Authors: Annmarie Banks
Text copyright ©2014 Annmarie Banks
Blue Agave Books
All Rights Reserved
Cover design © by Innsmouth Studios
ISBN: 978-0-9913900-0-7 (mobi)
ISBN 978-0-9913900-1-4 (trade paperback)
I would like to thank Carl Muehlenbeck for his careful reading and comments as well as his expertise in small arms, Meredith Bowles for her intelligent and thoughtful insights,
and Lisa Ferreira for her incredible talent in cover design.
Elsa looked up when she heard shouting in the hall. The muffled sounds of solid thumps and bangs shook the walls of the office as if something heavy had fallen over and knocked against the fine furniture near the entryway. A man’s voice spoke low and calm over the excited curses and loud exclamations.
She bent her head over her pen again. Doctor Engel would take care of whatever was causing the disturbance. Patients often entered his practice with a great flurry of movement and noise, but then they always left on their own two feet, silent and contemplative.
A louder thump rattled the window over her desk and startled her enough to make her shake her hand and mar her paper with an ink spot. Elsa set her teeth and blotted the paper carefully. This disruption must be the patient that Doctor Engel had mentioned at the evening meal yesterday. He had touched a napkined finger to the corner of his mouth and his eyes had twinkled when he said, “I may have a new patient tomorrow,
. Perhaps he will be another study for your paper.”
Now Elsa paused, listening. The hallway had become silent. The doctor’s comment at supper was not enough to imply that she was expected to attend the initial interview. She bent her head over the paper again. She must complete her notes from yesterday’s sessions before compiling opinions and suggestions to go over with the doctor later. Her dissertation was due in three months. It seemed like a long time, but she knew how long it would take to write the paper and then type it up in triplicate. There was no time to waste, and certainly no days off. Sleeping and eating were unwelcome pauses in her work.
She heard raised voices in the next room. Not the hysterical screaming of a disturbed mind, but the sounds of two men who vehemently disagreed with one another. She pinched the top of her nose with two fingers and closed her eyes.
She waited, her pen poised over the paper for a few moments. When all seemed to have calmed down, she finished the sentence. A timid knock interrupted her as she reached for a fresh sheet of paper.
Fraulein, bitte, Herr Doctor
would like to see you in the reception room.”
It was Magda, the housekeeper. Elsa pushed back her chair reluctantly and closed the desk top over her work. She must respond and be gracious about it. “Please tell him I will be there in a moment,” she called. She heard Magda’s heavy footsteps fade down the paneled hall to the reception room.
She paused at the round mirror on the wall. She had an ink smudge on her nose and one on her cheek by her ear. She licked her finger and rubbed them out. She turned her head to make sure all the pins were in her hair and not sticking out like barbed wire. Doctor Engel once laughed at her after a vigorous day with a difficult patient. Her hairpins had worked themselves loose all over her head, and strands of her blonde hair had stood up around the chignon and stuck to her sweating face. He had said, “You look like you have wrapped barbed wire around your head to keep those young men from trying to kiss you.”
She had no time for young men, unless they came to Doctor Engel as patients. Vienna was recovering in the three years since the war ended, though many of her veterans were not. Many carried scars that they did not show proudly in the beer halls. She licked her finger again and smoothed the loose strands over her forehead. She looked professional enough to meet with anyone.
She checked the buttons on her jacket and then straightened her skirt. It was difficult enough being a woman in the new field of psychology without drawing attention to the differences between the sexes. She had so far avoided the new fashionable bob in favor of the less threatening chignon. She thought it very tasteful and motherly.
The new flapper look did not appeal to her. Her bosom was too ample to make the flimsy dresses hang correctly. She preferred the simpler ankle-length skirts and tailored jackets. Elsa nodded to her reflection then stepped into the hall, careful to close the door behind her. She made her way to the reception room, noticing two large men sitting stiffly in the hall conversing with Magda. The grandmotherly housekeeper offered them tea instead of coffee. Elsa knocked firmly.
