Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham.
Time Line: Shortly after Silver Bullet, in the spring of 1933.
Thanks to: Kathyh, taming this particular bear.
Author's note: For the various real life events and people (i.e. any character not Mitch, Stasi or Henry), see the historical footnotes at the end.
An "Order of the Air" story
Mitchell Sorley hadn't planned to spend his honeymoon risking his life between clashing icebergs, but then, he hadn't planned to have a honeymoon in the first place, and sometimes things just worked out that way.
When he married Stasi a few days after they shocked the town by performing the Apache dance at the American Legion, it had come as a surprise to everyone, including Mitch and Stasi. And there simply hadn't been time for something like a honeymoon just then; they decided to postpone it until things were more settled at Gilchrist Aviation, with the full awareness this probably meant never. But then, not three months later, Henry Kershaw called and asked for a favour. Not a favour from all of them; Henry specifically asked for Mitch and Stasi.
Having turned down an immensely generous job offer from Henry as the last year had come to a close, Mitch felt slightly guilty about him, which would have made him receptive in any case, but the fact that Henry, who thanks to Stasi having robbed him during their first encounter was no admirer of hers, expressed a wish she'd come along to whatever Henry needed them to do was doubly intriguing. And the fact of the matter was, Henry always paid well. The Depression was still ongoing.
Henry, as it turned out, had a twofold reason for needing them, and they both involved the same film production. "More than half of Universal Film sales were overseas," Henry said, "so when the talkies arrived, they were in danger of losing that audience. This friend of mine, Paul Kohner, had the idea of shooting the same movie in several languages - English and German, English and French, English and Spanish, depending on what the main target audience was. Carl Laemmle loved it and made Paul head of Universal Germany, but Carl Jr. hates his guts; they've got some long time rivalry going. And now Paul has this incredibly expensive production, the most expensive thing he's ever done, in Greenland of all the places, with a crazy German director who is famous for throwing avalanches at his cast. Which usually seems to work out, believe it or not, as in no one's died so far. But this movie's plot rests on Ernst Udet playing himself saving people from the Pole with some heroic flying. And Ernst Udet has just fallen sick."
"Hang on", Mitch said. "Udet as in the ace?"
Henry nodded, and Mitch felt something inside stir. Of course he knew who Udet was. The highest scoring German fighter pilot to survive the war, and the second highest scoring overall after Manfred von Richthofen. Mitch had never encountered him in the air, but Lewis had, and lived to tell the tale. According to him, Udet's reputation was, if anything, understated.
"I see your friend's problem, darling," Stasi said, and Henry gave her a dark look.
"Finding a flying ace on short notice who can roughly match Udet for some stunt flying between glaciers is just half of Paul's problem," he replied. "The other part is that he thinks the movie's leading lady is possessed by a Dybbuk."
It was only noticeable if you knew Stasi really well, because she had one of the best poker faces Mitch had ever encountered, but something in her expression shifted.
"I see," she said again, somewhat coolly. Mitch, an avowed reader of Weird Tales and veteran member of a Lodge, nonetheless couldn't say he did as well; he'd never heard of a Dybbuk before. On the other hand, he could read Stasi by now, and he could make an educated guess. Just in case, though, he probed, turning to Henry: "And a Dybbuk is..."
"A dislocated spirit of a dead person, according to Paul Kohner. He's from Teplitz in Bohemia, and it seemed there was a case when Kohner was a boy," Henry said softly, and Mitch grew cold. He also understood, a little better than he wanted to, why Henry wanted to help this friend of his. Some years ago, it had been Henry himself who'd been possessed by a malignant spirit, and people had died, gruesomely. If Mitch had ever thought this was something you could leave behind, he'd found out differently when it had been his own turn, or so it had seemed at the time; when all signs had pointed towards the year he couldn't remember having been filled with murder. As it then turned out, it had been his friend Jeff, not Mitch, who'd been the killer, but between all Jeff had meant to him and the fact he still couldn't remember most of that year, Mitch felt less than reassured of his own sanity and self possession. He certainly could understand why Henry, who had to live with the unambiguous knowledge his body had been taken and used in the worst way, would want to help anyone in a similar situation.
Stasi fished for a cigarette in her purse, and Mitch lit it for her. She only inhaled once, then passed it to him, not by handing it over but by putting it between his lips. There was an intimacy in that gesture that still felt new, startling, even, and not for the first time, he wondered whether he'd ever get used to this.
"And why does he think she's possessed, your friend?" Stasi enquired. There was a faint line between her eyebrows. Stasi could speak to the dead; it was her gift. She was also a brilliant confidence woman, and Mitch loved the challenge of discerning the truths amongst all the endlessly inventive lies about her past she told. But she never lied about the dead.
"To be honest, it might just be because he's had a fling with her, and he's getting married to someone else this year, so he's touchy about his past love life maybe threatening that. But I don't think so. Paul's a down to earth kind of guy, most of the time. He's not - well, one of us. Not a member of any Lodge. He knows I am, but then, I'm not secretive about it, and it's one reason why he came to me with this. He says she's - the actress, that is - she's changed. And not in a normal way. After meeting someone, and here's the kicker: not someone from the industry. A politician. And Paul swears she was never into politics before. Too set on making it in the movies, that one, practically burning with ambition. And then she meets that man, and it's Jekyll and Hyde time, female version. The thing is, he can't fire or replace her or make her take off some time so some doctor could check up on her."
"Is she that good?" Mitchell asked, now more amused than scared, because to him, it sounded more like Henry's friend simply got dumped in favour of a more powerful man and didn't want to admit it. "Even possessed?"
To his surprise, Henry shook his head. "Nah. She's that fearless. Remember that I told you the director is crazy? Well, she did several movies with him already. Shooting in extreme locations is his stick. She's crazy as well, that one. Absolutely fearless, Paul says. And that's why they can't replace her, not in this kind of movie where her character is risking her life all the time. There are dozens of actresses who can deliver better performances, but none who'd do that, no matter the salary. There's just one Leni Riefenstahl."