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The Aviatrix and the Author

June 21st, 1945

"Scott, I can do it," Betty reassured her husband as she rocked her year-old daughter Agatha to sleep.

"Betty," Scott said, shifting painfully in his seat, "it's not that you can't do it. I just don't want you or Agatha in danger. Jacquie and I have received word that Pruitt wasn't the head of the spy ring. There's someone else out there, and we've got to stop them, before they capture or kill more of our men."

Betty shrugged. "Aggie is fine. I'll be having the baby in a few months. I won't even be going in to battle. I'm just helping you write dummy messages." Her face turned angry. "I have as much of an obligation to stop this menace as you do, Scott. I've been on the wrong end of a gun one too many times, and I'm tired of it."

Scott checked his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time! Betty, you won't believe who's lined up for an exclusive interview with the W.E.N.N this evening!"

Betty sighed. Her husband always had something devious and station-related going on in that busy little brain of his, even in the midst of planning espionage. "Who is it?"

"Tessie Heckelsford. She'll be arriving within the hour."

Betty frowned. "The first woman to fly from New York to the tip of South America, who wrote a best-selling book about her experience? How in the heck did you get a hold of her? She's been in Washington since before the war, speaking out for women in the military and working for the Air Force."

"I didn't," Scott admitted, "Victor did, before he left for Japan. That's what she told me, anyway. Apparently, Victor admired her positions and offered her a show based after her exploits. She declined the program, but she did say that she'd grant him an interview. She didnít have the chance to arrange it until now."

"What are we going to tell her about Victor not being here?"

"The semi-truth," Scott said firmly. "He's overseas." The true truth was, no one had any idea what happened to Victor Comstock. Jeff lost contact with him in Japan three months ago. He'd since been listed as missing in action, much to the consternation of his wife, Maple.

Scott took Agatha from her. "I'll put her down in the Green Room," he insisted. "You get some rest. I don't want you tired when Tessie Heckelsford arrives."

"I don't want to be tired when she arrives," Betty agreed. "I'll take a nap with Lia and Aggie." She sighed. "I have so many questions that I want to ask Miss Heckelsford. She was one of my idols in college. She was daring and brave and did everything that good girls weren't supposed to do. She was always involved with this actor or that aviator." Betty lay on the couch as Scott gently placed Aggie in the playpen she shared with Ophelia "Lia" Singer. "I wonder what it would be like to be her?" Betty mused as Scott sat beside her.

"To be who?" Scott asked.

Betty yawned. "Tessie Heckelsford. Or Hilary, or Maple, or anyone who gets to be a bad girl every now and then." Scott stroked her soft, brown hair as she drifted off. "It must be nice. I never have fun."

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Gertie looked up from her copy of Life Magazine. "Can I help you?" she asked the young woman who stood in front of her desk...until she realized who it was. "Betty! What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be getting ready for Tessie Heckelsford's visit?"

The young woman shook her head. She certainly looked like Betty. She had the same petite frame, same brown eyes, and the same curly chestnut hair, but her belly was flat, and she sported far more make-up than Betty ever did. Her bright red dress and four-inch-heels looked more like something Maple would wear. "Oh, no, I'm not Betty, whoever that is. I'm Tessa Heckelsford. Most folks call me Tessie." She shook the surprised receptionist's hand. "I'm here for the interview on W.E.N.N. I'd like to speak to a Mr. Victor Comstock, if I can, please."

Scott limped down the hallway to meet Tessie Heckelsford, and stopped dead in his tracks. "Betty? What are you doing here? I thought you were still sleeping!"

Tessie was becoming annoyed. "Nice to meet you, and who in the hell is Betty?"

Scott frowned. "My wife and WENN's head writer. Who the hell are you?"

"Tessie Heckelsford, the last time I looked." She sighed. "Now I'm starting to wonder."

Scott grabbed her hand in a firm handshake. "Miss Hecklesford, I'm so sorry! It's just that you do look a lot like my dear wife. If you were eight months pregnant and a little shorter, you'd be her twin!"

