Week I: Tracing a Path
It seems as though my primary endeavours have been a complete success: with mother dead, Kovacs conveniently stuffed in a sarcophagus (where he is no longer an inconvenience), and that annoying witless idiot Henckels detracted and misled into thinking Gustave was my mother's killer, literally all of Zubrowka lies in the palm of my hand.
The only pending matter is the disappearance of that untrustworthy butler of mine, Serge, but I trust J.G. Jopling (ever the talent that he is—the fact we've managed to remain undiscovered is truly more due to his talents than mine, though I dislike to admit it) will get on task and deliver, as always. In the interim, I plan to move the Zig-Zag division headquarters to my mother's old hotel (and the faggot's former place of employment), the Grand Budapest. I think the boys will enjoy themselves there, but ever the more important matter is the fact it's such a slight to that old hag and her dastardly lover, and I intend to make it the most obvious slight there ever was in case he ever has the gall to come back (which, having been plagued by that bothersome insect for over twenty years and thus being somewhat familiar with his intolerable personality, he'd have more than sufficient arrogance to attempt).
Yes, the place will need re-decorating for sure: mainly, Zig-Zag banners so the world knows that moronic old ruin is mine (I really have no interest in habituating a horrible pink cake of a candy-ass hotel, but again, certain sacrifices must be made in the holy name of revenge), and to put dumb Gustave's old colleagues in their place before incident and impress upon them at once who is boss around here, in case any of them get any ideas to avenge the downfall of their stupid friend.
I have about four weeks to make all necessary changes, though the banners and other décor will take a bit longer to acquire since they'll have to be custom-made and I trust only the most talented hands in their creation, so I am willing to wait.
In the meantime, until everything is finally done to my liking, I will take temporary residence in one of the lesser suites (I intend on usurping the King Ferdinand suite for myself, and perhaps my sisters as an act of charity since it is sufficiently spacious, but that will need some fixing before I am ready to move in there). I really haven't much preference over which one they place me in, this being merely temporary, so I will leave such matters at staff's discretion because I haven't the time to fuss over such trifles when there is work to be done.
Week II: The Takeover
Week two of my scheme is finally here, and I am writing from the mediocre confines of the nameless Suite 113. The room will do for now, though it is definitely not the furnishing I am used to (it's about twice the size of your average servants' quarters, with one full-size bed, a dressing drawer, and a small single dining table, but it will do for now).
I have sent Jopling to Gabelmeister's Peak, where we have discovered Serge is hiding (thanks to a telegram filched from his lying clubfooted sister). I can't believe the smugness of the X family, thinking they could pull the wool over my own eyes in such a stupid way, but they will pay dearly for it (indeed, they already have, halfway, anyway—let's just say that whole family is going to Hell in a little basket, so Serge better keep a tight grip on his rosary for his own good).
No doubt he is simply suffocating with grief over the news of his sister's demise, so we will take advantage of his lowered guard to finally wrap up some business that is long overdue. I trust Jopling completely now that he has proven himself worth every Klubek, and if he pulls this off, he has been promised a prominent rank in the Zig-Zag division (the most I can do short of actually paying him a livable wage out of pocket, which just isn't going to happen).
The only thing that worries me, and the possible snag in this entire operation, is the news of Gustave's escape from Checkpoint19. I have no fucking idea how the faggot pulled it off, but it's true—the Trans-Alpine Yodel has confirmed it, and they have not yet completely fallen into yellow press territory so I think they are still a reliable source.
If I didn't know any better, I'd say I could trust confounded Henckels to pursue him like a fox, but I have a feeling that man holds some sort of sentiment for the concierge, because his pursuit has been lazy and hesitant thus far. As always, you can't trust the police around here (it took them two days to arrest Gustave, even though I summoned for them the very same evening of my mother's wake—how hard can that possibly be?)
Since my trust of Henckels and his henchmen is nonexistent, I sent Jopling to do some private inquiry on my behalf (as usual, though this time treading rather lightly as we are dealing with the police and I wish not to ruffle any feathers here). He came back practically empty-handed, save for the mention of a Mendl's box he said he found by the abandoned cell. It may be of entirely no consequence (though Mendl's is the faggot's infamously favourite establishment, so I think it is something after all), but it is worth investigating for its own sake—though I will have to take that task upon myself in lieu of Jopling, as the pursuit and elimination of Serge X is of infinitely further importance, and it just seems so unlikely a simple pastry place would involve itself with the prison escape of a few convicts—even if 90% of their business probably came from one such convict.
