Krauss. “Burgenland is ours,” he said.

It’s majority are Austrian,” said Krauss.

And it’s majority want to be Hungarian. We will defend them,” said Prónay.

Gömbös put his palms up. “We will. But Herr Escherich and I decided our border issues, all of them, can be left to later.”

Agreed,” said Bauer. “But we must rise in Austria first, and soon, to stop the Red threat. Captain Ehrhardt, can we be ready for November?”

Our effectiveness is dependent on our Bavarian allies. So far Marinebrigade Ehrhardt have worked well with Ogresch, and Orka.”

The Kapp Putsch may have freed Bavaria but this is not a provincial matter,” said Trebitsch.

Trebitsch, mind your manners,” said Stephani.

Scar-cheeked Captain Röhm turned a glare on Trebitsch. “You seem to have a stick up your ass, Trebitsch Lincoln.”

There was a little laughter through the room. Trebitsch raised his voice above it.

Very well then. Why is General Ludendorff not here? Colonel Bauer, myself and others sent countless letters to Munich. Where is he?”

Biskupski, Krauss and a few other heads nodded in agreement. Escherich turned his old face like he was turning the world itself. Scavenging eyes took in the beginning and end of Trebitsch, and Escherich breathed out one quick laugh. He tapped his right fingers and rotated to Horthy with a smile.

Regent, I suspect Lincoln won’t accept it coming from me. If you wouldn’t mind?”

Horthy was a man ever in a hurry, pressed to see through important matters while there was time. This urgency secured his position as Regent for Life, and even now his charm impressed.

Minister Escherich brought a letter to me from General Ludendorff. In this letter, he re-affirms his desire to support White Russians in a unified action against the Red Peril of the East. The General wishes he could join us. However, he makes clear if he were to come here he would be recognised, and thus make our work more difficult.”

Ogresch are in complete agreement with General Ludendorff’s sentiments,” said Escherich.

What about the Italians?” asked Prónay.

What about the Italians?” asked Pabst.

There was another ripple of laughter around the room.

Ay? Ay? You see de Italians?” laughed Pabst.

General Niscembene showed us their barracks. I am optimistic they will help,” said Trebitsch.

Bauer said, “We asked for two thousand men to maintain neutrality. And to keep out the Slavs. Krauss and I think they could be positioned at the Austrian frontier: Carinthia, Villach..”

So, it would appear we have Poland surrounded. Except for the absent Italians and only two men from the Russian delegation,” said Escherich.

General Wrangel is unavailable… commanding in the Crimea. But his army and mine will kill every Communist in Russia,” he said.

And my battalions shall accelerate the purges here at home,” said Prónay.

And give the foreign press more ammunition against us? Caution, Commander,” said Horthy.

On that matter, why are the papers already talking about our presence here?” asked Röhm.

This is not helpful when I’m trying to bring my men into Austria and Czechoslovakia,” said Ehrhardt.

Respectfully, Colonel Bauer, perhaps you should not be appearing in full uniform? The German Embassy lodged a complaint against your presence with the Foreign Office,” said Furstenburg.

Trebitsch sized up his friend, shook his head and bowed, determined not to take the remark personally. “That is unfortunate,” he said. “The Colonel has acted as a symbol of our military strength while we wait for Ludendorff. Tell me, when will he come act? He is the perfect choice for Supreme Commander of the whole campaign.”

The General will not be serving in that capacity,” said Escherich.

We are still choosing who will lead the Austrian revolt,” said Krauss.

The Regent’s eyes sparked and his hands pressed the table firmly. “Hungarian soldiers will not be under orders from any general of the old empire,” he said.

It seems some are playing games. Ludendorff was due in some capacity three months ago! Do you want him for yourselves, is that it?” asked Trebitsch.

That is childish nonsense,” said General Maercker.

Yes. Shut up, Trebitsch,” said Stephani.

General Krauss has championed Austro-German unity. I feel he would be a fine choice to lead,” said Escherich.

We do not wish to be annexed in a new Habsburg monarchy,” Horthy said.

Oh, but Regent, what matters an international revolt when Bavaria is feeling insecure?”

Stephani’s face boiled red. He slapped his hand hard on the table. “Enough, Trebitsch! You will apologise at once!”

Prónay slid his hand down to his pistol. Röhm fixed him with a glare, and did the same.

I am sorry. You Bavarians seem to be going your own way,” said Trebitsch. “I heard several times today of Bavarians trying to fix up a separate agreement with the Hungarians behind our backs. And they have only just got here!”

Oh come on! Simple miscommunication. Our problems with the Hungarian cabinet, for example, is not representative of the men in this room,” said Krauss.

What problems?” asked the Regent.

We will negotiate with whomever we like,” said Escherich.

Minister. This is our central committee. Everything should go through here,” said Biskupski.

Let’s not have this descend into regional nonsense,” said Bauer.

Under the table, Trebitsch’s feet were furiously running on the spot as he spoke. “Oh, you are right, you are right. It looks to be a fiasco, a second Kapp affair. I will be out!!”

There is more at stake here than one man or one region,” Ehrhardt told him.

Yes! Yes! And I am sick of his small time pettifoggery. We were promised Ludendorff would be here for the laying of the foundation stone. We were promised Ludendorff. I demand that Ludendorff show!!”

Trebitsch’s bouncing feet suddenly burst into full stomping and the noise shook the room.

The train hammered along the tracks. All thunder was coming to Vienna, as it had to Budapest. In the carriage, Trebitsch spun the corner of an envelope in his hand, elated with righteous fury; terrified and sweating. It had been tossed his way so casually.

There’s some bills to sort through,” Ehrhardt had said.

While Ehrhardt was washing up, Trebitsch found one not yet posted. It was from Bauer to Stephani, and he saw his own name and read:

Trebitsch Lincoln has rendered excellent service, and it would be a despicable act, Herr Stephani, to do what you propose. Baron Prónay in particular condemns your action. Neither Prónay nor I would have any hesitation of any kind in removing from our path a disloyal and treacherous colleague. But neither of us would ever contemplate the assassination of such a loyal and meritorious colleague as Herr Lincoln.’

The train had screeched the last half mile back to Budapest. The same malfunction as en route to Vienna. Trebitsch took it as a sign. Passengers both times were flung forward and later, talked about when, or if, it would stop.

There are two hundred thousand marks in Central Post Office in your name,” Trebitsch told Bauer at the apartment. “But without a passport I fear you are lost.”

Put that aside for one moment. I have something to say.”

The black bags hung heavy under Bauer’s red eyes. “Herr Stephani wants you eliminated. He wrote to Prónay that you were compromising the movement. Prónay came straight to me with the letter.”

Oh, I know! Yes. I found out. Captain Ehrhardt went white when I confronted him. ‘I was on no account to show you that letter.’”

I give you my word as a Prussian officer that you are in no danger. Nobody shall harm a hair on your head. Stay with us.”

