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Chapter Thirteen

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« on: June 07, 2023, 12:54:49 pm »

==1==

“ALL cases are the same at the beginning,” said Inspector Nauheim. “You collect information all in a rush and get an access of blood to the head trying to sort it out: then the next stage is distinguished by complete lack of information and you decide it’s a stalemate.”

“Perfectly true,” agreed Macdonald. “Let’s hear the sum total of your researches this morning.”

The two police officers were sitting in the small bare room which had been put at their disposal by the “Polizeileutnant” of Hietzing, and Nauheim reported as follows: “First, the autopsy on Walsingham. He was dead when the car---or cars---ran over him on the Wattmanngasse, but he’d been in an accident earlier. There are two sets of bruises on his body, one set made while he was alive, the other after he was dead. The doctors think that he was run down, receiving injuries which caused his death, and that his body was then moved. I won’t go into the details---you can talk to the doctors yourself---but it looks as though Anthony Vanbrugh is clear. I can’t see any object in his moving the body in order to run over it somewhere else: can you?”

“Well---I might. But we can leave that for the moment and concentrate on facts.”

“Right. I’ve got the list of arrivals on your B.E.A. plane on Monday. Here it is.”

He handed Macdonald the list. There had been twenty-five passengers on the Viscount when it landed at Vienna: twelve British, eight Austrian, two American and three French. Of the British passengers, five were already known to the investigators; Macdonald himself, Sir Charles Bland, Miss Le Vendre, Ernest Henry Webster and Charles Stratton. The remaining seven were made up of two Embassy officials returning from English leave (John Prestwood and Guy Vincent), two English ladies visiting friends in the British Council (Mrs. and Miss Woodthorp) and two architects from the Ministry of Housing (Patrick Tindale and John Tomlinson), who were staying in Vienna as the guests of Herr Schwarz, a noted Vienna architect.

“They all seem respectable enough; I can look into them later and see if their powers of observation help us along at all,” said Macdonald. “The B.E.A. list of passengers from London will give us the names of those who left the plane at Zürich.”

“Next,” said Nauheim (who was intent on passing on his information), “you may like to know about the people who have reported seeing Miss Le Vendre when she walked up to the old gun emplacement. She was noticed by several people, all of whom were hurrying home because they realised a storm was going to break shortly: Frau Pilsener, who lives on the verge of the woods, said the girl had Miss Vanbrugh’s dachshund on a lead and she was talking to the dog encouragingly. A gardener who works at a house on the farther side of the woods saw the girl when she was nearly at the top of the hill. A couple of children with their nurse and an old man also saw her. They all say she was alone---and all thought she was quite mad not to be running home. They saw nobody else going up into the woods. When the storm broke with the first big flash, just after five o’clock, it seems probable that there were no local people within a mile of the emplacement---and I doubt if we shall get any further information, not until---or unless---Miss Le Vendre can tell us what happened. The storm complicated matters,” added Nauheim thoughtfully. “Viennese people have no love of their woods in a thunderstorm: nobody but an English girl would have been perverse enough to go on, farther and farther away from shelter, with a sky like that.”

“Which means that anybody who noticed the girl could have been pretty sure that there would have been nobody else on the ridge by the time she arrived there,” said Macdonald.

“Do you think she would have walked up there by herself, with no motive at all, on an afternoon like yesterday?” asked Nauheim incredulously.

Macdonald laughed. “Yes, I think so. She was young, she was bored. She had been translating old letters and typing them all day, and it had been a stuffy day. I can well believe she went out for a walk determined to climb up to the ridge and get some fresh air. She might not have expected the thunder, but she wouldn’t have been frightened of it. Well, that’s as far as we can get in that direction.”

Gewiss,” murmured Nauheim. “I am not taking you very far, Superintendent, but I don’t want you to think the Hietzing police have not been trying. Every available man has been put on the job, asking about Miss Le Vendre, about the van (or jeep) described by Mr. Vanbrugh, and about Walsingham himself. So next, about the van. It seems pretty certain that no locally registered van (which could be mistaken for a jeep) was on the road at midnight last night. There are three converted jeeps owned by Hietzing tradesmen, but it wasn’t any of these. However, a van with a low square body was seen by a patrolman shortly after midnight, travelling towards Vienna. It was in the Penzinger Strasse, just beyond the Hietzinger Bridge---the railway bridge.”

