Disclaimer: The WENN staff belong to Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, and a certain cable channel whose name I will not mention here. The story is mine.
This is set between "The Sunset Also Rises" and "All Noisy on the Pittsburgh Front".
Italics denotes thoughts
Betty Roberts sat in the green room of radio station WENN staring at a script. The script was the newest masterpiece from the pen of Miss Gertrude Reece, WENN's secretary and receptionist. Gertie herself sat across from Betty, looking on eagerly as her fellow "wordsworth" read the papers. "I promise, Betty, I kept it simple this time. It's just a quiet little romance about two people who meet and fall head over heels in love. No burrying dead baboons, no divas tripping writers in baby pools, no Rabat, no letters of transmit, no dead narrators, and I actually came up with a plausible ending."
Betty sighed. Gertie never did think of a really good ending for her first radio play "Rendevouz in Rabat", and her teleplay "The Sunset Also Rises" was so bizarre that it had to be heavily edited before its eventual presentation as a radio drama. She only hoped that Gertie's words were true. "Well, ok, Gertie. Title, 'The American Patient'. Page one. We open in a private room in a Swiss hospital. Volunteer Nurse Elizabeth Robertson sits by a hospital bed, tending to a weak, pale, but handsome man..."
Volunteer Nurse Elizabeth Robertson was no stranger to the sight of pain and suffering. Healing the sick and wounded was part of her job. The poor man who was brought in that day, however, was one of the sickest that Elizabeth had seen in a long time. Judging by the remains of his uniform, he was a member of the British Army troop stationed on the border between Switzerland and Germany.
The dark-haired person's identity was a total mystery, an enigma. Someone had slashed his cheek with a blunt instrument and horsewhipped his back until it bled. He was found wandering the side of the hill where the Swiss Hospital was located. His leg was broken, his clothing tattered to the point of non-existence, and he had no idea who he was or what he was doing out in the freezing cold. Elizabeth dressed his wounds, set his broken limb, bathed him, and got him into a warm bed in a private ward.
The young nurse wondered who the person who made such a baffling entrance was. Any identification that might have been on his uniform was long gone by the time tourists found him on the mountainside. He must have gotten on someone's bad side, Elizabeth thought. Perhaps he escaped from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. He looked so gentle and helpless, lying on the bed. He was as pale as the sheet he lay under.
Elizabeth spent three days wondering about her new patient. All that was known about him was that he was an American who had somehow joined the British Army. Where did he come from? What was his name? She invented all sorts of identities for the poor creature who snored lightly in the tiny private ward. Her friend Dr. Douglas Thompson teased her about her obsession with the mystery man. "For all you know, he could be a Nazi," he admonished.
Elizabeth only shrugged and gazed at a photo she kept on her person at all times. It was a small picture of a tall, handsome, slightly balding man in a British Army uniform. He was Captain Vincent Comstock, her former sweetheart. Elizabeth loved him so much. She even came to Switzerland to be with him when he was stationed in Geneva. She couldn't go with him, however, when his superior sent him on a highly secret mission to Berlin. The day he left was one of the most agonizing of her life.
"Elizabeth, I promise, I will come back to you. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I will be there."
Four long months passed before Elizabeth recieved word from Berlin. Vincent died when the British bombed the government building that he was working in. Her heart broke when she heard the news. She threw herself into her work after that and swore that she would never permit herself to fall in love again. Love only led to heartache and hurt.
The American patient awoke on the afternoon of the third day after his arrival. Elizabeth was tidying the area around his bed when she heard a grumble and a groan. "Hey," a hoarse voice complained, "watch that pillow nurse, will ya?"
Elizabeth jumped away from the bed and met the now-open chocolate-brown eyes of her patient. They were very large and puppy-like. They were also very dazed.
"Where am I?" he asked vaguely as he tried to sit up. "More importantly, who am I?"
Elizabeth was by his side in an instant. She gently pushed him back down on his bed. "Lay down, now," she said. "Some tourists found you limping on the mountain near here. This is the Swiss Hospital. My name is Volunteer Nurse Elizabeth Robertson."
"Gertie," Betty told the hopeful switchboard operator, "you've gone from stories with too much action to stories with too little!"
"I'm building up the characters, Betty," Gertie explained. "It gets better later on. Keep reading."