Hilary stormed down the hallway. "Betty! Betty, where is that script for 'The Lady and the Drifter'? Jeff and I are supposed to go on the air after Giselle's interview with that scandalous Air Force madam!" She stopped short when she realized that the woman's stomach was reed-thin. "Betty, isn't it a little early to be a mother?"

Tessie groaned. "Look, I don't know who Betty is, but I'm not her, and I'm certainly not eight months pregnant or a mother. My name is Tessie Heckelsford!"

Hilary winced inwardly, but smiled. "I'm sorry, Miss Heckelsford, but you really do bear a striking resemblance to our head writer." She turned to Scott. "Jeff and I are going to the Buttery while Giselle is on the air. Maple is in Studio B with Lia, reading the essay that Betty wrote about women and war work." She graciously took Tessie's hand. "I'm Hilary Booth Singer, of course."

Jeff joined them, hat in hand. Hilary took his arm protectively in hers. "Miss Heckelsford, this is my husband, Jeff, who appears with me ALONE in many of our shows."

Jeff shook her hand, ignoring Hilary's protective look. "Oh, you're the famous woman pilot. I've seen your picture in the papers. You look kind of like a girl who works here. Scott's wife, Betty, as a matter of fact." He nodded at Hilary, who was glaring at Tessie. "Well, darling, we'd best be getting along. We only have a half-hour." The two left, and Gertie returned to her magazine.

"My wife is in the Green Room," Scott insisted as he practically dragged Tessie down the hall. "She's dying to meet you. Giselle Bedeux, who'll be interviewing you, will be getting off the air in a minute, when she and Mackie Bloom are done with 'Twenty Miles From Paris'."

Tessie looked around her. "This is a very interesting business you run here, Mr. Sherwood. I've heard from my colleagues in Washington that you attract a strange crowd for a small, independent station."

Scott opened the swinging door for her. "What do you mean by that? We get the usual people. You know, sponsors, actors..."

"...Spies, saboteurs, Nazi sympathizers," Tessie finished. "From everything I've heard, you're probably lucky that you're still on the air."

A sigh from under a blanket on the couch interrupted Scott before he could ask Tessie how she knew all of this. "Scott," Betty asked with a yawn, "has Tessie Heckelsford arrived yet?"

***

Mackie Bloom and Giselle Bedeux were coming out of the studio when they heard the screams from the Green Room. Both actors darted in without thinking. Giselle screamed when she saw two Betty Sherwoods standing face to face. One was slightly shorter than the other, and much larger. The other looked like a delicate tropical flower, with her red dress and fluffy hair.

"Ok," Mackie began, trying to calm everyone down, "Betty, what's going on?"

"I'd like to know the same thing," Betty's look-a-like added. "People have been mistaking me for her ever since I walked in the door."

"Betty, Giselle, Mackie," Scott began, "this is Miss Tessie Heckelsford." She shook their hands in turn. "Tessie, this is Giselle Beduex, Mackie Bloom, and I've mentioned my wife, Betty."

"Ooh lah lah!" exclaimed Giselle. "I am to interview you today! I've read your book about flying. It must be wonderful to see the world as a bird does!"

"We're sorry about the mix-up, Miss Heckelsford," Betty apologized. "You look different in real life than in the newspapers."

"That's perfectly all right," Tessie admitted. "No harm done." She gazed around. "So, when do we go on the air?"

Scott checked his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time? Tessie, I need to talk to Betty. Giselle, would you two take her into Studio A and prepare her for the interview? We'll be on in about fifteen minutes."

Scott whisked Betty into the hall. He looked around him to make sure they weren't being watched. "Do you have the interview questions ready?"

Betty sighed. "Yes, I put the dummy messages in the questions. Giselle has them now." She looked at her worried husband. "I hope you know what you're doing with this. We've already lost Victor, and you and Jeff were injured. We have to be prepared in case something else goes wrong."

Scott took her in his arms. "Nothing else will go wrong, Betty," he said with more conviction than he felt. "Trust me."

