The Watch Thief – Chapter 19

Saturday 15 January, 1916: Joe’s Restaurant, Brooklyn.

Trebitsch passed the wash-room, opened the fire exit into the corridor. Ethel flashed lights, picked him up at the other end of the subway. They sped across Brooklyn Bridge and Hells Kitchen, through the remnants of Little Germany. She dropped him on the kerb at West 125th Street, kissed him as he left. Upstairs, Anna took his cap to burn. Charles applied the lather and he looked at himself. In the black frock he resembled the Canadian curate. As the razor carved it peeled back with it came Trebitsch, the M.P. His hair was thinned out on top. He could be anyone, he thought. Charles cut and he tried not to think about Anna. Just a slip, that’s all it would take. As he waited for a change of clothes, he heard their boy call out, the child so terrified by the blinking spy. The Jundts drove him to the station where Anna brushed his hand with a hundred dollars.

Grand Central Terminal was new, the biggest station in the world. Seated rows waited, then all aboard Vanderbilt’s New York Railroad: fast, clean, along the old streetcar line. 59th and 86th and the prime real estate around Park Avenue tunnel, over the Harlem River: the Bronx and station houses over tracks. Then, White Plains. His destination. Mabel told reception to expect him late but he climbed the stairs of Silver Lakes Hotel shaking, his nerves and the cold night having clubbed together to cling hard to his bones. The porter was too keen with conversation. Trebitsch locked the door.

Deputy Johnson thanked the desk clerk at the Knickerbocker and crossed town to The Intercontinental, waited for the staff to have a free moment. A minute later he was out onto the street. He checked three more bars on the way to Decatur Street; rapped the front door. When there was no answer he rang the third floor bell and waited.

Proper sleep re-energised Trebitsch. He spent Sunday in his room, imagined morning headlines. On Monday he took the papers up there. ‘Lincoln escapes! Leaves a letter for the Government! Does not want to be extradited to England!’ There were none of these and this unsettle him. He walked by the woodlands and wild fields with little streams, Horton Pond and the grain mills; the Quaker settlement. He went out to the new city: stores departmentalised; a destination retail location. He couldn’t imagine something so ludicrous.

An hour and twenty-five miles away, Francis Johnson knocked hard the door of The Park View. His face pale white beads of sweat, he took the news of no guest matching description. He tried the Parlour. Bosco had not seen him either. The door to every toilet cubicle every place checked. Johnson walked up and down the streets before rounding back to Decatur, where he rang the bell and waited.

Silver Lakes dining room was for only dining. Boundaries of cutlery, drab non-Morris walls repeating swags and tassels. The drawing room had cushioned leather and deep rugs and above, a walkway surround invited residents to peer down. That day had Japan claim China’s economy and Congress authorise a new gold coin. Vaudeville man of German farces, Gus Williams, had shot himself in the head at a train station in nearby Yonkers. Hiding beneath his paper, Trebitsch concocted greater copy. ‘How he fooled the whole of the U.S.A. police. Brandy and Girls. Washington thought he would decipher it’s code letters – Satisfied with prison life – District Attorneys Should Not Visit Bars – What he thinks about the end of the war.’ He turned the page, then flapped a page, scanned, and flapped to another sheet, racing through the columns until it was done. Then, he picked up the next newspaper. And another. There was no mention of his escape. He didn’t merit a stub. He four-folded newspapers with finality. He shaved off his moustache and when he was done locked the room behind him.

The train tore through the tree cover of Hartsdale and Tudor Scarsdale, him looking into people’s living rooms, a two horn snort whistle by the cargoes of Yonkers pairing with the Bronx River, heart beating faster, the big sky over Wakefield. Happy the trade of wasteland freight-only Port Morris for Romanesque steeples, arches of Mott-Haven: past Central and the Lincoln Tunnel. On Broadway, he found a payphone. Soeiro was excited. Of course he’d heard. He was The New YorkAmerican‘s editor and made sure it was the afternoon edition front page. Trebitsch said he wouldn’t be drawn into a trap. Soeiro begged. It would be good sense, the publicity. He should hurry. The chemists sold Trebitsch cheap glasses which he put on under flat cap. His head was fixed on the pavement along Newspaper Row.

The newsroom fell quiet when Trebitsch entered.

“A full manhunt is under way. You’ve embarrassed the Feds and infuriated the judges,” said Soeiro.

Trebitsch was assigned a transcriber. The audience stayed quiet as he held court, once jester now King.

