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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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.


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 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.


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.


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

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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.
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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

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 and

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.