- Book One: Talking Pictures
- Book Two: Flickers
- Book Three: Hollywood
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“What possible need has Germany for more dreadnoughts?”
“Because now strikes the hour of Germany’s rising power,” replied Schultz, as loudly.
Conversation ceased. Every man in the smoker waited for Lord Strone’s response.
The Briton tugged a watch from his vest. He thumbed it open, peered at the face, and announced to laughter, “The hour, by my timepiece, appears to be half-eleven.”
“I refer to Germany’s achievements,” Karl Schultz replied proudly. “We have surpassed England in the production of coal and steel, and our scientists are dominant in chemicals and electricity. We produce half the world’s electrical equipment. And we have a superior culture of music, poetry, and philosophy.”
Archie’s friend Hermann Wagner interrupted in a gentle voice. “‘Superior’ is perhaps a strong word among shipmates. From strength comes humility.”
“Humility is for fools,” Schultz growled. “We are neither despots like the Russians nor weakling democrats like the French. Our achievements give Germany the right, the duty, the lofty duty, to seek more colonies.”
“Good God, man, you’ve got German East Africa and German South-West Africa. You’ve even got a sliver of Togoland, as I recall. What more do you need?”
“Leopold, king of minuscule Belgium, has the entire Congo. Germany demands her rightful share of Africa. And South America, and the Pacific, and China. England has had too much for too long.”
The earl’s lips tightened, and he started to rise to his feet.
Hermann Wagner intervened, placating him with smiles and pleasantries. Strone settled back down in his chair, harrumphing like an indignant mastiff, “The colonies are already spoken for.”
“Strone’s a darned good actor,” Isaac Bell told Archie.
“Actor? What do you mean?”
“Ten-to-one he’s British Military Intelligence.”
Archie Abbott looked more closely.
“And twenty-to-one,” Bell added, “he’s not retired.”
Archie, who himself would have become an actor if his mother had not forbidden such a leap from society’s bosom, nodded agreement. “No bet.”
The Briton said to the German, “You want war in hopes of grasping the spoils of war.”
“Those powers that try to impede German ascendancy will eventually recover from the weakening we mete out and accept their place in the new order.”
Lord Strone rounded suddenly on Isaac Bell. “You, sir, you look like an American.”
“I have that honor.”
“Will the United States accept the ‘new order’?”
Bell answered diplomatically. “Britain’s navy rules the seas, and the German Army is the largest in the world. We have every hope that you will work out your differences. In fact,” he added sternly, “we expect you to work out your differences.”
“Not likely so long as Germany keeps building dreadnoughts,” said the earl.
Schultz’s cheeks flushed crimson. “I quote Kaiser Wilhelm: ‘Our armor must be without flaw.’”
Hermann Wagner intervened again, smiling polite apologies for his countryman’s florid aggressiveness. “But if — God forbid — Great Britain and the German Empire are on a collision course, on which side will America stand?”
“On the far side of the Atlantic Ocean,” drawled Archie Abbott, sparking laughter around the room.
The Berliner laughed with them and even the Chimney Baron smiled. But Lord Strone replied gravely, “We are sailing in a four-day ship, sir. Mauretania steams to New York at twenty-six knots. The world is closer than Americans think.”
“Not so close we won’t see it coming,” said Isaac Bell.
The men laughed again, sipped their drinks, and drew on cigarettes and cigars.
Hermann Wagner broke the silence, and Isaac Bell wondered why he persisted so. “But if America had to choose, was forced to choose, to whom would you gravitate?”
“Germany,” Schultz answered. “More Germans have emigrated to the United States than from any other nation.”
“Americans and Englishmen share blood and centuries of tradition,” countered the Earl of Strone. “We are brothers.”
“But Americans fought their brothers in the Civil War.”
A grim glance flickered between Isaac Bell and Archie Abbott. It sounded as if the German Empire and the British Empire would fight sooner than later. God knows if France, Russia, Italy, and Austria would pile on. But the two detectives had no doubt that the United States of America should steer clear of Europe’s chaotic politics.
