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Wars and Lovers

By Emma Redmer

Rated: PG

Disclaimer is on the Introduction page.

Italics denotes thoughts


11:02 PM, August 19th, 1942

Victor Comstock sat in the smoky, hazy bar on the edge of El Amihem, Tunsia, feeling like the whole world was tumbling down around him. The sound of battle and bullets and death could be heard almost perfectly from the sand dunes outside of town. Victor had thought of enlisting, but he knew that the military would never permit it of him. His injuries and so-called "amnesia" after the London Blitz would cause him to be rejected instantly. He called to the large, round Frenchman who ran the bar with an iron fist and a barrage of French and Arabic curses. "Pierre," he shouted, "bring me another round of the good Scotch, please." The bar was so noisy that the only way the burly drink mixer could hear anyone was if they raised their voice to sound-barrier breaking levels.

Victor read and re-read the letter that he received a month before and the small photo and article he had clipped from a Pittsburgh newspaper that his commanding officer had given him, knowing how homesick he was. The headline looming over the short story was enough to make Victor's eyes tear and his poor heart break all over again. It said, in strong, black letters, WENN HEAD WRITER AND ARMY OFFICER WED ON STATION PROGRAM.

He gulped his drink and added to the continuously growing line of shot glasses in front of him. The letter from Betty had come exactly a month ago, around the same time he read the article, but it was dated June 9th, before her and Scott's wedding.

Dear Victor;

I have something to tell you. I accepted Scott Sherwood's proposal of marriage. Victor, you are a man I truly admire and respect. You taught me much of what I know about the radio and show business, and you showed me the possibilities in this wonderful "Theater of the Mind" that we both love so very much. However, as much as I love you and care about you, our relationship seems to have come to an impasse. You're never here when I need you to be, and Scott has gone out of his way to make sure he's by my side whenever possible. I've grown up a lot since you departed for London two years ago. I'm not the girl you left behind. I've changed, and the way I feel about you has changed with me. In short, while I don't desire to become your wife, I do desire to remain your friend and protégé and I continue to wish for your safe return to Pittsburgh and WENN.

I love you,
Betty Roberts

Victor stared at the letter. I thought we had something, the broken-hearted broadcaster inwardly wailed. I thought our relationship was special. I knew that Sherwood had a thing for her, but until he confronted me about that job in London, I didn't believe that he was serious.

It wasn't that he disliked Sherwood. He was nice enough and his dedication to the station was admirable. It was just that Sherwood didn't appear to be the type of man who would care for a girl like Betty. Sherwood was brash and loud and untrustworthy, the kind of fellow who usually avoided smart small-town beauties like Betty, Betty Sherwood. He yelled for another Scotch as a tall, pretty young woman in an USO uniform sat down next to him at the bar. "And make it a double," he added sadly as he folded up the letter and stuffed it back in his pocket.

"I'll have the same," shouted the young woman beside him in a highly familiar Brooklyn accent. It was a voice that reminded Victor of Pittsburgh, home, and WENN. He finally turned to face the beaming redhead who enveloped him in an enormous hug.

"Hiya, Vic!" exclaimed Maple "Miss Experience" LaMarsh, the lovely former burlesque performer who had once plied her trade for WENN. Victor felt overwhelmed. It might have been the liquor, or sight of the voluptuous frame that even a uniform was unable to conceal, or perhaps it was simply that he needed a friend from home desperately at that moment, but Victor found himself hugging her back. "How are ya? How's the correspondent job? Have you covered any really big battles yet?"

Victor nodded enthusiastically. He was more than happy to talk about his work, especially his radio work. He described the battles he'd seen and written and spoken about for the BBC and the W.E.N.N. Maple was entranced by his tales. Victor had always loved telling stories and making speeches. He won first prize in the speaking contest four years running at the St. Andrew's Home for Boys. With his tongue loosened by the Scotch, he gestured, embellished, and even inserted sound effects at appropriate moments.

"Gee," Maple gasped when he finally finished, "you tell stories even better than Scotty does. The only big difference between Scotty's stories and yours is that yours are probably true."

"Of course they're true," snapped Victor. "The truth is just as exciting as anything anyone, including that blasted Sherwood, could invent!" He immediately regretted his rash words. Maple looked away from him and called to Pierre for another double. Victor hadn't meant to be so blunt to her. It just came out that way. "Plan on drinking yourself under the table tonight, Miss LaMarsh?"

"Yeah," the young woman muttered, "and I wouldn't mind staying there, either."

"I think I'll join you," Victor added. He screamed to Pierre to bring them more doubles, but the big bartender ignored him.

"Let me handle this one, Vic," Maple said, "I'm a master at getting people's attention." She got up on the bar and shrieked "Hey, Kahib, over here!" She tottered and fell onto Victor. They both went crashing to the floor. Pierre watched them laugh and shakily pick themselves up and back onto the stools. He just shook his head in annoyance. Maple gave him her order and they returned to their conversation.

