July 18th, 1945
Scott settled at his desk with a big smile on his face. Two of the American theater's most important people sat in his office. Well, Leonard Bialston sat, a little nervously. His buxom blonde wife Caroline reclined. She didn't look nervous at all. Scott suspected that Bialston was more worried about his wife's rumored affairs than the deal they were cutting.
"Look, Mr. Sherwood," Bialston explained, "I've produced five hit musicals on Broadway, but I've never done radio before. I'd like to start small, and this nice little station is exactly what I had in mind."
"That's all right, Mr. Bialston," Scott reassured the shy, diminutive man. He was the greatest possible contrast to his spouse, whose expensive, flame-red dress conveniently revealed quite a bit of bosom. "Radio is a new frontier for you, which is why we should get together. You've got the cash, the connections, and the name recognition. We have the experience, the station, and the willingness to experiment."
"It's not really an experiment," Leonard started timidly, but Caroline interrupted.
"It ain't like we're doing stuff in a laboratory," she scolded. "The actors are just reading your plays. That ain't experimenting."
"Carrie, I've never done radio before. I just want to try a new medium." He sighed. "I envy your Victor Comstock. I offered him a job in my stage producing company, but he insisted that his future was in radio." The small, black-haired man smiled. "Victor used to talk about all the wonderful things he could do on radio that I couldn't do on the stage. Radio is intimate, small. It's so different from what I normally do."
"What's wrong with what you normally do?" Caroline asked. "I dance for sold-out crowds six nights a week in Bialston's Beauties, and your revival of Suzy is booked solid until next October! New York ain't complaining about what you normally do! Why should you?"
"And they're fine shows, too," Scott added quickly, though he'd never heard of either of them. Broadway was Hilary's department. He only knew that Carrie and Leo Bialston were two of the most recognized names in the production of quality plays, musicals, and revivals in the US. "I'm sure they'll run for years." He put his arms around both producers. "How would you two like a tour of our station?"
Caroline eyed him with interest. She batted her eyes and ignored Leo's pained look. "I'd love that, Mr. Sherwood. It would be so faci-ate-ing to learn more about you..." Leo cleared his throat. Caroline glared at him. "...and your staff."
Scott sighed as he directed the Bialstons to the green room to meet some of the officers remaining in the Pittsburgh Canteen. He had no desire to get involved in a domestic dispute, especially with Betty out for the next few weeks to care for their newborn son Peter. The war seemed to finally be grinding to a close, and he didn't want to start another one.
Gertie sighed. In addition to the usual complaints about Hilary and Jeff's alternating between baby-talk mush and screams so loud they damaged a few consoles, the phone was ringing off the hook about Scott's newest WENN program. "Hello, WENN. Yes, 'Bialston Radio Theater' will be starting tomorrow night at 8 PM." She cringed at a squawk from the radio. Hilary must have read her script for "The Hands of Time".
"Brent," Hilary's voice complained, "you can't be running off with Captain Amazon! What about our life together? We were going to go back to Bayport and raise our child!"
Gertie rolled her eyes. She was counting the days until Betty came back and Scott relinquished the typewriter. He tended to make every WENN show into an action vehicle, whether it was one or not. He also liked to stick characters from one show into another. He called it a 'crossover.' Gertie just thought it strange to find Captain Amazon and his Sky Plane aiding Elizabeth and Brent's perpetual marital troubles. Hilary was ready to throttle him.
Betty visited a few times with baby Peter, who was completely adorable. Agatha and Ophelia were enchanted by the tiny, black-haired creature. Agatha was at home with her mother. She wouldn't leave her brother's side. "Peter little," she insisted. "Aggie big. Aggie help Mommy."
Maple hurried through the door at that moment. She barely had time to breathe "Hiya, guys!" before she rushed into the writer's room to get her script from Scott, and then rushed into Studio B to do the evening news with Mackie.
