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Sentimental Journey


By Emma Redmer

Rated: G

Disclaimer is on the Introduction page.

Italics denotes thoughts

June 9th, 1942

Betty sighed and crumpled another unfinished and uninspired letter. The frustrated writer threw the paper into the already overflowing trash can. She had been to contact Victor about her acceptance of Scott's proposal for nearly a month but she still couldn't think of a way to phrase the letter that wouldn't wind up hurting him.

Scott convinced his superior that he could do just as superior work in Pittsburgh as he could in California. His work was secret - it was the one thing he never spoke of to her. The wedding was just a few weeks away. It was going to be performed here in Pittsburgh. Betty would have preferred to be wed in Indiana, but wartime travel restrictions made it impossible to get there. They, like Hilary and Jeff, were having their wedding on "Bridal Bouquet" - it was cheaper than a church.

Betty picked up her pen and began letter number 34.

Dear Victor;

I have something to tell you...

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Maple LaMarsh entered the doorway of WENN wondering if she had done the right thing. She smiled sadly as a burst of music and laughter came from the green room. My boys, she thought, I'm leaving them. They'll have no one to rally behind. They did vote me Miss Victory of 1942, after all. Maple squared her shoulders and wiped her eyes with her white-gloved hand. They're part of the reason you're doing this, remember? she told herself. You're doing this for them, for your country...and for yourself.

"Hello, can I help you?" asked Gertrude Reece, WENN's receptionist. She found herself looking into the face of a lovely redhead in the uniform of an USO performer. The woman's hair was pulled back in a chignon at the base of her neck and she wore very little make-up. "Maple?" she gasped in surprise. "Is that you?"

Maple beamed. "Yeah, Gertie, I went and did it. I joined the local USO troops. We're shipping out in two hours. They said something about Africa..."

Gertie took the young woman's hand. "Oh, I understand. You probably can't tell us your exact location." She sighed. "The boys are going to miss you. We all are."

Maple bit her lip to keep her eyes from tearing again. "I know, Gertie. I'm going to miss all of you, too. This is was the best job I ever had. Heck, I might even miss Hilary."

Gertie grimaced. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far."

Two army officers that Maple knew well came bouncing through the door. They were a pair of Army privates, Josh Manley and Christian Tracer. They had been among the first customers at the Pittsburgh Canteen that was set up in the green room and always clapped the loudest for Maple when she did her numbers or acted on the station. They were an odd couple - one tall, thin, and handsome and the other short, thin, and on the slow side. Josh fancied himself a Bing Crosby and had even dueted with Maple on several occasions, while Chris was more of a clown. The two were best friends from Nebraska and apparently were best friends their entire lives.

Chris nearly passed out when he noticed Maple. He grabbed Josh's arm and stammered, "Hey Josh-boy, do you see what I see?"

Josh squinted at Maple. "Nahh, that can't be Miss Maple LaMarsh, the Sweetheart of the Pittsburgh Canteen, in that uniform? You're not leaving us, are ya?"

Maple shrugged as Betty came up to Gertie with a letter. "Look, it's not that I don't love you guys. You're all swell, really, and you've been so sweet to me. I just feel like I want to do something for all of the boys out there now. I want to share my talents with every lonely service man out there, with every guy who needs to remember the girl he left behind. Besides, I haven't performed on the stage in two years. I don't wanna get rusty."

"But whadda 'bout us?" wailed Chris. "Does this mean you won't sing all them purty songs no more?"

"The tour only lasts for a few months. I'll be back soon." Maple looked away and softly added, "I hope."

Scott joined them. He shot Chris and Josh a look as they gazed thoughtfully at Betty. "Shouldn't you two be performing the 'Army Amusements of 1942' variety show with Eugenia and Mackie right now?" The two took one look at the man who was not only bigger than both of them put together but also a higher-ranking official and scampered off to Studio A.

