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Chapter Fifteen

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« on: June 08, 2023, 06:58:40 am »

==1==

“YOUR outrageous guess was right,” said Inspector Nauheim. “Walsingham did go to the Emperor Maximilian Hotel. The porter recognised the photograph at once. Walsingham arrived at the hotel at twenty-five minutes past eleven: he gave the name of Herr Waldemar, and Fräulein Waldtraut Körner told the porter to send Herr Waldemar up to her suite. He only stayed for about ten minutes and then left the hotel on foot. And lest you feel too hopeful, Superintendent, I hasten to add that Waldtraut Körner can receive no visitors to-day. She has had a heart attack, and her doctor says that her health is precarious and that she must be kept very, very quiet.”

“You have seen her doctor?” asked Macdonald, and Nauheim smiled.

“Yes. I was not going to be put off so easily, but the Herr Doktor Gropius, who is a physician of repute, says that this is no simulated illness. She is really ill. He was called in to see her at midday, and his opinion is that she had a shock of some kind and a collapse followed.” Nauheim gave his characteristic shrug. “So we are held up,” he added. “I told the Herr Doktor the circumstances, but he said that even if he gave permission for us to see her, it would be quite useless. She would not speak.”

“Did she have any visitors before her sudden collapse?”

“No, Superintendent, but there is a telephone by her bed: she had several telephone calls. And I’ve no doubt that somebody rang her up and told her that Herr Waldemar was dead.”

“Has she a maid?”

“No.” Nauheim chuckled. “I had a talk with the manager. Waldtraut Körner reserved his best suite---the Imperial Suite. As you know, her name is famous in Vienna: because she was a great singer the Viennese adored her. There is no city in the world which idolises its opera singers as Vienna does. So the manager of the Emperor Maximilian knew it would not be good policy to be difficult over the lady, though he had his private doubts about her ability to pay. These hotel people always know. The manager tells me now that he believes she has no money at all. Everything has been put down to her account---everything.”

“So to cut the cackle, we can assume that the lady came to Vienna to raise some ready money somehow,” said Macdonald, “and her hope of raising it was these famous Steinadler memoirs.”

“That, Superintendent, is a very fair assumption,” said Nauheim.

“It alters the nature of the transaction,” said Macdonald. “I had been assuming that the sale would have been conducted with the usual decorum in such cases: a contract argued out after examination of the script, and an advance paid on publication. But if Fräulein Waldtraut Körner is virtually penniless, she may have been trying to get a quick advance, and prepared to deal with anybody who would pay spot cash in the hope that the papers in her possession were worth a quick bid.”

“So perhaps we see daylight,” said Nauheim. “If Walsingham was in a position to make her a substantial offer of cash down, he might conceivably have taken the script, unexamined, against a post-dated cheque: he gave her a receipt for the script and she gave him a receipt for the cheque. As you say, the transaction is no longer in the nature of conventional dealings with a publisher of repute.”

“And Walsingham may have had both the bank balance and the inside information which would have made him know the chance was worth taking,” said Macdonald.

“So . . . and the assumption is that Walsingham was watched, that his business with her was known, that he was killed, robbed and his body left for Herr Vanbrugh to run over on the Wattmanngasse?” queried Nauheim blithely.

“Perhaps---but we can’t short-circuit things like that,” said Macdonald. “I refer you to the evidence---all of it. Beginning with Miss Le Vendre’s accident, continuing with the loss of Dr. Natzler’s keys, going on with Walsingham’s lift into Vienna in a car which might have been a Benz, and not omitting that most intelligent old lady, Fräulein Ilse Braun. We have developed some ideas, but the ideas aren’t going to be much use to us without evidence.”

“Fräulein Ilse Braun?” queried Nauheim.

“Miss Elsie Brown, aunt to Ernest Henry Webster, the cameraman. Auntie came to Vienna in the long ago as a simple English governess: she lived with the Rothmeisters and developed into a highly intelligent woman, speaking excellent German. My own theory is that Auntie learnt about the Waldtraut Körner papers and wrote to her nephew saying that here was the chance of a lifetime if he could get somebody in the London newspaper world to put up the money for a quick sale. That, my lad, is a theory. I think Webster has highly developed wits and Auntie has a highly developed intelligence service.”

“Well . . .” said Nauheim, “that’s a variation on the original theme.”

