7.3 Assumed Command

At the Foreign Office, Fitzmaurice was at the Foreign Secretary’s calendar. On the other side of the desk, Tyrrell, reading the morning mail.  Suddenly, Tyrrell threw himself back into the chair and cried out, “Dear God!”

“Hmm?” asked Fitzmaurice. “Something for Sir Grey?”

Tyrrell flapped the letter from above his head and flapped it some more at Fitzmaurice.

“This was hand-delivered by Rowntree’s man: the Hungarian! ‘I will take the liberty of calling upon you tomorrow, Saturday, for letters of introduction to our Ambassadors or Ministers in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Stuttgart and in other places in the German Empire where we have accredited representatives.’”

“He’s got a hope. Wait, didn’t we already provide those letters?”

“He says it’s for Rowntree Snr., for the purposes of ‘temperance and social reform’.  ‘Hoping that you will have the letters ready dah-de-dah… as I have to leave London tomorrow evening.’”

“Heavens! Probably best we don’t inform Sir Grey of this,” said Fitzmaurice.

 

Berlin, 1906

Mid-October and Trebitsch sat on the platform at Cöpenick waiting for the 2:30. Eleven Prussian soldiers disembarked. They were commanded by Wilhelm Voigt, an old, large man with flaking moustache and puffy face.

Three months earlier, Trebitsch met Voigt by chance outside Cafe Adlon. They were sat at adjacent tables, each un-bothered by Adlons’ extension. Trebitsch had his coat off and sleeves rolled up, leaned back on his chair admiring the view of the Brandenburg Gate. Voigt, similarly casual, said this was why he served on so many tours: so he could come home to this sight. A spirit of peace and unity its six Athenian columns enlarged the street and the sun split through them. Trebitsch said he hoped he could take a walk through it before the sun set but only the Royal family could, according to Captain Voigt, as he introduced himself. He guarded there under Ludendorff once. At that moment a waiter arrived and Trebitsch cheekily ordered coffee for both of them.  He told Voigt he was researching Germany’s land holdings, transport and employment. With Voigt’s knowledge would he object to some questions?  Not at all, he’d heard the British ambassador was a good man. Frank Lascelles, said Trebitsch. Voigt said Lascelles curbed the Emperor’s worst notions, amid the clanging of steel on steel. The waiter apologised and set their coffees down. Voigt looked at the scaffolding and said half of Berlin was building hotels. Trebitsch mentioned the Fürstenhof, Voigt: the Excelsior. They would open one at the Alex, the Alexanderplatz, after the station was built. Trebitsch understood Germany had the best railway networks. Voigt firmly agreed. They had trains out to Ruhr, Hamburg and Bremen. Then there was the Simplon Railway Tunnel connecting Switzerland and Italy. A German engineer didn’t Trebitsch know?

Trebitsch was confused upon seeing Voigt at the station. He was angry too, a mind full with humiliation. Unusually for Trebitsch, he found himself rooted to the spot as the soldiers and their Captain walked past.

In July, under lime trees Voigt ordered more coffee. The air was thick with it, and the smell of apfelstrudel, and from the nearby embassies, status. Trebitsch said Mr. Rowntree was interested in employment and the steel industry. Had Trebitsch been out to the Krupp factory in Essen. No, but he planned to and recalled reading the factory had its own railway line and over sixty buildings. Voigt said  it was practically a city. They even had their own police and fire services. They discussed Berlin’s growing population, around two million. They praised Bismarck’s welfare state, where those unlucky enough to be out of work would be looked after. It was the first of its kind in the world and Trebitsch responded saying his employer hoped Britain would follow. Voigt thought this sensible. The unemployed, he said, “could not make anything of themselves in a down-ward cycle: no passport, no work, no home.” Voigt saw the change at home, Cöpenick, a town fifteen miles away. Trebitsch saw it in on a map in Lascelles’ office were the River Spree and Dahme met. Voigt noted the summers were warmer in the city, buildings stored a lot of heat. Trebitsch excused himself to go to the rest room and behind him, Voigt called the nearby waiter for more coffee.

As he pissed he thought about the afternoon, how he and the Captain had got on very well. They complimented one another, like two parts in a performance. After drying his hands, he felt his passport in his trouser pocket and thought to leave it in his coat. Then he thought of taking Voigt into his company. It was about time he had his own research assistant.

Inside the Adlon Trebitsch drew suspicious stares. Outside there was no Voigt. Two five goldmark notes rested on the table but Trebitsch’s jacket was laid on the ground. His temper rose. He lifted it, found his wallet underneath.  He thumbed through it. There were fifty marks missing, but the rest, a hundred or so remained.

“Where is he?” said Trebitsch.

The waitress with coffee looked at him.

“Where is the Captain?”

“That wasn’t a Captain; that was the shoe-maker.”

