With visions of making the world’s first parachute-coat the inventor Bernhard Zelchert leaves Austria in 1908 for the bohemian enclave of Montmartre. Once in the Parisian capital of sin he discovers a world unlike anything he’s ever seen: cabarets, hashish, avant-garde artists – and the beautiful Adriana.
Obsessed with his passions and caught up in a love triangle he’ll stop at nothing, including murder, madness or worse, to see his dreams become reality.
A Sensible Lunatic
Written by: Lyle Deixler
My god she’s beautiful, Bernhard thought. That hair, her face. His gaze followed the young waitress as she made her rounds on the crowded restaurant floor.
The waitress pushed some of her long, red hair behind her ear to keep it from falling over her eyes as she made her way to the coffee urns.
And her mouth and lips, he thought, so full and round, perfect. I wished Gretchen looked like that. He imagined holding the waitress, kissing her beautiful face, slipping his fingers through her hair.
Bernhard was on his lunch break, and third beer, as he sat in the pub in Salzburg. He took a sip from the glass mug. Julia, his office’s secretary, usually joined him but decided not to this afternoon. His eyes stayed on the waitress. Absolutely amazing, he thought.
Bernhard slipped the wedding ring off his finger and put it in his vest pocket. He finished the beer, caught the waitresses’ eye and waived her over to his table.
“Would you like one more?” she asked, with a slight nasal intonation like she always spoke.
He could tell from her accent she wasn’t Austrian or German. Russian, he guessed. “Please, danke. And I’m curious. Where are you from?”
“I see. I’m Bernhard. What is your name?”
“That’s a very pretty name. Very pretty.”
She smiled at him and blushed.
“I’m sorry, am I embarrassing you?”
“Maybe, just little,” she replied.
“Well don’t be. And besides having such a pretty name you are certainly a very beautiful woman.”
“Danke,” she said, nodding her head forward toward him, acknowledging the compliment, smiling again.
“And your hair, so pretty, so rare.” He gazed dreamily at her, not caring that she would notice.
“Danke,” Natalia replied again, blushing once more. “I come back. With the beer.”
That face, he thought again as she left, even her jawline, incredible.
Soon she returned with the mug, placed it on his table and quickly turned to walk away.
“I’m curious,” Bernhard began, “how long have you been working here for?”
She stopped and turned back toward him. “Two months. Almost. Next week two months.”
“I see. And how do you like this city? The grand, hallowed Salzburg,” he asked.
“Very nice. It is very beautiful.”
“You don’t find the people here to be snobs? Or arrogant?”
“What is this words? Snobs? Arrgint?”
“Arr-o-gant,” Bernhard corrected her. “Some people thinking they’re above everyone else, better than everybody. And mean. Have the people been nice to you, in this restaurant?” he motioned with his hand toward the two dozen or so tables spread out before them.
“Mean? Oh yes, this I know. Maybe sometimes, some people. But not many.” She smiled at him politely and turned to walk away again.
“Because the people here in Salzburg have a reputation,” he told her. “They can be mean and think they’re better than everybody else because of this city. And its history and music. But I’m not from here. I’m from Hallein. To the south.”
“I do not know this place. And I have to go. Tables.” Now it was her turn as she motioned with her hand to all the customers.
“Wait,” Bernhard began, “would you like to have dinner with me one night? I know a lot of great restaurants here, besides this one.”
Dinner? She thought. He is cute. And such nice, light-blue eyes. But where is his wife? And ring? She wondered. Natalia was about to mention it then stopped herself. “Oh no, this I cannot do. I am sorry.”
“No? Really?” he asked.
“No. I cannot.” She left his table and quickly walked away.
Bernhard finished the beer and headed back to his office. As he walked along the cobblestoned streets Bernhard kept thinking about Natalia and didn’t realize where he was going. He always went out of his way to avoid walking past the Salzburg Cathedral but now found himself standing before it.
A huge statue of the Virgin Mary greeted visitors in the square in front of the church. More statues, of Saint Rupert, Saint Virgil, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, each one standing on a 12-foot high pedestal, stood next to the arched entrances of the cathedral.
Jorg reached up and scratched one of the pimples on his face as he followed his two friends on the path in the woods. He then took out his slingshot, sneaked up behind Max, pulled back on the leather pouch and let it snap into the back of Max’ neck. Jorg took a quick step back and stuffed the slingshot into the front pocket of his winter coat.
“Hey!” Max cried out, reaching back with his hand to clutch his stinging neck, spinning around to see what was going on.
“Did you see that?” Jorg asked. “A bird just flew into your neck!”
“Do that again and you’ll be hanging from one of these trees by that thing.” Max stretched out his arm and pointed at a branch above them.
Soon they came upon the pond and stopped at their favorite tree, a massive spruce. They had cut off most of the trees’ lowest branches and turned it into what they called “the cave” where they could sit and have a little protection from any falling snowflakes. They boys kicked away some of the snow on the ground surrounding the tree. Max took a blanket out from his knapsack and spread it out under the branches.
“Did you see Daniela yesterday, in that red sweater?” Max asked.
“Ja, schon,” Jorg said, adding that she was beautiful.
“I don’t know,” Bernhard replied, “I like Gretchen better. She has such pretty eyes, greenish-brown.”
“You can have those eyes,” Max began. “I’ll take Daniela and her sweater and everything that’s underneath it.”
“Me too!” Jorg said.
Bernhard reached into his coat pocket and took out a pipe and folded up piece of paper with some tobacco in it that he stole from his father’s tin. He filled the pipe, struck a match and after two or three puffs passed it to Jorg.
“My brother wants to go farther this summer,” Max began. “Conrad said he can hike all the way down to Trento, in Italy.”
“That’s way too much of an effort,” Jorg replied. “Why do all that walking and climbing in these mountains?”
“He likes it. And it’s good exercise,” Max told him.
He doesn’t need to do all that walking, Bernhard thought. Not if there were stairs here that could help people. Automated stairs, powered stairs with a motor, he thought. “Moving stairs, that’s what he needs,” Bernhard said.
The other two boys looked at him. “What do you mean?” Max asked.
“A set of stairs that moves. To take people over the mountains. And after several kilometers the stairs would drop under each other and the ones on the bottom would make their way back to the beginning so they keep moving. A steam engine could power it.”
“You lazy dummkopf!” Max said. “Why don’t you just hire some weightlifters to carry people over the mountains!”
“Because that wouldn’t be any fun. There’s nothing to build,” Bernhard told him.
“You could do that?” Jorg asked. “Build powered stairs?”
“I can build anything.” Bernhard didn’t bother to look at him but stared straight ahead at the pond. Keeping the engine running, and maintained, would be tough though in these woods and mountains he thought.
“It would be incredibly ugly, a giant staircase in the middle of these beautiful mountains,” Max told him. “And it takes the challenge away of hiking and climbing over them.”
“I don’t care how it looks as long as it works,” Bernhard replied. “And it can always be changed later, to look nicer. And the challenge isn’t in hiking these mountains, that’s been done plenty of times. The challenge is building the stairs.”
“Your imagination is flying off again,” Max said. “I hope you write down all these crazy ideas you have.”
Bernhard ignored him and continued to gaze at the pond. I wonder how big the engine would have to be to take people over the Kitzbuhel range and into Innsbruck, he thought.
“Hey, what’s that?” Jorge asked, pointing straight ahead. He stood up and went to the edge of the pond. “It’s a dead rabbit,” he called back to his friends.
Max and Bernhard went over to him.
“It looks thin. Maybe it starved to death,” Bernhard said.
“Could be,” Max replied. “Or maybe it got crushed under your moving stairs!”
Jorg started to laugh. “Ja, ja!”
Idiots, Bernhard thought.
Max then noticed the slingshot in Jorg’s coat pocket. He quickly grabbed it and threw it out onto the ice.
“Hey!” Jorg cried out, shoving Max hard in his side.
“That’s for snapping me in the neck before.”
Jorg shoved him again.
The slingshot lay about twenty feet from where they stood at the edge of the frozen pond.
“You’re making me another one,” Jorg told Max.
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are!”
“Shut up.” Max shoved Jorg hard, pushing him down to the snow-covered ground.
Poor little fool, Bernhard thought, watching his friend get up and brush the snow off his pants.
Jorg stood there, staring at his prized slingshot out on the pond. He tentatively took one step onto the ice and it held. He put forth his other foot, gently pressing it down. They heard the unmistakeable sound of ice breaking as a long, zigzagging crack appeared for about ten feet from where Jorg stood. He quickly stepped back.
Bernhard noticed just to the left of the crack the ice appeared to be thicker and darker. “It looks better over here,” he said, pointing at the area.
“Then go ahead, you get it,” Max told him. “And then you can hunt big game with it in Africa!”
Herr Abscheulich he thought, Mr. Obnoxious, thinks he knows everything. Bernhard took a step out onto the ice. Then another. There were no cracking sounds. He slowly stepped forward again. He took two more steps then stopped to listen. No noises. Bernhard followed the discolored, darkened patch of ice right to the slingshot, slowly kneeled down and picked it up.
Max and Jorg watched from the pond’s edge.
Bernhard carefully stood up, turned back toward his friends and took a step. The ice held. He took another step forward and the frozen water gave way and Bernhard broke completely through the ice. As he dropped straight down a shard of ice poked him in his left ear, puncturing his eardrum. He was completely submerged with the sheet of ice directly above him.
Bernhard panicked as the coldness hit him, a stinging, freezing pain that shot through his entire body. He thrust both hands over his head and started pushing up on the ice, trying to break through it.
Oh no, he thought, no! Bernhard kept pushing but the ice above him wouldn’t move. The hole, he remembered, where I broke through there’s a hole. He started feeling around and soon found the opening. He clutched at its edge, it held and he was able to pull himself up and through it.
Max and Jorg stood at the edge of the pond in shock, staring at Bernhard. They both knew if they tried walking out there to help Bernhard they could easily fall through too.
Bernhard got both arms up onto the ice and kicked his legs furiously in the water in an attempt to push himself further out. He quickly realized he was losing strength in his arms and legs from the brutal coldness. Have to get out! Have to get out! He thought.
Bernhard saw the darkened patch of ice he thought was strong. He was able to push himself up onto the ice, slide on his stomach and made his way toward the dark patch and got out of the water.
His breath came in quick gasps as he lay there. Get off the ice get off the ice he thought. Bernhard slowly stood up, fearful of breaking through again, then he followed the dark patch of ice and made it to the pond’s edge.
“Are you okay?” Max asked.
“Fr, freezing,” was all he could say, teeth chattering, arms wrapped around his chest.
“Let’s get you home,” Max told him.
The three boys hurried to the meadow then quickly made their way back to Hallein. They headed down the Antoniusweg toward the Salzach River then to Bernhard’s apartment building. Bernhard stood there, shivering in the arched entranceway, as Max pulled open the door. He and Jorg then hurried Bernhard up the stairs to the second floor and Max knocked on the door to Bernhard’s apartment.
Gerda let the boys in and was shocked to see her son shivering and soaking wet. “What is this?” she asked. “Take off that coat. And shirt and everything and get over by the fire. Schnell!” Doughy flesh sagged from her arm as she pointed to the fireplace.
