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Chapter Seventeen

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« on: June 08, 2023, 08:36:17 am »

==1==

“A DISTINGUISHED publisher once wrote a book on ‘The Marketing of Literary Property,’ ” said Macdonald. “It is a form of property which is habitually negotiated with dignity and decorum, subject to careful safeguards against misunderstandings. In this case, it wasn’t the problematic sale of the still more problematical Steinadler Memoirs which caused all the trouble: it was, as usual, one criminal---a rogue elephant---who ran amok while trying to force events to his own advantage.”

“I sense a feeling of gratification in that preamble, Macdonald,” chuckled Karl Natzler. “You are glad to keep your convictions about the probity and respectability of the publishing profession. You do not wish the book trade to be turned into a free fight.”

“No, I don’t think I do,” agreed Macdonald, “but every profession has its seamy verges, including law and medicine. In this case, I think the literary property was the catalytic agent, for without it the events would never have occurred. It was the Steinadler memoirs which brought Stratton, Walsingham and Webster to Vienna, all hoping to do business in their own peculiar ways, but it was Stratton’s brother---a criminal known to the German police under a variety of names---who caused all the trouble. Let’s sort it out into its simplest form.”

“When it comes down to brass tacks, most difficult cases have the same basis,” put in Inspector Peter Reeves (who was having his chance to see Vienna). “Some bloke goes off the rails and tries to score by a foul: he tries it for profit, or from fear, or from plain hate: but most often profit.”

“In this case it was fear first and profit second,” said Macdonald. “Wilhelm Moritz, half-brother to Charles Stratton, was wanted by the German police. He managed to get into Switzerland on forged papers, but he was pretty hard up. Having heard the story of the Steinadler papers, he got into communication with his English half-brother, Charles Stratton, and the latter decided to come to Vienna to try his chance at negotiating with Waldtraut Körner. Reeves got this sorted out eventually by interrogating Stratton’s friends in London. That was Act One, Scene One. Moritz then made up his mind to try to change places with Charles Stratton at Zürich. Karl had better tell the next bit. He knows more about it than I do.”

“This is the part I want to know,” said Sir Charles Bland. “It was done under my nose, so to speak.”

“Under mine, too,” said Macdonald.

“It was a cleverly thought out affair,” said Karl. “Moritz, in alpine kitshorts, windjammer coat, boots, beret and rucksack, reached Zürich Airport by car, was booked in for the Swiss plane to London, and went to the Toiletten about fifteen minutes before the B.E.A. Viscount touched down. Moritz did his act tumbling down stairs, recovered and asked for a shower. The next stage is surmise, but it seems quite clear he waited till Stratton came to the lavatories, the probability being that he’d arranged to meet him there. Stratton was then coshed---a perfectly calculated blow on the base of his skull which stunned him and set up cerebral hæmorrhage. Moritz stripped Stratton, put on his clothes, including the famous camel coat and horn-rims, left his own kit in the shower-room with the unconscious victim and re-emerged into the main hall of the airport the replica of Stratton, possessed of his passport, plane and luggage tickets and all the rest. These two half-brothers resembled each other markedly, but what made the exchange easier was Stratton’s habit of wearing his hair too long and letting it fall over his forehead, and the big horn-rims helped. The only thing which defeated Moritz was the suède shoes---they were too small for him. He had to wear a pair he’d brought with him in his rucksack. He had plenty of time for everything: the B.E.A. plane put in over an hour at Zürich.”

“Well, I’m damned,” said Sir Charles. “It was a matter of boldness paying. If he’d only left it alone, Moritz could have got clear away on Stratton’s passport.”

“I don’t think that was his intention,” said Macdonald. “Having turned himself into Stratton, he intended to carry on with Stratton’s business and collect the Steinadler papers. Remember he had Stratton’s brief-case, with all his papers in, his cheque-book and travellers’ cheques, and letters of recommendation from the perfectly reputable Literary Agency Stratton was representing: also letters from Vogel, arranging to meet him at Schwechat. And neither Vogel, nor anybody else in Vienna, had ever seen the real Charles Stratton.”

“But didn’t Vogel tell you he had seen Stratton in London?” put in Dr. Natzler.