The waitress had just arrived on shift. She recognised Voigt, who had spent half his life in gaol, hadn’t served a day in his life, she said. Whenever Trebitsch looked at his fob watch in the months ahead he cursed Voigt, cursed he’d fallen victim to a con man.

On the platform, Trebitsch watched as Voigt’s sergeant barked at the police. In a daze, he boarded the train. In the weeks ahead Vossische Zeitung speculated, reported how a petty crook had procured a Captain’s uniform. At barracks he enlisted the services of men taught never to question a superior officer. Trebitsch smiled as he read how ‘The Captain’ had imprisoned Mayor Lahengrans and gotten away with four thousand marks. Whenever he walked by Brandenburg Gate, he felt great stirrings of pride.

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

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7.2 Bull Or Bear

In June, he journeyed four hundred miles to Bern, Switzerland. He’d arrived late and found himself at a bar in front of the River Aare where warm gusts filled the air. Under the awnings, he watched couples walk hand in hand, then find shelter under the rain. It made him queasy as it splashed down, like all of Bern’s water-falls were in his belly. The sky was darkening when a man took up the empty chair beside him and lit up a cigarette. Trebitsch felt his eyes upon him.

“What are you: bull or bear?”

Trebitsch took a gulp of his wine. He eyed the drunk: broad, fair hair, a rough-looking fellow. Trebitsch thought and decided to indulge the fool.

“I met the bull. Francis Bertie, Paris Consulate. Never a more ignorant man have I met.”

“He was a bull?” the stranger drawled.

“The Bull.” said Trebitsch. “That’s how he’s known. He refused to give me my books! Despite orders from the British government themselves!”

Trebitsch stank quite badly of Merlot himself.

“He sounds like an ice eater,” said the man.

“What?”

“Ice eater. It’s the hot wind coming off those mountains; the rain shadow wind. Your Bertie, like a warm fart off an icy soul.”

“Ah, yes, I see.”

“There’s a myth about a girl, Chinook-Wind, who married Glacier. She moved to the river to be with him. But it was not warm, you know, and she pined for her home by the sea. Well her many brothers came for her, came as snowflakes and they fought with Glacier and over-powered him.” he said.

“You are Canadian?” asked Trebitsch.

“Irish-Canadian.”

“Where?”

“Some Dublin, some British Columbia, mostly Alberta,” he said and pronounced, “I am the bear.”

He had rolled another cigarette and stuck it in his mouth with show. “Corona Corealis,” he got out as it lit in a flare.

Then he looked up to the stars and pointed. “There’s my brothers: Ursa Major, hard at plough. The Finns say that’s where they go, Jupiter’s mistress and her son.”

“Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south,” said Trebitsch. “Job, chapter nine, verse nine.”

“Oh, ho, God is it? I thought you were a little Jewish bear cub,” said the stranger, and he roared with laughter.

“Maybe I am the matador,” said Trebitsch loudly, and more roaring followed.

“Oh, that’s good, that’s good. Now, look. Are you looking?”

Trebitsch followed the calloused yellow finger again.

“I see him: Taurus.”

“That’s Zeus, in disguise. He’s full of his self, thrusting up,” and the drunk punched several times in the air, “but he’ll wear himself out. You see his eye…or is it arse? Who can tell? Anyway, that’s the marker.”

“The bull market,” said Trebitsch.

“The marker! The marker! Are you not listening? You…lead him right to the pit.”

“Yes,” said Trebitsch. “Yes! I shall use my assets.”

“ASSES!” proclaimed the drunk, and slammed his tankard down on the table, before promptly falling asleep, under rolling cigarette.

 

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

7.1 Favoured Attache

The Foreign Office  London, 20 March 1906

Trebitsch Lincoln left his signature on the visitor’s book and looked over the pristine chequered floor. John Sinclair was tall and well turned out, black hair in a wild side parting and with a magnificent brush of whiskers.

“Mr. Lincoln, glad to meet you, come this way. ” said Sinclair. A thin man with a cautious brow emerged from a room behind them. Sinclair turned his head. “Mr. Ponsonby!”

“Hello, John. William and I just finished. He’ll see you right will John,” Ponsonby told Trebitsch. “The PM’s favourite! Good day!”

“Good day!”

“Good day,” said Trebitsch and they walked. “My, you are very important!” he said.

Sinclair laughed.

“Mr. Ponsonby works closely with the Prime Minister?”

“He’s his private secretary.”

Sinclair stopped by one of many doors, let Trebitsch into an office furnished in leather green and oak brown.

“Take a seat. Now, Mr. Rowntree and yourself are doing important work so I want to make sure you get off to a good start.”

“Yes, I am highly committed to investigating opportunities for social justice here and in Europe on Mr. Rowntree’s –”

He was cut short by a knock. Tyrell entered: moving as officer class, tidy dark hair and a postage stamp moustache.  Sinclair rose and gestured.