“I am sorry for the precarious position in which Deputy-Marshal Johnson finds himself. It would be unjust to punish him. Not all the forces of the United States Secret Service could have prevented the carrying out of my carefully laid scheme. After all, I am a past master in such work.”

Only Soeiro left them to it. He got a photographer and booked Trebitsch a car. His head was testing out headlines too. ‘Lincoln Speaks Out, Great Britian’s Guilt in Unjust War. Mr. Lincoln’s Book Tour – An American Exclusive.’

“The British know something of my past, and they are afraid of me. Captain Kenny knew I was an active spy in Central Asia, working as a Buddhist monk.”

“What next, Mr. Lincoln? Will you return to the Orient?”

“I have a scheme to make an end to British rule there and in Egypt too. You will do well to watch the East. When you hear of a great religious revival there, think of I. T. T. Lincoln.”

The sub-editor took the text to the composing room and Soeiro gave Trebitsch $300 cash. It would only take a minute to go to The New York World next door and refute everything he’d just said. Trebitsch got his extra $200 and was led out to the waiting car.

On Thursday, the Foreign Office in London got a telegram. Eyre Crowe reported it in person to the new Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel. He braced himself. Each was as angry as the other.

“The deputy waited two days to report it. He’s being dealt with,” said Crowe. “They have his brothers and associates all under observation.”

“It is utterly absurd,” said Samuel, “amazing negligence.”

“The Justice Department have launched an internal investigation. I’m informed his book is out in a few days.”

Samuel was bearing teeth. “Consider it banned. No copies shall enter Britain. Mr. Crowe, I would ask the Foreign Office consider it of urgent importance this fugitive be recaptured.”

On Friday, the newspaper vendor outside the Federal Building stopped Agent Benham in his tracks with the American exclusive. On Saturday his agents questioned Hearst’s employees. On Monday, the vendor was selling the book. Revelations of an International Spy, by I. T. T. Lincoln. Benham smacked Marshal Proctor around the head with it.

On Tuesday, the reviews continued, Trebitsch eagerly devouring each and keenly disappointed. Hearst’s American and Pulitzer’s World wrestled for coverage. He wrote to the latter and his update appeared in Wednesday’s edition. The snow was falling in White Plains. Two hundred men looking, allegedly. Trebitsch decided, having sent more copy for Friday, that he was too hot for Westchester.

On the electric train out he saw Tuckahoe: a name he liked; Mount Vernon stared back; after Wakefield greener then broader; he watched the New Haven Line diverge to Long Island Sound; Woodlawn Station, site of recent tragedy and bereavement; Fordham with Haberken Jewelers, the sign reading ‘Soda Luncheon’. At Midtown, he took a ferry over Hudson to Weehawken Terminal. Then Hackensack, Passaic. Not yet New Jersey Turnpike. Point No Point: name of promonotory at Kitsap. He nodded off by worked tidal wetlands at Newark Meadows. By the bay. Startled by the bell at Amboy, fought back to sleep over the Navesink, signal of Red Bank.

He walked beside dead country road through mud and bank looking for the weak glow of the farm-house as collapsing grey sky crept in. The path to Jody’s farmhouse was gravelled as rough as Jody himself, a German stout and bold. Trebitsch introduced himself as Timothy, Charles Jundt’s friend, whom he’d called ahead for, there was a room for him. The offered hand waited between them. Jody was a dirty, sweaty man with bad teeth and a face full of agricultural injuries. The farmer looked the scrawny elf up and down, then let go of the frame and walked back in, waiting for Trebitsch to follow. It was a small parlour, one room backing out into a dingy kitchen.

“Thank you very much for allowing me to stay at such short notice. Charles is a wonderful –”

Listen, friend. The rooms are through that door. To the right. The second one is yours. Do not move things around.”

I understand, I understand. I know you probably toil relentlessly to make ends meet. As a surveyor in Belgium I met many farmers renting out rooms to make up the shortfall…”

Jody wasn’t interested. He was already in his bedroom before Trebitsch finished speaking. Trebitsch found his room and tugged his boots off and the pain went with them.

The following morning Trebitsch woke sharply at 4am, by the last hoots of the owl and first verse of the woodcock. He lay a while. Jody was gone when he heated up the kettle on the gas stove. He washed, then poured a hot tea. He opened the back door, set his cup on the chipped sill with the sun, a magical light on the fields. He breathed in the romance of it. Breathed the country air, freedom blew in his eyes. Craning cows with firm slaved bodies plodded and flies buzzed around chunks of horse arse at the stables. Around ten he saw fat grey smoke and found Jody with his hand, T.C., hauling carcasses off a truck. He stood at a distance, the men watching one another. A flap of a man, T.C. said, then chucked another fox on the fire. Trebitsch put a handkerchief to his face. They laughed.

