The Watch Thief, Chapter 18

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

Joe’s was where people met people. Men and women swam in one another’s eyes, five friends laughed at every table. Among all the parties Francis Johnson, twenty-two, sat at his table, feeling alone. An old man looked at him judgementally from the table opposite. His whiskey on the rocks shook like boats in a harbour at night.

One Month Earlier…

Over breakfast, Trebitsch was ribbed by Lampe and Bernard. He’s planning his great escape, they said. Trebitsch smiled and waved it off. I’m merely helping out where I can. But didn’t Tunny from the bomb squad grill him? Well, said Trebitsch, that just put the idea in my head to offer my services: I wrote to them several letters outlining the project, and Agent Benham, cleared it. That must speak very well of me, he said. They roared with laughter. Super secret double agent! Gentlemen, we are sat beside a master code breaker. Trebitsch said, we will see if Judge Veeder orders my extradition while I am working for the Bureau of Investigation!

An electric bell drilled in the high hall; twelve keys turned; large steel prison gates shifted back. Trebitsch walked with Marshal Proctor twenty minutes along Fulton and Washington. The Federal building was four storeys: white, polished granite catching the light on the corner. They passed through the semi-circular arch into the sumptuous foyer and along to the mahogany staircase.

The office had two desks. Proctor’s, the larger of the two, faced the door with a window behind it. Trebitsch worked at the smaller one, sat against the wall with a clock over his head, large like a moon. It was half nine when Trebitsch opened the dossier. The first sheet was a carbon copy, line after line of numbers. The second was also numbers, different ones, everywhere. The third was full of numbers. At ten thirty, Trebitsch was copying them onto a fourth sheet, then a fifth by eleven. Proctor was in his mid thirties, a refined and calm gent. They spoke occasionally, when Proctor brought tea, and at midday, when Trebitsch suddenly exclaimed,

“Marshal Proctor! I will be able to decipher these in the next day or two!”

That is great news.” he said. “Well done.”

Shortly after Proctor packed up books and wallets in a black leather bag. Trebitsch was left alone for a while. He read the newspapers and took time to check over some of the proofs for his book. At one, there was a knock on the door. Deputy Johnson introduced himself, with lunch. Trebitsch set down his pen and puffed wearily. He turned to the young face and took the brown bag from his hand. Was cheese and ham alright? Trebitsch’s nostrils moved along the sandwich, inhaling, and he gave an approving ahhhh. He savoured it, the mayo pushing from the wholegrain. Johnson was tall, muscular, with a buzz-cut and a face showing fear from inexperience. Trebitsch gazed at the clock as he crunched into lettuce.

“You can take an hour,” said Johnson. “Proctor says you’re studying German cables?”

Trebitsch set down his sandwich and gave Johnson one of his sheets. “They’re from a German firm in San Juan, Porto Rico. It’s a combination code. A code within a code.”

“You’ve circled the threes.”

“The three recurs more than any other number. Does it look like a certain English letter to you, Marshal?”

Yes, yes, it does. Is this the special insight that led the Bureau to select you?”

Trebitsch spoke of Carl Gneist and Franz Von Papen, who Johnson knew to be a troublemaker. This led into a conversation about Trebitsch’s life as a preacher in Canada, his travels in South America (so he said), becoming a curate in England and a surveyor for one of the great social entrepreneurs. The conversation lasted the rest of the afternoon. They arranged that in the afternoons, when Proctor was usually out, Trebitsch would move to his desk and allow Johnson to work from his own.

Trebitsch’s work continued. In the mornings, Proctor and he walked by the Fulton Ferry District, it’s Romanesque Revival building. The Federal offices doubled as a courthouse and post office so the foyer was chaos, but the fourth floor office was quiet. It took a while to earn Proctor’s trust. When Proctor left and returned, he’d look around his office: the filing cabinet and telephone, bookcase and framed certificates until he was happy nothing had been stolen. Sometimes Trebitsch would feel his eyes crawl across his back. Largely, the deputies were fine with him reading the newspapers and checking over the proofs for his book. He transcribed the coded pages and checked for accuracy, patterns. Proctor brought him acetates and duplicates so he could examine them side by side. At the end of the second week, Proctor asked if Trebitsch would like to go with him to the deli.

They argued over the best deli in Brooklyn, and Proctor gave in to going for rolls on Flushing Avenue. They passed the Clarendon and Proctor asked if he’d drank there. Trebitsch said he had not. He didn’t drink beer a great deal, except after a day’s work. He added nothing tasted so good after a hard day’s grind. They talked of the battle at Greece’s border as they ate their rolls in the staff lounge, with Johnson and Tunny. Then it was time to go back to the columns of code, as was usual in the afternoons, just Trebitsch and Johnson. The deputy liked him well enough but was nervous and Trebitsch suggested they work either side of the same desk. So Johnson lifted his papers and got comfortable on Proctor’s chair. The cool breeze from the open window brushed the back of his neck.

“If you’re such a great German spy, why turn against them?” asked Johnson.

“It is not the people I hate, but the governments. Wheeling out their military machines! Turning the decent man into cannon fodder!”

“Agent Benham thinks you’ll try to escape,” said Johnson.

“Not I! I want to earn my freedom. I have sufficient facilities to do my work and I am being well treated. I want to regain my liberty by the proper steps.”

Late that day Proctor returned in jubilant spirits and asked for an update. Johnson said he’d made good speed on the case files and Trebitsch announced he too had made an exciting break-through. He believed he had discovered the key, perhaps he might even finish decoding the cable-grams the next morning.

“Wonderful!” said Proctor. “Wonderful! Well I’ve just had drinks at the Clarendon with Tunny. Quite lively!”

“It’s Tunny’s fortieth,” explained Johnson.

“We’re going to the The Clarendon for a meal this evening. Lincoln, why don’t you join us?”

“Well, that’s very kind, Marshal.”

“I’ll clear it with Warden Hayes; there’ll be no problem.”

Two hours later they were at the Clarendon chomping hamburgers and ribs, downing beer and whiskey. Trebitsch had seduced Mabel, a trim blonde with a lively laugh and they’d matched Johnson with her friend, amorous Ethel. The Federal guard who signed Trebitsch in each morning, he was there telling Proctor stories of a trip to California. They talked football and film and were heard by all in the restaurant who remarked loudly of people who show no consideration for others and ‘I came out to have a quiet meal’.

Proctor had already told Trebitsch to call him George and they were goading Francis Johnson into his first whiskey, the glass shaking in the young man’s hand.

“He becomes a man tonight!” roared Proctor, and slapped Trebitsch on the back.

Trebitsch felt the eyes upon him. A giant, at the opposite table, receding hair. Judge Veeder, jaw dropped. Trebitsch was not frozen to the spot, not long. He was lifted from his chair by Tunny and Proctor and carried to the bar for more whiskey. Recommendations! Veeder’s face was lost in the drinking games and womanising. He only returned to Trebitsch’s memory when the bars of Raymond Street prison rolled open, like a drum to his brain.

Several days later news reached Proctor’s office of Veeder’s complaint over prisoner’s privileges. Johnson, still hungover, was particularly upset. Trebitsch said he had Ethel’s number so it wasn’t all bad. So that day he checked for prime numbers and scrutinised for sequenced patterns in German. In the evening, he returned to jail. Warden Hayes was always keen to learn of updates. Jozsef didn’t visit him that night but Olive Jundt did. She loaned him $50. Her sister had lent him $50 the previous night. Johnson continued to be impressed with Trebitsch’s pages of circled ones and zeroes. Francis Johnson was moping about how he missed their socials and Proctor made a point of saying the prisoner had a right to eat. So they went to Trebitsch’s deli and Trebitsch bought lunch for them and Tunny. Behind bars at Raymond Street, he continued to work on his proofs, due with his publisher in a matter of days. During the long hot days, Trebitsch lined up the pages of code and looked for mirror images or paced, stretching his limbs, looking out over the sunny city’s roof-tops.

That evening, an agent for Trebitsch’s publishers McBride and Hitchcock stopped by Raymond Street for his proofs. Proctor had allowed him to work on them at the office, but had drawn the line at using the Bureau’s mail room to send them out. The book told the story of how he fooled Seebohm Rowntree with a pretence of research work as cover for espionage operations. He praised some diplomats he worked with, tarred others. The story’s great villains were Sir Francis Bertie and Sir Edward Grey, together conspiring to isolate and antagonise the German government and force them into war: drenching the world in purest vilest hatred.

It was Christmas Eve and over Trebitsch gave cards to the prisoners, to Warden Hayes, Proctor, Johnson and Tunny. Proctor was adamant they would go for drinks. Forget Veeder!They would just have to make sure not to drink at any bars judges frequented. So they arranged to go to Paddy’s and telephoned for Mabel and Ethel to join them. They were winding down when Trebitsch called out.

Eureka! Francis, see here! How the number five recurs. I think it relates to troop movements. And the number one, I think, is information of a particularly sensitive nature. Agent Benham will be very interested in this.”

Johnson said, “I have his phone number here. Would you like to call him to tell him the good news?”

“Oh yes! I shall call him right away!” said Trebitsch, and he did.

The week after Christmas Trebitsch was not short of visitors. His lady friends as well as the men from the Bureau called. He received a harrowing letter from Margarethe and wrote to her of his bold adventures.

The crypto-analysis continued in January. Trebitsch telephoned Agent Benham to request the aid of a code mathematician therefore settling the whole thing very quickly. To see in the new year, Johnson and Trebitsch found a saloon and knocked back several shorts, enjoying bourbon and rum. As Trebitsch signed his name in and out, both the prison warden and Federal security joked that it was good practice for his forthcoming book. The pages turned on the desk calendar, red and black through January. Trebitsch cabled Agent Benham to tell him only mechanical work remained, he was within an ace of a solution. And Marshal Proctor took him to Olive Jundt’s home for afternoon tea: he’d become quite keen on her. They went to Joe’s too, hot meals arriving through the hatch. Trebitsch offered to pay, but had bought a few rounds at Paddy’s and Proctor wasn’t having it.