“Secretary, may I present Mr. Trebitsch Lincoln. He’s undertaking the land survey for Mr. Rowntree. Mr. Tyrell is Private Secretary to Edward Grey.”

“It is an honour. I look forward to bringing my expertise to help the Foreign Office,” said Trebitsch.

Sinclair had deep concerning  eyes. “How may we help you today, Mr. Lincoln?”

“Well, Mr. Rowntree’s survey requires a broad collection of geographical information from a number of European offices. I am to begin in Brussels and see about establishing a research base there.”

“We can furnish you with a letter of introduction to the ambassador. That’s — —” said Tyrrell.

“Most grateful! Would it be too much trouble to have an introduction for the consulates in Berne and Paris also? I mean to call on them over the summer.”

Sinclair’s prominent cheekbones rose as he smiled. “Not at all. I’ll have Fitzmaurice type them up.”

“May I collect these today?”

“We could get the Brussels letter today,” said Tyrell. “It sounds like we should also send dispatches to the embassies and let them know you are coming.”

“Excellent. Thank you genuinely! Genuinely sincerely!”

 

Brussels

Trebitsch sat in the embassy foyer by potted plants and photographs of diplomatic handshakes. Nicolas Hotermans looked up from the appointments book and smiled reassuringly. A door opened.

“Edmund Phipps, ex-Consul General. The new man, Hardinge, well it’s his first day. Hotermans tells me you were quite insistent on being seen.”

“It is imperative I’m furnished with the information today. The Prime Minister intends this study to be vast: from Paris to Romania and beyond.”

“I see. Very well, come this way. Hardinge was stationed in Romania. You’ll have a lot to talk about later. Maybe I can help you in the meantime. How well do you know Belgium?”

Phipps opened the door to a long tabled room were a map of Belgium took up most of the wall.

“Not well enough,” said Trebitsch.

Trebitsch’s eyes dived in, while Phipps went for a guide stick parked underneath. Phipps was a gaunt man with sparkling eyes, his jaw was surrounded by beard.

“Three regions: That’s us in the middle, and above the largely agricultural Flemish region: Flanders to the right here by the French…”

Trebitsch was there immediately, following the stick through patches of green in Bruges by the Iron Rhine rail-road

“…over to Antwerp, very busy with industry…”

The blue lined canals of Antwerp: the North Sea port with boats packed tight off the jetties and cruise ships like giants in the sky. Anyone who was someone would be there, magnates of zinc mines and factories making shoes and cigars.

“Antwerp is a major processing centre for diamond, brick and printed matter.”

Oh yes, all very useful. Its yellow roads haemorrhaged through thicker green and he followed Phipps’ pointer out towards Germany’s grey border line.

“Below us is the Walloonia region. First off, Liege, several hours away…”

He could see it: the spires over the lake, the rapid water and reed islands; the mills, bridges and waterfalls…

“…where Brussels has acquired coal and pig iron exports…”

Trebitsch followed the guide along the slivering River Meuse.

“To Namur. Remarkable views, houses from hill to hill.”

The city built into a rock.

“A hundred kilometres down the way, Luxembourg. The Belgians have a strong railway system that should service…”

Trebitsch was already on that train, through winding countryside were sheep wool was stripped, through green desert to Red Lands’ rich iron ore. He’d conquer the thick forests and brave the Pasarelle viaduct over precipitous cliffs. He’d arrive in the Cercle Municipal for cross-border trade deals with Germans over glasses of Moselle.

“You’re Hungarian, aren’t you?”

Phipps’ question shook him from his daze.

“Originally, though I have travelled.”

“Yes, I was stationed in Budapest. Coyngham Greene’s there now; good fellow.”

Trebitsch thanked Phipps for his time, and said goodbye to Hotermans on the way. Then he was out onto Auderghem Avenue. He’d meant to return to Au Wavre McQuain Hotel. The row of foreign embassies waving flags slowed him, there, by the Cafe de la Speranza. Towering porticos; window verandas; chequered dividers: a sense that only the finest would be dining there.

 

This week’s ones late. I’ve been preparing research, rare books. While I’m burrowed in Trinity library, I’ll be auto-posting. We’ll return to dailies for the next few weeks, as the format suits. I’ll be at the DECAF event on Sunday, the Dublin Eight Comics Art Festival, a real down-in-the-grassroots harbinger of future creative storytelling. Here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1413512145403983/

<i><a href=”https://andy-luke.com/category/book/ignacz-the-watch-thief-book/”><strong>Ignacz The Watch Thief is a weekly appearing part-work</strong></a>. To donate go to <strong><a href=”http://patreon.com/andyluke”>patreon.com/andyluke</a></strong&gt; and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.</i>