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Our Library => E. C. R. Lorac - Murder in Vienna (1956) => Topic started by: Admin on June 08, 2023, 07:48:57 am

Title: Chapter Sixteen
Post by: Admin on June 08, 2023, 07:48:57 am

PRETZEL. Macdonald remembered the name all right: while he was worrying out the complexities of this case, he had wondered if Pretzel would appear again. In Macdonald’s experience, the supers in a case did often make another and inglorious entry before the case was finally finished off. Herr Pretzel was the patient who had been to see Dr. Franz Natzler before his keys had disappeared and Macdonald had wondered whether he himself, Dr. Natzler’s guest, had provided reason for the theft of the key-ring. “Did somebody think life would be simpler if I were removed and that possession of the keys of the Natzlers’ house might facilitate my removal?” he had thought. But it was Pretzel himself who got “removed.” Even before Macdonald and Nauheim had had time to go out to Gaudensdorff to interview Herr Heinrich Guggenheim, the Vienna police had fished Pretzel’s body out of the Danube Canal. The canal is a loop of the Danube, connecting the heart of Vienna with the mighty river which flows south east along its flood plain, not through the city itself (though antiquaries say the line of the canal was the main course of the river in prehistoric times).

It was near the Franz Josef Bahnhof, below the bridge which connects Alserbach Strasse with the Wallenstein Strasse, that Pretzel’s body was found, not a mile from the Ringstrasse itself. There was nothing on the body to identify it, but Macdonald and Nauheim were both mindful of the driver who had brought Walsingham from Hietzing into Vienna.

“I think this will be Pretzel,” said Macdonald. “Webster has a knack of being right. Pretzel saw too much, so Pretzel was disposed of.”

Herr Guggenheim was a very old man, and a very frightened old man. He was so old, his face so livid with fear, that the detectives dared not press him too closely. He looked ready to pass out into a world where no detectives could tackle him. The story he told was simple and innocent: The Waldtraut Körner was indeed an old and a well-beloved friend: he had known her since her debut in the Staats Oper, over fifty years ago. He had, during his professional days as notary, given her advice about her contracts and other business matters. “I did not see her for many years, alas,” he went on. “After her retirement she left Vienna. I was overjoyed when I heard she was coming to stay here again. I went to her hotel to greet her, and finding she had no car, I begged she would make use of mine.” After a pause (for his voice was shaking and uncertain), the old man told of the visit to Schönbrunn.

“I walked round the gardens with her, but I am no longer strong enough to walk very far. She wished to see the State Apartments---the great gallery where she had sung for the Emperor Franz Josef himself. I went and sat in the car until she returned. As you must realise, she is much younger than myself, and she insisted on doing the arduous round of the State Apartments.” Herr Guggenheim was unable to tell them if the lady had met or spoken with any friends at Schönbrunn. He had put his car at her disposal each day, and yesterday evening she had rung him up, before going to the Opera, to ask if the chauffeur could bring a friend---Herr Waldemar---out from Hietzing to see her at the Emperor Maximilian Hotel. It was agreed that Herr Waldemar should be picked up at the corner of the Lindengasse. “And that is all I know,” wailed the old man. “I gave orders to my chauffeur, Humpfinger: I know he took the car. I know the car is now again in the garage, and that Humpfinger has not come to work to-day. I can tell you no more.”

“You say your chauffeur’s name is Humpfinger,” said Nauheim. “Did you always call him by that name? I am told you called him Pretzel.”

The old face grew more livid, but Guggenheim answered with an effort at contempt. “Pretzel? Yes: an old nickname: he has served me since a boy. We used to call him Pretzel then, and the name stuck, as such foolish names do.”

Macdonald wondered very much if the old man was capable of standing up to much more questioning, or if he would collapse on their hands, but Nauheim went on, quietly and persistently.

“You knew that Fräulein Waldtraut Körner came to Vienna to transact some business, Herr Guggenheim?”

“I knew that, yes. Everybody in Vienna knows it. She had some valuable literary property to negotiate. But I, alas, was too old to advise her. I have retired from professional work long since.”

“Do you know her present legal adviser?” asked Nauheim.

