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Chapter Nine

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« on: June 07, 2023, 01:33:04 am »

==1==

“SUPERINTENDENT Macdonald? Albrecht Nauheim; Chief Inspector, Vienna City Police. I feel very ashamed to trouble you while you’re on leave, sir.”

Standing in Franz Natzler’s small study, Macdonald looked at Chief Inspector Nauheim with some surprise: he did not look English: his dark eyes were too lively, his skin too olive toned, his lips too mobile, his build too lissome---but his voice and accent might have come from a young inspector of the Metropolitan Police.

“No, sir. I’m not English, I’m Austrian,” said Nauheim, responding to the unspoken thought, “but I was brought up by an English aunt and she taught me her language from the cradle, so to speak. Our Commissioner thought I might be of use to you as an interpreter.”

Macdonald laughed. “You certainly will. I’ve hardly got enough German to be ashamed of. Very decent of you to come out here to see me---I was just going to drive in to your H.Q.”

“Well, sir, the problem’s centred here in Hietzing, at the outset, anyway. Can I give you the latest facts? I gather you were only involved in the first part of the story.”

Nauheim gave a brief account of Walsingham’s death, as described by Anthony Vanbrugh, and an equally terse résumé of the evidence given by Hans Flüchs. As Macdonald listened, he was able to sum up this English-speaking Chief Inspector of the Vienna police: Nauheim was certainly young---probably under thirty---but his ability was plain to Macdonald. He was pretty sure that Nauheim had been sent as liaison officer in this case not only because he spoke English like his own language but because he was an outstandingly able young officer. At the close of Nauheim’s narrative Macdonald said:

“I should be interested to know your own opinion of those two statements---off the record.”

Nauheim flashed him a smile---and became at once Viennese: his face was more mobile, his changes of expression more sudden than those of an Englishman.

“Well, sir, it isn’t an easy question to answer---and I think you’ll understand what I mean when I say my opinion is swinging like the pointer on a balance before the weights are equalised. At first I accepted that Mr. Vanbrugh spoke the exact truth as far as he saw it---which wasn’t very far, because he’s unobservant and tends to think he saw what he expected to see. I take it as axiomatic that an Englishman of his upbringing and status does generally speak the truth---he’s never had to do otherwise. It’s not only principle---it’s profit. Telling the truth pays bigger dividends in England than in some places I know.”

It was Macdonald’s turn to chuckle. “All right. I know what you mean---or I understand what you mean.”

“Perhaps I can explain that more fully later,” said Nauheim. “All my experience of Englishmen in authority tended to make me think ‘He’s a bad witness but he’s giving us the facts as he thinks he saw them.’ And then I said to myself, ‘This man Walsingham was probably murdered’---and in a murder case a detective can’t afford the luxury of assuming that any witness is speaking the truth, even an Englishman with a background like Vanbrugh’s.”

“I quite agree,” said Macdonald, and saw a flicker of relief on Nauheim’s expressive face. “Look here,” went on Macdonald. “If you and I are going to co-operate, let’s get this clear. I hold that no persons, no matter what their birth or status, can claim privilege in a criminal investigation: if I add nationality, I am not going to assume that because a man is British he will therefore tell the truth---and vice versa, but I think I might add this. I should expect Anthony Vanbrugh to tell the truth: if it’s proved that he doesn’t, the implications would be pretty serious.”

“Thank you for that,” said Nauheim. “Now, about Flüchs. He’s a good witness, and he knows the difference between a fact and an opinion. He gave an exact description of what he saw and then added, ‘I thought the big car had knocked the man down and the driver meant to drive on and leave the body, until he saw there was a witness.’ And in my opinion, Flüchs was telling the truth---also as far as he saw it.”

“Now let’s get back to your own statement, ‘I think Walsingham was probably murdered,’ ” said Macdonald. “Why do you think so?”

“When he was asked the question point-blank, Mr. Vanbrugh could not say that he saw a pedestrian crossing the road,” said Nauheim. “What he actually did see was a van bumping over an obstacle and then skidding across the road. My own belief is that Walsingham was lying in the road before the van approached and that he was not crossing the road. The marks on his coat suggest that the van ran over him rather than knocked him down---but you will be using your own judgment about that.”

“You are satisfied that another vehicle was involved?”

“Yes: I think he was hit by another vehicle at some stage. If the body hadn’t been moved it would have been much easier to have seen what happened: when Vanbrugh and Flüchs lifted the body on to the path, they laid him on his back in the puddles and the coat got soaked. It is now very difficult to say from the traces exactly what happened---and when it happened. It was Mr. Vanbrugh who insisted on moving the body, though he could have ascertained for himself the man was dead.”

