HENRY AND THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITY
Henry waved as Helge drove off down Fridricsgasse. He had suggested she meet up with one of her brothers, but she had decided she would rather get back to her own home in Modenehem.
‘I can’t tell you how tired I am, Henry. Tired of grief … tired of disappointment. What’s worse is that it’s disappointment with my own family.’
‘I’m sorry, Helge. I hope it gets better. Tommy is a good man. Fritz could not have done better in choosing him.’
She shook her head. ‘It’s not that, Henry. Our family’s lives are already so complicated and abnormal. Tommy may be all you say he is, but his appearance in our family is just one strangeness too far.’
‘Things will soon improve, Helge.’
‘I can but pray. And pray is all I do.’
Watching her car disappear down towards the city, Henry sighed. Then he turned and buzzed himself into Nathan and Justin’s house. He found Nathan in the front garden, as he often was, leaning on a hoe he was using to edge the brick path. ‘You look pensive, Henry.’
‘Oh … hi, Nate. Everything all right here?’
The big man chuckled. ‘Yes. Your latest adventure doesn’t seem to be causing as much collateral damage as usual. Terry and my Justy are really down about it: no bangs, no magic and no violence … well, apart from poor Jakob Olmusch. They’re remarkably disconcerted.’
‘Where are the boys?’
‘Your Lance and our Damien are in Mendamero Men Central upstairs. Why d’you ask?’
‘I suddenly feel the need to cuddle my son.’
‘I get like that. Damien’s becoming quite tolerant about it. I hope they never grow out of needing it.’
‘I doubt they will. Thinking about my own mum and dad, I still like being hugged by them as much as I like cuddling Lance.’
‘That’s great. Now, you obviously want Terry and Justy, so go on in. I’ll have some tea brought to you. They were on vodka when I last checked, but that's not your tipple, is it?’
Henry smiled and walked through the open front door. Terry and Justin were nursing drinks in the back lounge, where the patio windows were open to a warm breeze bringing indoors the fragrance of Nate’s gorgeous, scented garden.
Henry took a chair and raised an eyebrow. ‘So where do we go from here?’
Terry frowned. ‘Not an easy question to answer, Henry babe, although we’ve thought of a few leads. It looks as if we’ll have to tackle Hendrik Willemin head on. And he’s a difficult customer, as well you know.’
‘How about the murder?’ Henry asked hopefully.
Terry looked gloomier yet. ‘We need more evidence. Tell us about this briefcase of yours that went missing.’
‘Otto, my adjutant, left it in the hallway during the fuss when the murder was discovered. But the Tarlenheim palace can’t find it there. However, Fritzy tells me he and Tommy encountered a case like mine on the steps of the secret staircase which leads down from the upper gallery to the side door on to Wenzelgasse.’
‘What did they do with it?’
‘So far as I know, it could still be there.’
Terry pondered this information, tapping his teeth. Suddenly he stood up stealthily. Launching himself at the sofa back, he reached over it and pulled up two dark-haired heads, one curly, the other straight.
Terry released Damien and Lance. ‘Yer still can’t do the silent thing, canya, babes!’
‘It wuzn’t me! It was Lance! He’s useless at it.’
Lance scowled. ‘I only sorta let out a breath.’
‘Yeah, well, I may be past thirty but I ain’t deaf. You two are dead.’
Justin was bemused. ‘What are you spying on us for anyway?’
Lance and Damien exchanged glances. Eventually, Lance blurted. ‘It’s that briefcase.’
Terry suddenly fixed all his attention on the boys. ‘Have yer been investigating, delinquent babes?’
Damien looked round the room, rather than meeting Terry’s eye, but eventually nodded.
‘And yer went up them stairs at the palace?’
‘Where is it?’
‘In me room.’
‘Bring it down, babe.’
Damien dashed away to return bearing the attaché case. He placed it in front of Terry, who continued to interrogate the pair. ‘So yer know what’s in it, do you?’
‘Yuh. We went through the papers. Seems like it was Karl Olmusch’s case, and he wuz being blackmailed by someone.’