Betty handed Gertie her letter and gathered her mail of the day. Scott leaned over her shoulder as she gazed at the one letter in her pile. He read the envelope suspiciously. "Victor Comstock?"

Betty nodded. Her heart felt heavy for some reason as she carefully tore open the envelope and read its contents, a single piece of paper.

My Dearest Betty;

I have some discomfiting news for you and for our relationship. I have accepted a post as a war correspondent for the W.E.N.N and am being shipped out on the next plane to Tunsia in less than thirty minutes. However, this does not change my emotions toward you and I await your response to my proposal of our union. The thought of you and your laboring to make the W.E.N.N, the station, and the world a better place is part of what keeps me moving on even the bleakest days, of which there have been many of late.

Sincerely,
Victor Comstock

Scott looked so upset that the three women thought he was going to crumple right then and there. Betty kissed his cheek and took him in her arms to comfort him. "Scott, I'm not going to accept Victor's proposal. I feel sorry for him, but I refuse to constantly play second fiddle to his politics." She didn't feel as confident as she sounded, but she managed to bury the nagging feeling deep within her.

Maple sighed. "Hey, you two love birds, I'm really happy that you're getting married and all, but could you manage to untangle yourselves for a moment and say good-bye to me?"

Scott's eyes became as wide as saucers. "Maple," he exclaimed, "you joined the USO?"

"You're leaving the station?" added Betty in consternation.

"Only for a few months!" Maple reassured them. Neither Betty nor Scott looked convinced. "Yeah, yeah, I know what happened when Jeff said that, you don't have to remind me. I'm going to try to stay alive as best I can. We ain't even going to Europe - we're touring North Africa. My transport leaves in...", she gave her watch a quick peek, "less than two hours now."

"Yeah, but there's still fighting in Africa," Scott reminded her. "Please be careful, Mapes." He let go of Betty and gave Maple a squeeze. "I don't know what I'd do if you went and got yourself killed. You're the closest thing I ever had to a kid sister."

"I'll miss you too, Maple," added Betty. "You're a good performer and a good friend."

Maple smiled. "Thanks, guys. Well," she made for the door of the green room, "I'd better go tell the boys that I'm leaving." She walked into the green room. All eyes immediately turned to her. She took a microphone from Lieutenant Floyd Hopper, a young Navy officer and an ambitious director who had dreams of making a whole movie about the Pittsburgh Canteen. He had been interviewing several of the Canteen regulars to try to get inspiration for a story line to sell to Hollywood. He smiled at Maple, but then noticed how sad she was.

"And this is Miss Maple LaMarsh, Miss Victory of 1942, the Sweetheart of the Pittsburgh Canteen, and the number one pin-up honey of every man in downtown Pittsburgh, our own combination of Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Ann Sheridan."

Maple blushed and nodded at the men assembled around her. "Thanks, Floyd, for that swell intro. It's been really great to know you fellas, and all you WACs and WAVEs, too, but now I feel like I need to share my skills with the whole Armed Forces. I've signed myself up to become the next Marlene Dietrich. I'm going to sing a prayer for all the boys who are already over there."

The green room hadn't been this silent since the night that Victor Comstock and Jeff Singer became trapped in the London Blitz. Maple lifted her voice in a melodious version of "Sentimental Journey".

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June 12th, 1942

Hilary Booth was not a happy camper. She slammed her fist on the desk of the writer's room in annoyance. "If I have to audition with one more fawning, no-talent, no-brain, no-use bimbo who couldn't act her way out of a paper bag, much less one of your scripts..."

Betty handed the justifiably angry (for once) actress a copy of the script of "A Second Chance for Love" that the two women were using for the auditions for a temporary replacement for Maple LaMarsh. They'd read with drama students from Giels Aldrych's academy, several of the WACs and WAVEs who hung out at the Pittsburgh Canteen, and even girls that Betty recognized as friends of Maple's from the Crimson Follies. None had been any good. She sighed. "We have one more applicant, Hilary, and then we'll call it a day." She nodded at the figure in the doorway. "Next!"