Johnson found himself excited over the imminent release of Trebitsch’s book. He suggested a celebratory meal at Joe’s and they put in calls to Mabel and Ethel. Trebitsch led the way down Fulton Street with the cigar his young admirer had brought for him. Joe’s was on the corner with Pierpoint and they left took their coats off and got a table for four. The atmosphere was hearty with banter and love. The staff liked their regulars. Trebitsch excused himself and Johnson ordered his pinot grigot, and a Red Label whiskey for himself. He was getting a taste for it. The waiter brought the drinks over and menus, but he said they were waiting for company.

Johnson looked over the tables at the finely clothed mean and their mistresses and wives and wondered. He wondered if he was good enough for Ethel, if he’d get the promotion at work and if Trebitsch was alright in the lavatory. Had there been some accident? He asked for a menu and wondered about that. He knew what Trebitsch liked, that he’d almost certainly go for the noodles. Ethel would go for the cheeseburger and Mabel would likely have the pasta.

The wine was dulling. Thirty minutes passed. Johnson walked down to the basement. The stalls were empty, the cubicles too. Perhaps Trebitsch had missed him at the bar. Sure enough, he hadn’t seen were Johnson was sat. He climbed the stairs, made his way to the table. Perhaps he’d gone to look for Mabel and Ethel at Paddy’s or the Clarendon. He sat over his drink a few minutes more and knocked it back.

Trebitsch and the girls were at neither bar. The staff hadn’t seen them. Francis Johnson went back across the road to Joe’s and ordered another. They hadn’t seen Trebitsch and his coat was still in the cloakroom. Perhaps he had returned to his flat, or to Anna’s, or to the Federal building, or to Raymond Street.


c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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Image source: Photo of the Week- Joe’s Restaurant, Brooklyn History.


The Watch Thief, Chapter 17

Foreign Office, Whitehall. May 24, 1915.

Eyre Crowe greeted Sir Grey as he entered the office and the Minister returned the sentiment.

“I saw William Tyrrell on the way in. I knew he was under enormous pressure but he’s in a bad way, looked very stressed,” said Grey.

“His sick leave starts next week. Minister, have you read The Times this morning?”

“I left my copy with William. He said he wanted a read. What’s in it?”

“They’ve reprinted a feature from The New York World Sunday Magazine. I managed to obtain the periodical..”

Grey took Crowe’s Sunday Magazine and read the front page headline.

“‘Revelations of I.T.T. Lincoln, Former Member of Parliament, Who Became a German Spy’. Oh, no. ‘Amazing Confession of a Naturalised Subject of England, Who For Revenge Sought To Betray His Adopted Country to Her Enemies.’ Oh no. This is most troublesome.”

“Admiral Hall at the navy was looking into it, along with Thomson at the Yard. There’s an arrest warrant out on him for multiple frauds.”

“Extradition?” asked Grey

“The Yard doesn’t have the man-power to find him. Though Thomson suggested we call in Pinkertons,” said Crowe.

“William and yourself have met Lincoln. What do you think?” asked Grey

“I think myself –“

Suddenly there was an almighty scream from the adjoining room.

“What in good heavens?” asked Crowe.

“I think myself and William would agree with Thomson’s proposal.”

A different timezone and daylight faded in Trebitsch’s room as he read the letter from his wife. Margarethe had been forced to give Eddie up for adoption and had gotten in contact with a Quaker family who promised to raise him in a loving home. His education would be seen to, he’d be fed and clothed. She begged for forgiveness and understanding and he wrote back that he could deny her neither. Then he returned to the manuscript he was working on and wrote. ‘Sir Edward Grey knows that I have indeed many things to reveal — hence the “frame-up” of some charge, for which my extradition could be demanded in order to silence me, and thus to prevent at all cost my Revelations being published!’

The day after C.I. Ward visited, Nicolas Hotermans found Margarethe and Clifford on his steps, both in their pyjamas. Her faces were burned with tears. Her landlady had locked her out, made her sign all the house’s belongings over to make up the back rent: when she’d asked for a blouse she was not allowed to have it. He consoled her and at the end of the day waited at Torrington Square until Ignatius and John came home from scrubbing floors.

The landlady let them back in as a temporary relief. They were to find somewhere else. Then the reporters came, with notepads and pens and the New York World article. ‘Mr. Lincoln is married and has four sons. His eldest son, an adopted child, is now serving in the British army. This young man is actually at the front in France.’ They rapped on her door seeking verification, clarification and quotation. How much did she know about the spy, her husband? Mrs. Lincoln, the German. They were all over her home but Nicolas told her to say nothing unless they helped her clear debts.

The bombs dropped on London. Margarethe was barely asleep when the bombardment began. Four miles away, murder from the skies fell on Stoke Newington. She gathered Eddie and Clifford, screaming. They dropped three miles over Whitechapel and Hoxton then closer still. The roof fell in on Shoreditch’s Music Hall, one of over a hundred incendiaries. They hid under the table, frightened and alone.

C.I. Ward called the next day and suggested she might want to move away.

Trebitsch rubbed his beard as he sat at the table by his bed. He turned a full page and tasked his pencil to the blank one. ‘It is a fallacy to blame the English ‘People’ or the German ‘People’ for this war; neither they nor any other ‘People’ wanted it. Notwithstanding the democracy or parliamentary government, and other much vaunted achievements of our age, the people, the nation in fact, not only does not know the hidden moves on the international chessboard; they are not even consulted in the most vital questions.’

Franz Von Papen lifted his eyes gently to his attache. “Yes, Karl. What have you there?”

“Berlin told us that if Trebitsch Lincoln called again we were to have nothing to do with him.” He unfolded the front page of the New York World. “So we didn’t authorise this?”

Von Papen read quickly the May 23rd headlines and the first column. ‘The German Secret Service knew that Kuepferle’s alleged reports came from Scotland Yard and the requested instructions they obstensibly sent to Kuerpferle were indeed meant to mislead the British officials.’ Then he laughed, and laughed.

“One of their own says he was working for us,” said Karl, “Lording it over them!”

Von Papen shared his enthusiasm. “This! This is a great coup. Regardless of the truth!The British have egg on their faces!”

‘I arrived on February 9th, and at once got in touch with a certain German. Through him I got my cable to Berlin past the English censor without delay. Before leaving London I sent a note by circuitous route to the German Consul at Rotterdam, telling him in a prearranged code of all that had happened and advising him immediately to take the necessary steps. Through some inadvertences of Captain Kenny’s, I learned that the Secret Service of England was then considering and elaborating a plan to blow up all the railway bridges and important railway stations of the Rhine by sending into Germany emissaries with false passports.’

Trebitsch thought about his summer past: the move to Lajos’s; to his own room in Harlem; then here to nearby Raymond Street. Some of the block was over-crowded, smelled badly, but his room was a prime spot. He liked the neighbours. The walls were thin and he burned the midnight oil writing, but no-one complained.

Simon tugged the suitcase up the stairs after him. It chipped the wall as he walked. A man, about twenty, waited outside his apartment and they eyed one another as the gap closed. Already the young man’s hair was faded; blackest in the tiny moustache on his bony, jocular face: too cool for the formal posture he assumed.

“Mr. Trebitsch?”

“Who wants to know?”

He produced his identity card. “My name’s Hammett, with Pinkerton’s detective agency. I’d like to ask a few questions about your brother: Ignacz Trebitsch Lincoln.”

“My ‘brother’ and I have not spoken in several months,” said Simon, letting them in.

“You’re just back from holiday?” asked Hammett.

“Basic training in Honolulu.”

“Then I assume you’ll not have seen this? It’s last week’s.”

Hammett reached inside his bag and brought out the New York World Sunday Magazine. The front page was given over to the one piece and the headline seemed to explode in his eyes.

‘How He Obtained Important Secrets Regarding Germany’s War Plans and Attempted to Use Them to Gain the Confidence of the British War Office – When Suspected He Fled From England And Sought Refuge In New York.’

“Revenge; treason: serious things. The British have me looking into this and the U.S. army will discover your connection with him. You could deal with the question now by telling me what you know?”

The on-site library stocked any newspaper Trebitsch would want. He had access to paper and pens all hours, sometimes even coffee. The writing desk was tight by his bed, but turned to the wall and he had missed this minimalist life: just him, the book, pen and candlelight.

‘My brother, like so many of the younger generation of the Jewish faith, had little sympathy with the ‘Chasidim’, the strictest sect of the Pharisees, and soon drifted into infidelity.’

It was a hot night in Harlem, the Hudson’s August breeze turning the air to a sauna; wet towels on the window evaporating in the room. He moved his head so the sweat would not hit the page. It stung his eyes. The doorbell rang and he jumped. He sat back and listened. Another ring, loud banging on the door. He got up, looked through the narrow vertical window to six men in the dark.

“Open the door at once, or we’ll break through the window!”

Trebitsch sighed and got up; made his way downstairs. He turned the handle and stared into the nickeled barrel of a revolver.

“Don’t move, don’t make a move!”

The men rushed him; gloves on his arms, gloves patting him down.

“What do you want??” he screamed out.

At his desk in Raymond Street he was productive. After the New York World article, publishers McBride & Hitchcock had made him an offer. He was committed to it. Trebitsch drafted and re-drafted and re-drafted again.

“Lights out in ten, Mr. Lincoln.”

“Thank you. I’ll finish up now, Mr. Hayes!” he said, and rested his pen to turn, smile at the warden through the bars.

‘United States Deputy-Marshal Proctor there-upon pointed his revolver at me and admonished me not to move.

“Are you afraid of met” I jokingly asked him.

“Not exactly,” he said, “but we never take chances.”

Forced to play the host to such a formidable party of secret service agents and Pinkerton detectives, I hastened to let them in. These five gentlemen were courteous but firm. It was their duty to arrest me under a warrant sworn out by the British Consul. When I had packed a few belongings to cover what I was sure would be a temporary period, I was conducted by the officials to the Raymond Street prison, Brooklyn.’

The Federal building was packed with reporters, their excitement rising as Trebitsch took the stand.

“Your honour, I would like to read an excerpt from the New York World article which was mentioned. It is very relevant to my defence.”

