While her husband devoted himself to the drinks, Emily sank into one of the armed chairs and directed her gaze at David. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. You were saying that you need to get to work on your ambulance business.”
“Yes. I’ve been so obsessed with clearing the decks here in Germany that I haven’t done some of the most elementary things — like a proper market survey to test demand for our proposed service. I honestly don’t know whether there is a need for an air ambulance service in the UK. Kiwi’s experience was in Australia, which is a totally different market. There the low population density and vast distances involved justify using aircraft as ambulances, but the UK is densely populated and the next hospital is rarely far away. I feel as if my whole business idea just blew up in my face.” As he admitted this out loud, he grasped what had been gnawing at him subconsciously for days.
“Yet there appears to be an acute need for such a service here in Berlin,” Emily pointed out. “That little boy who needed to go to Hamburg for a blood transfusion wouldn’t have died if there had been an air ambulance service here.”
“No, but—” David stopped himself and looked back at her startled. Why hadn’t he thought of that himself? Because it was such a radical proposal. “Would it even be possible?” He turned automatically to Robin.
“Would what be possible?” Robin had not followed his train of thought.
“Would it be possible for a civilian aviation company to fly patients out of Berlin for medical care elsewhere?”
“I don’t know why not,” Robin answered a little flippantly.
“Well, for a start, would it be possible for a civil aviation company to operate out of RAF Gatow?” David asked more pointedly.
“BEA is, and they have a hangar they hardly use,” Robin reminded him, adding, “Three-quarters of Gatow’s facilities are not in use. There is plenty of hangar, storage and office space available. The best thing would probably be to negotiate with BEA for a sublease of some sort. As a business, they’ll be more agile than a government bureaucracy.”
“Then again, maybe that incident with a child needing a rare blood type was exceptional. One case doesn’t exactly demonstrate sustained demand sufficient to justify basing an air ambulance here,” David argued with himself out loud.
“I could do some basic market research for you if you like,” Emily offered. “It only entails going to the hospitals and asking how often they need to send patients out of Berlin for treatment, doesn’t it?”
“Yes!” David agreed enthusiastically. Not only would this set him free to return to the UK, but it would also get Emily involved in his company. They were a good team, and she had a natural talent for marketing. “Excellent idea,” he reinforced his original answer. “If you’re willing to go around to the hospitals, we could do a proper survey identifying everything from the frequency to the kind of illnesses or conditions and the destinations, etc. etc.”
“I’m not sure my German is that good,” Emily admitted hesitantly but added hopefully, “but I could ask Charlotte to come with me—”
“Perfect!” David jumped at the idea. If Charlotte helped with the company, he would have a chance to get to know her better — and he wanted that.
But no sooner did he feel his heart start to soar with enthusiasm than some instinct yanked him back to the ground. Maybe it was the voice of his father, who always seemed to poison his moments of triumph, but he heard himself saying out loud, “But we mustn’t get carried away. The Berliners are miserably poor, and an air ambulance is inherently expensive.”
“If the Soviets continue to interfere with our ground transportation and interdict our access,” Robin countered, “then flying patients out may be the only way of getting them across the Soviet Zone.”
David looked over startled, as Emily remarked gently, “Of course, I could understand if you don’t want to live here and devote your life to saving German lives.”
“Odd as this may sound to you,” David replied, “after two weeks here I can honestly say that Germany is still more ‘home’ to me than England, much less Canada. I grew up here. I know that not every German was a Nazi, and after I met Dr Schlaer and Charlotte, I found I don’t hate the ordinary people who just tried to survive. Of course, I want to punish the war criminals and I want Friedebach out of my uncle’s house, but for the rest…” He shrugged.
Sensing the incomprehension of his hosts, he added. “The active Nazis were always a minority. The anti-Nazis an even smaller minority. The vast majority of the population were simply selfish, little people looking for their personal advantage. Hitler’s rise was enabled primarily by what we call Mitlaeufer, the people who rode on his coattails because it brought them advantages. They loved being the “Master Race,” and they loved being victorious, but without Hitler, they would not have been murderers. They probably wouldn’t even have been particularly antisemitic. Those people have been humiliated, and they’re paying a high price for their hubris. That’s enough.”
“So, you wouldn’t mind basing your company here?” Emily challenged hopefully.
“No, not at all. It would have several advantages,” David admitted. “If you’re right about the facilities at Gatow, Robin, and if there is sufficient demand for our services, then being based here would enable me to both build up a business and reckon with Friedebach. Maybe even put down roots….” He was irrationally thinking of Charlotte.
“You and Kiwi could live here,” Emily spoke up eagerly. “At least while you’re setting up and getting started. We have plenty of room and staff. It would be wonderful having friends in the house, working together to make the company a success….” David sensed that she sincerely wanted to be part of his company and for him to stay.
“Not to mention that Sammy would love chasing the ducks,” Robin gave his consent to the invitation, and they all laughed at the thought of David’s bird dog loose on the lawn.
“I can’t say how much your support and invitation mean,” David told his friends. He was on the brink of saying that they had solved his problems and it was time to go back to bed when again his father’s ghost intervened. The cautious banker in his head spoke through his mouth. “On the other hand, it is extremely risky starting a business in an occupied city without clear legal status, no functioning currency and surrounded by the Red Army.”
“As I recall,” Robin replied, “it was extremely risky telling Hitler that we would not negotiate after he drove us off the Continent.”
“Yes, but our only choice then was between ‘fight’ or ‘surrender’. Now there are other, less risky options.”
“Well, I’m not a businessman,” Robin conceded, “but my maternal grandfather was wont to preach ‘high risk, high gain.’”
“Wasn’t he the one who ended up bankrupt?” David challenged.
Robin laughed, but countered, “Only because he fell in love with a French dancing girl. Stay away from loose women and you’ll be fine.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish