1901. Karl Werthen and his colleague, renowned criminologist Dr Hanns Gross, are investigating a bizarre series of murders in the small Austrian town of Graz. Meanwhile, back in Vienna, Karl's wife Berthe is looking into what seems to be a fraudulent breeding scheme involving the prized Lipizzaner horses. Could the two investigations be connected?
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
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A Matter of Breeding
A Viennese Mystery
By J. Sydney Jones
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 J. Sydney Jones
All rights reserved.
Doktor Hanns Gross nodded for the gendarme to remove the covering. The young man did so and the famous criminologist could see a flush of red go up the gendarme's face. Warned by Inspector Felix Thielman what to expect, Gross knew to focus away from the wounds at first. The gendarme had no such training. He gulped once and dropped the canvas covering.
'Not here,' Gross warned him. 'If you must be sick, follow the lines out and away from the crime scene.'
Thielman at his side made a tssking sound with his tongue as the young gendarme hurried to the edges of the crime scene. They could hear him vomiting.
Gross ignored this, bending low over the mutilated corpse as if to embrace it. He did not view the body as that of a human being, that was the trick. He went close up, looking at bits and pieces of what was instead a former living human animal.
He lifted an eyelid and stared into a sightless pupil, registering its color: light brown, commonly called beer eyes. The skin was waxy to the touch; he inserted a finger into the oral cavity, found nothing. Likewise nothing in the nostrils and ear passages.
Resting on a knee now, he let his gaze follow down the line of the torn bodice and bloodstained blouse the young woman was wearing.
Without looking up, he said to Thielman, 'You have a description of the crime scene?' Thielman grunted assent, as if it was beneath his office to be asked such a question.
As it should be, Gross thought, for he had trained Thielman himself, more years ago than he liked to think of, not to disturb anything at the scene of the crime before a complete description had been made.
'We've had Morgenstern out, too. Our photographer.'
'The others had similar wounds?' Gross asked, for this was the third such outrage.
Beneath the ripped and slashed garments there was scarlet turning rusty red, great gashes of it covering cloth and skin. On her sternum, between the entry points of four different stab wounds, there was a circular wound about the size of a five-kronen coin incised into the skin, its left half seared black. Lower down, beneath the abdomen, entrails dangled out of a cavity where the woman's womb had been lacerated apart in a frenzy.
'The others weren't pregnant, though,' Thielman added.
'Any trace of the baby?'
Gross examined the hands and arms. No defensive wounds. She'd been taken by surprise, though the wounds were in front. So she saw her attacker coming. Which implied she knew him. Or that she did not find it out of the ordinary to see the person in the woods near the tiny village of Hitzendorf. A villager, perhaps?
Or a hundred other possibilities. A stranger who asked for directions then struck before the young woman could react. Too early for such speculations.
Gross lifted himself back from the corpse now, still resting on one knee. He could feel moisture from the forest floor coming through his wool pants. His wife Adele would warn against arthritis were she here.
Only now did Gross allow himself to take in the corpse as a whole. A rather attractive young woman, he noted. Vaguely Semitic features, not that it mattered. The stab wounds at her chest had done the damage. The rest of the savagery was postmortem. Or so he hoped, for her sake.
'Ursula Klein. Kitchen maid, the von Hobarty estate.'
'What was she doing out here all alone at night?' Again an assumption, but not far off the mark, he thought, by the feel of her body. Dead a good dozen hours.
'That, my dear Doktor Gross, is what you are here to find out.'
Irony from Thielman. The man was indeed feeling his oats, Gross thought. Even if he has to call in his old mentor to help out with a series of brutal murders committed in Gross's own native Styria.
The sun was at its zenith now. It was the twenty-first of October, but the sun still had warmth, still made him squint.
He stood, brushing at his knee. 'Who found her?'
'A local. Johannes Schmidt. He puked. It's over there.'
Thielman pointed at a blueberry bush that had a stake driven in the ground by it as if it were evidence.
'Just to make sure it's not confused with something the killer left behind.'
'And who says Schmidt is not our killer?' Gross asked, but only out of reflex, not conviction. It takes a very cold-blooded criminal to report his own crime.
'Schmidt says he was out for a walk,' Thielman added. 'Poaching, more like. He and von Hobarty have a bit of a feud going, you might call it.'
'So this is part of the estate?'
A nod from Thielman.
Gross's eyes alit on a bonnet not far from the body. Thielman followed his gaze.
'The victim's?' Gross asked.
'I assume so. No one has moved it. Just like you always taught.'
Which brought the trace of a smile to Gross's lips. Suddenly, inexplicably, he was looking forward to a hearty lunch. Bauernschmaus, perhaps. Something substantial.
He went to the bonnet, glanced at Thielman, and then picked it up.
Underneath lay a pile of human excrement. He bent low over the feces, not so much sniffing as trying to discern its temperature.