“Travelling towards Vienna,” observed Macdonald, and Nauheim nodded.

“Yes. This interested me in relation to the final piece of evidence which has come in. An old man named Glöck---a drunken old ne’er-do-well---came into the Police Station and said that just before eleven last night he saw three men in the Hietzinger Platz, near the church. One of these men he knew by sight---Hans Flüchs, the journalist: another he said, was an Englishman, in a light raincoat. Glöck knew he was an Englishman because he had seen him driving an English car with a C.D. plate earlier in the day: the third was a tall dark man who hurried across the Platz to catch a Vienna-bound tram. Glöck says that Flüchs and the Englishman parted outside the church at the corner of the Platz, and the Englishman walked on to the corner of Lindengasse---in the direction of Trauttmansdorffgasse---and waited there a moment, until a big car pulled up and the Englishman got in and was driven off in the direction of Vienna---or at least away from Hietzing.” Nauheim stopped and gave a large sigh. “And whether Glöck is telling lies in the hope of getting a reward, or whether he has been bribed to tell lies, who can say?” he said. “It is true that Flüchs and Schulze and Walsingham walked from the Grünekeller to the Hietzinger Platz and that Schulze caught the tram at the Brücke: we have witnesses to corroborate that: also Flüchs parted from Walsingham outside the church: but no one save Glöck saw Walsingham get into a car (if he did get into a car) at the corner of Lindengasse. It is a very quiet road---you may remember there are small shops on the ground floor, all along, and the shops were all closed, of course.”

“And you don’t think much of Glöck as a witness?”

“Ask the Hietzing men,” replied Nauheim. “Glöck has been run in for begging and cheating and pilfering: he’s a habitual drunkard and he beats his old wife. He’s a cunning old fraud---and the devil of it is that he may be telling the truth on this occasion. If he is, the whole situation is altered.”

“Meaning that Walsingham may have been killed in Vienna and his body brought back to Hietzing,” said Macdonald.

“Just that---and put in a position where it was pretty certain that Anthony Vanbrugh would pass by the body---or over it,” replied Nauheim. “It’s known that he always drives back from Vienna by that route, and there are plenty of people to testify that he often drives as though the road belongs to him.”

“Is this developing into an all-out attack on the Vanbrugh family?” queried Macdonald, and Nauheim replied:

“I don’t know, but can you tell me this: had Walsingham any particular reason for visiting Vienna just now? Did Sir Walter Vanbrugh tell you if Walsingham mentioned any purpose he had in view---people to see, information to seek?”

“Sir Walter does not know. My own impression is that he himself was surprised at Walsingham’s visit. It’s true that Sir Walter had given him an open invitation, but the visit seems to have been arranged at short notice: and we also do not know why Walsingham broke his journey in Zürich. But let’s get back to the Vanbrugh angle: there have been three incidents connected with their household. The abortive attack on Clara, the accident to Miss Le Vendre, and the death of Walsingham. I take it the story about Clara has now been reported?”

“Yes, it has, and Greta Schwab has been questioned. Greta is almost ‘simple,’ as you say, but she comes of a respectable family and there’s no reason to disbelieve her. When she and Clara were coming home through the woods on Wednesday evening, a man jumped out at Clara with a raised stick. Greta was a little way behind her. Clara screamed and Greta screamed and they both ran away---a silly story: the only relevant fact is that Clara was wearing Miss Le Vendre’s coat---and so far we know nothing about Clara except that she is a liar. The address she gave in Wiener Neustadt is a shop whose owner denies any knowledge of her, and the woman who gave her a reference has herself left Vienna. But it must be admitted that such stories are not uncommon in Vienna. However, it’s being followed up. And I think the most useful thing I can do is to see if we can get any report on the big grey car in which, according to Glöck---alas, only Glöck---Walsingham drove away from the Lindenstrasse.”

Macdonald sat and considered a moment. “Does it strike you as quite out of character that a fellow like Glöck should have gone into the Police Station to report anything at all?” he asked.