“Please come in
Elsa closed the door behind her with a careful click then turned to face the visitors. Doctor Engel smiled his gentle smile at her and inclined his head toward their guests. He stroked his pointed beard with two fingers which was a signal to her to examine them before introductions.
She noticed the wild-looking man in the straightjacket first. The new patient. He flicked his eyes at her with disinterest before turning them to stare at the carpet. He was breathing hard, probably from the exertion she heard earlier in the hall. Perhaps he was still agitated, but exhausted from fighting the restraints.
He looked to be near thirty, though the lines around his eyes and mouth were deeper than those of men his age should be. Perhaps another veteran of the Great War. His hair was dark, his complexion fair. She could not see the color of his eyes. His arms were crossed over his chest in the unnatural posture forced on his body by the restraints but she could see that beneath them he had powerful shoulders and the length of his legs suggested a tall man. Thick leather cuffs with iron rings encircled both ankles, but the straps that had once shackled him were in the hands of the man who stood next to him.
This man was smaller and slighter than his prisoner, but stood erect with the posture of someone puffed up with his own importance. He appeared to be at least ten years older than the patient. She noticed the small dark mustache over his lip and the slightly receding chin. His style and his pallor added credence to her deduction that the guests were British. He was dressed very finely in a suit with a cravat pinned with a heavy gold stud in the center. A wealthy Englishman. He had ink-stained fingertips. She adjusted slightly: a wealthy English bureaucrat. She gave them her polite greeting smile and nodded to them.
She looked at the patient again. His dark hair was longer than was fashionable and hung in lank ropes and he had a few days’ beard on his cheeks. Now that she had been in the room a minute or two she could detect the slight odor of unwashed body. She sniffed delicately. He heard her. His brown eyes flashed up at her, furious, before turning sullenly back to the carpet.
He must have been in restraints for the entire journey from England and brought to the home of the doctor without being washed or shaved. Very strange. The long hair suggested an extended period of time away from well-bred society. She cleared her throat politely.
Doctor Engel spoke in English, confirming her deduction, “May I present
Elsa Schluss, my protégé and experienced in the treatment of what you English call ‘shell shock’.” Elsa was not surprised by the look of disbelief and derision in the Englishman’s face. She had come to expect such responses. She stood taller.
Doctor Engel continued as if he hadn’t noticed, “And may I present Mr. Archibald Marshall, of the British Office of Foreign Affairs.”
Mr. Marshall made no move to take her outstretched hand. Instead he stood stiffly and nodded his greeting. He turned to Doctor Engel, “I have already expressed my preference for your services, personally.”
“And I have informed you, Mr. Marshall, that I am presently engaged now through the summer and will be leaving in two weeks to attend a conference in New York. I will not be available to take on this patient. I assure you
Schluss is more than capable of providing the service you require.”
Marshall shuffled uncomfortably and Elsa glanced at the doctor. There was more. She could tell that Mr. Marshall had not told them everything. The Englishman continued, “If we may speak alone,
Doctor Engel shook his head as he answered, “I will not be swayed by any arguments you may make, sir. These are my terms. You are free to decline. There are many others in Vienna who can help this patient. However, if you wish to give us the details now, you must speak to both of us.”
Mr. Marshall began to pace the small reception room. He slapped the straps he held in his hand against his thigh as he walked. “This is not an assignment for a woman,
Doctor. There is travel involved. And some,” he turned to his patient, “danger.” Marshall frowned. “The Foreign Office is willing to compensate you very generously for your help in this matter.”
Doctor Engel stroked his beard again. Elsa knew that money was never a motivating factor for her mentor. His eyes glittered with curiosity. “Tell us, please, what exactly this assignment is.”
Mr. Marshall put a hand on the patient’s shoulder and the bound man shuddered. “May I introduce Henry Sinclair, Lord Sonnenby.”
