Flashback: Last time, Bernd Schäfers, Herr S. of Volkswagen and his gang, and yours truly were on a mountain top at the southern tip of Spain, out of luck and out of film. Pulling a daredevil stunt, Bernd had somehow saved me from being slaughtered and fired.
As the sun kept rising, we collected our equipment and our thoughts. We drove down the mountain to our base in Sotogrande. In the back seat, Herr S. lectured his Spanish-speaking assistant again why we had to abort the movie making: “That light, despite looking beautiful to the untrained eye, would have ruined the whole shot.”
We had lied to him. I yearned for Maalox or something stronger.
Down behind the secured gates of the Sotogrande golf course, Bernd and I went into a private crisis meeting:
“We need film,” I stated the obvious.
“What we need is a helicopter shot,” Bernd declared.
Bernd showed no outward signs of dementia. His pupils were normal. His hands didn’t shake. No signs of unusual perspiration. His calm demeanor made me even more furious.
“We need what? We need fricken film!”
“Ah, maybe 30,000 to 40,000 more. And we would have great shots. Not to forget something to shoot with.”
“We need to talk the client into a helicopter shot. That long shot down the mountain gets boring after 10 seconds. If we intercut it with the hel . . . ”
“Bernd! We need F-I-L-M!!!!”
“Hear me out. This helicopter shot can only be done by one guy. He lives in Hamburg. He’s not just a helicopter pilot. He’s a flying camera! He thinks and flies camera!”
“Bernd. Film. We need film.”
“If I call him now, he could be here tomorrow. And before he leaves, he could throw some cans of film in the chopper.”
“What’s this going to cost us?”
I threw up my hands in despair and told Bernd to go and sell the mad idea to Herr S.
We walked over to the villa of Herr S.
Bernd gave Herrn S. his best “You need that shot!” spiel.
It was easier than I thought. The idea of a chopper appealed to Herr S. He placed a call to Wolfsburg to have the expenses approved. While still on the phone to headquarters, Herr S. raised his thumb.
Two hours later, Bernd’s pilot who thought he was a camera was in the air for a 3000km or so ride from Hamburg to Malaga.
In the meantime, Bernd regaled me with stories about the pilot’s accomplishments.
“You won’t believe how many times this guy nearly lost his pilot license.”
“Once, they did a documentary about the castles of the Rhine River.”
“He buzzed all Rhine castles so close that most of Germany’s gentry took down his number and filed suit against him.”
I was impressed.
“He was the first helicopter pilot to cross the Mediterranean from Turkey to Egypt.”
“Completely out of fuel, he landed on a military airbase near Port Said.”
“They arrested him because they thought he was an Israeli spy. Nobody believed he could have crossed the Mediterranean in a chopper.”
Not only did he think he was a flying camera. He also thought he was the Jack Baruth of the skies.
The next day, he arrived. I thought he would land right there on the golf course. Instead, he unceremoniously arrived in a Seat which he had rented at the Malaga airport.
I was immediately glad we had an unlimited supply of villas.
Mr. Camera-Pilotman did not just arrive in a rented car, he also arrived in the thickest cloud of cologne I had ever encountered. The flies on the walls had style. Under chemical attack, they immediately died—like flies.
He spread out a map on the table.
“This is Gibraltar. British. Spain wants it back. The border is closed tight as a Spanish virgin.”
He slapped his hand on a deep red area that surrounded Gibraltar. “We are here.”
Ok, so there we were.
“We are in the middle of Spain’s most wicked no-fly zone.”
“That’s why I left the thing in Malaga and came by car.”
My heart sank to below sea level.
“Did you bring the film at least?” I inquired.
“That was the easy part,” he said, pointing with his thumb out of the window, where two of Bernd’s guys unloaded something from the Seat’s trunk. The arm waving set off another cloud of toxic cologne. My eyes began to water, and my body was gripped by the bronchospasms of a severe asthma attack.
“So now what?” I croaked while gasping for air.
“No problem. Obviously, we can’t mount the camera at the airport. That would give them ideas. I’ll file for a local flight; we’ll meet in the mountains, mount the camera, and get it done. Here is a radio to talk to me,” he said, and tossed us some equipment. “I’ll stay in the mountain valleys so that the radar won’t pick me up. Who knows, they may have triple-A to shoot down British bombers. Joke. Joke.”
“Now I need some sleep. I flew all night, except for a few hours in the Pyrenees when it got too dicey. Had to fill up from the jerry cans in the back anyway.”
“I’ll meet you at 5 in the morning right here,” he said and banged his fist on the map. “The airport says it will be clear skies tomorrow.”
His fist sat in an area marked with an angry red.
It was still dark as we set out for the spot where his fist had landed. We waited. There was a faint clackety-clack in the air. There was a voice from the radio “Turn on your headlights. I’m coming in as discreetly as possible.”