Bernhard quickly made his way across the living room, disrobing as he approached the fireplace. He stood next to the flames in his boxer shorts, still shivering, his wet clothes draped over one arm. Bernhard noticed his clothes were dripping water onto the hardwood floor and tried to catch the water with his hand. Father won’t like this, he thought. Then he heard the constant ringing in his left ear. During the trek home he was so cold he could only feel a stinging sensation in his face and left side of his head. Now he heard the ringing and remembered feeling a sharp pain in his ear as he fell through the ice.
His father and Anna, Bernhard’s 11-year old sister, heard Gerda and came into the living room.
Wilfred limped as he approached Bernhard. His father rubbed his skinny thigh that still had a bullet in it from the Austro-Prussian war. “What happened? How did you get like this?” Wilfred asked.
“I, we,” Bernhard began, turning to Jorg and Max.
Max shoved Jorg toward the door. “We should be going. I have to get home for dinner.”
“Me too,” Jorg said as the boys quickly left the apartment.
“What happened? Wilfred asked Bernhard again.
Gerda approached him, took the wet clothing and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
“We were at the pond, by the meadow,” Bernhard began. Don’t tell him about the slingshot, he’ll think I’m an idiot! Bernhard thought. “Max and Jorg were wrestling, pushing each other and they fell on me. I was standing on the edge of the pond and fell onto the ice and broke through.”
“And brought some of the water here.” Wilfred pointed to the hardwood floor and tugged on the blanket. “Clean that up now.”
Bernhard kneeled down and used some of the blanket to soak up the water.
He then stood and Wilfred grabbed him hard by his shoulders. “Look at me. Look into my eyes. You have to be careful with frozen water. Cold water can kill you.”
Bernhard pulled the blanket tighter around his body, turned away from his father and stared into the fireplace. My ear, that damn ringing. Should I tell them? He wondered. No, father will just get angrier.
The next day, as he had previously planned, Wilfred brought Bernhard with him to his job at the Salzburg Cathedral.
“Once we get inside the organ and are at the pipes,” Wilfred began, “we’ll start with the Oktav four. This is the tuning stop. Do you remember what a stop is?” he asked Bernhard.
“Yes. It’s a set of pipes controlled by a draw knob. Pipes are also called ranks and one stop could control one or several ranks.”
“Very good,” his father replied. “And what does the number mean in the name of the stop?”
“It’s the length of the lowest sounding pipe in that rank.”
“Correct again. And we use the Oktav four because it contains the complete series of harmonics, making it an excellent source to tune other stops to. But we have to tune the Oktav four first, then everything else. You’ll see.” He smiled down at Bernhard as he sat next to him in the carriage.
Bernhard smiled back. Oh no, he thought, how can I do this? He could still hear the constant ringing in his left ear.
The organ was mounted on the second level of the cathedral, about 20 feet above some rows of pews. Wilfred noticed some dust on one of the wooden panels on the console and brushed it off with his hand.
He stared at the organ as he began to speak, not bothering to look at his son or Karl. “One hundred years ago he was here. From 1779 to 1781 Mozart was the organist, playing this very instrument. One of his pieces, Coronation Mass, was written for this church and other compositions were performed here for the first time. He was also baptized in this church.”
Wilfred held a wooden chest at his side, tucked under one arm. Soon he turned to Bernhard. “Follow me. Karl will be working here at the keyboard.”
Karl smiled at them and nodded, cheekbones protruding from his gaunt face. He pulled the bench out and sat down at the console. Karl also noticed some dust on another panel and brushed it off.
Bernhard followed his father as they walked past the main tower of pipes. Framed in wood, the tower was flanked by two smaller sets of pipes. They turned a corner and stood before a door in the wall. Wilfred took out a key from his vest pocket, unlocked the door and they walked into the space behind the console where the rest of the pipes resided.
“Be careful where you walk. Stay on this, the passage board.” Wilfred pointed to a plank on the floor that lay between rows of sturdy, wooden wind chests the pipes jutted up from.
Bernhard followed his father’s instructions.
“And don’t touch any of the pipes,” Wilfred began, “the warmth from your hands will affect their tuning. So will our body heat. We have to try and work fast.”
Bernhard nodded quickly at his father. He still heard the ringing, steady and constant in his ear.
“We’ll also use these, to help us check the temperature in here.” Wilfred pointed to a mercury thermometer nailed to the wall near the door. There were several more spread out on the walls in the room.
Wilfred kneeled down and put the wooden chest on the passage board. He flipped the top open and took out a large, wrapped up piece of felt. He carefully unfolded it, revealing tuning forks of different sizes tucked into pockets. He slipped one out and put the rest back into the chest.
“Like I mentioned in the carriage we’ll start with the Oktav four, in particular the middle A note. I’m going to use this tuning fork and make sure the middle A sounds like this fork. That’s how we know the A is fine. If I hear any beats between the two, a difference in pitch, we’ll have to change the length of the pipe to make the beats go away and get the pipe to sound in tune with the fork. Watch and listen.”
Bernhard once again nodded quickly.
Wilfred made a fist, raised his arm and rapped the tuning fork against his forearm. “Play the A,” he called out to Karl.
Wilfred held the tuning fork close to his ear, stood next to the pipe and listened intently as it produced its sound.
“Stop,” he said to Karl. He looked at Bernhard and thrust forward the tuning fork. “Give it a try. Tell me how it sounds.”
Bernhard’s heart beat faster as he took the fork by its handle, stared at it for a second and then approached the pipe. Bernhard raised his arm like his father did, clenched his fist, hit the fork against his forearm then said, “play the A.”