Gorgon tree leaves the house by a fence step to mottled green. He found drowned flower and plant snot on the pond; bridge lichen; light leaves and birch speckle before the spatter of duck flight. Late afternoons inside window with a tint of break, the scullery, where he was expected to cook spuds. Off a table with food cut into grain he, Jody and T.C. ate mutton by tools and greasy lamp. When night came, it was everywhere, night stretching broadly; fields across fields, on either side, above and behind with crystal spiralling stars.

Morning news, February 3rd, of the arrest of Wener Horn for the Canadian Bridge bombing. Trebitsch recognised Horn from Von Papen’s foyer. There was the hanging of Archduke Ferdinand’s assasins. Reported sightings of Trebitsch at Silver Lake Hotel, locations in Baltimore, Albany and Chicago. He wrote to the American that afternoon.

Trebitsch, Jody and T.C. exercised mutual hatred. T.C. had a scabby face and a voice like a motor, like flint blistering ear. Their business was animal carcass disposal. T.C. had a fixation sexualising garotted animals. Once, gloved, he fingered through racoon’s eyes to animate cranium for Trebitsch’s reaction.

“Teecee, what have i told you about that?” Jody said. “They shit everywhere, but he knows better.”

“Iss true. That coon’s a disease train right there,” said T.C.

A week later, Trebitsch’s money ran out. The same day Jody got a call from town. Over a hundred pounds of deer carcass were to be pulled from between a fence. The job needed three people minimum Trebitsch knew he’d be spotted, knew it would buy him points with his unfriendly landlord. T.C. drove. Jody pointed out the church, Tower Hill, at the corner of Broad and Reckless where they cleaned bat puke. He told Trebitsch more than he needed to know of his work around town where they’d bashed in brains of skunks and squirrels. They’d laid the poison and watched rodent’s insides try to escape their skin.

“Bin raiders and wire chewers. Burn them before they burn us,” said T.C.

“They like to squeeze into these tight spots,” said T.C. when they found the deer with it’s head lodged in the fence bordering two houses. “After they’ve done their harm, the adrenalin has them run until they finds some place safe to close the eyes. It’ll often think it can go fu’ther than it does,” he said.

With all their might they hefted it onto the path. Dead deer laid like dog with girl fingers and soft rabbit face; rippled hair coat worn low onto knees: sock-feet too small.

“The bigger the animal the bigger the stench,” said Jody.

They flapped canvas over trailer ridges and heaved the body on the truck. Trebitsch was weak. He nearly puked four times. At the farm the corpse was sanitized, cleaned of bacteria and maggots. They turned turf while it burned bloody clouds.

The next morning was a vomiting storm with epileptic trees. Jody was annoyed Trebitsch couldn’t pay his bills. He threatened him with a gunshot. So Trebitsch worked for his sanctuary. He dug holes for maggot filled roosters, bashed badgers by burrow holes, washed red dots rambling off rocks. He accompanied them into town were rampant little mice pottered under floorboards, cottages with something in the attic and carted dead things over dark damp uneven fields. In the evenings they’d undress and wash their chests, hairy black legs, swinging cocks and dirt printed fingernails. Trebitsch wasn’t cut out for the work. His back constantly felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. The rain though some days lashed down to his socks was never enough to shake the feeling the earth was biting his soles

About a week later, T.C. threw a testicle at him.

“You’ve the muscle of a scarecrow. Like Bessie without the milk,” he said.

Jody said, “He’s not wrong. ‘Oh, the moneys coming soon, theres more were that he came from’. Well where is it? You think we are dimwits. I know there’s a bounty out. $250. Maybe we should cash in.”

“Please, gentlemen, don’t be rash. Jody, I will get you your rent. I have items in my room in Brooklyn that I can sell. And the news-papers, they are very interested in paying me!”

It was decided the three of them would go to Manhattan. Trebitsch wore his dark Homburg tan overcoat under lounge suit. Jody dropped him and T.C. at the flar and arranged to meet them later. They picked up two cases of clothes for the pawn shop on Amsterdam Avenue. T.C. didn’t like the city. Everyone was bunged up with stress and anger, like pigs bathing in the mud of how important they were. Trebitsch took him to a German restaurant and turned on the charm, suggested a visit to a strip club. T.C. softened and mulled it over.

