CHAPTER ELEVEN - A Deal with the Devil
11th May 1918
April was not a good month for the German war effort.
Two months in and "The Big Push" had begun to fizzle out. Big offensives require big resources and as this war dragged on, we started to run out. The Americans declared war in April the year before, but they were close to mobilized now and their contribution of men and materials was tipping the scales in the favor of the Entente coalition.
And then this news, Von Richthofen forced down over the Somme Valley, killed by a single gunshot wound. Germany’s confidence that they were winning the war was fueled by his successes. That state of that confidence now? Von Richthofen said it himself in his last words.
Not all the news was bad, the first DVII fighter showed up for testing and Ziegel lectured the squad on the aircraft's attributes. This machine was to be our savior and it looked the part. Stachel could barely keep his hands off of it. At dusk, his turn finally came up and he damn near ran Ziegel over when he taxied out. What followed was a jaw-dropping display of man and machine. Loops, rolls, snap turns and spins were all expertly demonstrated. Stachel's aggressiveness and the power of this machine were a perfect match.
Heidemann seemed distracted during the initial test flights. That last letter from Elfi had really shaken him. Stachel’s display brought a smile to his face for the first time in weeks.
Finding a way to get back to Elfi and his focus on Stachel's fame was somehow tied together. Stachel's pairing with the DVII appeared to be the last piece of that puzzle.
The next night I was up late working on reports at my desk when a storm blew in. The low rumble of the thunderstorm was a mild distraction compared to our usual artillery attacks. A huge lightning strike nearby made me jump. When I looked out at the bright white light, I could just make out an officer in a rain poncho, weaving his way across the airfield, a bottle under each arm.
Only Leutnant Stachel would be doing something this stupid in the middle of a storm. I thought it might be worth my while to see where he was going, so I grabbed my rain gear and followed him.
He was heading into town and turned into the first house just across the bridge where Wili Von Klugermann was quartered. Tailing a drunk is pretty easy business. Once Wili let him in I stayed at the foot of the stair and listened in while they chatted.
Wili considered himself an author and Stachel’s visit interrupted his creative process while he worked on his diary. Wili reluctantly let him in. Stachel’s tongue was loosened up by the alcohol and he loudly laid out his life plan;
1. Fly the DVII and become an ace.
2. Be awarded the Pour le Merite ( The Blue Max )
3. Gain fame and wealth.
4. Use fame and wealth to gain power.
5. Use power tell everyone to kiss his ass.
A simple plan really, not quite as poetic as the stuff Wili was writing.
A man with Stachel’s aggression and those kinds of goals was a real danger to himself and the people around him. That was enough for me, I headed out the door and back to the office to make sure Stachel did not see me.
A short time after that Stachel stumbled his way into the office.
His speech was slurred when he demanded an “extra” for he and Wili at 10:45 tomorrow and another the next day. He looked puzzled when I told him that I could not give him the second extra because the five new DVII’s were showing up that morning. The cogs turning slowly in his sodden brain while he tried to calculate where he was in line for getting a DVII.
Strangely he seemed suddenly satisfied and went on to ask if I was willing to enter into a business deal with him. He would buy all the alcohol I could get him in exchange for a 10% finder’s fee. A good deal for me, a little more extra cash might help me survive this war.
As he walked out into the rain laughing, I was concerned I had just made a mistake. Deals with the Devil do not always end well.