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The Mystery of the Codes

By Emma Redmer

Rated: PG

Disclaimer is on the Introduction page.

February 21st, 1943

Betty Sherwood sighed and switched off the radio as Mackie finished with "Colonel Moore at the General Store". Christmas, the Broomes Brothers' children's show, and the birth of Mary Carpenter's son Little Joey seemed like two lifetimes ago, rather than a mere two months. The war wasn't going well for the Allies. Budgetary concerns weighed heavily on both the stations. Jeffrey Singer was growing restless. The War Department was apparently impressed by his record in London during the Blitz and afterward and offered him a job as a war correspondent for the W.E.N.N in the Pacific. Hilary's pregnancy was progressing well...and driving everyone in the station out of their minds. Betty, Giselle, and Eugenia, for the most part, were playing Hilary's roles. Hilary hated having to give up Elizabeth Marlowe and Daphne Danvers, but the doctor wanted her off her feet as much as possible.

The worst part, however, was Scott. Betty was very worried about him. Scott wasn't acting like himself. He seemed to have withdrawn from her. He barely spoke to her outside work. They never had the time to go to the movies or out to dinner. Betty felt as if she was living with a stranger. He'd been grim and very distracted. He never confided in her anymore. He didn't try to con anyone and he hadn't told a lie all week. The lines on Scott's handsome face were deepening and his hair was now closer to gray-silver with streaks of black than the other way around. Betty knew that there was something troubling him but he always changed the subject when she asked him about it.

Gertie interrupted Betty's thoughts at that moment. "Betty, there's something wrong with Giselle. I gave her this telegram after she and Mackie had finished 'Amazon Andy' and she took one look at it and ran into the ladies' bathroom." Gertie sadly handed her the telegram. It was from Europe and was dated three days ago.

Betty stood up and took the telegram from Gertie. Her eyes grew wide when she finished reading it. "Her father's dead. He was arrested by Nazi officials and died in a concentration camp in Poland. Poor Giselle!" she exclaimed. "She seemed to be really close to her father. She told me on Christmas Eve that he was part of a French resistance group." Betty headed for the ladies' room. Gertie watched her, then walked back to the ringing switchboard.

Giselle stood in front of the mirrors, sobbing hysterically and wailing in French. Betty put her arms around the girl. She didn't know what to say. "Giselle, I'm truly sorry," she lamely murmured.

Giselle wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. "Do not be sorry, Betty," she sniffled, "it is not your fault that Papa died. It is Hitler's fault. If the Nazis had just left France alone, not to mention the Jewish people, who had not done things to harm them, Papa would still be alive and still running his radio station in Marseilles." She blew her nose. "Maman told me that people from Papa's group called her this morning and told her how he died. He had been on a mission for them, sending coded radio signals to French Jews and freedom fighters that would lead them out of France. The people that he was helping got away, but he did not. They killed him in the gas chambers with all the other Jews they'd caught." She burst into tears again and threw herself into Betty's arms. Betty just held her. It was all she could do for Giselle. Betty knew that only time, and perhaps not even that, would heal the wounds left on Giselle's heart.


Scott Sherwood sat in the office. He was supposed to be going over several sponsors' contracts on the phone. What he was really doing was talking to the General in Washington who assigned him to co-manage the W.E.N.N. and WENN with his wife, Betty. There seemed to be Nazi codes going out over the airwaves in Pittsburgh again, and both the stations were suspected of being the carriers. Scott knew for a fact that none of the WENN regulars were Nazis. However, there were the Armed Forces people who hung out in the small "Pittsburgh Canteen" set up in the green room, and the new interns who were hired to help with normal day-to-day operations at WENN. The War Department knew that the codes existed but they couldn't figure out what broadcast they were coming from. That was where Scott came on the scene. He was to check all of the shows and commercials that the sponsors submitted to Betty to write. The sponsors came under particular scrutiny. The codes that he cracked last year came from two of their most influential sponsors. He was also to keep an eye on the activities of the interns and the Armed Forces people who frequently hung out at the Pittsburgh Canteen.