Satisfied, he stood once again. The excrement was warmer than the ground surrounding it. The bonnet had been deliberately placed over it to hold the warmth.
A calling card.
Gross put the bonnet back in place over the pile.
He went back to the body of Ursula Klein. The front of her was covered with blood, that was for sure. But on closer inspection, Gross remarked on the lack of blood about the body. He gently lifted one side of the torso; very little blood to be seen underneath. With wounds such as she had sustained, even postmortem, there should have been pools of blood on the ground all around the corpse.
He could feel Thielman leaning over him now.
'So you noticed, too,' the inspector said. 'Just like the others. Drained of blood. Like a ritual killing.'
Gross shook his head. Not another one. Blood ritual killings had filled the newspapers recently. Gross himself had been called in to testify in one gruesome case in Polna in Bohemia not long before. It had become the Austrian Dreyfus case, for a trio of Jews were accused of having killed two young women and using their blood for religious rituals. The case had spurred anti-Semitic riots and had quickly split the Empire, just as the Dreyfus case had in France, with the political scandal involving the Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus falsely accused of selling military secrets to the Germans.
'We don't need another Polna, Doktor Gross,' Thielman said over his shoulder.
Gross could well understand the man's concern. Nearing retirement, Thielman wanted simple pathological killings, not some religiously motivated murder that would spark a racial firestorm.
Gross continued to lean over the woman's body, noticing something on the side of her neck. He gently moved the collar down to display two puncture marks at the neck along the carotid artery.
'That looks like a vampire bite,' Thielman said, though Gross doubted the man had ever seen such a mark.
The young gendarme had recovered enough to return to the scene just at this moment, and he shot an astonished expression at Thielman as he made this remark.
There was a note of relief in Thielman's voice, Gross noted. Better vampires than Jews.CHAPTER 2
Later that same day in Vienna, Advokat Karl Werthen – wills, trusts, criminal law, and private inquiries agent – sat at his new desk in his freshly refurbished office at Habsburgergasse 4. A visitor could see no sign of the bombing several months ago that had gutted Werthen's interior office and left much of the exterior office and waiting room in shambles. Werthen's private office, in particular, had seen the most change in this refurbishing. Before, it had been decked out in stolidly safe professional-class décor: green wallpaper with a scattering of conservative prints of animals and flowers; furniture that was of heavy, substantial mahogany. Werthen's friend and onetime client, the painter Klimt had often enough declared the place stodgy; Werthen would rejoin such criticism by saying that was exactly the effect he was looking for.
'People come to me for reassurance,' he would say, 'not an introduction to aesthetics.'
But that tragic bombing episode had made Werthen reconsider. Why shouldn't a lawyer's office also have a touch of style to it?
Thus, the buttery yellow walls now formed a backdrop for a number of paintings on loan from the Secession: a wintery park scene from Carl Moll, a landscape by Kolo Moser, a portrait by Klimt, an exhibition poster by Anton Kling. Furniture and desk accoutrements by Josef Hoffmann.
However, Werthen was unaware of his surroundings today. In front of him lay the paperwork for a codicil to the seemingly never-ending Kleist family trust. Neither was he paying attention to these legal duties. Instead, he was doodling on a piece of foolscap folio, writing the name 'Bastian' over and over again in increasingly stylized strokes.
A knock at his door interrupted this mindless activity.
'Yes,' Werthen said, slightly dazed.
Fräulein Metzinger opened the door and poked her head in. 'A visitor, Advokat.'
Their code word for an actual visitor, not a client or scheduled appointment.
'I am in the middle of something—' Werthen began, but a voice from behind his assistant caught his attention.
'It is rather urgent.'
He knew the voice, knew the tone, felt the urgency even if it were fabricated. And fabricated it may very well have been, for the author of said voice was the well known playwright Arthur Schnitzler.
'You may send him in, Fräulein Metzinger.' He leaned back in his chair, looked down at the foolscap and felt a stab of pain realizing what he had spent the last number of minutes producing. He turned the page over as Schnitzler entered the room.
'Advokat,' the man said, sweeping the homburg off his head dramatically, 'how good to see you once again.'
Werthen doubted the words. He knew for certain it was not a delight for him to see the dramatist. Schnitzler was a recent client and though Werthen had performed the duties for which he had been hired, he had also been forced to confront the man with some hard truths about himself. They had not parted on friendly terms at their last encounter.
Werthen rose, nodding his head toward the leather armchair across the desk from him.
Schnitzler glanced around the office and smiled tightly.
'Redecorated, I see.' He sat in the chair holding a silver-tipped walking stick in front of him like a master of the dance about to beat out a rhythm.
Werthen said nothing and then Schnitzler seemed to suddenly recall the event that necessitated such redecoration.
'I do apologize. It must have been an awful experience.'