He raised the fork to his left ear, the bad one, and leaned toward the pipe. He could hear the sound coming from the pipe fine but couldn’t tell if it was in tune with the tuning fork.
“It, it’s strange. It sounds off,” Bernhard said.
“That’s correct. The pipe is out of tune.”
Bernhard smiled at his father. Thank goodness, he thought, got it right.
Wilfred walked up to the pipe and pointed to the top. There was a slot in the pipe and a small roll of metal jutting out from the bottom of the slot. “This is called a tuning scroll. It works similar to opening a sardine can, and as you turn it down it shortens the length of the pipe, sharpening its pitch. But you have to be very careful whenever you use it. With every turn it cuts into the pipe and it’s impossible to turn it back up to cover the cut if you scroll it down too much. You only need to do it very little, then listen to see how it compares to the fork again.” He reached up and turned the handle barely halfway. “Now try it again.”
Oh no, Bernhard thought, why doesn’t he do it? “Are, are you sure? Shouldn’t you?”
“No,” his father replied. “You need to learn how to do this and you should listen to the difference in the sound of a pipe after it’s been cut. Hit the fork and tell Karl to play it.”
Bernhard rapped the tuning fork against his forearm and called out, “play the A.” Once again he could hear the pipe fine but had trouble discerning the sound coming from the tuning fork. “It, it sounds good.”
Wilfred put his hand out, toward the tuning fork, and Bernhard gave it to him. He covered it with his hand, stopping the fork from vibrating and producing its sound, then approached the pipe. He hit the tuning fork against his forearm and listened.
“It does sound good,” he began. “Now that the A is fine we’ll start with that note and use it to tune the next pipe. Then we’ll go through the octave, tuning the rest of the pipes to each other.” Wilfred put the tuning fork back into the chest. “Stand next to me. We’ll listen together and tell me if you hear any beats.”
Bernhard took a step closer to his father and could feel the sweat under his arms he was so nervous.
Wilfred turned toward the wall where he knew Karl was behind at the console. “Next,” he called out.
Karl played the tuned A and the octave below that, the tenor A note, at the same time.
Wilfred looked down at Bernhard.
“It, it sounds good.”
“No it doesn’t,” Wilfred replied, pointing at one of the pipes. “This one is out of tune.” He then called out to Karl, “Stop.”
Wilfred reached up, gave the tuning scroll on the pipe a slight turn then told Karl to play the notes again.
“Well?” he looked at Bernhard.
“Good,” the thirteen-year old replied.
“Not really. I still hear a beat.” He turned the tuning scroll again and told Karl to play.
Wilfred looked at his son.
It has to be better, Bernhard thought. He just turned the scroll twice. “That, that did it. Sounds fine.”
“Yes it does.” Wilfred took a step down the passage board, motioned with his arm for Bernhard to follow him. “Next one, Karl.”
The two pipes made their sounds. Wilfred once again looked down at Bernhard.
“I, I don’t think it’s right,” he said.
“It’s fine,” his father replied. “Are you feeling well?”
“Yes, I’m, it’s just, this is such a special organ. Mozart’s.”
“It is special. The most important organ I’ve ever worked on,” Wilfred told him. “Now concentrate and listen.”
I know I could do this if my ear wasn’t hurt, Bernhard thought.
They took another step down the passage board. “Next,” Wilfred called out.
I’ve got a fifty-fifty chance, Bernhard thought. “Sounds good.”
“Yes, it does.” Wilfred then glanced over at the thermometer on the wall. “We’re heating this room up. Let’s take a quick break and step outside for a minute.”
As they stood next to the doorway to the pipe room Wilfred turned to Bernhard. “I need some fresh air.” He then held up the tuning forks chest. “I’m going to put this back in the carriage. When I return we’ll resume.” He headed for the staircase at the end of a short hallway, out of view from Karl who still sat at the console.
He must think I’m an idiot, Bernhard thought. He went back into the pipe room. “Next!” he called out to Karl.
Bernhard leaned over the wind chest and stuck his head between the two pipes. Then he turned around and leaned backward so his ears listened to different pipes. For the first time he thought he heard the beats his father was talking about. He stood there for several seconds listening, trying to make sure.
“Stop!” he called out.
Bernhard tried to reach up to the top of the pipe, where the tuning scroll was, but wasn’t tall enough. He put one foot on the edge of the wind chest, stepped up and reached for the tuning scroll’s handle. As he grabbed it and started to turn it his foot slipped and he tumbled down onto the passage board. Bernhard painfully banged his knee on the edge of the wind chest and sat there clutching his leg.
Wilfred heard the commotion in the pipe room as he walked back up the stairs and saw his son sitting there, rubbing his knee. “What is this?” he demanded. “What happened in here?”
“I heard a bad pipe and tried to fix it. I’m, I’m pretty sure I did. I turned the tuning scroll. Tell Karl to play it.”
Wilfred approached the pipes and immediately noticed which one Bernhard had worked on. “You didn’t fix anything, you destroyed it! I don’t need to tell Karl anything. That cut is too long!”
He spun around, grabbed Bernhard by his shirt and pulled him closer. “You idiot!” Wilfred slapped him hard across his face. “These pipes are not easy to make and they’re expensive. Tomorrow you’re going to learn how to make a new pipe. To replace that one!” Wilfred then pointed at the pipe Bernhard tried to fix.
As Bernhard sat in his office Julia walked in holding some rolled up plans. She reached out with her long, slender hands as she unrolled the plans on his desk and put paperweights on each corner to keep them spread out.