The waiter phoned the police as they walked towards Broadway to meet Jody. The police already knew where he was. He saw them flank Jody, turned quickly, right into T.C.’s arms. Trebitsch got roughed up against the wall. Agent Benham took the labourer out of the way and cuffed him.

“My, but you’re excited! You’re shaking so that you can hardly hold that gun! Congratulations on capturing the cleverest man in America!”

He talked non-stop. The journalists and photographers awaited him at Raymond Street.

“Why, those fellows couldn’t have caught me in a hundred years! I was betrayed into their hands! A fine piece of detective work! “

“Mr. Lincoln, why were you so critical of the police in your letters to the American?”

“My book needed as much publicity as I could give it!” he said.

Agent Benham and Warden Hayes marched him through deep cut halls of the gaol. They applauded off benches in the House of Correction and House of Commons.


c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Thematic image source: Stult’s Farm, New Jersey, 1915



The Watch Thief, Chapter 13

January 1911, York.

Lamps hung from York Railway Station below its great spiralling ribcage roof. Trebitsch could not avoid looking up. The roof stretched out over the platform, always ahead of him. Two arches separated by running girders, like an appendix. He was not far outside when he heard a roar, something so dark it covered the sun whole, for a moment. Across the road was the Station Hotel, a monster of a gothic industrial complex. She spawned stone nodes, pillars, gates and smaller tributary buildings. The path to the hotel enclosed him against turrets, vertical mouldings and pointed archways. Above, a line of every nation’s flags flapped shaking off the January frost. He felt dampness in him from the courtyard fountain.

He was the first, facing down an empty room. It was empty no matter how much he moved about: until James Blumer came. Trebitsch tried to ease the mood with good charm. A stranger arrived, clean shaven and combed.

“May I help you?”

“Trebitsch Lincoln? I represent the interests of Reverend Burt of Montreal.”

Within minutes other creditors were arriving: Seebohm and Arnold Rowntree; Herbert Samuel and a few other MPs; Darlington residents; a banker from Appledore; William Robson and Henry Dalziel. Trebitsch was over-come. He had no plan of action. The men talked and smoked among themselves, moving around so he could not keep track. Their eyes were fixed on him yet they spoke about him rather than to him.

“Doesn’t he have any assets?”

“We could take this through the courts.”

“No gentlemen, I implore you!”

“As the biggest creditor here I propose we try to avoid the extra time and energy that would require,” Rowntree said.

“And the costs,” said Robson.

“If the man has nothing, how can he settle?” asked Samuel.

They took his bank balance, weighed his pocket and were paid five shillings in the pound. Rowntree said they could do nothing else. The rest they were to wait for. Trebitsch made a hasty retreat.

“He doesn’t strike me as a committed sort,” said the man from Montreal. “I don’t expect to hear anything from him again.”

A Glaswegian firm, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, were gearing up towards production in Iran. They were eager to capitalise on the Royal Navy’s decision to switch from coal. The Germans were not ready to compete, but hoped to exploit the fields in Meopotamia with the building of the Berlin-Baghdad railway. The oil race was in Trebitsch’s mind as he signed them in to the Liberal Club. Nicolas Hotermans had boyish features, a blond quiff, and Krausz, a few years younger black curls and swarthy skin. They carried the satchels to the second floor meeting room. John Goldstein the Piccadilly solicitor rose as they entered. Trebitsch said he was glad he’d made it and that he’d already met the banker, Lloyd Norfolk. He introduced his assistants, who Norfolk already knew, but not that Hotermans was also an engineer. Then Alfred Farmer the publisher arrived, along with Trebitsch’s friend Charles Weingart, and they were all introduced over again. Word had gotten around Margarethe had given birth to another boy, Clifford, and they all congratulated the father. Then Trebitsch called to order the May 1911 meeting of Galician Amalgamated Oil Incorporated.

“Our chairman Mr. Gardener Sinclair apologises for he can’t attend due to business in Edinburgh. Mr. August Lobkowitz also apologises due to matters regarding the noble families of Czechoslovakia.”

The men laughed. Trebitsch paused til they were done. “His Serene Highness Prince Hieronim Radziwill of Poland also regrets not being in attendance.”

Farmer, a robust country-man with walrus moustache was acting as director. Trebitsch had passed out cigars for all of them but Farmer chose his pipe, filled with coarse shag. “Of the 440,000 shares at a pound each, Laupenmuhlen and Co. have underwritten 312,000. Regrettably in our first month we’ve sold only 76,000.”