“There are a lot of variations in this story,” said Macdonald, “but let us get down to the essential facts. One of them is Webster’s presence at the Liesingerkeller last night. Auntie attests that he was back at her house shortly after midnight; if he was at the Liesingerkeller until nearly closing time and back home by twelve o’clock he could not have been out to Hietzing to get Walsingham’s body in the Wattmanngasse, also shortly before midnight.”

“And if Webster went to the Streicher film and then on to the Liesingerkeller he couldn’t have followed Walsingham to the Emperor Maximilian Hotel,” mused Nauheim.

“And I certainly don’t think it was Webster who drove that Benz,” said Macdonald. “Someone picked up Walsingham in Hietzing and drove him to the Kärntnerstrasse.”

“If he was to pay the Waldtraut Körner for her papers, she might have arranged to send a car for him,” put in Nauheim.

“You have two cars to trace---the Benz and the converted jeep,” said Macdonald. “The latter may have been accidental, just one of those confusing extras, but the Benz is integral to the case. Who owns it? Who drove it? There is a lot of work for you to do which I can’t do anything about. I’m sorry, but there it is.”

Nauheim laughed, his white teeth flashing. “You produce the ideas, sir: outrageous ideas, but they work. You leave us the donkey work---it is a fair division of labour. I have an army of patient donkeys inquiring about those cars, so let me try to sort out the motives of some of these people: the cameraman and Auntie. I am impressed by their insistence that Webster was in Vienna all the evening. If they knew that Walsingham was himself killed in Vienna, would they not have tried to prove an alibi elsewhere?”

“Provided they can produce witnesses to prove that they were in evidence at this place or that the whole evening, it doesn’t matter where they claim to have been,” said Macdonald. “Walsingham left the Emperor Maximilian about eleven thirty-five, according to the porter. His body was in the Gloriettestrasse by midnight: that means he was driven there. I still think it’s improbable he was killed in the main streets of the city---between the hotel and the car-park where the Benz was left. A breakdown en route seems to me more probable---somewhere off the Mariahilfer Strasse or the Schönbrunner Strasse perhaps. The person we want is the driver of that Benz.”

He paused a moment, thinking hard: then he said: “When I was at Schönbrunn on Wednesday, I saw Fräulein Waldtraut Körner there. She must have been driven there. You might find out who was the elderly gentleman who escorted her: he may have been a car-owner.”

Nauheim sat and pondered. “You saw a lot in a short time, Superintendent. So the Waldtraut Körner was at Schönbrunn---at Hietzing. . . . Did she go there merely as a sightseer? I doubt it.”

“Mr. Webster says he was also at Schönbrunn on that day: he is a most accommodating man,” observed Macdonald. “I wonder if Mr. Webster speaks academic German, as his Auntie does. He has told me very firmly that he does not speak German.”

“This thing grows more and more confusing. Let us think again,” said Nauheim. “A friend of the Waldtraut Körner possesses a car. . . .”

“Perhaps,” put in Macdonald. “You suggested that the lady sent a car to bring Walsingham into Vienna, that his errand might be conducted with suitable secrecy. After all, she was an opera singer: she has led a dramatic life; perhaps it is in character for her to do things in a dramatic manner---and this is Vienna, not London. But making all allowances for the operatic manner, I can still imagine no circumstances in which the car driver sent by Waldtraut Körner should have killed Walsingham on the way back to Hietzing. The driver complicates things.”

Nauheim nodded, his eyes very bright and intent. “Yes. This may be wheels within wheels. I think this is very much worth while, Superintendent, to argue this thing out and see the implications. I have my own small suggestion to make, while we guess our way along. Waldtraut Körner, who was on the rocks, was conducting several negotiations: she was prepared to do business with the highest and the quickest bidder, and she played them off, one against the other.”

“As an answer to some of the problems that would serve admirably,” said Macdonald, “especially if she was foolish enough to inform another bidder that Walsingham was coming to see her that evening to settle the deal. That suggests possibilities. And now perhaps we had better leave our theorisings and get back to plain detection: you to contact your patient donkeys on the roads from Vienna to Hietzing, me to talk my own ideas over with the Natzlers---who are very intelligent people---and to find out from London if anything else has turned up their end.”

“It is very necessary that we find out about that grey car,” said Neuheim. “We are watching the railways and the airport, but it is difficult to stop every car which makes a devious way out of Vienna.”