“For the new roads.” Julia could smell the beer on him. “Did you have your favorite again for lunch? Turkey and potatoes, to wash down those drinks?” She smiled at him.
Bernhard quickly smiled back and thought about Natalia when she mentioned lunch. Then he glanced down at the plans. “Final review? When does he need them by?”
“Ja, final review. First thing in the morning. And Peter is not in a good mood. Stay away from him, especially smelling the way you do. Let me get you a glass of water. For your breath.”
Julia went to her desk and poured a glass of water from the pitcher she always kept and brought it back to Bernhard. Just as she was about to enter his office Peter, short and stocky, cut in front of Julia as he came down the side hallway and went in ahead of her.
“Check those plans carefully,” Peter began, jabbing a stubby finger at the pieces of paper on Bernhard’s desk. “They better drain properly. If any of those roads need additional work it’s coming out of your paycheck.”
As he spoke Julia stepped around him to give Bernhard the glass of water.
“Of course,” Bernhard said quickly, not wanting to open his mouth for too long. He reached out, took the glass from Julia and drank some water.
“Are you drunk again?” Peter asked.
“No. Not at all.” A flush of nausea shot through him. Uh-oh, he thought, taking another drink from the glass, clutching it tighter.
“How many did you have this time at lunch? Three? Four?” Peter asked, glaring at him.
Bernhard’s hand started to shake and he clutched the glass tighter. “Just one. I would never drink that many and come to work,” Bernhard replied. He also knew that Peter didn’t drink. “I would never have that many in one sitting. I’m no bum, no drunkard.”
“This isn’t some dance hall or cabaret in Paris. I don’t want you drinking at all when you come into this office. Understand?”
“Yes, of course,” Bernhard replied, still nervous and gripping the water glass tighter. He worried that he might crush the glass so he loosened his grip on it. The glass then slipped out of his hand and crashed down onto the plans. The meticulously prepared pieces of paper were ruined, covered with water and shards of glass.
Julia gasped and took a quick step back.
Peter looked down at the plans then at Bernhard. “That was good. And you’re not drunk? Now I’m going to have to redraw all those plans again. Clean up this mess then go home. And stay there. You’re no longer an employee here.” Peter quickly turned around and walked out of the office.
“Oh Bernhard, I’m so sorry,” Julia told him.
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. I was stupid.”
“No you weren’t,” she began. “He just doesn’t understand. A drink or two at lunch isn’t so bad.”
“You’re right. But I did have three or four today.”
“I’m, I’m so sorry,” she repeated.
“Thank you. And I certainly appreciated all your help around here.”
Bernhard started to go through his desk drawers, taking out all his personal belongings and putting them in his briefcase. Gretchen dammit, he thought, I have to tell her I no longer have a job. And Jorg and the boys. Should I see them? He wondered, trying to decide if he should stop at his favorite pub in Hallein like he did on most nights after work. Tonight shouldn’t be any different, he decided.
The carriage dropped him off in Hallein’s main square and he walked the two blocks to the Steigerhof. Bernhard pushed open the heavy, wooden door and walked into the dimly lit bar. Candles adorned the walls and the room was thick with cigarette and cigar smoke. The pub wasn’t too big and Bernhard knew, given the time, his friends would be downstairs in the cellar where the restaurant was located.
Bernhard walked down the narrow steps and to the back corner, to their usual table.
“Herr Salzburg,” Jorg called out, “good to see you. Have a seat.” Jorg continued to stuff a forkful of pork into his mouth while motioning with his other hand to the empty chair at their table.
Bernhard sat down, nodding in acknowledgement to his three friends.
Jorg rubbed his acne-scarred face with the back of his hand, the same hand that held his fork, and some potato fell onto the table. He quickly scooped it up with his other hand and put it in his mouth. Jorg then noticed some sawdust, from the lumberyard he worked at, on his sleeve and brushed it off. More potato fell from his fork and he quickly grabbed that too off the table and ate it.
Kurt sat next to him, a hulking man and amateur boxer who also worked at the lumberyard with Jorg.
A waitress came over to the table and Bernhard ordered a beer, a bowl of vegetable soup and a plate of dumplings.
“So what did you build today?” Jorg asked, rubbing his face again with the back of his hand, “the next Taj Mahal?”
“Nothing that fun,” Bernhard replied. “Actually I was supposed to be reviewing some plans for new roads when Peter told me to go home. Permanently.”
The three of them stopped eating and looked at him.
“Why did he do that?” Kurt asked.
“Houses of ill repute, such as this one,” Bernhard said, smiling.
They each were now perplexed.
The waitress approached their table and put a beer down in front of Bernhard. He picked up the mug, thought about the day’s events and could only smile at his stupidity.
“I suppose I finally did it, had one too many of these at lunch.” Bernhard raised the mug toward his friends. “To good beer. And damn those to hell who don’t like it!”
They clinked their mugs together.
“How drunk were you?” Max asked.
“Not too bad. But he did smell it on me,” Bernhard began. “And then I dropped a glass of water on some new plans for a road.”
Jorg started to laugh first, then Kurt joined him.
Max smiled quickly. The accountant then pushed his glasses back up onto his nose and got serious. “So you completely destroyed these plans?”
“And who drew them up originally? You or Peter?” Max asked.
“Peter. Then I finished them, added some minor details.”
“Like a flood?” Max said, smiling again.
Jorg and Kurt laughed harder.
Max pushed his glasses back up onto his nose again.
“I’m sure we can find something for you to do at the lumberyard. If you don’t mind inhaling sawdust all day,” Jorg told him.
“Why don’t you build organs with your father?” Kurt asked.
“I, I don’t really want to do that,” Bernhard replied.