"I'm even starting to miss Enid," grumbled Hilary. "At least she could do something that resembled acting. If she hadn't gone and joined the WAVEs in the Pacific the young lass might have become as bright a star as myself some day in the very distant future."

Another young lass entered the room. She was a small, delicate blonde. Her eyes were very large and very bright blue. Her pale jumper and blouse were loose on her thin frame. She couldn't have been any more than nineteen or twenty. She gazed around the room in consternation. "Is this the right room, madames?" she asked in a timid French accent. "The madame at the front desk told me that I audition here, is that correct?"

Betty went to greet the frightened girl. She gazed at the bottom of the pile of references that Gertie had given her that morning. "Yes, this is the audition for the acting position, Miss..."

"Bedeux," the girl said, "Giselle Bedeux."

Hilary offered the young woman her hand. "I'm Hilary Booth, of course. Tell me, Gisette..."

"It's Giselle," she corrected.

"...Gisette," continued Hilary as if the girl hadn't spoken, "did you by any chance happen to see me in 'The Rivals' when the show was in Paris?"

"I'm afraid not, Madame Booth. I lived in Marseilles," explained Giselle. "I've never been to Paris in my life."

"According to this," said Betty, reading Giselle's references, "you're an immigrant from France who just recently received her working papers."

"Oui, mademoiselle," nodded Giselle. "My maman was an actress on stage and the radio. My papa managed a very small radio station and she and I often performed for him. Maman taught me everything I know."

"Well," Betty said, "I don't know how you'll manage with that heavy French accent of yours. Most of our shows call for a much more American type of voice."

"Ooh la la, I can do American accents of all kinds! Papa had friends who were American and they often visited us. I learned about how American people talk from them. It's the only thing about acting that Maman didn't teach me!"

Hilary shot Betty a look. Betty ignored her, handed the young woman the script, and watched her in action. "The role is that of a loose but golden-hearted woman, Lucy Landers, who is confronting her rival Lorna Tanner over the possibility of Lorna being a Nazi spy." She gazed at Giselle nervously. "Do you think you can handle that?"

Giselle smiled. "Oui, mademoiselle, I can try. I did soap operas with Maman in Marseilles, but I always played the child and teenager parts." She picked up the script for "A Second Chance at Love" and read in a flawless mid-western accent, "Lorna Tanner, you vicious witch, how dare you steal the secret plans for the special gunpowder from Special Agent Charles Harris!"

Hilary gasped and said in her best vamp voice, "I never did such a thing! Charles and I were discussing that new movie, 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', over an ice cream soda at the corner drug store!"

"I saw you remove the vial containing the plans from his pocket and then drug his soda, you horrible Nazi saboteur!" screamed Giselle.

Betty and Hilary exchanged looks. Betty was impressed and a little worried. Hilary was unimpressed and very irritated.

"I'm sorry I shouted," whispered Giselle. "The Nazis forced my family out of our home and made my papa give up his radio station. I guess I'm still getting over it."

"That's ok, Giselle, you've got the job," Betty told her.

"What?!" exclaimed Hilary. "This snip of a French floozy..."

"Was I that bad?" asked a fearful Giselle.

"Hilary," scolded Betty, "Giselle was the best actress we've heard all day. I don't know about you, but I have a wedding to prepare for in two weeks and I would very much like to get home to work on it and see my fiancÚ." She turned to Giselle. "We'll see you tomorrow at 7:00 AM sharp. The first show of the day is 'Bedside Manor', in which Jeff and Hilary play themselves. Then there's 'The Hands of Time' at 7:30, followed by 'Our Fleeting Passion' at 7:45..."

This war won't last forever...

Will Giselle work out at her new job? What about Victor and Maple, both of whom could be in peril in darkest North Africa? Will they live through the North African campaigns? Will Scott and Betty ever get married? Does Hilary really have anything to worry about?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

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