Posts Tagged ‘Vienna’

9780727882691The fourth novel in the Viennese Mystery series, The Keeper of Hands, has just been published in the U.S., to strong reviews. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly dubbed it “masterful,” and further praised the “top-notch detecting and characterizations.” Booklist also gave it a thumbs up, noting: “As much an exploration of prewar [WWI] Vienna as it is a mystery yarn, the book is full of striking visual imagery that helps conjure up the landscape…this series is well worth a look.”

In tandem with that publication, I had an interview with journalist Guy Bergstrom for the Big Thrill, the monthly online mag of the International Thriller Writers. He asked me an interesting question about the moment I knew as a student in Vienna in the late 1960s that I wanted to stay on there for a number of years and write about the city. It brought to mind this tale of Cold War Vienna:

As a student, I frequented a dive of a café near my lodgings in the third district. It was dodgy and not gemütlich at all. A worker joint with a perpetual haze of blue smoke overhead, a zinc bar, and a jukebox on which someone was always playing “Rock around the Clock.” I would take my small orange-covered, graph lined Rhodia notebook and a pocketful of Staedtler HB pencils with me when I went there, order an achtel of gut-burning Vetliner, and imagine I was another Hemingway in the making.

One evening a rather drunken man at the next table asked me what I was scribbling. I humored him–he seemed a pleasant enough type–and said I was trying to write a short story about Vienna. He immediately got up, came to my table, and sat down without being invited, breathing rank fumes in my face as he leaned in toward me. “I’ve got a story,” he all but hissed. Then he cast his eyes about the room to make sure no one was watching.

It was early autumn and a warm evening; he was dressed in short sleeves. He quickly pulled up the sleeve on his left arm. There, on the inside of his upper bicep was a black tattoo. It took me a moment to decipher it, for it was in Gothic script. I finally realized that it was the letters “AB”.

I raised my eyebrows; he nodded. An avid reader of thrillers even then, I knew that this was his blood type. It was also his badge: he was a former SS.

“I have stories,” he whispered.

At that moment I realized I was not in Kansas (in my case, Oregon) anymore. I was out in the big world where anything could happen, swept up into the cyclone of history. I remember the frisson of excitement I experienced at that realization. I wanted to keep repeating it.


For more about The Keeper of Hands and the background of the Viennese Mysteries, see my podcast interview with Publishers Weekly. 99-v1-138x.PNG

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Ignaz Semmelweis

I am a great fan of Ignaz Semmelweis. I met him when researching my book on Hitler and his time in Vienna. I found the story compelling. Here was a physician who saw the obvious–not the easiest thing to do. Faced with mortality rates of 10 to 35% for women giving birth in the clinics of Vienna in the mid nineteenth century, he looked for reasons rather than excuses. These women died of what was called puerperal fever following childbirth. In fact, the Vienna General Hospital’s obstetric clinic had three times the mortality rate of the midwife’s ward.

Semmelweis, something of an outsider to Vienna at the time as a Hungarian practicing in Vienna, looked outside of the box. What was the difference here? Well, number one, many of the physicians working in the obstetric wards began their days performing autopsies and dissections in the morgue in the basement of the General Hospital. They were quite literally digging their hands into the viscera of dead bodies teaming with millions of bacteria. But of course at this time the germ theory had not yet been advanced. Bacteria was a word that awaited another century. But using simple empirical evidence, Semmelweis thought that perhaps there was a connection between those doctors dipping their hands into the open cavities of dead people, wiping them off on their soiled white jackets, and then proceeding to assist in the birth of babies, and the subsequent death of the mothers. He proposed a simple experiment: before proceeding to work on healthy individuals, doctors should wash their hands in a solution of lime and chlorine.

The mortality rate in birthing wards dropped dramatically to below 1%. (more…)

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Fans of this blog know that I occasionally post remembrances of Vienna and Europe during the final decades of the Cold War. These have always gotten a good response–good enough that I have gathered some of these together (plus a long short story) for a memoir now available as an Amazon Kindle.

Here is the blue-eyed refugee from the Biafran War, Ubhani, the man in the tower of the title, seeking asylum in the Austrian capital; the Hungarian patriot who pays his own special tribute to the 1956 uprising; the nondescript state police agent commissioned to watch foreigners in neutral Austria to ensure they did not ruffle the feathers of the Soviets; the editor of a prestigious Viennese publishing house none too eager to do business with a brash young Ami.