“Make it so and proceed, Mr. Lincoln.” Judge Veeder was fifty, receding hair and statesman-like. He had the aura of a giant, moved slowly, very slowly and watched constantly.

“Thank you, Judge Veeder. If the court would pay close attention to the context here? ‘Although working as a military censor, old friends in the Liberal Club snubbed me because of my Hungarian birth and finally asked me to keep away from the club. I knew what I was going to do was technically high treason, but my blood was boiling in me at all the calculated barbarities inflicted by a haughty, perfidious race upon innocent people.’

“Mr. Lincoln, the charges against you are ones of fraud, not espionage and certainly not treason,” said Veeder.

“Your honour, I did work as a German spy, but I am not guilty of fraud. My arrest is also to prevent my publishing this book.” Trebitsch held the journal up so all could see it. “I am against the war and –“

“A state of war does not affect the situation in the slightest degree. Great Britain is not under martial law. Her courts are open and it must be allowed that justice will be done. To establish a prima-facie case exists for extradition, we will wait for papers from London. In the meantime, Mr. Lincoln is to be remanded without bail for a fortnight.”

Trebitsch rose up in fury and Judge Veeder slammed his gavel. Trebitsch was led out of the court.

The reporters swarmed towards them.

“Mr. Lincoln, a statement, please?”

“Is this a political prosecution?”

“Most certainly,” he called out. “It’s a subterfuge to get me into Britain! Once I get back there I’ll be arrested as a spy! When they get me to London they’ll drop the forgery charge like hot coals and proceed to make my head shorter by several inches.”

‘The proceedings there commenced for my extradition on a trumped up charge of forgery — as I already pointed out in the Preface — are still going on. But I am more than ever hopeful of regaining my freedom within a short time.’

Some nights the prisoners screamed for opium and cocaine and he’d pull his sheets over his head. Most nights thought, he slept soundly. His company was enjoyed by prisoners and warders, who he thought more like waiters.

He was writing a letter to Margarethe when he smelled the air fill up with tobacco. He heard the group of prisoners arrive at his cell door.

“Lampe’s got a surprise for you, Lincoln. Show him.”

Lampe, one of the more excitable inmates, presented Trebitsch with a ragged five month old copy of the New York World. Trebitsch read his own words and marvelled.

‘I had become a censor at the outbreak of the war, and quit in disgust after discovering appeals of Hungary for Red Cross aid from the United States were intercepted and destroyed.’

“Would you sign it for us, Lincoln?” asked Lampe.


Another prisoner spoke up. “We heard there’s a man from London come for you. I thought they said your papers had been sunk by German raiders!”

“Bernard, your delivery of that joke is far funnier than that of the British government!”

“Here, have a smoke,” said Laszlo, and he gave a cigar over.

In time they left Trebitsch get back to work. He weaved the tale of his life as an international spy. He wrote of how Britain’s Bucharest embassy on Jules Michet was previously looked after by Arthur Hardinge, once his key diplomat in Brussels, who he’d observed in turn replaced by Conyngham Greene, previously at the consulate in Bern. He wrote of his relationship with Frank Lascelles in Berlin. Then Lascelles was replaced by Edward Goschen, who Trebitsch first met as ambassador to Vienna in November, until replaced by Sir Fairfax Cartwright who had secret files, mission instructions and was a key mover and shaker in the diplomatic ring. Trebitsch was revealing the key figures in the circle moving and watching Germany.

Warden Hayes rapped on the bars. Two Scotland Yard detectives were downstairs and wanted to see him. So Hayes and Trebitsch walked the narrow dank grey-stone, between barred cells, to Hayes’ office. Waiting for them were Marshal Proctor, C.I. John Ward and his partner, Cooper. Trebitsch raised his arms in joy when he saw them.

“Ah! Mr. Ward! The top man in Scotland Yard still here after four weeks. I am important!”

I was hoping I could convince you could accompany us home,” said Ward.

Trebitsch rocked back in his chair and smiled “This is a fiasco! A wanton squandering of public money!”

“C.I. Ward has a warrant,” said Proctor, sharply.

“But no writ. A plea of haebus corpus has been entered preventing my extradition,” said Trebitsch.

“I went to see the Judge about hurrying it along. Someone filled his head with stories London had been destroyed by Zeppelins! There are many here who have not been quite helpful.” Ward looked accusingly at Trebitsch and he gave a full smile back. “

Please, detective,” said Hayes. “Mr. Lincoln has been a model prisoner.”

“If you return to England you may have the forgery charges against you dropped,” said Ward.

“You have the reputation of being a very clever man, Chief, and you are,” I said, “and I do not expect nor ask you to admit anything, although you know why Sir Edward Grey is so anxious to get hold of me.”

The hint thrown out by him had reference to a substantial compensation in return for abstaining from publishing my revelations! We walked out of the room, he disappointed, dejected. I elated, satisfied.

Four days later, Ward and Cooper were on a steamer for London to report their findings. At the same time in the Foreign Office, Eyre Crowe sorted through Edward Grey’s recently arrived telegrams. One was form Raymond Street Jail, Brooklyn.

Scotland Yard detectives after months of fruitless waiting returned today without me. Cannot British Government find other uses for public funds than vindictive persecution of me? – T.L.

Crowe cursed, drawing Grey’s attention.


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.

The Watch Thief, Chapter 16

Little Hungary, 9 February, 1915

Simon saw to the guests at table six. Laid the cutlery in front of them, formally, and set down the red triangle serviettes onto white tablecloths and took their order: rice and steamed vegetables, pork with fried cheese side and halászlé soup. His manager, a portly American, took the note off him at the kitchen door. The customer alone in the corner was his brother, Trebitsch.

Eight hours earlier, the Philadelphia’s foghorn blasted the passenger hold. Trebitsch began again; Anna Jundt, her three children and sister, Olive, an eager audience. They were Germans making a fresh start and Trebitsch understood their plight. He comforted Anna as tear trickled by her silky black hair and remarked that jealousy was no way for them to build an empire. New York’s buildings were tall, he said, taller, yes, than the children stood on each other’s shoulders. Where the people scary? Not as scary as the British, not as scary as the naval spy who sent coded messages by blinking.

Olive took the sleepy children while Trebitsch and Anna walked the deck. They managed somehow to walk half an hour. He was kind and listened as she complained about her husband. He didn’t judge. He spoke impartially, gave his sympathies on what he’d heard and invented nothing. Trebitsch took her elbow in his palm, clearing her path through the people on deck. She sparked at his touch. Below the stink of oil and brine, her scented talcum powder re-lit his sinuses. Anna learned he was poor and offered to lend him money. He was delighted.

She opened the door to the cabin. Her tongue followed his. A hand firm on tit, fidgeting with buttons. Her spine ran down her back, he followed it between her legs. Nails gripped his rear, balancing. Then they were on rowing on the bed. She murmured something too quiet, then a scream as her knees rocked and sweat worked into a rainfall as they came.

When Anna and Trebitsch went above deck the Statue of Liberty signalled their welcome and the Jersey City skyline played itself out before them.

Unwilling to suffer his heavy bag through the noisy traffic, Trebitsch took the Staten Island ferry, bypassing Brooklyn. In Lower Manhattan he found the Little Hungary restaurant: not too many customers, it had some class about it. The aromas drifted from the kitchen: beef, peppercorn and garlic. The waiter asked if he wanted a table for one and he squinted at the unkempt fringe.


“Trebitsch,” he replied cheerfully. “Yes, I work here,” said Simon.

“I did not expect this. I am, of course, here on business. Low key business if you don’t mind.”

Simon sat him down and presented him a menu, then asked if Trebitsch had seen Jozsef or Lajos. He confessed the three of them had moved to New York for work after the Roumanian Oil Company collapsed. The mention of it made Trebitsch’s tone harsher. He told Simon to write down their details, then ordered the Chicken paprikash stew and a glass of table water. Simon handed him the addresses and took his order to the kitchen. He felt his brother’s eyes on him as he left. Table eleven had ordered bright-red halászlé fish soup, not too spicy and the ruby Csaba sausage. He asked them to enjoy their meal then saw Trebitsch with raised finger. The manager blocked Simon’s way, wagged his finger and sent him back to his brother.

Trebitsch informed Simon he expected to eat for free. He reminded him, “I provided you with food and shelter in Darlington; and we still have to settle up for the Roumanian account.”

Simon was speechless, then warned Trebitsch not to start trouble. Oh, no, there would be no trouble, said Trebitsch. Then the manager was calling out Simon’s name and orders, broad and full of bluster. Trebitsch said he was a customer and like any other deserved to be attended to. Simon left and returned with Trebitsch’s plate, orange brown stew with dumpling-noodles, and slapped it down in front of his brother.

Trebitsch continued to drag out the meal, sitting for another hour. Simon passed him and felt his eyes were upon him at all times. Simon said goodnight to the kitchen staff but before he could leave the manager, noticing his neglect, made him call on Trebitsch.

“Was everything alright with your meal, Sir?”

“The service is cold. Could you warm it up for me?”

“Very good,” said Simon.

He walked out onto Broadway with its shouts and cars then heard Trebitsch’s case drag behind him. Simon heard his name called out as a threat, he turned his headand his elder brother drew close.

“The money you took from Roumanian Oil, it must be repaid.”

Simon’s brow wrinkled, scrunching up between his eyes and nose. “What?” he asked.

“Oh, but you see,” said Trebitsch. “I have caught you! £100, Simon!”

“You’re talking rot,” spat Simon. “I took nothing! If anything–“

“£100, I demand you give it to me now.”

Simon laughed, then paused a moment, cutting Trebitsch off. “I don’t even have £100 !”

“Well give me $10 and you can give me $5 every week until the amount is returned.”

“Go and talk to Jozsef if you want your money!” said Simon and he turned and walked away.

“That’s regrettable,” said Trebitsch, then raised his voice. “That behaviour will be the end of you!”

Trebitsch bought a ticket on the night train and travelled across the country, seeing Philadelphia as the sun set and and black Baltimore were it slowed and stopped and he finally slept waiting on the dawn carriage to Washington. At dawn, he dragged his haulage bag down Pennsylvania Avenue. In the morning light the White House opened in front of him, flashed through the railings so he could almost touch it. At twenty to nine, he walked to the U.S. German consulate on Massachusetts Avenue. The building was four storeys, cold featureless square brick juxtaposed with a European conical turret. The waiting room was extravagant with polished furniture.