“I cannot tell you. Indeed, I did not ask. It was better so. I knew---for she confided in me---that she no longer had the means to instruct a lawyer of note. Costs are very high to-day . . . and life is hard.” He mumbled uncertainly for a moment, then he added, “She was conducting these negotiations herself: against my advice, I might add. But I am too old to deal with these things.”

He sighed and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. “I am very tired, Herr Inspektor. I cannot talk any more. It has been a shock to learn that my old friend is so ill . . . she who was the pride and ornament of our Staats Oper, the greatest of them all.”

Nauheim was very persistent: he went on, “I think, Herr Guggenheim, that you must be aware that Fräulein Waldtraut Körner employed an intermediary in this matter,” but his persistence was useless. The old man’s head leant back feebly against his chair and his jaw dropped. He was still breathing, but he looked terrifyingly old and frail. Macdonald got up.

“It’s no use---he’s on the verge of collapse. I’ll get his servant.”

As they went through the hall Macdonald said, “I think we can see the way things went, and sort it out for ourselves. Proof will be forthcoming eventually.”

As they left the gloomy hall and the front door was opened, the faint evening light shone on their faces. The western sky was still a glory of fading rose, dappled clouds changing to grey even as they watched.

“Sunset over Schönbrunn,” murmured Macdonald. “I wonder if he got his picture.” Then he turned to Nauheim. “You’ve got plenty of jobs to do---jobs I can’t help you with, not in Vienna. I think I’m going to back my fancy and see the full moon rise over the Gloriette. If I get caught, you can bail me out to-morrow.”

Nauheim looked horrified. “You’re not going alone. I’ll send a couple of men with you.”

“No, don’t do that,” said Macdonald. “I’ll take Karl Natzler with me. He’ll be back from Zürich by this time. After all, if an Englishman is taking liberties in the precincts of Schönbrunn, it’s picturesque justice for an English policeman to deal with it. All you need do is to give me a laisser-passer for the man in charge.”

“I don’t like it,” said Nauheim. “I’ve got a man tailing all of them----”

Macdonald laughed. “I shan’t be at all surprised if Ernest Henry Webster has evaded his shadow. He may be simulating a grizzly bear in the Tiergarten by this time: but I have an idea he’ll be there to shoot his coveted picture, ‘Moonrise over the Gloriette’---and if he is, I’m going to see him do the shooting.”


“I’m going to back my fancy and see the full moon rise over the Gloriette.” So Macdonald had said to Nauheim, and an hour later Macdonald chuckled silently to himself as he remembered his own words. In England he seldom had a chance of “Backing his fancy” as he was doing now; back home he was responsible for handling the routine work, for giving orders to his men. The responsibility was all his---in England. Here in Vienna there were many things he could not do: it was the business of the Austrian police to marshal their own forces, to shadow the suspects, to watch the roads, the railway stations, the airport: to check alibis, to interrogate minor witnesses. How good they were at the job Macdonald had no means of judging: he knew he could not get the “feel” of a foreign police force after working with them for only a few hours. He hoped they were good---as good as he knew his own men to be in London: as tenacious as Reeves, as patient as old Jenkins. But now he had left the Vienna police to their own methods, and he, Macdonald, was standing in the deep shadows of the clipped trees which rise like forty-foot box hedges flanking the approach to the garden front of Schönbrunn Palace.

Macdonald and Karl Natzler had been admitted by the Tiergarten: it was the wisest entrance, for in the Tiergarten there were always keepers on guard at night, and comings and goings did not attract attention. Karl was now on the far side of the gardens prowling silently on his own.

As he stood in the darkness Macdonald could hear some of the animals calling in their cages: nocturnal animals to whom the night brought their time of greatest awareness. It was a bit like being in Regent’s Park at night, where the call of lions and the howl of wolves mingled with the rumble of the London traffic. Here, as in London, there was a glow in the sky, a glow which had replaced the afterglow of the sunset. In the eastern sky, the myriad lights of Vienna were reflected up to the misty clouds, and Macdonald knew that when his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he would be able to see the open arches of the Gloriette up there on the hill, opposite the garden front of the palace. Had the players in this most un-Viennese melodrama used the Gloriette as a rendezvous? Macdonald remembered Mr. Webster’s hopeful voice saying “They can’t watch the whole blooming grounds. . . . If you got shut in after the gates were closed . . .” Was that an invitation, a bait? A hope that even a London C.I.D. man would lose his head in the atmosphere of Vienna? “Perhaps I am in the process of becoming light-headed,” thought Macdonald, who knew he was far nearer to laughing than was customary to him when he was on duty: it was the effect of being free of routine: free to prowl, like a nocturnal animal, in the fragrant shadows of the Hapsburgs’ gardens---“in the shadow of the Hapsburgs’ Folly”---but no one who hasn’t been in Vienna will ever appreciate Ernest Henry’s caption, thought Macdonald.