“The Hietzing men say ‘no,’ ” rejoined Nauheim. “He’s not in the least in awe of the police, and on occasion he has produced some quite useful evidence over cases of car thefts and the like. He’s a cunning old rogue and tries to curry favour in his sober moments. Inspector Brunnerhausen thinks there’s quite a good chance that Glöck saw exactly what he claims he saw. So if you can get any information about what Walsingham was doing in Vienna, or who his friends were, it might help us a lot.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” rejoined Macdonald.

==2==

“Anthony Vanbrugh didn’t mention Walsingham to me, or anything else of interest, but oddly enough I have met Walsingham myself,” said Sir Charles Bland. “I met him a month or so ago at my son-in-law’s. I told you that Nigel is in a publishing firm---Barrards. He gives occasional parties for writers: you can guess the sort of thing---a number of small fry and an occasional big fish. On this occasion J. B. S. Neville was the celebrity. I recognised him at London Airport, though whether he recognised me is another matter: anyway, we disregarded each other. As things turned out, this was a pity, but at the time I felt I didn’t want to get involved in a conversation which might have dragged on all the way to Vienna. I dislike talking for hours on end in an aircraft.”

Macdonald was talking to Bland in the latter’s sitting-room at Sacher’s, and after his first inquiry as to whether Bland had ever met Walsingham, Macdonald went on:

“I don’t know if I’m attributing to you a meaning you didn’t intend, sir, but when you came and talked to me about the burglary at your daughter’s, I got the impression that your story implied something more than a mere anecdote: that you wanted me to think the thing over, and possibly to give you a considered opinion later.”

Sir Charles Bland laughed, a little ruefully. “You’re right. I did---although it never occurred to me that the story could have any relevance to our stay in Vienna. I was thinking of the London end. You see, I can’t help feeling that that burglary was a blind: the theft of the fur coat was only incidental, not essential.”

Macdonald nodded. “I’m disposed to agree, but what was the essential?”

“I sat and thought over that story all the way from London to Zürich,” said Sir Charles. “I’m not given to romancing, Macdonald, any more than you, but I wanted to make sense of the business. Someone broke into that house and removed a coat they didn’t seem to want. Well, what did they want? If it’d been my own house, I’d have guessed ‘information’---though it wouldn’t have been left about to be picked up. But Nigel Villiers is an untidy chap: he leaves his letters and scripts and papers strewn all over what he calls his study. Could it be conceivable that there was anything of value there---information value . . .”

Sir Charles paused and Macdonald put in: “Did the sight of Neville Walsingham at the airport have any influence in prompting that line of thought, sir?”

“At first, only subconsciously---the fact that he was a well-known writer, and a writer who makes money, may have turned my thoughts to the writing angle. Then---well, it’s an unworthy line of thought, but I’d met the chap: I’d talked to him, been civil to him. I’m not accustomed to being forgotten quite so easily: there you have it---personal conceit. He glanced at me and ignored me, and I admit I was delighted. You see, I didn’t like him.”

“Neither did I,” said Macdonald. “I wish I had. I might have saved a pack of trouble if I’d taken him somewhere for a drink and got him talking. But to get back to your own reflections, sir.”

“Yes. I worried away over the story---without any further consideration of Walsingham, I might add. I was wondering if Nigel had been getting himself in any of these muddles the younger men of to-day seem to specialise in, although everything in that ménage seems happy enough, thank God. Then I came and inflicted the story on you.”

“With no ulterior ideas?” inquired Macdonald, and Bland gave a little shrug.

“I find it hard to answer that. The sight of you may have put ideas into my head.”

Macdonald laughed. “Not only into your head, sir---but I feel you haven’t finished.”

“Quite true. I didn’t give the writing angle, the ‘information value,’ another thought, until somebody, here in Vienna, told me that Waldtraut Körner was hawking some reputed Steinadler memoirs around. Then I began to wonder. You see, Nigel had got wind of that story. He actually asked my opinion of the probabilities.”

