Requiem in Vienna

A Viennese Mystery

Viennese Mysteries

J. Sydney Jones

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books


Tuesday, June 6, 1899

Vienna, Austria

Werthen refused to walk to the cemetery. He would show his respect to the dead by his presence at the grave site, but his damaged right knee, the result of a duel, kept him from making the two- mile pilgrimage by foot from the center of Vienna out to the Central Cemetery in Simmering, the recently incorporated Eleventh District, as hundreds of other dignitaries were doing.

A duel! My Lord, how blithely it played through his mind, but how improbable it would have seemed mere months before. As foreign to him as Swahili; as much an aberration to his staid existence as polite parlor conversation would be to a bushman.

A duel of words perhaps, verbal pyrotechnics before an easily amused judge; that had been his métier. But not a duel to the death; not the too- intimate warmth of an opponent’s back against his before beginning the mandatory fifteen paces. Not the cold feel of metal in his hand from a pistol. Not such an eccentricity for Karl Werthen, advokat superior of wills and trusts!

But he had done it, and done it well enough to explode his opponent’s cranium like a smashed pumpkin, spilling crimson blood and pinkish gray brains onto the green lawns of the Prater one chilly autumn morning. It had been a life- and- death struggle torid himself, his friends, and his beloved wife Berthe of a man who quite simply wanted to kill them all one fine day.

Werthen shook the evil memory of that brutal killing out of his mind, taking up position as closely as he could to the freshly dug grave site in Group 32A, plot number 27, just between the final resting places of Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. In operation for only a quarter of century, the Central Cemetery was already filling up. Five hundred acres, and soon the place would be a high- rent district, Werthen mused. Half the size of Zürich, as the Viennese quipped, and twice the fun.

Here at Group 32A were all the notables of musical history: those that had died since the cemetery’s opening in 1875, such as Brahms and Anton Bruckner, and those dead from an earlier epoch— Gluck, Beethoven, Schubert— their remains dug up and reinterred here in the 1880s. Missing, of course, were Papa Haydn, buried in Eisenstadt, and Mozart, and who knew where that poor wretch’s bones were.

No final resting place for Werthen in this group. No, his bones would molder in the Jewish plot near Gate 1.

Werthen had been dutifully at his office in the Habsburgergasse this morning when the crowds of mourners thronging the nearby Episcopalian Church had reminded him that this was the great one’s funeral. What the hell, he had thought. An outing. A show of respect for a true master. He told his assistant, Doktor Wilfried Ungar, that he would be back after lunch, and left before the priggish young man could make a comment. Ungar was the sort to flaunt his double degree in law and economics; even his intimates called him Doktor Doktor Ungar. Werthen could not complain, however. The junior lawyer had kept his firm going for the last few months with Werthen’s extended healing from his dueling injury and his subsequent reconsideration of what he wanted to do with his life. Lying in his recovery bed, he had felt like an adolescent again, facing the great questions of career and the meaning of life. A bullet in the flesh focuses one’s mind wonderfully on what ismost important in life. Actually, there had not been a lot of soul-searching involved: he’d begun his career in criminal law before turning to the more benign field of wills and trusts; he knew now he must return to his first calling in one form or another.

The crowds of mourners were only now reaching the cemetery after their long walk. Their route had been marked by gas streetlamps burning at midday. Businesses and schools had closed in order that the populace might pay their last respects as the funeral cortege passed by, the hearse drawn by four gray Lippizaners and accompanied by eight carriages full of flowers through the crowd- choked streets of Vienna.

It was unseasonably warm for early June. Werthen’s black serge suit soaked in the sun’s rays like a sponge. Sweat formed at his tight starched collar. He could imagine how uncomfortable those pilgrims were who had made the journey on foot; bad enough for him after a pleasant fiaker ride. Every able-bodied official, artist, musician, intellectual, and even a critic or two, had trudged along behind the coaches.

The sight of the funeral cortege approaching down the long lanes of the Central Cemetery reminded him of another funeral just last September; that of the Empress Elisabeth, so cruelly assassinated in Geneva. He felt a twinge in his knee at the thought, for her death and the wound were inextricably linked.