Macdonald nodded. “That’s it---and if somebody does not do a bolt I shall be surprised. One last suggestion for you which has just occurred to me---practical and not theoretical: could you ask the Waldtraut Körner’s doctor if he would be willing to have Dr. Franz Natzler as consultant, to give a second opinion about the patient’s heart? Franz Natzler knows all about this story and he is a very intelligent man as well as a distinguished doctor. If anybody can help us in this matter of the old opera singer, he might.”

Schön. That is a good idea. I will approach Dr. Gropius at once.”

==2==

Macdonald left the Polizeiamt and walked across the streets to the Kärntnerstrasse, to note the layout between the Emperor Maximilian Hotel and the car-park. He felt powerless in Vienna: he could not follow up the investigation as he would have done in London---that must be left to the Vienna police. All he could do was to produce ideas for others to prove or disprove. But he felt again that it was common sense to assume that Walsingham had not been attacked here in the Kärntnerstrasse, the Bond Street of Vienna. At least till midnight it would have been glittering with lights, crowded with “window shoppers” who would have filled the brightly-lighted pavements.

When he reached the impressive entrance of the Emperor Maximilian, Macdonald chuckled. There, gesticulating and smiling to the resplendent porter, was Ernest Henry Webster. The moment he set eyes on Macdonald, Webster beamed.

“Well, Superintendent, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. I’m sorry about the old lady---she’s very bad, I gather, very bad. The greatest dramatic soprano of her day, I’m told, to say nothing of all these stories---romance and that. But I reckon these should be valuable---some of the last photos ever taken of her, and good pictures, too. Never taken better. You have a look, sir.”

He thrust a packet of photographs into Macdonald’s hand, and with his back to a shop window, the C.I.D. man studied them. Against the background of the Schönbrunn fountains, with the Gloriette in the distance, Fräulein Waldtraut Körner stood in her sable cloak and picture hat, with her old escort a step or so behind, just as Macdonald had seen her. The photograph was more than good---it was a masterpiece: light and shade, background and foreground, all were a setting for the “Erzherzogin” as Elizabeth Le Vendre had called her, the Archduchess.

“It’s very, very good,” said Macdonald, and Webster beamed.

“Look through the others, sir. I found a chap who could do some quick developing and printing---first-rate he is. I wanted to make sure I hadn’t slipped up.”

Waldtraut Körner outside the Opera House; on the steps of the Karlskirche; in the great open space of the Heldenplatz before the plinth of the equestrian statue of Prince Eugen; on the steps of the Emperor Maximilian Hotel---all the pictures were equally good.

“You must have followed her all round Vienna,” said Macdonald.

“I did,” said Webster cheerfully. “I told you I was going to get pictures of her, didn’t I, sir? Architecture’s all right for Tucker & Tucker, but the papers like human interest. Now what about that one? I only took it this morning, but this chap I told you of he does that quick-dry method as well as I do it myself. Champion that picture is though I says it as shouldn’t. ‘Student of History in the shadow of the Hapsburg’s Folly.’ That’s a picture to be proud of.”

It was. The arches of the Gloriette soared up against the sky: in the foreground, by the pool, a young man with a dark head sat reading in the shadow: it was not only a remarkable picture, it was an admirable likeness of Charles Stratton.

“One or two enlargements---uncommonly interesting head he’s got: very striking head,” said Webster, and Macdonald studied the pictures thoughtfully, his face calmly interested, his mind working furiously.

“Very good indeed, Mr. Webster. You’re an artist at this job.”

“I’ve made my living at it, sir, and there’s a lot of competition, as you must know. It’s not enough to be good, you’ve got to have the eye for it---and maybe imagination comes in, too. This one now.” He picked out the enlargement of Stratton’s head. “Made my living,” he said slowly. “You could call it my living, in a manner of speaking. That one---well, I call it my alibi.”

“What do you mean by that exactly, Mr. Webster?”

“I’ll tell you, sir, and welcome, but this is a poor place to talk, and if you’re not careful you’ll be having some of these pressmen turning their cameras your way. All agog they are---the story’s just breaking. Now say if we walk along to the Cathedral, the Stephansdom they call it, though where the dome is beats me. It’s nice and quiet in there and they don’t seem to mind you talking---very broadminded these R.C.s are.”

“Right,” said Macdonald, and as they turned towards the Cathedral, Webster gave his cheerful little chuckle.