The worst part was that the longer he attempted to crack the codes, the more he found himself pushing Betty away from him. It hurt him to neglect his beloved wife, but he had little choice. The War Department wanted him to keep his mission a secret, and Scott had no desire to endanger her. She was already in possible danger due to her part in the dissolving of a major Nazi spy ring two summers ago. His life, and the lives of Jeff Singer and Victor Comstock, could also be in jeopardy.

"Mr. Sherrrrrwoooooddddd!" trilled a too-sweet voice. Scott rolled his eyes as a lovely, amply proportioned young woman bounded into his office. Trina Gordon was the intern who was employed to help Betty with her writing chores, since she was writing shows for two stations. Trina's writing was ok, not as good as Betty's, but with time and some fine tuning it would be serviceable. No, her writing was not the problem. Trina had a tremendous crush on Scott. She'd been very obvious about it since her hiring a week after Christmas. The young woman went out of her way to spend time with Scott, flirted outrageously with him, and even managed to brush up against him several times. She wore tight-fitting outfits that would make Maple blush. She deposited a stack of papers on his desk and batted her eyelashes at him. "These are the contracts for Midas Hand Lotion, Harnell Furnishings, Security Safes, Acton Anthracite Coal, Bella's Restaurant, and the new sponsor for 'The Lady and the Drifter', Sparkle Cola, that you wanted to review."

He nodded and gestured at his rather messy desk. "Just put them down anywhere, Trina."

She giggled and sat on the only bare spot left on the top of his desk. "Oh, Mr. Sherwood," she simpered, "do you know what your strong, manly countenance does to me?"

"Trina," Scott grumbled, "I'm not only very busy, I'm a married man. I wouldn't recommend flirting with Jeff, either, unless you don't want to live to see your 21st birthday. Try one of the servicemen in the green room." He ushered the highly disappointed girl out the door. She stormed down the hall to the writer's room, nearly knocking over Betty and a still-sobbing Giselle. Scott wondered if Trina flirted with him to cover something else. His desk was searched several times recently, but nothing seemed to be missing. Trina was always calling her mother or her friends on the phone in the office or the writer's room. He would have to watch Trina for signs of any more suspicious behavior.


February 23rd, 1943


"I'm coming, Hilary!" her harried husband shouted as Privates Josh Manley and Chris Tracer darted into the station with a paper bag that leaked grease and thick red liquid.

"We're savin' the day!" exclaimed Chris proudly as he handed Jeff the bag. "One fish sandwich with chips and ketchup!"

Josh peered in the bag and wrinkled his nose. "Well, it was a fish sandwich with chips and ketchup. Now it bears a closer resemblance to ketchup-coated fish-and-potato mush." He elbowed his best friend. "I told you not to hold it too hard! You crushed Miss Booth's lunch!"

"Well, you said that you didn't want to let it get all over the sidewalk," whined Chris. "What was I supposed to do with it, put it under my hat?"

Jeff snatched the bag from the two arguing officers. "Is this all you could find?"

Josh shrugged. "It's the only fish that the Buttery had. Most kinds are out of season and seafood isn't exactly cheap in Pittsburgh to begin with."

Hilary's voice was nearing ear-shattering levels. "Jeffrey Singer, if you don't bring me fish, any kind of fish, in exactly thirty seconds, I'll...I'll...sit on you!" Chris and Josh watched Jeff with pity in their eyes as he raced into the green room to give his wife the food she craved.


A slim, delicate hand answered the phone in the quiet writer's room.

"Yes," the muffled voice, devoid of any trace of youthful enthusiasum, said after it greeted the receiver in German, "I'm certain that Sherwood is very close to dissolving the codes. It's tonight or never if we want to permanently silence him and his wife."

