And so it was that Manx learned of his brother’s gift to him and Ingrid. Within the next twenty-four hours they found themselves, along with Stuka and April, aboard a Sunday afternoon flight on the Hindenburg. It was a promotional flight that took guests for a three-hour spin above the skies of Berlin. Even the gangsters found themselves impressed by the spacious interior of the zeppelin. The two couples watched out the windows as the craft floated above the clouds, and once they reached full altitude the girls went off to powder their noses.
“I’ve been wanting to have a word,” Manx said, being unusually reserved on this day. “How do you think Rolf paid for this? The tickets are four hundred fifty marks apiece. That’s eighteen hundred, an entire weekend night’s take at the club.”
“He’s having a good run,” Stuka shrugged. “That crew of his works seven days a week. Thor and the Von Erichs, they’re good earners. We could be scoring like that if we weren’t spending so much time at the club.”
“You’ve gone out with them a few times. Have you seen them dealing any drugs?”
“Come, now,” Stuka held up his hands. “I’ve told you more than once. I won’t come between you and your brother. You want answers, you go ask him.”
“Blitz has really been pressing. You know he beats around the bush, but he’s becoming more direct. The Berlin Police are hitting the streets hard looking for the drug ring. It’s not just his Detective Squad anymore. He tells me the Gestapo is going to get involved any day now. You know what that means. It’s a one-way trip to a concentration camp.”
“And you think that’ll be the end of it?” Stuka smirked. “This is turning into a police state, just like it is in Russia. They’re already getting rid of the Jews and the communists, as well as the queers and the gypsies. They haven’t come after the wise guys because they’ve been taking advantage of all the snitches on the street. Once they’ve outlived their usefulness and the Nazis run out of targets, they’ll come after us next.”
“Face it, boss, they’ll be closing us down by next year for sure. We should start looking over the border. We can make a deal with the Alsatians and move into Alsace-Lorraine. With the network in Germany disrupted, the black market’ll be booming along the border. We should start thinking of the future before the past catches up with us.”
“All right, forget about it for now. Here come the girls.”
Manx and Stuka watched as Ingrid and April were intercepted by two families who entreated them for autographs. Others noticed the commotion and approached the Hollywood starlets as well. They were joined by a couple of well-dressed businessmen, prompting Manx to stroll over and assert his position. Stuka followed suit, glancing around to make sure they were attracting no undue attention. They stood by as the girls signed menus and shook hands. The rich young men shook their heads as they walked off, wondering how Manx and Stuka had gotten so lucky.
“You two are making people think Harlow and Hepburn are aboard,” Manx smiled.
“Glad you think so,” Ingrid cooed.
The girls took their arms as they proceeded along B Deck of the luxurious craft. They passed the smoking room, which was kept air-tight to avoid the slightest possibility of hydrogen being ignited by a heat source. It was located next to the bar, where the couples sidled for cocktails. Manx and Stuka had LZ-129 cocktails, which were made of gin and orange juice. The girls had Maybach 12 cocktails, which were of a special recipe. They admired the art deco ambiance of the lounge, particularly the jazz murals depicting black musicians. It seemed fitting that it was all so far above the routine of the Berlin regime many miles below.
“Here’s to America,” Ingrid proposed a toast. “May next year be the time we all join together in Hollywood. A new movie, a new beginning. It’ll be wonderful.”
“Hear, hear,” Stuka said quietly. Despite the familiarity of his relationship with Manx, he was impressed by the fact they had come this much closer.
“Here’s to new friendships,” April gazed meaningfully into Stuka’s eyes. “A new tomorrow, a new hope.”
As they touched glasses, Manx silently wished his brother Rolf would find his way out of whatever he got himself into. If it was drugs, he wished Rolf Godspeed.
And he prayed that the SS and Gestapo would play no part influencing his decision.