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Giselle sat with Tessie in Studio A. Mackie was doing the news for WENN in Studio B. Eugenia and Mr. Foley had taken their daughter Mary to the park for a quick picnic lunch. She smiled and set down the questions Betty gave her. "This is so exciting, Mademoiselle Heckelsford! I have never interviewed someone so famous before."

Tessie nodded. "This business of yours is very interesting, Miss Bedeux."

"Giselle, Mademoiselle." The French refugee beamed. "Yes, it is. I enjoy working here. It is very exciting. So many things happen! And the people have been so kind to me."

Tessie smiled. "Call me Tessie, then."

"It's like a second home," Giselle explained. "Betty and Scott even Hilary are like my family."

"Ah, yes, the formidable Miss Booth Singer." Tessie sighed. "I saw her in 'The Rivals'. The show was a dumb drawing-room comedy, but she was good in it. It's a shame she never found any vehicle to match it's success."

"Oh, she does well enough here," Giselle admitted. "She complains, but I don't think she minds doing the soaps anymore." Lester indicated that they would begin in ten minutes. "They've all been so kind and accepting. I am so different from them." Giselle shuffled papers. "They hired me when I was just off the boat. My mother and I were forced out of France by Hitler's regime."

Tessie gasped. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I offer my condolences. That must have been horrible."

"It was very scary," Giselle admitted, still shy about discussing her terrifying experiences. "I was so full of fright that the Nazis would stop us and deport us."

"Why did you leave?" Tessie asked. "Politics?"

"Oh, no," Giselle admitted. "We're Jewish."

Tessie's eyes immediately narrowed. Giselle frowned. "Is there something wrong, Tessie?"

Tessie refused to look Giselle in the eye. Instead, she stood and walked out the door.

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"Yes, sir. Of course, Major Connor. We'll see you in ten minutes." Scott grinned and rubbed his hands, another sign that worried Betty. "Bettybettybetty! I just got off the phone with Major Carlton Connor, the head of the Armed Forces Radio Networks. He wants to run our interview with Tessie Heckelsford on every Armed Forces station in the country!" Scott grinned. "The W.E.N.N will get amazing exposure, and maybe even some more government funds."

Betty, for once, shared his enthusiasm. "That's wonderful! The W.E.N.N could use that money, and Giselle will love the publicity."

"Betty!" Giselle hurried over to the station manager and the writer. "I don't know what's wrong! Tessie Heckelsford walked out of my interview!" Tears formed in her blue eyes. "I must have said something wrong. I wish I knew what I did."

Betty and Scott exchanged worried looks. Betty took the upset Frenchwoman into the bathroom, and Scott looked for Tessie.

He found the aviatrix in the Writer's Room, going through the files. "Something wrong, Miss Heckelsford?" Scott asked. "Or do you always walk out of an interview before it's even started?"

Tessie turned around suddenly, her face livid with anger. "Yes!" she said, waving a file. "I will not do an interview with that girl."

"Who, Giselle?" Scott was surprised. "She's a great kid. I mean, she's a little shy around new people, but I'm sure she'll loosen up once she gets going."

"She's Jewish," Tessie spat.

Scott shrugged. "So what?"

"I refuse to work with a foreign Jew girl."

Scott glared at her. "You've visited the continent. It didn't bother you when you were taking every French air force pilot you could get in your plane for a loop." He noticed the file in her hand. "What are you doing in here?"

"You know how high anti-Jewish sentiment runs in America," Tessie hissed. "Major Connor could have you taken off the air if he finds out..."

"Eddie Cantor and Jack Benny are Jewish, and I don't see anyone protesting their shows or their networks," Scott pointed out. "This is America. Sure, there are some people who'll care if Giselle is Jewish, but most folks only want to hear a good interview with an interesting personality." He looked at his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time? Now that we've cleared that up, Miss Heckelsford, let's get back into the studio. Major Connor will be here in ten minutes."

Tessie didn't move. "You people really are naÔve." She threw the file at him and stormed out of the writer's room. "There is no way I'm going back in that studio. Not with that Jew."

Scott followed her. "We could have someone else interview you."

"Like your wife who looks like me? No thank you. That spooked me enough." She stopped at Gertie's desk and asked her to call her a taxi.