“We have a large cross-section of investors,” said Trebitsch. “Solicitors, grocers, schoolmasters and I sold a few to the fellow in charge of the Savoy.”

“The problem is many of them are not buying sizeable lots,” said Norfolk.

“It annoys me that we set out to avoid speculation,” said Trebitsch. “But Seagal made clear this is part of the business: if we want storage units we need storage certificates. There is no getting around it. In 1909 the fields produced over two million tons. There was a lower figure last year because of flooding in the region.”

Two of the waiters familiar to Trebitsch came in with clinking glass while he talked.

“Our projections are based on the expectation that we will soon be operating eight companies in Galicia. Yes, mine is the pinot grigot, thank you. Our estimates should be regarded as highly conservative, since it is well-known that these districts give a much higher yield.”

“After our advert in The Times,” asked Goldstein, “there was that letter to the editor from Someone McGarvey about Karpath? Karpath is the ninth company?” asked Goldstein.

“Yes. Our advert did not mention Karpath. McGarvey’s simply trying to grab publicity. When we have Braganza we have 95% of the market.” Trebitsch fondled the base of the glass, swirling the wine around. “Mr. McGarvey does not like that!”

Before the waiters left the room Trebitsch made sure they heard all about the ten percent dividend.

Over the next year he made visits between Galicia and Laupenmuhlens, the Vienesse banking firm which loaned them the capital for Braganza. Laupenmuhlens were awarded extra board seats to give them a controlling interest. This sullied Trebitsch’s dreams and stirred his emotions. The oil supply slumped a second year and he blamed it on McGarvey of Karpath. When Hotermans pointed out that wouldn’t make any sense, he screamed at the lad. He had envisioned a company all of his very own, one he could show off to his family and leave to his sons after he was gone. He and Weingart set up Lincoln & Co. Incorporated in rented London offices.

It was only weeks after the Titanic tragedy when Hotermans and Krausz carried the satchels to the meeting room at Finsbury Court. The company solicitor, Gilbert Samuel, rose as they entered. Trebitsch said he knew his brother from the Commons and that he was glad he’d already met the Admiral, Compton Domville. Then Alfred Farmer the publisher arrived and they heard briefly about Domville’s trips to West Africa and North America and his time as naval aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. Then Trebitsch called to order the May 1912 meeting of The Oil & Drilling Trust of Roumania Incorporated.

“One of our board members, Count Michel Callimachi, apologises. He can’t attend due to business with other members of the nobility of Roumania.”

They laughed at this. Trebitsch drank from his black coffee.

“As director of the Trust, and Lincoln and Co. we are underwriting 25,000 of the 100,000 shares at a pound each. We have a wide variety of investors.”

“Our problem is buyers are typically purchasing a small number of shares,” said Gilbert Samuel.

Trebitsch passed around copies of the day’s paper. “Gentlemen, if you turn to page eight in The Times, our announcement that we have the two Tosca oil wells in Bustenarit. Nicolas, would you care to read?”

“‘The well-known character of the districts served by the pipe-lines ought to provide a steady, continuous business, and consequent profit.'”

Trebitsch interjected. “You will see I have had printed our estimated profits in the first year at £20,000 and in the second at £65,000, from over twenty tons of oil a day.”

There had not been enough gusto in Hotermans’ voice so he took up reading. “‘This is based on the expectation that the company will soon be operating no fewer than sixteen wells in Roumania. This estimate should be regarded as highly conservative since it is well-known the Busternari district generally gives a much higher yield than this.'”

The men flapped their paper and soaked up the newsprint. They leafed through the dark orange document holders, the prospectus; they smoked their cigars and drank their coffee until satisfied.

After Samuel and Domville departed, Farmer asked, “What’s the word about the extra forty thousand we need for Galicia? Any word back from Laupenmuhlen?”

“They have supplied it already! I am going out there this week to provide them with reassurances.”

Krausz had gotten a call to join his uncle on a visit to Vienna. He decided to pack his bags for Budapest instead. Trebitsch took the train alone to the city that was a melting pot that never quite melted. The river ran through all of it: the university fortresses and open plan roads as well as the tall and narrow streets that smelled of beef and potatoes. Trebitsch walked in straight line by box hedges, outside formal fountains and statues. He waited in the lobby of the bank of Laupenmuhlen and Co. until the manager, David Barr, was ready to see him. His office was wide, at the centre a marble table, the rocks white and grey within it.