He brought his mind back to today’s events. People were jostling about him now, trying to get a good position to see the proceedings at graveside. An old and very diminutive gentleman who clearly had not made the trip on foot now crowded directly in front of Werthen, his rather unorthodox and impossibly high top hat completely blocking the lawyer’s view.

Pinned in on both sides with newly arrived mourners, Werthen had no choice but to tap the old man on the shoulder.

A red face punctuated by a heavily veined nose turned to confront him.

"Sorry. Perhaps you could remove your hat so I could see."

"Nonsense," the man spluttered and turned back to the grave.

The mayor had now arrived. Werthen strained to see around the shiny black hat as Karl Lueger, already a Viennese legend for his good looks as much as for his demagoguery, scrambled atop a makeshift platform. Werthen had a momentary impulse to squash the damnable stovepipe in front of him, for he wanted to get a good look at the mayor as he spoke. He could hardly understand his fascination with this Jew- baiting mayor, but there it was: Werthen like most of Vienna had been mesmerized with the man’s oratorical skill, his magnetism and charisma. Since taking office, Lueger, to his credit, had toned down his rhetoric, no longer blaming the Jews of the empire for every woe. He had initiated urban renewal projects, saw to the regulation of the Danube Canal and the completion of the Stadtbahn, the interurban rail, and initiated a form of welfarism for the citizens of the capital.

A hush fell over the gathered crowd as the mayor prepared to speak. At the same moment, Werthen, peering around the black column of hat in front of him, caught the eye of his old friend and client, the painter Gustav Klimt, standing on the opposite side of the grave from him. Klimt gave him a wink.

The painter, no giant himself— as broad as he was tall— towered over the man who stood next to him. Werthen recognized this smaller man as the director of the Hofoper, or Court Opera, Gustav Mahler, the youngest man to ever take the helm there, just thirty-seven when he arrived in Vienna two years earlier. They must have made the journey together on foot; Klimt, an eager walker, looked none the worse for wear. As he gazed at the pair of men, Werthen wondered when Klimt was ever going to pay his long overdue bill. Werthen now looked for the family members close by the graveside, but there were only distant members in attendance. Conspicuously missing was the man’s widow, Adele, and his brother, Eduard. Werthen found that decidedly odd.

"My friends," Mayor Lueger began in booming tones guaran-teed to reach the last rows, "we are gathered here today for a most solemn occasion. On the long mourning journey to this final resting place for our beloved maestro, thousands upon thousands gathered to bid a final farewell. Those Viennese citizens who took time off from their work, schools, and homes feel in their hearts the same as we all do who are gathered here— a heavy and heart-wrenching sadness at the loss of such a great man."

Werthen’s attention was distracted from the speech by a thin wraith of a man who was attempting the impossible: to insert himself between Werthen and the old man with the top hat.

". . . to be honored by his beloved city, buried between two other masters of music, Schubert and his beloved friend, Brahms. . . ."

He caught bits and pieces of the speech, focusing instead on the thin man who now edged effortlessly in front of him.

". . . We Viennese promise here on his grave never to forget this man or his music. . . ."

Werthen quickly saw the reason for the man’s crowding. The fellow was obviously waiting for a high point in the speech to make his move.

"And so I say to you, my dear friends, that so long as a Viennese lives, he will never forget you, dear maestro. We have chosen your final resting place here amidst the greatest composers the world has ever known. We testify therewith, that whenever Vienna is spoken of, then also will come the name Johann Strauss. We take leave of you now, dear Waltz King, leaving you to make your way on your final voyage, promising to forever keep the flame of your triumphant spirit alive in our hearts and souls."

At this there was general applause, despite the solemn occasion, and it was then the thin man struck.

Werthen was familiar with the technique from his early days defending such miscreants. The man’s wiry hand slipped neatly into the old man’s jacket pocket, deftly extracting a change purse of alarming proportions. As the gathered mourners continued toapplaud Mayor Lueger’s speech, to be replaced on the platform by the director of the Vienna Friends of Music, the ghostlike creature in front of Werthen proceeded to edge away.