He began to move at last; he could see the arches now, up there on the hill, dark and beautiful, a serene shadow against a sky which seemed pale only because his eyes were conditioned to the night. The Gloriette was to the south of the palace: the moon would come up over Vienna itself and shine athwart the arches, across the pool at their feet.

“Well, even if this proves to be empty folly from the point of view of detection, it’ll be an experience to remember for the rest of my days,” thought Macdonald. “Moonlight over the Gloriette, an experience once reserved for the Hapsburgs, Maria Theresa and old Franz Josef . . . and perhaps the Waldtraut Körner in her prime.”

He intended to outflank the Gloriette, to get behind the colonnade on the Fasan Garten side, where the shadows would be deepest, away from the reflected lights of Penzing and the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse. He walked very slowly, mounting the hilly tree-shaded paths on the Tiergarten side, and so up to the Tiroler Garten at the top, hearing the ululations of wolves and the murmur of distant traffic, the wind in the trees---but no other sounds.


Lying prone under the colonnade, his head resting on his arms, so that he could hear any echo of footfall from the tell-tale ground and so that his dark head should be all of a piece in the shadows with his dark suit, Macdonald had an odd feeling of satisfaction. He believed he knew exactly what had happened since he left England on the Viscount: he believed he could prove his case---but the business of arrest (barring unexpected fireworks) was in the hands of the Vienna police. A solitary C.I.D. Superintendent whose German was negligible, could not issue orders to the rank and file of a foreign police force, but he could back his fancy. He was here because he believed that Ernest Henry Webster still had an ace up his sleeve, “and even if he hasn’t, I shall still see the moonlight on these arches and on the Austrian eagle up there,” he thought.

That was Macdonald’s last tribute to what might be called the æsthetics of the matter for some time, for he had heard a footfall. Quietly and steadily someone was coming up the hill.

It was some moments before the new arrival reached the top, and he was panting by the time he got there. He came to the front of the Gloriette, and it took Macdonald some careful squirming to get himself into a position where, by raising his head a little, he could just make out the bulk of a man’s figure, seated calmly on the long seat between the colonnade and the formal pool, facing towards the palace. In the gloom it was difficult to distinguish the figure at all, but such impression as Macdonald could get suggested bulk rather than length, a fat man, with round-shaped hat, a bowler perhaps, but its shape was indistinguishable. It was hearing rather than sight which identified the newcomer: under his breath, in a sibilance not quite a whistle, the stout man was producing a very old tune, an English tune which Macdonald remembered hearing in his early teens.

“You are my honey-honey-suckle, I am the bee,” breathed out ludicrously from the Hapsburgs folly.

This, then, was Mr. Webster: surely nobody else in Vienna could be whistling “The Honeysuckle and the Bee.” The tune faded out and was followed by words: very softly, Mr. Webster was talking to himself---or was it to himself?

“It’s a fair old mess-up: no mistake about that. I knew there was some hanky-panky all along. Not that that worried me, not at first. Stands to reason there’d be a bit of funny stuff, seeing what we was all after, and I was game to do a bit of play-acting meself. Just one of those things, wasn’t it? And I’d’ve helped you out and gone shares over the doings---fair shares, mind you---but you gone too far. It’s all U.P. and I’m throwing me hand in. I never bargained for sharing the business end of a rope.”

