I would be terribly remiss here if I did not give special mention to my friend, the fair dinkum MaryD, for her patient guidance of this ignorant Yank through all things "strine."
On April 18,1945 Ernie Pyle was killed on the island of Ie Shima.
Dear Mrs. Pappas:
The Secretary of War has assigned me the heavy task of informing you that Captain Robert
L. Pappas, United States Army, serial number 34479984, has been reported missing in action
as of 24 January, 1944 in the fighting around Monte Cassino, Italy.
Lt. Colonel William C. Baker,
Dept. of Army Personnel
Dear Mrs. Pappas,
I have waited until now to write to you because I wanted to make certain you had
received the official notification concerning your son. As Robert's commanding
officer I can understand how difficult this must be for you because in so many ways
he has been like a son to me also. Mrs. Pappas, I know your son has been reported
as missing in action and although it is against regulations for me to say so, I feel it is my
responsibility to spare you any further doubt and inform you that we believe your son to
I knew this remarkable young man ever since he was assigned
to our unit almost two years
ago and I can in all honesty tell you Robert was not only an exemplary officer, he was also
one of the finest examples of a human being I have ever seen. He was brave, dedicated,
loyal, hard-working, and above all compassionate. I must tell you his family was never very
far from his mind as he was always speaking of you and his beloved sister. In fact it seems
like I already know you both. Please express my condolences to your daughter Melinda
I realize this will be difficult for you but I feel it is
necessary that you know the circum-
stances regarding your son's death. On the morning of 24 January, 1944 we were
ordered to join in the assault on the German positions at Monte Cassino. Captain
Pappas' company was assigned the difficult task of spearheading the attack. As his
unit moved up the hill they immediately came under intense mortar and artillery fire
from the heights above. The result of this massive barrage was that his support flanks
collapsed and he and his men became pinned down--unable to move up or down the
A short time later the Germans mounted a counterattack which
threatened to cut off
Captain Pappas and his company and annihilate them. By now his unit was taking
heavy casualties. As the German infantrymen neared the barrage lifted and it was here
that Captain Pappas ordered his men to retreat back down the hill. However instead
of going with them he picked up a dead soldier's BAR and bravely went alone went up
the hill in an attempt to hold off the oncoming Germans and thus allow his men to safely
There are several witnesses who saw your son jump into a
ditch and immediately
begin to lay down a withering covering fire in support of his men. This caused the
enemy to temporarily halt their advance which in turn gave the company time to join
back up with the main body. At least two men saw him get hit and rushed to join him.
Captain Pappas refused their aid and emphatically ordered them to escape while they
were still able. It was here that mortar rounds once again began falling and seeing
there was nothing more to be done, the men reluctantly did as they were ordered and
fell back. The last they saw of your son he was still there, heroically waiting for the
Germans to renew their attack.
It was not until the next day that were able to sent a party
up to learn the fate of Captain
Pappas. What they found was amazing for strewn around the ditch where your son had
last been seen were the bodies of at least twenty Germans. The ditch itself had taken at
least two direct hits from German 88's so I will not go into details. While we did not actu-
ally find his body, suffice it to say all the evidence points to the conclusion that he did not
survive. We did, however, find his dog tags, one of which I have enclosed.
Mrs. Pappas, I cannot emphasize enough how proud we all
are to have known your son.
I can assure you his selfless devotion to duty and his brave sacrifice will not be soon
forgotten. He is in every sense of the word, a hero. I know it is of little solace to you
now but I think you ought to know that for his actions on 24 January, I have put Robert
in for the Distinguished Service Cross. Once again please accept my deepest sympathy for
Colonel C.F. Siak,
United States Army
Dear Missus Pappas.
You dont know me but my name is Dave Hopper. Col. Siak says its OK to write you now.
I am writing this letter to you because I was a soldier in your son Roberts company. I relize
you dont need me to tell you such a thing but I just had to let you know what a good and
decent man Captain Pappas was and how much we all thougt of him. He was a good officer
who was always looking out for us his boys and he never balled us out none unless we had it
coming. Also he was not afraid to stand up to them nuckleheads over him and tell them when
he thougt we was being dumped on. You see with him it was always his men and for that we
all thougt the world of him. And when he was killed I cant begin to tell you how bad we all
felt. If you coud have only seen him that day Missus Pappas I know you wood have been
so proud of your boy. I am not lying when I say it is because of him me and a lot of other
fellas are alive today. Missus Pappas by now you can probly tell that I aint much of a letter
writer. I know im just a dumb old Okie farmer but I had to tell you how we all felt. I hope
you dont feel bad toward me when I say I sometimes envyed your son him going to collage
and being so smart and all but you know what? He never once acted like he was better than
us dog faces under him. He always treated us like men and he thougt of hisself as just a regulur
guy what had a job to do and he tried to do it to the best of the abilety that God gave him. I
will always honor your sons memry. Tho he was only three or four years older than me I
somehow always thougt of him as like my father. Shoud I be lucky enough to live thru this war
and start a famly of my own I wood very much like to name my first born after Captain Pappas
if that is OK with you. I hope this letter finds you well Missus Pappas and that you understand
your son has not been forgot by those of us lucky enough to have served under him.
