The dining room of the mess was far less sterile than the bedrooms. It had gracious dimensions and was decorated with Art Nouveau, including elegant chandeliers. The tables were set with white linen, silver and crystal -- as was standard for the Luftwaffe. There were fresh flowers on every table and the mess stewards, Geuke noted, wore white jackets rather than field grey, as if it were peacetime or they were in the Reich. Geuke was take to the head table, at which the Gruppenkommandeur and his three Staffelkapitaene, including Hauptman Bartels, stat.
Bartels was tall, blond, tanned and fit -- a German officer straight out of a UFA film. He wore the Iron Cross First and Second Class on his tailored uniform, and smoked long cigarettes. He considered Geuke wiht a mixture of disbelief and annoyance. Geuke could hear him thinking, "Have we really sunk so low that we have to take officers like this?"
Geuke wriggled uncomfortably in his brand-new uniform. The collar seemed much too tight. He wished he could have loosened his tie a bit, but instead had to stand at attention, trying to cut a military figure.
Bartels seemed to overcome his disappointment and with sigh, he announced, "Find yourself a free place to sit and have a meal. We're flying at 09:00 -- weather permitting. What do you think, Harmann," he turned to one of the other officers, 'Can we trust Feldburg with a Rotte?" Then answering his own question, he remarked with obvious disgust, "I don't suppose we have much choice. He's at least seen some combat." Then turnign back to Geuke he said, "You'll be flying wingman to Christian Freiherr von Feldburg. I'll send him over after dinner."
The only table with a vanct place wasone occupied by non-flying officers: the intelligence officer, signals officer, paymaster, quartermaster, doctor and chaplain of the Gruppe. These men made Geuke welcome at their table perfunctorily, and then continued their discussion about the relative merits of the British and German early warning systems. Gueke tried to listen, but he knew afr too little about either system to make any kind of intelligent contribution to the debate. He was relieved when the Gurppenkommandeur retired tot he bar.
But Geuke's sense of relief was short-lived. In the bar, the officers clustered together in familiar gorups, and Geuke was more an outsider than in the dining room. Here men could shoulder him aside or turn their backs without being rude. Geuke hisitantly went to the bar and after everyone else had been served, he timidly asked the Luftwaffe bartender for a beer.
"Account number, Herr Leutnant?" the bartender demande without even looking at him.
"Put it on my account," A voice said from behyind hm, and Geuke jumped and turned around.
The officer behind him smiled and heldo ut his hand. "Feldburg. The COG just told me the good news that you will be flyiing wingman to me tomorrow. I think that calls for more than beer, don't you? May I make that beer a glass of Sekt?"
Geuke was so taken aback he heardly knew what to say. This officer was another one of the propaganda-poster-types, and the hand he extended had the distinctive heavy gold ring with the inset stone on which his coat-of-arms must be embossed. Geuke heard the Staffelkapitaen's words rining in his ears, "You'll be flying wingman to Freiherr von Feldburg." The plumber's son did not believe he had ever shaken hands with a baron before. True, he'd encountered the odd Junker at training, but none with this exalted a title.
"Ah, Herr -- Freiherr --"
"Christian," interrupted the other man. "And let's go straight to 'Du.' As a Rotte we have to work together like brothers, after all. No room for formality. What's your first name?"
"Ernst," Geuke croaked out, wtill in a bit of a daze.
They shook hands again, and Christian insisted, "Champagne?"