“It’s hard to blame him for moving the body,” said Macdonald. “It goes against the grain to leave a chap lying in the road---but the result certainly confused the evidence. What are the chances of getting a line on the other vehicle?”

Nauheim shrugged his shoulders. “We are trying, but the chances are not good. A van or a converted jeep---no number, nothing to distinguish it by.”

Macdonald nodded: he realised without being told that Anthony Vanbrugh had not endeared himself to the local police. “Before we go any further, would you like to sum up your impressions?” he asked.

Nauheim replied, “I’d like to state what seems to me to be the outstanding facts, sir. There were two ‘accidents’ in one day: both occurred in Hietzing, a neighbourhood generally free from crimes of violence. Both victims were English, both were staying in Sir Walter Vanbrugh’s house. Neither victim was robbed: Mr. Walsingham’s purse, passport and note-case were still in his pockets. Of the two victims, one was secretary to Sir Walter, who is known to be working on his memoirs; one was a well-known writer, who may have been giving advice to Sir Walter on the same subject. When Mr. Walsingham was at the Grünekeller he was trying to get any comments he could on the first accident. One feels that the two accidents must be connected in some way---and that the problem involves the English as much as the Austrians.”

“I think that’s very moderately put,” said Macdonald. “I might add, for your information, that the victims of both accidents left London on the same B.E.A. plane last Monday, the plane on which I travelled myself, though Walsingham left the plane at Zürich and came on to Vienna later.”

Nauheim looked at Macdonald thoughtfully: “You yourself would make a very good and interesting suspect, sir,” and Macdonald replied:

“You’re perfectly right, I should. I talked to Miss Le Vendre at Zürich, I followed up the acquaintance by talking to her in the Schönbrunn gardens, and I went out with Karl Natzler and found her unconscious in a place in the woods which I had described to her myself. I’m just the sort of person you’re looking for---the obvious suspect.”

“And you concealed from the Herr Rittmeister Brunnerhausen that you were an officer of the London C.I.D.,” grinned Nauheim. “Brunnerhausen is very much hurt.”

“Sorry about that: I’ll see him and apologise,” said Macdonald. “If you had been in London on holiday you would probably have done just what I did. However, now we’re working together we’d better determine the best way we can correlate activities. Now you are obviously better equipped to deal with the local inquiries.”

Nauheim nodded. “The van---or jeep---mentioned by Mr. Vanbrugh: the activities of Mr. Walsingham between eleven o’clock (when Flüchs and Schulze left him) and midnight: the activities of Flüchs and Schulze in the same period: persons in the Hietzing Woods when the storm was coming up: the identity of the cameraman who evaded Brunnerhausen when he was talking to you.”

“Ah, he hasn’t been traced then,” observed Macdonald. “My own guess is that that cameraman is named Webster, and that he also came to Vienna on the B.E.A. plane on Monday.”

“What did he come for?” asked Nauheim promptly.

“What did any of them come for?” asked Macdonald. “I suggest that I make it my business to follow up my fellow-countrymen and to find out exactly what brought them to Vienna and what they have been doing since they arrived: that holds for other passengers in the plane in addition to those already brought to our notice.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “Have you seen Sir Walter Vanbrugh and his sister yet?”

“No, sir. I thought it too early to disturb them, especially after the troubles of last night. Also I think it probable that they will talk to you more freely than they would to me.”

“I’ll make them my first job,” said Macdonald. “If I’d been gifted with second sight I should have tackled this problem last night. This is one of the occasions when a laudable desire not to interfere has contradicted its own intentions. Walsingham wanted to talk to me last night. If I’d encouraged him to do so, he would probably be alive now.”

“You think he was killed because he knew too much?”

“More likely because he tried to find out what he didn’t know,” replied Macdonald. “Now to get the preliminaries settled: will you deal with the airport authorities at Schwechat: ascertain the names of all arrivals on the B.E.A. plane on Monday and their present domiciles as far as is known, as well as checking later arrivals? I will check with London airport. And I think it would be a good thing if you saw Dr. Natzler and his son while you are here. They have both got some information which may be germane to the case. I will see Sir Walter and his sister and also get in touch with Sir Charles Bland. He was going back to London by the midday plane to-day, but he may be willing to stay on if we ask him to do so.”

“Very good, sir.” Nauheim hesitated a moment and then said, “This case is going to have repercussions---to cause a lot of trouble among important persons, mainly because I told you that, in my judgment, Mr. Walsingham was probably murdered.”