The voice laughed, but the laugh was hollow. "Everyone here is far too trusting. You'd think that after that arrogant fool Pruitt took them for a ride two years ago that they'd be more on their guard. The station regulars and the lusty idiots from the Armed Services don't have the slightest idea of whom I really work for." The lucious carmine lips frowned. "Bring the capsules to put in the Sparkle Cola that all of the soldiers keep stashed in the green room when you come for your meeting. I'll feed it to Sherwood and that little hack writer that he dotes on while you keep them busy. You and the boys can come in tonight to help me finish them off. No, Comstock isn't here. He is, or was, in Africa. It's been months since anyone's heard from him. Singer is still in Pittsburgh, but he spends almost every waking moment that he's not on the air with his pregnant prima donna of a spouse. It'll be harder to get to him."

"I'm well aware of what happened to Pruitt and Holstrom when they tangled with this crowd," snapped the speaker. "Look, how about we make a deal? You don't tell me how to do my job, and I won't tell you how to do yours." The person slammed the phone back onto its cradle.


Betty walked into the office with Perrey Dawson, the young head of Sparkle Cola and the sponsor of "The Lady and the Drifter". Perrey was tall, blonde, wealthy, and devestatingly handsome. Scott disliked him from the moment he saw him standing at the doorway with his wife on his arm. Betty was laughing and chatting as if she'd known Perrey for years.

"...And this is the home of both WENN and the W.E.N.N, Mr. Dawson," she was saying.

"You must be quite a busy young lady, having to run both stations at once," said Perrey. "I have to admire you for it, and for your wonderful writing. You've made 'The Lady and the Drifter' into a different kind of soap opera, one that appeals to younger people as well as their parents." He kissed Betty's wrist. She blushed becomingly. Scott decided to put an end to the mush before it went any further. He took Dawson's hand and shook it violently.

"I'm the co-head of these operations, Mr. Dawson, as well as Mrs. Sherwood's husband," Scott said pointedly.

Perrey Dawson smiled wanly. "Oh, yes, I've heard of you. I've heard lots of things about you, Mr. Sherwood. They say in Washington that you're the best code cracker in the business. Rumor has it that you brought down a Nazi spy ring before America even entered the war."

"Well," Scott said cautiously, "I wouldn't say that I did it all by myself. I had a lot of help from the folks here at WENN."

"Your lovely wife just gave me the grand tour of WENN and the W.E.N.N, Mr. Sherwood," Perrey explained. He flashed the brilliant, playboy smile at Betty again, who smiled back. Scott narrowed his eyes at her, but she ignored him. "The concept of 'The Lady and the Drifter' is simple and yet so exquisitely written that you don't notice how old-fashioned it is. The lady of the title, Beth Robards Sherman, and the drifter Stephen Sherman have so much more depth to them than the average soap opera character. The episode when her father accused Stephen of embezzling and threw him out the door and he came back to kiss his Beth was one of the most romantic things I've ever heard on the radio. Then there was the time where Stephen saved the lives of Beth and her former suitor Vincent from an evil Nazi spy. I was on the edge of my seat! And the episode where Beth had to choose between Vincent and Stephen was absolutely heart-breaking!"

Betty turned her smile to Scott and winked at him. "I based a lot of it on experience, Mr. Dawson." Scott grinned proudly as an unusually sulky Trina Gordon entered with the three glasses of Sparkle Cola that Scott "borrowed" from Chris and Josh for the occasion. Sparkle Cola was not only the influential sponsor of a popular show but one of the suspects in the latest line of codes. Scott was certain that he was a stone's throw from breaking them. He just needed some time to himself after this meeting.

Perrey, Scott, and Betty all raised their glasses as Trina hurried out, mumbling something about needing to work on tomorrow's episode of "The Lady and the Drifter". "To the Lady, her drifter, and their continued success on WENN," the comely young sponsor toasted.

Scott looked at his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time? Betty, they just happen to be performing 'The Lady and the Drifter' in Studio A right now. Why don't you take Mr. Dawson to the control room?" He hurried both of them out the door.