“Mr. Lincoln. You reached out to us here at Laupenmuhlen to purchase the Galician Braganza well from Premier Oil. Now we’re considering selling it back to them. Ladenburgs have purchased…” he drew his eyes into the ledger and sniffed. “To date: £236,000 in unsold shares and we have advanced £79,000 for purchase of land and supplies.”

There was a spiral pock mark on the banker’s cheek and Trebitsch tried not to look at it, but put his head down towards the yellow tissues of the invoice book.

“The City of London is very grateful, Mr. Barr. May I call you David? You know, we have an engineer on our board. A diplomat too, but also an engineer: Mr. Hotermans. I had a very interesting discussion with him and a man from the American Parker company about their new rotary drill. Have you heard of it? It is cutting edge technology.”

“Mr. Lincoln…”

“I am in discussion for exclusive rights to sell the drill in Roumania. Perhaps it can be employed in Galicia too.”

“Mr. Lincoln, having had a look through your books we see mostly liabilities and creditors. Unless the situation drastically improves, we are very soon going to have to pull the plug.”

“That would be a mistake, David. We are just on the verge of a new boom, sir! It might be wiser to look at what the company does have. For instance, why not show our operation off to other oil men? As Laupmuhlens owns the controlling stake we should work together on a promotional venture. We could bring them in on a special train and rent out one of the local hotels. Think of the increase in brand awareness over a special banquet!”

“Mr. Lincoln, a greater uptake of shares will not help.” said Barr. “The wells are dry.”

“The other shareholders will not like that, David. As their chairman it is my duty to speak for them.”

“If liquidation is the only way to get this company to produce then that is what we will do.”

Trebitsch raised his hand and slapped his knee. “Fine! If you are determined to control Galician Amalgamated well, I have tried, and I may as well sell you my remaining shares because I will have no part of it.”

Weingart threw himself in front of the man before he could grab Trebitsch.

“They’re worthless! The shares are worthless!”

The musty London hall was packed with a hundred shareholders, hot and virtually on top of one another. Henderson, the receiver, called for order. He was a Scottish Liberal and all bone and bristles.

“Please, please be seated! We all want what is best for the Trust. You may put questions to Mr. Lincoln shortly. Now, Ladenburgs Bank own the controlling interest in Roumanian Oil and Drilling. They commissioned me to prepare a report as to my findings. My investigation at the parent company, Lincoln & Co., yielded a disturbing lack of receipts, invoices or other information.”

Hotermans looked to Trebitsch, his hand in the air, his brow coming to boiling point.

“I found a similar situation in the Bucharest office,” said Henderson. “No account for the monies remitted to, or spent for them. We are therefore unable to state that the above balance sheet is properly drawn up so as to exhibit a true and correct view of the company’s affairs.”

There were gasps, groans, curses: a black cloud of disapproval.

“We have not the information or explanations required and so,” he put his hand over his mouth and coughed and took it away again. “I’d like to invite Mr. Lincoln to have a word.”

Someone said, “The company has been run into the ground the same way the Galician one was.”

“Let’s hear his explanation,” said another.

Trebitsch took the stage. His dark hair was swept back around his head but for the lip of moustache. He was dressed formally: white shirt, navy tie and grey suit with a chain watch draped across his front like a medal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me a chance to speak. We were forced to turn to Ladenburgs to get the company a mortgage of £25,000. Now they have foreclosed. The Bustenari well, which they sold, is producing greater quantities than before. It was not my decision to sell it. That was Ladenburg’s decision.”

“Mr. Lincoln, I gleaned from your accounts total obligations of £150,000.”

“Please, Mr. Henderson, I held my tongue while you spoke. Grant me the same courtesy. You know I uprooted and travelled around the world so I could keep close eyes on those wells. We were given special dispensation by the Roumanian government yet they wanted bribe after bribe: for machines held up at customs. There were vehicles blocked in the road because we had not greased the proper palms.”

The audience, sour and despairing, had found a new target. The man who wanted to murder Trebitsch minutes ago looked past Henderson and met Trebitsch with empathy.

“We did everything we could, staked all we had. We brought inspectors in, and fellow oil men. I gave them tours, personally. I earned us endorsements from industry heads and advertised heavily in the European press. If King Carol had chosen not to join in the war against Bulgaria I would still be there. As director, am I to be blamed for the Second Balkan war also?”

There was laughter around the room, calls of “No!”