Trebitsch glared at him: just another sack of meat in military garb. A disappointment. Where was his friend, Bauer, the toughest man in the room? Trebitsch had never seen him so flushed.

See this thing through to it’s successful conclusion. Don’t take a tragic view of the incident.”

One month. And Stephani must be gone.”

I shall dismiss him immediately,” said Bauer.

On the train to Vienna, Trebitsch glared at him some more and let the rumbling of the carriage’s bowels work their illness. Luis Engler was with them, and Ehrhardt met them in the hotel lounge.

A military dictatorship is nearly established here,” Ehrhardt said.

The Reds rule by controlling food supplies to the large towns so we should encircle production areas,” said Bauer.

Trebitsch doubled over in the chair, and let out a gritted scream.

Trebitsch, what’s the matter?” said Bauer.

Stabbing…”

Engler gently pushed his head. “He’s burning up,” she said.

He ran for the bathroom. Bauer, Ehrhardt and Engler stood at the toilet door for some time. Inside, the earth erupted. A flush, a washing of hands, then another scream. Beneath the ground, meteors rained on rivers. Trebitsch was stamping his feet. Then, panting followed by another flush, a washing of hands, another scream.

Poison,” he gasped.

What?” said Bauer.

Food poisoning. I cannot go tonight.”

Over the week ahead, a white light acid tore like a slow flamethrower flickering at his stomach. His belly wrestled to break free, like one of a mouse on a glue board. Everything was inflamed. He rolled on the mattress. His hands pushed against the wall. If he pushed it far enough he could find the oxygen. A hideous smell flared from electrocuted guts. From bed he saw his eldest boy John: seventeen, tall and pale with dim adventuring eyes. He could hear the boy inhaling the future. Roger Casement appeared, took tall strides around them. His bubbly clumped hair and sunset moustache were the colour of ash and as he drew nearer, he and John faded from view. Then, he heard Bauer, wishing him better health.

We will need you to up and about, to design a comprehensive social and economic programme for when the cities are in our control.”

Trebitsch dreamed he was looking down on a hill, where the rain was heavy and the ground strewn with waste. Then he awoke in darkness, alone, and could only make out his large travel bag. It lay in the corner, bulked up with all their papers, and seemed to stare. His body felt as if it had been strapped to a train engine. In the second week the nausea was replaced by chills, like hail on the bone. It was so hard to breathe he dreamt he was wearing a collar. Reverend McCarter was at his bedside, come to bless him.

This fever will be your salvation,” said McCarter.

The advance against Russia can begin as soon as Biskupski has built up his contingents out of former prisoners of war,” said Bauer, before he switched out the light and left.

Then, another voice: Trebitsch Lincoln M.P., who walked out of the darkness in full military dress.

Well this is a double whoopee,” he said.

#

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Chapter 29

Vienna, Austria.
Monday 2 August, 1920

The last time Trebitsch had been to that cafe was over a decade before, when he saw the funny little man shit himself. For that reason, it wasn’t his first choice, and he chose the seats carefully.

BISKUPSKI
(THE WHITE RUSSIAN)

Biskupski looked ordinary. Slim, groomed; handsome to some. An affixing stare had burned through many nights and the cool breeze from the Danube could do nothing to soften it. Biskupski’s eye-bags were caked in sun. He was dressed in a white shirt and Russian military jacket, free of insignias. On the buttoned pocket flap was one removable metal badge: a swastika.

The British wanted to colonise us,” he said. “Their actions ended with my people driven from their country and the rest ruled by tyranny.”

We will help you take back Russia, General Biskupski,” said Bauer.

If the Austrians and Bavarian Ogresch help. We must be united. Three years ago Moscow put me in charge of the Ukraine. Brutal. Chaos. Six armies fighting it out: the French, the Ukranians, Bolsheviks, yours, mine…”

The Poles,” said Bauer.

The Poles. It was hard. Civilians everywhere. We were in the Lviv suburbs. The Austrians and ours firing across the streets. Maybe the Austrians, it was hard to tell.”

Biskupski thumbed a side of black moustache three times. He glanced quickly at the next table and the two rigid Hungarians, then dropped his voice to a whisper.

There was a commander, an old man, white moustache sticking out like antlers. He had pinned us down in a garden. I thought I had a clear shot: but I missed him. Blew the head off a woman!!”

The sharpness of teeth gave away Biskupski’s cruelty. Then it was concealed behind perfect cheekbones.

Well it was war, I suppose,” said Trebitsch.

She might have been one of them. Or a Jew. The commander got away, but before he did, the woman’s brains had spurted out all over his uniform: like a fountain!!”

Biskupski laughed, showing a glimpse of utter domination.

You were stationed there after the war too?” asked Trebitsch.

After? There was no ‘after’. It only got worse. They kept pushing and pushing. Then, the fucking treaties.”

What good was a treaty in stopping that?” asked Bauer.

You understand, Colonel. When they’d done killing everyone they pulled the corpse apart like a child would a spider. The Poles took it’s legs off, the Roumanians, and the rest: Uzhorod, Mukachevo…”

Taken from Austria-Hungary by the Czechs,” said Trebitsch.

I executed former comrades. Those with red mist in their heads were put out of their misery,” said Biskupski.

He looked past Trebitsch to the Hungarians. They had been silent: the trim bearded muscle-man and the thin youngster, his whole head covered in short hair.

Lenin had his army ready to invade Roumania but the blow we dealt them in the Ukraine? They couldn’t spare the number. So, the Roumanians swept into Budapest and brought down Bela Kun.”

The Hungarians looked at him like he wasn’t supposed to be looking at them.

Oh, lighten up,” said Biskupski, and turned away from them.

I’ll tell you what I think of your plans for a new entente, Bauer. I want the Red Army and the Whites together, going into Poland. We will take back our 1914 borders. Once Poland is ours we’ll cut up any of the Reds in our ranks and put the military under a firm Tsarist dictatorship. Then, as members of our alliance have their revolutions we’ll get rid of every Communist in Russia.”

Bauer and Trebitsch were stunned. Their mouths hung open and the gears turned. Suddenly, Bauer got to his feet.

Krauss is here,” he said.

KRAUSS
(THE AUSTRIAN)

Trebitsch leapt to his feet and shook the old man’s hand. “General Krauss, greetings. I am Dr. Johann Lange and….”

Colonel Bauer,” said Krauss.

Bauer rose and took his hand. “At your service, General.”

Alfred Krauss wore his average stature like a hulk, from turtle shell shaped head to toecapped boots. “Your goings-on in Budapest have probably reached Australia,” he said.

He wore eye-glasses, no ears on black frames. White slathers of hair streamed on top but his moustache was broad, reaching out like a pair of antlers. He looked at the two Hungarians, their jackets hanging heavy. The Russian remained seated.