Gertie sighed again. "Tom," she said to Mr. Eldridge, who was reading the Pittsburgh Gazette, "I'm worried about Maple."
"What's wrong with our Maple?" Mr. Eldridge asked. "She looked fine to me." He gazed down the hall. "What I saw of her, anyway."
"That's the problem," Gertie admitted. "She won't slow down! She does the morning shows, goes to the McDougal Munitions Factory to work in the evening, comes back here to do her night shows, and starts all over again the next morning! If she keeps this up, she'll be burnt out by the end of the war!"
"I think that's what she's trying to do," Mr. Eldridge explained. "She's doing everything as fast as she can, so she has no time to think of Victor, or their life together."
Scott came down the hall with the Bialstons at that point. "I'm glad we decided to do business, Mr. Bialston. You won't regret it."
Caroline got as close to Scott as possible without annoying Leo. "I certainly haven't regretting meeting you, Mr. Sherwood." She giggled. "Or can I call you Scott?"
Scott moved away. "You can call me Mr. Sherwood."
Leo shook his hand. "Thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Sherwood. You have no idea what this means to me, and to Caroline."
Scott returned the gesture. "Aww, it's nothing, Mr. Bialston." He grinned in Caroline's direction. "And call me Scott." Caroline pouted, but said nothing.
"Scott, that's wonderful!" Betty exclaimed that night in their tiny Isabella Street apartment. Scott was eating dinner with Agatha and Betty was feeding Peter. "Leo Bialston is one of the most popular producers on the New York stage. He hasn't done a show yet that wasn't a hit. His wife Caroline Cartier is Broadway's biggest star. Both of the productions she's appeared in have run over a thousand performances, and they weren't exactly On the Town. They wouldn't have gotten past opening night without Miss Cartier."
Aggie laughed as her daddy tried to get her to eat peas. "Here comes the plane for my little lady!" Scott made airplane noises and swung the spoon around, trying to keep the olive-green mush from joining most of Aggie's dinner on the floor. He had no intention of telling Betty that Caroline Cartier tried to come on to him. He didn't need to worry her.
"Scott?" Betty asked over the suckling noises made by her week-old son. Scott smiled at the two. He was proud of both of them. The birth was smooth sailing. Peter Rupert Sherwood was quieter than his sister, and though he cried as much as any baby, it didn't seem as loud as Aggie's wailing was. He was also smaller than Aggie, with the same black hair and blue eyes that would turn to brown.
"And now the airport hanger opens..." Scott dive bombed Aggie's mouth. She happily opened her lips, and he popped the spoon in the hole. "Yes, Betty?"
"You have remembered to put the coded dummy messages into all those adventure stories you're writing, right?"
Scott took the spoon out of Aggie's mouth. She clapped her hands and laughed. "More, Daddy!"
"Oh, now you want to eat," Scott grumbled. He nodded at his wife as he dipped the spoon into the bowl of mashed carrots Betty made for Aggie. "Yes, Betty, I've remembered to put the messages in. The government would have a fit if I forgot." He got the spoon into Aggie's mouth without the use of airplane sounds. "Not to mention you'd have a fit. I know you're listening to the station when Peter's sleeping."
Aggie yawned as Scott wiped her face. "I think a little lady is sleepy," he announced. "Time for bed."
"No bed," Aggie exclaimed, but she yawned again. "No s'eep."
"Daddy will turn on the radio," Scott reassured her, "so you'll have some company."
"Daddy s'eep?" Aggie asked as Scott placed her in her crib.
"Daddy will be going to bed soon, too," he told the toddler.
"Mommy s'eep? Peter s'eep?"
"Mommy will put Peter to bed later. He sleeps at different times than you do."
"Peter cry! No s'eep!"
Scott chuckled. He handed Aggie her favorite teddy bear, Grover, and switched on the big radio next to her bed. "Peter sleeps most of the time," he explained. "He's just a baby. Babies cry to tell mommies and daddies that something's wrong."