"Gosh," murmured the patient, "you're a beautiful woman."
Elizabeth couldn't help the blush that crept across her cheeks. "Thank you, sir."
He gazed at her hopefully. "Do you know who I am, Liz? I really can't remember. I suppose I must have known once." He grinned. Elizabeth liked his grin. It spread from one dimple to the other. "I wouldn't have had any kind of identification on me, would I?"
"No," Elizabeth replied. "Your uniform was in shreds and the few papers in the remains of your pockets only said that you're American. Any other identifying mark was torn up or lost."
"I'm American," the man said softly to himself, as if he were trying to get used to the idea. "I think I remember America. There was an ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and beautiful beaches and towns with homes and cars and people. I didn't want that, so I think I sailed around the world." He got a little closer to her. "Ever try to eat a barnacle?"
"Don't." He shook his head as if to clear it. "It's amazing, Liz. I can recall a schooner, a beautiful second-hand schooner, and exotic ports of call like Madagascar and Calcutta, but I can't recall my own name or how I wound up in the Swiss Hospital feeling like I've been horsewhipped."
"You have been horsewhipped," she told him. Elizabeth was intrigued. "I've never met anyone who's been to places like that before. Can you remember what it was like to visit those countries?"
Elizabeth tried to ignore the feelings that were welling up inside of her as she listened to the American patient. She hadn't felt this way about anyone since Vincent...no! She would not think of him! The American patient needed her full attention. The patient was an attractive man even with his cheek and forehead bandaged. He spoke eloquently and enthusiastically and whether he'd actually seen these places or not, he was a wonderful storyteller. She wondered what he would be like when he was strong and healthy. She was so caught up in her daydream about him and Vincent that she hadn't realized that he had stopped speaking.
"You seem kinda out of it, Liz," he noticed. "What's on your mind?"
"Oh, nothing," she sighed. "Just thinking about someone."
"Family, old boyfriend?" Elizabeth thought that she might have heard jealousy in the American patient's voice.
"Old boyfriend." She wasn't certain why she felt so comfortable around this man. Neither of them knew his name, or who he was. She knew that he liked to travel and had owned a schooner, but other than that, he was still a mystery.
"Oh. Understood completely. Like I said, you're a beautiful woman. A man would have to be a fool not to care about you." He smiled that cock-eyed smile again. "Are you sure I can't sit up today? I would sure like to see the Swiss Hospital with you, and maybe have a little dinner in the hospital cafeteria afterwards?"
She grinned right back. She was well aware of these kinds of tricks. "Oh, no you don't. You're not going anywhere until your leg and head have healed. And I wouldn't eat the food in the cafeteria if I were you. There's a rumor going around that the Salisbury Steak is actually a top-secret Nazi experiment that is being sent out to every kitchen in Europe." She turned to find Dr. Thompson and ask how the very pregnant fruit truck driver's wife was coming around, but the American patient took her arm in his hand.
"No, Liz, don't go. I'll behave, I promise." He drew her closer to him. "Liz," he asked her softly, "do you believe in love at first sight?"
"No." I must not let myself fall for him, but I don't want to lose him. Remember Vincent, Elizabeth! Love will only hurt you! And you don't know who this man is, or why he's here! All you know is that...you've fallen in love with a man who has no identity. Admit it, Elizabeth, you love him. You have to jog his memory and find out who he is. If you don't, his past may haunt both of you forever. "Well, maybe yes." She put her arms around him and looked into his eyes...
Hilary sauntered into the room at that instant. "Betty, the script for 'The Hands of Time' was a little on the slow side today. Try to keep it moving, will you, dear?" She walked over to the two women with a fresh cup of Ingram's Coffee. "What's this?" she asked, gesturing at the script with one hand and holding the cup with the other.
"It's my new script, Hilary," Gertie explained. "It's a two-character romance about a beautiful young nurse and her patient. They slowly find out who he really is and fall helplessly in love with each other."
Hilary nearly spit out her coffee. "Oh, no, no, Gertie, you have this all wrong! What this romance needs is someone who is a genuine actress, who'll get the audience's hearts pumping..."
Elizabeth was about to kiss the American patient when a beautiful woman in a sleek, thick fur coat and matching hat and muff walked into the room like she owned it. Elizabeth quickly untangled herself from the man and went to find out what the woman wanted.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but this is a private ward," She told the woman.