“Does Gretchen know?” Max asked.
“Not yet. I’ll tell her tonight when I get home.”
“In that case we need to get you really prepared!” Jorg said, smiling a huge grin.
Bernhard raised his beer mug. “I agree.”
After finishing dinner they went outside, to the town square, so they could walk off their meals. Bernhard smoked from his pipe while the other three smoked cigarettes. Then they headed back to the Steigerhof.
“Things could be worse,” Max began, looking at Bernhard. “Did you hear about that poor fellow in America? Some lieutenant in the Army died when he was flying in an aeroplane exhibition with Orville Wright and they crashed. They say he’s the first person to die in a heavier-than-air aeroplane crash.”
“And Herr Wright? Did he survive?” Bernhard asked.
“Yes. He was hospitalized but he’ll live.”
“What happened?” Jorg asked.
“They were flying around, in a demonstration for the Army, maybe one hundred feet up in the air. Something went wrong with the propeller, it hit some part of the aeroplane and they plummeted straight down to the ground. I read about it in the newspaper,” Max told him.
“They’re doing a lot of flying in France,” Kurt said. “I saw an aeroplane take off, fly around and land in May when I was over there for a fight. They’re amazing. You have to see one.”
“Did they say anything else about what went wrong with this aeroplane, precisely why it crashed?” Bernhard asked. “And why they couldn’t save this man, this lieutenant in the Army?”
“No,” Max replied. “They just dropped straight down. From that height nothing can save you. It’s amazing Herr Wright is still alive.”
Bernhard started to get some ideas. He remembered when he was younger and read stories about a Moor named Armen Firman who lived in Spain in 852 AD. He apparently built a wing-like cloak and jumped from a high tower in Cordoba. Witnesses said he glided across the sky for a few seconds before falling but the large, spread-out garment caught some air, preventing him from hitting the ground too hard and he survived with a few scrapes and bruises. What if this lieutenant wore something like that? Bernhard wondered. Would he have survived his fall?
“To the infamous Wright brothers!” Jorg called out, raising his mug of beer. “May they not kill too many more passengers!”
The four men clinked their drinks together in a toast as Max and Kurt laughed. While Bernhard joined in the toast he barely heard Jorg. He kept thinking about the Moor, and the lieutenant, and if he could have been saved. Then he remembered one of Da Vinci’s ideas.
“He needed a parachute,” Bernhard said, putting his mug back onto the table.
“A what?” Max asked.
“A parachute. That poor lieutenant. He could have been saved,” Bernhard began. “Da Vinci designed one in around 1485. It resembled a huge canopy and you held onto it by a rope. It opened up over your head when you jumped from a tall height and was supposed to help you gently glide to the ground. Da Vinci’s drawings showed a wooden frame that held open a linen, pyramid-shaped canopy. He thought people could use it to jump out of burning buildings to save themselves.”
“Did they?” Max asked.
“No. It’s never been recorded that anybody used such a device. And his would have been too big and bulky to fit in the Wright brothers’ aeroplane. But Armen Firman also had a good idea, he made one of the first gliders.”
“Armen who?” Jorg asked.
Dozens of images of a parachute-coat suddenly filled Bernhard’s head. He saw wooden support poles jutting out from the shoulders, two more from the front, on the wearer’s chest, two more on the back. No, too many he quickly realized, it has to fit into the confines of the small space in an aeroplane. Two poles from the shoulders, he thought, positioned straight up, two more collapsible ones on the back that flip open and release the canopy when someone jumps out of a stricken airplane. Yes he thought, that would work!
“Armen who?” Jorg asked him again.
Bernhard stared straight past Jorg and at the wall behind their table. He didn’t see Jorg though, or the wall. He was busy envisioning somebody jumping out of an airplane and floating safely down to earth.
Jorg waved his hand in front of Bernhard’s eyes.
“He, he was a Moor in Spain,” Bernhard started, annoyed with Jorg for disturbing his thoughts. “He made this glider-cloak that he wore, jumped from a high tower with it, soared across the sky for a few seconds then fell to the ground. But the cloak caught some air and broke and his fall. He was slightly injured but survived.”
“And you’re going to build one of these? A parachute glider thing?” Jorg asked.
Bernhard looked him straight in the eyes.“I can build anything.”
“Then why don’t you try a drop-proof glass?” Max said. “If you had one of those you might still have your job!”
Jorg and Kurt burst out laughing.
Bernhard turned to Max and smiled a cocky grin at him. “I won’t need a job once my parachute-coat is bought by every pilot there is.”
“You’ll have to go to France,” Kurt told him. “They’re crazy about flying over there. They love it.”
Bernhard knew he was right. He had read stories in the newspaper about pilots and aviators in France trying to build the best aeroplanes. Some, he recalled, were embroiled in patent lawsuits with the Wright brothers, who claimed their designs were being stolen.
The four friends kept drinking while Kurt started telling them about his latest fight in Munich. Bernhard didn’t pay any attention to him and tried to figure out in his head the design for his parachute-coat. The poles on the shoulders shouldn’t jut straight up, he thought, but flare out more to the sides. And maybe the ones on the back should be retractable instead of flip-open, that might make them sturdier and fit better in the aeroplane.
“You’re drunk again,” Gretchen said as Bernhard came into their apartment.
The lanky woman crossed one long leg over her other as she sat on the couch reading a book.
“So what,” he replied. “Of course I’m drunk. I went to the Steigerhof straight from work. Jorg was there. I had to have a beer with him and the boys. Or six.” He shot her a quick smile.
“You’re pathetic,” she said.
“No, just drunk.”