PFC David W. Hopper
I hope you were not worried because I have not written to you in the last couple of weeks.
I have been pretty ahhh, "busy" lately and have simply have not had the time. I want to thank
you for the Christmas package you sent to me. You're not going to believe it but they actu-
ally brought it in the mail on Christmas Eve! Who said the army was inefficient? I have to
tell you, those butter cookies of yours were out of this world.!! Hope you don't mind but I
only kept a few for myself. The rest I gave to some of the boys in my company. You see,
several of the men didn't get one single thing from home for Christmas and I felt so badly
for them. It's not right that these guys are over here fighting and dying for their country and
nobody back home seems to give a damn about them. Sorry for my language, Momma, but
it just makes me mad sometimes when I think about it.
Anyway, you should have seen these tough combat veterans
acting like little kids over a few
cookies. It would have been quite a comical scene were it not for the fact that for many of
them it was the first reminder of home they had seen in a long time. There was Sgt. Forbes with
his bayonet painstakingly cutting the cookies into little quarter pieces so they could be divided
up more fairly. What a sight! When Lt. Proebst happened by and when he saw what was going
on he generously chipped in a portion of the cookies his wife had sent. Fortunately everybody
who wanted cookies were able to get a few of the pieces. I realize this may sound incredibly
trivial to you, Momma, but you wouldn't believe the significance little things like that take on
after one has seen as much combat as we have.
I especially wanted to thank you for those extra socks you
sent. Those were a real godsend.
It's so hard to keep one's feet dry over here. Remember how Dad used to come home from
Italy gushing about how the place was a virtual paradise? Well it might be if there wasn't a
war on but for a soldier it's nothing but rocks and mud, mud and rocks. I swear, after creat-
ing the world God must have dumped all the excess mud right here in old Italia. I guess I ought
not to talk that way, though. We both know how much Dad loved coming here. It would break
his heart to see the devastation that's been inflicted on the country now. It's a mess. I feel so
sorry for these people. They're the real losers in this war. If it's not the Germans taking every
scrap of food they have then it's having their homes plastered around the clock by aerial and
artillery bombardment from both sides. If that's not enough we move and in finish the job
during the inevitable house to house fighting that ensues. Those Germans are a rough bunch,
Momma. They make us pay for every foot of ground we gain. And to tell you the truth that's
how we gain it mostly, a foot at a time.<****************************DELETED****
BY CENSOR**************************> but don't worry about me, Momma. There's
not a Kraut bullet yet been made with my name on it.
But enough about that. Say, how's Tubby Miller these days?
Has the army gotten him yet? I'm so
very glad Melinda came down from Annapolis to spend Christmas with you this year. I know
you haven't gotten to see much of her the last couple of years. Who would ever have thought
our little Mel would end up working for the government, eh? I only wish she wouldn't be so sec-
retive about what she's doing. I mean, it's not like she's a spy or something, right? Oh well. Mel
Pappas, Junior G-Man! Don't tell her I said that. She would kill me! Anyway, if she calls you
tell her I hope to write her soon. I just came back from Col. Siak a little while ago and he indi-
cated to me we are going to be moving up tonight. That's simply wonderful news because it's
so much fun to ride over these bumpy roads in the back of those drafty old 2 1/2 ton trucks.
Especially when it's as cold as it is now. But then again who am I to complain? After all, I've
found a home (sic) in the army!
I've got to close now, Momma. Lt. Allen, one of my platoon
leaders, was killed a couple of
weeks ago and they finally got around to sending up a replacement for him. He will be here any
minute and I have to give him the dope on what's going on and what I expect of him. I miss you,
Momma, and look forward to seeing you again. Until then try not to worry about me too much,
okay? I know I am always in your prayers and that is a source of great comfort to me.
Bye for now.
Your loving son,
Damn it, why haven't you been writing? I have not received one single letter from you in
over a month! Don't tell me you've been out of the country again. Even if you have how
hard is it to scribble a few lines and mail them to the New York APO? Sorry, Oopsie, I
don't mean to sound so crabby but you know how much I enjoy your letters. I wrote
Mom a couple of days ago and thanked her for the package you guys sent. Of course, I
didn't say anything about that 1/2 pint of "cough syrup" I found at the bottom of those cook-
ies. Thanks, Mel.
Don't tell Momma but I gave away those 5 pairs of socks
she sent me. Some of the fellas
in my outfit needed 'em a hell of a lot more than I did. I tell you, I get so pissed off at the
bullshit we have to put up with that I just want to put the toe of my boot up somebody's
ass. Those rear echelon bastards lay back there living the life of Riley in warm houses
stuffing their fat asses on A rations while we guys up here at the front are freezing our
nuts off and gnawing on D bars and frozen spam. God damn 'em! I wouldn't trade one
of my guys for twenty of those miserable fuckers and here they have to walk around in
ragged uniforms and shoes not fit to even lace up. Sometimes I fantasize about a big
German counter-attack that forces those assholes in the rear to be sent up here with
us. I'd post those jerks right out in the open where those fucking German 88's could
heave a few over right on top of 'em. Sons of bitches. Oh well.