“As he hastened to remind me, Vogel didn’t actually say ‘met’: he said ‘made contact with,’ ” said Macdonald. “He now says that the business with Stratton was done by phoning. Undoubtedly Vogel went to London to see if he could find a buyer for the Steinadler papers, and put in an inquiry about a late client in addition, as cover to his activities. The ancient Herr Heinrich Guggenheim has since admitted that Vogel was ‘advising’ Waldtraut Körner on her literary property. How much Vogel knew---or guessed---about the Stratton-Moritz affair we shall probably never know. Herr Vogel is fully occupied at the moment in explaining various awkwardnesses which have come to light, including his association with Pretzel, the chauffeur.”

“Ah,” said Karl Natzler, “this is the piece which concerns me.”

“This is where we bring Ernest Henry Webster into the story,” said Macdonald. “Webster is a mixture of considerable shrewdness and surprising stupidity: he threw a spanner in the works all round. Webster knew Stratton was after the Steinadler papers, and Stratton was staying with Vogel. It was the easiest thing in the world for Webster to call on Vogel on the pretext of asking advice about permits for photography, in reality to ‘take a dekko’ as Webster puts it. And quite gratuitously Webster told Vogel that I was on the Viscount---a Superintendent of Scotland Yard on business in Vienna. Vogel was puzzled: he didn’t know if Webster was putting over a fast one. My own belief is that Vogel bribed Pretzel to play the part of a patient, call on Dr. Natzler, and steal his keys if opportunity arose. Then Vogel might organise a little espionage in the house where I was staying to find out if Webster was right and Scotland Yard indeed had an emissary in Vienna.”

“I’m willing to believe that,” said Karl Natzler. “Vogel is a bad one: I’ve known it for years---but he’s never been caught.”

“He’s caught now,” said Macdonald. “When we searched his flat, we found your key-ring: he hadn’t time to get rid of it. In my own mind I have no doubt at all that Vogel knew ‘Charles Stratton’ was bogus: that was why Vogel was worried about the possible presence of Scotland Yard in his own locality.”

==2==

“Well, that was the set out when we all arrived in Vienna,” went on Macdonald, after Karl Natzler had refilled their glasses. “I expect the bogus Stratton---Moritz---considered he had been lucky---everything had gone according to plan. In only one way was he unlucky: Vogel lived in Hietzing and Elizabeth Le Vendre was staying in Hietzing. She saw Moritz three times altogether: once in Schönbrunn, when Moritz went to meet Waldtraut Körner: once in the Tiergarten, and the third time up at the old gun-site. She saw him face to face, and she suddenly knew that he was not the man she had sat next to in the Viscount. He must have suddenly realised the awareness in her mind. She says she remembers staring at him---and then nothing: he struck her down as he had struck his half-brother, but the blow was less competent---she wasn’t killed.”

“He was a complete criminal type,” said Natzler. “He probably learnt his trade with the Nazis. Any young man with criminal tendencies got a liberal education in Germany during the Hitler régime.”

Macdonald nodded. “Yes. That’s only too true. Now I think that Moritz made up his mind that it was time he got out of Vienna: he had friends to help him there---he had been in Vienna several times of recent years: he could get news of what was going on, and he had all the information which Vogel could give him. Vogel knew (through Pretzel) that a Herr Waldemar was being taken to see Waldtraut Körner, and Moritz must have made up his mind to try to have a word with Herr Waldemar on his return from the Emperor Maximilian Hotel. What Moritz did not know was that Walsingham had met Charles Stratton in London. Reeves found that out.”

“Good old routine,” chuckled Reeves. “You can find out anything if you’ve only got the time to do it. You can run a chap’s friends down and get talking, here a little and there a little, but it takes time.”

“I’m tremendously interested in all this,” put in Bland. “You often see a headline in the papers, ‘Security leakage suspected.’ In my own sphere, there’s always the chance of some operative talking when he shouldn’t about some new process which is still on the secret list. It happens in every human activity because it’s the hardest thing in the world to stop people talking. This business of the Steinadler memoirs started as Top Secret: yet the repercussions got all round Europe. Hitler’s Generals are still news.”

“The story certainly reached London,” said Macdonald. “It was debated by reputable publishers and proprietors of not so reputable newspapers: the Steinadler Memoirs could be treated as serious history by a writer like J. B. S. Neville, or as headline sensationalism by the Sunday Blast. Doubtless Walsingham thought it was just his line of country, and got into touch with Charles Stratton to see if he knew anything about it.”