The voice was the voice of Ernest Henry Webster, talking undiluted Cockney: but he wasn’t being funny: he didn’t sound funny, he sounded oddly impressive. He was putting all he knew into his soliloquy. A warning phrase flashed through Macdonald’s mind: “Anything you say can be taken down and used in evidence,” but he didn’t formulate it. He wasn’t asking any questions, he was listening to a recital, surely the oddest recital ever produced at the Gloriette, no matter what strange confidences those stones had heard.

“I wanted the doings: a cool coupla’ thousand old Ike offered if I pulled it off, and I knew there’d be others after it. Stands to reason---too much talk there’d been. Ike knew, bless you: good as warned me to watch out for you. And I’d have gone fifty-fifty with anybody who played straight, seeing I hadn’t the technique to work it single-handed. I tumbled to it you was the nigger in the wood-pile, young fella-me-lad. I saw you make up to the old lady in the Porcelain Room as they calls it, in the Palace there, Wednesday it was. Watch? Blimey, I watched like a cat over a mouse hole, tailing of her all round Vienna. Tailing you, too, come to that. But I didn’t realise how bad it was, not till to-day. There’s been too much of it and I’m through. I tell you so straight. So you might as well come out and talk business. I know you’re there. You’re sunk without me: you know that.”

There was a moment of dead silence, and then Mr. Webster went on, “I said I’d go fifty-fifty. I would have, too. I’ve got the cash---and I reckon you needed it. Your flash friends’ll want some of the needful before they get you out of Vienna in a wine barrel or whatever it is.”

“You talk too much: that’s your trouble,” said another voice. It came from the shadows, under the colonnade. “You had a perfectly good idea: cook an alibi, for both of us. You put that one over as neatly as anything I ever heard. Passed it to me as slick as a conjuring trick: we both needed it and you pulled it off. What are you losing your nerve for?”

“I’m not losing me nerve. I tell you I’ve had enough. I know when to stop,” said Webster. “And it’s now. I’m not playing ball any longer, all I want is to quit. If I’d known the sort of party this was going to turn out, I’d never have touched it---never. And I’m telling you you’d better beat it while you can---the faster the better. Better for you and better for me. I’m through.”

“Sure of yourself, aren’t you?”

“Pretty sure,” said Webster. “Not that I know everything, though Auntie helped me a lot. Got contacts everywhere, Auntie has, in that hotel and out of it. It was a case of all watching one another: though I wasn’t on the spot when that car stopped in the Mariahilfer Strasse. Just past the West Bahnhof it was: eleven forty-five, I’m told. Funny thing that, a friend of Auntie’s saw it happen---accident or something.” There was a moment of dead silence, then Webster went on, “One thing I can prove, and half a dozen witnesses to swear to it, no hocus pocus or funny stuff: I was still in the Liesingerkeller at a quarter to twelve last night. I could have carried you through with me, too, and saved you a lot of bother, only you went too far. Too far altogether. Accidents may happen, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

“Oh lord, don’t you love talking,” mocked the faint voice from the shadows. “You asked me to come here because you said you’d got something urgent to tell me. As I see it, we’re in the same boat, but there’s no need to get in a panic over it. If we stick to the same story we’re safe enough, and we’ll share the proceeds later.”

“The same boat,” murmured Mr. Webster. “The same plane’s nearer the mark. Well, I’m not arguing: I’m telling you. There’s no proceeds to share. I know that. I’m not plain silly. But things have got to the state when you can land me in the mess you’ve made yourself, and I’m not sharing the rope you’ve earned. I’ve not earned it. So you quit. Got that? It’s your last chance.”

“Why the hell d’you think I’m going to take orders from you?” demanded the other. His voice was low, but it was dangerous now.

“Because I know: I’ve tumbled to it,” said Webster. “I was slow enough, wasn’t I? but I didn’t get a chance of a real look at you---not till Zürich. If a chap keeps his nose in a book and his hair flops down over his hornrims, you don’t get much chance of seeing his dial.” The Cockney voice was slow and steady, almost ruminative, and it went on with maddening persistence. “I sat here on this seat beside you---only this morning, was it?---and I still didn’t tumble to it. But I’ve been thinking since I came up here: very nice and quiet it’s been since the gates was shut. Funny how you can tumble to things, and I suddenly saw it all plain. I reckon that’s what happened to the young lady: something suddenly clicked in her head, same’s it did in mine: and that Walsingham, did he suddenly look at you when you stopped that car and say ‘But you’re not the chap I saw at London Airport’?”