“And you may have been mistaken,” said Macdonald. “There is a possibility that Mr. Anthony Vanbrugh was right, and Walsingham was killed by a drunken driver who lost control of his vehicle on the Wattmanngasse, and that Miss Le Vendre fell backwards down the steps of the gun emplacement during the thunderstorm. I admit those possibilities. Last night I let the accident theory have the benefit of the doubt and I blame myself for doing so. It’s not going to happen again. So whether we are right or wrong, we are going to cause a lot of trouble to a lot of important people: make a nuisance of ourselves, in short.”

Albrecht Nauheim chuckled and Macdonald added, “I don’t often make forecasts, but I rather hope that somebody may think it worth their while to put paid to me: in which case things may be expedited considerably. Go and talk to Dr. Natzler: I think you’ll find him illuminating.”

==2==

Macdonald’s first action was to telephone to Sir Charles Bland. He gave a brief report on the events of the past eighteen hours and then went on:

“I should like to confer with you, sir. Would it be possible for you to put off your return to London? I would have come to see you immediately, but other matters must come first.”

“That’s for you to decide,” said Bland. “In the light of what has occurred I will stay on in Vienna while you need me.”

“Thank you, sir. And don’t take it amiss if I suggest that you stay indoors. Somebody has already given hostages to fortune, if I may put it that way.”

“I see. I was going to suggest that I come out to Hietzing to see the Vanbrughs---and yourself.”

“Don’t do that, sir. We don’t want any more traffic accidents,” replied Macdonald dryly.

Macdonald’s next call was to one of his own colleagues, Chief Inspector Peter Reeves, in London. Having given him certain instructions, Macdonald added, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, Pete. You’ve never seen Vienna: this may be your chance. Report to me this evening---Vienna 72577---around eight o’clock. If I’m not in then, I’ll ring you at home later.”

After that, having reported his intentions to Vienna headquarters and received an assurance that a police interpreter would await him in Hietzing, Macdonald set out for Trauttmansdorffgasse.

Rather to his relief, he was not led again up the state staircase: old Josef led him into a study on the ground floor, where Sir Walter sat at a desk against a background of books. The old man’s face looked bleached and weary and Macdonald said at once:

“I’m very sorry you are having all this distress, sir. If I hadn’t stood on ceremony last night, I might have saved you some of it---but it’s easy to be wise after the event.”

“I’m glad to have you here, Superintendent. As you probably know, I rang through to London and asked the Commissioner for your co-operation. I don’t want to show lack of confidence in the Austrian police, but I do feel that their attitude towards my nephew is preposterous. If they do not go so far as to accuse him of running Neville Walsingham down, it is plain that they consider it as a possibility.”

“All impartial and competent policemen, of all nationalities, have to envisage every possibility,” said Macdonald quietly. “In this matter the police have to envisage three possibilities: the first is that Walsingham was knocked down and killed by the van your nephew saw: the second is that he was killed by Mr. Vanbrugh’s car: the third is that he was killed by neither of those vehicles, but was killed a few minutes earlier and his body left lying in the road in the hope that a car would run over him.”

“But why?” cried Sir Walter, “why on earth make such a far-fetched assumption?”

“It isn’t an assumption, sir. It is a possibility, and the evidence for it is being carefully considered. And because the possibility exists, it is my duty to ask you to tell me the reason for Mr. Walsingham’s presence in Vienna.”

Sir Walter Vanbrugh sat and considered for a moment; then he said, “I could give you a very simple answer to that question, Superintendent. Walsingham came to Vienna to stay with me as my guest, because I had invited him to stay here, at any time convenient to him. He had been helpful to me in London, giving me advice about my book---the sort of advice that an experienced writer can give to an inexperienced one---and I was anxious to repay his generosity.”

Macdonald waited for a moment before he replied. Then he said, “You used the word ‘could,’ sir.”

“Yes. I used it advisedly. The answer I have given you is true as far as it goes. Walsingham wrote to me some ten days ago, saying he would like to revisit Vienna---he had known it for years---and asking if it would be a convenient time to take advantage of my invitation. I wired back at once, saying we should be happy to have him here. But as to why he came, I can only tell you that I do not know.”

“Do you think he had any ulterior motive, sir---apart from enjoying a holiday?”

“I should say that it is very probable. To my mind, Walsingham is not the type of man to travel thus far, and to stay with elderly people who can offer him little in the way of amusement, unless he has some underlying reason. But what the reason was he did not divulge. He had only been in this house since the day before yesterday, you must remember.”

“When Mr. Walsingham walked home with Karl Natzler and myself, he suggested that he might be able to offer me some information if I would reciprocate---or words to that effect,” said Macdonald, and Sir Walter nodded.

