Tuesday, January 20, 2009

DBTL 7: Going Home

Los Angeles, California
19 January 1940

Hermann Göring sat staring at nothing, alone in his office except for a bottle of whiskey. The weather had quite obligingly chosen to mirror his mood, and a steady downpour washed against the windows. He ignored the knock at his office door, ignored another set of knocks a minute later, then ignored a third set a minute after that. However, his lucky streak ended after that; instead of giving up and going away, his visitor chose to enter the office unbidden.

Göring was not quite indifferent enough to ignore his unwelcome visitor completely. He looked up from the empty surface of his desk to see who it was. It was Lothar von Richthofen.

"Hey, Fatty," said von Richthofen, "going to offer me some of that?"

"Lothar," Göring eventually said, "what in God's name are you doing here?"

"Would you believe that I just happened to be passing by and decided to drop in?"


"Clever boy," said von Richthofen. "The truth is that I've come all the way here from Berlin specifically in order to see you, and you still haven't offered me a drink."

"I've only got one glass," said Göring distractedly.

"That's all right, who needs a glass when you've got a bottle?"

Göring thought about it for a moment, then pushed the bottle a few centimeters across the desk in von Richthofen's direction. The latter briefly bowed in thanks, then reached over and grabbed it. A quick drink brought a smile to his face.

"Not bad," von Richthofen said. "When did you start drinking whiskey?"

"It's a habit I acquired here in America."

There was a long pause which ended when von Richtofen said, "This is the part of the conversation where you ask me why I'm here."

"In fact, old comrade," said Göring, "I don't give a rat's ass why you're here."

"I'm glad you asked me that," said von Richtofen serenely. "The reason I've come all the way here from Berlin to see you is to offer you a job."

"Word travels fast," Göring observed. "It's only been three days since Herr Hughes shitcanned me."

"Frankly, I'm surprised it took him as long as it did," said von Richthofen. "The rumor has it that you've been a worthless lump of blubber ever since --"

"Don't say it," Göring growled.

"-- the divorce became final," the other man finished diplomatically.

"If you're here to give me a recruitment pitch," said Göring, "you're making a damned poor job of it."

"The recruitment pitch comes later," said von Richthofen. "This is still the friendly greeting."

The next word Göring used is one that has no exact English counterpart, but countless idiomatic equivalents.

"Tsk, tsk," said von Richthofen, "such language."

Göring sighed. "Very well, Lothar, make your pitch and scram."

"That's better," said von Richthofen. "All right, then. I'm here on behalf of a gentleman who wishes you to continue the work you were doing with Herr Hughes."

Göring squinted at his friend. "How the hell do you know what I was working on with Hughes?"

"The gentleman I mentioned has certain sources of information that are unavailable to most people."

Göring felt himself becoming mildly interested for the first time in months. "Can you tell me the name of this gentleman who wishes me to design jet aircraft for him?"

Von Richthofen gave an overdramatic glance around the room before saying, "His name is Stanisław Skwarczyński."

Göring was astonished. "Are you crazy, Lothar? You want me to go to work for the Goddamned Polacks? After what they did to us?"

Now the smile left von Richthofen's face for the first time. "Us, Hermann? Us? I didn't see your fat ass being shot at. You were sitting pretty here in America with your high-powered job and your great big mansion and your pretty little movie star wife. You didn't have to sit by helplessly and watch a dim-witted pervert start a war he didn't know how to win. And I've got news for you -- the 'Goddamned Polacks' are treating us a whole hell of a lot better than we would have treated them if we'd won. We got off lucky, and some of us still have enough of the wits God gave us to know it."

There was still anger in von Richthofen's eyes when he added, "So what's it going to be, Hermann? Are you going to screw this opportunity up, just like you've screwed up every other opportunity your life's been blessed with? Skwarczyński wants someone to build him aircraft, and God help us, he thinks you're the man to do it. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that he's out of his mind, but that doesn't matter. The offer still stands. Do you want to come back with me and try to make something of your life, or would you rather stay here and drink yourself to death?"

Göring noted absently that he was still clutching his glass. He looked down at the centimeter or two of amber liquid swirling around the bottom. Then he stood up from his desk, and stiff-armed the glass into the office's ornate (and non-functional) fireplace.

Hermann Göring was finally going home.

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