Aggie snuggled under the pale pink knit blanket Grandma Laura gave her last Christmas. "'Night, Daddy."
Scott smiled as he watched the tired girl fall asleep. Betty joined him, cradling Peter in her arms.
July 20th, 1945
Maple wearily entered the green room. As much as she was looking forward to doing that classy new show, she didn't know if she could pull it off. She was tired. She didn’t mind living at Hilary's place, or helping with Lia when she could. Lia was a real baby doll.
It was her other jobs. She'd never worked in a factory before, though she'd dated guys who had. Doing WENN and babysitting Lia was tiring enough. The factory work was crazy. She pitied the girls who worked there all day, instead of just a few hours. The working conditions were atrocious. There were accidents almost every day. Some of the girls lost their hair or fingers when they were caught in the machine, which was one of the reasons she got her red locks and long fingernails cut as quickly as possible.
Much to her surprise, she wasn't the only person in the room. A small man with black hair stared morosely at a cup of coffee. Maple was sure she knew him from somewhere. "Oh, my...it can't be..." She grinned. "Leo Bialston! I ain't seen you since I left Brooklyn. Whatcha' doin' here?"
Leo's face lit up when he saw Maple. "Hey, you're Annie Murdock, the best darn piano player at the Royale Theater? Geeze, the last time I saw you, I was doing the ol' soft shoe with Carrie, and you were going around, saying how you were going to make it big on your own." He looked her over. "I almost didn't recognize you with the hair. You haven't had hair that short since you were a kid."
"That was a sixteen year old talking," Maple grumbled. "I'm callin' myself Maple LaMarsh now. Well, Maple Comstock. My husband's...overseas." She cleared her throat. "Congrats on your marriage to Carrie. You two were always great together. You had the best Fred-and-Adele act in Brooklyn."
Leo's eyes got misty. "I wish we were still great together." He stared at his coffee. "Caroline used to flirt with guys when we had the act. Hell, she flirted with anything in pants. It never really bothered me then, because I knew that she never meant it, and she'd always come back to me in the end." He sighed. "Now, I'm not so sure." He added a river of cream, though his coffee already looked more beige than brown. "I'd like to say that I don't love her, but I do. All she ever does is correct me. I've given her two hit shows with her name above the title and everything money can buy, and it's still not enough. We don't talk to each other like we did when we were touring. She'd rather be shopping with her hoity-toity friends."
Maple sighed and took the cream server away from him. "Leo, are you gonna drink coffee, or are you gonna drink cream?"
Leo looked up at her, hope in his eyes. "Hey, Annie...uh, Maple, do you want to go out and discuss old times? I haven't seen anyone from the old days in Brooklyn in years. I can only take so much of Caroline's la-de-dah society friends before I want to jump out a window."
Maple checked her watch. "Sure. I ain't needed here for a while." She went to get her hat. "There's a great bar called O'Malley's down the street. They've got swell pina coladas."
"I think I'll just settle for a beer and some friendly conversation. It feels like forever since I've had either." Leo took her arm. "Shall we, Maple?"
Scott clacked away at the typewriter. He was having fun, writing all the scripts. John Bonnis, the suave English spy Betty originally created for "Valiant Journey", was going to rescue archeologist Sally Carter from an insane Egyptian mummy on 'Our Fleeting Passion', while Rance Shiloh was going to travel to the future to help his great-grandson Sam Dane with an important case. He couldn't figure out why Betty didn't play with the characters more. He had plans for Polly Mayard of 'Times Square' to appear as a singer on 'The Lady and the Drifter', and for Fife and Dime to bumble through 'Big Joe Loves Little Jo' as a pair of kindly but inept carpenters. Very exciting!
He jumped when he heard the knock on the door. The last time he'd just let someone in, that someone was a vengeful, gun-toting Pavla Nemcova. "Who is it?"