Macdonald was creeping forward now: he didn’t want to miss a word of Mr. Webster’s meditations, but the fat man was asking for trouble and Macdonald sensed that trouble was not far away. It wouldn’t be a shot: a shot would bring out the wardens from the Tiergarten, the night watchmen from the palace---and a shot can never look accidental. Macdonald guessed that another “accident” would develop, and he suddenly visualised Webster’s rotund form floating in the ornamental pool there . . . found drowned at the Gloriette.

“You should never have trusted that Vogel,” went on Webster, as though he were trying to make certain of the trouble that was certainly coming to him. “Vogel’s a twister---Auntie knew that. He was only using you to get the doings. . . .”

The trouble materialised when Macdonald was only a yard from the fat man. It was very dark under the arches, very dark on that seat, and the unseen man sprang just as Macdonald stood up: sprang straight at the fat man who sat slumped on the seat. Macdonald never forgot the sound which followed: it was not the thud of a rubber cosh on an unprotected head, it was more like the sound of a cosh on a London policeman’s helmet. And then the fat man moved: with a power which Macdonald would never have suspected, the fat hands and short arms gripped the assailant behind him, and lifted the body over his head and flung it down, on to the stone verge of the ornamental pool. It lay there for a split second and then slipped into the dark water and was still.

“You might not think it, but I did strong man in a circus once,” said Webster, panting a little. “Weight-lifting . . . and that’s my crash helmet. Thank you, sir. I reckoned that was how he’d do it and I came prepared, spine pads and all. I put my money on your being here to see the grand finale---seeing’s believing, as they say---and as for believing, I always did believe in our English police.”


Charles Stratton was dead. Karl Natzler told them that at once.

“And a good thing, too,” said Webster calmly. “It’ll save a lot of trouble: and if you want to charge me, sir, well, if I hadn’t been nippy it’d’ve been a quick right and left for you and me, too. He was a quick worker. Self-defence my bit was---and I like to think I had a Yard ace for a witness.”

Karl Natzler had gone to get the police and an ambulance. (“It seems my métier in this case,” he said resignedly.) Mr. Webster spoke to Macdonald almost appealingly.

“It’ll be a few minutes before they get up here, sir, to arrest me, I suppose . . . but can’t we sit here and talk it over. I’ll tell you all I know---and if so be you’d tell me if you rumbled him, and how, it’d be a privilege.”

“Say if you bat first, Mr. Webster.”

“O.K., sir. I’ve nothing to hide. The only one I tried to put over you was about the old lady’s sparklers and there wasn’t much harm in that. You see, this story of the Steinadler memoirs was known in London. Vogel’d been over, trying to get a fancy price, and Ike Levi heard of it. (He owns the Sunday Blast.) I’d heard the story, too---Auntie put me wise. I contacted Ike and he said O.K. You try to do a deal with your fancy friends in Vienna and I’ll pay up---a cool two thou, he offered. But he warned me---there’s other folks on to it, he said. That young Stratton who’s working for the New English Agency, he’s after it. He’s got contacts in Vienna, too. I expect you tumbled to that little lot, sir, though it’s the hell of a mix-up.”

“Say I did a lot of guessing, Mr. Webster. You were in a better position than I was at the kick-off, because you had the basic facts and you were on the look-out. I wasn’t. I came here for a holiday.”

“If you say so, sir. Well---I did look out. I spotted young Stratton on the plane. Not that I looked at him carefully, I didn’t get a chance with his nose in that book: not till after Zürich---and that was a different story.”

“You’re right. It was,” said Macdonald. “I ought to have realised it at once, because of the suède shoes. He left London in suède shoes and arrived in Vienna in leather brogues.”

“I never noticed that,” said Webster regretfully. “Changed places at Zürich, did they? Auntie got one of her buddies to ring Zürich for me---on the spot, she is. Matter of accident in the gents’, wasn’t it, sir? Cunning, that. And on with the camel coat and pinch the passport, etc., and leave his own duds for poor Charles. Brothers, was they? Very much alike they were. You know, sir, I reckon Charles must have been using his brother as contact man in Vienna to see how the old lady was getting on marketing those memoirs---and bro. did the dirty on Charles.”