“Moritz’s little story of the Czecho-Slovakian translation was just a red herring served up to explain away the possibility that Walsingham had been seen at Stratton’s place of business,” put in Karl Natzler, and Macdonald nodded.

“Yes---and to make Walsingham appear to be involved in some business which might lead to a sticky end in Vienna. Webster produced another variation on the same theme---the Rimmel story, and Webster did it most convincingly: but let’s finish with the Moritz angle first. Wilhelm Moritz, half-brother to Charles Stratton, may be said to have been conditioned to expert thuggery in the Nazi régime. He killed his half-brother at Zürich, took his place on the plane and determined to get hold of the Steinadler papers. One crime led to another: Moritz coshed Elizabeth Le Vendre---but did not kill her. He coshed Walsingham, and did kill him, thereby making it necessary to kill Pretzel---the witness of the murder. He took the car, put Pretzel’s body in the Danube Canal and Walsingham’s body on the Wattmanngasse, hoping it would be assumed that Walsingham was killed in a traffic accident.”

“But why bring the body back to Hietzing, where Moritz himself was staying?” asked Bland.

“Because he had to return Guggenheim’s car to its garage,” replied Macdonald. “If the car had been missing in the morning, Guggenheim would have reported to the police, and Moritz did not want attention drawn to that car. Moritz then made his way back to Gunzendorf and told a patrolling constable he was trying to find his way back from Vienna to Hietzing. Moritz had Schneider as an accomplice to swear to his presence at the Liesingerkeller---and Webster came in as an unexpected ally.”

“Which brings us to Ernest Henry,” chuckled Franz Natzler, “a cheerful rogue, I gather.”

“He’s not a bad bloke,” put in Reeves in his tolerant way. “Webster’s lived in London and earned his living without getting into any trouble, as far as we can make out. I reckon Vienna went to his head---plus his Auntie, of course. She’s gone real wicked in her old age.”

“Webster’s not a criminal: he’s an opportunist,” said Macdonald, “and an opportunist is often a criminal in the making. Webster works for that section of the press in which the ends justify the means---any lie, any intrusion on privacy, any twisting of the facts is permitted to get what’s called news---pictorial or otherwise. Webster was shrewd enough to know he might be involved in trouble when trouble broke out which involved the Viscount’s passengers. He had Auntie to swear to an alibi for him---any time, anywhere, but he thought some reinforcement might be useful. Thereby he showed his sixth sense: he picked on the one passenger in the plane he sensed might be glad of an alibi in his turn---Stratton.”

“Set a thief to catch a thief?” queried Karl, and Macdonald nodded.

“I can’t tell you why, and I’m sure Webster can’t, but he thought Stratton was a twister. Very well, offer him an alibi, for the whole of the evening when Walsingham was killed, and that alibi involved Webster’s presence in the same place. It was very subtle, and Webster fairly palmed the suggestion like an artist. It was an interesting situation,” added Macdonald. “Webster had been following Waldtraut Körner round Vienna with his camera: he had contacted Vogel, he had chatted to Pretzel---Webster talks very passable German---and he had been in Hietzing and had seen Stratton hurrying home in the thunderstorm. Webster was more than a little afraid.”

“Then it was Webster who worked the flashlight when Brunnerhausen was talking to us?” cried Karl.

“It was---as I always believed,” said Macdonald. “Webster went up into the woods with the instinct of the newshound---anything in this for me? He moved very slowly and cautiously, and eventually he heard voices and snaked his way up until he got within distance for a long shot. Then the voices ceased---yours and mine, Karl---and Webster still didn’t know what it was all about. He made sure he had a quick get-away down a steep path behind him---he’s a very quiet mover, he says he’s had to be in his job: he waited, and at last he took his courage in both hands and risked his flashlight shot, knowing his subjects would be momentarily blinded. He got away and hurried home to Auntie. Now Auntie could swear an alibi for him if there were need for that afternoon---but he considered it was advisable not to put all the onus on Auntie, so he went fishing after Stratton, with two motives---‘one good turn deserves another’ and ‘is there anything in this for me?’ ”

“Do you think he sensed the change over at Zürich?” asked Karl, and Macdonald nodded.