Isaac Bell stood to his full height and looked the certainly not retired military intelligence officer in the eye. The Briton, at least, ought to know that the days of romantic cavalry charges were long dead. Then he widened his commanding gaze to encompass the Germans and said to all, “Before you resort to war, I recommend you observe closely the effects of up-to-date machine guns. If you gents can’t sort out your differences, you’ll turn Europe into a slaughterhouse.”
“Are you in the arms trade, Mr. Bell?” asked Wagner.
“Oh, really? May I ask what firm?”
“Dagget, Staples and Hitchcock.”
“Venerable firm,” Lord Strone rumbled. “My solicitors engage them for my American holdings. But tell me, old chap, is it common for insurance men to observe the effects of modern machine guns?”
“We number among our clients Connecticut and Massachusetts arms factories,” Bell answered smoothly. “And by extension, factories with whom they conduct business abroad. Vickers, of course, in England,” he said to Strone, and to Schultz, “Krieg Rüstungswerk in Germany. Are you familiar with Krieg?”
“Only by reputation,” Hermann Wagner answered, as the Chimney Baron glanced aside.
“What is Krieg’s reputation?”
“Innovative,” Hermann Wagner interrupted, again. “Full of get-up-and-go, as Americans would say.”
Arthur Curtis, who manned the Van Dorn Detective Agency’s one-room Berlin field office, was a short, rotund Coloradan. With a quick, sunny smile, a friendly glint in his blue eyes, and a potbelly straining his vest, Art Curtis looked less like a first-class private investigator than a prosperous liquor salesman.
He got busy on Beiderbecke and Lynds the instant he received Bell’s marconigram. It was in his nature to get right to it, but in the case of Isaac Bell, he would never forget that when his old partner Glenn Irvine was killed by the Butcher Bandit, it had been Bell, shot twice in that gun battle, who paid from his own pocket to look after the dead detective’s aged mother.
Curtis had operated in Berlin less than a year and was still developing the network of contacts — in government, business, the military, police, and criminals — that he would need to raise the field office to Van Dorn standards. He made swift progress nonetheless, establishing that Professor Franz Bismark Biederbecke held a prestigious chair at Vienna’s Imperial-Royal Polytechnic Institute and that Clyde Lynds’s multiple degrees confirmed that he was the genius his mentor had proclaimed him to be.
But he ran smack into a stone wall when he popped his first question about the munitions trust. A policeman he had cultivated, a middle-ranked detective, fell silent on the telephone. Curtis listened to the wires hiss, wondering why the sudden reticence. Finally, the policeman said, “It could be dangerous.”
“What could be dangerous?”
“When Krieg Rüstungswerk GmbH hears that you are asking questions, it will be very dangerous.”
Threatening Arthur Curtis was a surefire way to get his dander up. “Is that so?”
“That is so, Herr Private Detective,” said the German. “I have kept you far too long on the telephone. Good day, sir.”
Arthur Curtis returned the earpiece to his telephone, took out his favorite pistol, a finely crafted lightweight Browning 1899 that fit his small hand, and broke it down and cleaned it to clear his mind. A sharp knock at the door alerted him to trouble.
“I told you,” he said, without looking up as the door opened, “go away.”
“I am here for your own good,” Pauline Grandzau replied, stepping in uninvited and draping the coat and hat she had already taken off on the clothes tree. “You need me.”
Art Curtis ground his teeth. He had come to think of her as Pauline the Plague.
“For the last time: I do not need a girl in this office. Even if I did, which I don’t, I would not need a girl who is only seventeen years old and is probably lying about her actual age which is plausibly sixteen or less.”
“Every great detective needs an apprentice.”
Curtis looked up, wearily. This had been going on for weeks. She was standing there with that same hopeful smile on her freckled face, a skinny little German student with yellow braids, bright blue eyes, and the moxie of a Berlin street fighter.
“I’m not a great detective,” said Curtis, who could play disguises with the best of them. He wheeled out a favorite: roughhewn Westerner. “I’m not that fancy Sherlock Holmes you’re always reading about. I’m just a working stiff. That lets me off the hook.”
“It is your duty to society to take an apprentice. How else will the young learn?”