“Mr. Werner Horn, Consul Von Papen will see you now,” said the secretary.

Already it was busy and Trebitsch spoke with the waiting Irishman and then an Indian. An hour later his name was called. Franz Von Papen had full black eyes, sprouting eyes and a curling chin which gave him a curious and animated face. Trebitsch took him seriously right away. His office held framed certificates from Von Papen’s time at the Kaiser’s palace and a photograph from the coup in Mexico the year before. In rusty German, Trebitsch repeated the story of his meeting with Carl Gneist in Rotterdam, how he’d been given codes as a try-out.

“I hate the British as much as you,” said Trebitsch. “My wife is German. Right now she is living in England, behind enemy lines. She, and my other contacts in the British elite, can be a valuable source of information. I saw many nationalities in your waiting room. I conclude from that you recognise the importance of good information.”

Von Papen nodded appreciatively. “What are you proposing, Mr. Lincoln?”

“If you give me a job you’ll find I’m a productive worker with exclusive access to contacts within the European state apparatus. I would also require a passport so my enemy Admiral Hall will not discover my presence here or where-ever you choose to send me. The Kaiser would benefit greatly from having me at his disposal. I also have good knowledge of Canada.”

Trebitsch knew of Gneist’s interest in the region and hoped he’d take the bait.

“That’s very interesting. Go on.”

“I toured all round Canada in my disguise as a holy man. The port cities of Quebec and Montreal, right along the St. Lawrence river, to here, to New York.”

“Well, don’t your connections run deep? If your references check out, what would you propose to do for us?”

Von Papen’s accent was hard, the weariness of nobility fused with the belittlement of a military man. He wondered if Von Papen had ever been to Britain. Von Papen had to be made aware, thought Trebitsch, that he was a dangerous man and he should have him on side. “I have seen your codes. I know they could use improvement and the British are closer to cracking them than you might think. Allow me to work on new ones.”

“Those codes come through High Command and are not suited to invention by a diplomat, which is how you described your work in Europe. Would you be prepared to courier certain documents?”

“Yes, yes, I would. The telegram and the new wireless are efficient but they are not suitable for sensitive matters.”

“How sensitive would the messages have to be to be unsuitable to you? Information on fleet movements and strategies need to be safeguarded at all times.”

“This is another area in which I am well versed and happy to serve,”said Trebitsch.

“And would you be willing to take orders? What if you were required to ship armaments?”

“It would likely attract attention and not be the best use of my talents. However, I may be prepared to broker deals. This would work, as I am in dialogue with many influential business people.”

Von Papen said he would contact Gneist to back up the claims. Trebitsch said he would not leave a forwarding address just yet and he would call on him in two weeks.

He arrived in New York by the evening and made his way to Lajos’s home in downtown Brooklyn. He climbed the stairs above Decatur Street, and the door was answered by Jozsef, both brothers surprised to see one another. Lajos embraced him too. It was a grand reunion.

Jozsef brought fresh beef and spaghetti, enough for the three of us,” said Lajos.

You recall how he never has anything in. I see the newspapers have begun to nest again,” said Jozsef.

He files them in boxes as and when it occurs,” said Trebitsch.

Lajos did have his spices, herbs, and his talent for mixing the right amounts at the right time: poppy seed and oregano, tarragon, dill, coriander and bay leaf, The scent wakened Trebitsch to memories of Darlington when he cooked for them and the smell of meat incensed their mother. They sat in a kitchen with a hardwood floor, all three chairs with a simple circular table that creaked from a bad leg. Jozsef told his brother he’d been working as an elevator mechanic for a city firm. His flat at Washington Heights was too small for guests but he was willing to loan twenty bucks. Lajos offered to put Trebitsch up and he thanked him. The meal was divine.

The next day, Trebitsch slept on the scabby three-seat sofa which was perfect. The day after he rode the bus across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan. Simon was not at the restaurant.. Trebitsch drafted a demand for the money, folded it twice and left it with the waiter. Then it was back to pulling the luggage. Every street was a tourist attraction, all the famous places gathered and lined up. He spent a few hours at the Public Library on Fifth Street, looking through the newspapers. There was a report on the Turkish and German armies having reached the Suez Canal and closer, in Los Angeles, the screening of Griffith’s three hour drama, Birth of a Nation. None of the papers had any mention of him, so he wrote to Margarethe assuring her he was safe and asked her to write back care of Louis Szell.

In the mornings he awoke to the sounds of the Atlantic Avenue thoroughfare, horse driven milk carts of Borders and Union Dairy, the man with his hand-crate dashing up and down the row houses. As the months passed, Lajos contributed to one or two Socialist papers and Trebitsch was given ten or twenty dollars when he could afford it. Trebitsch played on his brother’s politics as he ducked out of employment, looking to make his own way. Perhaps he might gain a position with the New York World or The American. He’d tried the German papers too, heard nothing back. Margarethe wrote back that the policeman Ward had called again and searched the house. It had gotten worse though. There was no food to go around. Julius and Ignatius brought in some money as cleaners but they’d been surviving only with the help of the Salvation Army. She was considering giving one of the boys up for adoption.

By mid-April, Trebitsch and Lajos were close to turning on one another. He often returned home late, drunk, with Anna Jundt, or her sister Olive back, or both of them. At just the right time, Anna and her husband lent him money for the rent of a room and he moved to West 135th Street on the bank of the Hudson, not far from Jozsef.

Three years earlier the Pulitzer Building was the city’s tallest, twenty storeys high. It dominated Newspaper Row and laughed at the spires of the church underneath. Trebitsch sauntered into the offices of the New York World. The presses had rolled, the pressure was off the writers. Yet they click-clacked Underwoods and cut carriages across pages. The ink smell was heavy like tar, a fog of cigarette smoke hovering above it. He was led to the editor’s office, a gallery of souvenir clippings on the walls. Frank Cobb, one-time partner to Joseph Pulitzer, stood to shake Trebitsch’s hand and Trebitsch wondered if he might sit in that chair himself one day.

“Yes, Mr. Lincoln. I had a look at your submissions. The anti-British opinion is actually quite a common one in our submissions. To tell the truth, it’s a bit tired.”

“I was a Liberal Party M.P. Surely that would carry some weight?”

“Our readers just wouldn’t be interested by that. Our doors is open if you can come up with substantial news.”

“I was quite influential! I travelled all over Europe getting ready policy on social reform. I was even considered for work with Special Intelligence.”

Cobb raised his head and picked up his notepad. “Go on,” he said.

“I was working at The Mount as a military censor when I formulated a brilliant plan to destroy the German navy. However at that time, there were various factions within the espionage community who were conspiring against me.”

“This, this I’m interested in. Can you substantiate any of it?”

Trebitsch reached inside his bag and took out letters from Hall, Gneist and Kenny and spread them across the desk as Cobb read every single line. Cobb summoned another reporter and told him to get Trebitsch over to his desk.

A half hour later, Cobb saw the two of them writing side by side. Trebitsch’s left hand rested on the desk. Cobb lifted a discarded page. Trebitsch examined his own fingers, black ink marking out the spirals, then Cobb, who was engrossed in the text:

‘I used the codename Kuepferle, which Scotland Yard thought came from the German Secret Service. The English thought they were fooling the Germans, while as a matter of fact they were being fooled. I happened to be one of the dramatis epersonae in this intrigue and counter-intrigue, in the plotting and counter-plotting, in the deep laid scheme of one brain against the other.’

“Mr. Lincoln, if we were to publish… aren’t you worried about your safety?” asked Cobb.

“Oh, it is for the best that I do this. The time is at hand!”


c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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The Watch Thief, Chapter 15

Whitehall, London. 1st February, 1915.

Reginald Hall left The Strand and entered Watergate House. Mid-forties and kept trim, he had a bulbous head, almost bald. From the back white tufts sprouted round his ears. He wore black, looked more like a captain of business with his wide pleasing smile. Hall’s most noticeable feature was the dark, perceptive eyes interrupted by sporadic twitching and blinking like a signal lamp.

“Shh, Blinker’s here,” whispered Mrs. Carberry.

He’d entered one of the rooms of MO5(g). A pool of fifty or so registry girls sifted through manilla and gave their all to the Underwoods. There were hardly any men: one Romeo perched on a desk at the back, oblivious to his presence. Hall saw Director Kell handing out instructions to a cluster at the far side. Kell was intimidatingly tall, hair swept back, the weight of the world on his shoulders. Hall had met him at briefings, found him doddering and sentimental.

“Thank you, ladies,” said Kell. “If you could get on with that, and please excuse me, a very important man has just come in.”

They shook hands. Hall gruffly explained the reason for his visit. Kell led him through the secretaries.

Romeo sat bum up against typewriter. Opposite him was Joan, a tall blonde, with a fake shock on her face. Suzanne’s hand was clasped over her mouth to suppress hysterical laughter. They drew looks from the others around.

“Tell us again of this new recruit you’ve to break in, Captain Kenny,” said Joan.

“Come now, it’s a very serious matter,” he said.

“That’s Kenny?” asked Hall.

Kell put a slow hand on Hall and they stopped there. “Hang back and we’ll hear the s tory’s parlour version.”

“Go on. What of Commander Lincoln?”

Joan was laughing as she said it. An audience gathered around, all eyes on Kenny, serious.

“He applied for a job a few months ago.”

Kenny leaned forward, lowered his voice but raised the drama in his tone. “His plan: feeding the government snippets about fleet movements. He’d lure the Kaiser’s entire naval forces to the North Sea. Our navy would lie in wait.”

The open hands representing the two fleets were pushed together in one fist punched on top of the other. Kenny’s voice was rising.

“We’d lie in wait until his call! We’d destroy them with an ambush. Our masteree of the seas would bring us complete victoree!”

He punched the fist into the sky, then spread his arms out in dramatic magnificence.

“Zee Most Important Contree-bu-tion! Sat-ees-fying!”