Scott pulled the wire out of the hole. Both women glared at him. "Miss Heckelsford, this is a silly thing to get upset about. You've seen dozens of different people and have been everywhere. What's different about Giselle?"

She ignored him and replaced the wire.

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"Scott, this is crazy!" Betty protested as Hilary re-did her make-up. Her daughter Agatha watched. "Not only am I not Tessie Heckelsford, but I'm eight months pregnant!"

"Mommy pretty," Agatha stated proudly. She picked up an eye shadow and smeared it across her cheek. "Me pretty!"

Scott gathered the toddler and wiped the power off. "Sorry, little lady, but you're too small for make-up. That's for big ladies." He nodded at his wife. "See, Betty? Even Aggie thinks you look swell!"

"The only thing that's swelled is my stomach," Betty complained. "Thanks for loaning me this dress, Hilary, and for going all the way back to your house to get it."

"You're welcome, Betty." She put the last brush in her make-up case and stood. "I'm finished, Betty. Frankly, I'd rather have Giselle interview you than that anti-Semitic airborne hussy anyhow. You're less likely to make a pass at Jeff...um," she quickly added as Betty glared, "pass scandalous stories through the airwaves."

Maple finished her coffee. She'd just gotten off of work at the airplane plant and was getting caught up on the news. "Scott, how are you going to get her girth around Connor? He's a major, you know, not an idiot."

"Piece of cake!" Scott explained. "We'll have her and Giselle sit behind two high desks. Not only will it look particularly impressive, it'll keep Betty's blessed event under wraps."

Betty sighed. "And how am I going to answer the questions? I don't know what Tessie Heckelsford likes, or what her opinions are!"

"I thought you said Tessie Heckelsford was one of your idols," Scott reminded her.

"I could get you the Pittsburgh Gazette if you want to know her opinions," Hilary added. "She's not exactly quiet on her views of women in the military and how the top brass treats the ladies who bring them lunch."

Giselle had been very quiet throughout the conversation. Betty knew she was still shocked over Tessie's reaction to her religion. Maple shrugged when she heard what happened. "Don't sweat it, Giselle. If she's gonna act like you're not human just because you ain't the same as she is, she ain't worth interviewing."

"I lost WENN publicity," she whispered. "We won't get the money. The Major will see through us."

"Quit worrying, Gis," Scott scolded lightly. "We've pulled off crazier stunts than this."

"Ain't that the truth!" Maple added with a grin. "If I had a dime for every crazy thing that went on here, I'd own this place instead of work in it."

Agatha tried to get out of her father's arms. "Down, Daddy. Wanna in'view, too."

Scott shook his head as he walked out of the room. "No, sweetie, Mommy's doing the interview with Aunt Giselle. We need to fool a very important man into giving us money for the W.E.N.N."

Betty took a deep breath. "This is crazy, Giselle." She exhaled and smiled. "I kind of like it, though." She leaned on the table. "So this is what it feels like to be a bad girl."

"A bad girl?" Giselle repeated.

Betty nodded. "Ever since I was a child, I was always the good one, the one who never kissed on the first date, or even the second, who never fooled around, who always got As on every test and never pinched peanuts from Morrow's Nut House."

Betty jumped as the baby kicked. She rubbed her mostly concealed belly. I'm sorry, little one, she internally apologized. Mommy got involved in one of Daddy's hair-brained schemes again. She jumped once more when Scott, with Agatha still on one arm, walked into the control room with a dignified-looking man in uniform.

"I'd really rather meet Miss Heckelsford in person, Mr. Sherwood," Major Connor said as he took a chair.

"Miss Heckeslford is a very busy woman," Scott insisted. "She has to leave right after the broadcast." He nodded at his daughter. "Right, Aggie?"

"Mommy!" Aggie squealed. She pointed to the two women in the studio. "Dat's Mommy."

"I wasn't aware that Miss Heckelsford had children," the Major said.

Scott inwardly grimaced, but showed the Major a smile. "My daughter was saying that her mommy is going to take her out to dinner after the interview. Right, Aggie?"