Anyway, how have you been? Have you and Janice been on any
And don't try to play the innocent with me. I know you two didn't move to Annapolis for
the wonderful weather. I did not let on to Momma but a friend of a friend of a friend told
me about how much some of the big wigs in Washington like you guys. Just what ARE
you doing anyway? It's not, you know, dangerous is it? I guess I shouldn't worry. I know
that Janice is more that capable of taking care of the both of you. She is one tough dame
that's for sure. Did I ever tell you I like her? You know, Mel, I never said anything about it
to you before but after the first couple of times I pretty much knew what was going on bet-
ween you two. I mean, the way you guys look at each other. A blind man could see it. And
when the realization of it finally hit me I was very upset. Forgive Me, Melly, but I didn't
understand it then and to tell you the truth I really don't understand it now.
But I this I DO understand. In the few times I've gotten
to see you since you found Janice
you seem happier than you ever were before and if this is what you want then, by God, it
makes me happy too. I love you dearly, Sissy, and your happiness had always been so very
important to me. But then, you already knew that. Hey, do you think you could get Janice to
teach me that killer game of draw poker she plays? Jeez, I could make a mint over here if I
could play cards like her.
Mel, you know I never could keep any secrets from you so
what I'm about to tell you is
something you have got to keep to yourself. Momma would die if she knew it. Just before
New Year's Colonel Siak informed me that General Ryder was looking for an experienced
combat officer to act as liaison to the British <*******DELETED BY CENSOR*******>
Colonel Siak said he was willing to recommend me for the job if I wanted it. This would have
meant not only a promotion for me but gotten me out of the front lines as well but, Mel I
told him I wasn't interested. I know it sounds crazy and I don't know if I can explain it but
these men here in my company are, by and large, guys that I've served with ever since we
formed up back at Camp Shelby, Mississippi in '42. So many of us have been maimed or
killed and I think I owe it to the rest of them to try to see this thing through to the end. These
are MY boys, Mel. I'm afraid if I were to go they would get some OCS wet nose full of that
gung ho, "charge up the hill" shit and get half of them killed the first damn day. Well the hell
with that. They only way they'll get "Baker" Company away from me is to bust me out of the
army. Or kill me. It's hard to put into words the bonds you form with these guys. I guess war
does that. I've seen enough combat to last 10 lifetimes and I know how it can bring out the
very worst in human beings. But, Mel, on occasion it can also bring out the very best. I've
seen acts of heroism that you wouldn't believe. I've seen guys who couldn't stand each other
out of the line share the last swallow of water from a canteen. I saw one of my sergeants crawl
50 yards through heavy fire to drag a wounded man to safety. My entire 1st Platoon once do-
nated every scrap of food they had to a village that had been ravaged by the Germans. It is
moments like this that make me realize that what we are doing here is right. These Nazi
bastards have not only got to be stopped, in my opinion they must be literally crushed into
dust. If force is all they comprehend then so be it. As you well know, eighty years ago our
great-grandfathers on both sides of the family fought against Sherman for what they believed
was right. Can you and I, in our own small way, do any less?
There's a rumor going around that a big push is imminent.
If so I've got a feeling we are going
to have a rough time of it. It seems the farther north we drive the heavier the fighting becomes.
Mel, I promise I'll write at the first opportunity. As always I will close by saying I hope to see
you soon and that you are never far from my thoughts.
P.S. Could you please send me another picture of both you and Momma? The ones I have got
all wet when we crossed the<**Deleted**>River and are pretty much kaput.
I know it matters little to you at the moment but you must
take some solace in knowing that
Robert was a very brave young man who died heroically in the defense of his country. America
has lost so very many of her sons and once our grief has passed it will be up to us to make certain
that what they are doing for us won't soon be forgotten. Melly, I wish I could make it back home
to see you but travel restrictions being what they are...well you know how it is.
But you know it's amazing the things that pop into one's
head at times like that. When Nellie
first told me the horrible news the first thing I thought of was how you and I used to ride our bi-
cycles down past the mill every evening after school. Remember that? Remember how little
Robert would not stop crying until you took him along? You would set him up on the handle bars
of your bike and ride him around. Remember that big grin he used to sport riding up there? Like
he was the king of the world. Well anyway, that's what I remembered.
Sorry but I've got to close for now. I am writing this at
work and if Mr. Alexander, my boss,
(What a grouch!!) caught me doing this he would have a calf for sure. I don't know when I will
get so see you again, Melly, but you must know that Robert, your mother, and most of all--you
have been foremost in my thoughts and prayers. Hopefully once this war is finally over you and I
can get together for a nice long visit. That is--if you ain't out gallavantin' around the world with
that archaeologist friend of yours.