The girls laughed, groaned; a few applauded.

“So I said to him, perhaps the War Office may send you to Rotterdam. You could gather data on Germany’s cocoa exports.”

Kenny awaited the second wave of laughter but heads turned away. He was confused, looked around the audience and saw Kell and Hall.

“Captain, always the source of office gossip,” said Kell. “This is Admiral Hall, director of Naval Intelligence. He’d like to hear the story again. If you can spare the time?”

It was Kenny who had passed the case along to Hall but their talk added nothing to what he already knew. Hall walked the short distance down Horse Guards Avenue to the Victoria Embankment and the river. Hall might have been on one of those patrolling boats but illness had cut short a celebrated career. He decided not to go along the glittering Thames to Admiralty House but to New Scotland Yard instead. The bulletin could be written up from there. He had with him files of his own meeting with Lincoln. Those would surely brighten up a Monday.

As luck had it, Assistant Commissioner Thomson and he crossed paths in the lobby. Thomson had grey and white flaking hair, a muscular face, a sour demeanour. Hall explained that Kell recommended he seek Basil Thomson out specifically. The police chief led the blinking Admiral into his office and poured him tea.

“I take my work seriously and I expect the same trait in others,” said Thomson. “To that end, you and I, Kell, and Cumming over at SIS might work more closely in the future,” said Thomson.

“We should. I’m at the moment doing some hands-on work regarding a potential spy. Trebitsch Timothy Lincoln, ex-MP. I believe you have a record on him.”

Thomson brushed his moustache down to his chin. “There was an allegation of espionage. No substance behind it. D.I. Ward and I made the house call and there was nothing untoward. Odd fellow though.”

“Batty, yes,” said Hall.

“Have I missed a trick?” asked Thomson.

“We both have, Basil. Lincoln applied for a job with Kell’s people. Henry Dalziel was pushing for it. He had all the character references, according to Captain Kenny over at Watergate.”

“What went wrong?”

“Over Christmas, SIS men in Rotterdam spotted Lincoln walk into the German consulate. Later that week he was witnessed with the Consul-General, Carl Gneist, and again the week after.”

“Suspicious. I’ll get you his wife’s address.” Thomson got up and opened the filing cabinet behind him. “So your men flagged him?”

“On the return trip. He’d been pushing Kell’s man. I thought better to let him come to us.. He was in my office on Thursday and came clean: he produced letters discussing espionage with Gneist and German secret intelligence.”

Thomson turned around. “What? He came right out with it?”

“Proudly! He produced secret German codes and dates of their future meetings. Apparently, he thought he would ingratiate himself with us by opening up channels with German espionage. I listened to him sit and tell me all these things.”

“This is rich! So the codes–”

“Absolutely worthless! I told him that, and spelled out he wouldn’t be paid by us for anything at any time.”

Thomson closed the filing cabinet gently, sat down with a slim folder in his hand.

“I’d looked into certain indulgences of his.” Hall blinked. “He’d forged signatures on letters to borrow a large amount of money from a man named Goldstein. Well, he went white as a sheet when I told him I knew this. I said anyone who did that was probably not suitable for intelligence work.”

“He surely didn’t take that well. Was the man not arrested?” said Thomson.

“Goldstein had asked for charges not to be pressed. I could have kept Lincoln’s passport, but it was only valid for three days so I returned it. A foolish decision.”

“He’s gone to ground,” said Thomson.

They collated the intel and wrote the memo. A secretary was instructed to send it to the port police and the constabulary. Lincoln would be arrested on site and checks made to ensure he was blocked from leaving the county. When they examined Thomson’s file, they noted Lincoln had been employed at Mount Pleasant sorting office. Thomson admitted suffering desk fatigue that day: if Hall wished to follow up the lead there and then he would be quite willing to accompany them. So they got a cab: along the Thames and turning on Blackfriars. They rode the full length of Farringdon Street discussing in whispered code the man in charge of state security: their boss, the Home Secretary.

“Really, what can McKenna do?” asked Thomson.

“He’ll throw a hissy fit and we’ll remind him access to information is a vitally preventative measure in wartime.” said Hall.

The cab turned into Islington and stopped at The Mount. They tipped him and walked across the yard to where sunlight shone on winter steps. Then the men were submerged in a near complete blackness and the cold of the former gaol. They found the postal supervisor, Richard Annette, in his office: a straight-talking size of a man.

“Trebitsch Lincoln? Not here for more than a few weeks before he was reprimanded. He was supposed to just sort, then I got wind he’d been taking liberties with the checks we have to make.”

“Hos so?” asked Thomson.

“He was marking the letters, writing on them. I thought if he was going to censor he should do it properly. I sent him to work under those two,” and he pointed to a table in the corner. “They worked with him closely.”

Thomson found time while making notes to glance over at the two men.

“What else can you tell us?” asked Hall.

“Not much,” said Annette. “We had a complaint from an M.P. who got a censorship form with his morning bacon and eggs. The boys fingered Lincoln as the likely culprit.”

“What a mess,” said Hall.

“There was nothing but friction when he was around. He clearly didn’t want to be here. No one was sorry when he resigned.”

They thanked him and made their way across the bay, rows of men and women spilling sacks of envelopes, hills of them shifting and swarming across the tables. Thomson took down the names of the workers Annette pointed out to them: Duncan Robbins and Miguel Duffield. They welcomed the interruption as a chance to slack off.

“Lincoln? Yeah, we worked with him,” said Robbins. “Keen to sort Romanian and Hungarian mail specifically. Claimed he had expertise.”

“He was as amateur as Duncan here!” said Duffield. “Writing all over the letters. It’s part of our job to check…”

“But this fella was making full length annotations. Always whining about how bored he was. Miguel does the same, to be fair.”

Thomson wearied of the banter. “Did he show any pro-German sympathies?”

“Oh, aye. Always speaking out in favour of them.” Duffield rubbed his dark beard. “Very queer for a military censor.”

“A shifty one at that. A few of the boys called him out as a spy. The supervisor got wind of it,” said Robbins.

“Ruddy rascal if you ask me. Remember, Duncan, what he used to say? ‘Eengleesh beegots!’”

Duncan Robbins dropped his easy demeanour and stood full to attention. “’Vee communeecations must bee properlee scrootinised!’”

In the car back to Whitehall,Thomson said he would send D.I. Ward to question Margarethe Lincoln. Ward could turn the place upside down to find him. Hall got out at Ripley Courtyard, said farewell, and walked to Admiralty House. He was met with the news of the Kaiser’s declaration of a German blockade around the British Isles. The Kaiser had declared merchant vessels under neutral flags would be sunk on sight. He set the Lincoln file in a heap and pondered his reaction. The Germans couldn’t take on the Royal Navy with only small boats, but could try to starve their resources.

Two full weeks later, Seebohm Rowntree was called to London on business. He was in Trafalgar Square when Reginald Hall recognised him, their trajectories having pushed them together. He asked if he would accompany him on the short trip to Admiralty House and Rowntree felt he could not refuse the meeting.

“Thank you. I’ll not take up much of your time,” said Hall as he led him Rowntree into the office. “I’m investigating a criminal matter related to your one-time protege, Trebitsch Lincoln. I believe you employed him as a land surveyor in Europe and sponsored his parliamentary effort. ”

The colour drained from the gent’s face. “Yes, yes, I regret it deeply.”

“I do not mean to interrogate you, sir.”

“This is about that business with Mr. Goldstein,” said Rowntree.

“John Goldstein put in a report to Scotland Yard in December. Unfortunately it slipped under the radar until recently. Yourself and Goldstein were involved in Mr. Lincoln’s oil ventures, is that right?”

“Trebitsch cabled asking me for financial assistance for Roumania as well. I sent an investigator out there to look and he found the fields drying up. Projections were terribly off. It seemed Trebitsch was always embroiled in some sort of dispute or other about them.”

“So you didn’t finance it?” asked Hall.

“I was briefly involved in the Galicia venture, you could say as an investor, but it was as a friend. However, once burned…no, no. It was John Goldstein got the worst of it. John told me he sent him £500, £600, every few weeks for months. £1000, on one occasion.”

By now Rowntree’s face was sad, the heart seemed to be leaving him. “If I had known, I would have warned him.”

“I understand this is difficult. I spoke with Mr. Goldstein. He told me you alerted him to the fraud which occurred in December of last year?”

“The poor fellow.”

Rowntree’s grew angry.

“I arrived at the Liberal Club and found two letters. One from Goldstein reminding me that as guarantor, Lincoln’s time to repay £900 was up. The other letter, from Lincoln, admitted to taking my mail from the Liberal Club, and forging my hand in saying I would act as his guarantor. He asked me not to judge him! Dear God. A terrible thing.”

“Presumably you’d had enough?”

“I contacted Mr. Goldstein immediately.”

“He exonerated you completely, Mr. Rowntree. You have nothing to be concerned about. Yet it seems Lincoln has slipped the net.”

“Lincoln would be better served if he remembered his own wife and five children.”

Hall thanked him, showed Rowntree out. It struck a nerve to see a great man brought so low. Hall read back over the case file and came back to his own meeting with Lincoln. With a sudden spark of determination he brought the secretary in.

“I want this wired direct. ‘Urgent. Telegram from Admiralty. Ignatius Trebitsch Lincoln. A warrant has been issued in this county for the arrest of the undermentioned person for the undermentioned offence. Apply for provisional arrest for a view to extradition.’”

Across the North Sea and Helinium River delta, the Consul-General in Rotterdam read Hall’s message. ‘Age 36, looks older. Height five feet nine inches, stout, hair black, bald on top of head, eyes black, ears large, fresh complexion, wears eyeglasses, Jewish Appearance. Very excitable.’

Two days later, after investigations were made the diplomat prepared a reply for Hall. ‘Careful examination of passengers and crew were made in the presence of one of my Vice-Consuls who saw Lincoln when he was last in Rotterdam but no trace of him was found.’

Hall shook his head. There were more important matters in his head. That week the Kaiser stepped up his blockade and authorised airship raids on London Docks. Within a few months Britain would suffer a perilous munitions shortage, mourn the loss of the Luitsiana and cower as London was bombed. Hall didn’t think of Lincoln, didn’t hear from him, or consider him worth his attention.


