The new intriguing novel of suspense in the acclaimed Viennese Mystery series
March, 1902. When Herr Karl, head waiter of the Café Burg, is found dead at the foot of the Maria Theresa monument, it is assumed he slipped on the ice and hit his head. However, a witness has come forward who says otherwise, and private enquiries agent Karl Werthen is hired to investigate.
At the same time, Werthen is commissioned to locate a missing letter from the emperor to his mistress. Franz Josef is desperate for the letter not to fall into the wrong hands – but what incendiary information does it contain?
As Werthen and his colleague, renowned criminologist Dr Hanns Gross, pursue their investigations, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a connection between the two cases – and that the future of the empire may be at stake.
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The Third Place
A Viennese Mystery
By J. Sydney Jones
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 J. Sydney Jones
All rights reserved.
Werthen kept a keen eye on the judge, Dr Felix Landauer. It was after lunch, and Landauer, dubbed 'lounging Landauer' for good reason, was suppressing a monumental yawn following his intestinally challenging meal of gulyasch soup followed by four sausages, red cabbage and parsley potatoes, topped off with a cheese plate and palatschinken with chocolate sauce, and all washed down with a liter of the finest Gumpoldskirchen white wine.
It gave Werthen indigestion just to recall the litany of food- stuffs he had witnessed the judge ingest at Kulauer's Restaurant and Weinhaus, favorite of the legal elite of Vienna.
It was just as Dr Landauer lifted an insouciant hand over his mouth to cover a yawn that Werthen made his announcement.
'I think we can all agree that it was too dark for Herr Karlsen to recognize the defendant. Too dark for him to identify even his own mother.'
He gave the seven men of the jury his meaningful glance, to let them know he understood they were not fools to be led by the nose by Advokat Pinkop, the prosecutor.
Pinkop, of course, chafed at this, interrupting in a chirrupy voice that brought Landauer out of his near somnolence, sputtering and blowing and jiggling his jowls like a whale breeching.
'I must protest, Advokat Werthen,' Pinkop said in a voice that sounded like he was in training for the Vienna Choir Boys. 'That is supposition on your part. Darkness has not been established in evidence.'
Pinkop looked to Landauer for assistance, and the judge, not knowing where legality lay but not much liking Werthen on principle for his activities as a private inquiries agent in addition to his lawyerly duties, agreed with the prosecutor.
'My apologies to the court,' Werthen said, and once again shot a meaningful look toward the jurors.
In the event, said jurors had no need to leave the august precinct of the courtroom to reach their verdict. Five to two for acquittal.
'By damn, that was well done.' Werthen's client, Herr Vogelsang, clapped him on the back, as well he should. If convicted of breaking the arm of his arch-rival on the tennis courts, Vogelsang could have gotten four years.
'Nothing to thank me for, Herr Vogelsang,' Werthen said, gathering his papers. 'Perspicacious jurors. They could see you were innocent.'
'Clever of you about the lighting. Never occurred to me.'
Werthen smiled, not responding and not wishing to continue the conversation. Truth be told, he did not care for Vogelsang, not in the courtroom and not on the tennis court. The man tended to be full of bombast in both spheres. The type to puff out his chest after hitting a forehand winner on the line.
'You were absolutely right, though, Advokat. Karlsen couldn't have seen me that night. Not plainly, anyway. Hah, what a genius you are.'
The comment chilled Werthen to the bone and he shivered uncontrollably. He dropped his file, papers floating down around him like autumn leaves.
Vogelsang bent to help him retrieve them, and it took all of Werthen's will power to keep his hands off the man.
'I'll see to that,' he murmured, gesturing Vogelsang away.
Now he remembered why he had given up criminal law for so many years.
And he wished he could rid the system of the prohibition against double indemnity.
He had just managed to get a guilty man off.
At the office later that afternoon, he was still fuming. Familiar with the symptoms of such disappointment and utter disgust, he could also recognize them clearly in the face of their young office boy, Franzl Hruda, who brought him the afternoon papers.
