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Chapter Twelve

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« on: June 07, 2023, 11:02:41 am »

==1==

IT was that admirable witness Hans Flüchs who had testified that Neville Walsingham had visited the Grünekeller the previous evening, and the Hietzing police had obtained a list of other persons present at the inn as far as could be ascertained. Glancing through the list (without much hope of enlightenment), Macdonald spotted the name of Herr Friedrich Vogel of 159 Neueweltgasse and the C.I.D. man’s exclamation of “ ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Alice,” completely foxed his Austrian interpreter, who had never heard of Alice.

“Never mind,” said Macdonald. “Can you tell me anything about Herr Vogel? Has he ever attracted the attention of the police?”

Vogel, it appeared, had never been charged with any offence against the law, but he was considered a slippery customer and was known to have been pro-Hitler when it was profitable to be so.

“It’s odd,” said Macdonald. “Mr. Webster, a passenger on the Viscount, waited on the pavement, out of sheer goodness of heart, and saved me having to hunt for him. Herr Vogel, acting as host to Mr. Stratton (another passenger on the Viscount), is almost equally accommodating, having attached himself to last night’s party, and his residence is conveniently situated in Hietzing. I think we will visit Herr Vogel and his guest next.”

As he was driven to Vogel’s apartment, Macdonald remembered passing Vogel’s Volkswagen, with young Stratton aboard, when he left Schwechat airport. “Vogel was pointed out to me,” he pondered. “Was I also pointed out to him?”

Herr Vogel was at home. He lived in a small flat on the first floor of a rather depressed-looking house and he opened the door himself and gazed at his two visitors with evident curiosity but without surprise. The subsequent interview was conducted through the medium of the police interpreter, since Herr Vogel regretted that his knowledge of English was but rudimentary. In one way, Macdonald found the method satisfactory: his own German was beginning to come back to him, in the way a long unused language can revive when heard again, and he found he could follow most of Vogel’s answers and had additional time to assess them while they were repeated in English. The interview started by an inquiry for Mr. Charles Stratton. Vogel regretted that Herr Stratton was out at the moment, but was expected to return for Mittagessen. Was there anything he (Vogel) could do to be of assistance? Macdonald then gave his own name and status, and they were invited into Herr Vogel’s extremely tidy (and very stuffy) office.

“You will doubtless have heard of the accident to Mr. Walsingham on the Wattmanngasse?” asked Macdonald (who spoke throughout via his interpreter). Vogel had indeed heard of it---a tragic and deplorable happening.

“Then you know that two accidents occurred within a few hours of each other,” went on Macdonald. “Both to English nationals who left London on the same aircraft last Monday. You will understand, therefore, that an inquiry is being made regarding other passengers who travelled on the same aircraft, so far as their whereabouts are known.”

Vogel bowed. “That,” he observed dryly, “was a natural precaution on the part of the police.”

Macdonald then asked for the circumstances whereby Mr. Charles Stratton came to stay with Herr Vogel.

“Mr. Stratton, I take it, is a friend of yours?”

The answer was a long one, but Vogel expressed himself clearly and straightforwardly. “I was in London last year on business,” he said. “I was making inquiries for a client concerning the death of my client’s brother, the latter having gone to London as a refugee during the war. It was a matter of testamentary dispositions, deceased having been named as co-executor with my client. It was necessary to get documentary proof of death. During my stay in London, I made contact with a German-speaking lawyer to whom I applied for professional help---a Mr. Bowley of Chancery Lane. It was through Mr. Bowley I made contact with Mr. Stratton, professionally I might say. Mr. Stratton had relatives in Germany and he had lost sight of them during the war. He had reason to believe that one of these relatives had gone to Vienna, and Mr. Bowley suggested that I might assist in tracing this person. I have not succeeded in doing so, but I suggested to Mr. Stratton that he might care to come to Vienna to look into certain aspects of my inquiries.” Here Herr Vogel paused: he had been talking slowly, in order to allow the interpreter time to translate each phrase into English. Finally he said, “I think I have said as much as I should, having regard to the confidence which exists between principal and client. If you wish for further information in this matter, you can ask Mr. Stratton himself.”

“Certainly,” agreed Macdonald. “I take it that you are a lawyer, Herr Vogel?”