Week III: Shadowing
I haven't done very much in the past week, save for overseeing the arrangements of the King Ferdinand Suite (it is coming along nicely, having a generous king size bed with silken blanketing and lush velvet canopy, among other comely personal touches) and scouting out the business at Mendl's as part of my individual investigation into their possible entanglement with the Checkpoint 19 escape.
So far, I haven't seen anything alarming. I've stood outside the establishment (at evening hours, so as not to compromise myself—I would never be caught dead at such a lowly place) and discreetly peered in through the window, to familiarize myself with the staff (aside from the gorilla Mendl, of course—that fat bastard is pretty difficult to miss). The only person I've managed to see there is a pretty blonde girl with stunning azure eyes and a very peculiar birthmark (the shape of Mexico, curiously enough) whose name I do not know. It is only she who eternally slaves in Mendl's sweltering kitchen making those diabolical pastries the faggot loves so much—but someone of her caliber could not possibly be acquainted with such an ungentlemanly animal, could she?
Week III, Part Deux: Infiltration
I take my investigation one step further: under the falsest of pretenses, I've applied to work at Mendl's (a small part of my self died in the process, but again, revenge is a plate best served cold and at any cost—and both my vengeance upon Gustave and the recuperation of Boy With Apple come with a price tag, it seems).
The boorish bulldog Mendl predictably accepted to hire me (he doesn't precisely have standards, now, does he? I have no culinary background to speak of and cannot be trusted to keep a kitchen from catching fire, and yet he hired me all the same, the cheap fucker he is), and I began my 'arbeit' shortly after.
My job is simple enough: all I have to do is be bossed around by that little nymphet who works in the kitchen and gather for her whatever materials she needs to concoct the little heart attacks in a box Mendl has the audacity to peddle to our populace as edible.
Thus far, we've only collaborated in making about four dozen sets of 'Courtesan au Chocolat' (perhaps the food item I hate the most in this whole universe—mother's dessert of choice as well as faggot's favourite). I must concede she is exceedingly lovely and I do find myself detracting from my mission whenever she's near me, and admiring the utter expertise she possesses in decorating and baking the disgusting little cakes. Her porcelain hands, even when covered with starches and glaze, are so graceful in placing every last intricate detail of the filigree and the singular cocoa bean that is the crowning piece of the pastry—I feel like melting whenever I catch myself lost in the dolorous haze of her undeniable charm.
However, I am a man of business above anything else, and one of sabotage when the situation calls for it, as this certainly does. I have taken it upon myself to taint the little cakes with the incorrect ingredients (excessive butter—though each set is already saturated with cholesterol as is, with about seven eggs and an entire stick of butter being the primary components of a single set of 12 pastries), or to plainly vandalize them whenever possible (taking care to purposely bash in the glaze and robbing them of their aesthetic, which is their main signature—I have succeeded in getting Mendl at the heated end of many customer complaints of sub-par quality, of course at the blonde's expense, alas).
It is through sheer miracle that the dim-witted Mendl hasn't put two and two together and discovered the decline in the quality of the baker girl's work is absolutely due to my intrusion (I've even gone so far as trashing the angelic creation's absolutely perfect work and replacing it with my own rather rudimentary pieces—perhaps worthy of being a not-so-grand, pest-laden motel's signature dessert item). He's verbally lashed out at her and even threatened to place her on the street for it, but he cites her 'fallen spirits' as the root of the issue (I am unsure of what this even means, but I overheard him barking at her over something having to do with a missing lobby boy—the connection to the Grand Budapest this may suggest troubles me somewhat, though it is wholly plausible she is friends with a lobby boy at another hotel, which I pray is the case).
I have not given myself away in any form, however. I play the part of the dutiful albeit untalented helper, to which she responds with a degree of apprehension. She seems like an intelligent person, and I think she knows I have much to do with the customer dissatisfaction this place has seen, but dares not say anything of it to Mendl in fear of angering him and worsening her own already precarious situation.
Despite all this pressure, neither the little violet baker nor her ape-like mentor have cracked. There is no trace whatsoever of Gustave at this place (aside from the mention of a lobby boy, but that is a truly flimsy clue), and I sometimes feel like I am wasting effort continuing to toil here, attempting to sniff out conspiracy where there probably is none. If it weren't for her, I would have quit already—but I can't seem to bring myself to do this.
No, not for her. Not for her. For Boy With Apple, and for my glorious reprisal, that is why I remain in this place, even now.
Week Four: Abdication
I have quit the job at Mendl's, having to tend to some important ZZ business (which could not be delegated elsewhere) and devote myself to supervising my division's occupation of the Grand Budapest. In any case, the invasion was totally pointless: I discovered nothing of note as far as information on Gustave or Boy With Apple goes, and succeeded at no endeavour other than getting Mendl some negative press (which I suppose was somewhat worth it, if nothing else as a little show of my own vindictiveness).