Marshall squeezed the young man’s shoulder before continuing. “He is the son of Lady Sonnenby and Medjel al-Fadl, a headman of a tribe of Ruwallah Bedouin in Syria.” Both Doctor Engel and Elsa did not change their expressions of polite interest. “Lady Sonnenby,” Marshall winced, “bore a child after a brief...” Marshall lowered his voice, “dalliance. Lord Sonnenby accepted Henry as his own son and heir.” Marshall took a deep breath. “He was commissioned as an artillery officer after his terms at Woolwich.”
At the mention of the commission, Sonnenby sucked in his breath loudly and twisted his shoulders to dislodge Marshall’s hand. Marshall removed it as he continued, “In his childhood Master Sonnenby spent summers in the Levant. The previous Lord Sonnenby had financial connections with the Turks and travelled there on business. Lord Henry speaks both Turkish and Arabic fluently.”
At this revelation Sonnenby snorted loudly, but said nothing.
Marshall looked at her and then at the doctor. “You are familiar with the current troubles in Damascus?”
Elsa shook her head as the doctor replied, “No. Sadly I am not.”
“We have signed a treaty dividing up the Ottoman Empire.” Marshall waved an arm to encompass the entire room, as if the reception room was Turkish territory and he was the British government. “Agreements have been made, deals struck, tribes paid. But parts of the region remain in rebellion. It is of national interest,” Marshall paused and amended, “
national interest that this part of the empire be amenable to our desire for stability. Both of Lord Sonnenby’s fathers have recently died. There is uncertainty about who will become the tribal leader in this province, though we suspect it will be his,” Marshall waved the dangling restraints in Sonnenby’s direction, “half-brother. Sonnenby could convince him to negotiate peacefully.”
Doctor Engel sat back. “Well then,” he said pleasantly, “condolences and congratulations are in order to both Lord Sonnenby and to the British Foreign Ministry.” The doctor caught Elsa’s eye and nodded slightly in Lord Sonnenby’s direction. She took the cue and kept her eyes on him while Marshall continued.
“There is a slight matter that you might resolve, Doctor.” Marshall’s voice was no longer resonating with bureaucratic authority. Elsa heard the notes of concern and doubt in his voice as he spoke. “Lord Sonnenby has been of late...in an asylum.” He paused dramatically as if they needed the time to digest this information. Elsa kept her face impassive. Sonnenby’s recent confinement had been obvious the moment the men entered the doctor’s infirmary. The straightjacket and the presence of two oversized orderlies taking tea with Magda made this very clear from the beginning.
Lord Sonnenby’s face twisted on the word ‘asylum’ and Elsa watched him carefully as the doctor asked the expected questions.
“I see,” the Doctor began. “How has he been treated?”
Marshall puffed up. “I assure you he has been accorded all manner of courtesies befitting his rank. The unusual matter of his birth is not common knowledge.”
“No, no, Mr. Marshall. You misunderstand.” The doctor stood and walked about the room. Elsa knew it was to better see Sonnenby’s face as he spoke. “I would like to know what kinds of medical treatments the doctors in the asylum practiced on Lord Sonnenby.”
The change in direction caught Marshall off guard. He moved to the small table by the door, set down the shackles and picked up an attaché. “I have the files here, doctor.” Marshall opened the one on top and read tentatively, as a man who was unfamiliar with the terms. “Hydrotherapy, solitary confinement, opiates, hypnosis, electricity and,” Marshall looked up at them, “some military intervention.”
Elsa saw Sonnenby’s expression deteriorate as the list was read, though it did not completely break until the word, ‘military’. The man hung his head and his shoulders swayed. Elsa took a step toward him, but Marshall was a step closer. He quickly set the files down and lunged toward the patient. Marshall caught Sonnenby and eased the unconscious man to the carpet where he lay still.
Elsa knelt by his head and put her fingers on his throat. Doctor Engel did not move except to place both hands on the back of the sofa and lean toward Marshall. “I take ‘military intervention’ to mean he was told to pull himself together and threatened with social isolation and disdain.”