The woman was a real beauty, with thick auburn hair and large brown eyes. The American patient was staring at her strangely, as if he were trying hard to remember something that eluded him. She stripped off her accessories to reveal a long, fancy black silk gown.
"Why, surely you know who I am?" the woman asked in surprise. "I'm Hilane Breckinridge, the famous stage actress, of course."
"What are you doing here?" Elizabeth asked suspiciously. She knew who Hilane Breckinridge was. The actress toured the world in her popular vehicle 'The Rivals'. The last time she was in the news was when she was divorcing her husband, young actor Jeff Chanteur.
"I was performing in 'The Rivals' in Berlin when the Nazis decided that they wanted all Americans out of the city or all Americans would literally wind up in front of a firing squad," Hilane explained. "Two Swiss freedom fighters got me out of the country and said that I should wait here for them." She smiled. "You're probably in shock. After all, it's not every day that you meet a great American actress like myself here in Switzerland."
"No, Miss Breckinridge," Elizabeth started, "it's not that. It's just..."
Hilane noticed the confused American patient before Elizabeth could continue. "YOU!!!" She shrieked. "What are you doing here Steven Sherwood, you conniving cad of a con man! You cheated my husband...ex-husband and I out of $6,400 three years ago! I can't believe that we believed all of that nonsense about that radio game show and a big agency!" He looked perplexed. "Surely you recall me and the money you cheated out of Jeff and I and that ridiculous fake agency you created, not to mention the rigged game show you got us to appear on?"
Steven, if that was his name, shrugged. "I'm sorry, lady," he said, "but I have no idea of what you're talking about. I never did take to the theater. No second feature, no cartoon, no popcorn..."
"Ooooohhhhh!" squealed Hilane. She stomped over to the bed and shook her finger at Steven. "You listen to me, you crafty criminal, if you don't remember who you are and what you did to me by the time I get back in this room, I'll see to it that your other limbs are broken into more pieces than a pizza pie!" She composed herself as she faced a befuddled Elizabeth. "Nurse, would you work on his memory while I retrieve a cup of hot coffee and something resembling a meal?" She didn't give Elizabeth the chance to answer. The nurse and her patient watched the famous stage star hurry out of the ward.
"I should have warned her about the Salisbury Steak," Elizabeth fretted. She returned to her patient, who was looking after Hilane with a thoughtful look on his face. "Is that your name?" she asked. "Steven Sherwood?"
"Hilane Breckinridge sure seems to think so, and who am I to argue with a woman like that?"
Elizabeth knew who Steven Sherwood was. Everyone in the world knew Steven Sherwood. He was, indeed, a famed con artist, playboy, and world traveler. She'd heard stories of the people he had lied to and cheated, but she had never seen him. He wasn't like her Vincent, who was noble and moral...
"Liz," the patient murmured so softly that she almost didn't hear him, "I think I do remember Hilane and Jeff Chanteur."
Elizabeth came back to earth again. "You do? You can remember something? Please, tell me more."
"I...I did scam them." He smiled and laughed. "It was one of my most brilliant ideas. The Chanteurs were in desperate need of a job. I set up a phony talent agency and promised them that I'd get them on Broadway if they gave me $6,400. I was running another con, a radio quiz show I rigged, and I needed judges. So, to make a long story short, I had them appear as judges on the program. They weren't happy, let me tell you that. I never got them any closer to Broadway than a warehouse in Queens."
Elizabeth sat down on the edge of the bed and gazed skeptically at her patient. "How is it that you can't remember your name but you can remember your scams?"
"It must have been the sound of Hilane screeching at me that shook that memory loose." Steven took Elizabeth's hand. "LizzyLizzyLizzy, you aren't going to hold this against me, are you?" he asked, his face getting all puppy-dog like again. "I do like you. I'll show you the world when I get better." He crossed his heart. "I'll never pull another scam again on anyone, Scout's honor."
Elizabeth found herself attracted to Steven again. No!, Her mind screamed. He's not your type, Elizabeth Robertson. You go for sweet gentlemen like Vincent, not rascals like Steven, if he even is Steven Sherwood the rogue adventurer. She leaned closer to Steven, and...