‘What!’ yelped Henry. ‘My God!’
Lance went over to sit on Henry’s lap, looking a little worried at his father’s reaction, and draped an arm round Henry’s neck.
Terry examined the case. ‘I trust you babes have been careful about fingerprints?’
‘Yuh, Uncle Terry, I remembered what you said. We had an evidence bag an’ I borrowed some of them procedure gloves dad has.’
‘Christ! You been in my office again!’ glared Justin. ‘I thought the new lock was unbeatable.’
Terry snickered. ‘Good lad. Gimme a few of them now, will ya?’
When Damien had obliged, Terry opened the case and removed the papers. ‘They’re all in Rothenian, and I’m not up to that sort of standard,’ he complained. ‘You’d better run through them, Henry. Put these gloves on first.’
‘What about me?’ Justin had adopted a pained expression. ‘All the effort I put in and those classes I took! You could have asked me! Who’s the trained investigator here?’
Terry raised his eyes. ‘Give ‘em to Linguistic Boy after yer finished with ‘em, Henry.’
Ignoring the sideshow, Henry scanned the sheaf of documents. Eventually he sighed. ‘The boys were right. Karl Olmusch is deep in financial shit, and has tried to get out of it by stealing. He was canny about it, transferring funds from place to place before losing them in the bottomless pit of his own debt, but the trail is clear enough.’
‘So who was doing the blackmailing?’ Justin asked, taking the papers in turn
‘Actually, there’s no demand for money here. His anonymous accuser was not so crude. It may not be blackmail of that sort. But we now know why Karl was at the Tarlenheim palace that day. He was meeting the guy who’d caught him with his hands in the till of at least two organisations.’
Terry pondered these ideas. ‘It can only have been Brantesberh.’
‘Yuh!’ agreed Damien. ‘Thass what we thought. Olmusch’s bruvver would never have sent him letters. Doan’ make sense.’
Justin pulled his grinning offspring into his lap. ‘You clever tyke!’
‘So … Brantesberh!’ Henry meditated. ‘Tommy bumped into him coming down from the upper gallery a little before the murder. From what Otto told me, I’d thought he’d been up there talking to Jakob Olmusch, but it looks as though it was Karl Olmusch that he’d been seeing. So Karl was in the gallery just before the murder too!’
Justin nodded. ‘What’s more, if he’d put this case in the secret passage, he must have left through the side entrance on to Wenzelgasse. It looks bad for him. He’s literally got a case to answer.’
Even Lance groaned.
Terry continued, ‘But the big question, sweet babes, is whether Karl killed his beloved brother before leaving. The fact that he dropped his case on the stairs makes it look like he left in a panic. Guilt maybe?’
Henry agreed. ‘Everyone was saying how cut up Karl was at his brother’s murder, and how odd that was, considering their past relationship. Was it guilt?’
‘Or an act?’ chipped in Justin. ‘Whatever, he’s now our number-one suspect.’
‘He can’t have dunnit!’ exclaimed Damien to his father.
‘Why not, babes?’
‘Reggie proved it. He’s not tall enough.’
Justin smiled. ‘We’d better let the police sort it, even though you kids have been way ahead of them. With people needing to be arrested and interrogated, this has become a case for Captain Mannstejne.’
After considering his friend’s statement for a moment, Henry decided, ‘We can still do some of that on our own account. Have you got something here we can use to make photocopies with, Justy?’
Tommy brought a coffee into the lounge of their self-contained apartment under the eaves of the Osraeum. Their temporary refuge, recently decorated, was very elegant, with oil paintings from the royal collection on the walls. ‘Nice pictures,’ he observed.
Fritz smiled and joined him at the canvases, a group of townscapes by the nineteenth-century Ruritanian artist, Bertholt von Klethgau. Tommy especially liked the view of Hofbau’s great city square, with a regiment of green-clad and helmeted cavalry trotting towards the castle. ‘We should go there,’ he observed.
‘It looks much the same now as it did then,’ Fritz replied.
They went to sit on a sofa, where Tommy laid his head on Fritz’s shoulder. For a while they were quiet.