"Not so fast," Werthen said, grabbing the man’s neck in a vicelike grip. The man’s head turned to him, startled eyes glared at him.

"What do you want?" the man fairly hissed at him.

"Hand over the money or it’s the Liesel for you."

The nickname for the city’s main prison did the trick; the man dropped the bag of coins and Werthen released his grip. The wraith melted away into the crowds. All of this transpired with such speed that those around him had been unaware of the altercation.

Werthen bent to pick up the old man’s purse. As he stood upright again, the old man turned, saw the purse in his hand, and began shouting.

"Thief! Thief! The bounder is stealing my purse."

Before Werthen could attempt an explanation, he was quickly pinioned at either arm by the men around him and hustled to the back of the crowd. The old man trundled along behind him making occasional outbursts. At the edge of the crowd, a gendarme in blue jacket and red pants clamped a heavy hand on his shoulder.

"Now, then," the gendarme said. "What’s all this about?"

Werthen spent the next fifteen minutes explaining what had happened, interrupted repeatedly by the blustery old man.

"And where is this pickpocket now?" the policeman asked.

But Werthen could not spot the man among the crowd of mourners. He’d most likely made a run for it after hearing the commotion.

"I assure you, Officer, I do not come to funerals on the off chance of picking some man’s pocket. I am a lawyer, after all, an officer of the court."

The crowds of people were beginning to trail away from the grave site now. Workers were busy unloading the flowers from the coaches, making hillocks of the heavily scented blooms. Other workers were spading dirt onto the coffin; the official gravestone would not be erected until later.

"Officer of the court or no," the policeman said, "there’s a complaint against you . . ."

"May I be of service?"

Werthen had not noticed Klimt’s approach. The usually gruff painter was all sweetness as he doffed his hat to the policeman and the old man alike. Those who had helped to take Werthen into "custody" had long since departed the scene, testifying only that they had seen the lawyer with the coin purse in his hand.

"That depends on the service you’re offering," the policeman replied. Klimt did not blink at this, however, maintaining his sweetness- and- light demeanor. Werthen was about to greet his old friend when Klimt gave an abrupt, though surreptitious, shake of the head.

The painter pulled a card out of his vest pocket and handed it to the policeman.

"Herr Gustav Klimt, at your service." He tipped his hat again, smiling unctuously. "Painter to his majesty’s court."

Stretching it a bit, thought Werthen. Sometimes painter of the ceilings of various public buildings, more like it. And full-time dis-ruptor of the public sense of decency and morality with his nudes.

The policeman eyed the proffered card suspiciously, rubbing a thick thumb over the embossed lettering.

"I was standing across from these gentlemen and I saw everything that transpired. This gentleman here"— he indicated Werthen—"was simply acting the Good Samaritan, stopping a theft in progress. He was attempting to return a coin purse to this gentleman"— indicating the old man—"and there arose a subsequent misunderstanding."

"The man is a bounder," the old one all but shouted. It was unclear whom he meant by this admonition, Werthen or Klimt.

"I’ll swear to it," Klimt plunged on. "You may take my testimony here and now if you like."

"Well," the policeman said.

"You’re not taking his word for it. They’re obviously in cahoots."

The policeman rolled his eyes at this statement from the elderly gent; a good sign, thought Werthen, who also realized any further protestations on his part would be counterproductive. The embossed lettering on Klimt’s card had done the trick: IMPERAL ROYAL COURT PAINTER,GUSTAV KLIMT.

The policeman plopped the coin purse back in the old man’s hands.

"I think we can say that justice has been done. It would seem there was a simple misunderstanding."

"Why, you blithering idiot," the old man spluttered.

Werthen left the man to his explanations. But the officer no longer looked in the mood for discussion.

They found a corner seat in the Café Feldman, directly across the street. It was a cavernous establishment, catering to funeral parties. Nothing cosy or gemütlich about it. But it was handy to the cemetery.