Aggie pointed at the studio again. "Mommy!"

Thankfully, Lester signaled the beginning of the interview. Betty sighed and read the questions, always reminding herself that she was playing a part, even if that part was of a real person. She was too nervous to breathe for the first five minutes of the fifteen-minute interview, and the baby kicked twice, but it mostly seemed to work. The Major watched with major interest. Scott looked pained the whole time. Aggie giggled and played with her favorite soft football.

Betty began to worry when the program concluded and the major didnít move. She could see Scott attempt to shoo Connor out of the control room before she came out. "I haven't met Miss Heckelsford yet!" he exclaimed.

"You can meet her another time," Scott insisted as Betty and Giselle snuck out of the studio. "Right now, we need to discuss the amount of money you're granting the W.E.N.N."

Major Connor caught sight of the two women as they made a beeline for the bathroom. Agatha saw them, too. "Mommy!" she squealed. "Mommy an' Aunt Giselle!"

"Oh, is that your Mommy, young lady?" the Major asked interestedly. "I thought it was Miss Heckelsford."

Giselle and Betty exchanged looks. "I think the, how you say it, waltz is up," Giselle moaned.

"I wasn't aware that Miss Heckelsford was starting a family," the Major asked amusedly.

Betty sighed. "She's not. My name is Betty Sherwood." Scott gave her a look, but Betty shook her head. "Scott, we have nothing to lose by telling the truth." She turned to the Major. "We don't deserve that money. You wanted Tessie Heckelsford on the Armed Forces Radio, not the head writer of a minor Pittsburgh station."

"On the contrary, Mrs. Sherwood," Major Connor assured her, "you're more than deserving of that money. The W.E.N.N is one of the most-listened-to stations in the Armed Forces Radio Network. Our boys never know what they're going to hear next!"

"Neither do we," Betty muttered. "What about Tessie Heckelsford? The interview was with me, not her."

"Confidentially, Mrs. Sherwood," Major Connor confessed, "I was almost completely fooled by your wife. And if you took in an old Army man, I don't think it'll be hard to pull the wool over the eyes of the entire Armed Services. We'll just make sure to put a 'by proxy' warning in front of the interview to let the GI's know that it's not quite the real thing."

"Good," said Betty with a grin. "See, Scott? Even majors in the United States Army believe that it's important to put legal warnings in front of their shows." Scott humphed but said nothing.

Aggie giggled. "Mommy on rad'o!"

"That's right, Aggie," Scott said as he handed his daughter to her mother, "Mommy was on the radio. Mommy's famous." He kissed his wife on the cheek. "Just let me negotiate with the Major for a few minutes, girls, and we'll take this famous radio aviatrix out to dinner."

Betty sighed and carried her daughter to the Writer's Room. She set her on the blanket on the floor where she played. As she put Agatha down, she noticed that several of the file drawers were jutting open. She went to close them when she saw that a couple of folders were missing, mostly folders of bills and office correspondence. Betty searched all over the room, but could find no trace of them.

She frowned. "Aggie," she complained to the toddler playing with the fat stuffed bear next to the desks, "files don't walk away! They have to be somewhere!"

"'Kay, Mommy," Aggie said.

Betty shrugged. "There wasn't much that was important in them, anyway. I'd just like to know how a bunch of folders can completely vanish."

"Poof! Go bye-bye!" giggled Aggie. She tried to stand and grab hold of the file cabinet. "Lady go bye-bye."

Betty shook her head. "Not now, Aggie. Mommy needs to catch up on her scripts."

"But Mommy..." Aggie began.

"Later, dear," Betty murmured, "after Mommy's done with 'Sam Dane, Private Eye'."

Agatha's only response was to throw the football at her mother and giggle.

To Be Continued...

This war won't last forever...

Who took the files from the writer's room? Why was Tessie in the files? Was she trying to prove Giselle's religion, or was she after something else? Was Giselle the only reason she canceled the interview? Or does it have to do with something else? Are Betty's dummy messages going to work? What will the Sherwoods' new baby be like? Where the heck is Victor?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

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