My novella “The Scribbling Windhund” appeared in The Fantasist
Get it free here!
Otto Lang thinks it’s a joke when he’s asked to hear and record the confession of a terrorist in his globally-read Unprofessional Opinion Column. He’s more used to writing about cravats, coats, and men’s trinkets than serious topics like the fourteen-year-old kidnapping of Prussia’s last princess. Yet when Otto meets Karl Schneider, he is immediately impressed by his intelligence, humor, and the very sane way he talks about utterly conspiratorial ideas. As Otto digs beneath the pristine surface into the dark secrets of his perfect world, he begins to wonder if the prisoner is the real patriot.
Selection from “The Scribbling Windhund”
Fri. June 15th, 134 SE
If I had any wisdom, I wouldn’t record a private diary on a contraption where entries can be easily reproduced, but I have neither shame nor wisdom, and I’m beyond lazy about personal discretion. Besides I’m positively bursting with news I legally can’t share with anyone.
Elsie received a letter from Gefängnisturm. Yes, The Gefängnisturm. Vitally important, hideously ugly, black tower prison tower, which provides life and safety to all who dwell in its shadow but mars the otherwise heavenly skyline of Stadtoben.
When she first told me Ben the Stoic had written to me, asking to be interviewed by me, to confess publicly to his crimes of terrorism to me. Well, simply I thought Elsie was joking.
When she insisted, I scoffed. I’m only a fashion writer. It had to be a hoax.
Then Elsie admitted she received the letter nearly a week ago. She hadn’t told me because she wanted confirmation of the letter’s validity from the warden of Gefängnisturm.
I was utterly stunned. Firstly, because Elsie had kept a secret from me. Just last week, I went on record with Rolf Clausen saying it was utterly ridiculous. Won’t I look like a fool, now?
And secondly, what does a terrorist want with a fashion critic? I’ve done my share of human interest pieces, no mistake. Interviewed opera singers and authors and historians for my Friday column. I mean to sit that Pascal Selig down one day and get his story. But a terrorist? That sort of personality doesn’t really suit Rainer Liebling’s frivolous sensibility.
So, Elsie and I went back and forth, about it.
I said it was silly for me to write it.
She said no one else could.
I said I didn’t want to.
She said it would be good for my career if I ever intended on being taken seriously.
I maintained I have no intention of ever being taken seriously.
And here my clever little editor trapped me.
She said, “Well, if that’s the way you feel. It’s probably for the best. The warden at Gefängnisturm wasn’t going too keen on letting a zleute in.”
Oh, wait, that’s incorrect. She said zweiteleute, because Heavens forbid the great Elsie Simper use any kind of slang.
Now, I know Elsie isn’t stupid enough to think she was being subtle. Partly because she knows full well, she doesn’t have to be. That’s a gauntlet I can’t walk away from since there is absolutely no good reason for a zleute to be kept from legitimate journalism if he wants to pursue it.
I took the letter and disappeared into my office to research for the rest of the day, and if it weren’t for Dear Secretary Clara, I would have forgotten lunch with Hans.
Tues. June 19th, 134 SE
Dear Readers of Der Stadtoben Spiegel, I know I promised a discussion on various styles of gentlemen’s wigs, but you’ll have to forgive me for breaking my routine a day early.
It is with deepest and most humble satisfaction that I can, at last, confirm the rumors circulating in the gossip forums (Sorry Herr Clausen, Darling, I had to lie to you). I’ve been taking great delight in watching this debate, knowing but unable to share the truth. As unlikely as it would seem, three weeks ago, I indeed received a request from Prisoner 16 asking to tell his story in my widely read Unprofessional Opinions Column.
Fourteen years ago, Prisoner 16, known in the popular imagination as Ben the Stoic due in part to his notorious refusal to speak, was arrested for his involvement in the abduction of Höchste Tebelde Albrecht, Prussia’s last princess. Though he was found guilty and has been imprisoned for his part in the crimes, without his confession the death penalty is unlawful. That being understood, if the gentleman wishes to face execution in order to tell his story, I would whole-heartedly offer him the pen.
Under my powers, I would have interviewed him the very day I received letter. However, Gefängnisturm, for good reasons, historically bans zleute from entry, even highly lauded professionals such as myself. Over the past three weeks, the staff here at Der Stadtoben Spiegel has been negotiating with the authorities and the man himself in hopes of finding an acceptable way to present Prisoner 16’s story to the public.
While, we offered to send a primäreleute—specifically, the esteemed Frau Elsbeth Simper— the prisoner made it abundantly clear he will speak to no one but me. A dubious honor, to be sure.
Last night representatives at Gefängnisturm officially denied my request for an audience.
I write this specific column to set the rumors to rest and to indicate Der Stadtoben Spiegel’s ongoing commitment “to do our all to report all.” I am not afraid to enter the prison tower, nor to speak to a prisoner. As far as I can ascertain, I am not the target of a madman’s obsession, though I appreciate my concerned readers for their flattery. Nor is the story a hoax presented by Der Stadtoben Spiegel’s staff, our subscriptions are doing quite well, thank you. Nor is there a conspiracy to prevent the ruling families from obtaining new information about Höchste Tebelde’s whereabouts. At least none that I am aware of.
I appeal to Ben the Stoic to reconsider and to speak his truth to Frau Elsbeth Simper.