The door opened without his consent. Caroline Cartier Bialston leaned against the wall, looking sensual and slinky in her feather-trimmed pink silk gown. Her long blonde hair swished gracefully around her neck. "Hello, tall, dark, and gorgeous," she breathed. "Wanna dump this trash heap and go downtown? I know a place that serves an absolutely fabulous cock-a-vin. We could get to know each other better."
Scott shook his head. "Sorry, Mrs. Bialston, but I've got work to do. Our leading lady will turn me into cock...whatever if I don't get this to her shortly."
Caroline draped herself over Scott's lap. "Aw, come on, Scott. You can leave the typewriter for an hour."
Scott stretched his arms around her and began typing. "You don't know Hilary Booth Singer."
Caroline shook her head. "Actually, I do know Hilary Booth. Or, I did, many years ago. I was understudying the fourth lead in 'The Rivals'. She was a fabulous actress and major pain in the rear end. She screamed at everyone, including me. Nothing ever satisfied her. If someone even looked like they could possibly outshine her, she had their part cut down to nothing." She got so close to Scott, he could smell her heavy perfume. "Come on, Scotty," she whispered in his ear. "You know you want to cut out of here. We could go out dancing, maybe go for walk down Isabella Street."
"My, my," said an all-too-familiar voice, "isn't this an attractive scene?" Hilary Booth Singer stood in the open doorway, holding a script. "I came to voice my concerns about today's episode of 'The Hands of Time', but I can see that your hands are already occupied."
Scott shoved Caroline off his lap so hard that she landed on the floor in a flurry of pink feathers. "Ooohh, that hurt!" The scorned wife rubbed her sore buttocks. "Scotty, sweetie, why did you do that? I won't be able to sit down for a week, and I snagged one of my best silk dresses!"
"Don't call me sweetie!" Scott growled. He grabbed his cane to steady himself. "I've known you two days, and all you've done is insult your husband and throw yourself at me. In case you haven't noticed, we're both married." He rubbed his thigh. "Besides, you're heavier than you look. My wound's throbbing."
"Just because you've got a ring doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself," Caroline whined. "Leo never wants to do anything. All he does is work on his stupid shows. He says he does them for me, but where is he when I want to dance, or when I want to go to the Rainbow Room and listen to Tommy Dorsey? We haven't slept in the same bed in two months."
Hilary frowned. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" She made a face at the overdressed woman. "Have you ever made a pass at my Jeffrey?"
Caroline turned on a sticky grin. "Why, Miss Hilary Booth! I haven't seen you in years! We worked in 'The Rivals' together. You were just divine in that part! I'm Caroline Cartier, of course."
"Of course," Hilary said. "Pardon me for saying so, but, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be appearing in a scanty costume in a bad show on Broadway, not on our married station manager's lap?"
"Caroline!" Maple Comstock and Leo Bialston pushed their way into the writer's room. "What are you doing here?" He hiccuped. "And on the floor, too!" He giggled. "Is this where you plan on practicing for tonight's performance? Or are we gonna hold the show right here?" His Brooklyn accent was thicker than Maple's, and he was slurring every other word.
Maple had to hold onto his shoulder to keep him from joining Mrs. Bialston. "Don't look at me, Scotty. I had half a beer. He had three beers and finished mine. He had a lot to get off his chest, believe me."
Leo flung his arms around Maple, sending both of them crashing into the file cabinet. "Annie and I are old friends," he slurred. "We're talkin' about the good ol' days, when Carrie liked me and we were in vaudeville." He sighed dramatically. "Those were the days, weren't they, Carrie? You never wore pink silk then unless you were doin' a mumber wit' me. You looked like a woman, not a flamingo."
"Leo, why would you wanna remember those days?" she asked. "We didn't have any money. All we ever did was travel and perform. Your mother made all our costumes, and we lived with my Aunt Grace for four years, until you produced your first hit show. The smell of the place alone make me ill."
