"You alright, Ernst?" Christian asked with apparent concern as he poured wine for himself. "The MO said you had a concussion and no other serious injuries, but..." Christian looked at him intently. "What's bothering you?"
Ernst couldn't take the scrutiny. The tension was just too much, or the contrast between the inner tension and the warm, cosy environment was too much. Ernst wasn't someone who could pretend anyway. He burst out, "Christian I'm a wash-out, aren't I?"
"Whatever for? You did a great job putting your Emil down without breaking anything."
"But -- I mean -- that I had to crash at all. I mean...." Too late, Ernst realized that Christian didn't know about the oxygen and that he'd been lost. But they would find out as soon as they investigated. Ernst's head was killing him. He dropped it into his hands and just held it.
"Come on. What's eating you?" Christian urged in a friendly tone.
"What about it?" Christian asked confused.
"There wasn't anything wrong with it -- I'd just forgotten to plug it in." Ernst was so ashamed, he didn't dare meet Christian's eyes as he admitted this.
Christian just laughed. Ernst stared at him. "Hell. Who hasn't done that once or twice?"
"But I -- I panicked! I half-rolled and dived instead of staying below the Staffel. And I didn't realize what was wrong 'till I was back on the deck and, and...."
Christian leaned his elbows on the table and looked Ernst straight in the eye. "If you aren't getting any oxygen, you can't think properly. That's all there is to it. It's normal. don't let it get to you. What's important is that you plugged in and tried to catch up with us."
"Yes -- but I couldn't find you."
"Of course not. The weather closed in too fast and the sweep was scratched."
Ernst stared at Christian, hardly daring to believe what he was being told. Christian acted as if he wasn't to blame for what happened. He tried to explain. "I got lost Christian. I didn't know where I was. I kept following the coast, but I couldnt' find anything familiar -- not even Le Harve. I looked and looked, but I couldn't find any familiar landmark. It -- it was just luck that I landed so near the ZG base."
"How long have you been with us, Ernst? Ten days?"
"And how many of those days have we flown? --not even half." Christian answered his own question. "So you've flown in France all of four times, right? and rarely the same route? And in better weather. Any of us might have lost our way in this muck."
Ernst stared at him, almost afraid to believe him, but Christian really seemed to mean it.
"Cheer up, Ernst!" Christian urged with a smile. "If I have to spend the evening with you rather than Gabrielle, than at least try to make it a pleasant evening, all right?"
"Gabrielle? Is that your French girl friend?" Ernst ventured timidly. "Didn't the CO order you to stop seeing her?"
"So what? We've signed a truce with France. Half the Gestapo has French girl friends nowadays! What do they expect us to do? Live like monks? That's not healthy!" Christian delcared with conviction.
Ernst snickered in embarrassment. He'd never had a girl friend, and he was far too inhibited to go to whores. The very thought made him feel dirty. He didn't want it like that. He wanted a nice girl, who was there just for him. She didn't have to be beautiful, just kind and sympathetic and nice. He found himself gazing at his wine, wishing, while Christian continued his commentary.
Christian was telling him about meeting Gabrielle, and somehow he made it all sound very amusing. In fact, Christian soon had Ernst laughing. He forgot about his headach, and getting lost, and crashing. And when he remembered again, it didn't seem so bad.
Excerpt 2: New Assignment
Axel shook out a cigarette, and Christian took it thankfully. Axel gave him a light. As he straightened from bending over the match, the pilot's eyes fell on the two girls, still hovering just within earshot. He smiled at them at once, and Klaudia's alarm signals went off. She took a step backwarks, but it was too late.
"Has the Luftwaffe come up with the delightful idea of training Helferinnen to service aircraft?"
Axel turned back from the waist, saw what Christian had seen, and with a somewhat annoyed frown signalled the girls forward as he explained. "No. They're both in Communications, but Rosa and I met at StG2. After I'd written back about how nice it was here, she got it into her head to follow me over."
Axel had his hand around Rosa's elbow as he introduced her. "Rosa Welkerling." Christian clicked his heels and bowed his head, smiling, but his eyes had already shifted to Klaudia. "Klaudia von Richthofen," Axel duly introduced her, adding for the benefit of the girls, "Christian Freiherr von Feldburg."
Again Christian clicked his heels and bowed to Klaudia. Klaudia was so distressed to find herself attracted to him when she had hardly recovered from what Jako had done to her, that she was immensely relieved when the fat pilot emerged beside them. He distracted the handsome baron, who turned on him to declare triumphantly, "I told you not to worry about me."
"You barely made it," Ernst pointed out.
"Perfect planning, as the CO would say," Christian assured him, flinging an arm over his wingman's shoulders.
"The CO won't say anything of the kind," Ernst retorted with a sour expression.
"He would, if he'd done it," Christian reasoned, and they all laughed a bit more loudly than the joke justified. Christian and Ernst started to turn away, but Christian remembered to politely nod to the girls. Then the pilots were gone and Axel turned to the Helferinnen rather sharply. "We've got work to do. See you later."
"As you like," Rosa answered, miffed, as the started to turn away. Then she stopped and called out, "Axel?"
"You never looked that nervous when Pashinger was late."
"Arschinger was an asshole."
"And this baron's not?"
"Feldburg? No, he's all right."
By about ten pm, Klaudia was falling asleep upright. It had been an eventful day, and she was no longer used to wine with dinner. She stood, hiding a yawn behind her hand, and announced she was turning in.
"I'll come too," Rosa agreed.
They said good night to the other girls and left their little mess, crossing the darkened games room and making for the main stairs. But as they reached the stairs sweeping up from the reception area, they could hear music and singing coming up from the Officer's Bar on the left. "Listen!" Rosa said with delight. "That's Veronica, der Lenz ist da!" When Klaudia looked blankly at her, she added, "You know, by the Comedian Harmonists! Surely you know the Comedian Harmonists?" Rosa might be a good National Socialist, but nothing could ruin her delight in the songs of the Berlin quintet. She tiptoed toward the stairs that led down into the rustic bar with its flagstone floor and beamed ceiling a half-floor below.
Someone was playing a piano very well, and several men were indeed singing in harmony. There was also the stamping of feet and clapping of hands to heard. Rosa tiptoed down four or five steps until, by bending, she could see into the bar itself. In a line with their arms around each other's shoulders, four of the pilots were dancing to the music as they sang.
They had their tunics completely unbuttoned, their ties loosened, and the pilots on the ends -- the fat pilot Ernst Geuke and a man she didn't recognize -- were having some trouple keeping up with the steps. In the centre, very much the motor of the little act, was -- who else? -- Christian Freiherr v. Feldburg....
Klaudia tried to picture Jako doing some kind of can-can with his tunic open and his tie loose; it was unthinkable.
Too soon the song came to an end. Rosa reluctantly got to her feet, sorry that the show was already over. "Axel was right," she concluded as the two girls went up to their room together."It is a lot nicer here."