"Hilary!" Jeff Singer, Hilary's hus...uh, ex-husband, snapped as he stormed into the green room. "Thanks for leaving me in the middle of a passionate love scene! I finished it with Eugenia and she giggled every time Brent tried to pitch woo to Elizabeth!"
"Maybe you should have pitched a ball to Elizabeth instead," Hilary snarled back. "It might have been more interesting."
"Could you two please bark at each other somewhere else?" Betty asked them in annoyance. "I'm reading Gertie's newest script and I can't hear myself think."
"Preferably somewhere far, far away, like the moon," added Gertie under her breath.
Jeff grabbed the fourth seat and settled down next to Hilary. She got up to refill her coffee cup and stick her tongue out at him.
Gertie recounted her radio play thus far to Jeff. He stopped her when she got to the description of the mysterious and bed-ridden American patient.
"Your only major male character is a sick amnesiac who's not even allowed to leave his hospital room? Gertie, what you need is a leading man who can walk and move around. Someone who's tall and handsome and young and strong and dashing..."
"Oh," Hilary said as she returned to the table with her coffee, "are we going to get Tyrone Power to appear on this program?"
A tall, handsome young man rushed into the ward as Elizabeth leaned toward the mysterious American patient. He immediately turned to Elizabeth.
"Excuse me, nurse, but have you seen a Miss Hilane Breckinridge? I absolutely must speak with her. It's a matter of great importance!"
Elizabeth pointed down the hall. "She just left to get a cup of coffee. She should be back any minute now."
Hilane breezed in at that moment. The second she caught sight of the young man, she hurled the coffee cup at him. He ducked with the ease of one who has spent a great deal of his life getting out of the way of identified flying objects. The cup shattered against the windowsill. Coffee splattered over the cracked plaster wall. "Jeff Chanteur, what are you doing here! I took this tour to get away from you, not to have you follow me!"
"I was doing work with the British government in Berlin when I heard about the Germans raiding the theater that housed 'The Rivals'. I was worried sick, so I pulled some red tape and went looking for you. Those two Swiss freedom fighters said that you were here cooling your heels and waiting for their instructions, so I thought I'd keep you company."
"You have Pavletta Nellicoa the Czeckslovachian trollop to keep you company," Hilane hissed. "After all, she is your new wife."
"Hilane, please, my explanation holds water! You must listen to me!" Jeff wailed. He then noticed the American patient. He, like his former spouse, exploded the minute he saw him. "Steven Sherwood! What are you doing here? I thought that with all of your money you could afford something better than a cramped little ward in a Swiss hospital in the middle of nowhere."
The American patient, or Steven, squeezed Elizabeth's hand tighter. "There's no place like the Swiss Hospital, Jeff. I think I'm quite comfortable where I am."
"He remembers you?" gasped Hilane. Elizabeth looked at all three of them in surprise. "He didn't remember me when I first came in this room, or what he did to us three years ago in New York!"
"You can't remember that ridiculous game show and how you humiliated both of us when it turned out that the game show was a fake and your big agency was a fraud? We lost $6,400 on that venture!"
Elizabeth flung her arms protectively around Steven. "Please, Mr. Chanteur, keep your voice down! Mr. Sherwood, if this is your Mr. Sherwood, has been through severe trauma and can't remember who he is, much less who you are!"
"Jeff, how are you?" Steven asked with a weak smile. Even in his condition, he knew that they caught him.
"You do remember! Let me at him!" Jeff lunged for Steven. Hilane held him back and Elizabeth tightened her grip around the unfortunate patient.
"Whoa, down boy!" exclaimed Steven. "I said I can vaguely remember how I scammed the two of you. I didn't say I could remember everything!"
"I'm going to have to ask you two to leave if you continue to excite the patient like this!" Elizabeth scolded the angry couple.
"We'd love to leave," Hilane reminded them, "but as you may recall, we're awaiting orders from the Swiss freedom fighters who sent us here." She looked at her watch. "What's taking them so long? I want to get back to my touring and get as far away from Jeff as I possibly can."
"Oh, no, you don't. I'm going wherever you go. I'll haunt you for the rest of your life, Hilane Breckinridge."
Elizabeth turned back to Steven. He still had that weak smile on his face. "Thanks for defending my person, Liz."
"My pleasure." Steven drew her closer to him...
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