She looked away from him, not wanting to see his face anymore, and slowly stretched out her legs, trying to get her knee joints to make the cracking sound she knew Bernhard hated. She was successful.
“Thank you,” Bernhard began. “That was much appreciated.”
Gretchen ignored him and stood up. She then walked down the short hallway to the study next to their bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her.
The living room started to spin on Bernhard. Oh no, he thought. He staggered over to the wall, put his forearm up against it and rested his head on his arm. This flight thing will be big, he thought, and my parachute-coat will work, I know it. And France, yes France.
The image of his invention floating through the air then reminded him of what happened to his sister, Anna, when they were young and sleigh riding in the mountains. He could see the puff of snow shooting up into the air then falling gently back down onto the mountainside after she went over the cornice and it collapsed beneath her and the sled. He remembered being partially buried himself when the ledge of snow dropped from beneath his feet as he searched for her, recalled the weight of her small, lifeless body as he carried her all the way back home. Bernhard could hear his mother sobbing once again and see the look of anger in his father’s eyes.
Oh Anna, he thought, dear little Anna. He struggled not to cry but it was useless and the tears came down his face.
Gretchen quietly opened the door to the study and peered down the hallway. She could see Bernhard leaning against the wall wiping his face with his hand. Pathetic fool, she thought. Pathetic, drunken fool.
Bernhard turned and looked over at her. “I’m making some, some changes in my life,” he began, wiping away some of the tears. “I have to.”
“Changes? What sort of changes?” Gretchen walked down the hall toward him.
“I no longer have a job. Peter dismissed me today. This afternoon.”
“He did? Why?” She asked.
“That is not important. I also – ”
“Of course it’s important. What happened?” Gretchen demanded.
“Peter didn’t, didn’t like my work,” he began slowly. “On this, some new road project. He said my mistakes on the plans would cost the company a lot of money if they were implemented. He’s a real bastard anyway and never liked me. And I certainly didn’t like him.”
“A road project? What sort of mistakes did he say you made?”
“Something about the roads not draining properly. Anyway I have to tell you something else. I came up with a new idea, one that is going to cause me to make some major changes in my life. I’ve finally thought up a great invention.”
She gave him her ‘oh really?’ look, cocking her head forward and raising her eyebrows as she waited to hear his latest whim.
“It’s a parachute-coat for pilots. Aeroplanes and flight are growing like mad. Unfortunately Orville Wright recently had a mishap, over in America, crashed and his passenger died. But if he was wearing my parachute-coat there’s a good chance he could have survived. They fell from about one hundred feet up in the air. Da Vinci designed one but mine will be better. And more practical.”
“A parachute-coat?” Gretchen began. “I think the only thing that’s mad is you.” She then laughed at him. “And you’re going to design something better than Da Vinci? Was he ever dismissed from a job because he couldn’t design a road properly?”
“You’ll see,” Bernhard replied, “This one is it, I know it. I can feel it. And there’s something else. I’m leaving you and moving to Paris to see my idea through. A lot of the work on aeroplanes is going on in France these days.”
“You, you can’t be serious.” She wrapped her arms around her chest and leaned against the wall next to him. Gretchen then raised one heel and started to nervously rub the back of her foot against her shin. “This idea is nonsense. Pure nonsense and it will never work. You’re drunk. Lie down on the couch.”
“I may be drunk but I mean what I say. This is it. The idea I’ve been waiting for. It’s going to work and every pilot in the world will buy one of my life-saving designs. You’ll see. And, and there’s other things. I’m just not happy anymore. With you.”
“You’re not? After fourteen years you’re telling me this now?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just, I don’t feel for you like I used to. I’m bored. With us.” He thought about Natalia and desperately wanted to hold her. And when my parachute-coat sells I can have any woman I want, he thought.
“You’re bored? So you’re just going to leave me?” She sat down on the couch and put her hands on her lap. She wondered if it was because she couldn’t give him a child that he wanted to leave her. Gretchen looked up at him. “We, we could make things work out.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Bernhard shook his head quickly side to side. “I’m leaving and going to Paris. You’ll be taken care of though, don’t worry. My father is getting ready to sell the organ shop. I’ll give you some of the money from that. And I’ll send you some when I get established in France.”
“How long have you felt like this?”
“For quite some time. Several years, actually.” He thought about Natalia again.
“Take me with you, to Paris. Things will be better there, more exciting. We could have fun. I’ve always wanted to – ”
“No. I must go alone. To get started properly on my idea.”
“But I don’t want you to go,” Gretchen said.
“I know. But I must.” Bernhard walked past her, down the hallway and into their bedroom. Gretchen watched as he came out of the room, holding a blanket and pillow, went into the study where there was another couch and closed the door behind him.
* * *
Grayish-black smoke crept its way up the tree trunks. Wilfred lay on his back in the mud of the Sweipwald Woods. He looked down and saw a patch of blood covering the front of his blue, infantryman’s pants. Oh god no! Screamed through his brain as the pain from the bullet in his thigh felt like his whole leg was on fire.
Bodies lay scattered around him as he listened to the sounds of bullets whizzing by and men screaming in agony. Then he saw his rifle on the ground. Wilfred reached out and grabbed the muzzle loader’s long barrel. Don’t do it, he thought. I’ll have to stand to ram a ball in it and that’s how I got shot. Wilfred relaxed his grip on the rifle and closed his eyes.
“Ja, smart,” he heard someone say in a low voice. Wilfred opened his eyes and saw Rolfe lying on his stomach about ten feet away. Rolfe’s blonde hair was a matted mess of blood and mud. He had pulled a lifeless body over the backs of his legs and was pretending to also be dead. With one eye barely open he watched as Wilfred let go of his weapon.
