Chapter Forty-One

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David returned from the officers' mess to his hotel at ten to eight, pleased with his sales and delighted with the information he had gained. He smiled as he thought. Rotations to the sentry positions are modelled on their trench routine, but here their boredom is uninterrupted. We need to change that.

He had learned the plant operates around the clock without break using three overlapping shifts, and that the workers are among the highest paid in Germany. That's why the feeling of prosperity here. They likely have no sense of the suffering in the rest of the country. Wonder how many other centres there are like this; making fortunes feeding the war.

After a quick bath, he dressed and went down to the dining room for dinner, and as he waited to be served, he began absorbing information from the BASF booklet he had pocked in the reading room of the mess.

He examined the photo of the site taken from a balloon in 1866, soon after its completion, and he tried to make sense of the artistic rendition of the works painted in 1881, quietly laughing at the naïveté of the artist

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He examined the photo of the site taken from a balloon in 1866, soon after its completion, and he tried to make sense of the artistic rendition of the works painted in 1881, quietly laughing at the naïveté of the artist.

Reading through the company's history, he gained an understanding of its evolution from producing sodas and acids for making dyes and onward into synthesising elemental compounds as it grew into the world's leading manufacturer of chemicals

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Reading through the company's history, he gained an understanding of its evolution from producing sodas and acids for making dyes and onward into synthesising elemental compounds as it grew into the world's leading manufacturer of chemicals. The 1911 aerial photo of its Oppau site showed David its appearance the year before they began producing ammonia.

 The 1911 aerial photo of its Oppau site showed David its appearance the year before they began producing ammonia

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Confused by the differing perspectives of the pictures, he closed the booklet and thought. My photos from this afternoon will show any new structures to help us isolate where the ammonia is produced. Wonder if the French aeroplanes can reach this far to photograph the existing complex and make it back safely. Maybe they're the way... He paused his thoughts as the fräulein brought his Karaffe of Niersteiner.

He sipped the wine and continued to think. This plant was the source of the chlorine gas released toward us at Ypres. He shook his head as he peered into the wine. And the officers are so fucking proud to be protecting the development of even more noxious gasses to send into our trenches. Where the fuck has mankind gone? Where are we going?

His questioning was interrupted by the arrival of his Jägerschnitzel mit Knöpfle, and he concentrated on enjoying it. No sense wasting good food with bad thoughts. Partway through dinner, his thoughts turned again to the French aeroplanes. If they can make it this far to shoot photos, why not drop some bombs while they're here? They look so flimsy. I wonder whether they could carry enough to inflict serious damage?


Sonnenhang, Switzerland — Friday, 21 January 1916

The rainstorm had passed, and the late-afternoon sun was breaking through the clouds when David wheeled the Lancia into the courtyard in Sonnenhang. He grabbed his satchel and headed inside. Bethia turned from stuffing sausages. "You look like a drowned cat."

"I had to change a flat tyre in the rain a short distance past Offenberg, and a second one in a downpour a few kilometres before Erzingen." He crossed the kitchen and kissed Bethia and Rachel on the cheeks in greeting. "Is Georg back yet?"

"No. But he said they'd likely be late." Rachel pointed to the hallway. "You should change out of your wet clothes before you catch a chill."

"I need to repair the tyres while I'm still dirty."

"Do that later. Or have the men do it. You don't need them repaired until tomorrow, anyway." She pointed to the hallway again. "Go on. Go take a long hot shower and relax."

David gave her a salute as he said, "Yes, Ma'am." Then he chuckled and picked up his satchel.

Twenty minutes later, clean and rewarmed, he was in the darkroom mixing the solution for the developing tank. I'll need three copies of each. For William, for Georg and for me. He unloaded the film and rolled it back and forth through the developer, rinsed it and hung it to dry.

Back in the kitchen, he asked Bethia, "Has Herr Schwarz been back?"

"He was here late this morning." She wiped her hands on the towel in her apron strings as she turned and leaned against the counter. "It appeared as if he was hoping to be invited to lunch. If nothing else, he's persistent."

"I took him down the slopes to show him what the men were doing to prepare the new vineyard," Rachel said. "I also told him three of the men were across in Germany selling potatoes to help with the food shortage."

"Great!" David said. "Georg and I thought he'd be less suspicious of our activities if he saw we were sympathisers."

"And I hope his other reason for repeated visits has also been stopped." Bethia chuckled. "Before he left, he asked if I would allow him to begin more seriously calling on me, and I told him I have another suitor."

David chuckled. "You're a cagey one, aren't you?"

"I quickly saw his objective is less than honest. He's more focused on the wealthy widow aspect than on anything personal." She curled her lip. "Such an obnoxious and conniving man. Besides, Karl is far more interesting."

"Karl?"

"Herr Grünmann." Bethia smiled. "He has now visited three times, and I've encouraged him to continue."

"Does Schwarz know this?"

"No, but if he continues to pester me, I'll inform him." She chuckled. "And also tell Karl about the annoying behaviour."

"And Karl? Is he not also after your wealth?"

"Jacob and Maddie told me he's far more wealthy than I." She chuckled. "I'd be seen as the one doing the gold digging."

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