Travel back to Czechoslovakia just months after the Soviet’s brutal suppression of Prague Spring in’68; to guard towers along the waist-deep waters of a lake on the Austro-Hungarian border; to a cozy armchair at the British Council Library; to an all-purpose Tabak Trafik: to life in a Cretan cave; or to the final voyage of the SS France.

An added bonus is the short story, “Body Blows,” which introduces Sam Kramer, the foreign correspondent protagonist from my new series of novels set in Europe following the fall of the Wall.

Cover art is by a talented graphic artist, Peter Ratcliffe.

And hey, at $4.99, what’s not to like?


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Some facts and figures.  For many of these I must thank Tony Judt, a gentleman and scholar who is sorely missed. His Postwar is an incredibly readable overview of Europe from 1945 to the early years of the new millennium.

I have mentioned elsewhere that Vienna in the 1960s was, in the words of my poet-friend George Vance, arrested in the Moose Lodge stage of development. Some numbers: Car ownership was low at the time: Great Britain had only about 2,300 cars in 1951; Spain just 89,000; and in France only one in twelve households had a car. But between 1950 and 1980, car ownership doubled each decade.  The advent of the Volkswagen Beetle, the Renault 4CV,the Fiat 500 and 600, and the Citroen 2CV transformed Europe from a continent on public transport to one in the private car looking for the next rest stop. (more…)

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I did not grow up in the land of shopping malls. A trip to Portland once a year promised riches at the local Meier and Frank, Oregon’s simulacrum of Macy’s. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward (truncated to Monkey Ward in Oregon speak) were our connections to the great outside world of consumerism.

Still we in our small coastal town had our Safeway, we could boast a Penny’s nearby. You knew where to buy things; maybe they were distant, but once you traveled to those stores, you knew where things were. The world was a well-organized place, each aisle to a different good. (more…)

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Another installment of memoirs:

The New York Statler Hilton

I didn’t know it at the time, but the New York Statler Hilton (that’s what it was called in 1968 when I was a guest/victim there) has the dubious distinction of having the New York phone number in longest continuous use. The number, PEnnsylvania 6-5000, has been around so long, in fact, that it was the inspiration for the 1940 Glen Miller hit.

I didn’t know the number, though. Couldn’t have called if I wanted to, trussed up like a Christmas goose, my own Clorox scented handkerchief stuck down my gob. They cut the phone line, too, just in case.

They. Sorry. Antecedent. The two fellows who helped me find my room. Me, an obvious hick from the sticks on my first ever trip on my own, headed to school in Europe. The Statler Hilton was full of twenty-year-olds like me, gathered there to spread out across the European continent for junior-year-abroad programs. Fresh-faced, whitebread kids from all over the hinterland all gathered at the Statler. (more…)

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Toothpicks in the Foam

Baron Freiherr Franz von Uchatius

More tales of Cold War Vienna:

That year I lived on Uchatiusgasse, a long and undistinguished street, not far from the Landstrasse stadtbahn station. It was a word so full of gutturals that I never questioned until years later the derivation of the name. My street, it turns out, was named after one of those curious nineteenth-century autodidacts, Baron Freiherr Franz von Uchatius, an inventor and military man who once ran the Vienna Arsenal. Among his inventions was a primitive projector for moving pictures that predated the American Edison’s by fifty years. He gained military renown and a general’s rank for his invention of a steel bronze alloy that proved effective in casting military weapons. However, when one of the cannon cast from this metal exploded while being demonstrated to the Emperor himself, Uchatius took the Viennese way out and killed himself. (more…)

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Here’s another from Cold War Vienna. This is a reprise from a guest gig I did at the blog of writer Jim Thompson, Jimland. In case you missed it there:

In the beginning was the word.

Well, one cent a word, to be exact. Or sometimes twenty-five cents for a column-inch of them.

And we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But with my newspapers that was literally true: ten dollars per each 5×7 black and white shot.

Hemingway developed his terse, adjective-free style writing cable dispatches from the front lines of the early twentieth century. I developed a flatulent, baroque style on the front lines of padded per-word journalism. I was a budding feuilletonist even before I knew what that word meant.

My life in crime began with travel articles for my local newspaper, the Seaside Signal. What did the folks back home make of my stories about the bird lady of Stadt Park, or the vintner down the street from my Viennese lodgings who was stuck with a 20,000 liter vat full of 1942 Muller Thurgau which had turned to pickle juice, or the ennui of thirty-two hours on the Orient Express?