“If you want to live, play dead,” Rolfe told him.
“Sich erheben! Sich erheben and fight now!” they heard someone shouting at them, telling them to get up. It was their lieutenant, Hendrik von Kirschberg.
Fool, Wilfred thought, staring at his lieutenant. You led us into this trap.
“Sich erheben and fight now!” von Kirschberg yelled at them again. Then he drew his saber and quickly walked toward Rolfe.
“No no! I’ll fight!” Rolfe said, motioning with one hand for von Kirschberg to stop while trying to push the dead body off his legs with his other hand.
von Kirschberg clasped both hands around the grip of his saber, raised it high then quickly brought it down into the middle of Rolfe’s back.
Rolfe cried out as von Kirschberg stabbed him three or four more times. The lieutenant then looked over to Wilfred. “Sich erheben and fight now!”
You bastard, Wilfred thought, oh you son of a bitch.
von Kirschberg approached Wilfred and raised his saber. A Prussian bullet then found its mark and tore into the side of von Kirschberg’s neck. The lieutenant turned to his right, toward the direction of the incoming fire, looked back down at Wilfred, threw his head back and laughed. “You are weak and pathetic!” he yelled, “weak and pathetic!” and was about to bring the saber down when Wilfred gasped and woke up.
He looked around the room and realized he was lying on the couch in his apartment. Oh Gerda, he thought, longing for how she would gently put her hand on his forearm and kiss his cheek whenever one of his nightmares woke him in the middle of the night.
Wilfred closed his eyes and tried to fall back asleep when he heard a knocking on the door. He slowly sat up as the aching in his lower back stabbed him with pain. Wilfred clutched the top of the couch with one hand and a cushion with the other as he struggled to stand up. As soon as he stood more pain filled his injured leg.
He grabbed his cane, that leaned against the side of the couch, and went to the front door.
Wilfred and his son sat at the kitchen table drinking tea.
“I’ve come to tell you something,” Bernhard began. “I’ve made a major decision in my life. I’m leaving Gretchen and moving to Paris.”
“You’re leaving your wife?” Wilfred asked. “Why? And Paris?”
“I have an idea. And I can only make it happen in France. You’ve heard of all these new aeroplanes? Orville Wright recently had an accident and crashed. His passenger, some lieutenant in the American army, died. But if he was wearing one of my parachute-coats there’s a good chance he could have survived.”
“One of your what?” Wilfred asked.
Bernhard proceeded to tell him about Da Vinci’s design and the Moor, Armen Firman. “But mine will be better, more practical. Every pilot in the world will buy one. And it will save some lives.”
“But do you really think this thing will work?”
“Absolutely,” Bernhard quickly replied.
“So then why are you leaving Gretchen?”
“I, I just don’t love her anymore. We fight too much. And the passion is gone.”
“And Paris?” Wilfred asked again.
“A lot of aviators are there, building new planes, coming up with new ideas every day.”
“If you want to go to France then go,” Wilfred began. “But take Gretchen with you. She is your wife. You shouldn’t leave her.” Wilfred thought about Gerda again, her warm smile and comforting touch. Then he looked at his son, into his eyes, and Bernhard could see his father’s look of disappointment.
“But my love for her, it’s gone,” Bernhard said, once again thinking about Natalia. “And it’s not right to stay with her if I don’t love her. I have to move on. This is it, the parachute-coat. It’s all I see in my mind. And you’ll see it too, one day soon.”
“But she’s your wife,” Wilfred said again. “You married her. Marriage is sacred. A bond between two people.”
“I know but I just don’t love her anymore.” Sentiments from him? Bernhard thought.
“I loved your mother very much,” Wilfred told him. “She was a wonderful, kind and loving woman.”
“I know,” Bernhard replied. Why is he being so open like this? He wondered.
Wilfred’s eyes then narrowed briefly as he looked at his son. “You’re an idiot. Dreaming of this, this parachute-coat thing. Let the pilots build their planes and crash them. It’s no business of yours.”
“But it is. I have so many ideas. And this one will finally pay off. I can see it so clearly, know it will work.”
“Idiot,” Wilfred said again. “A dreaming idiot. And you’ll only wind up hurting Gretchen, the only good thing in your life.”
“She, she also knows there isn’t much love left in our marriage,” Bernhard replied. “And there’s something else, as to why I’m going to Paris. I no longer have a job. Peter dismissed me, permanently.”
“He did? Why?”
“He didn’t like my plans for some roads we were working on. Said they wouldn’t drain properly.”
“So you don’t have a job and you’re leaving your wife to go to Paris.” Wilfred could only shake his head at his son with more disappointment in his eyes.
“This will work out, you’ll see,” Bernhard told him. Look at him, he thought, upset with me again. “And don’t worry about Gretchen. Once I get set up in Paris I’ll send her some money. I’m not going to forget about her.”
“This is foolish, incredibly foolish,” Wilfred said. “You have responsibilities here at home, a wife. You’ll find another job, a good one somewhere. Don’t leave her for Paris.”
“I’m not leaving her for Paris. I’m leaving her because I don’t love her anymore. And what I want to do, I can only do in Paris.”
“Work on this parachute-coat thing here, in Austria,” Wilfred said.
“I can’t. Flight is the future and it’s happening now, in France.”
“You’re making a big mistake again,” Wilfred told him, shaking his head once more at him.
“No I’m not. You’ll see. It will work out.”
A Sensible Lunatic (Chapter 1) | A Sensible Lunatic (Chapter 2)
Hydro Run | The Ghost Dance Resurrection
For a cool kiteboarding website check out www.kiteboardreviews.com.