Trebitsch said, “there were a number of misunderstadings that arose between various persons. These resulted in the company being without working capital just when it was on the verge of success. The great thing is to find fresh capital, and I believe a scheme is afoot with that as its object.”

The first question went straight to Henderson. Could the Trust be rescued? He was unwilling to answer yes or no. After some waffling, Trebitsch interrupted.

“It is not as bad as all that. There is plenty of equipment lying around which are valuable assets.”

“Could the operation be salvaged through our deal with Parker-Rotary?” someone asked.

“Mr. Lincoln, Would you be willing to go out and provide a fresh assessment now the danger has passed?”

“In the interests of the company I am quite willing to go out and see for myself in the next few days,” said Trebitsch. “However, Ladenburgs appointed Mr. Henderson chairman, so such an action would be dependent on him. Please do not be too harsh with him. He is doing his best. I know what it is like.”

Henderson took a deep breath and walked back to the podium.

“I accept Mr. Lincoln’s offer. Perhaps we might adjourn the meeting for three weeks? Would that be sufficient?”

Elsewhere in London, Nicolas Hotermans was boarding a train to the port, then a ship home to Brussels.


c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
To read advance chapters, PDFs, and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

Reading Week

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

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

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

Bye for now!

The Watch Thief: Prologue 2

He ducked from the horses on the bridge over the Danube, away from wheels, passed bonnets and gowns. He smirked at the Vigszinhaz theatre in construction, future inheritance.
The line into the smaller Municipal Theatre bubbled. Barely fifteen years but short enough to disappear from security. In the scarlet carpeted foyer he spied a few of the Magyar nobility who could recognise him to Nagypapa. He kept his head down, hid under the black curls, and followed them.

Violins and harps swirled against the walls, the Fowler’s bass with the horns. The audience catcalled.

“Bring us Wagner’s second. The man who made Das Rheingold!”

“Quiet,” said a man.

“Where’s Mahler?” came the response.

Rumours of Gustav Mahler’s politically motivated ‘resignation’ appeared true. The star was nowhere. Ignacz sensed the attendants would come, so left his seat and scurried to another row, one with younger men.

On stage, tenth century Germans expel Hungarians. Their Count Telamund accuses Dutch Elsa of murder: “Where’s Mahler?”

The boys were from the local Drama school and recognised Ignacz. “Look! The little gyerek who tried to sneak into our lectures. What’s your name?”


“Looks like you missed another chance to see Professor Mahler.”

Another lad laughed odiously.

“Where’s Mahler?” asked Ignacz, sharply.

They laughed again. Timpani and triangle were muted underneath the raucous, clarinets too.
“That’s enough you boys,” said an attendant.

Ortud prayed to Wodan in soprano. “Bless me with guile and deceit, that my revenge may be sweet!”

Calls came for Budapest commissioner Count Zichy to play the lead villain. Trumpets and flutes inspired tumultuous notes in the front row.

“Alright boys, I’m asking you to leave, quietly.”

An arm touched Ignacz’s jacket.

“Oh no, we can’t have a German play!” he said, and the touch became a grip. He was stood up then, and responded by bolting his feet to the floor. “Where’s Mahler?” he roared. Then he stomped the floor, shouting it again.

As if on cue, something hit the stage. In the middle rows, people were pushing one another. The calls echoed round the hall ten, twenty times. Where’s Mahler? A punch was thrown. Ignacz was dragged a few feet, before the guard left to break up a fight. He dodged rotten fruit and outside, passed six police on their way in.

Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to and access four advance chapters, commentaries and bonus art.

The Watch Thief: Prologue

1894,  Paks, Budapest.

Nathan’s arm dripped from hot towel. He scrubbed, ceasing the stink of brine finally. On top of the wealth of Julia’s family he was two months into his role as a financier: he knew he’d never have to worry about money again. A slide of soap flowing from his pit, trickled the chest. The baby, Simon, wailed from another room. A firm dry on stolid towel then, comb and mirror to carve the beard. His hair was black and malleable. Despite a forward nose, piercing eyes, it was common for the grain merchants to pass by before doubling back. The child’s dirge escalated into cacophony, complaints in baritone, laughter gathering to chorus. Into the bedroom came Sandor, trying to run, giggles before a fall. He looked at his father, curious and pained. Then his chaser, Jozsef, came and stopped by his brother.

“You fell,” said Jozsef.

“Stop! Your synagogue clothes are not for play. Do not be so disrespectful. Go and wait!”

Nathan huffed and jangled the hangers as he took his shirt down. He buttoned breast and cuffs and reached for his caftan. He touched the fringe of the robe and took the shtreimel onto his head, fur sparking fingers.