Consequently, I had to vacate my own premises even at the Grand Budapest for about three days and go on an emergency trip to the Maltese Riviera to meet with a fellow aristocrat (of Italian origin) Count Galeazzo Ciano (yet another count, how funny is that?). We discussed the ever-present dark cloud that is Communism which appears to encroach upon our once-sunny horizons with further zeal each day, as well as certain dealings between Italy and our fine nation of Zubrowka (as well as Germany—I have been in touch with certain key figures in the mess that is presently Germany, but an illustrious nation such as that is a good connection no matter the circumstance) which would see me acquiring a great degree of political prestige in a possible alliance with these respected states.
I gave my approval for a possible unquestioned alliance situation, and possible partial German occupation (if they are successful in their own endeavours within their walls, that is), as I feel we cannot deal with the threats of unfavourable foreign governments ourselves (lacking the resources, really) and are in need of alliances (as well as my own advancement, with the ZZ possibly taking control of Zubrowka as a whole with Germany and Italy's backing as an added military arm to detract opposition).
Everything in regards to that is very much up in the air, however, since none of us have truly achieved what we want and all discussion is in the theoretical sphere. In the end we are just a bunch of misplaced aristocrats in a turbulent revolution of a century which seems less and less favourable to us as time proceeds, but endurance even in most ardent adversity is a key trait of the genetically superior (as we--or at least I, very obviously am).
Regardless of having achieved quite little, I returned to Zubrowka with high hopes, prepared to take my rightful place upon the throne at last. I phoned the new (and better) concierge at the Grand Budapest about a day prior and inquired about the King Ferdinand suite's completion, which seems to have come about at last.
The only thing amiss at the time was Jopling's unsettling absence. I had not received word of any kind from him (not phone nor telegram nor letter, and I am not exactly hard to reach) since his voyage to Gablemeister's Peak in search of Serge, though I did hear of the latter's rather ghastly demise in the local papers (some obituary written by the monastery describing the murder in gruesome detail, which was enough to tell me it was indeed Jopling's work).
It was definitely peculiar (seriously not like him -not- to contact me for weeks on end, especially with his weekly griping about his pay—which is all squandered on cheap whiskey and hookers, so I really don't see what his problem with it is) not to hear from him for such a long time, but extraneous business diverted my attention and I did not have enough time or interest to piece the puzzle together, being principally preoccupied with Zig-Zag division business (it was only until much later that I learned of his death).
Still, I tried not to think too much of it. My sisters picked me up from the airport in our deceased mother's white Mercedes (our car, now), and we headed to the Grand Budapest, as planned. We passed by Mendl's during our drive, and the thought of the nameless blonde passed my mind once again as the infernal establishment came in and out of view.
I silently wondered if she happened to be there at this time, perhaps, and briefly entertained stopping by under the guise of wanting one of those dumb desserts, but I decided against it in the end.
We pulled in at the front entrance of the Grand Budapest, now entirely decked in ZZ insignia (how beautiful it was, beyond description). The valet took care of our vehicle as my sisters and I entered the hotel, eagerly awaiting our promised suite.
The interior of the Grand Budapest was by now buzzing like a beehive with my division's inhabiting of it, which greatly pleased me (as this was in some form a small taste of the kingdom to come). The front desk staff informed me the room was ready and took our bags, much to my sisters' joy (they have always been very lethargic and probably couldn't wait to lounge around in the suite all day as they had done at Schloß Lutz, playing cards or otherwise wasting their time).
Nothing struck me as odd until I spied something—or rather, someone—I had seen before, entirely out of place. How could I forget those eyes, after all?
My stomach sank as I observed the little form of the pastry girl right before my eyes, as lovely as a misty vision in some ethereal dream, except a dream-turned-nightmare under the solemn circumstances, as she carried what appeared to be a poorly wrapped package under her delicate arm.
I wanted it to not be true, but in my heart I knew it was: the package she gripped so dutifully contained none other than the original and highly coveted masterpiece Boy With Apple by Johannes van Hoytl the Younger. I did not know how she managed to get her hands on it, but it was then that I knew beyond the shadow of my doubts in my days of shadowing her at Mendl's that she had some sort of involvement in the Checkpoint 19 escape.
“I think that girl has my painting,” is all I managed to say before I instinctively commenced pursuit.
Judging by her reaction, she appeared to recognize me, because she turned rather quickly and headed towards the main elevator.
“Six,” her velvety voice said, directing the dull elevator serviceman.
“Hold it!” I exclaimed, almost unaware of the words escaping my mouth before their utterance.