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.

The Watch Thief, Chapter 14

January, 1911. Watford, England.

Park View was less a home for her husband than an office: Wayside couldn’t have been more different. The house was roomy enough for the boys to spread jigsaw puzzles over tables. Krausz, twenty-one and living with them, would play cards on Sunday afternoons. His uncle would pretend to lose so the lad could have some extra money in his pocket. The nearby River Gade was a gentle sound, streaming away all their problems. It would flow through Cassiobury Park where Margarethe would take the boys and they’d run among the trees or play football with whomever was around. Sometimes the air was too cold but there was a beauty to even that. She felt it encapsulated England: the marshes, the bowling green and the kind neighbours. More importantly she hoped he wouldn’t disappear to London every day. After the Commons it was the casinos of Monte Carlo and Nice. He told her all about his system for blackjack, judging the size of
the split deck and the temperament of the dealer. Of roulette, watching the players and calculating when his chance would come around: once in every three or four spins of the wheel, sometimes
twice in a row. How he described it. She was like that ball caught up in the energy and thrill of his gamble. Their adventure! Three times a week he would cable her £100. She missed him but the money paid for six helpers including a cook and a housemaid. They lived extravagantly. He was there with the paid nurse when she screamed in labour. They brought a new life into their new home, Clifford, born the month of May. He had his father’s nose.

Work in Galicia continued to take Trebitsch away from them. His travelling case was specially made with morocco and pigskin, with fitted pouches for toiletries, whiskey, stationery, all kinds of things. The boys next door played with theirs and the schoolyard heard Mr. Lincoln was a pioneering oil-man overseas. When he came back, Julius took his brothers to meet him at the station. At home,
he sat them down to pronounce names of places in Galicia: Boryslaw and Tustanowice. She knew he’d leave again, was sure he was having an affair. The mother-in-law had advised her to show discretion to him. One night they held a dinner party and a guest remarked that with so many trips abroad he must have been tempted to stray. He swanned on about his faithfulness at great length. Though he’d met many countesses and businessman’s daughters he was focussed on the investment and the gushing of wells. She threw a crystal goblet across the dining room. Oh, they still quarrelled. He threw another right back.

Despite this, she said her life in Watford was the happiest she’d ever been.

If Watford was the promise of a new space, Strada Cosma was all their happiness and opportunity withdrawn into static boxes. Julius, Ignatius and John were enrolled in boarding school and remained in England. Eddie was sick over his mother on the train. They traveled for days: through Brussels and Nuremberg, into Vienna and Budapest, where Trebitsch’s nephews waved to them from the platform. Then it was Timisoara, the first sign they were in Romania and on and on to
Bucharest. They leased a home near King Carol’s palace on the banks of the Dâmbovita. It was previously a hotel. They had fifty rooms but lived on the bottom two floors, bricking up the others for it was impossible to heat. Margarethe had begun to lose weight and could feel the damp of the old building going through her. She’d thought Eddie and Clifford might see more of their father. Daddy go. Daddy go. She explained to Clifford, not two years old, that he missed them all terribly. He told her, Margarethe, I was out at out at Bustenari, supervising the drilling at Steaua and Astra Romana, and guess what? We’ve named one of the wells in Tosca ‘Margarethe’. They got letters from the boys: Julius wrote for permission to join the school’s cadet corps. They refused. Ignatius had scored highly in his tests and was talking with excitement about visiting.

Their English butler and a servant accompanied her shopping because she couldn’t understand the Roumanian tongue. The streets were windy and humid. The buildings were six storeys or twice that. There were parks and gardens but they were a distance. There were fast cars and people shouting at all hours. Bucharest was just like any other city and the people were rich maybe snooty, or poor, perhaps violent. The Lincoln family belonged to the haves. They had a refrigerator, a rarity, and there were so many taxis at the house it was as if they had a second motor car. Trebitsch boasted of earning £20,000 from Galician Oil but then told her he’d taken a loan of £4,000 from an American insurance company. Margarethe wondered sometimes if they were living beyond their means. It was no use arguing with him. One day she found a letter, half-written, pleading with Goldstein for money. It said they were penniless. She couldn’t understand. As she moved to replace it on the pile,, she paused. The next letter was scrawled kisses and hugs: Anna; New York; devoted. Margarethe’s eyes reddened like fire. She’d been here before. Him hopping the beds of Europe. The dam burst, tears ran a cheek, then hotter, faster and it was all wrong. Under her own cries she heard Clifford sobbing and composed herself.

Two months after the Trust was liquidated, he came home from the wells ranting and raving about the Parker Company man. Lucey reneged on the deal, had told the press there never was a deal! He was wrapped in his sorrow and she held her tongue still. Then he put an envelope of money in her hands; assets he’d recovered from selling off machinery.

The boys were to visit at Christmas. Julius’s boarding school wrote to them saying that he had run away. Ignatius, only nine, arranged for he and his younger brother to travel across Europe, just the two of them. The young son insisted on making all the arrangements and they travelled the week Calais to Cologne, through Linz and Brasov. On Christmas Day, they had crisped succulent turkey. There were boiled and roasted potatoes, gravy and vegetables which Ignatius lined up on his fork like a skewer kebab. The servants roasted parsnip and carrots, boiled potatoes and crisped succulent turkey. They drank hot wine and sang around a great fire. Among the presents, Trebitsch had brought them Parker drill pieces. He was already talking about another oil enterprise out of the London office. In the New Year she saw them all off at the station, emerging alone, from the locomotive’s cloud of black burned coal.

February, March, the months went by on Strada Cosma. He wrote of course. He’d given up the Lincoln & Co. office in Islington but was hopeful Premier Oil’s London branch would find him work. Julius wrote: he had lied his way into the British Army and was training as a bombardier in the artillery. She had few friends and with two babies to look after struggled to get out, now the servants were departing. Krausz returned in April, gave the others notice and lent a hand packing boxes were he could. His time was mostly spent trying to find buyers for the wells. In June, Margarethe, Eddie and Clifford reached London in May.

Her husband found them a boarding house in Bloomsbury. Torrington Square smelled of old cabbage, gravy and loneliness. People said good morning in shame. Everything was dark and the people seemed to have no attachments. They employed a nanny, Mrs. Williamson, who turned out to a be a terrible bigot. Trebitsch caught her stealing, fired her on the spot. Most days he worked out of the Liberal Club, enduring insults while trying to secure a position with Premier Oil.
Occasionally they went out. He showed her the churches of Whitechapel, they went for an evening at the Shoreditch Music Hall. But Margarethe remembered being alone the day the papers reported that Archduke Ferdinand had been shot. A clammy sweat came over her and she sat in a sickly state watching the clock for hours.

As a German by birth, Margarethe had to register with the police after the war broke out. Long forms and signatures and understandings that she could be interned or deported. The flat was
too small for them. Trebitsch paced and spoke of enemies around every corner, a black cloud on him. The Daily Mail and John Bull printed tales of occupations and captured regions, troops bombing their way through wet land and cruisers set on fire in rivers. Everyone must do their bit. The Liberal, Henry Dalziel, had helped Trebitsch in the past and was reaching out to find him work in the War Office. She listened patiently while he updated her. Every day there was nothing. Finally, Dalziel found him a job at the Post Office but there was little money in it. He soon talked of quitting and they argued about this.

The argued about Julius serving in Kitchener’s army, somewhere in France. God knew where! They argued about overdue rent and John’s tuition fees. Few dinners went by without arguments. One night Detective Inspector Ward knocked at the door and his Chief, Basil Thomson. Thomson said they were investigating a report one or both of them were German spies. Trebitsch said no, the charges were grossly offensive, inexcusable! He and his wife were long naturalised and known to the government, in fact he was once part of that government! Ward explained that in accordance with the Defence of the Realm Act they had go take Mrs. Williamson’s complaint to the Gloucester Constabulary very seriously. Trebitsch laughed. Williamson? Mrs. Williamson? Margarethe told the detectives about their ex-nanny, the watch she’d tried to steal and her vendetta. Thomson said not many would have been so forgiving. However, he was satisfied Williamson was wasting their time and apologised forinterrupting the evening.

Mount Pleasant Sorting Office was tedious and menial and they could have found something more suited to his talents. She consoled him with reminders he was in a position to to protect ordinary Germans. He hated the victimisation, hated Edward Grey’s idiotic slaughter. In early November German boats shelled Yarmouth beach and sank a British submarine off the coast. The next day the workers singled him out for abuse. He quit before the day was done. He was sour to the core but she knew him. He was never in this mood for long. He was creative and sometimes an idea would land on him and he’d work it until it came to pass. The next day he told her he had attended
the first of several job interviews for a position with Military Intelligence. After all, the Post Office had him checking the mail for enemy communications. It was all connected. They sat in front of
a roaring fire and he put her mind to rest about Julius’s safety and that of her mother, who was somewhere in Rotterdam. He was an energetic reader and was able to tell her all about the war,
divining the strategies of the major powers based on the personalities and their aims. As ever he saw ways around the doom that was everywhere in the world. He wondered if Captain Kenny was
as impressed by his skills as he claimed to be. Nothing came easy for him, he said. She reminded him how he’d defied the ministry in Brecklum by marrying her. McCarter, Rowntree and Lloyd George saw his worth: Captain Kenny would too.

MO5 continued to put off his final interview, the weeks went by. She worried were the money was coming from and had no interest in a job making bullets to be used against her own people. On December 16th, they were talking about the boys returning home. The date was fixed in their minds, the night twenty-seven warships hit the nearest coast killing hundreds. Two days later he came home with news MO5 had asked him to spend a few weeks establishing contacts in Rotterdam. He would look for Margarethe’s mother while he was there, but had to leave right away. John, eight years old, had hoped his father would be there to answer his questions about Santa Claus. Ignatius said there was no such person.

In January the Germans struck Yarmouth again by mighty zeppelin, and Norfolk: terror from the skies. Winter seemed to drag on: rations and alarms, suspicions and fears. She found another loan letter to Goldstein, this time requesting £100. Margarethe said nothing. He came clean about it on his own. MO5 were delaying his payment. She pawned necklaces.

