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Authors: Peter King

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BOOK: Dine and Die on the Danube Express
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Henri Larouge sat a couple of seats behind her. He was at one of the seats with a folding table, which he had covered with papers. He was too busily engrossed in his work to pay attention either to the scenery or other passengers. He frowned then scribbled frantically.

Resume your journey as if nothing had happened,
had been Kramer’s order,
but be doubly

triply

alert. Talk to everyone you can and listen carefully to what they say. Some person

or persons

on this train have information on these peculiar events and a word or two may give us a clue we need.

I was doing just that, but the other passengers were going to have to be more forthcoming than Fraulein Svarovina, or I wouldn’t be able to learn a thing. I went across the aisle and sat opposite Henri Larouge. He glanced up from his papers and didn’t look particularly pleased to be interrupted. I hoped this wasn’t going to be two in a row.

“Have you heard the rumors?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and kept juggling numbers.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you—”

“I am reviewing the food shipments we will be taking on in Vienna,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose the train has to take on more food at intervals,” I said, “sort of like in-flight refueling for planes.”

He didn’t appear to relish the comparison. “It would be foolish to bring food for the entire journey from Munich. We take on food in Vienna and in Budapest. We normally stop in Belgrade but the present political unrest changes that.” Despite his dislike of being interrupted, he evidently enjoyed the responsibility of his job enough to want to tell me about it.

“It is all planned by the DS Bahn. This way, we get food that is really fresh and are able to serve the food of each different country and know that it is authentic.”

“I didn’t realize that you worked for the DS Bahn.”

“I do not. The company I work for us is contracted by the DS Bahn.”

“So you have heard the rumors?” I returned to my theme.

He could see he wasn’t going to get rid of me that easily. He pushed his papers away a couple of inches with a visible sign of impatience. “I have heard that Fraulein Malescu has been murdered, and I have heard that she has disappeared.”

“That’s what I’ve heard, too,” I told him chattily. “I don’t see how she could do both.”

“Nor do I. It may be some publicity stunt. She is a very flamboyant woman.”

“Has she been in the news before in similar circumstances?” I asked.

“Several times. She loves the headlines.”

“You have followed her career, have you?”

“No, not at all, but all the big newspapers and TV stations report her affairs, her movements, her appearances, her performances—she is news whatever she does.”

“You sound disapproving,” I said. It is a comment that I have found often useful.

“I do not disapprove,” Larouge said. “Now Czerny—there is one who disapproves.” He permitted himself a superior smile.

“Who is Czerny?” I had heard what Karl Kramer had to say about him, another viewpoint would be helpful.

“Mikhel Czerny, he is a journalist on the Budapest
Times.
He detests Malescu—he criticizes all her performances, makes fun of her escapades, twists her interview statements around …”

“Do you think he detests her enough to kill her?” I asked. “Or kidnap her?”

“Of course not,” he said decisively, then he thought for a moment. “It sounds very improbable,” he added.

Another thought struck me—could Czerny have a personal motive? Could a reason have arisen beyond his hate campaign in the media? Something personal? Maybe it was the other way around? Perhaps he had had a personal antipathy toward Malescu, and that had found a vehicle in his columns?

Larouge found my contemplation on these ideas an opportunity to return to his calculations. I decided to leave him alone and find another victim. A man in his late sixties with curly fair hair and twinkling eyes introduced himself. He was Henryk Sundvall, the Swedish historian and biographer of the Danube Express.

“We will be passing through Linz in a few moments,” he told me. “It is one of the places where the Danube is at its widest.”

“I am pleased to see that you look excited,” I told him. “It is good to have a guide who is enthusiastic about his work.”

He chuckled. “A guide?
Ja
, I suppose I am though I do not guide the train. I enjoy this job, though, and I love this part of Europe.”

The countryside was getting more hilly, and the railroad descended gently into a beautiful valley with wooded hills on both sides.

“This is the Kirnbergerwald,” Sundvall said. “It will be pines all the way to Linz.” He pointed. “That is the pilgrimage church of Postlingberg, and coming up next—there it is—Mount Calvary or Kalvarienberg, also famous as a destination for pilgrims.”

