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Betty's Wonderful Life, Part II

Betty's Wonderful Life, Part II
By Emma Redmer

Betty helped the woman onto her feet. "You're a strange lady," she acknowledged. "What's your name?"

"Clarice Doolittle," she said.

"Do you have any place to stay?"

Clarice shook her head. "No, and neither do you."

Betty laughed. "Of course, I do. I know where I live." She walked over to where she left the car, but it was gone. She sighed. "I should have known it would be stolen. Oh, well, that's what I get for driving it to this part of town. We'll just have to find a trolley." She stuck her hand in her pocket to dig up some fare for the trolley, but her wallet was gone.

Clarice just shook her head. "I'm afraid you have no money, Mrs. Sherwood." Betty was getting a little scared. Her pockets were completely empty. "No drivers' license, no cards or papers, no wallet, no ID. You don't exist."

"If I don't exist, who am I?"

"You're no one."

Betty threw up her hands. "I don't know what's going on, but I do know that we'll both catch our death of cold if we stay out here for much longer." She nodded towards Pittsburgh. "Come on, I know where WENN is from here. We'll walk."

Clarice looked frightened. "Uh, um, Mrs. Sherwood, ma'am, there's something you really need to know..." She ran after Betty into Pittsburgh.

It began to snow as Betty trudged into the downtown area. It was then, as she took off her gloves to rub her hands, that she noticed that her wedding ring was missing. That was odd. She almost never took it off. She wore it when she left the house. Maybe it fell off when she and Clarice sat on the pier. Her growling stomach distracted her from the vanished piece of jewelry. She hadn't had dinner at home and she was suddenly starving. Clarice finally caught up with her, panting and muttering that she really should keep up with her daily calisthenics. "I'm starved. Do you want to stop at the Buttery and have a bite to eat?"

"We can't," Clarice explained between breaths. "I have no money and neither do you."

"Oh, darn, that's right," Betty grumbled. A small man bumped into her, knocking her into the ground. "Well, of all the rude people!" she shouted as Clarice helped her to her feet. "I ought to..." She then noticed that the Buttery looked different. The long-time favorite restaurant of the WENN staff wasn't as brightly-lit as usual, and Betty could smell stale beer and cigarette smoke even from outside. "The Red Bull Inn" stood out in neon across the top of the building. Betty stopped the man who knocked into her and nearly fainted.

"Mackie!" she squeaked. "What happened to the Buttery?" "I don't know, lady," he grumbled. "This place hasn't been the Buttery for years. It changed hands even before the war." He looked her over. "You seem like a nice enough kid, too nice for this crowd. Why don't you go home and cuddle up with your hubby over some hot buttered rum?"

"We can't, remember? We have the Broomes' Brothers' special tonight." Betty looked at her watch. "In fact, what are you doing here? You should be announcing the news and getting ready for tonight's 'Rance Shiloh, US Marshall!"

"I'm between TV commercials," he told them. "WAMC's big Christmas special is tonight, and I'm the lucky elf who gets to announce it. It's all I'm good for these days. TV doesn't want an Amazon Andy who looks like Santa Claus. Now, if you'll excuse me…" He went in the bar.

"What's with him?" Betty asked. "Hilary must be ready to kill him right now."

"Oh, but she isn't," Clarice said. "You don't understand, do you?"

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Betty raged. "Either I'm seeing things or you're seeing things or Mackie's seeing things or we're all crazy." She stormed down Isabella Street. "There should be coffee and doughnuts at WENN, if the kids haven't eaten the doughnuts yet." Betty stopped at WENN's address on Isabella Street and found herself staring at a boarded up door. Boards covered all the windows as well. Betty stopped a passing policeman. "Excuse me, Officer, but, isn't this 1000 Isabella Street? Didn't radio station WENN used to be there?"

He gave her a strange look. "I'm sorry, miss," he said gently, "but the city condemned this building two years ago. Radio station WENN closed down in 1941. It was a bloomin' shame, too. They ran fine shows." He sighed. "Aye, quality isn't like what it was in my day." He patted Betty's shoulder. "Why don't you go home and watch the big Broomes Brothers Christmas Special on WAMC? It's supposed to be somethin', I hear." He strolled off, whistling "Silver Bells".