"What brings you here to El Amihem, Miss LaMarsh?" Victor asked as Kahib served them their Scotch doubles. "The last time I heard from you, you were quite happily working for WENN as an actress. Did you have a falling-out with the station?"

Maple shook her head. "No, nothing like that, Vic. I just decided that my true calling was amusing all the servicemen who missed their honeys back home. I watched my boys at the Pittsburgh Canteen and listened to them applaud me and give me victory signs. I thought, wouldn't it be swell if I could do this not just for Pittsburgh, but for all the G.I Joes who need the sight of a dame to remind me of home. So, I joined the Pittsburgh USO troop. This is our final stand in North Africa. We ship out to Russia tomorrow, and I heard something about maybe going to Japan." She sighed. "The trouble is, I miss my boys and WENN and Scott and Betty and heck, even Hilary. I didn't think I would, but I do."

Victor gently placed his hand on hers. "You're doing a very noble thing, Miss LaMarsh. It's the noblest thing anyone could do. You gave up the position you held with the men at WENN to dedicate yourself to an even greater cause." He took another swig of Scotch. "And, actually, I prefer being referred to by my correct name, Victor."

A rowdy customer knocked into Victor at that moment, dislodging a piece of worn paper from his pocket. Maple picked it up off the floor and read its contents before Victor could stop her. She looked up at him with genuine sympathy in her eyes when she finished.

"No wonder you want to get drunk," Maple murmured. "Betty and Scott finally tied the knot."

Victor grabbed the letter from her. "It's none of your business."

Maple put a comforting hand on his arm. "Look, Vic...tor, if you wanna cry on my shoulder, go right ahead. The guys at the station and the troops at the Pittsburgh Canteen used to spill their guts to me whenever they had problems with their women or their commanding officer or whaddeva. I'm always handling other people's troubles. I could probably start an 'advice to the lovetorn' collumn in the newspaper if I could spell and write half-way decent."

Victor wasn't going to talk to her about his feelings for Betty at first. It really wasn't any of her business, and he was accustomed to dealing with his life on his own. He'd never felt this way about any woman, though, not even Grace Cavendish, and he wasn't sure how to handle Betty's rebuff. He took another gulp at his shot glass as Maple screamed for more Scotch and said "Well, Miss LaMarsh, it's very complicated. I first met Betty when she won that script-writing contest in the fall of 1939, as I believe Betty has revealed to you, but I didn't realize how much I truly cared about her until I had to leave the station for London. She and her brilliance and dedication were always there, and I guess I never really noticed until it was gone..."


1:21 AM, August 20th, 1942

The old French priest watched to twosome stumble their way into the tiny, aging church that had been set up to convert those heathen Muslims to Christianity. The pretty red-haired woman in the American USO uniform and her tall, balding companion were most certainly inebriated, the man especially. They ran into the building and collapsed onto a splintering wood pew.

"Are they gone, Vic?" the lady asked breathlessly.

"Yeth," slurred the man, "we sure took care of those bloody, no-good Nazzis, didn't we, Miss Experience?"

"Vic-Vic, we know each other too well by now," the lady giggled, "you can call me Maple. Or, since you're so big on using real names, you can call me Anna. That's my real name. Maple's just my stage non-del-pluff."

"The word is mom-day-pume," the man laughed. He looked around in a daze. "Now, Anna, what were we doing before those silly Nazzis chased us out of Pierre's wonderful establithment?"

"Drinking, I think."

"No, before that."

"We were talkin' bout getting hitched, since I don't have no one permanent and you're all upthet about Betty turning you down and we're both real lonesome."

"Where are we now, my Miss Anna Maple Experience LaMarch?"

"Ya know, Victor, I think we landed in a church."

"How extrordriny! Oh, mister priest," Victor called over to the weary reverent, "we'd like to get hitched. Now, if possible, 'cause Anna's shipping out with her USO troop tomorrow morning."

The priest raised his eyebrows. He'd performed many similar nuptials with equally drunken couples, but the female half being the one who had to leave in the morning was a rather rare thing indeed. "Very well, Monsieur, I will perform the ceremony. Sign these papers, and I will say the sacred vows."

"Do you, Victor James Comstock, take Anna Maria Murdock as your lawful wife, in sickness and in health..."


7:10 AM, August 20th, 1942

All Victor knew was that his head hurt. No, never mind his head, his whole body felt like it was in the grip of a massive vice. It hurt to simply open his eyes and turn over. He was sweating hot, which didn't help his aches and pains. He had very little memory of the night before from the time he entered Pierre's bar and began to guzzle shot after shot of Scotch. It took the sight of the gorgeous creature with the flowing red curls and the golden ring on his finger to bring back a few vague recollections of last night.

"Good morning, Miss LaMarsh," he greeted her. He put his sore head in his hands. "I have never had such a horrendous hangover in my entire life," the broadcaster moaned. "What did we drink last night?"