Welcome. I am General Vasilly Biskupski, and those men are two of Pronay’s finest: Giczey and Faber.”

Neither Giczey nor Faber moved. Krauss shrugged with his throat as he sat.

Austria’s help and yours is paramount in this great undertaking,” said Bauer. His eyes shone. “I have followed your career: managing the infantry in Belgrade and Tyrol…”

Krauss studied the youths playing round fountains and statues. Handelskal’s straight lines and box hedges. He scrutinised the hundred canopies covering the market, the horses over tramlines, the cart pushers and road holers digging in.

The last few years when you commanded the Imperial and Royal armies in Italy,” said Bauer.

Krauss gave a sigh. “Yes. At the same time Vienna put me in charge of the occupied territories in the Ukraine,” he said.

Bauer, Trebitsch and Biskupski held their breath. Giczey and Faber looked to one another. Krauss appeared not to notice.

We had to protect the Ukraine from Soviet influence, and organise the exploitation of their natural resources.”

The wind whistled. It blew silver balls of mercury toward Trebitsch.

Only days ago we were south of here, at Villach, and met the Italian General Nascimbene. Well, he and Colonel Bauer have arranged a meeting with an influential journalist there. A man named Benito Mussolini who is of a like mind. Our Dr. Theodor Lakatos is going to meet with him. We hope!!”

A strong Austrian-German alliance befits our task to reclaim Russia,” said Biskupski.

As we unite all those wronged, we enjoy great support from Hungary,” said Trebitsch.

Really?” asked Krauss.

Yes,” said Trebitsch excitedly. “We are expecting General Ludendorff to lead Marinebrigade Ehrhardt and the armies of Bavaria!!”

Krauss had not smiled once and the veins appeared to burst through his cranium. His eyes, like an old baptist’s fires, peered deep into Trebitsch’s soul.

It’s true,” said Bauer. “Mobilisation is already under way. Come with us to Budapest as Biskupski has done. See for yourself.”

Budapest. What is Horthy doing about the rise in Communist attacks?” asked Krauss.

Trebitsch laughed. “General, you jest!!”

Then Krauss was shouting to spitting at Trebitsch. “Horthy’s parliament have been trying to disarm Pronay, give him the snip. The White Guard in Hungary, Ogresch in Bavaria, Orka here in Russia. It’s the same over! Who will protect us when the Reds are killing us in our sleep?”

We will,” said Bauer. “And as President of the Association of German Officers -”

You have my respect, Bauer, but I did not think you of all men would sugar my ego. Austria is having it much worse. More land is seized, more industry leaders are killed and their children drowned. If we were talking seriously which we are not, but if we were, I would want assurances opposing armies would be put down and their leaders arrested.”

We are not talking seriously?” asked Trebitsch.

Orka will take the lead but to seize all public buildings and transport systems… well frankly, this is all a pipe dream, isn’t it?” asked Krauss.

What?” asked Bauer.

A great Germany, a great Austria and a great Hungary! I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it,” said Biskupski.

If you were serious we would be discussing it somewhere discreet. Somewhere we haven’t the enemy at our gates.”

Krauss got to his feet and looked down on them. His cheeks were puffy red.

It’s a pity your plans can’t include Austria at this time. Good day, gentlemen.”

Ministry of Defence, Buda Royal Palace, Budapest.
Tuesday 24 August, 1920.

Biskupski took large strides through the foyer. He found Trebitsch and ox-shaped Stephani looking out onto the St. George’s Square garden.

Gombos wants us in the meeting room. We’re about to start,” he said.

Trebitsch’s face lit up. “General, it is good to see you. I was surprised Krauss came here. I thought you and he might come to blows.”

Biskupski moved in closer as Trebitsch drew on his cigarette.

About Krauss… in Vienna, he heard you were a Jew, and was also convinced you were an undercover British agent. He received several warnings: a woman from the Hague, a journalist, Reventlow…”

The bastard!” said Trebitsch. “Reventlow is–”

The Colonel and I assured him you are capable, loyal and trustworthy,” said Biskupski.

Stephani grinded out his cigarette. “We should go in. Ludendorff has obviously made sure Bavaria is on board.”

Bauer promised Ludendorff would be here! We cannot manage them without him!” said Trebitsch.

The Bavarians have sent Escherich,” said Biskupski.

Nobody sends Escherich,” said Stephani.

ESCHERICH
(THE BAVARIAN)

There were nearly twenty men packing the room. There were Kapp Putschists and White Internationals, a great many of them Trebitsch recognised, and a few he didn’t.

Bauer was at the front helping Georg Escherich to sit. Escherich was aided with a cane made by his own hand. Surly Bavarian soldiers guarded the spots behind his chair and were well armed. Stephani, having worked closely with the Bavarians, greeted Escherich as he entered, then took his place at the back with Trebitsch.

Bauer lowered his palms onto the table, compressing the whispers around the room.

Gentlemen, we have a special visitor from Munich. Colonel Escherich, would you begin?”

Out of fear or respect, every whisper stopped. Veins rippled on Escherich’s head as he spoke. His accent was thick and he spoke with total control. He had a clear plan in mind and no doubt.

Thank you, Herr Bauer. Organisation Escherich has close to a million members. A third of the Ogresch are in Bavaria. I am joined here by General Maercker and Captain Rohm. If we like what we see, we’ll match you with financiers and strategists. We can supply weapons through Rudolf Kanzer in Rosenheim. In Austria, we’re working with Rich Steidle and our counterpart, Orka.”

Bauer smiled sleazy. “Thank you, Colonel. Captain Ehrhardt, can you give us an update on troop movements?”

Stormtroopers disguised as farm labourers have been smuggled into Tyrol and Salzburg. We have mobilised along the lower regions and the Austrian-Italian border: Carinthia, Judenburg and Steiermark.”

Anyone able to fight will be given arms, trained and organised,” said Stephani.

Simultaneous revolts have a tactical advantage in releasing Germany from the red danger,” said Ehrhardt.

In that case you will want to target pro-coup areas, especially the East: Upper Silesia, Pomerania,” said Escherich.

Berlin must be induced to provoke Bavaria,” said Trebitsch. “At the moment when Bavarian forces begin north, the Kapp supporters will strike in Pomerania and East Prussia.”

A reunification of Austria and Germany is not the subject here. We are facilitating a campaign of many nations, not the building of a superpower,” said Horthy.

Neither Krauss nor I are plan to conquer you,” said Colonel Escherich.

Admiral Horthy. You will need a new munitions factory here in Hungary,” said Bauer.

The Alpine Montangesellschaft are the largest heavy industry concern in Austria. It’s owner, Walter Pfrimer, is one of ours. Committed to the cause,” said Escherich.

Trebitsch was watching the back and forth between Horthy, Bauer and Escherich intensely. He was already filled with an intense loathing for the Bavarian.