Once again please accept my most sincere condolences for your loss. Take care, Melly.
LETTER OF COMMENDATION, DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS
Captain ROBERT L PAPPAS, 34479984, United States Army, for extraordinary hero-
ism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy. On 24 January 1944,
Captain PAPPAS, whose infantry battalion was working with armor in attacking HILL
122, MONTE CASSINO, ITALY saw his unit come under heavy enemy fire by mortars
and artillery. As a result the support units on both sides of his company were driven
back, dangerously exposing his men to being cut off and surrounded. Recognizing the
threat, Captain PAPPAS, armed himself with a BAR and, after ordering his men to fall
back, rushed forward alone and jumped in a shell hole in an attempt to stall the advan-
cing emeny infantry. The result of his actions was that his company was able to escape
encirclement and sure annihilation and safely withdraw. Subsequently Captain PAPPAS'
position came under extremely heavy enemy fire and it was later determined that he was
killed in action. Captain PAPPAS' heroic sacrifice and devotion to duty were instrumental
in saving the lives of many of his comrades and reflects great credit upon himself, the Armed
Forces, and the United States of America.
Gen. Mark Clark, commanding,
Fifth US Army
20 August, 1944
And the war goes on...
It would take the Allies almost three more months to crack the very hard nut that was Monte Cassino. The linchpin of what was known as the Gustav Line had withstood incessant bombing and attacks by the Americans, British, New Zealanders, Indians, and Poles. Finally, it fell to French Colonial troops to fight their way through terrain that everyone else had considered impassable, and when they at long last seized the high ground overlooking the ancient abbey, the Germans abandoned Monte Cassino. On May 18, the Poles once more advanced, but this time over a silent landscape where poppies grew among decaying bodies, entering the ruins to find it empty. Cassino was at last in Allied hands.
On June 4th the Americans entered Rome unopposed, the Germans having withdrawn to a new line 175 miles north of the Eternal City. Amidst their euphoria no one in the Fifth Army realized that their bitterly contested theater of operations would soon be relegated to a mere sideshow in the war. For just two days later, on the dark, storm-tossed beaches of Normandy, the main event in the war in Western Europe began.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944 forever known afterwards as D-Day, one hundred thousand American, British, and Canadian troops scrambled down cargo nets into the Higgins boats and LCI's bobbing in the choppy sea below. During the night thousands of American and British paratroopers had jumped onto the dark peninsula in order to hold the beach exits open for their comrades off shore and to prevent the Germans from mounting any serious counter-attacks. Although the long night was marked by error and confusion, these brave and resourceful men had for the most part fulfilled their mission by the time the first waves hit the beach.
Despite the many months of meticulous planning there were, as one might expect in an endeavor of this magnitude, many things that went wrong for the Allies. At Juno Beach, the Canadian beach, the high winds and unexpectedly swift incoming tide drove the incoming boats directly into "Rommel's Asparagus," crossed steel beams implanted in the sand designed to rip open the hulls of landing craft. At Sword Beach, a British Beach, early success was soon stalled by traditional British Army caution and their impetus was soon lost. Instead of opening the way to Caen, their main objective, the British then became bogged down in a painstakingly slow advance. Now it would be full month before Caen fell rather than the ten days the original plan had called for.
But it was at Omaha Beach, an American beach, that Murphy's Law reigned supreme. Poor intelligence, poorer judgment, and inflexibility of senior officers bordering on the imbecilic were the main ingredients in a recipe for absolute disaster. The invading troops had been told that Omaha Beach would be lightly defended. Instead they ran into the crack German 352nd Division. These crafty veterans were men who know how to lay down fire. Instead of embarking seven miles from shore as the plan called for, the Americans were ordered to embark twelve miles out. The result of this idiotic order was that it took the first wave nearly three hours to hit the beach and by the time they got there most of them were violently seasick, all were soaking wet, covered with vomit, and caked with salt. Upon landing they were already exhausted. From some unknown incompetent came the order to launch thirty-two DD's, or amphibious tanks, from three and one half miles out in heavy seas. Five of them made it and the other twenty-seven sank like stones, drowning their crews. Without tanks the infantry, whose only armor was their olive green shirts, was forced to storm the beach themselves, flesh against fire. It was a blood bath. Men were slaughtered even before they able to clamber out of the lumbering assault craft. The lucky ones that were able to escape managed to crawl to the sea wall where they huddled together watching in horror as their buddies were cut to pieces around them. For a time the situation was so bad that General Omar Bradley, the overall commander, considered sending the remaining men assigned to Omaha Beach elsewhere and giving the rest up for lost. On shore the desperate men looked for somebody, anybody, to lead them. Fortunately for them, and ultimately for the Allied effort, they found their man.