“I think he was aware of some ‘hanky panky’ as he called it, but it wasn’t till later that he realised it might have been murder. And in spite of the fact that he’s an unblushing and unrepentant liar, there are two things to be said in his favour: he had no hand in the attack on either Miss Le Vendre or Walsingham---Nauheim really has substantiated his alibi for both those occasions---and he did stick his neck out for me up at the Gloriette. He sat there and baited Moritz until Moritz went for him with the cosh, and though the crash helmet and spine pads were a beautiful idea, Webster still took a thundering risk to prove his point.”

==3==

“It is a very dreadful story,” said Ilse Natzler. “Never have such things happened in Hietzing before, but I must ask one question: What about pretty lazy Clara? She was the first of all to be attacked: was Clara innocent, or a ‘baggage,’ as Sir Walter said?”

“Undoubtedly a baggage,” rejoined Macdonald, “but Nauheim is satisfied that the ‘attack’ on Clara was no more than a threat of reprisal from a disappointed swain---a would-be lover, as one might say. But investigation of pretty lazy Clara brought a very interesting fact to light: good characters for not very good maids have been supplied by Fräulein Braun---Webster’s Auntie. In her beautiful governess’s hand, in either English or German, Auntie would oblige with a suitable recommendation for a girl whose character was not what Auntie said it was: and Auntie is very well up in the names, styles and residences of Austrian notables from whom an answer about a maid’s character might not be immediately forthcoming. In return, Auntie received a small fee and such news as the maid could supply from the post thus obtained. Clara had told Auntie all about Sir Walter’s memoirs, and about his new English secretary, for instance.”

“But what a shocking story!” exclaimed Ilse indignantly.

Sir Charles Bland began to chuckle. “That’s a very nice postscript, Macdonald---but even pretty lazy Clara could not make Vanbrugh’s Memoirs sound very sensational.”

“Ah . . .” chuckled Karl Natzler, “and here is a second postscript for you, Sir Charles. These Steinadler Memoirs, believed to contain revelations which will astound Europe: I have read them: at the old lady’s bedside I read them, for she kept them under her pillow. No wonder Probus Verlag declined to make a good offer: no wonder Walsingham went empty away---to meet an undeserved fate. I tell you the famous Steinadler Memoirs are no more sensational than those of Sir Walter Vanbrugh: indeed, they resemble one another, being the family history of a period no longer interesting to the pundits of to-day.”

“I like that,” said Reeves. “It shows what mugs some of these smart-Alecs are. But the thing that interests me---if I’m allowed to ask a question myself---what’ll the Austrian authorities do with Ernest Henry Webster?”

“That is for them to decide,” said Macdonald. “My guess is he’ll be let off with a caution: he didn’t really behave any worse than newshounds are trained to behave by those who demand sensationalism in their newsprint, and he behaved like a hero when he trusted his crash helmet to save his skull. I think Auntie will be deported, though. The false character racket is taken seriously, so Ernest Henry will have to take Auntie back to London---and neither of them will really enjoy that.”

“Final sentence---support Auntie in the style to which she is accustomed,” murmured Franz, and Macdonald turned to Bland.

“The only part of the story we haven’t sorted out is the mystery of your daughter’s mink coat, sir. Was there by any chance a cameraman outside the house when a party was given for distinguished writers?”

“My God!” exclaimed Bland. “Webster? . . . ‘taking a dekko’---and chancing his arm later to get information?”

“I wouldn’t put it beyond him,” said Macdonald. “It’s like him---because you see he didn’t steal the coat. Ernest Henry is all on the side of the angels. But we shall never prove it---never. That will remain one of the unsolved mysteries of the case.”

“And that is quite enough,” said Ilse Natzler firmly. “We will have no more talk of crime. It is not suitable---not in Hietzing.”

Karl Natzler rose to his feet. “This evening, Macdonald, we take you out to the heights of the Wienerwald, to Cobenzl. You shall at last enjoy a Heurige, and we will drink the local vintages---Grinzinger and Gumpoldskirchner, and your holiday in Vienna will really begin.”

Gott sei Dank,” exclaimed Ilse, and Macdonald added, “Und Lob. Amen.

THE END

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