The Soviets will not like this unified anti-Entente action. Until it leads France’s vassal Poland away from Russia to defend against Germany,” said Biskupski.

Hungary and Poland are on good terms. I do not want to alter that,” said Horthy.

Escherich raised his head slowly and looked Horthy in the eye. Then he shook it no, wildly. “They are putting together this ‘Little Entente’ with the Czechs and Roumanians.”

We are well aware of this,” said Horthy’s Defence Minister, Gombos.

Then,” said Escherich, “you know it is because of ‘the Hungarian menace’. Fears of the return of ‘the Habsburg monarchy!’ Respectfully, your Excellency, do you seriously think they, or the Czechs, are your allies?”

They will see it as the French and the English do: a move against the Reds. We are not restoring a monarchy so where is the threat to them?”

Escherich’s Bavarian soldiers looked at Trebitsch accusingly.

I am sorry, but who are you?” asked Colonel Escherich.

Who am I? My name is Trebitsch Lincoln and I managed the putsch that gave Bavaria its independence. I have been planning this operation from the very beginning. Now, the Regent’s National Army already have troops in Czechosolovakia and there are many Germans living there. Enough of an alliance–”

Yes, but Yugoslavia for instance,” said Escherich.

Please do not interrupt me. There is no debate about the Slavs!! An alliance exists to secure the coal districts from the German Ostrauer across Czechoslovakia to Karwin in Poland. Captain Ehrhardt will tell you this is necessary, as will your own men. Perhaps if Bavaria had responded to this alliance at the outset, you and your representatives could grasp these facts.”

Colonel Escherich was taken aback. Half the room stroked their guns.

#

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Chapter 28

To read The Watch Thief  advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Bavaria and Budapest,
January – July, 1920.

He ran, snapping bark and crushing clumps of grass. The steamboat rocked, then plunged the heart deep into the blue. Forest buds clung on the arm of his jacket as he stalked Potsdam’s streets. A train moaned long, and he sat by the dance of darkness and light, doors opening and shutting. Luis Engler’s round cheeks were pale: behind her night black hair a golden sky, and then deep blue river. Through the carriage glass, the hilly terrain and fading lakes of Bavaria sped behind Trebitsch, and Karl Weigand. The forest buds were gone and he grabbed the rail of the boat, looked to Luis. He’d seen her this afraid in their hurried rush off the Vienna Express. From the Salzburg hotel, where a stranger asked questions. Liza Ungler, Tibor Lehotzky and Dr. Búrger they were then, and were gone quickly.

Bauer was never afraid. He was smiling at the sky and the hot gust blushed his face. A fountain spurt circled their heads, drops like the stars that night they brought together Weigand and Ludendorff. The steamboat bounced up and the water hit the deck. Luis Engler laughed in the spray and twirled around the rail, looking out to the ripples of the Danube, healthy and deep. Bauer tutted. Churches, banks and luxury hotels were nestled in the sanctuary of the Buda Hills. A train crossed the Danube bound for the Hungarian parliament which guarded the water-way so majestically. He pulled green buds from his jacket and dropped them on the floor of the train carriage, five hundred miles away. Weigand was thanking him for the exclusive with Ludendorff. Hearst would be pleased.

“You will meet not just Ludendorff, when we get to Bavaria, but also Gustav von Kahr!” said Trebitsch.

“What do you plan to do after?” Weigand asked.

“The General is donating the money you will pay him for Bauer and I to travel to Budapest and meet Regent Horthy. My contacts with Tibor Eckhardt at the Hungarian Foreign Press office will open many doors for us. You should meet him.”

A newspaper truck moved through the harbour and they could make out telegraph towers and cargo shunters. Luis said it was the most beautiful journey she had taken. Margaret Island lay ahead of them, all forest parks and natural beauty. They passed a decrepit barge with TREBITSCH Of Paks in faded paint and Luis laughed. He forced himself to join in. Trebitsch had everything and anything in his custom-made bag. Bauer and his secretary packed lightly, so even when they’d crossed the gangway they were waiting for him to catch up. Count Furstenburg at the Embassy called the Foreign Office. Then he drove them to Hotel Astoria where they stayed free, guests of the state. They waited in the lobby by the marble counter, a source of angels ascending in plaster-work, singing a rapture through columns and silver chandeleirs thirty floors up. Bauer’s party lodged on the first floor. The rooms were numbered in gold. The room were clean, dusted from skirting board up William Morris wallpaper to the ceiling. A concierge presented Luis with one of the new electric hair dryers. Downstairs, Tibor Eckhardt targeted them with his eyes and extended a welcome hand.

Count Furstenburg said, “Eckhardt, Gömbös and Prónay were vital in helping wrestle Hungary from the vile Bela Kun communists.”

“Last time my counter-part Mr. Lincoln was here we talked about awakening Hungary,” said Eckhardt. “Yes, I will fix an appointment for you with the Regent.”

On the street they saw Eckhardt’s ‘Awakening Hungary’ paramilitaries beating a homosexual. They knew this because Eckhardt waved to them, and they waved back. The commander had a bullet shaped face. With each kick he yelled for more. He decided his men weren’t sufficiently motivated and grabbed the victim’s ear and sliced it off. Eckhardt led Lincoln, Bauer and Engler past. A banner on a railing read, ‘A dog can never be turned into bacon and a Jew can never be turned into a Hungarian!’

Trebitsch remembered the last time he’d been on this street. Soldiers grabbed Alexander Krausz. Margaret Lenkiet was screaming. The handcuffs were out, the officer’s stick. He reacted in time. He gave the police a newspaper clipping marking his visit to Amerongen. It had two photographs: himself and the Kaiser. The soldiers returned the paper, apologised, and helped Krausz to his feet.

The Országház, the Hungarian parliament, was the tallest, largest building in Budapest and armoured with gothic spikes. Eckhardt led them under the great dome and by the coats of arms, two angels around the Holy Crown. Hungary’s victors of centuries gone by were gravely frozen in stained glass. The Regent welcomed them and took the note Ludendorff had sent along.

“We seek anullment of all these so-called peace treaties,” said Bauer.

Horthy was uniformed as an officer of the state. A man of fifty, he had a young head of hair and a hook nose. He nodded at Bauer and gave the briefest smile.

Bauer said, “I would like Your Excellency to consider involving Hungary in the establishment of a Central International Committee to co-ordinate a unified action: one which would mobilise our peoples.”

“We aim to strike back within one year,” said Lincoln. “Mr. Eckhardt, you and I would manage a Central Press Bureau responsibe for propaganda in a new alliance. If His Excellency wills it.”

“Something like that would require utmost secrecy. A word in the wrong ear would be treason,” said Eckhardt.

“In that case those who spoke out of turn would be executed,” said Trebitsch.

“It sounds quite incredible. Too incredible. How would you realise it?” asked Horthy.

“Arms would be purchased in Germany and from there, distributed to other countries,” said Bauer.