The other room was quiet then. A large room with tall ceiling chandeliers casting light on the plush table and chairs re-made from the clutter of the boys’ adventures. Julie held Simon in her arms. He only uttered vowels and the tap as he tugged on his mother’s sleeve. Julie carefully lifted it back in accordance, then set to lining up the boys in order of age for dress inspection. Nathan entered and drew up to Vilmos. Months short of a man, he could count on him. Next to him, Lajos, as academically gifted; he wore a stubborn smile.

“Where’s Ignacz?” Nathan asked.

Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to and access four advance chapters, commentaries and bonus art.

I am about to steal your watch.

Hello your name man

The Watch Thief is going great, I rate it right up among my best/your favourite here. A few patrons are braving monthly donations. On June 7th #BelfastBookFest I’ll be unleashing The Watch Thief into free cyberspace, every weekday, and waking up ALL THE KITTENS. I see T-shirts. I see other writers run to me. In my dreams and heart, I’m relatively happy.

The first act was finished over a good cup of coffee this afternoon, in the shade. I’m working between my Ballyhackamore home, the city’s Farset Labs and The Intercontinental Bar open space on Ravenhill. Ignacz The Watch Thief is set to five days a week as it’s been doing on Patreon. Subscribers already have the first three chapters. It’s only 80p a month, for goodness sake. That’s cheaper than the Green Party! Or if you can afford the best book of the year, £3 a month gets you weekly commentaries, a freMoniaive 2017e comic, art by Ruairi Coleman and John Robbins, and today, a poem called Omelette Day. I’m really very grateful to everyone who signed up.

A few shout-outs:
Alan and Sue Grant are running the Moniave Village Comics Festival, that’s somewhere in Dumfries and Galloway. That’s 10th-11th June, reasonable admission, and great contemporaries guesting such as MacManus, Nero, Bishop, Collins, Handley, Dobbyn, Emerson and McShane.  Contact sue grant 23 at

Comic Book Guys have moved to their new store on 110 Great Victoria Street, just beforeIMG_20170526_170526 Shaftsbury Square. It’s new, snazzy boutique appealing and I do hope you visit them. If you’re looking for print copies of We Shall Not Be Stapled they’re the only place with stock left. Tell Aaron (or Austin) you want to buy stuff, jabroni.

On the subject of comic shop patrons, my thanks to Malachy Coney at Forbidden Planet Belfast. Malachy interviewed me about Axel America for the Facebook page. Malachy’s one of the sweetest, smartest and most interesting people in comics, though lesser spotted unless you’re an FPI regular. You can read his own blog, Curiouser and Curiouser, here.

Next week, I’m recording a process video for Patreon and doing final takes on the all-access promo. As well as new Watch Thief, I’m finalising plot structure for a M.A.S.H.-like situation comedy novel. Then, Sarah and I are off to Achill Island for a few days. If you’re good I’ll bring you back gifts.

Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Just do anything.

Ignacz Book Launch NOW

Today I’m sending out my new novel in part-work through Patreon. Next month it’ll start for free on my but now S1 a month buys four chapters and $2 gets a weekly commentary. It’s a globe-trotting time-crossing  of adventure and escape which traverses the Edwardian age to World War Two. Some of you  know the highlights, retold since I began this in 2010. It’s in the vein of my Horatio Bottomley story for To End All Wars, Yet Unlike Anything. I’m very excited to finally get ‘Ignacz the Watch Thief’ off the ground. I understand if people wait for the free version on June 6th though I’d be grateful if you spread the word. This is unique.

More information at and the prologue is already there for subscribers with more new words tomorrow.

Calloused fingers from my new comic, stained with blue ink after a reasonably good launch; thankfully it didn’t stain the customer’s copy. Then the Enniskillen Comics Fest, were I got a good chat with Colin Mathieson among others. It was nice to see Alan & Sue Grant again, they give me a warm feeling. It was old skool fest life: abandoning the table, talking with everyone, getting excited about stuff! I hosted ‘Breaking into Comics’ with Colin, Jenika, Ciaran Marcantonio and Grainne McEntee, who makes Bubbles O’Seven: Simian Agent, which is really fun. I’m excited to be reading Ciaran’s comics soon. He’s properly excited about Neon Skies, and Red Sands looks great. I seem to be out of copies of We Shall Not Be Stapled, though it didn’t sell so well. Maybe a second printing. An e-version for sale in a month.