Eventually Tommy began. ‘It’s time for our talk, baby.’
‘I know. You want to break up, don’t you?’
Tommy stared at him. ‘Where did you get that idea?’
‘Come on, Tomasczu. The whole Rothenian adventure has been a catastrophe! You’ve been abused by my family, ridiculed by our press, hideously treated by our police and penal system, and you have to live in hiding!’
‘Well, when you put it like that, I can see your point. But you left out the other stuff.’
‘I’ve been shown real love by your brother and all your amazing friends. And if Rothenia has people in it like that bastard Czerescovicz, it also has people like my attorney, Willem Graznic. What’s more, think of all those nice people who were happy enough with my cross-dressing in restaurants and the palace. Rothenia’s no different from Britain, big guy. It’s just that darkness here is darker, and colours are stronger.’
‘Odd. You’re not the first person to say that.’
‘Yeah, I’ll bet. And you and Gavin both told me before I came that it isn’t a safe place, didn’t you?’
‘So I could hardly say I wasn’t warned, could I?’
‘But Tomaczu …!’
‘Do you want to break up?’
‘No! Of course not, babe. But if that’s not the issue, what is?’
‘It’s about how we manage our relationship, Fritzku. It’s my future we need to talk about. We already know about yours. You’re going to be the most loved and respected prince of Tarlenheim of all time, make a fortune in banking, and worry about who is to be prince after you.’
Fritz gave a quirky sort of grin. ‘At least it won’t be Jakob Olmusch.’
‘Careful whom you say that to. But sweets, I need to make a life for Tommy, and whatever it is, it isn’t being a “housewife” at the palace. I can’t be the princess of Tarlenheim. So – and don’t read me wrong here – I have to go back to Britain.’
‘See, I knew you’d leap to conclusions. It’s only till I get some job experience.’
‘What jobs? There’s not a lot out there at the moment, you know that. And where would you go? Back to Stevenage? To your mother in Catford?’
Tommy frowned. ‘Catford, I suppose. It’ll have to be London.’
‘What about us?’
‘There’s still an “us”, big guy. But … y’know … I gotta have time to be me. Oh, I know you’d like to take care of me and look after me, but I’m not trying to find a sugar daddy. Tommy’s a man, baby, for all he wears skirts.’
Fritz took a deep breath and mustered a brave smile. ‘I love you, Tomaczu. And though you’re younger than I am, it seems you’re teaching me how to grow up. It’s true what you say, all of it. I tend to smother the people I love. Maybe it’s what Helge was always telling me, that losing my parents when I did makes me want to cling to the objects of my love too tightly, and be too demanding of return affection. Well, with you, baby, that’s going to change. So, yes! Go back to Britain, but don’t ever forget that I’ll be here for you, and in London as often as I can be.’
‘It’s only for a while, big guy. Don’t fret yourself.’
Fritz looked as though he only half believed it.
Captain Mannstejne of the Strelzen district gave a distinct impression of unease as Nathan ushered him into the Peacher-White lounge.
‘Thanks for coming over at such short notice, Kristof.’ Justin was all affability.
‘You didn’t tell me the press would be here, Justin.’
‘Didn’t I? But you must know Henry Atwood is a family friend.’
‘I suppose I did. And who’s this?’ The captain indicated Terry.
‘Mr O’Brien is my former employer. He’s staying with us.’
The captain looked as though the name was familiar to him. ‘So … this attaché case?’
Justin raised his voice. ‘Bring it out here, Daimey!’
Damien and Lance appeared with the object in question, which they solemnly handed over.
‘So,’ the captain continued in English, ‘tell me how you came by this.’
The boys obliged, while the captain took notes.
‘And the last thing you saw as the door closed was Count Karl Olmusch searching the gallery?’
‘Yuh. He was looking for his case, I’ll bet.’
‘I will have to ask him, I suppose.’
Justin interjected. ‘So you’re going to arrest him?’
‘He seems to have something to account for, I would say.’
‘And you were wrong about young Tommy,’ rumbled Nathan.
