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June 6th, 1944
Betty Sherwood sat in the writer's room of WENN relishing the quiet. Mackie Bloom, Giselle Bedeux, Hilary Booth Singer, and Maple Comstock were on the air on WENN, performing "The Hands of Time". Most of the WACs and Army officers who hung out in the green room were doing "Victory Variety" on the W.E.N.N. Tom Eldridge was making coffee. Gertie Reece was out to lunch and the switchboard was blessedly silent. Ten-month-old Ophelia Singer and four-month-old Agatha Sherwood slept in their cribs in the green room. Five-year-old Mary Foley sat at the table in the green room, watching over the babies and drawing a picture of flowers and rainbows for her adoptive parents.
The sounds of footsteps outside her office and the tap of wood on the paneled floor broke Betty's reverie. "Bettybettybetty!" The door burst open, and Betty's husband Scott Sherwood limped in the writer's room. Betty was surprised to see the wood cane in his hand. Scott made it for himself after a bullet shattered his left leg, but he hated to use it or even admit that he was injured. "How's one of my favorite Sherwood ladies?"
His wife's eyebrows went to the stratosphere. "One of? Who's the other one?"
"Why, our darling daughter, of course." He grinned and leaned over to give Betty a kiss on her cheek.
"I'm all right. I'm trying to work on tomorrow's episode of 'Valiant Journey', but I can't concentrate."
"I'm going to need your help in...oh, would you look at the time?" Betty narrowed her eyes. Scott hadn't used that dreaded phrase in months. "Mr. Acton wants us to come up with a violent and yet patriotic show for him."
"Scott," Betty protested, "I have to finish these scripts, and someone needs to feed Aggie when she gets up, and..."
Scott laughed. "I knew you'd do it, Betty. See you in ten minutes!" He swept out of the room.
Betty frowned. Scott was up to something. He'd been very charming these last few months since Aggie's birth. She shouldn't complain. He was an excellent, attentive - overly so, in fact - father to little Aggie. Aggie adored her father. She cried when he was away from her for more than a few hours. He argued with Hilary, played poker with Mr. Foley, took over the organ for Eugenia when she insisted on taking Mary home every day for dinner, joked with Mackie and shared coffee and cookies with Maple. He conned the sponsors and teased the WACs and the Armed forces officers.
He was charming to her as well, but she learned a long time ago to look beyond what he was doing on the surface. Scott was hiding something from her. She suspected that it had to do with the government again. There was something major going on over in Europe, and Betty had the feeling that Scott's involvement with code-cracking wasn't quite through yet. She looked at her watch and heard a cry from the green room that sounded like her child.
She rushed to see what all the commotion was, but Scott was ahead of her. Mary held Aggie in her arms. The black-hared baby wailed loudly. Mary looked upset. "She just woke up and started to cry. Can you stop her, Unca Scott? She's loud!"
The small, blonde girl handed Scott the baby. He sat on the couch and patted his daughter, who sighed a little as her father spoke soothingly to her. "There, there, Aggie. That's a good girl. Daddy's here." Lia sat up in the crib, rubbed her eyes, and stared up at the crowd.
"Mama?" she asked questioningly.
"Mama's on the air, sweetheart," Betty told Lia. "Would you like me to give you some lunch?"
The little girl pushed Betty away. "No! Mama!"
Betty gritted her teeth and picked up a pretty doll that Hilary's parents sent Lia a month before. "Here, Lia. Play with Rosalie until Mama gets off the air." Lia took the doll, but she still looked grumpy.
Hilary came in the room at that moment. "Hilary, will you do something with your kid?" Scott jokingly asked the actress. "She's upsetting my kid."
"It's more likely the other way around," insisted Hilary. She lifted Lia out of the crib. The baby buried her face in her mother's chest. "Aggie can't even sit up yet, but she always manages to irritate or anger Lia."
Aggie was fascinated with grasping. She had an iron grip on her father's finger and reached for his cane at the same time. Scott took the cane away and Aggie yelled. "Sorry, little girl, but that's Daddy's cane. He uses that to walk with. It's not a toy." Scott gingerly sat down near the radio, plopped Aggie in his lap, and turned on the machine. She tried to grab hold of it, but it was too smooth for her plump fingers. Scott chuckled at her bewilderment. "Aggie, I know you're strong for your age, but even you can't lift that!" The baby tried again, but eventually lost interest and played with the rattle that Aunt Maple gave her when she was born. Mary went back to her picture.