Trebitsch said, “We aim to bring in Russian emigres into this, and because finances are essential to this, we’d pay for arms with special Duma Roubles, printed on special presses.”

“I cannot decide this anytime soon It requires large levels of organisation and development. We can carry on with the discussion. Eckhardt will set you up to meet our key ministers.”

Trebitsch plucked sticky green buds from his white shirt, and looked at the forest around him. The trees were tall, sun rays striking either side. He followed the line up to the branches. There were so many trees up there, like tracks coming together. Then, he saw the soft face of Karl Weigand. He was sat next to him, sat back on the leather upholstery of the train.

“You have met Pope Pius XI and Hindenburg and many others.” Trebitsch could hear his own voice in the sun. “You see, Mr. Weigand, I am like you. Travel, politics, newspapers – these things are in my blood! Making contacts, visiting fine establishments – I live for these!! “

They had been welcome at the Astoria with complimentary meals and drinks served around the clock. They met again with Furstenberg and Eckhardt and with Defence Minister Gyula Gömbös. They met in cafes, the restaurants, in the Hungarian parliament, at the hotels and the hidden banks; in bars with no names and rooms and apartments, in houses and palaces and often it was as if he was seeing his hometown for the first time. He went to places his mother and father must have only dreamt about, and he laughed at how he’d outwitted President Ebert and stupid, stupid Admiral Hall. Greedy Hall would be so annoyed. So inferior next to brave Horthy!!

In the forest, he flicked wood chips off his shirt. His heart was racing. Controlled breaths, he calmed it. Trebitsch followed the trail out until he saw the ruins of the thirteenth century monastery and what looked like a loose flame. He knew this to be an orange-robed monk in the garden, gazing at fat fish swimming in the pond. He told Krausz they’d given him an apartment there, among the trees and relics on Margaret Island.

“Margaret Island is in the middle of the Danube, half way between Buda and Pest,” said Trebitsch.

Why was he telling his nephew? Of course Krausz knew where it was!

“I meant to get you the money for those stamps, I did!” said Trebitsch.

Except, it wasn’t Krausz he was talking to. The monk? Stephani? Trebitsch blinked at the candle flame and found himself sat in the restaurant facing Bauer. The temperature was colder. They were surrounded by empty tables. Luis Engler was there, with Gömbös, Eckhardt, and the bullet-faced man. The one who waved at them with the homosexual’s ear in his hand. His name was Pál Prónay and his eyes were dead. He was an engine without a soul. His jaw was severe like a cliff face.

“There you have it, Commander Prónay,” said Bauer. “A new entente of Germany, Hungary and Russia.”

“The Russian’s civil war causes them much suffering,” said Gömbös. “Grain siezed at the point of a bayonet, peasants on strike, the Polish armies advancing all around them.”

“You romancer,” laughed Prónay. “My dick is hard thinking about those Commie bitches getting their hearts melted with blowtorches.”

“I had the good fortune to be introduced to one man who might consolidate the Russians, and bring his supporters to work with us,” said Bauer.

Trebitsch slapped the table. “Yes! To turn back the tide we must create a state of tabula rasa in Central Europe!” he said.

“What we will discuss is known only to us and the Regent. It should remain so,” said Bauer.

“Before we do: a private matter, Colonel?” said Prónay.

Prónay and Bauer stepped out into the hall but Trebitsch and the others could hear them from the table.

“Colonel, your dark, fat friend is a Jew – I don’t feel safe talking in front of him,” said Prónay.

Bauer shook his head and smiled, the crescent enveloping his face until his eyes were closed and open glinting. “Oh, Lieutenant-Colonel! I would put my hand in the fire for that man. You can talk in front of him without any fears.”

Prónay was deadly serious. “No. You can’t trust a Jew as long as there’s breath in his body; but if you believe in him, don’t hold me responsible.”

They returned to the table. The diners looked at Prónay, and Trebitsch, avoiding eye contact with either one.

“TREBITSCH! Trebitsch, are you listening to me?”

Not Krausz. Stephani. He was there, in the scorching light of the railway station. “You were telling me about Margaret Island and –“

The sun was glistening on the Major’s cold reptilian skin. Trebitsch stared at Stephani, then turned and ran back up the platform. He put his hand on the boy’s back. Krausz whirled around and looked at him accusingly.

“You blanked me! How dare you?” said Trebitsch.

“It’s all you will get from me. My savings and my friend’s savings went into buying those stamps. I spent days finding them. I followed you to Berlin, kept you and Bauer safe after the putsch. Still I was not compensated!”

“Oh, you are the wronged party? I lost out too. And you did well out of me in Berlin.”

“I wonder what the papers will think of this,” Krausz said, and began to walk.

Trebitsch grabbed his arm. “If you tell anybody about this, I will have Prónay’s officers deal with you!” he said.

Krausz cast him off and marched on down the platform. Stephani caught up with Trebitsch.

“What was all that about?” asked Stephani.

“Never mind. Come. We have a meeting with the Regent we must not miss.”

They criss-crossing away from Rakoczi and Erzebet, talking about Bauer’s General Biskupski, the Ludendorff of Russia. They zig-zagged from the opera houses on Andrassy until the Danube was by their side. Trebitsch pointed out Margaret Island, his new home, before they entered Kossuth Lajos Square and the Parliament. In the meeting room Bauer, Engler and Prónay sat around the table. Trebitsch was seated next to Gömbös. The Defence Minister rested his fingers on the table, dried blood spread across his knuckles.

“They want to take away two thirds of our country, to exclude three million Hungarians from our nation,” said Defence Minister Gömbös.

“In four days time, I will sign this Treaty of Trianon,” said the Regent. “I have written an accompanying statement that we do so under the pressure of political circumstances.”

“Much like your people, Colonel Bauer, we do not want to be under armed siege,” said Gömbös.

“However, that is not the end of the matter,” said Horthy. “Your scheme? Hungary is behind it. All the way.”

Trebitsch stood with Bauer on the platform; the carriages began to shore up at the station and he was remembering two months earlier, riding to Bavaria with Weigand. The reporter listened intently to Trebitsch’s every word.

“We are birds of a feather,” he’d said. “You saw the action at the Eastern front lines, and our insurrection in Berlin. Dangerous times and some dangerous people, but the stuff of adventure!”

Then the passengers were swaming all around them. There was a sudden commotion at the rear: travellers changed direction; walked around the putschists. From out of the space strode General Vasili Biskupski. He was possessed of great presence and though young, every atom of his being was self-assured. He wore a tight fitting buttoned suit and jacket and the Russian-Ukranian accent was deep and heavy.

“Colonel Bauer, Mr. Lincoln, very good. Now, let us talk of how we will drench Europe and Russia with the the blood of every Communist.”

#

 

The Watch Thief – Chapter 27

Apartment of Elsa von Nagelein, Berlin.
28 April, 1920.