“Talking about somewhere quiet, have you ever been in the Capucine Crypt, sir, where all the Emperors are buried? Lumme---that crypt knocked me flat! Twelve Holy Roman Emperors and fifteen Empresses; one hundred and thirty-seven Hapsburgs counting the whole lot---and Maria Theresa’s governess---I like that last bit, so does Auntie! Holy Roman Emperors---and that copy of Charlemagne’s crown atop of them. Beats our Abbey hollow. I mucked in with a party of Americans just as one of them monks was taking them round. I couldn’t follow the lingo but the coffins spoke for themselves. I was almost jittered. There’s a place for a murder, I said to myself, behind one o’ them coffins. It’s a big place, too: easy to slip away from the party, and the old monk, he’d never’ve noticed. Just across the road and be careful of the traffic, sir. I like this place. This is a church and no mistake, but that crypt turned me cold.”

In the Gothic magnificence of the Stephansdom the shadows were deepening as the afternoon sun sunk lower in the west: quite unabashed by the solemnity of the vast building, Webster said:

“There’s a coupla’ chairs over there. Nice and peaceful here---my feet gets tired after a long day. That’s better. Now what was it you was saying, sir?”

“Why did you use the word alibi, Mr. Webster?”

==3==

“I may not be educated, but I’m not plain silly, sir. I see how things is---you getting busy on all the passengers in that Viscount on Monday: quite right, too, seeing what’s happened. But it’s not a comfortable feeling. And all these pressmen, they’re routing out the bits and pieces, dead on the mark they is. You reckon that Walsingham got put paid to in Vienna, sir, don’t you, not in Hietzing as appeared: some of them have routed that out. You see they’ll tell me anything, sir. Uncle Ernest’s got the pictures. Now the long and short of it is, I was in Vienna last night---and not that far away from the Kärntnerstrasse. I told you so, sir.”

“You did. You said you went to the Apollo Cinema and on to the Liesingerkeller.”

“Quite right, sir---and I’d like to be able to prove it. I’m a commonplace-looking cuss myself, short and fat and shabby: dozens like me---but this Stratton’s quite a different cup of tea.” Mr. Webster pulled out his photograph again. “Striking, as I said. So I went to the Apollo, and I went to the Liesingerkeller, and I showed these pictures and I said ‘Do you remember this young chap now?’ The waiter who served us both Lagers, he remembered Stratton and he recognised me, and he knew we stayed there till closing time.”

“Don’t you think you would have been wiser to come to me, and let me deal with the matter, Mr. Webster?”

The stout little man met Macdonald’s eyes squarely. “Yes, sir, if we’d both been in England and you’d been doing the job. We trust our police in England, sir, and by our police, I mean you. But you’re not doing the whole job here, sir. No offence meant, but you’re in the same box as me: you don’t speak the lingo, do you?---not easy. It’s these Austrians are asking questions here, sir, and I’ve heard a bit about the police here from Auntie. She don’t trust them, and she’s a very intelligent old lady, is Auntie.”

“She certainly is,” said Macdonald, “but if you don’t speak German, how do you talk to the waiters at the Liesingerkeller, Mr. Webster?”

“Same as you, sir---interpreter. I got on to young Stratton on the telephone, just after you left. I knew he was staying with that Vogel---a lawyer, isn’t he? Stratton wouldn’t come and help himself, but he gave me the name of the young fellow he chummed up with last night---name of Schneider. He came with me in his lunch hour.”

Once again Macdonald was impressed with the sheer calmness and aplomb of the stout little man who sat beside him in the Stephansdom: Webster sounded quite unruffled and completely certain of himself.

“Lovely bit of carving on that pulpit,” murmured Webster to himself. “I’d like to get a picture of that. I wonder if you could help me to get a permit, sir---I believe they’re very difficult. After all, one good turn deserves another.”

Mr. Webster was shuffling his photographs again and produced the one of Waldtraut Körner at Schönbrunn.

“The old gentleman with her now: he’s a lawyer---a notary is it they call them here? Auntie recognised his face when I showed her this picture. Herr Heinrich Guggenheim---real mouthfuls these names and no mistake.”

“That’s very helpful,” said Macdonald.

“I want to help, sir. If you could only get it into your head that I want to help,” pleaded Webster. “There’s a lot of talk about some car: it was the pressmen told me about it, sir---wonderful the way these boys talk English. Mr. Walsingham came into Vienna by car last night, so they’re saying. The old man at the car-park saw him---and making a good thing out of it, I’ve no doubt. A big grey car, pre-war model, was that it, sir?”

“You seem to know as much about it, as I do, Mr. Webster.”