At 0730 hours General Norman "Dutch" Cota, assistant division commander of the 29th Division, came ashore and found chaos and paralysis. Ignoring the murderous fire raking the beach, he moved among his dazed men, ordering his junior officers to move their men forward. Seeing their reluctance, he angrily shouted, "There's only two kinds of bastards that are staying on this beach--those that are dead and those that are gonna die. Now get up off your asses!"
And they did. First one, then two, and before long hundreds got to their feet and slowly began to work their way up the heights overlooking the beach. Many of them had lost everything coming ashore so they grimly stripped the dead and wounded of everything useful and moved out.
Coming upon a group of pinned-down Rangers, Cota angrily demanded to know who they were. "We're Rangers," came the defiant reply. "Then God damn it, if you're Rangers get up and lead the way!" Stung by this, the Rangers leaped up and began to blast holes in the German wire. Cota's infantrymen poured through them. Finally the top of the cliff was reached. From here they managed to work their way in behind the German positions and give them a taste of their own lethal medicine.
At the same time at the other end of the beach the experience of the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One, battle hardened veterans of North Africa and Sicily, began to make its presence felt. Fighting their way to the high ground, they began to hammer the Germans on their flanks. Their valor and rising momentum along with Cota's magnificent leadership gave encouragement to the inexperienced men of the 29th on their right.
By 1100 hours the 29th Division took Vierville. By 1330 hours General Gerow, Cota's boss, was able to signal Bradley, "Troops formerly pinned down...advancing...beyond beaches." By nightfall the Americans held positions a mile deep beyond the beach.
"Bloody Omaha" was secure. In the end it was not great planning that won the day at nor was it superior firepower or even Cota's leadership. In the end it had been that scared young private, and thousands more just like him, who had clawed their way through the sand and Death, around the mangled bodies of friends, and over the barbed wire of the inferno that was Omaha Beach on June 6,1944--grimly working their up through those zeroed-in causeways to the top. Omar Bradley would later say that every man who stepped on that beach that day was a hero. Not only at Omaha Beach but at the other four invasion beaches as well, the arrow that pierced the steel of Hitler's Atlantic Wall had been feathered with the courage of the individual soldier.
Nine short days later, a half a world away, another invasion was staged. The power of the United States Navy had by now grown to such a point that they could not only make up a great part of the greatest armada ever assembled at Normandy but also simultaneously provide over eight hundred ships for a major push in the Pacific. Though they did not receive as much publicity as their counterparts in Europe, for the GI's and Marines that hit Saipan it was nevertheless a milestone in the Pacific War. For the six mile by fourteen mile island was the first one they had assaulted that had been a Japanese possession before the war. It took a month of vicious fighting to take the island and it was culminated by a sight which sickened even the war scarred Marines who were powerless to stop it. For on July 9, Japanese civilians, amassed at Marpi Point, began to slaughter themselves. Ignoring pleas from American sound trucks, they jumped hand in hand off the cliff onto the rocks below. They had been told the Americans were cannibals who would eat their children and so they first tossed their own young over the edge before leaping after them.
These poor people were not the only victims of the loss of Saipan.
For eight days after this ultimate expression of bushido, Hideki Tojo,
Premier of Japan and the main individual responsible for the war with America,
was given the boot. As part of the deperate struggle for Saipan the Japanese
Imperial Fleet had thrown everything at Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58.
In what was to become known as "The Marianas Turkey Shoot," the greatest single
day's victory in the history of aerial warfare, the United States Navy broke
the back of the Japanese naval air arm. The realization had at long last hit
Japan that they might not win the war after all.
Back in Europe it took two more months of hard fighting through the French bocage country before the Americans could break out but once they did, their progress was nothing short of spectacular. Under "Old Blood and Guts" George Patton the Third Army averaged as much as thirty miles a day as they raced across the French countryside. By August 25th Paris was liberated and all during the late summer and fall the British under Montgomery and the Americans under Hodges steadily pushed the Germans back through Holland and Belgium and by November were pounding on the door of Germany itself. By Thanksgiving the talk was that the war in Europe would be over by Christmas.
Der Fuehrer, however, had other ideas. From the middle of September on he ignored the protests of his generals and began to obstinately withhold men and matériel which would otherwise have been earmarked for the hard pressed Wehrmacht forces on the Russian Front. Late in 1944 he decided the time had come.
The Ardennes Forest in southern Belgium is hilly and irregular with slopes for the most part running uphill from the south. Two thousand years before it had taken Julius Caesar's legions ten days to cross the dark, foreboding region prompting him to call it a "place full of terrors." Now, for the third time in a generation, the Germans would take advantage of Allied doctrine that the Ardennes was unsuitable for offensive operations and use the place to give the Americans a very nasty Christmas present.
In the early dawn of December 16, 1944 the thinly manned American lines in the Ardennes were hit by a massive assault from twenty-six German divisions. For once Hitler's panzers did not have to worry about the overwhelming American air superiority as they had been told they would have eight days of heavily overcast skies. Striking with hammer-like blows, the Germans soon drove a wedge sixty miles deep by forty miles wide into the lines of the ill prepared Americans. The resulting "bulge" gave this greatest of all American battles its name. Before it was over six hundred thousand Americans would be hurled against five hundred and fifty thousand Germans in a cataclysmic clash marked by monumental savagery on both sides..