“I am a qualified lawyer. Owing to my health I no longer practise, but I undertake certain commissions or inquiries for which my legal training qualifies me.”

“Do you mean that you are a private detective?”

“Certainly not,” replied Vogel. “The inquiries I undertake have no bearing on crime.” A bell jangled as he finished speaking and he added, “Excuse me. I will go to the door: my housekeeper is deaf.”

He got up with more alacrity than might have been expected from one of his build and lethargic appearance and returned in a moment or so. “Mr. Stratton has come in, Herr Superintendent. You would doubtless prefer to talk to him alone.”

==2==

Macdonald had no difficulty in recognising the young man he had studied at Schwechat airport and whom he had glanced at cursorily in the Viscount. Charles Stratton was a tall long-limbed fellow with a well-shaped dark head: his hair was thick and straight and somewhat unruly, a lock tending to flop forward over his eyes. He was pale-complexioned and he wore noticeably big hornrim spectacles: Macdonald guessed that he was short-sighted and noted again the supercilious expression which detracted from the pleasantness of a face which was good-looking enough to attract attention. Stratton gave him a steady stare.

“Good morning. Superintendent Macdonald? My name is Charles Stratton. I remember seeing you at Schwechat. So that garrulous little cameraman was right in his identification.”

“I take it you mean Mr. Webster,” rejoined Macdonald. “He spotted me all right. He seems to make a habit of spotting people.”

“He may be good at remembering faces, but I think he talks a lot of hot air,” rejoined Stratton. “Well, Superintendent, what brings you here?”

“I am on duty, acting on instructions from the Commissioner’s Office in London to co-operate with the Vienna police,” rejoined Macdonald. “As you probably know, there have been two accidents to English nationals in this district, both persons concerned having travelled on the same aircraft as ourselves. I am trying to locate other passengers on the same plane.”

“I read about the girl’s accident in this morning’s paper,” said Stratton, “and I heard about Walsingham’s death a few minutes ago, in the bar of the Neuebaukeller. Was Walsingham a writer---J. B. S. Neville?”

“He was. Did you know him?”

“No. I never met him, but I’ve heard him talked about,” said Stratton. “I write a bit myself and so get to hear some of the chirp and chat that goes round among the publishers and agents. What is it you really want to know, Superintendent?”

“First, to identify travellers in the Viscount: next, to ascertain their reasons for being in Vienna.”

“I see. The assumption being that one of us indulged in assault and battery,” replied Stratton. “It’s not for me to argue the soundness of your reasoning. As to myself, my name you know. My address in London is 20X Trinity Court, Gray’s Inn Road. Occupation, tutor in modern languages at the Bloomsbury Coaching Association, also part-time novelist. Reason for being in Vienna, holiday plus research into family ramifications. Vogel probably told you that bit.”

“He told me that he had been making inquiries on your behalf.”

“Perfectly true. Do you want chapter and verse?”

“I should be interested to learn a little more. You speak excellent German, Mr. Stratton.”

“I was born in Germany, though I was registered as a British subject. My father was in a shipping company and he went to Hamburg when trade was picking up in 1925 and I was born a year later. As a kid I lived in Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Barcelona---hence the modern languages. As for the family research---if you want to know it and much good may it do you---here it is. My mother left my father in 1938 and went back to Germany to live with her half-brother---Wilhelm, or Bill as we called him. He is a German. I heard from my mother just before war broke out in 1939. Then nothing until 1946, when I had a card sent through the Red Cross to my grandparents in London. It was posted in the Russian sector of Berlin. Ever since then I’ve been trying to trace my mother and Bill. I’ve got on their tracks once or twice and I think they’re alive---but I’m not even certain of that. I got a report from a chap in a D.P. camp that Bill had got a job in Austria and my mother was in Vienna. So when I happened across Vogel I asked him to make inquiries this end. Eventually he asked me to come over here because he thought he’d spotted them. He hadn’t, of course. It was all quite futile---but I’m glad to have seen Vienna.”

Stratton broke off, and Macdonald sensed a different person behind the supercilious mask: a being at once more sensitive and more troubled.