Betty felt sick. "WENN didn't shut down in 1941! We were the home of the W.E.N.N for five years! We're running a Broomes Brothers' special tonight, too!"

Clarice stood sagely on the steps of the condemned building. "WENN closed because no one cared about it, and because it was a conduit for Nazi messages. The W.E.N.N was offered to another station, and Broomes Brothers were more than happy to take their big special to television." A church bell clanged solemnly in the distance. Clarice beamed. "Oh, someone just made it!"

"Made what?"

"Every time a bell rings, Mrs. Sherwood, some angel gets their wings," Clarice explained.

Betty just shook her head. This was growing stranger by the minute. "Where is everybody? Hilary?" she called. "Jeff? Eugenia? Mary? Mr. Foley?" She ran down Isabella Street and kept running. She didn't know what was going on or who closed WENN or why Mackie didn't recognize her.

She got lost in a fashionable-looking crowd standing in front of a theater. She hadn't realized that she ran to the theater district. The heavily made up face in the center of the group of screaming people looked familiar.

"Hilary!" she exclaimed. WENN's best actress was primped and painted in a thick fur and a tight gown. "Hilary Booth! What's going on? Why did WENN shut down?"

Hilary took one look at her and laughed. "Ah, one of my adoring fans." She sighed. "It's a shame that you had to bring up that dreadful station, though. That's one part of my life that I'd rather not talk about."

"Dreadful station?" Betty squawked. "You love working there! You and Jeff worked there for years!"

Hilary narrowed her eyes at the younger woman. "How do you know him?"

"He's your husband, for crying out loud!"

The reporters leaned over to hear what the great star had to say to this revelation. Hilary's face darkened. "He was never my husband. He married some hussy in Europe and got himself killed before he could divorce her." She pushed Betty out of the way. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my public awaits." Betty watched as Hilary flounced into a waiting limousine.

Clarice stood behind her. "Strange how one life touches so many, isn't it, Mrs. Sherwood?"

"What got into her?" Betty asked. "She hasn't acted like that in years."

"She lost Jeff," Clarice said. "He was killed by Rollie Pruitt's agents after he revealed his marriage to Pavla Nemcova on the air. Victor Comstock also died in that shoot-out. Hilary's soul died with him."

"Victor didn't die!" Betty snapped. "Neither did Jeff. I was there that night."

"They died because you weren't there to keep Scott at the station or to help him. He only came back and got involved because he loved you!" Clarice exclaimed. "Pruitt shot Victor before he could shoot him."

"Scott..." Betty grabbed Clarice by her coat collar. "Where's my family, Clarice? Where are my children and my husband? WHERE IS SCOTT SHERWOOD?"

"I...I can't tell you that!" Clarice gasped.

"Where's Scott?" Betty repeated. "Where are my kids?"

"Your children were never born," Clarice said, trembling. She hadn't expected Mrs. Sherwood to get this physical or to be this strong. "I'm not supposed to show you Scott."

"I have to know what's going on!" Betty screamed. "Take me to Scott Sherwood!"

Clarice finally managed to pull herself away from Betty's desperate grasp. "He's at O'Malley's," she said quickly. "He's a drunk." Betty hurried off into the night. Clarice regained her breath and shrugged at the heavens. "What was I supposed to do? I know I'm not supposed to let her see what condition Mr. Sherwood is in, but I didn't like the look she was giving me!" She sighed. "There has to be an easier way of earning my wings!"

Betty paid no attention to Clarice's muttering. She was only aware of one fact - that the man she loved more than anything was at O'Malley's Bar. If he recognized her, she wasn't going insane. He had to know her! They'd been married for 13 years and had five children, a radio station, and a house…or didn't, now. Scott would have some kind of plan for getting her out of whatever nightmare she was trapped in. There was always some kind of scheme (often devious) running around in the back of her spouse's brain.

Betty flew into O'Malley's Bar, rushing past several waitresses. O'Malley's was a favorite hangout of the WENN men, especially Scott, who was friends with the owner. She scanned the bar for men who looked like her husband and ignored the rude catcalls and groping hands. She heard his voice on one end of the bar.

"Aw, cm'on, Jake, jus' one more?"

"Sherwood, if I give you one more, you'll fall off that seat and bust your head open."

Betty squealed and ran to the man Jake spoke to. She threw her arms around him without even looking at his face. She knew that voice, even if it was saturated with whisky. "Scott! Thank God!"

He shoved her off of his person. "What's a matta with ya, lady? Can't ya see I'm busy here?"

Betty took one whiff of his breath and moved back several paces. "Scott, you're drunk." She swatted the liquor fumes out of her face. "Really drunk. How many bottles of whisky did you drink?"

He glared at her. "So what? Who're you, my mother?"

"No," snapped Betty, "your wife."

That got a laugh from the crowd and from Scott. "Sorry, honey, but I ain't married." He gave Jake some money and headed out the splintering door.

Jake had a pitying expression on his bulldog like face. "You married to that low-life, sugar?"

"Yes," Betty said. "Or, I was, anyway."

"You were smart if you divorced that loser," Jake continued. "He got kicked out of his job at that radio station years ago and ended up gettin' shell shocked in the war. I don't know if that tin-pot station or the war did more damage. He ain't been good for nothin' since. He comes around here every day, beggin' for drinks for him or for his sleazy buddies."

Betty hurried out of O'Malley's, with Clarice hard on her heels. She saw Scott staggering down the street and took hold of his arm to steady him. He fell into the snow, taking both women with him. Betty took a good, hard look at her husband and gasped. His face was bruised and his silver hair hung lank and greasy in front of his red-rimmed, haunted eyes. His body was thinner than normal and his face was partially covered by the shadow of whiskers. His clothes were old, threadbare, and hung on his body like a shroud. "Scott, you look terrible," Betty scolded. "What would the kids think? Aggie admires you too much as it is."

"I dunno," Scott breathed, "I ain't got any." He managed to stand and walk down the street. Betty stayed with him. "What do ya want, lady?" Scott asked. "I ain't in the mood to be nice."

Betty took him into her arms and wouldn't let go. "I want you to tell me that I'm your wife, that we've been married since 1942, that we have five beautiful children, that we run WENN together, that you broke codes during the war. I could even tell you how you got your limp," she started to add, but then she realized that, despite his wobbly movements, his legs were perfectly straight, without a hint of his usual hobbling.

"I ain't got kids," Scott breathed. "Rollie Pruitt tossed me out of WENN the minute he figured out I was embezzling from the sponsors for the Victor Comstock Memorial. I left Pittsburgh after that and enlisted."

"No, you didn't!" Betty wailed. "You never went to war. You came back to Pittsburgh and took over Jeff Singer's place as an actor. You told me about the Victor Comstock Memorial Fund, and about how you never knew him, and I slapped you, and you kissed me. Don't you remember?" Scott's eyes were completely blank. Betty gritted her teeth. "Oh, what the hell!" She grabbed him and kissed him as passionately as she could. Betty nearly cried when she let him go. There was no hint of recognition in his liquor-saturated eyes or of love or affection. She grabbed him again and held him. "God, Scott, you have to be able to identify me! I love you! I love you, Scott Sherwood! You loved me so much that you came back to WENN and almost sacrificed your life for mine!"

Scott pushed her so hard she fell in the snow. "Get offa me, lady! I don't know you from Marilyn Monroe." He stopped the same policeman Betty spoke to earlier. "Officer, could you tell this dame to go home and leave me alone? She's being a real pain in the neck. I keep tryin' to tell her that I don't have any idea who she is. I think you outta take her to the nut house."

"But he does! Scott, you know me! Please!" She lunged for him. The policeman and several passers-by took hold of her and of Clarice. Betty sobbed hysterically. "Let me go! Scott, help! Clarice!" Clarice, however, seemed to have vanished into thin air. Betty kicked the police officer as hard as she could and dashed off to the pier, where all this began.