Hilary sat Lia down in her high chair and started making her lunch. Mr. Foley came into the room and Mary immediately ran to him. "Look, Dad, I made you and Mommy a pic-tor!" She held it out to him and he silently admired the colorful stick flowers and wide rainbow. The two joined Hilary at the counter. Mr. Foley plucked a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread from the cabinet. Peanut butter sandwiches were his and Mary's favorite lunch. "Remember, Daddy, you promised to take me to the park after we eat!" Mary told him. He nodded, his mouth full of sticky peanut-bread mush. Hilary was attempting to feed Lia a bowl of carrots and peas, but the baby was being contrary and wouldn't eat.
Gertie entered the room at that moment. "Scott, Betty, Mr. Acton's here to see you."
Scott slowly stood and walked to his office. Betty followed him, instructing Maple, who was just coming in from Studio A, to watch Agatha. The large, mustachioed man sat impatiently in the visitor's chair. Scott cringed as he settled in his large seat. "Ol' football knee, Sherwood?" Acton asked pleasantly.
"Nope. It's a souvenir from our little adventure last February," Scott quipped. "I took a bullet in the leg when two spies tried to infiltrate WENN's defenses. Betty, here, sprained her shoulder keeping the woman half from doing any worse."
"Which is precisely what I want to see in my new show. I want a patriotic, slam-bang war story. Lots of guts and glory and talk about how our boys over there are going to whip Germany and Japan's behind. But mostly guts," Mr. Acton went on.
Betty cringed this time. "I don't know, sir. The Pittsburgh radio censors and several ladies groups often complain about the violence in 'Sam Dane, Private Eye', 'Crimebusters', and 'Rance Shiloh, US Marshal'. They claim that it influences youth and encourages them to perform the horrible acts of murder and terror that they hear about on the radio."
"I know what they say, Mrs. Sherwood," Mr. Acton snapped. "I've heard that kind of whining for years, long before I took my advertising to this station. Well, I say wake up and smell the instant coffee! The world ain't a pretty place. The war changed a lot. The news that the self-same youth that everyone wants to protect hears is as ugly or uglier than my shows could ever be - and the news really happens!"
Scott nodded. "You know, Mr. Acton, we here at WENN have several men who are away in the war, as soldiers and as correspondents. They send us records and notes about life in the barracks and the foxholes. My wife, here," he briefly nodded at Betty, "could take those notes after their airing and convert them into the kind of action-filled, America-celebrating, let's-get-Hitler-and-the-Japs show that Mr. Acton is asking for!" Betty noticed that he got the same look he always got when he had another scheme up his sleeve, but there was something different. She wasn't sure. She thought she detected seriousness behind the shifty smile.
Mackie suddenly entered. He carried a sheet from the teletype machine and was pale as a ghost. Scott laughed. "What happened, Mackie? Did another dead man return to life?"
Mackie glared at Scott. "I don't think this is a good time to make jokes about the dead, Scotty," he growled.
Betty frowned. "Mackie, what's wrong?"
Giselle joined him. She, too, was pale. "Betty, read the teletype! I have heard rumors, but I cannot believe that this is actually happening! It is D-Day, the teletype says!"
Betty stood and read the sheet. She, too, went pale, but it was with excitement. "The Allies have invaded Normandy, France." She looked at the two shocked actors. "We have to get on the air with this." She shoved the sheet into Mackie's arms and sent him and Giselle out the door.
Betty returned to her two companions. Mr. Acton looked like he was about ready to leap out of his seat, but Scott was thoughtful. "There weren't many details," she breathlessly explained, "but the Allies, including the US, have apparently landed on a beach in northern France and are in fierce combat with the Germans and other Axis armies as we speak."
She noticed Scott's expression for the first time. His face was thoughtful and yet sober. He hadn't looked so serious since he found that the government wanted him to remain in the US as a cryptologist more than two years ago. He saw her staring at him, though, and quickly changed his expression to that of delight. "That's great, Betty! This whole D-Day, can-do, liberating France feeling will be wonderful in Mr. Acton's new program! We'll call it 'Twenty Miles from Paris'! It'll capitalize on the Allies' surprise attack and all the momentum our side is gaining."
Betty looked at him in surprise. This was the old Scott talking, the Scott she knew when he first arrived at WENN, before the war. This was the one who wrote his own news stories when there was no news to broadcast and insisted that she weave commercials into the storylines of programs until 'The Hands of Time' had more pitches for soap suds than soap opera. "Scott, look at the practical side of this. People are getting tired of war stories. This isn't anything they can't hear on the 'Eight O'Clock News' or read in the nearest newspaper or magazine."
"We'll give them the stories of the soldiers and their women, along with all the violent stuff," Scott countered. "We'll hear their real feelings when they're being shot at by snipers, not just the grim details. There's a market for heart-stopping drama mixed with heart-pounding action." He dug into his desk and pulled out a blank contract. "We were going to move 'Rance Shiloh' back to Saturdays, anyway. It's lost a third of its ratings in that Sunday spot it's in now." He handed Mr. Acton a pen. "Do we have a deal?"