Macdonald laughed: he couldn’t help it. “I thought I was a good guesser, Mr. Webster, but you’ve got me beat.”

“Not beat, sir. Call it equals: after all, it was mostly common sense when you thought it out. Now he’d pulled it off, this cosh-boy had, but he was nervous. That’s why that young girl got hers---she’d had a real look at Charles: she sat beside him, didn’t she, and I reckon he saw her looking at him a bit too sharp, up in them woods.”

“Yes, I think that’s about it,” agreed Macdonald. “Any theories about the attack on Walsingham, Mr. Webster?”

“Same story, sir. Leastways, that’s my bet. Maybe you’ll get a bit more evidence from the London end, some of those airport girls are pretty snappy, noticing things. I wonder if you could call it to mind. We waited around a bit in that lounge, just before they took us out to the plane. You were sitting near the door, doing the Times crossword, wasn’t you---that’s when I first spotted you. Stratton---camel coat---he wasn’t a yard from you. I’m trying to see it as a picture, the colours and all. Walsingham had that light raincoat on: you wore a grey herring-bone tweed, and there was the camel coat. . . . I reckon Walsingham and Stratton had a word together just then. Likely they knew one another: Stratton---the real one---was working up a bit of a business with translation rights and that. If you look into it, I reckon you’ll find there was a connection. Then, as I see it, Stratton senior as we might call him, got his stooges to watch the Emperor Maximilian Hotel and heard Walsingham had seen the old duchess. So Stratton senior and one of his pals stops Walsingham’s car on the way home---to chat business. It didn’t turn out that way, because Walsingham rumbled Stratton senior wasn’t the lad he’d seen in London. Come to think of it, Stratton senior couldn’t risk a show-down, not after that game at Zürich.” There was a little pause and then Webster asked innocently, “And Rimmel, sir? Any news of him?”

It wasn’t often that Macdonald felt like digging a rogue in the ribs: Webster was a rogue all right, in a jovial fashion, but not, Macdonald was convinced, a murdering rogue.

“It wasn’t Rimmel---and you know it,” he said.

“Well, you do surprise me, sir,” said Webster. “I don’t often make a mistake over a face.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” said Macdonald. “Would it be a good idea if you told me just what you were up to, Mr. Webster?---and leave me to sort it out. You’re not out of the wood yet, you know.”

“I know, sir. But I’m trusting to you to see me through: after all, I tipped you the wink about this evening, didn’t I? It was a fair old mess-up. I’d heard that Walsingham had been done in, but I didn’t know the time-table. I reckoned you’d be out after all of us who was on that plane, and you’d tumble to it that I’d been after those Steinadler papers, same as Walsingham himself was. And I didn’t fancy the set-up, not at all I didn’t. I said to meself, ‘Why not fix a good alibi, for the whole of the evening?’---and when I saw Stratton sitting on this very seat, after he’d been in that beerhouse with me yesterday evening, I thought I’d just offer him the idea---palm it, so to speak. He took it: just what he wanted, it was.” Mr. Webster sighed. “It wasn’t till I thought it all out I realised what he’d done, sir. Then I tried to put matters right my own way. I tipped you the wink about coming up here, sir. I thought he’d give himself away by going for me. That’s why I put my crash helmet on. And I’ll tell you this, sir: if I hadn’t done it, you’d never have got him. I reckon he knows Vienna backwards, and he’s got enough pals here to get him out of the place easy. I may have tried to be clever over that alibi, but I tried to square it up my own way to-night. After all, it was my head what had to be coshed as a demonstration. . . . Glory, sir, that’s the moon coming up. Look at that . . . I’ll get that picture after all.”

The full moon rose above the mists of Vienna and shone athwart the Gloriette: on the serenity of the classical arches, on the golden Imperial Eagle: on the formal pool; it shone across the clipped trees, making black shadows on the grass, and touched the formal front of Schönbrunn Palace: Maria Theresa yellow no longer, but misted white under the moon.

“By God,” said Ernest Henry Webster. “That’s a picture. . . .”

“By God, it is,” said Macdonald---and he meant it.