"Many thanks," Werthen said as they sat.

"Nothing more or less than you’ve done for me. Glad to return the favor. And I am especially happy that these cards I had printed have finally come to some use."

"It was fortunate you saw what had transpired," Werthen said, eying the menu on the table.

"Didn’t see a thing," Klimt said, not bothering to inspect his menu. "The duffer’s hat blocked my view. But I heard the old fool blustering on and figured out what had transpired. Serves him right for being such a stick- in- the- mud."

"You know him?" Werthen asked.

"Of him. I recognized him straight off . Surprised you didn’t,as well. That was Eduard Hanslick, Vienna’s self- styled musical dictator."

So that was Hanslick, Werthen thought. The man had ruled the musical scene for a generation; his critical opinions could still make or break a composer and performer. A great opponent to the Romantic music of Wagner and Bruckner, Hanslick supported the formal music of classicism, as represented by Brahms. What was his line about Johann Strauss? Something about the fact that Strauss’s tunes made the listener unfit for serious music. The pompous old buzzard; Werthen hoped the policeman fined him for being rude.

The waitress arrived and Klimt ordered coffee with schlag obers—"A mountain of whipped cream," he said to the young woman. "Burying a man gives a fellow an appetite." This to be accompanied by a linzer torte.

Werthen had his usual kleine braune; he hoped to be home in time for lunch. Frau Blatschky had promised zwiebelrostbraten today. He could almost taste the succulent fried bits of onion and beef.

"A coincidence running into you like this," Klimt said. "I’ve been meaning to see you."

"Not another missing model, I hope," Werthen said, for it was the death of one of Klimt’s models that had initiated Werthen’s first case. He was beginning to think of his extralegal activities like that now: as cases. Just yesterday he had had his brass plaque at the entrance to Habsburgergasse changed. No longer did it read merely ADVOKAT KARL WERTHEN,WILLS AND TRUSTS. Now it was: advokat karl werthen: wills and trusts, criminal law, private inquiries.

Klimt shook his head. "Nothing so serious I should think, though there does seem to be a hint of the dramatic to it. A possible case."

Werthen perked up.

"You know of the young Schindler girl, I expect?" Klimt asked.

"Schindler? You mean the landscape painter?"

"Emil Schindler. Yes. His daughter, Alma. Poor Emil, died of a ruptured appendix."

"T at’s right," Werthen recalled. "And his widow married your partner at the Secession, Moll."

"Carl Moll," Klimt said. "I am glad to see you keep up with art world gossip." He nodded knowingly at Werthen, as if he should now comprehend the full story.

He did not. "Obviously not all the gossip," Werthen admitted.

"Well, you see, the young lady and I are often thrown together both professionally and privately—"

"Tell me no more. Another conquest."

Klimt had the good grace to redden at this. "Hardly. Though I confess that I am, like many another man, rather smitten with the young thing. So beautiful. And a head full of brains to go with it. She fancies herself a musician."

Another pause as the coffees and pastry were delivered. Klimt’s cup was a miniature Matterhorn of whipped cream. He looked pleased, gazing fondly at the waitress’s behind as she departed.

"Such a sweet young thing," he said, turning back to his coffee and cake, and digging in.

Werthen allowed him five minutes of uninterrupted eating and drinking, by which time Klimt had made large inroads to both coffee and cake.

"Alma Schindler," Werthen prompted.

"Yes, yes. Marvelous girl, and I rather think she is besotted of me, as well. I traveled with her and her family to Italy this spring and there was chemistry between us to be sure. Walking in Venice’s Piazza San Marco. . . . But difficulties, as well. Carl . . . Moll, I mean, not you—"

"The stepfather does not approve."

Klimt shook his head sadly. "Bourgeois conventions. Alma knows her own mind and body, I can tell you. Any other sweet young thing would have shared my bed by now." He sighed deeply and sadly.

Copyright 2010 by J.Sydney Jones.
Published in January 2010 by A Thomas Dunne Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.