“I wonder if we’re on to something there,” said Macdonald. “I also have heard this story since I came to Vienna and I’m very much interested to know that it is being discussed in London. Have you any idea if your son-in-law discussed it with Walsingham?”

“I’ve been trying to find out,” replied Bland. “You may say it’s a wild guess---and it certainly is---but it seems to me that there’s an outside chance that it was that story which brought Walsingham to Vienna. Anyway, thinking the thing over after you phoned to me this morning, I thought it worth while to try to get hold of Nigel. I put a call through to his office, but he’s out of town for the day and they don’t know where he is. So apart from leaving a message telling him to get through to me here, I can’t do anything more at the moment.” Sir Charles paused and looked at Macdonald with shrewd smiling eyes. “Are we riding off on a ludicrous sort of hobby horse, Superintendent? I’m right out of my depth here.”

“So am I,” agreed Macdonald, “but the idea seems worth considering. I gather that a Vienna publisher of repute---Probus Verlag---have already made a bid for the Steinadler papers, but their bid was not high enough and was refused. If Walsingham gathered that a London publisher was anxious to do business over the matter, isn’t there a possibility that he might have fancied himself as a negotiator? His command of German and his knowledge of affairs in Vienna would have put him in a good position to make an approach to the old lady.”

“Yes. That’s reasonable enough---but how does this theory connect up with all the disreputable jiggery-pokery which we’ve been discussing, and with the crimes of violence which you are investigating? I admitted that I disliked Walsingham, but he’s a writer of repute: I don’t see him turning to crime for a living.”

“No---though it seems probable that his life was abruptly concluded by crime,” said Macdonald dryly. “Now I wish you would give me your own opinion about some theories which Walsingham put forward to me yesterday evening,” he went on. Macdonald gave a brief résumé of Walsingham’s comments on “tension between the British and certain Austrian nationalists,” and the public apprehensions aroused in the latter quarter by the news that Sir Walter Vanbrugh was writing his memoirs. Bland listened carefully, but at the end he said:

“In my opinion, Walsingham was talking rubbish---and he must have known he was talking rubbish. I don’t believe any of it, and I certainly don’t believe that Miss Le Vendre was deliberately attacked because she was Sir Walter’s secretary. Of course,” he added, “you can get a more authoritative opinion from the Embassy people about all this. But my own guess would be that Walsingham was trying to direct your thoughts along lines of his own choosing. I may be wrong, but there was something about the man which I distrusted.” He stopped abruptly, his face frowning in deep thought. Then he went on: “To use the cant phrase, where do we go from here, Macdonald? We’ve got this idea that Walsingham might conceivably have come to Vienna to try his hand at negotiating for the Waldtraut Körner papers: but that sort of negotiation is protected by laws of copyright and subject to contract. In other words, theft is hardly likely to come into it, because no publisher of repute will pay for a stolen script.”

“Of course you’re right, sir,” agreed Macdonald, “but if Walsingham were trailing somebody else who was after the same prize, it’s possible that the somebody else succumbed to the temptation of laying Walsingham out, and, having done so, moved his body to confuse the issue. You’ve got to admit that there’s quite a lot of confusion around, including the fact that Anthony Vanbrugh is likely to have a very bad press. Now it’s high time that I got on to headquarters to study reports phoned from London, but I should like to give you a short outline of facts and suppositions which may help to connect up some of our loose ends: the thing’s a demented cat’s cradle at present, but it may sort out.”

---

At the conclusion of his outline Macdonald asked: “Have you anything to add, sir---from your own observation, that is?”

Sir Charles Bland shook his head. “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I can’t help you. I spotted you on the plane, but apart from you (and Walsingham, whom, also, I knew by sight), I didn’t notice a soul. At Zürich I read the papers, sitting with my face to the window and my back to the crowd.”

Macdonald laughed. “Mr. Ernest Henry Webster has got us both beat: there wasn’t much he didn’t notice. Our chaps in London will be busy by this time, checking up on Mr. Webster and his observations.”

“Yes, I think so. But the action was conditioned by Vienna, and it will be in Vienna that we shall have to work it out.”