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever had to apply your detective technique to the problem of ‘Displaced Persons,’ ” said Stratton. “Some still rot in camps: some keep moving and survive somehow, often on faked or stolen papers: some develop a cover story which really does cover their origins. I know enough about it to be careful of making straightforward inquiries: the subjects of the inquiries might not thank you.” Again he broke off, his deep voice uncertain, and then he added, “Well, you asked me. There it is: one of a million similar stories. Displaced Persons are still a blight right across Europe. And if you can connect up all that with a motive to bat the Vanbrughs’ guests over the head, well, tell me the answer.”

“What I am really trying to do, in the first stage of the inquiry, is to get information about the passengers on the aircraft,” said Macdonald. “It may seem a futile proceeding to you. A lot of detection proves to be futile---like your inquiries about your mother and brother: but sometimes facts do emerge which give us a pointer. I hope they will do so in your own inquiry, and I should like to thank you for telling me the facts as you did.”

A smile twisted Stratton’s mobile lips. “I’ve got a modicum of horse sense,” he retorted. “If a chap like you starts a police investigation in a place like Vienna, there’s obviously something serious behind it. If I’d told you to go to hell, or the equivalent, you’d have got busy on me at the London end, and you’d soon have found out that I’d been chasing lost relations in Eastern Europe. I think it was more sensible to tell you myself.”

“Much more sensible,” agreed Macdonald, and Stratton went on:

“Then I’m staying with Vogel. I don’t want to crab him, he’s been very decent to me, and I think he’s the right sort of bird for the job I want him to do. But for all I know, Vogel’s stock isn’t too high in his native city: and on the whole it may be better for you to know just why I’m his guest. Mutual convenience rather than mutual esteem. Now what about the Viscount? I hope you don’t expect me to be full of information, like Webster. I never notice people I’m travelling with. I generally hate the lot of them.”

“When did you first notice Mr. Webster?”

“At London Air Terminal. He tried to get chatty while we were getting on the bus. I hate chatty people when I’m travelling, so I took evasive action. Once on the plane I had my head in a book all the way to Zürich. I thought that girl next to me was going to be one of the talkative variety: anyway, she fussed. So I changed seats at Zürich and struck it lucky---I got a place to myself. Then Webster had another go at me during the wait at Zürich, but I didn’t answer him.”

“Are you always allergic to people while you’re travelling?” asked Macdonald.

“I never talk to people in trains and planes if I can help it. Once they start talking to you they never leave off. Women are worse than men, generally speaking, but a man of Webster’s type is the worst of all. He’s pachydermatous, no snub penetrates his hide.”

“You sound rather embittered,” said Macdonald. “Now getting back to Zürich: did you notice any of the B.E.A. passengers during the wait there?”

Stratton groaned. “Lord, oh lord. That’s the sort of question I loathe answering. I don’t notice people: for one thing I’m hopelessly short-sighted, and for another I’m not interested in humanity in bulk. Who did I see at Zürich? I saw you, for one, and the girl all the fuss is about: you and she had coffee sitting near the windows. I saw the tall white-haired bloke—a V.I.P. of some kind, judging from the way he was met on the tarmac. I saw Webster, because he came and spoke to me. That’s about all. You see, I didn’t join in the general milling about; I had a drink and then stayed put. I bought a couple of newspapers and glanced through them---and that’s about all.”

“Can you remember where Webster was when you first noticed him at Zürich?”

“Just behind you, near the window. I noticed him because he’s such a preposterous-looking object. I think he was standing beside another bloke who was in the same group as ourselves when we were shepherded into the main hall---a greyish nondescript-looking bloke. I remember seeing him as we first got in the plane, but I can’t describe him. Sorry, but that’s the best I can do.” He paused and stared at Macdonald with the intent gaze of the short-sighted. “Webster picked on me again this morning,” he went on, “up by the Gloriette. He plumped himself down beside me and fairly started in babbling like a ten-year-old. I think he fancies himself as a detective.”

“He’s got certain qualities which fit him for the role,” said Macdonald.

“A memory for faces---which I haven’t,” said Stratton. “But all this hot air about Rimmel’s brother---I just don’t believe any of it. He makes things up---at least, that’s my opinion. Webster’s a laughing stock to look at, but he’s a romantic at heart. I believe he kidded himself I was a notability of sorts: anyway, he’s been more or less chasing me round Vienna, and finished up by taking a photograph of me up at the Gloriette. ‘Student of history in the shadow of the Hapsburg’s Folly’---that’s typical Webster. Caption-minded.”

