CHAPTER eIGHTEEN - starting Over
24th August 1918
I never even saw the Replacement Center.
At a checkpoint outside of St. Quentin, an officer read the orders in the envelope from Heidemann. He just looked at me, shook his head and smiled.
“This one goes straight to the Bellicourt Tunnel.”
The St. Quentin Canal runs north to south right along the Hindenburg Line. At the town of Bellicourt, the canal becomes a tunnel and goes underground for 5,000 meters and makes a perfect defensive bunker. Unfortunately, that also makes it a prime target for our enemies because it is the one place along the line where tanks can cross the canal. Not only was I heading to the front lines, I was heading right into the cross hairs of the enemy.
What is life like in the Tunnels? It is damp and cold, and the air reeks of lantern smoke and musty canal water. The rats have the run of the place. Combine that with the regular thumping of artillery overhead and every moment feels like a living nightmare. They have a storage room set up as a dark room and once they learned of my skills with photography they have me working there at night. The chemicals make my head spin, but my other job is much worse.
By day I am a stretcher bearer. South of Bellicourt is the Riqueval Bridge and I cross it many times a day moving the wounded from the front to the dressing station at Nauroy. I am the last hope for men that are broken and bleeding. Many of them are already dead before I get across the bridge.
This is no job for an old man. I am working on a plan to get out of here, but all my choices come with sacrifice. Nothing can be worse than this.
A familiar face showed up this week. Luis, one of my favorite couriers, came by on his motorcycle with a package in his sidecar for me. Apparently Kettering has taken over my discreet mail service. His timing was excellent. I need help from Kaeti and she owes me a favor. I gave him a quick note to deliver to her.
Kettering sent along a box of cigars with an apology for the rough handling at my departure. He said Heidemann and Stachel were at the Trials at Johannishal. He included a newspaper clipping and a postcard ( looks like he still has a soft spot for pornography). He also mentioned that Stachel asked that he return Wili’s journal to Kaeti.
First, he stops drinking? Now he regrets blackmailing Kaeti and tries to make amends? That doesn’t sound like the Bruno I know.
Hard to guess what he will do next.
Looks like Heidemann left escorting duties to Stachel. Elfi and Bruno as a couple? Otto better watch his back.