At first it seemed the Germans would be able to sweep the dazed, confused Americans aside and drive on to their objective at Antwerp but the Americans quickly regrouped and in terrible fighting at places like Bastogne and Elsenborn Ridge the GI's stopped the German onslaught cold. From the south Patton's vaunted Third Army raced up to assist their beleaguered comrades. On December 23 the skies cleared allowing the awesome air power of the Allies to be brought to bear. German columns caught jammed up on Belgium's narrow roads were ripped to pieces by fighters and medium bombers. On the day after Christmas the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne, dogged defenders of encircled Bastogne, were relieved by the elements of Patton's forces driving up from the south, effectively breaking off the tip of the German thrust.
Although it would take the Americans and their allies another month of hard fighting to dissolve the bulge completely it was now apparent the Germans had shot their last bolt. From now on the defeat of Nazi Germany was simply a matter of time. The real death blow came on March 7, 1945 when American units captured the Ludendorf bridge at Remagen--the last bridge standing on the Rhine River. By early April the Red Army, which was largely responsible for ripping the guts out of Hitler's war machine, was now closing in on Berlin from the east and the Allies were pushing very hard from the west. Even the most fanatical Nazi now knew the days of the "Thousand Year Reich" were now down to a very precious few.
Meanwhile in the Pacific the Americans had by this time retaken
the Philippines and all islands of importance in the Central Pacific and were
now at Okinawa poised to spring upon the Japanese home islands. Though not yet
achieved, final victory could now be at least seen on the far horizon.
Chapter 1: Memories
Melinda Pappas slowly folded up the letter and ever so carefully placed it back in its envelope. She then slipped it back under the rubber band binding perhaps a dozen other letters into a neat little bundle. This she placed back in the old trunk on top of a stack of a dozen or so other little bundles just like it.
There on her knees beside the trunk, her skirt pulled up so as not to soil it on the dusty floor of her mother's attic, she sat in the dim light of the twenty-five watt bulb hanging down from the ceiling. Its wan incandescence seemed to set the perfect tone for such a melancholy place. Moving her hand off to one side, she picked up a small wooden case. She carefully opened it up to reveal what had turned out to be Robert's legacy. For lying sunken in the velvet lining of the box was the Distinguished Service Cross, America's second highest award for valor. Very gently, almost reverently, she ran the tip of her middle finger over the blue ribbon with the red and white trim from which the cross hung. This medal, those letters, the pictures, and most of all her memories were all that were left of the confident young man with the winning smile.
Even now, almost a year later, Mel could still not quite bring herself to believe he was gone. Her mother, pragmatist that she was, had long since fully come to grips with the death of her only son. But Melinda Pappas had too much of her father in her. Mel Pappas had always been a bit of a softie and that same tender heart now beat within his beautiful daughter. True she had for the most part managed to keep the "black dog" from her door and was by now mostly over her grief there nevertheless had been times in the first few months, usually in the middle of some long, quiet night, when it felt as if that heart of hers would literally crack wide open. Not even the death of her father had hit her this hard. The patriarch of the Pappas family had led a rich life full of achievement. Robert on the other hand had been struck down before ever having the chance to show the world what he was capable of. She was painfully reminded that while they were growing up he had been the only one who had recognized her loneliness. The popular boy and his shy sister had formed a bond that went far beyond the normal brother-sister relationship. For most of their lives they had been best friends.
It was during those black nights that her tear streaked face would very often seek refuge in the warm, soft haven of her lover's breasts. Melinda simply did not know how she would have survived her bouts of depression without the patient, loving support of the one she held most dear. Janice Covington had been nothing less than her life boat in a heaving sea of pain and despair. Many was the night the supposedly no-nonsense archaeologist had held her belle in her arms and softly murmured loving assurances in her ear. Naturally these displays of tenderness would have astounded Janice's friends and foes alike (And she had plenty of both.). For no one, no one, was allowed to see this side of her except the clumsy, raven-haired beauty that had stolen her heart.
Returning the box to its resting place, Melinda then arose and quietly closed the lid of the old trunk. Every time she did this now she was struck by the rather unsettling idea that the trunk reminded her of a casket--Robert's casket. "Oh, Bubby," she said, softly, "I miss you." With that she reached up and tugged on the chain, turning off the dim little light. In the darkness Mel Pappas breathed a little sigh and reluctantly turned away from the old trunk. As she descended the narrow steps which led down to the upstairs hallway of the big house she had grown up in the warm light of day fell first on her feet, then steadily ascended up her body until finally it gently washed over her lovely face.
There, waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs as always, was Janice.
Rising from her seat, the archaeologist asked in a quiet voice "Are you okay?" While she understood perfectly Mel's need to come back here from time to time it was nonetheless true that she could never quite get used to the cathedral-like atmosphere this spacious old Southern house projected.
"Yeah," Mel answered with a warm little smile.
Janice nodded and turned only to feel Mel's gentle touch on her arm. "Ya know, Jan," she said, "You don't have to wait up here for me like this."
"I know that," said Janice, pulling up one corner of her mouth in a half-smile. "But it beats the hell out of sitting down there in that parlor listening to your mom rail about the evils of the Republican Party."
"Momma does get carried away when it comes to politics," admitted Mel with a chuckle. "She was a suffragette, you know."
"Now why does that not surprise me?" replied Janice.
Melinda knelt down and took hold of the staircase. "Here, let me help you with that," said Janice. Placing her hands on the staircase along side Mel's, the two of them swung the stairway back up to its hideaway position in the hall ceiling.
Once the task was completed Mel dusted off her hands and sighed, "There now." Turning to Janice, she asked "So, are yuh ready for some of Momma's chicken and rice?"
"I sure am," replied Janice with a grin. Open first observing how bountiful a table the widowed former political activist set she had immediately came to the conclusion that it was no wonder the Pappas' only daughter had grown so strong and tall. She remembered back how in those grim days of the early '30's a single one of the Pappas' sumptuous meals would have accounted for more food that she would have seen in a week. Yes, Janice Covington had seen a rough time of it during those dark years but it always heartened her to know the gentle Melinda had not been forced to go through the same ordeal.
"Well what are we waitin' for?" asked Mel.
As they ambled toward the stairs at the far end of the hallway, Janice said, "I'm curious."
"How is it your mom is able to obtain all that meat and poultry? I mean, every time we come down here it's pork chops, or ham, or chicken..."
"Why Janice Covington," Mel said, interrupting her friend, "you're not sayin' Momma's doing anything wrong are you?"
"Now did I say that?" Janice asked innocently. "But there is, after all, a war going on and with it a little thing called rationing."
"Don't tell me that wasn't what you were implying," retorted Mel. "Momma does not buy on the black market."
"If you must know, Nosey, Mister Woodley--he has a big ol' farm out in Saluda County--comes into Columbia about twice a month on business and he always brings a little something for Momma. Yuh see, he and Daddy were very close friends and I guess he thinks he just kind of owes it to him to watch out for Momma."
"Oh, I see," said Janice. But inwardly she thought, Yeah right. She rather suspected the gallant Mister Woodley's real motive was something slightly more amorous than loyalty to a dead friend.
"Usually he'll bring her a chicken or two and a couple dozen eggs and Momma says most of the time he'll bring some fresh milk; you know, with the cream right on top. And during the he's been providin' her with enough fresh vegetables to can for the winter."
By now they were descending the large staircase that led down into the anteroom just off the spacious sitting room or "parlor" as Mel called it.
"Can?" Janice asked, wrinkling her nose. "Whaddaya mean, can? How does your Mom can anything?"
Mel looked quizzically at her lover and said, "You're joshin' right?" Seeing the puzzlement in Janice's eyes she went said, "Golly, Jan, don't you know what canning is?"
"Sure I do," she replied, a little defensively. "That's where they put stuff in a can and--"
"No, silly," Mel said, a hint of amusement playing across her face. "You take stuff like fresh vegetables or fish or whatever and you pack it into glass jars and you add a little salt and whatever else ya want to season it with and you seal up the jars with these lids held in place by bands. Then you put 'em in this big kettle called a pressure canner and you cook 'em. After that you--"
"Wait a minute. You're making this up, aren't you?" Janice asked, eyeing her incredulously.
Mel stopped and looked in disbelief at her friend. "Janice, you mean tuh say you've never heard of that? Why practically everybody down here cans."
"Hey, what can I say?" replied Janice, smiling. "I was a city kid."
Mel shrugged and continued, "Well anyway, see what you do next is take the jars out of the canner and let 'em cool and as they do you can hear those little lids go pop as they seal. Now the trick is to try count them so you'll know if some of them didn't seal and you can..."
Though not interested one iota in the particulars of home food
preservation, Janice did nothing to interrupt what turned out to be her lover's
rather lengthy discourse upon the subject. As far as she was concerned anything
that helped to temper the sorrow that still so clearly dwelt in Mel's heart
was a godsend. Talk all you want, Mel Pappas, she thought. I'll always be there
to listen. Always.
Chapter 2: It Was Fun While it Lasted
"Come on, Mel. Hurry up. You're going to cause us to be late." Janice rolled her eyes in exasperation as she impatiently stood at the bathroom door waiting for the meticulous Mel to finish her preening. "Mel, come ooooon."
"Almost done," Mel serenely assured her. She then put on her hat and spent the next couple of minutes carefully positioning it juuust so, totally oblivious to Janice's desperate squirming just a few feet away. At last she was satisfied. Turning to the mildly rankled Janice, she drawled "Way-ul, how do I look?"