“Yes. I can well believe he might have expressed himself thus: and I can also well believe that he came to stay here in Vienna because he thought I could give him some information which he needed. But as to what he wanted to know, I have no idea. Neither am I prepared to believe that it was his desire for information which led to his death: the idea seems to me out of all proportion.”

“Well, let us leave that for the moment, sir, and return to Miss Le Vendre’s accident. What was the nature of the work she had begun for you?”

Sir Walter gave a sudden movement of impatience. “I cannot believe that a man of your intelligence would imagine that a young girl, newly arrived in my household, would be entrusted with information coming under the head of ‘Top Secret,’ ” he said. “Such an idea pertains to the romantic novel. There was nothing in the work she was doing that was of the remotest interest to anybody beyond my own family. She was typing my original notes on family origins, on my childhood and upbringing. In addition she was translating and transcribing personal letters written in German by members of my own family who were brought up in Germany. The only papers she had access to were personal papers---the sort of collection which any writer of a biography works through in order to sift out a few picturesque recollections of a by-gone era. To assume that her work here could in any way have instigated violence is absurd.”

“Did she have any conversation with Mr. Walsingham?”

“She met him at dinner the night before last. The conversation turned mainly on travels in Europe---all of a quite trivial nature, though the child talked charmingly enough of her wanderings in Germany, in the Black Forest and the Rhineland, and Walsingham reciprocated with anecdotes of his own youth---he was a student at Heidelberg University in the mid-twenties. He was out to luncheon yesterday, so they did not meet again.”

“Do you know where he went yesterday?”

“He took the small car and drove into Vienna: I gathered he went to see the publisher who has translation rights in Walsingham’s last book. After lunch he drove up to Leopoldsberg---as all visitors do.”

“Well, sir, I won’t trouble you with any further questions now,” said Macdonald. “I should like to look through Mr. Walsingham’s baggage, and to see Mr. Anthony Vanbrugh when he comes down. And I think you will agree that the story told by the two maids---Clara and Greta---must be given to the local police. That is their business, not mine. In any case, I should be of no value as an interrogator: my German is quite inadequate.”

“Yes, yes: I realise I made a mistake in deferring to my sister’s wishes over that,” said Sir Walter sadly, “but I should like to stress one point. My nephew, Anthony, was very misguided in his attitude to the local police: he put their backs up. But they---the police---will be even more misguided if they assume he was not telling the exact truth.”

“Perhaps the trouble there is that Mr. Vanbrugh is not accustomed to giving evidence or to being interrogated,” said Macdonald. “He is more used to interrogating others and the two experiences aren’t identical. One of the advantages of a policeman’s training is that he has to give evidence, and, if necessary, stand up to cross-examination on it. There is one question I might usefully ask here: was Mr. Anthony Vanbrugh previously acquainted with Mr. Walsingham?”

“No. They had not met until Walsingham came to this house. Neither did they show any interest in each other---their interests are quite dissimilar. Oh, I know what you’re going to say,” added Sir Walter. “Neville Walsingham’s researches into European problems might well have come to the notice of Anthony’s department, but Anthony is not interested in a writer’s world. The two were naturally bored with each other.” He pushed his chair back, adding: “You have asked to see Walsingham’s baggage. I will take you up to his room. The local police have already examined it, but found nothing to interest them, I gather. The key of his room has been left here with me.”

==3==

Neville Walsingham had only brought one suitcase with him---one of the light-weight cases manufactured for air travel. It was empty, and his belongings were neatly put away in wardrobe and chest. There was an evening suit (dinner-jacket), a dark lounge suit, underwear, shoes, ties, pyjamas and washing kit. A zipped-up writing-case held writing-paper and an unused note-book: a wallet held Travellers’ cheques, an English cheque-book and English currency notes. It was a new wallet, practically unworn, and Macdonald guessed that the dead man had carried another wallet in his pocket. The only books (apart from a selection on the bedside table which obviously belonged to the Vanbrughs) were two Penguins---detective novels---and a copy of Cocteau’s La Machine Infernale. Macdonald knew that passport and money had been found in Walsingham’s pockets, but Nauheim had not mentioned any diary or note-book. “If those weren’t on him, it’s pretty sure proof that somebody had been at his pockets,” thought Macdonald. “No man travels without something in the nature of a note-book or diary or address book. And very few men refrain from stuffing old letters in their pockets. Well, I’d better have a word with Anthony Vanbrugh and then go and consider Walsingham’s remains. It’s a case of ‘Back to the Army again, Sergeant, back to the Army again.’ ”

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