Elsa von Nagelein was dressed in navy shirt and drab fawn dress; streaked mascara and glumness. Her apartment was books and ordered files, the little she’d brought from The Hague to Berlin. She swept back her long wispy hair and told her angry story.
“They shouted at us… not so much Trebitsch, but the soldiers. Then Ehrhardt’s men on the way back to Doberitz… god, all those people… We heard the machine guns and the screams. I remember Trebitsch checking his passport for the third time, as if looking for a reason to smile.”

Unter den Linden, Berlin.
Saturday 27 March, 1920.

Trebitsch, buttoned up in black jacket threw one arm round Elsa and another to the world, as if all was right with it. She was in the arms of joy, her mood bubbly, splashing back hazel hair, long beige coat flapping as they walked. He twirled his cane proudly, having just explained to Haider the political geography of Berlin.
“And Elsa?” he asked. “She was around for most of it. You may ask me anything in front of her. I trust her completely.”
Elsa looked inside him and swam.
“Now,” he continued, “you may tell your friends at the New York Times, Trebitsch Lincoln remains in Berlin to wind up the business of the plotters: and to ensure their escape!!”
They turned right onto Wilhelmstrasse. The journalist, Haider, took a sudden panic. His hand remained on Trebitsch’s arm.
“Mr. Haider, I can lead you to a few good bars. I’m sure you would like a scotch,” said Trebitsch.
“It’s not that, Herr Lincoln. Should we be going this way?”
“It is true that an indictment has been drawn up against me: ‘Illegal Assumption of Authority and Unlawful Requisitioning of State Property!’ Appar-ently!!”
Elsa, hand-in-his, announced, “Herr Lincoln knows no fear!”
Trebitsch stopped them on the corner and raised his cane across the road to a building of box window: red, yellow and blue flying from the verandas.
“There is the Hungarian embassy. I have my country of birth on my side. And good friends. Wilhelm Ludwig for one!!”
“I’m not acquainted with Mr. Ludwig,” said Haider.
Trebitsch took out his Hungarian passport. “Wilhelm Ludwig!! You see? Haha! Come, sir!”
Elsa tittered and Haider took a friendly slap on the back and followed Trebitsch.
“But Ebert has returned? How did you even get that?”
Elsa and Trebitsch were full of a giddy glow.
“The locals think I am still a British subject!!”
“They’re not going to do anything against him,” she tittered.
“The Putsch’s failure is not complete,” he told Haider. “A good seed has been sewn here.”
And then, they were at the British embassy gates and Trebitsch raised his arms facing it.
“We shall come again!!” he roared.

Elsa von Nagelein took a cigarette from the carton and Weiss lit a match. She took a drag and put her slim hand around the wine glass.
“He was living with me around the time of his birthday. His forty-first.” The cigarette shook in her fingers. Her lips searched around for a smile and glistened. We went to the wax-works and saw the Wilhelm Vogt sculpture.”
She took another draw. “You know, the crook who pretended to be an officer and robbed a bank? Well, Trebitsch almost tripped over the wachs-figur!”Elsa laughed out loud.
“He went terribly pale. It was too close to home. I mean, Vogt conning those soldiers: that’s Trebitsch and Bauer’s relationship!”

British Foreign Office, London.
Mid-April, 1920.

Lord William Tyrrell rapped and opened a familiar door to a familiar office. Eyre Crowe, though fifty-six, sprung to his feet and shook Tyrrell’s hand. Crowe was tall with arch hair, magnet eyebrows and poultry lips.
“Lord Tyrrell, William: I’m glad you didn’t send a courier. It is good to see you. How are things at Political Intelligence?”
He had to ask. Tyrrell was not physically dissimilar to how Crowe remembered: big shoulders; big moustache; hair combed right; grey and white strands at the ears. Yet since his breakdown, Tyrrell looked far away, like he’d erected a screen around himself, observing remotely.
“Things are better, thank you, Eyre.”
Tyrrell took a seat in front of his old desk. “We have a strong team. How is work under Lord Curzon?”
“He shares my doubts over the P.M., but with Curzon everything is a ceremony,”
“I heard about Leipzig,” said Tyrrell. “I know you were born there and I wanted to say how sorry I am. What was it, a hundred and thirty dead?”
Crowe looked down to the ruby uniform pattern carpet. Tyrrell reached over: his hand doubled in the desk’s reflection. Every piece of wood in the Ministry shone, from door to dada rail to table incline. Tyrrell finger brushed the felt inset and looked up, into Crowe’s dark eyes.
“They arrested Kapp in Sweden last night.” He took a deep breath. “Ludendorff and Bauer have been seen around the Austrian border and my sources tell me that bastard, Trebitsch Lincoln, was with them in Munich. He’s since gone back to Berlin; trying to hawk Bauer’s writings.”
“Has the pressure we put on law enforcement borne fruit?” asked Crowe.
“They want him in chains, and seem determined about it,” said Tyrrell.
“It can’t have escaped your notice, Mr. Tyrrell, that he continues to talk to every press man he finds. General Malcolm heard from one of them that he and Bauer are organising a new putsch. He even dragged Churchill’s name into it, saying this putsch had his support. Please find out what you can.”

Elsa glugged back half a glass of wine and held it out for a top up. It never came.
“Fine, Weiss. Fine.” She withdrew the glass.
“He got a manuscript from Bauer: the colonel’s memories of the Kapp Putsch. Well, Trebitsch took me with him when he was trying to sell it to reporters.”
Weiss’s oval face and round lenses were buried in the notebook, scribbling detail enough that Elsa could reach across and grab the bottle of Sauvignon back. He looked at her, hurt.
“I guess he thought I’d add some style to his pitch. There was the Times, Chicago Tribune. Trebitsch wanted $2,500, but they all turned him down. One time, I accidentally left the papers at a restaurant. We got them back, more’s the pity.”
“All his letters were here?” asked Weiss, as she drank.
Elsa slapped down her glass and took out her cigarette case. “Yes. From Kapp and Ludendorff. Along with his books, his watch and that stupid cartoon he shows everyone. He went to Bavaria for a while to meet Bauer and Ehrhardt… shaved off his moustache and glasses for fear he’d be recognised. So much for the fearless one.”

Cafe Stefanskirchen, Bavaria.
Mid April, 1920.