He had a meeting with the Admiralty at the end of the month and hoped he would be paid then. As the date got closer, he became more frantic and agitated. He wrote notes to present himself as best he could. When he returned that afternoon he was quiet and unresponsive: still agitated. After dinner, the babies were put to bed and he told her he would have to go. Dangerous men were after him. Not even his colleagues could protect him. If he was in England they would hurt his family to get to him.

They held one another all night. She wept and he told her to be brave for the boys. He couldn’t leave her much money but would send more when he could. Margarethe didn’t sleep. She stayed with him until 5am when he kissed her a final time. Then he got up and she listened to him creep down the stairs to where his bags were packed. He closed the front door and it was like her soul was shut out.


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.

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.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12

From Hill Close House to Hummersknott, Darlington was Pease territory, but that would change. Away from the electric trams of Northgate, the Liberal ‘s Albion Hall was full of working men. With accent he spoke fluently, the curls gone from his now straight parted hair , his belly filled out.

I want you to see for yourself the ordinary Belgian’s struggle under tariff laws. Their long hours. Our trip to Antwerp will be educational. I am looking for volunteers to find the facts, and sponsors to subsidise this great venture.”

Men queued to put their names down for joining Trebitsch on the continent. As the numbers fell away, he saw one man lingering at the back, beady black eyes and fair hair. He quivered as the M.P. drew near.

Will you be joining us?” asked Trebitsch.

That would be difficult.”

Trebitsch recognised him then. One of the Quakers running the town, but no Pease nor Rowntree. “You’re Edmund Backhouse, aren’t you?”

Baachus, the black sheep, at your service.”

Perhaps you’re the herder of black cattle.”

Oh, I hope not. My return to Darlington is temporary,” said Backhouse.

I heard you were in China? Involved in the building of railways there? Quite the Darlington spirit.”

Backhouse sighed, then, some other spirit grabbed him. “You are looking for sponsors.”

Yes! Yes. Would you be willing to assist?”

Maybe. Do you know Foxes in Northgate? Good. How about one o’clock tomorrow?”

The Fox family Oriental Cafe was adorned with prints, candles and mirrors. Upstairs was dark and ornate. They sat by a latticed divider, spiced tea and incense wafting, while Backhouse spoke of his predicament at Pauling & Co. A London firm, they were to construct a railway with Chinese government funding.

The Russians and Japanese protested. They want it for themselves and now the whole deal has been scotched. British jobs have been lost. If the government would be persuaded to speak out on this…”

Yes, yes. You know I am a businessman too. I am making exciting in-roads on the Galician oil fields. We can work together. I will ask in the Commons this week.”

Mr. Lincoln, you must be very careful this isn’t tracked back to me,” he said, and slid across the table an envelope of bank notes. “I’d be very grateful for your assistance.”

Coated pastilles fell from the sugar trough onto the conveyor belt, like new tides, until aligned and packed in silver foil. A tide of milk sloshed and breaking, cream waves exploding around the steel drum. The cartwheels spun, a loose stone bounced between the spokes. Astride the cobblestones, Trebitsch pulled his rebellious wheel-bag. Arnold, Seebohm’s brother and company director held the door open. He had receding hair except for voluminous clumps at the sides. They hello’d and goodbye’d. He waved to Mr. Robson, Rowntree’s secretary, through an open door.

‘The most competent researcher you’ve ever employed!’ My, I am honoured!” said Trebitsch. Rowntree passed back the autographed Land and Labour, the book they’d worked so hard on. “I wonder if I might trouble you for a small loan.”


Just until October. There’s the newborn and my family are coming from Budapest. £50 or £60 would suffice but I’m grateful for anything at all.”

Rowntree had his chequebook out. “I gave you a very large remuneration last year. You really must live within your means, Timothy.”

I’m in the process of launching a petroleum business with some contacts made in Poland and the Ukraine.” Trebitsch made a noise of pulling out the prospectus but Rowntree was engrossed in his ledger, transferring figures. “In Austria. It’s very promising!” Still Rowntree’s head was down.

Franz Ferdinand had large eyes and spoke to Trebitsch earnestly of the Entente. Trebitsch asked was there an intention to isolate Germany. Out of that lightning bolt moustache the Archduke rumbled that of course Britain desired Austria, Hungary, or both, come away, weaken the Kaiser’s ‘upstart empire’. Trebitsch looked at his list of questions. Surely he had another page. The ink began to melt.

I’ve made this out for £100,” said Rowntree. “I would not see you stuck. Please, would you make this the last time?”

Rowntree had to return to work so Trebitsch left. Along the hall a fierce sneeze grabbed his head and flung it downwards. The blue carpet filled with balls of silver and light. They swirled around and zipped past him as the second sneeze came on. There were more now, in a frenzy. Robson came out of his office with a handkerchief. Trebitsch eyed him through mercury’s swarm.

You look terrible. Come in and take a seat. There must be a lot on your mind.”

Robson heard all about how the Archduke was a potential investor. He could not invest, but gave Trebitsch the £500 loan he asked for.

It was early August, early morning, when the Antwerp party met outside The Coronation Temperance Hotel on Victoria Road. Blumer already there with them, easily identified by his pock-marks. Trebitsch and Krausz had only to walk ten minutes from Park View and they met the men, all thirty-six by the head count. in all. He led them past the coal depot, up toward Bank Top Station.

You are pleased,” Trebitsch told Blumer on the platform. “Do you see? This is what your loan of £100 had achieved. Everyone! Everyone! Mr. James Blumer, chairman of the Darlington Liberal Association.”

Trebitsch settled his bag and clapped furiously, until it was joined by applause from the workers.

Not necessary, not necessary. This is all Mr. Lincoln’s work. Safe travels, gentleman!”

On the train to the port were Darlington’s brick-layers and boiler-makers, railwaymen and a postman. Trebitsch and Krausz mingled, made sure their needs were met. On the boat, a few of them sat around a bar table. The postman felt Trebitsch was painting the Belgians as far more impoverished than they could possibly be.

I interviewed a woman in a village Liege,” Trebitsch said. “Very busy in her business washing an ironing. She worked right up until the birth: two weeks before, and only two weeks maternity leave. Fourteen children in all, no time for education, except schooling the younger ones to help her. They were not well-off, but self-sufficient from working eighteen hour days.”

The hotel in Antwerp was damp, with ambiguous insects. On Wednesday, they visited Liege and her factories. They toured the slums outside Brussels, watching their counterparts slave deprived and dressed in rags. Several times Trebitsch reminded them to watch their wallets. “The families in this street are living eight to a room,” he said.


Why would they live like this?”

There’s no pay to be had behind these tariff walls,” said Trebitch.

With their guide’s running-down commentary, the workers’ feelings were nearly unanimous. The lot of the Belgian worker was disturbing. Only the postman disagreed. “I haven’t seen any evidence of them eating dog meat,” he said. “Our week has been spent in dirty alleys and dead fields. There’s an international arts exhibition three streets over!”

Meanwhile in London, the Hungarian ambassador Count Mensdorff gazed up at the Foreign Office’s high ceiling, paint patterns of coral and ladder. He was a thin man with a flat face. William Tyrrell escorted him over scarlet carpet with customary sombre dignity. They ascended the grand staircase and Tyrrell took him to a room full of classical beams and arches. Sir Edward Grey and Eyre Crowe welcomed him and listened as he voiced his concern: Trebitsch Lincoln. The M.P. had been behind a series of statements questioning the Hungarian government: embarrassing statements, not at all diplomatic. Mensdorff said, making it seem an accidental slip, that the Budapest constabulary were keen to question him about a series of robberies. Grey treated this very seriously and asked Mensdorff to leave the matter with him. Once he left, Grey said someone had better have a word with Rowntree about the wolf in the fold.

The smoking train released them, early September: his mother, Julia, ten years after disowning her son over his Christianity had softened her heart. Lajos: humble on the platform, behind many cases of luggage was hopeful of progress. Jozsef the wanderer, resembling Trebitsch but uncomfortable in suit and tie dawdled by the sign, DARLINGTON. He read the money of the men and the darling of the women. Simon, eighteen, followed them. Glow in his mouth, he was given over already to this not-Budapest home. Trebitsch was nowhere to be seen. Shortly, their cousin Alexander stepped out to meet them and Julius, thirteen years old, at his side. Well dressed, they greeted one another with typical Hungarian embrace. Julius desired to impress his grandmother but was equally afraid of her.

Trebitsch returned on the next train, from Lviv. There, hotel reception were told at check-in the M.P.’s purpose was to examine the potential for drilling Galician oil fields. The bed was hard, the travel heavy and the noise – abominable! The hotel staff said word had gotten around and the lobby crowded with lawyers, arguing in Polish and Ukranian. At about 10pm, he’d risen, finding only Dr. Segal, the one who did not leave. This was the tale recounted to the brothers at the quiet Oriental Cafe, 94 Northgate.

It. sounded to Lajos like another tall tale though, and he read aloud from the inside pages of the Northern Echo. “Marie Curie Isolates Radium In Pure Form – New Element Discovered.”

Simon was engulfing biscuits. Jozsef, picking through the papers his brother had brought found an unmailed letter addressed to the London Society for the Jews. “I thought you were done with them. Who’s Lypshytz? Another financier?”

He might be but that is none of your concern. Return it at once.”

Jozsef shrugged casually and laughed, flinging it back into the pile.

Dr. Segal, on the other hand, is a good man and I trust him. Now listen. Galician Oil is controlled by nine relatively small companies.”

And you want to amalgamate these?” asked Lajos, rubbing facial hair.

Not want to, have! Well, virtually! Segal made his enquiries and eight of them were open to it. For only £5,000 we had options to bid. Once I heard this I telegraphed Mr. Rowntree immediately.”

So we have jobs?” asked Simon.

I have the papers. Anglo-Austrian Oil, incorporated in my name. Henry Dalziel M.P. Was talking to his banker friends this very day.”

We’re to be oil barons,” said Simon

Trebitsch laughed. Then shook Simon’s hand, and he was laughing too.

