CHAPTER NINETEEN - Kaeti's Revenge
7th September 1918
There is not much of Nauroy left. The French had been bombing it for months. All that remains are a few random walls and fields of rubble. The old church with it’s bell tower is the only building still standing. I spent the morning moving bodies behind the church preparing them for burial. I was crouched down recording soldier numbers from identity tags when I heard the sputtering motorcycle come up behind me. Luis had returned with the much awaited response from Kaeti. He was beside himself, hopping from toe to toe. He pulled a newspaper out of his leather pouch and handed it to me;
“Hauptmann of Jasta 77 killed in a crash at Johannisthal Trials.”
Hauptmann Heidemann was dead!
Luis had witnessed the whole event.
He overheard Stachel and Heidemann having a heated conversation while waiting to test fly the Adler D-11. Heidemann said he was being promoted to Chief Propaganda Officer and was relocating to Berlin. Stachel became angry when Otto explained that he used him as a test case to show how he could promote the war effort by manipulating the press to make a pilot famous.
The fight escalated when Stachel climbed into the D-11. As he started up the engine he loudly demanded that Heidemann not tell Elfi how he got the promotion. Apparently, Stachel knew how much damage sharing that secret could cause.
It only got crazier from there. After Stachel finished his flight he tried to talk to Heidemann, but he ignored him as he climbed into the cockpit. Stachel stormed off and slumped into a chair at the hanger. A drunk Major standing over Stachel spilled brandy on his shoulder. That woke up Stachel who suddenly ran over to Luis and insisted he take him in his sidecar onto the airfield at once. In a gaudy display, they cut the D-11 off right on the runway. Stachel warned Heidemann not to fly the aircraft. He tried to convince him that it was unsafe, but Heidemann, smelling the alcohol on Stachel’s jacket, told him he was drunk and disorderly and ordered him back to the hanger.
He revved the engine and took off while Stachel and Luis stood there watching.
The newspaper article told the rest of the story. The top wing started ripping off during a steep dive and Otto was killed in the crash. A quick investigation was done on site by the Idflieg. Luis was a key witness and explained that Stachel was clearly sober and trying to warn the Jastaführer of some instability he discovered in the aircraft during his test flight. The crash was ruled an accident and Stachel was cleared of any responsibility.
Based on what I know about Heidemann it was not hard to connect the dots. He did this all to prove to Elfi how much he loved her and get back to her in Berlin. He wasn’t smart enough to realize the only part of his personality she still respected were his strong ethics. That was obvious in the letters I delivered for her. Stachel must have figured that out too when he spent time with Elfi . He clearly cared for her and was trying to protect her from being hurt by Heidemann’s plan.
Kaeti’s Letter….in English, such a careful girl.
Please find enclosed the final payment for the antidote to the Cobra’s venom. It proved quite effective. I was surprised that you requested payment in Francs. Is this the last time we will chat? Fine by me, as long as I have your promise of silence regarding any of my past indiscretions and that you consider all my debts paid in full.
You may not be aware that the Graf passed away a few months ago. Of course, I was suppose to be overcome with grief, so I decided to travel abroad and see old friends. I caught up with Bruno after his Hauptmann was killed so tragically in Berlin. He was on his way to comfort Elfi, another grieving widow. From the look on his face, he may well have been hoping to give her more than just comfort. She was one of the Graf’s patients and I believe he cured her of her addiction to alcohol. I suppose at this point she would have been a good match for the Cobra.
I say “would” because as fate would have it, once I shared the information you gave me about what you witnessed behind the Old Factory , Bruno suddenly became quite smitten with me. He has forgotten all about Elfi and in fact, I think soon there will be news of our engagement. It will be lovely to have the handsome new Jastaführer of Jasta 77 on my arm. Even more satisfying is knowing that I have permanently removed the Cobra’s fangs and he will never bite me again.
I suppose you won’t be in town for the wedding, but if you happen to change your mind regarding your future plans, I think with a bit of arm twisting I could convince my future fiancé to reinstate you back at Jasta 77.
Safe travels my friend. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.
As the motorcycle rumbled away, I stuffed the letter and Kaeti’s payment into my bag. I looked at the long line of bodies against the back wall of the old church. The partially collapsed bell tower loomed overhead. I could just make out a metal stairway leading its way up to the belfry. The stair, like me, hung on by just a thread.
Stachel’s attempt to protect Elfi and save Heidemann seemed out of character for the young man I know. He is going through some kind of transformation and it appears that the Angels are finally winning the battle for his soul. No matter now, with Kaeti working the Devil’s side, the battle for his soul is already over. Her offer to me is tempting, but I already made one deal with the Devil and it didn’t work out so well.
Back at the Tunnels, I tried to absorb all this new information. I need to get away from this madness. All I need is one more lucky break.
"Rupp's Skizzenbuch" is a simulation of a World War I soldier's journal and is a work of fiction. The characters and story are based on the novel "The Blue Max" written by Jack D. Hunter in 1964. Primary sources including photos, postcards and news headlines are interspersed in the fictional work to tie the story to real-world events during the Great War. To read more about the inspiration and sources for this project click on "Chapter 19 Credits" above.