"Oh, just a bottle of Scotch." Maple was more used to hangovers than he was. "Here," she said, handing him a mug of some frothy brew, "have a swig of this. All the soldiers in the hotel lobby say it's the perfect cure for a whopping hangover, and considering that you had a good head start on the Scotch before I got to Pierre's joint, I'd say that yours is probably a doozy."

"That's putting it mildly." Victor took the mug from her and gulped it quickly. He made a face and shoved it back into her arms. "Ugh, that stuff is awful!" He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and Maple almost fell over laughing. "What's so hilarious, Miss LaMarsh?"

She was laughing so hard that she had to hang onto the small vanity on the other side of the room. "I wish you could have seen the look on your face when you guzzled that stuff, Victor. It was so funny!"

Victor waited until Maple's hysterical guffawing had subsided to address their wedded state. "Miss LaMarsh, do you have any relatively clear memories of last night at all?"

"A few," she shrugged. "Why? What's wrong?"

Victor showed her the ring on his finger and then indicated hers. "Miss LaMarsh, my head is still quite foggy, but I seem to recall the two of us falling into a church and asking the priest to marry us."

"Yeah, and?" Maple asked as she sat down at the tarnished old wrought-iron vanity and started to pin up her hair. Victor watched her silently for a moment before going on. Maple had beautiful, thick, flame-colored hair, and the variety of coiffures she could create for herself was truly amazing.

"Don't you find our union the least bit disconcerting?"

"Nahh, I ain't never been married before. Who knows, it might be fun." She grinned at him. Her smile made Victor feel even stranger inside than he already felt. "Oh, yeah, and since we're married now, you can call me Maple instead of Miss LaMarsh."

"We haven't really had much of an introduction beyond our 'You've Met Your Match' date and last night," he protested as he sat up in the small brick of a bed. "Look, Maple, it's not that you're unattractive, or that I'm not fond of you. We just haven't had the time to properly court one another and find out about our pasts. Besides, we're so different from one another."

"Ya wanna get to know me better?" Maple asked. She counted off on her fingers before he could answer. "I was born backstage at a vaudeville theater in Hartford, Connecticut, raised in Brooklyn, New York, by my papa, was a member of the family act before I quit school at 16 and stuck out on my own, came to work at WENN in 1940, joined the USO in 1942, got married to you last night, and there you have Maple LaMarsh, alias Anna Maria Murdock, in a nutshell."

"Maple, I really think it would be best if we got this union annulled as quickly as possible," Victor said.

"No can do," Maple explained. "I think we...what's that word, contaminated?...the marriage last night."

Victor hadn't realized until then that he wore nothing but the bed sheets. "We consummated the marriage?" he exclaimed in shock. "I must have been quite inebriated to insist myself upon a defenseless woman."

"Victor, I ain't...uh, I'm not what ya would call defenseless," grinned Maple. Victor's insides got all mushy again.

"Then I would like a divorce, please, Maple."

"Aw, Victor, come on! We went and got hitched, now we might as well go through with everything that goes with it." She kissed him on the lips and handed him his pants. "C'm on, get dressed. I'm leaving in two hours and I'd love it if my husband would send me off."

"You're leaving?"

"You must not remember that part," Maple said as she tossed him his shirt and entered the closet-sized bathroom to get into her uniform. "My USO troop is heading for Russia this morning. It's gonna be swell, Vic. We're gonna perform 'I'll Be Seeing You' and 'I'll See You Again' for the American and Russian G.Is. I heard it's real cold in Russia, colder than Pittsburgh in the winter, even."

Victor got up and into his rumpled clothes. He gazed once more at the ring on his finger. The rings explained why there was no money left in his wallet. He'd most likely used the last of his cash on hand to purchase them. He attempted to remove the gold trinket from his finger, but the darn thing wouldn't budge no matter how hard he pulled. He eventually gave up on it. It must have meant to be there.

Maple came out of the bathroom, not at all resembling the brassy woman he'd met almost a year before. Her uniform was crisp and smart without a hint of a wrinkle. Her hair was bound back in an elegant bun at the back of her head, and she wore very little make-up. "We've gotta go, Vic. I'm gonna be late, and I know my commanding officer won't appreciate that. Sergeant Hogan can be a pain sometimes, but he's really a pussy cat."

Victor followed his new wife out the door. The marriage will last a few months at the most, Victor thought to himself. I'll arrange for our divorce papers as soon as Maple finds out her exact location.

This war won't last forever...

Will Maple and Victor's marriage last, or is it just a temporary alliance created in the need for companionship? What about Betty and Scott? How safe is WENN? How is Giselle working out at her new job? Have Hilary and Jeff killed each other yet?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

Go to On the Edge of the Precipice#6 - Don't Fence Me In!
Go Back to On the Edge of the Precipice#4 - Sentimental Journey!
Go Back to the On the Edge of the Precipice Introduction Page!
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