“Oh delicious irony. Ebert passed through here as he fled. Now the new government-in-exile rest comfortably under the protection of Bavaria’s new Prime Minister and Chief of Police!! The fruits of our labour, gentlemen, the fruits of our labour!!”
Six tables lined the cafe front, sun catching partitions of ambient coloured glass. The staff respected patron privacy but intuitively knew when to be chatty. Free bonuses awaited valued customers. Customers such as Max, and the various guests that stayed with him. That day a number of them were visiting Max at once: Hermann Ehrhardt, Franz Stephani, Erich Ludendorff, and Ignacz. They had each made their own way across the country.
“It is just the beginning,” said Bauer.
“We should explore relationships with the Russians, everyone kicked out by Lenin,” said Ehrhardt.
“Yes,” said Bauer, gripping his teacup near to smashing. “The Anglo-French criminals are as good as in league with the Red Internationals and it is they that we shall over-throw.”
Trebitsch raised a finger in the air. “We’ll be White Internationals!”
“Regent Admiral Horthy would be a fine ally,” said Ludendorff. “There are interesting developments afoot in your birthplace, Trebitsch. I think you and Colonel Bauer should bring Horthy into it.”
Trebitsch nodded enthusiastically. “Ideal! On my last visit I met a fellow named Eckhardt in Horthy’s press office.”
“Well lets try and keep this out of the press,” said Stephani.
“I only meant that we know many in advantageous positions who will be of use to us.”
Trebitsch noticed the loon at the other table, staring at them, and Stephani did as well. He was sat alone, with sunglasses on, a long ginger beard and a stupid smile. Too stupid to be trouble, thought Trebitsch, and he continued his tirade. “We share the same aims as the Italians, the Austrians; Hungarians and White Russians: a glorious end to the Entente awaits us!!”
“Well, for God’s sake keep your voice down,” said Stephani.
“Franz, mind your tone,” Bauer warned. “We are safe here.”
Ehrhardt leaned over and whispered. “Franz has seven counts of murder against him, so you see my friend values discretion.”
Trebitsch faced Stephani and said, “Major, the apology is mine to make. Here.” He put his hand in his pocket and handed his passport over to Stephani. “Perhaps you should get one of these.”
Stephani read the name aloud. “Heinrich Lamprecht.”
Trebitsch said, “It came care of our Bavarian friend, Chief Pohner.”
Bauer rocked back on his chair. “And mine says Dr. Becker!”
The men laughed: except for Ludendorff. “Alright. Alright. Captain Ehrhardt, call on Pohner and get Stephani his I.D. Then ask him to set up a meeting with Minister-President von Kahr.”
Stephani whispered, “I really don’t like the way that ginger is looking at me.”
The loon was still watching them, mouth freakishly shaped in frozen cackle. He wore slacks, braces and beard over his shirt. Occasionally his head would nod, and he took none of Stephani’s visual cues to get lost.
“I have business in Berlin next week,” said Trebitsch. “Max, how about we leave for Budapest in early May?”
“That suits me,” said Bauer.
Stephani put his hand over his eyes. “He’s coming over.”
They all looked at the loon. Ehrhardt went cold, but did not flinch. He kept his hands at his sides. Trebitsch, who had a cup in his hand, also did not move. The loon had little body mass: he was a stick figure, almost Chaplinesque, but his shadow fell large over General Ludendorff. He leaned in, his eyes hid beneath the sunglasses, still flashing that unsettling smile.
“What do you want, old man?” Ludendorff said.
“Away!” Bauer said.
The loon didn’t seem self-aware, rocking from side to side, and his breath was imposing.
“Is he drunk?” Stephani said.
“Hold on a moment…” Trebitsch said. “Pabst…”
“Hello there,” giggled the loon. “Would you like to buy some plots?”
Stephani stood up and tore the ginger wig off him. Bauer and Ludendorff laughed.
“Ingenious,” said Trebitsch.
Ehrhardt wagged a stern finger. “I almost shot you!” he said, as a smile wriggled from his teeth.

Apartment of Elsa von Nagelein, Berlin.
28 April, 1920

“He was in town to see Stinnes,” said Elsa. “The industrialist. Stinnes told him he wanted nothing more to do with Trebitsch, or Bauer or their putsches. He accused them of creating a fiasco. Trebitsch came home and threw a tantrum: ‘Stinnes doesn’t know anything’, ‘Stinnes shall rue the day when he betrayed us.’ All that nonsense.”
Elsa laughed.
She took a draw then stubbed the cigarette bent in the ashtray. “Before he left, he was talking about travelling abroad with Bauer. I don’t know where.”
The cigarette end smoked: Deputy Weiss. lifted it out and ceased it. “Well, Fraulein von Nagelein. All this is a tremendous help. Where do you think he might be now?”
Quick as a flash she answered. “Potsdam! Shacked up with that bitch of a secretary. He’s a fat liar, a lying bastard!”
“Potsdam, you say?” asked Weiss.
Elsa smiled wickedly. “I have her address. Let me get it for you.”

Near Potsdam Station, Berlin.
3 May, 1920.

Margaret Lenkiet was rooted to the open door of her apartment, showing Deputy Weiss the way out. Weiss had no intention of leaving. Behind them Officers Flax and Teal looked through boxes, and examined artefacts and arrangements. Officer Weir set a fob watch on top of the pile of books and lifted a folder of newspaper clippings.
“Where is he, Mrs. Lenkiet?” asked Weiss.
Lenkiet folded her arms and looked out to the street through spectacles and her straight black fringe.
“If he’s on the premises…” said Weiss
“He’s not,” she said.
Weir arrived at Weiss’s side. He had a tidy collection of papers. “Sir. I’ve got Lincoln’s plans for a newspaper; correspondence from Bauer and Ludendorff, before and after the putsch. This one’s dated today… a letter for Ludendorff that’s not been sent.”
Weiss smiled, and looked again at Frau Lenkiet.

Trebitsch watched the last of the light die as he waited at Potsdam Station. Another train would be along soon. He wore a padded brown overcoat to keep the chill out, and a fedora.
“Trebitsch Lincoln.”
He felt a hand on his back and the hand remained. He turned. Weiss, with swept back hair stared at him, street-lamps twinkling twice on his oval face.
“You’ve made a mistake. My name is Ploheimer,” said Trebitsch.
Weiss brought out a newspaper clipping about the putsch. The page bore Trebitsch’s photo.
“What do you want of me?”
“To arrest you of course. Come on.”
Trebitsch exhaled a hard sigh of defeat. “All right then. But you’ll let me fetch a couple of things from my rooms?”
“If you’re quick,” the deputy told him.
Weiss walked Trebitsch three minutes to Doblingerstrasse keeping him within grabbing distance at all times

Ten minutes later, Weiss was by running water taps in Trebitsch’s bathroom, looking out to a wide open window.

#

c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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Writer’s Commentary – The Watch Thief Prologue / Chapter 1

Research and illness took their toll on schedules for The Watch Thief – the novelization of the remarkable life of Trebitsch Lincoln: adventurer, crook, spy, journalist, rector and the events and cities he lived in. You can read it here at https://andy-luke.com/watch-thief/

For a change I’m delivering two commentaries previously only available to Patreon $2-a-month subscribers.  Refresh yourself with the Prologue and Chapter One or dive straight in!