My mom loved them. I earned twenty-five bucks a pop with a photo. That money went a long way in Vienna at the time. And I could actually, in all honesty, write Freiwilliger Journalist on my Austrian registry card instead of Student. A freelance journalist was almost a writer.

Soon I came up with a journalistic pyramid scheme: If my hometown paper was willing to fork over that kind of money for a local-boy-abroad story, why couldn’t I take advantage of that same public-minded spirit with every small-town newspaper in the States?

These were the days before 24-7 cable news, before the Internet offered snippets of news lifted from every reputable newspaper, thereby destroying said newspapers’ reader base. These were the days of flourishing independent dailies and weeklies all over America. Mom and pop journalism in a country otherwise run by Safeway.

The plan: Europe was full of American tourists. Even my tiny corner of it in Austria was bristling with Kodak-toting couples and families from every state in the union. You always knew the Americans. An Austrian friend once told me he knew at once I was an Ami simply because of my loose gait. Europeans never saunter–well, at least back then they did not. Europeans back then were also rarely over six foot. And there was that nagging issue of volume and volubility.

Back to the plan: I determined to interview Americans I encountered, write up a little story of their travels, get a picture or two, and then send said unsolicited article to their local paper. At twenty-five bucks a pop, I would be living fat in no time.

I was only twenty-two. Sweet innocence.

In fact, a number of newspapers did respond with checks, which, once taken to my local Laenderbank, would be cleared in a matter of days and exchanged for hard schillings. But there were never enough checks to really live on. The emphasis is on free in freelance.

Soon I found work as an in-house mailman at one of the UN offices in town. Between rounds I would work on my first novel. Occasionally checks came in from Modesto or Cherry Hills. Largely I forgot about my scheme, though, caught up in work and new friends. One of the latter hailed from a small town in Ohio. He wore a blue uniform; I wore a white lab coat. That meant I was one grade higher.

George and his singer wife had just arrived in Vienna. She was a coloratura, he played bass. It was a good friendship–still is, in fact.

I mentioned that small town in Ohio. That is called foreshadowing. Calling your attention to it is called postmodernism. I footnote it, I get more critical kudos.

Turns out George’s mother is an avid reader of the local newspaper and one day she spots a story about the local librarian who was traveling in Vienna. Written by a fellow called Jones who lives in Vienna. Next time she writes to her son, George’s mom asks, “Ever heard of this Jones?”

I never took greater pleasure in writing a letter than I did that one to the small town Ohio newspaper. Turns out they never paid me for that story they ran. It was grand fun describing to them the duties of the fourth estate, how they are the beacon of truth and objectivity, how they are the very glue of a democracy.

Two weeks later a check for fifty dollars appeared in my letterbox in the foyer.

The WORD had just gone up in value.

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In honor of the Fourth of July, and my son’s birthday, I offer a bit of personal information.

I have written a dozen books and hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and encyclopedias. A full half of my published travel books, historical narratives, biographies, thrillers, and mysteries deal with or are set in Vienna, Austria. This is more than a quirk on my part. I was a student in Vienna in 1968, and went on to live in that city, and in other parts of Europe, for roughly the next twenty years.

I admit to being more than partly in love with Vienna. Having grown up in a small coastal town in Oregon, I was charmed and amazed by the Austrian capital, my first big city. And this was 1968, when, as a dear friend of mine liked to say, Vienna was still in the Moose Lodge stage of development. My landlady rationed my baths to once weekly; there were roughly torn squares of the daily Kurier newspaper dangling on a string from a bent nail in the clo to be used as toilet paper; beer, of a delicious species I had never known existed, was fifteen cents the pint; a good schnitzel cost less than a buck; ten p.m. was considered late; Bill Haley and His Comets still had pride of place in juke boxes. It was love at first sight. Vienna in the Sixties and Seventies had the rough-hewn quality of Dublin in the Eighties; both have since gone distinctly uptown. I liked them better as the down-at-heel dowagers they once were.

My year of college in Vienna provided a revelation of a different sort, as well: I discovered that I wanted to write. Weaned of television for the first time since I was five, I found that writing was not simply a youthful pose, but was instead something I needed to do. Vienna served as my Paris for the next decades: it was cheap, friendly, accommodating, full of music, and bristling with spies. Vienna was situated only miles away from the communist satellite countries of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I had my personal watcher, a pale, slim fellow who showed up at the oddest times and places. You felt on the edge in Vienna in those years, though it was at heart the coziest of bourgeois cities. Vienna was, and will always be, my second home; my daughter was born there, and I came to a facsimile of adulthood there.