‘We have to pursue all lines of investigation, Mr Under-vood.’ Turning to Damien and Lance, the captain continued, ‘You boys were fingerprinted during the initial questioning, I believe?’ The two confirmed it. ‘Then there is no need for you to return to the barracks for now. But I think there will be further questions. I must at least talk to your other friends.’
Captain Mannstejne made his apologies and left, with a caution to Henry that this development must not make it into the next day’s news.
‘Is that it?’ Lance looked disappointed.
‘Not quite, babes.’ Justin smirked. ‘It seems we get first crack at General Brantesberh.’
Tommy clattered around in the kitchen. Partly it was because he and Fritz had run out of things to say, partly because he needed a coffee badly. The place had been fully stocked, and the coffee maker was filling up with a Kenyan blend. The smell was quite nice.
Fritz was moodily looking out the window on to Gartengasse below. Tommy came up behind him and handed him a cup, which he took with a sad little smile.
Tommy hugged him round his waist and kissed him lightly on the cheek. ‘Tell me about this place.’
‘The Osraeum? It’s named after an eighteenth-century Elphberg lady, Princess Osra of Mittenheim, for whom it was built by her brother, King Rudolf III, as a town house. Although it’s been used by a lot of lesser royals over the years, it’s principally famous as the palace of King Maxim Elphberg in his reign at the beginning of the twentieth century. He bought and modernised it before he was king, and saved it from falling into ruin. He wouldn’t live in the Residenz. I can see his point.’
‘So who lives here nowadays?’
‘The king’s cousins, the Orbeck Bernenstejnes, use it as their home in Strelzen. They have the floor below us. Tom and Serena have a lot of kids, so they need the space. Tom’s an army officer, and very friendly with Henry and Ed.’
Tommy grinned. ‘And Princess Eleanor?’
Fritz had the grace to look sheepish. ‘My former lover? She spends most of her time in New York, thank God, but she stays here with her father when she’s in town. He’s across the stairs from us on the top floor. He’s very much the country gent, however, and not often in Strelzen. He lives out on the old Rassendyll estate of Hentzen.’
‘The king’s grandmother, the Princess of Vinodol, has another apartment, although her principal residence is on her ancestral estates down the Starel valley, near Kesarstejne. She’s quite a formidable old bat, but apparently she and Harry get on famously.’
‘Is that why there’s security on the gates?’ A detachment of blue-coated city police had a checkpoint at the Osraeum’s entrance.
‘Yes. Even minor royals need looking after. This is not just an ordinary mansion block. And, of course, they deter the paparazzi.’
‘So it’s safe to go down to the gym in the cellars?’
‘Not a bad idea, Tomasczu leblen. I could do with a workout: relax-the-tensions sort of thing. Got your kit?’
After changing, the two young men made their way to the central stairwell, brightly lit by the glass dome above it. As they were trotting down the olive-green-carpeted steps, they encountered a tall, middle-aged man coming up.
‘Well, young Fritz!’
‘Hello, your excellency. Tommy, this is the king’s uncle, Count Robert Rassendyll.’
Tommy shook the man’s hand.
The count surveyed him mildly. He was a striking man, with thick grey hair and a quizzical air. ‘I’ve heard of you of course. Don’t mind me, you boys. I take it you’re heading for the gym. Make sure not to damage anything important!’ He carried on up to his apartment, chuckling to himself.
Tommy stared after him.
Fritz took his shoulder. ‘What’s the problem.’
‘I’ve seen that man before … now, where was it?’
‘Just the family resemblance, I’d guess. You must have noticed the Elphberg cast of features on Rudi.’
Tommy shook his head. ‘No, it isn’t that. I’ve actually seen him, and not that long ago.’
Justin and Henry found the door in Domstrasse identified by a brass plate elegantly engraved with a princely coronet and the name Rotheniske Adelsgenossenschaft. It was the entrance to a rather fine eighteenth-century merchant’s house, which had been expensively fitted out.
Justin tried his charm on the decidedly frosty receptionist. She was apparently proof against it, even taking into account his rather quaint Rothenian. General Brantesberh was still not back from lunch.