==3==

As Macdonald had said, the officers of the C.I.D. in London had wasted no time in checking up on the persons whose names had been telephoned through from Vienna at intervals that morning. Some of the inquiries were answered quickly enough. Mr. Webster, well known as a free-lance cameraman, was vouched for by his landlady, Mrs. Higgins of Nightingale Buildings, Clerkenwell. Mrs. Higgins knew all about Mr. Webster’s flight to Vienna: she was as excited about it as though she herself had made her first flight in a Viscount. She knew about “his auntie” too. “He’s a good kind fellow,” she declared. “He’s been planning to go and see the old lady for years. He’s that clever,” she added, “it’s not only his pictures, he knows all the nobs and all the news.” It was Inspector Jenkins who inquired about Webster, and not only in Clerkenwell. Mr. Webster was well known in Fleet Street. “He’s a clever little cuss,” was the general opinion. “If he says he spotted Rimmel’s brother, he was probably right. He put in a lot of time on that case.”

It was Chief Inspector Reeves who inquired about Rimmel’s brother. A brother existed all right (the authorities knew that). Alec Rimmel had been a clerk in an export firm in Liverpool, a very respectable man and the police had nothing against him. Alec Rimmel had left his job two months ago and gone to Newcastle---and he had left Newcastle a week ago for a holiday on the south coast. His whereabouts at the moment were unknown, but no Alec Rimmel had booked a seat on the Viscount last Monday. Reeves left a painstaking sergeant to make contact with B.E.A. personnel with a description of Alec Rimmel, and Reeves himself went on to the Bloomsbury Coaching Association to inquire about Charles Stratton.

Here, as in the case of Mr. Webster, the answer seemed plain. Stratton was vouched for by Dr. Towler, the owner of the coaching establishment (a serious-looking gentleman of donnish aspect). “He’s a first-rate fellow, hard-working, conscientious and exceedingly able: he’s been here for six years and I’ve a great regard for him,” said Dr. Towler. The latter knew all about Stratton’s search for his mother and half-brother. “Does him great credit. He’s nothing to gain by finding them---only more bother---but he’s devoted to his mother, even though she abandoned him and his father.” In conclusion Dr. Towler said, “Whatever the nature of the trouble Stratton’s run up against in Vienna, I can assure you he’s trustworthy. Some people find him unsociable and some of his colleagues dislike his flippant or cynical manner of speech, but he’s a sound fellow.”

Dr. Towler knew nothing of the inquiry for a Czech translator, though he said a Mr. Karillov had been employed occasionally in the office on the very rare occasions when Czecho-Slovakian was asked for. “But if Stratton told the police of this incident, you can rely on the story being truthful,” said Dr. Towler.

Finally, Reeves tackled the more difficult problem of Neville Walsingham. “He’s the only one of the bunch who’s well known, and yet nobody seems to know anything about him,” said Reeves resignedly. The inquiry started at the only address known---that of Walsingham’s publishers. Mr. Walbrook, one of the heads of the firm, spoke of Walsingham with less enthusiasm than might have been expected. (It was only later and by a side wind as it were that Reeves discovered there had been “a disagreement” between author and publisher which amounted to a blazing row.) Mr. Walbrook could give no fixed address for J. B. S. Neville. “He can’t be said to live anywhere,” said the publisher, “except in hotels or aboard ship or in camp or caravan. He’s always on the move. Last time he was in London he was staying at the Sussex Palace, and before that he was in Edinburgh and before that in Scandinavia. He’s a fine writer: I might say a brilliant writer, but he’s a very difficult fellow to deal with. As for what he was doing in Vienna---well, Vienna’s just about the place I should expect him to go to at this juncture. We shall be having a book called ‘The military consequences of the peace treaty’ next.” He broke off and then added hastily, “I mean that’s the sort of book Neville would have produced if it hadn’t been for this deplorable traffic accident. Well, I’m sorry I can’t help you any further, Chief Inspector. Try his bank---they ought to know.”

The bank was no more helpful than the publisher. If Neville Walsingham had had any relatives, nobody seemed to know of them.

Reeves phoned through the result of the joint researches to Vienna, adding that he was going to put in the rest of the day on the Rimmel-Walsingham tracks. After that he hoped for a flight on a Viscount himself.

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