I soon found a theme that I have explored for several decades: the amazing renaissance of Vienna 1900. That culture and epoch created the modern sensibility through the works of such seminal artists, writers, and thinkers as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, among many others. Vienna 1900 was also the breeding ground for such future tyrants as Trotsky, Stalin, and Hitler, all of whom also spent time in the city. My Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913: Clues to the Future began this exploration, juxtaposing the largely Jewish-led ferment in culture against the early down-and-out years of Hitler. I went on to write guides, Vienna Inside Out and Viennawalks, as well as the World War II thriller, Time of the Wolf, all of them inspired by my researches and years of living in Vienna.

In the mid 1990s I first toyed with creating a historical mystery series set in Vienna 1900. Early attempts had Mark Twain and then Thomas Edison as the protagonists. Finally, however, I hit on using a character from those abortive novels, Hanns Gross, the real-life “father of criminology,” as one of the major characters in a new attempt at a series. Methods of modern crime detection, including crime-scene preservation, the gathering and examination of footprints and fingerprints, the study of blood traces and weapons, handwriting analysis, and the vetting and interviewing of witnesses and suspects, were established by Gross in his decades as an investigative magistrate (at once an investigating officer and circuit court judge). Later, as the first professor of criminology in the Habsburg realms, Gross codified his principles in hundreds of articles and in the classic texts Criminal Investigation and Criminal Psychology. In many ways, Gross was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

The series really took off, however, when I struck on my real protagonist, a fictional lawyer named Karl Werthen. Werthen, when we meet him, is in wills and trusts, having given up criminal law several years earlier for reasons we do not at first understand. Meanwhile, he fills out the missing parts of his creative life by penning precious short stories that few read. This all changes one morning when a client of his, the controversial artist Gustav Klimt, comes to him for help: the police suspect him as the perpetrator of a series of grisly murders in Vienna during the summer of 1898. Werthen soon calls in his old colleague, Gross, to aid in this case.

Thus our duo makes its debut in The Empty Mirror, a novel which features, among other luminaries of Vienna 1900 such as Klimt, the sexologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, the Habsburtg heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl.

Werthen and Gross return for a second installment, Requiem in Vienna, in which the composer Gustav Mahler is at the center of the action. Each book in the series features one or more actual historical figures from the time in an exploration of a society on the edge of the momentous changes, an imperial culture locked on a path toward the convulsions of World War I.

Book three in the series, The Silence, finds Werthen and Gross investigating a murder at City Hall that leads them to an investigation of political corruption and a scheme to sell off the prized Vienna Woods. Mayor Karl Lueger, who won office by an appeal to demagoguery and anti-Semitism and later famously said “I will decide who is a Jew”, is a featured character in this novel, as is the young Ludwig Wittgenstein. The latter more sensibly stated, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

I feel as if I have finally come to my true writing home with these Viennese mysteries. They allow me a happy blend of research and fiction. As the series progresses (I am at work now on the fourth installment), I have become more familiar with Werthen, his family, and friends. It is an association I hope to cultivate for many years.

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We are continuing our ongoing series of Cold War Vienna tales.  It should be noted that Fred is a gung-ho patriot who called in friendly fire on his own position in Korea to stop the Chinese from overrunning it.

I stared at him, not so much shocked at his proposition as amused. There was a long silence, during which he lit another of his cheap oval cigarettes and then pinched tobacco crumbs from his white-coated tongue.

Finally I said, “I hate to state the obvious, but there are actual, real-life, card-carrying, Moscow communists working there right along with folks from our side. We all have access to the same information. I mean, who’s spying on who?”

“Whom.” He smiled.

Fred, the sudden grammarian. With whorls of black hair growing out his ears, with a clip-on tie, with his short-sleeve polyester shirts. Fred, correcting my grammar.

“What’s to spy on?” I insisted.

Fred sighed, raised an eyebrow and peered around the half-empty café. “Maybe we could keep it down a bit. Walls have ears.” He tapped his nose, not his ear, and then made his Thonet chair groan as he shifted his bulk from buttock to buttock.