Betty sighed and yawned as she and Perrey headed to the control room. There was something going on at WENN. She could tell. The WENN staff and the Armed Forces people were tense. Maybe Scott's odd behavior was rubbing off on everyone. Even the normally sweet and perky Trina Gordon seemed upset over something. She yawned again. The pretty, sexy young intern was the author of today's episode of "The Lady and the Drifter" and of tomorrow's as well. She had, in fact, written several of the of this months' installments.

Perrey squeezed her hand and she leaned on him. She was so tired. Well, she was often tired at the end of a long day at the station, but she could barely stand. She hoped that Scott wouldn't poke his head out of the office and happen to see her head on Perrey's shoulder. He might get the wrong idea.

The show seemed to be progressing well. Hilary was Beth to Jeff's Stephen and Mackie's Mr. Robards. Eugenia played the appropriate romantic music.

"Dad," sobbed Hilary as Beth Robards Sherman, "there's something wrong with Stephen. He hasn't been acting like himself lately. He refuses to speak to me or confide in me like he used to in the days after our honeymoon. I'm afraid that he no longer loves me."

"Have faith, my child," Mackie, as Mr. Robards, insisted. "You've hit a rocky patch in your marriage. It won't last. Stephen is impatient. He just came back from active duty in Europe. It can't be easy to adjust to mundane, everyday life when he's spent the last few months killing Axis in Italy. He must have felt the chill when he had to kill that man in the mill."

Betty felt so sleepy that she didn't notice the strange ending of Mackie's last speech. Perrey Dawson noticed, though. His brilliant grin became snake-like when Betty told him that she had scripts to finish and she really should be going. She led him to the main door, where Gertie was just getting ready to go home. The young writer fell asleep the moment she collapsed into her chair in the writer's room.


"Jeff, are you sure that you want to take this job?" Hilary Booth Singer asked her husband as they settled down in the green room. It was almost the end of the day. Mackie would be finished reading The Red Badge of Courage for "Book at Bedtime" on both stations in about ten minutes. Betty was probably clacking away at her typewriter, Scott was in his office doing paperwork, the Pittsburgh Canteen was closed for the night, and everyone else went home. Hilary sipped at her coffee as Jeff joined her. "Do you remember what happened the last time we had this conversation about you going overseas?"

Jeff sighed. He realized that leaving Hilary wasn't going to be easy, especially with their child coming. "Yes, I do. I can't promise that I won't get hurt, Hilary, but I need this job. I refuse to just sit here in Pittsburgh and do nothing while the Axis destroy half the world."

"And while you're off reporting about the Axis' attempt to take over the world, our world here in Pittsburgh is going up in smoke," grumbled Hilary bitterly. She stroked his slender hand when she saw how hurt he was. "I'm sorry, Jeff, but I watched the boys in Ligonia go off to the first World War and saw many of them come back broken and damaged or not at all. I made the mistake of letting you go the first time because I wasn't sure if I really cared about you. Well, I'm sure now."

"Mittens, I love you too, with all my heart," Jeff assured her. "My mother said this morning that she wanted to move to Pittsburgh from Allentown anyway and that she would be more than happy to help with the baby until I come back from Asia. I don't want our child to have to fight this war when he or she grows up."

Hilary got up, opened the top cupboard, and gave Jeff a big tin of Ingram's Coffee. She smiled sadly. "I had the feeling that I wouldn't be able to get through that thick skull of yours, so I bought you a little going away present. The soldiers in the Pittsburgh Canteen say that the coffee isn't very good in Japan, either." Jeff silenced any more of her protests with a lingering kiss before they left the station to catch a taxi home.


