Chapter one Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-Two
9th November 1968
In transit, rural Rhineland
The Autobahn stretched on ahead of them and Berliner Gutter Blues was blasting out of the car’s speakers making conversation almost impossible. Zella had recently had a cassette player installed in the BMW 700 Coupe Sport that she used for work so that she wouldn’t have to bother with finding radio stations when on the move. The Volkswagen Microbus they might have normally used had been taken by another news crew, much to Yuri’s annoyance. Instead, they had piled their equipment in the back of Zella’s car and had set off for Trier in the Rhine Provence to cover the processions and other activities that were a part of local celebration of Saint Martin’s Eve. “It will be like old times” Zella said, “Without having the smell of manure.”
“Or us getting shot at” Yuri had said under his breath and Zella had pretended not to hear him.
Hours later, Yuri was still sitting in the car and was starting to feel antsy as Zella tapped her thumbs on the steering wheel in time with the music. He had not realized that the drive would take them almost to Luxemburg and would mean eight hours in the car… well, seven with the way that Zella drove. They had stopped for lunch in Erfurt, but that had been ages ago. His thoughts kept going back to his mother’s kitchen and the conversation that had occurred over the family meal with Yuri’s Mother, Stepfather, and his two much younger brothers and sister. His Mother had come to disapprove of the succession of women who he had been dating over the prior two years since he had started working with Zella. Mostly they were her friends and that had been a lot of fun for him. “You are wasting your time with those women” His mother said, “Why can’t you meet a nice girl. You have a good job and a lot to offer a woman who can appreciate who you are as a man rather than to just have a good time with.” Yuri’s Stepfather had shot him a covert grin across the table.
With that the tape reached the end and ejected from the player. The sudden quiet snapped Yuri back to the present.
“Any idea how much longer it’s going to be?” Yuri asked.
“This is a shorter drive than going to Trieste” Zella replied.
“There was something to look at though” Yuri said, “Mountains and stuff. This is just hills, and forest.”
There were also farms, but that hardly broke up the monotony.
Zella just shrugged. “You might recall that we also spent a lot of time at border checkpoints” She said, “So we had a lot of time to look at those mountains.” The journey to the port city on the Adriatic Sea had taken them across several national borders and they had always encountered guards suspicious of their purpose, as if a microbus full of video equipment that had decals from ARD’s Berlin affiliate didn’t spell it out. Nope. Instead they got the border guards who thought it was all a clever ruse of some kind. So, they had endured several long waits as the guards had examined their travel documents and press credentials in minute detail, often phoning in to their superiors. With that, Zella flipped the tape and the music started again.
They sat in silence listening to the music for a while as the Autobahn crossed the Rhine itself. Finally, Yuri turned down the music so that he could address the elephant in the room.
“Why are we doing this?” Yuri asked, “Driving all over Germany, covering fairs, festivals, and now a procession?”
“They cannot all be big stories” Zella replied, “As much as I would like to cover an earthquake or a plane crash, those don’t happen every day.”
“It seems to me that you used to be a lot more aggressive” Yuri said, “You had us in the middle of a battle on the Mediterranean.”
“That was the exception” Zella said, “We only stumbled on that story in Krakow, and that girl…”
Zella trailed off. Her press credentials had been picked from her pocket right before the shooting had started in Krakow and the girl who had done it had been killed by the Polish Army. Over the prior summer as Poland had heated up, Yuri and Zella had basically gone everywhere but there before Zella had taken some time off to attend a friend’s birthday celebration. She didn’t say so, but that incident had clearly made Zella a lot more cautious. Yuri had heard stories about some of the things that Zella had done for a story when she had been younger, most of which would be unthinkable for her now.
“I see” Yuri said, “Still we ought to be trying to break something big.”
“You sound like the suits back at ARD” Zella said, “They want to know what my next big story is going to be.”
“What did you tell them?” Yuri asked.
“That I am working on developing several ideas, but it will take time” Zella replied.
“Anything good?” Yuri asked.
Zella didn’t answer as she turned the music back up.
That suggested that she didn’t have any ideas at all. Was this some weird journalist form of writer’s block? Yuri didn’t know. However, covering unglamourous local events sort of was the bread and butter for ARD. The fact that Zella didn’t turn her nose up at doing them and people liked seeing her on television regardless of where she turned up kept both her and Yuri employed, so the situation wasn’t too bad.