“It’s like this, Jon.” Now he stretched his ham fists out on the table, constructing imaginary squares as he spoke. The knuckles bristled with rather long black hairs.

“We are in a life and death struggle here. Make no mistake about it. No laughing matter. The commies do not like us. They want to bury us. Forget this crap about day-taunt and thaw. They mean to do us in, okay? Doesn’t matter what the name of the bozo is who’s in the Kremlin, they are all our enemies.”

“Fred…” I began.

A pudgy mitt shot up, palm outward, to cut me off.

“I know what you’re going to say. Hey, I’ve got your file here.” He knuckled a manila folder lying on the tiny round marble table separating us. There were coffee rings on the folder’s cover, interlocking brown ovals like an abstract of moonrise.

“Against Vietnam, protested at major demonstrations. Who’s to say, maybe you kids had it right.”

“No maybe,” I blurted out, but was immediately sorry I’d let that button be pushed. I was away from all that. Thousands of miles away.

“Well, we’re getting our sorry asses out of there as we speak. But I’m not one of those narrow-minded guys figures because a person criticizes his government he’s not patriotic, right? I figure you and your generation, hell, you love America as much as anybody else. And given the chance, given the right opportunity, you’d be prepared to show that love. Am I right?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’re perfectly situated. It’s a dream job.”

“Fred, no.”

“I mean all the information has to pass through your hands one way or another.”

I slapped down a twenty-schilling bill to pay for my achtel of wine and wurst sandwich. “Bye.”

He was jerked out of his salesman reverie.

“You going?”

“You haven’t been listening. No. Nein. Niyet.”

“We’ll be seeing you, Jon,” he said to my back as I left.


“Longish lunch break,” Herr Frisch said when I got back to the agency. Conspiratorial rather than censoring. Frisch was known for his two-hour lunches, for coffee breaks that stretched to quitting time as he played one more hand of Tarok.

Frisch was the new breed of Wiener, but cut of the same old cloth. Hip and wise to the ways of the world, he vacationed on the Dalmatian coast while most of his compatriots val-de-ree’ed in the so-called “house” Alps at Semmering. As if mountains could be domesticated, made tame simply by proximity. He ate at Balkan or Chinese restaurants rather than the local gasthaus with the perennial schnitzel. He dressed in Italian slacks and French shirts under the white lab coat.

But he was Wiener to the quick. His job–cushy by Viennese standards–was merely a means to a lifestyle. For Frisch, there was never anything truly serious about his occupation; urgencies were for doctors. He wore a permanent sardonic grin on his face, as if privileged to an inside joke none of the rest of us had heard. The situation may be desperate, but it was never, never serious.

“They were recruiting me for the CIA,” I said.

His eyebrows lifted to show mild amusement. “I hope you accepted. The pay, I hear, is quite good.”

“Right. I’ll remember that.”

He winked to show he understood my joke about the CIA.

“She wants to see you again.” He shoved an inter-agency memo across the check-in desk to me.


“She finds you charming,” Frisch said. “You should be flattered.”

“I should be knighted.”

“Ah, for service above and beyond, I assume.”

Service being the apposite word.


“Shut the door, Herr St. Denis.”

Her office on the third floor was dimly lit as usual. Through a half-open window I could hear the trams going by on the Ring below. It had an unpleasant odor, despite the open window: heavy rose-scented perfume overlaid with smoke from her Dames cigarettes. She chewed mints as she smoked.

Frau Luschner was not a bad looking woman, all told. Not for a forty-five-year-old. Her hair was jet black and worn pulled severely back, twirled into a tiny ball at the base of her neck. I remembered the shiver of expectation the first time I undid that tightly coiled ball of hair and let it fall over her alabaster shoulders.

Now it seemed more duty than desire.

“I am informed you have broken agency regulations of non-disclosure.” She looked at me sternly as I crossed from the door to her desk.

How they hell could she know about my interview with Fred, I thought, and then as quickly realized that this was part of her games. Reprimand and snoggle, perhaps. Or was it the old punishment gambit? Luschner loved role-play. A thwarted thespian, like most Viennese, she turned our love-making into theater.

“I really should report you to the secretary general,” she went on. “But, perhaps there is some other arrangement we could come to.”

She stood suddenly, unbuttoning her prim white blouse, moving around the acre of desk toward me. Her blouse, open to the navel, exposed a flat belly and melon breasts encased in an apricot colored lacy bra. She began hitching up her skirt, showing firm legs encased in black nylons, a smidge of cellulite bulge over the tops where they were held up by a red garter belt. Battle dress. We were in for a long afternoon, I figured.