'Why so glum, young man?'
Franzl shrugged, puffing his lips. 'Don't know.'
'I'll bet you do. You're usually the sunny one around here. Not feeling well?'
He shook his head vigorously. 'It's not that, Herr Advokat.'
'Werthen,' the lawyer corrected. 'Herr Werthen will do.'
'It's just ... well, just that my aunt can't afford them, you see, says they're silly and not something a young man like me needs, birthday or no birthday.'
'Perhaps we can slow down and take it point by point,' Werthen said. 'By birthday, I assume you mean it is your birthday?'
A sullen nod.
'Well congratulations, Franzl. How old are you then?'
'Eleven, Herr Ad — Herr Werthen.'
'Wonderful age, eleven,' Werthen said. Though recalling now his eleventh birthday at Hohelände, his family estate in Upper Austria, he could sympathize with the youth.
'And what is it your aunt cannot afford?'
Franzl chewed his lower lip for a moment. 'She's right, I guess. It is silly. I mean, I'll never be an artist.'
'You would make a difficult witness to question in court, Franzl.'
'Oh, right. Sorry. I just had my eye on a box of charcoals for sketching. Lovely to work with, they are.'
Werthen nodded at this admission. 'Your aunt sounds like a practical sort of woman, Franzl.'
'You're right about that,' the boy said sullenly.
Werthen caught himself from making further excuses for the boy's guardian. No need for further explanation. He put himself into the shoes of this eleven-year-old and remembered his own disappointment at that same age when, in love with words and writing, he had desperately wanted the 1872 revised edition of the complete works of Shakespeare translated by Schlegel and Tieck; instead, he had gotten a Purdey twelve-gauge shotgun.
It'll make a man of you, his father had said. Books are fine when you have a grand library to put them in. But a gun, now that will teach you about life, about the hard facts.
'So how about taking a walk?' Werthen said, catching Franzl off guard.
'I've got the afternoon rounds coming up, sir.'
'I'm sure we can put them off for an hour or so. After all, it's not every day a chap turns eleven.'
Outside, the afternoon had turned chill – it was still several days until the first of spring. Franzl had almost to run in order to keep up with Werthen as the lawyer strode purposefully toward the Graben. Once there, they went to mid-block and Franzl followed him through the doors to Pichler's, an art supply store that had been, as the engraving on its windows announced, in service to the crown for over a century. Werthen could not imagine any of the Habsburgs delighting in a fine set of charcoals or expertly mixed oils, but such products had been available at Pichler's, one assumed, if anyone from the court should desire them.
Franzl's face lit up like a Christmas tree as he surveyed the myriad of mahogany racks containing art supplies, from sketching pencils to canvases.
Werthen came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the shop. 'So, birthday boy, what will it be?'
'Sir?' Franzl was confused.
'It's your day, so your choice. A set of charcoals if you please, or —'
'Oh, no, sir. I couldn't. It wouldn't feel right. Like I was tricking you or something. Complaining just to make you feel sorry for me.'
Werthen was about to reply that as a lawyer, he was seldom tricked. Then he remembered how Vogelsang had bamboozled him this very day. Yet there was another realization: the tension from that trial was beginning to dissipate. He smiled at the boy.
'Franzl, I do appreciate your sentiment, and even more so the depth of thought and self-reflection that prompts such a statement. However, I assure you I do not feel manipulated. So, no more arguments. I am your employer and as such I order you to find yourself a fine set of charcoals.'
'Sir —' Franzl began, but a mock-stern expression from Werthen stilled him.
Werthen pulled the pocket watch out from his vest pocket. 'You have ten minutes, young man. Look lively.'
Franzl was off like a rabbit, a broad smile on his face.
Meanwhile, Werthen focused his mind, trying to keep evil thoughts regarding Vogelsang at bay. So concentrated was he in this effort that he did not even notice that Franzl had already returned clutching a small wooden box of charcoals.