Hello, patrons. Thanks for reading the first shots in a story that’s sustained my interest for years, and my first regular wage in as long. The prologue begins with Ignacz’s father scrubbing up for church. I wanted to begin with physical contact. It’s a far way from the shaving scene beginning Joyce’s Ulysees (with that amazing image of crossed razors on top a mirror), but I think it works. Nathan and his family are Jewish Orthodox, I wanted to make that a special point, name the clothing exactly, so I found info on attire at UnitedWithIsrael.org and Mazorguide.com.

The Comedy Theatre of Budapest, aka The Vigszinhaz, was the big draw in expanding Budapest, but unfortunately it wasn’t built until 1897, the time of Chapter 1. So Ignacz was on his way to the Municipal Theatre. I wasn’t able to get an exact location but I was sure Paks, were Nathan’s family lived, was a journey that meant he’d cross one of the bridges over the Danube. The Municipal was old already, and small, though it was moneyed and elegant.

Austria-Hungary’s merger and dual monarchy was created in 1867. Budapest, rapidly expanding in the 1890s, was a finance and import capital. Magyar is the name Hungarians give themselves and the 1890s saw the nobility move there and bring more finance into the developments.

The prologue takes place on March 16th, according to Jens Malte Fischer, who recounts events at the performance of Lohengrin, in his book Gustav Mahler, by Yale University Press. I’m not sure if I got away with the Count Zichy reference, and to cast some exposition… Géza Zichy was the city commissioner with some suction in Arts and Culture but he was also part of the right-wing anti-foreigner attitude in government at the time. Mahler had been teaching, and serving as the principal conductor under a ten year contract since 1888, six years. He’d already been in line of sight from Budapest’s cultural conflict in the press a few times. When Zichy’s new role as Intendant was announced, Mahler understood many of his rights were curtailed and powers transferred. The cards were on the table. Mahler signed a new contract with the Hamburg Opera on the q.t. and knowing Zichy wanted him out, he approached him and a severance was offered. Mahler announced his resignation, but to the public it might have looked like Zichy shoved him, which would have happened eventually. I’ve no evidence to suggest Ignacz was there on the night of the Lohengrin riot, or attended Mahler’s classes, but he did try to fake his Drama School papers and sneaking into a theatre seems in his character.

Chapter 1

Nathan moved his family closer to the city. This occurs shortly after the prologue. He moved from “a solid barge transportation business to…high finance” (Wasserstein), and essentially playing the stock market, and lost it all. This is where we pick up, with Ignacz at Drama School, and all is not well.

Budapest Metro Line 1, still running, is the third oldest underground railway in the world, built 1894-1896. The other two were Tunel in Istanbul and City & South in London. Ignacz’s route along Andrassy Avenue has him in the direction of Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), where there’s a monument to the men of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. His brothers, Lajos and Sandor, share their names with the two front-men, still well thought of, so it seemed safe to assume they were named in their honour.

When writing the graphic novel script for this, it took six years to settle on a good idea for the opening page. It began with a first panel family row, and six panels devoted to Ignacz’s starry-eyed hallucination during the mugging. There’s no record to Ignacz suffering hallucinations here or any eye condition. It just fit with the new metro lights, and the star vision I had in mind. I’ve hallucinated or seen silver ball floaters attributed to Ignacz, since, oh, my teenage years. Often after I’m beset by a coughing or sneezing fit, but at times with no corresponding origin point. My earliest memory that fits how they look is from a Primary School teacher who had a box of Mercury in her room and delighted us moving about the shimmering globules. Mercury is highly dangerous and toxic. Rather than live in dread of seeing my floaters I’ve long ascribed a good luck status to these, despite being not generally superstitious.

It was important I get right the culture of theatre and opera surrounding Ignacz at that time and I selected five operas performed in 1890s Budapest and read the liberetto scripts. These were Siegfried and (as noted) Das Rheingold, Eugene Onegin; Don Giovanni, Lohengrin and Tannhauser. I used a cut-up style with about ten lines from each then paired that down to a manageable size. The arrangement was more conscious than random. Das Rheingold’s tale of greed, lust and narcissism is a good thematic fit. Lohengrin is a classic heroes tale about nobility. I should mention Ignacz’s mother, Julie, was from nobility, though it didn’t seem to do her favours when business went bad. The story of Tannhauser fit with Ignacz’s art ambitions and want to travel. Don Giovanni mixes “comedy, tragedy and drama with the supernatural”, which covers all my basis and Giovanni and Ignacz have many similarities. It was uppermost in my mind.

Lohengrin is a heroes tale of political conflict, a story closer here to Mahler than Ignacz, though maybe not in Ignacz’s mind. I was offered the chance to watch Lohengrin with a rowdy group a few weeks ago, but sadly slept in. (We have a monthly Opera Club where we watch streaming content on a large screen, mainly from the excellent Opera Platform ) Eugene Onegin, the only opera from these I’ve seen performed, has little in relevance in story to Ignacz’s tale. It’s also the least interesting tale. Stick with Don Giovanni, or Das Rheingold. I have a list of which lines came from which operas but do you really want to know?

Oh, and we also get quotes from Clerks 2 and Forrest Gump, and I was aiming to place Quantum Leap’s ‘Oh Boy!”

A Note On Wasserstein

My research for Ignacz comes from many sources. Easily the most invaluable of these is Bernard Wasserstein’s The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, from Penguin. Wasserstein’s version is a notably excellent piece of historical autobiography, drawing on solid research and it’s a riveting read. With this, which will rightfully be called an adaptation by some, I’ll be leaving out notable details, inventing others…Wasserstein delivers context but I aim to push this further, colour it in, include unsubstantiated reports Wasserstein firmly refutes.

I’ve amassed a large image archive and I’ll be reproducing some, though it looks like Patreon requires me to make separate posts.

Over on Patreon, Chapter 24 is nearly ready: the half-way point! You can read every chapter and commentary for The Watch Thief for just $2 U.S. for 30 days through Paypal, bank account, debit or credit card.

That’ll also get you e-comics, ‘We Shall Not Be Stapled’ by myself and ‘A Hand of Fingers’ by John Robbins. If there’s a rush on, or you sign up for $5 I’ll also unlock the artblog, the photo grids, process videos, poetry and short stories.

Reading Week

I got three primary sources for WATCH THIEF including a trip underneath Trinity College Dublin to the Early Printed Texts department, through cavern and flaming torch to a 1931 manuscript. They could have let me see the 1971 reprint, but no, red carpet for moi. No photos of course, but an experience I hope to repeat.

Chapter 10 next week, or now on Patreon. Here’s a thing I made for it.

A lot of events going on behind the scenes at Castle Luke, the closest being an open mic night for writers at the Wee Art Pub where I’m resident. If you’re in Belfast and can get out to the Ravenhill Road on Wednesday 16th come and see what the folks at The Continental have put together.  There’s a FB event page here.

Bye for now!