Attempting to regain my composure (she shook me, as you will by now have figured), I slowly slunk towards the elevator she cooped herself into, my previously flat collar attentively raised to emphasize the frame of my neck.
I boarded the stuffy scarlet elevator shortly thereafter, much to her dismay. Though she tried her best to occult it, I could spy a delicious glimmer of fear in her forget-me-not eyes.
Once the door closed, I gladly took my place beside her, careful to place myself as uncomfortably close to her as possible whilst not betraying my own nerves (at the time, a sea of butterflies brewed inside my stomach, the only clue to its existence being an involuntary twitch on my part).
I could feel the electricity of the static as my black woolen coat brushed against the tawny tan of hers, my slender hand reaching towards her, desiring to unveil her but instead exposing (through the most precise of tears in the wafer-like paper) the vibrant hues of Boy With Apple.
She gulped with faint agony (the tender lily-white skin of her neck, which proudly wore a porcelain pendant with two crossed keys, became strained with dismay) as I slit the paper further, the tension between us thickening to nearly visible and clearly felt heights.
Unable to help myself, I turned to her and gazed at her frightened form like an ebony eagle looking to hungrily descend upon a helpless ivory dove with outstretched talons, wishing to say so many other things but instead simply whispering “pretty picture” with deadliest calm.
Floor six relieved her of her frozen fear as our transient time in each other's truly exclusive company came to a halt. As quickly as she had appeared, immediately upon my turning once more to look upon her, she went.
I followed exactly in sync with her pacing (placing myself a few paces behind her, partly to confound her and partly to enable myself to admire her without her notice), and she maintained the illusion of calm with much grace until we made a winding turn upon a narrow hallway, at which point she abandoned her pretense and broke into a swift sprint, the paper wrapping of the painting melodically rustling against her as she ran.
She succeeded instead in confounding me, as I stood in shock for one seemingly eternal moment, not quite registering the switch in her demeanour before impulsively running after her.
My dark eyes darted with desperation trying to locate her, under my own logical pretenses of recovering Boy With Apple, but truly unmasking my intentions as being more along the nature of one wishing to tragically pursue an ever-fading star at it spins further and forever out of reach.
I stopped in my own tracks only once I was faced with the wholly unexpected sight of none other than M. Gustave H the fugitive concierge and (at this time, the entire picture coming together) his Lobby Boy companion (who, I recalled exactly upon their sighting, had insolently struck me at my home the same evening Boy With Apple presumably went missing).
“Where is Boy With Apple?!?!” I furiously bellowed, the shakiness in my hopeless voice accounting itself to something else entirely, but I intended to preserve the same illusions as others.
“None of your goddamn business!!!” the vulgar concierge, decked in a blue Mendl's uniform (which I had once worn, as you will remember: it was the same colour as her eyes) as if to taunt me further, retorted with ire.
Consumed by a great furor of madness, I reached for my handgun (which I kept hidden under my slacks, where it would be less expected) and shot at the pair, intending to unleash my unfiltered rage upon them both.
The two of them took refuge inside the same service elevator inside of which they had ascended minutes prior, the concave structure successfully shielding them from my bullets.
An unprecedented shootout took place after the first few shots I fired, the startled tenants of the rooms adjacent to the large hall I had emerged from understandably seeking to defend themselves against what they probably deduced was an incoming threat to their welfare.
The commotion of the aforementioned shootout summoned the police (how curious that they show up when it is inconvenient to me), predictably headed by Henckels, who had the brazenness to think himself fit to order me to cease fire.
I drew his attention to the now located Gustave (still a fugitive from justice) in an effort to return things to their rightful order, but he rebuffed my attempts by accusing me of murdering my own mother plus the entire string of people Jopling extinguished from this Earth.
Henckels, ever a man of personal bias, actually entertained this nonsense and placed us all under arrest (what inanity!), a gesture which rightly went ignored by everyone after a shrill shout was heard coming from a window (later discovered to be the bakery girl hanging from the filched painting).
I recognized her voice and turned in its direction, but became distracted by the darting lobby boy who screamed her name with as much concern for her in his voice as there was in my mind, and I shot at him, entirely in the grips of jealousy.
Gustave sprinted after him as I continued to shoot, both evading the hail of bullets from the revived shootout without so much as a scratch to show for it, and after that it was all quite swiftly over—Henckels learned of the contents of the second copy of the second will (the original destroyed by me), trumping my entire operation in an instant.
It was as if the stars, which before had shone so clearly with promise, had all gone out—the clock coming to a halt and my world ending along with it.
But it was here, in the bittersweet midst of this empty movement, that I learned her name.
Beautiful agate Agatha, bright bringer of my downfall.