'Is that what you want, then?'
'It's a wonderful one.'
'Not very many charcoals.'
'I'm just a beginner, sir.'
'That's not what your teacher tells me.'
'Frau Blau is just being polite.'
'Even the archduke complimented your horse drawings at the Christmas exhibition.'
Franzl blushed at this, but nodded as well. 'He did like them, didn't he?'
Werthen paid for the charcoals.
As they made their way along the windy streets, Werthen suddenly said, 'I think it is high time I get another case.'
'Another legal brief, sir?'
'No. I mean a real case. An investigative case.'
'I think that's a wonderful idea, sir.'
'And you know what else I feel like now?' Werthen asked.
But he did not wait for a reply.
'A fine mélange for me and a large cup of chocolate smothered in schlagobers are in order for you, I believe.'
Franzl's eyes grew as large as half-crown pieces as Werthen led their way to the Café Frauenhuber.CHAPTER 2
No Herr Otto today, Werthen noticed as they entered the soothing, serene precincts of the Frauenhuber, his own personal 'third place,' as the Viennese liked to refer to their café. Home, work, café. In that order. But Fritz, another waiter, recognized him and led him and Franzl to a window table. Werthen ordered for them.
Franzl was looking about him in amazement, taking in the sight of all the affluent customers seated in Thonet chairs at their marble-topped tables, at the bustle of servers holding silver-plated trays full of cups and water glasses over their heads; experiencing the hum of low conversation going on all around them, the slap of Tarock cards at one table, the sizzle and snap of newspaper pages being turned.
'I've never been in one of these places,' Franzl said, as if he were forbidden the very use of the word 'café.' 'They usually shoo me away from the doors if I get close.'
'Well, no shooing here. You're gainfully employed, now, Franzl. A regular citizen. Now tell me. What fine drawing are you going to do with your new charcoals?'
The boy brightened. 'Frau Blau wants me to do more figure work. There's this old fellow with a long beard and deep-sunk eyes who she pays to model for us. That'll be a treat. Did you ever want any art stuff when you were my age?'
'Books were more my thing,' Werthen said as Fritz arrived with the coffee and hot chocolate.
They were sipping their respective brews when the jingling of the bell over the main door caught Werthen's attention. Herr Otto, attired all in black, entered, his cheeks red from the cold. It was odd to see the head waiter entering the front of the café. But Herr Otto seemed preoccupied, in some sort of distress.
The man quickly made his way through the main hall, nodding at familiar customers. When he saw Werthen he made special eye contact, lifted a fisted hand with forefinger an inch from the outstretched thumb to indicate 'just a moment,' and then disappeared behind swinging kitchen doors. In a moment, as promised, he reappeared, top coat and hat removed, now dressed in the full tuxedoed regalia of the Herr Ober. He made his way quickly to Werthen's table.
'I am so pleased to see you, Advokat Werthen.'
'I missed you when we first arrived,' Werthen replied. He and Herr Otto had a long history, beginning with Werthen aiding him in a false accusation of theft from his former position as head waiter at the Café Landtmann. Since that time, they had been allies, and Herr Otto had always managed to find Werthen a quiet table at the Frauenhuber when needed, always made sure to save a fresh edition of Neue Freie Presse for his perusal.
'If it is not a disturbance, Herr Advokat, might I request an appointment with you?'
'Legal matters, Herr Otto? A will perhaps?' Werthen smiled at him.
'In your other capacity, Herr Advokat.'
Werthen's heart quickened. A case. As he had told Franzl, he was badly in need of one.
He nodded at the black armband Herr Otto was wearing. 'Does that have anything to do with it?'
Herr Otto sighed. 'I have just returned from the funeral. A colleague. From the Café Burg.'
'Herr Karl?' Werthen had read about the unfortunate death of the man, slipping on an icy patch between the twin museums and cracking his head on a cement pillar at the base of the Maria Theresa monument. Herr Karl was something of a legend, known even to Werthen, who seldom visited the Café Burg. The 'little general,' his regulars had dubbed him, both for the man's love of military lore and for the way in which he ran things at the Burg.
