“Anyone who has ever visited The Persian Cat in Vienna knows that there is no creature more deft, more supple, more responsive than a high-class courtesan,” Madame Waschbaer said. “And, as any who have attempted to cross me or my girls knows, there is no creature more dangerous and resourceful when angered.”

“Well, yes.” Inspector-General Baumkopf said, uneasily shifting in his mirror-polished boots. “So I’ve…heard, in any case. But still, what a remarkable ascent, from the whorehouses of our nation’s capital to sailing above the front lines for His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s Aviation Troops, hm?”

“I think you’ll find that it’s quite a remarkable ascent from anywhere to flying in a heavier-than-air machine, Herr Baunkopf,” said Waschbaer. “Even your men.”

The madame and the inspector continued strolling along the line of Albatros D.III biplanes turned out for inspection. The latest fighter designs from the Empire’s erstwhile ally, they were newly-built by KUK Waggonfabrik. Baumkopf gave a curt nod to the women and aircrews standing at attention in front of their machines before turning back to Waschbaer. “Yes, I’m sure,” he said. “But I wanted to see how and know why. That’s why I came myself instead of sending an assistant.”

“Well, the how you’ll see in a moment, when we fly a sortie,” said Waschbaer. “No demonstrations, this will be a live-fire exercise, a special delivery to our dear enemies across the lines. No wasted fuel or girls’ lives.”

“And why?” Inspector-General Baumkopf jabbed his swagger stick at the nearest pilot, Erna Pichler. “We do not see fit to put His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s delicate flowers on the front lines, so why do they fly above them?”

“Why, to release more of His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s strapping young lads to die for their country in the Russian mud, of course.”

“And why…er…why empty the brothels? Surely there are virtuous women who could serve and not-“

“Oh please, Inspector-General,” scoffed Madame Waschbaer. “Call a spade a spade. You may call the girls dancers, courtesans, prostitutes, whores, whatever you like, it is nothing they haven’t heard before.”

“Why…courtesans?” Baumkopf continued, looking uneasily over Erna Pichler’s various and sundry assets with a foreboding sense of familiarity. “You say they are deft, and supple, and all that, but-“

“But they are also tough,” the madame shot back. “That toughness is what will win them glory in this war while freeing your boys to be in a frozen trench someplace. And, if you’ll pardon my Francais, these girls are used to men getting screwed over thanks to them.”

Baumkopf, red as a cherry tomato, sputtered in response.

“Relax, it is a joke,” said Madame Waschbaer. “I am a commissioned officer in His Imperial and Royal Majesty’s Aviation Troops if you wish me brought up on charges for speaking so freely.”

The inspector-general continued walking past Erna, who gave him a smile and a wink, continuing the inspection almost automatically.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Erniesum Onestone, a barrister of Italian-Czech extraction, had devoted his entire life to the law, first for Austria-Hungary and later for the newly-independent nation of Czechoslovakia. He’d consulted on the drafting of the nation’s constitution as well as numerous pieces of civil law, learning the enormously complex system from square one. An inveterate practical jokester and fervent nationalist, Onestone delighted in tweaking the system and those within it precisely within the bounds he’d helped establish, though never to an extend which might harm his beloved nation.

Such a life didn’t lend itself to starting a family, and all of his immediate family had died during the war, leaving Onestone to seek other ways to make his mark as he lay dying of lung cancer in 1927. Months of work in his law office resulted in an enormously detailed will that became a national sensation when it was read upon his death. One hundred and twenty-seven clauses contained instructions for the dispersal of an estate swollen with sixty years of legal fees.

A million-koruna mansion to two barristers who were both spendthrifts and notorious enemies.

A cash prize equal to twenty years’ wages to the woman in Prague who bore the most legitimate children over the next five years.

A fully-paid membership in a prominent upper-crust social club for a notorious Bratislava pimp.

And, most mysteriously, a professionally made safebox with instructions not to open it for 80 years–protected by a generous endowment for a family to guard it (invalidated by premature opening).

Distant relatives fought Onestone’s bequests in court, but the wily old barrister had known what he was doing and the will stood as was, unaltered. The rival barristers put up with each other for five years before agreeing, through intermediaries, to sell the property and split the proceeds. Three Prague women won the baby race with a fourth given a consolation price, each tied at five children apiece.

As for the sealed strongbox…it vanished from history. Most of the relevant records were destroyed in the accidental firebombing of Prague in 1945, while the family Onestone had subsidized to look after his treasure vanished in the maelstrom of war. The box was lost to history.

Until now.