Eyre Crowe was short, of height and hair, his frame thin and face angular and to the point. He shook Alex Murray’s hand, and Alex presented Jack, but excused them a minute later. He took broad old Lord Murray to one of the alcoves at the far end of the Dining Room, more like a bar table. The Liberal Club was full of such hiding spots, though the smell of carrots and gravy and roast pheasant wafted down to them.

Thank you for agreeing to meet me,” said Crowe, rubbing his ear. “That was Jack Pease, wasn’t it?”

Yes, member for Rotherham. He’s been giving me tips from his time as Chief Whip.” Murray laughed.

Also former Mayor of Darlington I believe. We might need to bring him in on this before it’s all over. Tell me, do you know Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln?”

Crowe told Murray of the complaints by Count Mensdorff, Esme Howard, Sir Bertie and others.

Things will have to change. He’s upset several ambassadors and is completely lacking in etiquette. It’s a good clean-up job is what’s needed.”

Two floors below, Trebitsch was squaring off against a backbencher over billiards. He laid out his pitch and lost the games. On the way to the bar, they stopped by the member’s mail boxes and he ripped open the letter from Rowntree. It confirmed a further £5,000 deposited in his account for negotiating the deal. He found renewed vigour to pitch. Murray and Crowe were out the door before they arrived on the ground floor.

Upstairs, he walked in to a few scowls. Herbert Samuel, with some concern, noted his entry, then gathered himself into the current conversation with Maundy Gregory and Jack Pease. When Trebitsch approached, Samuel made his apologies and left.

The boys were full of excitement, hyperactivity, when he took them to the newly opened Electric Picturedrome for John’s seventh birthday. A silent movie synchronised with gramophone, harbinger of Edison’s talkies coming to town soon. On the way home they met the Hudnalls and their newborn, Richard, the kids unable to contain themselves. Nicolas Hoterman’s sister and husband were employed as maid and butler at Park View. They cleaned dinner plates in the October darkness. Tall, pale Margarethe had Eddie suckling at her breast. John’s birthday was challenged by Julius, double in years. John straightened up, then seeing his brother taller took to the sofa. In the kitchen, Julia was yelling at the Belgians in a thick accent they could not understand.

No, no. My plates! You cannot wash plates for unclean meat and kosher meat in the same water!”

The Trebitsch brothers were sat in the middle of it, Ignatius running laps around Uncle Simon’s seat. His father got up and slapped him on the legs. Lajos said they should take it upstairs. Ignatius’s tears followed them, set off Eddie in the other room. Julius and John stood to attention as they passed.

Simon said, “We’ve been here six weeks and working our damnedest.”

There was a desk against the wall, and other chairs around the side, between filing cabinets and precariously leaning books from over-stuffed cases.

This is the nature of business. You have to invest to get paid. The more money you spend the more you get back.”

Nonsense,” spat Lajos.

We have been over this. £10,000 for the option and negotiation advanced by Rowntree. The cost comes to buy comes to £240,000 and Henry Dalziel is fairly sure he can raise it. How much of that is nonsense, Lajos?”

What about us?” asked Simon. “We’ve been writing and typing, mailing and marketing and setting up accounts all while –”

Brother, we’ve been lifting rubbish, sweating away for old foods in racist pubs,” said Jozsef.

If you do not like it, then you know what to do,” said Trebitsch. “I promised you a job and we will strike big. Just be patient.”

It was an unusually quiet afternoon when Henry Dalziel met Trebitsch in the Smoking Room. He led the handsome Scotsman to his favourite spot: the fireplace flanked by mottled honeycomb pillars. Trebitsch sat with the clock behind him, Dalziel opposite, sunlight from across the Thames streaming over his face. Dalziel said the Bank of England had raised their rates and as a result the financiers had seen the investment n Galicia and similar as unprofitable. Trebitsch protested, suggested new angles, but nothing he put forward was growing.

His return journey took forever. At Bank Top a train had gone over the side of the line and one on the rails was smashed. There were two fatalities.

Several days later the trains were moving cautiously. He went south. Station Hotel, a gothic building as large as the Liberal Club signified his entry into York. It did not whiz by. He took a taxi a mile to the familiar fog of cocoa on Haxby Road. Greeted Robson in the hall, in passing.

I talked with Henry Dalziel at the club a few days ago,” said Rowntree.

Yes, this is what I came to see you about! I regret our venture has met an obstacle.”

He also mentioned you borrowed several hundred pounds from him.”

Mr. Rowntree, the money is resting in my account.”

How much have you?”

Enough. Though I have been considering resigning from the House, so as to put all my attention on this enterprise.”

Rowntree never looked judgemental. Though he raised an eyebrow, he was pleased.

IF I move on.,” said Trebitsch. “The matter is not settled that my mind has been made up! I have my sights set on a cabinet post.”

Sadly, I think it would be for the best? Perhaps you might run again at a later date,” said Rowntree

After Trebitsch showed himself out, Robson knocked thrice on the hardwood door. What was Lincoln’s excuse?

Rowntree said, “He did not answer directly. The tone was…he inferred the claims are untrue.”

He has the funds?”

He says he does, but in truth William, I don’t believe him. To compound matters he did not even mention to me his declaration of bankruptcy.”

Robson shook his head. “And his seat?”

Half seated, half standing. That is, I have no idea.”

By Lear’s Ironmongers in the Horsemarket, Harrison Thompson and Sons held ‘the largest stock of chocolates in the district’. Beyond the ornate white plaster Roman archway, Thompson’s was long and spacious. Fred Maddison, 54, a gentleman, left his companions at the table and walked to the back wash-room.

Mr. Lincoln, Timothy, I am aware you have filed for bankruptcy,” said Blumer. “It is not the customary for the House to let a bankrupt perform party duties..” Blumer leaned across the table and spoke in quiet tones.

Trebitsch, not so much. “I see. And what would be the benefit in abandoning my constituency? The people who voted for me, eh? You want I should leave them in bother?”

The next election is several years away, we hope. You could wait in the wings. Fred has very good experience. He was president of the TUC and previously ran in Burnley.”

Mr. Maddison’s character is not in dispute, but it seems mine is!”

That’s not what I’m saying.”

Well, you’d be in the minority. I have heard the talk at the club, treacherous whispers, as well as blatant racism.”

I didn’t make the rules and I’m not your enemy, Timothy.”

No, of course not. I apologise for my tone.”

I simply wanted to make you aware there are options. If you resign now, perhaps moreso. This is not the end of the line.”

The M.P. for York Arnold Rowntree, accompanied his brother riding carriage’s worn seats, heads in newspapers. Inside margins of serrated pulp they read of Madero’s call to revolution in Mexico, the death of Tolstoy, and it was also a way not to talk about it.

Nearby investors talked excitedly about a new Darlington picture house, and Arnold was moved to speak. “Father was right when he said you would have felt bad if he was an honest man who had failed. Help was given him, and he turned out to be a bad egg.. You know this has to be done.”

Seebohm said nothing.

Off St. Augustine’s Way they were met by Blumer at door to Albion Hall. Trebitsch’s photograph looked mirthfully down at them. James Blumer turned his back to it, turned their backs to it and brought them inside .

The Whitehall Court club was in chaos: Lloyd George’s budget; the Irish Question; The Lords refusing to allow the bills to pass, though George V advised them not to. There was talk of dissolving parliament soon. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day. The speech was hot and so many bodies there pushed against one another. Groans of too many elections, a few dissenters said it would clear out the trash. The thought of weeks of electioneering pumped blood hot into Trebitsch’s head. He put his hand on a member’s back to steady himself. In the hall, away from the noise, but his legs were weak.

Sir, may I help you?”

I’d like to use the telephone.”

The butler lead him along the hallway, the long, expansive hallway.

On the second floor of his home in Park View, Trebitsch’s private study was anything but. Trebitsch explained people were working hard for them. Now Dr. Segal was in London and they could travel to meet him, hatch a rescue from the Liberal Club. Simon wanted to know if they would let him in.

OF COURSE! I may not be an M.P. any longer but I have my contacts.”

Simon is fed up with this, as we all are. I’m sure you’ll succeed but I did not come to England to mop floors and peel potatoes,” said Lajos.

Trebitsch hit back, “Simon has made a complete hash of the book-keeping. No wonder our funds are a mess!”

It is getting old,” said Jozsef.

You have been looked after by me here.”

Lajos laughed. “Your children had no food when we arrived. And Margarethe is pregnant again. How do you expect to cope with that?”

Fine, then. You can get out of my sight, off to America! You’ve already driven mother away with your bickering. I am tired of your whining. All of you, your attitudes are not conducive to a healthy business atmosphere. I won’t have it under my roof. ”

It was around a year after Trebitsch took the stage at the Larchfield Drill Hall that Frederick Maddison tried to sell his candidacy. He’d hoped for a different venue, but was unable to find one. Worse, his predecessor had offered to join him on-stage and he couldn’t say no.

I hope you’ll stand behind Mr. Maddison, Darlington, with all the conviction you showed to me.”

As soon as Trebitsch spoke it was the signal for Skinnergate’s hecklers. “Mr. Maddison, you stood in Burnley after Jabez Balfour. Is that your thing, coming on after bad M.P.s?”

The crowd roared with laughter. A press man asked why Lincoln had waited two days before parliament was dissolved before standing down.

I have tried my best to arrange matters so I can continue working with you and fighting for the noble cause of Liberalism.”

Mr.Maddison, do you make Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles as well?”

Yeah, are you on the choco-choco train?”

Oh, that’s very big!” thundered Trebitsch. “One of Mr. Pease’s supporters. I can tell by the lack of manners. Pike Pease has helped galvanise the pig-headed fools of this borough!”

Maddison tried to speak and was drowned out, the crowd barking like dogs.

With Christmas upon them and the Belgian help gone, Margarethe, heavy with child, stacked the plates as the boys ran through the house. Jozsef remained behind, and with Krausz and Trebitsch went over and over the books: the money, the financiers, the cost of equipment and labour. Trebitsch thumbed the cut edge of the solicitor’s letter. He had one week until meeting his creditors.


c. Andy Luke, 2017

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