'It was an accident. What is there to investigate?' Werthen asked.
'If I could talk to you at your office ...'
'Of course you can.'
'Perhaps later this afternoon, then, Herr Advokat. I have only come in to check on the books. Say in an hour, then?'
'I look forward to it,' Werthen said. 'And I am sorry for your loss.'
Herr Otto smiled at this, nodded to Franzl and was on his way.
Werthen looked at his young companion. 'Don't let it get cold. Better drink up.'
'You think somebody killed this Herr Karl fellow?' His eyes once again grew large at this possibility. 'You were hoping for a case. Maybe this is it, Herr Werthen.'
'Maybe,' Werthen allowed. 'Maybe.'
An hour later Werthen was seated in his office on the Habsburgergasse trying to concentrate on the file in front of him – a draft for the will of one Herr Schminkel, who could not decide to whom he wished to leave his most prized possession, his stamp collection. Werthen had created his own nickname for this client, the Flatulent Philatelist. Of an advanced age, Herr Schminkel did not seem to be fully in control of his bodily discharges. Werthen always made sure to apply a bit of 4711 KÖlnisch Wasser to his pocket handkerchief in advance of any meeting with the man.
A gentle rap at his door and his secretary, Fräulein Metzinger, poked her head in. 'Herr Swoboda and Herr Falk to see you, Herr Werthen.'
This took him aback; he was eager to speak with Herr Otto and now two new clients had arrived to interrupt that interview.
'Are they scheduled?' he asked, irritation in his voice.
'Herr Swoboda said that a meeting had been arranged,' the secretary explained, keeping her voice low so the visitors would not overhear.
Werthen was at a loss to remember any such arrangement, but finally relented.
'Send them in, then. The other gentleman I mentioned should be coming shortly.'
Fräulein Metzinger nodded curtly and withdrew, presently followed by Herr Otto and another younger man in tow.
Werthen felt an idiot. He had always known the waiter by the soubriquet Herr Otto, never even wondering about the man's surname. Now the problem is, Werthen decided, which one was he, Swoboda or Falk?
He rose from his desk. 'Come in, come in. Please be seated,' he said effusively, waving his hand at a pair of leather armchairs on their side of the desk.
Fräulein Metzinger had already relieved them of their hats and coats in the other office; Herr Otto sat with prim dignity, perching almost on the front of the cushion, hands in his lap, while his younger companion let himself fall back into his chair, legs akimbo and hands gripping the arms of the chair. There was a frosting of dandruff on the shoulders of the young man's dark suit.
'So, Herr Otto. How may I be of service to you?'
Herr Otto glanced momentarily at the young man next to him before speaking. 'Well, as you earlier learned, it is in regard to the death of Karl Andric. You see, Herr Advokat, his death was not an accident. It was murder.'
Werthen allowed the word to soak in for an instant before proceeding.
'You suspect this because ...?'
Herr Otto shook his head adamantly. 'Not a suspicion. A fact.' He looked at the young man next to him.
The young man's hands gripped the arms of his chair even more tightly now, white showing at his knuckles. Herr Otto broke the silence. 'This is my wife's nephew, Herr Werthen. Rudolph Falk. I was instrumental in getting him a position at the Café Burg. He has something to share with you.'
The young man seemed at a loss for words.
'Tell him, Rudi,' Herr Otto prompted.
Finally the young man sighed. 'I saw it all,' he said. 'That night, I saw it.'
'Saw what?' Werthen asked.
'Herr Karl, he was walking home. It was late and cold and he went off the Ring and into the park between the museums.'
'And you just happened to be there at this same time?' Werthen said.
To which comment Rudi Falk reddened violently.
Excerpted from The Third Place by J. Sydney Jones. Copyright © 2015 J. Sydney Jones. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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