‘We’ll wait,’ Henry informed her. His face and reputation for persistence were famous enough in Rothenia to stifle any protest she might have had.
They occupied a sofa in the reception area. The magazines scattering the glass table in front of them were glossy and alluded to a lifestyle very few could afford.
‘How’re you getting on with all your wealth, Justy? You must be worth a pretty penny nowadays.’
Justin smirked. ‘The Peacher salary is quite awesome, Henry, yet it all goes in the bank. We could get a bigger house, of course, but Daimey loves being close to Lance, you and Ed, so he’d kick up a fuss at a move away from Fridricsgasse. Nate’s getting the garden sorted, and would be pretty annoyed if I suggested we go house hunting. We’re happy, so there we stay. I don’t mind. Knowing where I come from, I’m just amazed I’ve got where I have.’
‘But, c’mon, Justy man! You’re going to be one of the Peacher heirs!’
‘Yeah … prob’ly. What the hell, though. Since it won’t be till Grandad Richard kicks the proverbial, I can wait awhile before I join the ranks of the super-rich. ’Sides, I don’t want little Damien associating with the international fat-brats I see – commuting between prep school in Berkshire and the family homes in Boston, Zurich and Dubai. They spend more of their time with nannies than with their mums and dads. Could you imagine me and Nate letting that happen? No. Daimey’s content here in the International School, where he’s doing brilliantly. He can now speak fluent Rothenian and Czech, and passable German and French too! That’s my kid! The one Gus and Danny found abused and beaten up in a slum flat in Yorkshire. And the Men! You could never buy friends like he’s got.’
‘Pity about his romantic life, then.’
‘Aw, come on Henry. It’s all part of growing up. There’ll be other girls … lots of them, I’m willing to bet.’
Both men looked up as the glass doors opened to admit a tall man in a grey suit. He stared down at Henry with an expression made up of alarm and distaste in equal measures. ‘Colonel At-vood?’
‘Hullo, general. I hope you have time to see my colleague and me this afternoon.’
‘That is impossible … my schedule.’
‘Oh, I think you’ll find time.’ Henry withdrew a sheaf of papers from his inside jacket pocket. ‘Take a look at these.’
General Brantesberh went white. His hand trembled as he clutched the copies of the letters in Karl Olmusch’s case. Mutely indicating the inner door, he let them into a rather plush office and pointed to two chairs. He took his seat behind his large desk, as though sheltering in a bunker. He seemed unable to talk.
Henry began. ‘The police now have the originals of these. I don’t think it’ll be long before they make the connection between them and you. Are you going to deny you sent them?’
The general cleared his throat. ‘There is no name on these papers. How can you connect them with me?’
‘It won’t be too difficult to prove that you were in cahoots with Karl’s brother Jakob to find evidence of Karl’s embezzlement of funds from the Olmusch Stiftung. You would have found the RA material yourself. Once Jakob alerted you, you would have known where to look. What were you two planning to do? I’m guessing there was an interview in the upper gallery between you, Jakob and Karl. It went badly wrong, I’ll bet. Is that when someone stabbed Jakob? Was it Karl?’
‘No!’ the general flared. He mastered himself. ‘Very well, At-vood. You have done your dirt-digging. But you have got it all wrong.’
‘Yes, Jakob long suspected his brother of misappropriating family funds. Karl married into the Danish royal family, and tried to live up to his ideas of the standards the husband of a princess should maintain, which were way beyond his income. When Jakob could not get their father to take Karl’s side, it got worse. Karl began to use his position as secretary of the RA to start siphoning off funds from there. The resort venture at Wilberhtesee allowed him to tamper with pension-fund investments.
‘We finally obtained the proof we needed with the help of the man Hendrik Willemin, who soon got to the bottom of things. It was he who provided the evidence and suggested we confront Karl. He said we were more likely to recover money that way than if we went through the police and courts. If Karl thought we might let him off the hook with his reputation intact, there was more likelihood that he would help recover some at least of the missing funds.’
Justin spoke up. ‘Clever. But it all went wrong on the day.’
The general sighed and slumped. ‘Yes. It went wrong.’