We obliged. The roadside high up in the mountains between Sotogrande and Ronda was lit by the lights of a few rentals and a very expensive and secret, hand-made Audi 80 prototype.
He landed, switched off the engine and yelled: “Turn off the scheiss lights! You’ll get us all arrested.” We obliged again.
It was a Huey. “Bertel look at the side door where they are mounting the camera,” he said and plopped down next to me on the equipment box on which I sat. A shock and awe wave of cologne assaulted me. “There was a 50cal before I bought the chopper. This baby is built for shooting!”
“Really?” I croaked.
“Don’t worry, Bertel!” He slapped me on the back, unleashing yet another chemical attack. “You won’t get killed. Unless you sit next to me.”
His humor matched his choice of aftershave. Unbeknownst to him, he was killing me by sitting next to me.
While the crew finished mounting the camera, there was a rumble of cars. Headlights pierced the darkness. Early tourists on an outing. That’s all we needed with a top secret prototype in plain sight. The chopper and the camera equipment made everything too obvious. “Throw a tarp over it!”
They were no tourists. It was five canvas-topped army trucks, with “Guardia Civil” on the side. The trucks were preceded by an unmarked Seat. The trucks disgorged a platoon of gun-wielding guys in uniform, topped by the classic leather hats that screamed “Be afraid! Guardia Civil!”
We were surrounded, and in deep trouble. The Guardia Civil is Spain’s federal paramilitary police, the big boys with the big guns.
Two plainclothed officers climbed out of the unmarked Seat. They looked quite in charge.
“Qué se cocina por aquí?” The senior guy didn’t inquire what we were having for breakfast. He demanded to know what’s going on. The Sergeant formed his platoon in a semicircle around our cars and chopper, rifles at the ready.
I had visions of Spanish jails, which were known for their in-hospitality. The Guardia Civil also was rumored to be ill-tempered in the most normal circumstances. The fact that we were in that red zone on the map with a flying machine that was estrictamente prohibido most likely exacerbated our already dire situation.
Herr S. sent for his Spanish speaking assistant. He came, stuttered something about us doing a cultural film about the valley, then he withdrew and hid in the bushes.
The guy in charge did not look pleased.
I summoned what little courage I possessed and what little Spanish I had picked up while chasing senoritas in Ibiza, and approached El Comandante.
“Señor, you bought the story of el aleman?”
“Estás bromeando?” Are you kidding me?
“Usted es muy perceptivo, Señor.” You are very perceptive, Sir.
I walked him over to the tarp-covered prototype. The very pale faces of the Volkswagen crew turned ashen as I removed the cover from the secret vehicle. I explained that he was right. No cultural film. We are doing a commercial. If in doubt, tell the truth.
“Usted vive en este valle, señor?” You live in this valley, Sir?
“Cierto!” U betcha.
„Ha estado alguna vez en helicóptero?” Have you ever been in a helicopter?
My Spanish wasn’t enough to build the sentence, “Would you mind supervising the filming from the co-pilot seat in the interest of safety?”
Instead, I pointed at the helicóptero and stammered: “Supervisar, por favor?”
El Comandante’s face turned into a happy grin. “Seguro!”
In my rudimentary Spanish, I explained “Este coche es un secreto” this is a secret car, and there are spies—”espías” which make fotografías ilegales. El Comandante nodded severely. He hated spies. “Parecen turistas” They pose as tourists. “Con cámaras.” With cameras.
El Comandante did not approve of that illegal activity. He waved his Sargento over and said something I didn’t understand.
The Sargento bellowed a command I didn’t understand either. The whole platoon executed an about turn, pointed their rifles outward in the direction of any espias posing as turistas con cámaras. Most importantly, we didn’t have to look anymore into the business ends of 50 Spanish rifles. Things were looking up.
So was El Comandante. Very pleased, he looked up to the helicóptero, and climbed into it.
We got some great helicopter footage. While the chopper was in the air, El Comandante’s voice barked out of the radio. Two squads mounted two trucks, one truck took off in one direction, the other truck roared off in the other direction, both leaving a cloud of dust and blue exhaust behind. Later, I learned that from the air they had spotted turistas posiblemente con cámaras. The Guardia Civil blocked the road for us.
Next morning, we had film, good weather and proper light. We got the long shot for which we had tried for weeks in the preceding chapter. El Comandante came to visit and had 3 miles of road blocked.
Everything in the can, we decided to go to Ronda, a picturesque town in the mountains, to celebrate our success and our new friendship and spirit of German-Spanish cooperation with El Comandante and his always quiet deputy.
As we exited the restaurant, a large crowd had formed around our secret prototype. Darn. We had forgotten to hide the thing. “Un Audi nuevo!” the crowd cheered.
An old geezer stuck his head inside, said something. The crowd mumbled “ay!” and dispersed.
I turned to our resident linguist, the one who had vanished into the bushes the other day: “What did the old guy say?”
“Can’t be a new car. It already has 30,000 kilometers on the odometer.”