“What do you mean exactly by his chasing you round Vienna?”

“Oh, that’s an exaggeration, but he just pops up where I happen to be. I was at Schönbrunn on Wednesday---so was he. I went to the Streicher film last night: so did he. I went to the Liesingerkeller after the film, so did he---and told me so this morning, cool as brass. Said he was feeling lonely and would have liked to talk to a fellow-countryman. Then this morning he pops up again. I’m tired of him.”

Stratton moved restlessly in his chair, lighted a cigarette and then added, “You’re thinking I’m a snob. I’m not. I hate snobs, but I also hate the sort of aimless gossip Webster specialises in: I’ve no doubt he’s a decent good-hearted chap, but his mind is conditioned by the gossip column. Anything does to make a caption.”

“You say you saw him at the Streicher film last night,” said Macdonald, but Stratton retorted:

“I didn’t say so, because I didn’t see him. He saw me: he said he was sitting behind me: and since he knew I went on to the Leisingerkeller and got talking with some Austrians, presumably he was there. Otherwise he wouldn’t have known I was.”

“What time was this?”

“The film didn’t finish until eleven---it’s a damn good film, you ought to see it---and I stayed in the Liesingerkeller till it closed, which was around midnight, or a bit later. I was talking to a chap I met in the Albertina: one of these students of the Fine Arts you come across so frequently in Vienna and so seldom in London. He knows a damn sight more about the contents of our National Gallery than most Londoners know, to say nothing of being able to discuss the important films of Italy, France, Russia and Japan. Quite a chap.”

“How did you get back to Hietzing at that hour?”

“Schneider---the chap I was talking to---had a motorbike: he gave me a lift on the back as far as Gunzendorf and I footed it the rest of the way, with some assistance from a patrolling policeman when I got lost.”

Stratton suddenly grinned, and his dark saturnine face looked quite different for a moment. “Well, I’ve done my best for you, Superintendent: you’ve heard the family history, my occupation and address, my dallyings with Webster and my doings yesterday evening. Isn’t it time I had a turn at asking questions?”

“Ask away.”

“Have you any substantial proof that either of Vanbrugh’s guests was deliberately attacked? You see, I mistrust melodrama. Why on earth should anybody have attacked that girl? She’s only a kid, isn’t she?”

“You’ve asked if I have any proof: the answer is no: but I think even a person who distrusts melodrama has got to admit that there are too many coincidences about these accidents. Incidentally, while I realise you are short-sighted, I still think there’s a chance you might be able to recognise some of the other passengers on the Viscount if you saw them again. Will you look through these photographs and tell me if you recognise any of them?”

Macdonald had collected some photographs from the Polizeiamte, among which was Walsingham’s, and Stratton looked through them casually. The only one he paused over was Walsingham’s. When he came to it, he gave a sudden exclamation: then he pushed up his glasses and in the manner of the short-sighted held the picture close to his eyes.

“Good lord!” he exclaimed. “That’s odd.”

“Then do you recognise this one?”

“I’ve seen him---but not on the plane. Was he a passenger?”

“He was, yes.”

“Then who the hell is he?”

“Neville Walsingham. I’ve no doubt his picture will be in all the evening papers. Where did you see him before?”

“At my job---the Tutorial place---but he didn’t call himself Walsingham on that occasion.”

==3==

“As I told you, our main job is teaching languages and coaching,” said Stratton. “Any standard from Finals down to classes for tourists, and any language which is asked for. Obviously we have a lot of rum chaps teaching on what you might call ‘piece work terms.’ Japs, Chinks, Hindus, Koreans---you can get men who’ll teach any language under the sun in London. And because all is grist that comes to the mill, we arrange for translating to be done---also in any language. Well, about a month ago I’d just finished an hour’s grind with a moron who was studying Spanish and I went out---it was latish and the office girl had knocked off---I found a bloke at the door saying he wanted a translator for a short script---Czechoslovak into English. I told him if he’d leave it it’d be dealt with. But that wouldn’t do: he wouldn’t leave it. The translator could come to him or vice versa, but he wanted it done at once. Very urgent. Well, to cut a long story short, we’d got a hard-up Czech ex-professor who didn’t get much work, one Stanislas Karillov, and I gave his address, mentioning about twice the fee that’s usually paid for the job, and the bloke with the script trotted off. He gave a commonplace name---Bond or Bourne or something like that---though he didn’t look commonplace himself. Rather the reverse. And this,” said Stratton, picking up the picture of Walsingham, “is Bond or Bourne. I remember people all right if I see them close to: I’m only sunk when they’re a few yards away. I remember thinking that the Bond/Bourne merchant looked a personality---he’d got something authoritative about him, and I wondered why he came to a small commercial undertaking like ours.”