Frisch twinkled his lizard eyes at me when I finally returned to the library.

“You have great staying power, my friend. In your case, youth is not wasted on the young.”

Frisch had once been a Luschner protégé. It was her sport, cultivating young men who applied for work with the agency, flattering them with her attention, getting them a cushy position and then using them–me, now–like an ambulatory dildo.

It had worked like a charm with me. I’d never been what you’d call a winner with the ladies, not in America. Too shy. Too sensitive. Too whatever. Or not enough whatever.

So when Luschner came on to me during our interview, I was flattered. Here was this worldly woman with a beauty mole on her cheek making nice with me, complimenting me on my penmanship on the application form, for my sense of calm during the interview, for… Oh, darn it all, just take off your pants.

Not quite that gauche, but that was the gist of it. I never realized I might be striking one of those Faustian bargains my English professors used to natter on about. Sex in exchange for employment. Sex in exchange for promotion. Sex in exchange for continued employment.

I didn’t really think of myself in connection with the P word. Prostitutes were women you found in the mean streets around the Prater. Neither did I consider the G word for my situation. Gigolos wore gold-plated neck chains and knock-off Rolexes.

Frau Direktor Luschner and I were having an affair, a grand, grown-up term, I thought. Except that we never met outside of the agency. Our afternoon sex sessions were secret assignations.

“You’d better hope she finds a new employee soon,” Frisch commented as I gathered my book truck to re-shelve reports from the Turkish atomic energy commission’s annual general meeting. “You’re looking peeked.”

“I’m tutoring her in English,” I insisted. “You shouldn’t judge others by your own low standards, Frisch.”

“I’ve noted the improvement in her gerunds,” he said dryly. “No but sincerely, Saint Dennis…”

St. Denis.” Pronounced in the French manner.

“Certainly. With the greatest sincerity and compassion for your dilemma, I recommend you scout new recruits for the good Frau. That way she can drop you, there will be no vile recriminations nor unspoken threats of retribution. However, were you to finally tire of your unwritten contractual obligations, or to, God forbid, find a real girlfriend who might object to certain stains in your pants when you come home from work, well, then….” He waved a well-manicured hand in the air to denote all bets would be off.

“Harmless English lessons, Frisch.”

“There is nothing harmless about Frau Direktor Luschner, my friend. She is the Austrian version of a vampire.”


Frisch was right, of course. There really was nowhere to hide behind euphemisms any longer. I had been under Luschner’s protective wing now for six months, during which time I had risen from lowly messenger boy at the agency to second in command at the library. By the second week I had understood that our trysts were far from romantic. One afternoon last month I had actually had the temerity to come late for one of our meetings, needing to finish filling an urgent request from the Indians on roentgen analysis statistics. One would think that Luschner, director of personnel at the agency, would understand such professionalism. Instead she gave me such a dressing down that I was unable to perform. The ever inventive Luschner, however, found other ways for me to please her.

Yes, Frosch was right. I had to face it: I was a practitioner of the world’s oldest profession. And like all members of that fraternity or sorority, I blamed others for my situation. She had taken advantage of my naïvete; she had misled me; she was manipulative. All true, but now the blinders were off, had been for weeks, and what was I going to do about it?

Problem was, I needed the job and the steady paycheck. I had expenses. Musical lessons do not come cheap in the capital of music, and I was here to become a musician. The cello is my instrument, but I also play piano and viola. Overhead also included an apartment in an apartment house that appreciated musicians and did not look upon me as a threat to one’s sleep.

And then there was Ursula, Uschi. My new girl. A fellow music student–violin, we met playing a Bach trio. Our relationship had progressed to the petting stage. Sweet and innocent Uschi from that Appalachia of Austria, the Waldviertel, but not at all damaged by the experience nor overly inbred. To come from the steamy embraces of Luschner to the fresh-cut grass sweetness of Uschi was becoming a contrast I could no longer abide. As if I were sullying the girl by my touch. And I am sure Uschi would not understand the conflicted nature of my relationship with the older woman, twice her age.

Yes, Frisch was right. Something had to be done.


“Well, Jon, I was wondering when you’d get back in touch with us.”

“You seemed pretty certain of yourself.”

“I’m a good judge of character.” Fred smiled at me.

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