"Carrie, we were happier then," Leo exclaimed. "We talked to each other. We ain't even sharin' rooms now. We had the same bed, the same closet. We listened, and we didn't fight like we do now. We were closer. Sure, we didn't live in some fancy penthouse, and didn't have our name in lights, but we were a team." He nodded at Maple. "Annie's better off than we are. She ain't rich, but she's living with a nice lady and her family, and she likes workin' here."
Maple nodded. "Leo's been telling me that you two are having problems."
Scott looked at his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time? Sorry, folks, but we need to take these problems into Studio A for the premiere of 'Bialston Radio Theater', the most exciting thing to hit radio since Orson Welles broadcasted a real Martian invasion."
"But it wasn't a real invasion," Hilary pointed out. "It was just an adaptation of a novel."
Scott waved her away. "Sure, Hildy. Now, Mr. Bialston, we'll go see..."
Leo Bialston collapsed on top of his wife. Caroline let out a squeak of surprise and took him in her arms. "...the writer's room floor," Scott concluded.
Scott emerged from control room to join the cast, who were celebrating the mostly successful send-off of "Bialston Radio Theater" while Eugenia and her eight-year-old daughter Mary played showtunes on the Wurlitzer.
"I don't know what was in those beers, Maple, but Leo Bialston is still out cold," Scott reported. "Caroline had Gertie call a taxi to get both of them back to New York. She gives her and Leo's apologies for missing the broadcast. They may be able to catch one next month. She wants to go to Flatbush to spend time in her aunt's old flat and see if they can put some heat back into that iceberg of a marriage."
"I know how she feels, in a way," Jeff admitted. "Hilary and I went through the same thing for years."
"We did not!" Hilary snapped. "Besides, I was never as low on the social scale as that pink-feathered, glitter-spangled tramp."
Jeff ignored Hilary. "I flirted a lot, but only to make Hilary jealous. I thought it was the only way she'd ever notice me."
Hilary took Jeff's hand in hers. "Pumpkin, I've always noticed you. I've just didn't know if I could trust you." She sighed. "I'm not the easiest person to get along with."
"Why, Hilary," joked Scott, "we never knew!"
Hilary rolled her eyes as the green room echoed with laughter. "Maple," she said as the chortles died down, "what did you and Leo discuss in O'Malley's that convinced him to imbibe three and a half beers?"
"His wife, mostly." Maple added sugar to her coffee. "The show, a little. He's really nervous about radio, but he's mostly scared to death that Caroline would leave him for someone with more thrills and more dollar bills."
"I got the same deal from Caroline," Scott told them. "She complained that he was too busy for her."
"The only thing he’s going to be once he wakes up is hung over," said Mackie with a grin. "If he’s not sick on her lap on the way home."
Scott looked at his watch. "Would you look at the time? Hilary, Jeff, Mackie, you three are due on the air for ‘Rance Shiloh’, and I’m due at home for Aggie’s feeding."
Scott didn’t leave the station right away. He went to the writer’s room first to add another code to the "Lady and the Drifter" script, this one to alert Jacqueline Bedeux, Jeff, and Betty that he’d received information about their quarry. "The Fox" was said to be in the area. This "Fox" was the supposed ring leader of the gang that included Rollie Pruitt, Kurt Holstrom, Paula Nelson (Pavla Nemcova’s real British name), Perry Dawson, and Trina Gordon. Scott shuddered to write those people’s names in one sentence. All of those people harmed, or tried to harm, him and his loved ones, including the station.
It was payback time. Betty wasn’t the only one who was tired of finding themselves at the end of a gun. Scott wanted his family and co-workers to be left in peace. Going on the offensive was his idea. Jacquie hadn’t liked it, but if it would trap "The Fox", it was worth it.
This war won't last forever...
To be continued...
What does Scotty mean by "going on the offense"? What’s his big idea? Who is the mysterious "Fox", and what do they have planned for the WENN?
On the Edge of the Precipice Series
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