February 24th, 1943 - Midnight

Scott Sherwood wanted more than anything to go to sleep, but he was too excited...and frightened. He had just cracked the code. His eyes drooped and he drank an entire pot of Ingram's Coffee in order to keep from passing out on his desk. This was big, big news. He knew which sponsor was the Nazi spy and where the codes were coming from. He managed to haul himself out to the switchboard, even though all he wanted to do was take the trolley home and fall into bed with his wife. He started to dial the number of his superior in Washington D.C when he heard the main door to WENN open. A large, hairy hand clamped itself over his mouth and several more snatched the phone from his hand and twisted his arms behind his back. He surrendered with little struggle and allowed the hands to drag him to the writer's room.


A high-pitched giggle awakened the very groggy Betty Sherwood. She slowly raised her head and looked into the barrel of the pistol that Trina Gordon held in her thin fingers. The young woman aimed the gun right between Betty's eyes. Or at least, Betty thought she did. Betty was having a hard time focusing. She felt just a wee bit nauseous.

The door to the writer's room was thrown open by four large men. Betty shot out of her seat in a flash when she saw their prisoner, but Trina shoved her back in the chair. A tired-looking Scott stood between two of the goons. One of them held a gun to his head. "Bettybettybetty," he whispered with a slight smile, "we don't seem to have much luck with this espionage business, do we?"

Betty was somehow less surprised when Perrey Dawson strode into the room. "I should have known you were involved with this, Mr. Dawson," she hissed. "The butler doesn't do the dirty deed at WENN, the sponsor does." She gazed at the soda bottle sitting on her desk with distaste. "Sparkle Cola will never taste the same again."

"Sparkle Cola is a front for my other activities," snapped Perrey. "I'm more interested in politics and money than in carbonated beverage." He turned to the pretty intern, who continued to aim her weapon at the nervous writer. "Trina will tell Mrs. Sherwood what we have in store for her and her dearly beloved spouse." The Nazi playboy smiled his no-longer-pleasant smile.

Trina giggled again. "I've had my fill of writing trash for this station and buttering you and your hubby up like an English scone, Mrs. Sherwood." The seemingly fragile girl loomed over Betty like a giant over an ant. "You may have gotten past those idiots Pruitt and Holstrom, but you won't have a prayer against Perrey and me." Trina grabbed Betty's hands, roughly bound them with a ball of twine that Perrey handed her and lashed her to the chair. The strong thugs shoved another chair against Betty's and tied Scott to it. Scott's wrists and both their ankles were tightly secured with the rest of the twine. Perrey and Trina took two handkerchiefs off Betty's desk and wrapped them around Scott and Betty's lips.

The goons were setting up a weird-looking device next to the two captives. "In exactly one hour, that machine will spray a lethal but odorless gas in this room," stated Perrey. "The Pittsburgh members of the Nazi party have heard lots of stories about the ingenuity of Scott and Betty Sherwood. There's no one here to rescue you this time, however. The entire building is empty. My men made sure of that."

Trina linked her arm through Perrey's. "Perrey and I will be enjoying a nice, quiet dinner for two at Bella's Restaurant while you're heading for that big radio station in the sky. We'll come back and clean up the evidence later, after the gas dissipates." She gave one last giggle as she and Perrey walked out the door. "I wish we could be there to watch your demise, but Bella's only takes reservations, and I prefer the gas to be in the stove, not in the room. Ta-ta!" Betty, who was facing the door, watched helplessly as Trina, Perrey, and the goons sailed down the hallway without a care in the world.

This war won't last forever...

How will Betty and Scott get themselves out of this very big pickle? Will they be able to stop the (real) odorless gas before it dissolves their lives? Why were they so exhausted after Perrey Dawson's first visit to the station? Will Trina Gordon and Perrey Dawson get away with murder? What was in those codes, and in what program did Scott find them? Will Hilary really let Jeff go without a fight? Will Maple and Victor come home in one piece, and how will everyone react to their sudden wedding?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

Go to On the Edge of the Precipice#9 - In the Aftermath of the Codes!
Back to On the Edge of the Precipice#7 - WENN Home for the Holidays...!
Back to the On the Edge of the Precipice Introduction page!
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