“Did you ever hear any more about the translating job?”

“Oh, yes. That’s why I remember the incident. Karillov is a very honest chap: he came in next morning to offer to pay the office the usual ten per cent which is the rake off on jobs like that, and to thank me for putting him in the way of an extra fee. I asked him if the work had been interesting and he said ‘Very interesting.’ He then told me, in confidence, that he had an idea the script he’d translated was an official paper of sorts, probably pinched. He wasn’t allowed to type the translation out in the usual way: he was asked to translate it verbally. And then he said, ‘If there’s anything phony about it, I think I shall forget it. Just not know anything about it. I’ve had trouble enough one way or another without asking for any more’---or words to that effect. I agreed with him.” Stratton broke off and lighted another cigarette: then he went on:

“If a Czech, or any other foreigner for that matter, had brought an official-looking English document for translation into another language I might have thought it my business to draw somebody’s attention to it, but the man who wanted this translating done was an Englishman, and he looked a responsible person. So I left it at that. But it struck me as odd---the sort of incident one could boil up into a short story.”

“Didn’t you ask what the gist of the script was?”

“No, I didn’t. Quite deliberately. Damn it all, do you imagine I wanted to go to Scotland Yard or the F.O.---or wherever one might go---and say, ‘An Englishman named Bond or Bourne or Bone, address unknown, got hold of our hard-up down-at-heels Karillov and got him to translate a document which may or may not have been honestly come by’? I just said to Karillov, ‘Sure you’re not imagining things?’ His sort do, you know. They’ve seen so many preposterous things that their norm is twisted. And he said, ‘Yes. I expect I was,’ and we left it at that.”

Stratton picked up the photograph of Neville Walsingham again and said, “This is the same chap---Bond or what-have-you. I wish I’d known. Come to think of it, it’s not so surprising---the translation incident---now I know it’s Walsingham. He’s written a lot about ‘Mittel Europa,’ and I expect he talks French and German and maybe Italian, but he’s sunk when it comes to Czech. So am I. I’ve started in on Russian, but the other Slav languages still have me beat.”

“Well, I’m interested in what you’ve told me,” said Macdonald. “It may have a bearing on my present job---just possibly. It seems a bit uncertain why Walsingham came to Vienna at this juncture.”

“Why did you come to Vienna?” demanded Stratton. “After Walsingham?”

“No. I didn’t come after anybody---I came for a holiday.”

“Perhaps he did, too, poor devil,” said Stratton. “Incidentally, where was he sitting on the plane?”

“Right forward---according to Webster.”

“Didn’t you see him yourself?”

“No, I didn’t. You don’t see many of the passengers unless you get up and walk down the gangway. The backs of the seats are too high.”

Stratton grinned. “Quite true. It’s only chaps like Mr. Nosey Webster who spot everybody. Has he told you about his auntie?”

“He has. He also begged me to go to see her.”

“That’s a nice touch: all open and above-board,” said Stratton. “Well, I’m sorry your holiday’s been translated into a job of work, Superintendent---all because somebody’s brakes weren’t up to standard. Though whose brakes were at fault seems to be a matter of contention in the local beer houses.”

“It will probably continue to be a contention for some time to come,” said Macdonald. “You have answered all my questions very patiently, Mr. Stratton. Will you round your evidence off by telling me where you were between four and five o’clock yesterday afternoon?”

“I was here, in this house, playing chess with Vogel. I beat him because he got rattled over the storm. I didn’t go out until the rain left off, when I went into Vienna and had supper and went to the Apollo cinema. And Schneider works at the Kunstbeilage Printing Works if you want to find him.” Stratton suddenly grinned. “Did Webster tell you about his pictures?”

“He did,” replied Macdonald.

“What a damned odd life you must live,” replied the other, “always learning about the lives of total strangers.”

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