“Will we be able to see any landmarks in Linz?” I asked.

“The
Schloss
, the castle, stands high above the Danube and close to the south bank, so we will have a good view of it. It was built for the Emperor Friedrich III, who resided there with his court in the fifteenth century. It was burned down but rebuilt and is now a fine museum. We are approaching it now”—he pointed—“there!”

It was a square, solid-looking structure, more of a residence than a conventional castle. “And over there”—Sundvall pointed again—“is the old cathedral, the
Alter Dom.
It was built by the Jesuits.”

He waved a hand. “Beyond it, just out of sight is the
Bruckner Haus.
Anton Bruckner, the composer, was born there. The building is now a concert hall, one of the most acoustically perfect in Europe. Many famous composers have lived in Linz—Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert composed some of their finest work here.”

“What a pity the Danube is never blue,” I commented. The dirty brown color belied its soubriquet completely as it slid out of sight behind us.

“Oh, but it is always blue!” Sundvall protested. He smiled at my questioning look. “Yes, it is always blue to Austrians!”

The train was picking up a little speed as we left the city. “We will be passing through Melk very shortly,” said Sundvall. “It is famous, too. Melk Abbey is one of the finest Baroque buildings in the world.”

“It’s mentioned in the
Niebelungenlied
, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I believe its fame in present times is due to its use in Umberto Eco’s excellent novel,
The Name of the Rose.
It stands overlooking the Danube and has done so since before the year nine hundred.”

“Three hundred years before the
Niebelungenlied
was written,” I commented. Every German knows the epic poem that tells of Siegfried and Brunhilde and the attempt to steal the vast treasure of the
Niebelungen,
a tribe of dwarfs. People of the other Western nations know the music of Wagner that illustrates the same story.

“Unfortunately,” said Sundvall, “we will not be able to see another famous sight just past Melk Abbey—and that is
Durnstein
Castle.”

“Ah, yes, where King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned on his way back from the Crusades.”

“Exactly—when, from outside the walls came the sounds of the lute played by his troubadour, Blondel, who was searching for his master.”

“A wonderful story,” I said. “Why can’t we see the castle though?”

“It is north of the Danube. We use the track that follows the Danube Valley.”

“What are those large birds?” I asked.

“They are herons. The men who operate boats on the Danube call them ‘water makers’ and observe them closely.”

“Why is that?”

“If the heron is seen to be standing in the shallows with its beak pointing upstream, then it means that high water is approaching. If it is pointing downstream, then a stretch of low water is approaching. That used to be very important in earlier days when the depths of the Danube had not been measured and mapped. Heavily laden vessels could easily run ashore without the guidance from the herons.”

The Danube was twisting and turning as we rolled on, but the railbed smoothed it out, using bridges, some old and stone and some newer, steel and ugly.

“We come now to the
Strudel
,” said Sundvall. “It is a series of white-water rapids. Many vessels have been wrecked here. There are whirlpools, too.”

A tall, sharp rock rose on the far bank, a ruined castle on its tip, and just beyond it, on the near bank, was another castle, much larger and in better condition.

“Tales of hauntings are common here.” Sundvall smiled. “Ghostly orchestras, armed knights, the clash of swords, and the neighing of warhorses—all have been heard or seen. We are approaching another ruined castle—there, it is coming in sight. It is known as the Devil’s Tower and is said to be inhabited by the Black Monk, who shows false lights that lure ships onto the rocks.”

“Lucky we’re on a train,” I said.

“Indeed it is. Ah, I am sorry, I must go. My wife awaits me.”

“Thanks for all the information. I look forward to talking to you again.”

At the other end of the coach, Herman Friedlander, the orchestra conductor, appeared. I approached him and asked if he was enjoying the journey.

He brushed back his long hair with a flick of the fingers that was obviously an oft-repeated gesture. The long face that I had initially considered doleful was the same, clearly normal for him.


Ja
.” He nodded. “I thought this was going to be an enjoyable trip, but there are stories. You have heard them?”