Werthen sat without response, having no inclination to go into the matter. 'What brings you here, Herr Schnitzler?'
'Meaning if I were searching for a painful experience, why not simply visit my dentist?' He smiled winningly at Werthen, giving him no chance for reply. 'I came simply because you are the best at what you do. I do not want to allow our personal history to interfere with that.'
'And what is it I do so well, Schnitzler?'
'Protection, of course. I was, after giving it some thought, more than satisfied with your thoroughness. And I have a similar commission for you.'
It was not something Werthen relished doing, playing bodyguard, though he had done it for the composer Gustav Mahler a couple of years previously, as well as for Schnitzler just last summer. He was about to decline, when Schnitzler charged on.
'I realize such work is beneath your deductive talents, but I implore you, Werthen, in the name of Austria. We have an important foreign visitor here, a man about to speak at the Concordia, and he appears to be in need of protection.'
The Concordia, the journalists' club, meant, in all likelihood, some literary fellow, Werthen deduced. After his dealings with Schnitzler and other writers of the Jung Wien movement the past summer, Werthen was even less inclined to take the case.
'I might as well tell you, the man asked for you personally. Seems he has heard of your achievements via your colleague's little monthly magazine.'
By which he meant Doktor Hanns Gross and his Archive for Criminalistics. Gross and he had formed an irregular partnership, working on several cases together, which Gross, ever the meticulous recorder of events, had chronicled in his Archive.
'It seems you have a fair amount of fame, even in London,' Schnitzler added. 'That is where our guest hails from. Well, latterly, that is. Dublin is his place of origin.'
'Am I to guess at his identity?'
'Sorry, no. Simply trying to increase the drama. We would all be very grateful were you to take the case. Even Prince Montenuovo would find pleasure in such a turn of events. A great enthusiast of our chap's work is the prince.'
Schnitzler was referring to the powerful second-in-line to the master of the court, a man who was the emperor's eyes and ears in all things cultural, and a major force in the direction of the court theaters, including the Burg, where Schnitzler's plays were often performed. Werthen and Gross had earlier been aided by a letter of introduction from the prince in the Mahler case.
'Enough drama, Schnitzler. Who are we talking about and why?'
'Mr Bram Stoker.'
Schnitzler pronounced the name with such a self-satisfied look that Werthen almost felt guilty when he said, 'Who is that?'
For once, Schnitzler was at a loss for words. Finally he said, 'The writer. You must have heard of The Primrose Path?'
A shake of Werthen's head.
'The Snake's Pass?'
A shrug of the shoulders.
'The Shoulder of Shasta? Miss Betty?'
'Sorry,' Werthen said.
'My God, man,' Schnitzler almost shouted, 'Stoker was the business manager of the Lyceum in London for over quarter of a century. He's been the manager for the actor Henry Irving for years. You've surely heard of Irving?'
This did ring bells for Werthen. He had seen Irving's Hamlet once on a visit to London. And now the connection was made.
'You mean that fellow who writes about vampires.'
'Well –' Schnitzler waved his hand as if brushing off crumbs from the ether all around them. 'A mere bagatelle. Dracula. A silly little book. We can all be forgiven such a creation once in our careers. Stoker will surely be remembered for more substantial works by later generations.'
Hardly the sort of thing Werthen read, so he was not going to argue the point with Schnitzler.
'Suffice to say, Stoker is a real talent and a visitor from London. Here to address the annual convention of the Concordia Club. But he seems to be dogged at every step by some cursed devotee. "Fan" is the word he used for it, a word he picked up on a visit to America. From "fanatic". Most appropriate in these circumstances, I should say. For the past several months, as Stoker tells it, this fan has sent communications that indicate he has been following him, watching and planning.'
'Planning what?' Werthen asked.
'Stoker can only fear the worst. Perhaps it is someone deranged by all this vampire business. Stoker thought he would leave it all behind him in London, but it appears the person has followed him to Vienna. Last night there was a note left for him at his room in the Hotel Bristol.'
'The police, Schnitzler. Go to the police. Just as I advised you to do.'
'Yes, yes. My very advice,' Schnitzler said. 'But as I stated, the man has all but demanded your services. His very speaking engagement might be in jeopardy if you refuse.'
'Extortion? And I am the payment? A sorry state of affairs, Schnitzler. Perhaps you should find another speaker.'
Once again Schnitzler was momentarily at a loss of words. Werthen was beginning to enjoy this.
A sigh from the playwright, and then: 'It is only for a week. It would mean much to the Concordia ... and to Prince Montenuovo.'
'Ah, yes, the prince being a fan, too.' Which brought a grimace to Schnitzler's face. Werthen quickly held a hand up. 'Not to worry, Schnitzler. You may tell Mr Stoker I will take on the task.'
Excerpted from A Matter of Breeding by J. Sydney Jones. Copyright © 2014 J. Sydney Jones. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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