Betty sighed as she walked back to the green room to feed her daughter. Scott hadn't acted this way in years. It was almost like he deliberately reverted to his pre-war, pre-WENN, pre-marriage self. Why? What was he hiding? He must have been decoding something important, or he wouldn't be trying to turn her off.
She was about to walk away from the office when she heard Scott talking on the phone. She wasn't normally nosy, but she wanted to know what he was up to. This wasn't the first phone conversation of her husband's that took place behind closed doors in the last few months. She crept to the door and gently placed her ear against it.
"Yes," Scott was saying, "I heard about Normandy. The news just came through the wire services." There was a pause. "I only know what came off the teletype." Another pause. "Yes, sir, I've been working on the records. Singer and Comstock sent them to the Falcon, and..." Betty could almost envision her husband's frown. "I know who the Falcon is, sir. No, no one here is aware of it but me. Betty and I carefully screen every intern and Armed Forces officer who volunteer, and the main staff members have worked with us for years." Betty tried to peek in the keyhole, but she couldn't see much. Scott was leaning on the desk. "I can't relay what I found over this line. It might be tapped. This is big, big news, sir! Our men are behind enemy lines now. They're in the Pacific on this record." He made a face. "The Falcon is in this one deep, sir. You need to send help, before the Axis catch on. They have twice before."
Betty wanted to hear more, so she leaned even closer in spite of herself. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a deep, French-accented voice came from out of nowhere. "Bonjour, Mademoiselle. Do you know where I can find a Monsieur Scott Sherwood?" The woman noticed how startled Betty was. "Oh, desuite, Mademoiselle, I'm sorry to have frightened you. It is most important that I speak to Monsieur Sherwood. You must tell him that Madame Jacqueline Le Broque Bedeux is here to see him. He will know me."
Betty blushed. "I'm Mrs. Betty Sherwood, his wife. This is his office." She squinted at the woman. "Are you related to Giselle Bedeux? She's one of our actresses. She should be off the air in..."
"MAMAN! What are you doing here?" exclaimed a higher-pitched French accent. "I thought you were working as a teacher at the Aldrych Dramatic Academy!" Giselle Bedeux stormed out of the Studio in surprise.
"Remember, ma belle, today is my day off. I came to see your boss. We are old friends." Now that Betty had a good chance to look the woman over, she could see that Giselle and Jacqueline looked very much alike, from their golden blonde hair to their blue eyes and frighteningly slender figures. However, where Giselle wore a simple calico dress, her mother was decked in a chic suit and hat that Hilary would have loved. "Scott and I knew each other when he was in the Merchant Marines."
Gertie had arrived back at the switchboard and was going through the mail. "Giselle," she called, "there's a letter for you from Chris and Josh."
Giselle's face lit up like a sunbeam. "Oohh lah lah! They have not written me in a month! I was worried about them because the last time that they wrote me, they were in France. I am afraid that they fought at Omaha Beach." She scampered off to the lobby, and Jacqueline and Betty faced each other.
Jacqueline opened her mouth when the door to the office opened and Scott limped to his wife. "Betty, could you please..." He saw the expression on Betty's face and turned to the woman standing behind her. He went pale and tried to control his shock. "Jaquie," he whispered, "it's been a long time."
Jacqueline nodded. "I last saw you twenty years ago, when you were on leave in Marseilles. Much has happened since then, Scotty." She graciously put out her hand. "Congratulations on your marriage and your daughter. Ma Giselle speaks highly of both of you. Working here has done so much for her self-esteem."
Scott nodded. "I'm sorry about Geraud, Jaquie. I know that you really loved him."
Jacqueline's eyes teared for a moment, but she quickly dried them. "Gerry died doing the work that he loved best. He would not rest until the world was at peace and the radios could broadcast happy news."
Scott grinned at Betty. "Bettybettybetty, could you let Jaquie and I have a moment alone in my office? I really do need to talk to her about old times."
Jaquie awkwardly smiled. "Oui, we do need to catch up with our gossip. There is much to discuss." A wail from the green room settled the issue. Betty went to feed Agatha, who's cries grew louder as her mother entered, and the two former flames walked into the office.
This war won't last forever...
What is Scott up to now? Who's "The Falcon"? Why did Jacqueline Bedeux appear at WENN so suddenly? Is she really there to talk old times with Scott or is there another reason for her arrival? Will Chris Tracer and Josh Manley live through the D-Day campaigns, or will Giselle have another broken heart? What are Jeff and Victor doing in the Pacific?
On the Edge of the Precipice Series
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