He was making it easy for me. I lowered my voice to a suitably conspiratorial level. “I have heard that Magda Malescu has disappeared. I have also heard that she has been murdered. Both sound ridiculous—but I have not seen her on the train. What have you heard?”

“I have heard those, too—but then the woman is such a demon for publicity, one must take the stories with a large amount of salt.”

“I understand that not everyone in Hungary is a fan of hers,” I said. “There’s that journalist—”

“Mikhel Czerny, yes. He tears her apart in print at every opportunity.”

“That’s what I’ve heard. Does he treat any other prominent persons that way?”

“No, none.”

“It sounds as if he has some personal hatred for her, doesn’t it?”

Friedlander shrugged. “I suppose so.” He pointed out of the window. “We are now in Austria.” The landscape that was rolling by did not look very different, but I didn’t doubt that he was right. I presumed that he did not find the Malescu mystery absorbing so I tried another tack.

“You are going to Bucharest?”

“Yes.”

“Are you conducting there?”

“Yes, I am guest conductor of the Bucharest Symphony.”

“Are you conducting the missing Mozart?”

For a moment, he didn’t answer. It was as if he had not heard. He kept watching the rural scenery sweeping past the window. His voice was cold when he said, “Certainly not.” I wondered if he was going to say more, and I waited.

Finally, he said, “Evidently, you do not know. Most people who follow European music are aware that I am a descendant of Antonio Salieri.”

“Ah,” I said, “the famous rivalry between Mozart and Salieri. I thought that had been dismissed by musical historians as largely fictitious and promoted by Peter Schaffer’s play?”

“Not at all. There is such a faction, of course, but the rivalry—well, it was much more than that. Pushkin had already written of it in very strong terms.”

“The missing manuscript is on this train, I believe.”

Friedlander dismissed my comment with another shrug. “So I have heard.”

“Our newspapers haven’t reported much about it. I suppose it has been reliably authenticated?”

“I have heard that, too.”

“It must be very valuable,” I went on, determined not to be put off by Friedlander’s personal prejudices.

“Not to me,” he said icily.

“You must agree that Mozart is a musical genius though?”

A third shrug was inevitable—and it came. Here was a man who carried a grudge a long way.

“So this missing manuscript could be one of his greatest works?”

“Will no one rid me of this pestilent fellow?” was written all over Friedlander’s face, but I was determined to learn all I could about as many passengers as possible, and I wasn’t going to let go of my victim of the moment. After a pause, he said, “It could be, but I doubt it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It was written while the foolish boy was still in love with both his cousin, Maria Anna Tekla, and the singer, Aloysia Weber. It was a productive period in his life, certainly, but he was smitten by both these girls and was not able to concentrate on being musically creative.”

“The love of a woman can be stimulative to an artist, can it not?”

“Not in Mozart’s case. He was an adolescent all his life. His idea of love was to write obscene and suggestive letters, and his language when with women he ‘loved’ was on the same vulgar level.”

“We have instances of many artists who could completely separate their personal lives from their careers. Maybe he was one such example.”

“No!” Friedlander’s answer was almost explosive. His heavy face took on a flush—the first sign of emotion I had seen from him. “He was a child who never grew up. His humor was that of the toilet. He did not know what love was.”

“What will happen to the manuscript when it reaches Bucharest? Is the work going to be performed?”

“It will be on display at the Music Festival.” His lip curled. I have read about people doing that—now I saw a perfect example.

He was watching the fields and streams as they passed, but his mind was still on our conversation. “What will happen to it when it arrives in Bucharest, you ask?”

He turned from the panorama unfolding outside to face me. “Better to ask—
if
it arrives,” he said slowly.

CHAPTER SEVEN

A
STEWARD APPROACHED ME
. “
Entschuldigen Sie, Meinherr
, but Herr Kramer would like to speak with you.”

I was curious to know why Friedlander had doubts that the manuscript would arrive in Bucharest but at the steward’s interruption, Friedlander said quickly, “We must talk again later,” and walked away down the corridor.

BOOK: Dine and Die on the Danube Express
12.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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