How did all this begin? Everything was perfectly normal and chaotic in her life until she sat on the pier and talked to Clarice. Maybe, if she did the same thing, she could reverse this spell or nightmare or whatever the seemingly harmless old woman did to her. She flew down the dark, gloomy streets of Pittsburgh, stopping at the waterfront fishing pier where she met her "guardian angel". "Clarice," she sobbed, "please help me! You're the only one who can! I want to live again!" She put her face in her hands. "I just want my family back. Please, let me live again."

"Mrs. Sherwood?" asked a deep voice. Betty dared to move her hands and see who it was. The voice was too deep to belong to Clarice. "Thank the good Lord! We've looked all over Pittsburgh for you! You need to come with us." She faced that policeman again, the one who told her that WENN was going and whom Scott asked to take her to the "nut house".

"I'll kick you again if you try to take me away!" Betty shouted, but then she realized what he just called her. "Did you say Mrs. Sherwood?"

"You are Mrs. Betty Sherwood, are you not, lassie?" the officer asked.

"I guess I am!" Betty exclaimed. She had no idea what was going on, but she was grateful that someone recognized her. The nightmare seemed to be over.

"Your family is searching for you," the police officer explained. "Mr. Sherwood is frantic. He said that he has something important to tell you and that you ran out of the house upset and may have done something drastic."

"I almost did, but not now," Betty exclaimed. She threw her arms around the kind but bewildered policeman. "Merry Christmas, Officer, and thank you!" She laughed as she noticed the car. "It's here!" She stuck her hand in her pocket and came up with her wallet, her ID, her driver's license, and a five-dollar bill. "I'm here! I exist!" She climbed into the car and sped off to WENN.

She happily wished the owners of the radio and TV shop on the first floor a very happy holiday and flew up the stairs, not even bothering with the elevator. She ran into Dexter on the way. "Mrs...I mean, Betty, ma'am, where in the heck have you been? Mr. Sherwood has asked for you every other minute and the Comstocks came down from Washington and..."

Betty took Dexter firmly by the shoulders. "Dexter, tell me something - do you know who I am?" Dexter gave her a funny look. "Of course I do! I mean, you're my employer, I kind of have to...I mean, you're Mrs. Betty Sherwood..."

"Is WENN still there?"

"Where else would it be?" Dexter reached up and felt Betty's forehead. "Are you feeling all right, Mrs. Sherwood?"

She hugged the young man. "I feel wonderful, Dexter! Merry Christmas!" He watched her with a bewildered gaze as she rushed into WENN. All five of her children, 8-year-old David Comstock, and the two Singer girls stood around the desk in the lobby. She immediately wrapped her arms around her kids.

"Mommy!" squeaked little Tom. "Daddy worry!"

"Oh, gosh, Mom, don't run off like that!" exclaimed Aggie. "Dad almost had a heart attack!"

"We thought you jumped in the river or got eaten by a crocodile in the sewer!" added Sarah.

"We have really big, big news for you," Peter continued, "but Dad said to let him tell you. He and Uncle Victor went out looking for you."

Amanda tugged on her mother's skirt. "Mobby, I'm feeling better. Dabby says I can get oub of bed and see the broadcast."

"Golly, Aunt Betty, you sure gave us a scare!" Lia admitted.

"Yeah, even Mama got upset," her seven-year-old sister Juliet agreed. The two of them joined the circle.

"Betty!" exclaimed a loud, friendly Brooklyn accent. Maple Comstock leaned over the kids and gave her long-time friend a big hug. "Merry Christmas! Where have you been? Scotty and Victor are turning the city inside out looking for you. Vic, Dave, and I got wind of your problem here and we decided that we'd rather give you our Christmas present in person."

Mackie Bloom poked his head out of the studio. "Could you guys keep it down? I'm announcing Betty's disappearance..." He did a double take when he noticed Betty. "Betty, where have you been? Scott and Victor and half of Pittsburgh's finest are combing the city looking for you! We need a replacement singer. The singer for the band we hired to do the Broomes' Brothers Christmas special decided to elope at the last minute and Eugenia sang three songs in a row already!"

Betty didn't mind doing the song, or the next one. She was so happy that she would have performed a dozen songs. Besides, if Scott and Victor heard her on the radio, they'd know she was safe.

Calls kept coming in during the special from listeners. Some had started listening when WENN first went on the air in 1929 and were now enjoying the special with their children. Others were new listeners, or listened when they were younger and stayed with the station. Many even donated money to WENN, claiming that, despite everything that went on there over the years, they didn't want to see their favorite place on the radio dial vanish.

Betty was suddenly whisked out of the studio after the last chorus of "The First Noel". "Betty, thank goodness!" exclaimed her husband. "Did the kids tell you anything?"

"No, only that you have some kind of big, big news."

Victor placed his hand on Betty's shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Betty. Scott called us about your predicament. Maple and I talked this over and we have agreed to loan you the amount of two thousand dollars for the running of the station. We, too, care about you and WENN, and would like to it stay in the family, so to speak."

"And that's not all," Scott added. "Gloria Redmond called right after you left. She said that she's willing to give us whatever money we need to not only keep WENN, but add facilities for playing music exclusively in addition to our programming schedule or whatever we want to keep WENN running!"

Betty held Scott and looked into his sparkling brown eyes. "Scott, I'm sorry I called you names earlier. I said a lot of things I shouldn't have."

"That's ok, Betty," Scott said. "We both had a lot of pressure on us."

"Hey, Mom," Aggie called, "those guys from WAMC are on the phone. They want to know if you're still interested in selling."

Betty only laughed. "Tell them we don't want to sell anymore."

"But," Scott added merrily, "there's an outstanding radio station called WEEP that might be interested in their offer."

Aggie grinned and her siblings and friends giggled. The animosity between WENN and WEEP was well known in the Pittsburgh radio community. "Ok, Mom."

David handed Betty a package. "Aunt Betty, this came for you right before you arrived. A strange-looking old woman told me to give it to you."

She smiled at the blushing, copper haired boy. "Thank you, David."

"Well, dear, open it!" Scott exclaimed.

"Whosit from?" Tommy asked in excitement.

"I don't know," Betty told him. She ripped open the paper and found a copy of "The Secret Garden".

Peter leaned over his mother's shoulder and read the inscription in the book. "'Remember, Betty, no one is a failure who has friends and family. Thanks for the wings and halo! Clarice.'"

"Who's Clarice, Mobby?" Amanda asked.

Betty kissed the little girl. "She's a very, very dear friend of your mother's." She looked up at the heavens and grinned. "Good girl, Clarice!"

Maple rolled her eyes. "This is getting too mushy for me." She put her arms around her son. "Hey, Dave, how about we take this celebration into Studio A so we can finish the show and open all those presents your dad and I brought from DC?"

"Presents!" Tommy squeaked.

"All right!" yelled Aggie.

Sarah was the first person in the studio as Mr. Foley rang the WENN chimes. "Hey," she squealed as she climbed into Eugenia's lap. "My teacher told me that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!"

Juliet exchanged looks with Peter. "That's stupid," the girl said. "There's no such thing as angels."

Betty shook her head. "Oh, you'd be surprised, Julie!" She put her arm around Scott and turned to the microphone. "We here at WENN would like to wish all of our listeners and their families a very merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years."

"And now," Mackie smiled, "Mrs. Eugenia Foley and Miss Sarah Sherwood will lead the WENN staff and their families in the traditional Christmas carol 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing'".

Betty snuggled against Scott as she sang. The words never felt so meaningful as they did tonight. She loved her family, her husband, her friends, and her station. They would probably always have to fight to keep WENN, but she never wanted to give it away or sell it. It was as much a part of her family as the kids and Scott. Admittedly, some things were going to have to give. They may have to let more of the staff go, but they would always be close friends, even Hilary. Clarice was right...about everything.

Betty had no further intercourse with angels, and she never saw Clarice again. But, every time she heard a bell ring, she thought of the woman who helped her that miserable, merry Christmas Eve, and smiled. She did have a wonderful life, after all.

The End

On the Edge of the Precipice Holiday Specials

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