“Well, sir, maybe I know more in a manner of speaking. These pressmen, they’ll talk to Uncle Ernest when they’re not that keen on talking to their own police: that’s how it is. The boys know Mr. Walsingham went to see Waldtraut Körner at her hotel---you can’t keep a thing like that dark. The head porter and the Herr Ober, they’re careful enough, but there are the pages and the floor maids and all the rest: anyway, you can take it from me that the press boys know about where Mr. Walsingham went. And about that car, sir. I haven’t said a word to none of them. I reckoned I’d be seeing you around. I told the boys straight, if you think you’re a jump ahead of our Macdonald, I told them, you think again.”

Had he not been in the grave shadows of the Stephansdom, Macdonald would have laughed aloud. The stout little man was surpassing himself.

“And you was quite right when you said I’d been chasing the old dame all round Vienna, sir. I’ve paid good money to get in a position to take some of those pictures,” said Webster. “I got that picture outside the Opera House on Wednesday—three o’clock it was—and I saw the old dame get in a car with the old Guggenheim gent. I took a taxi, sir, reckoning there might be another picture to come. That’s how I got to Schönbrunn, following the grey car with the old dame in it.”

“Was Herr Heinrich Guggenheim driving the car?” asked Macdonald.

“Bless you, no, sir. I reckon he’s eighty if he’s a day: not that the shuffer was a chicken---old chap, he was, but smart enough in his regimentals---brass buttons and that. I was alongside when they pulled up at the Schönbrunn Palace entrance: come to think of it, I’ve got a picture with that car in, just as the old lady was handed out. And I heard the old gent talk a lot of gruff to the shuffer---shouted at him about something. I don’t know what it was all about, but I heard the shuffer’s name---at least I reckon it was his name.”

Mr. Webster paused: a good melodramatic pause, giving Macdonald time for another guess. After all, his guesses had been founded on probabilities as well as information received. And he was right.

“If I heard aright, sir, the name was Pretzel---funny sort of name: stuck in my mind, somehow. And that’s about all from yours truly at the moment.” Mr. Webster sighed, and then mopped his forehead, though it was cold in the great church. “I’m not used to all these excitements,” he said. “I’ve taken pictures of any amount of characters in crime stories, but I’ve never got muddled up with the story myself. But I do reckon I’ve got a scoop here, in the picture line. It’ll be front-line news in London, too, this about Mr. Walsingham going to see the Waldtraut Körner just before he was laid out---and I don’t want to miss the bus.” He looked at Macdonald pleadingly. “Anything against my getting home, sir, on the first plane that’s got a free seat? Then I could place my pictures to advantage: getting in first’s everything in my job.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Webster, but I’m afraid you can’t do that. Your evidence may be essential---and your photographs, too.”

“As you say, sir. But I’ve told you all I know---and I thought maybe you’d stretch a point. Anyway, could you help me by getting my pictures on the plane, sir, so that they could be picked up by a friend of mine at London Airport? I reckon the pilot or navigator might oblige, especially if you put it to them. . . .”

Macdonald studied Webster’s round candid face: was this simplicity or the reverse? Again Webster spoke.

“If you’re asking yourself ‘Is he phony?’ I ask you, sir---haven’t I been straight with you since I first set eyes on you at Schwechat? Haven’t I given you the dope as I picked it up? I reckon it’s a bit hard to be looked at like you’re looking at me.”

“Detection’s a hard trade, Mr. Webster.”

“Maybe. Oh, well---no use crying over spilt milk---and if you’d like these prints, sir, you’re welcome. I’ve got others, and I know you won’t do the dirty on me getting them published without leave---as some might.”

He got up and looked about him. “Light’s going---but I might still get a shot or two. ‘Sunset over Schönbrunn.’ Wonderful effects you get with those clipped trees---like a rampart against the sky, they are. One thing I’ve thought of---‘Moonlight on the Gloriette.’ Now that’d be a picture---and the moon’s nearly at the full. They turn the public out at sunset, but if a chap stayed put, behind them hedges, well, they can’t search the whole blooming grounds, could they, sir? The place is too big.”

“You can’t expect me to encourage you to break local by-laws, Mr. Webster---and-thank you very much for the photographs, and for trusting me with them.”

“You’re welcome,” beamed Webster, “and as for trusting, you’re English police. That’s good enough for me. I’d trust you right through---to the end of the road, as the old song has it. And now I’ll just hop on a tram and get to Schönbrunn. I can just make it if I’m slippy.”

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