Stunning, as always, thought Janice as she watched Mel delicately pull on her white gloves. However at the moment she was a little too peeved with her lover to tell her the whole truth. "Aww you look okay," she replied. "Now come on."
"Honestly, for the life of me I don't see what all the fuss
is about," said Mel. "After all we don't work for those people anymore."
The "people" Melinda were referring to were those smiling faces over at the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS for short. Their tenure had lasted from December, 1941 through the end of 1944 and during that period the two of them had received the cryptic phone call from "Wild Bill" Donovan that signaled the start of another "mission" no less than fourteen times. Exactly half of these assignments had ended up taking the two them out of the country and while all of them had carried some measure of risk, only one had actually proven to be as dangerous as the first two jobs they had performed for Uncle Sam. That had been their last one.
Like dozens of other Americans they had been sent to Tehran, Iran in the early part of November, 1943 to help pave the way for the "Big Three" summit between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin scheduled there for the end of the month. There was, however, one big difference. For none of the representatives of the Allies, the press corps, indeed not even President Roosevelt himself knew what their true purpose was for being there. For Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas were not in Iran on "official" business.
Some three weeks later, at the conference, Stalin would darkly hint of a Nazi plot to assassinate Roosevelt during his stay in Tehran. While "Uncle Joe" did not hesitate to make political hay out of this development by convincing the American president that he should stay at the Russian--and therefore bugged--embassy, for all the stout little Georgian knew these reports from his secret police were simply that--rumors.
But Major General William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan and the top brass of the OSS had already gotten wind of this long before and had not been about to take the chance of ignoring it. The end result was Janice and Melinda, along with dozens of others from the OSS, the State Department, the Secret Service, and Army Intelligence were rushed to Tehran to team up with the British in a massive yet utterly secret attempt to ascertain if the disturbing reports had any validity at all to them. Almost three weeks of exhaustive, even frantic, investigation turned up nothing. At last it was decided by Secretary of State Stettinius himself that the whole thing had been nothing more than a feeble German attempt to disrupt the Allied conference. In the end Roosevelt had agreed and so he went to Tehran as planned.
However on the day before she and Mel were due to depart Tehran for Washington Janice rounded a corner and ran squarely into a long since forgotten figure from her past. As the startled archaeologist stood there watching the man's face change from a look of real surprise to one of malicious amusement she realized he recognized her as well. Dave Carter or Kurt Meyer or whatever his real name was had been an integral part in Heinrich Strolin's foiled plot to blow up the Panama Canal some two and a half years before. On that dark night in June '42 in the steaming jungles of Costa Rica only the timely appearance of Mel's "guardian angel" had prevented the both of them from being murdered by this man. In all the excitement that followed on that night she had completely forgotten about the man she and Mel had left behind in the woods. She had fully intended to return for him but the slug Melinda later caught in her abdomen had changed all that. It would prove to be another ten days before she was able to tear herself away from her beloved Mel's bedside and return to those dark woods to ascertain Carter/Meyer's fate. She found nothing. She had rather hoped that some of the local bandits had found him and finished him off but she knew he had, in all likelihood, escaped. Now staring into that smirking face, Janice Covington knew for sure.
At the time she had been unarmed but fortunately for her it was early afternoon and the streets were packed with people. Despite his best efforts to follow her the wily Janice managed to give him the slip before returning to her quarters in a seedy hotel a few blocks away. Once there she decided not tell Melinda of her encounter reasoning there was no sense alarming the belle since they were going to be gone the next day anyway.
However, deep in the night she was awakened by Melinda's muffled cry. Before she could react someone roughly shoved the cold steel of a pistol barrel into her mouth. It turned out Meyer had found them after all. He had not come alone either for in the pale light Janice could make out two more bulky shadows lurking about. While Janice was made to stand up Meyer's two cohorts moved into position on either side of the bed. Throwing Melinda roughly back down on the bed, they then pinned her down. With her own socks jammed deep in her mouth, Mel was unable to do more than grunt.
"Before I cut your throat you're going to see us gut your friend like the pig she is," Meyer had gleefully hissed.
Nobody touches Mel! she raged silently. Not as long as she could draw a breath. It was at this moment Mel's body shuddered violently causing the exultant Meyer to make the mistake of taking the gun out of Janice's mouth in order to see what was happening. Janice knew it was now or never so she made her move. Lashing out with both hands, she pushed his gun hand up and away from her. At some point the gun went off but Janice's only thought now was to somehow incapacitate her antagonist. Fortunately Meyer was caught off guard by her audacity and she managed to savagely drive her knee into his groin.
She heard the startled German gasp loudly and then groan something indiscernible. Not concerned with communicating with him, she grimly hung onto his gun hand and nailed him again. All this occurred in the span of a couple of seconds and it took that long for Meyer's two accomplices to straighten up and turn to where the two dark shadows were struggling for life itself in the far corner of the room. No sooner had they done so when a black, menacing form silently rose up behind them. No longer the prey, Mel Pappas was now the predator for "she" was with her now.
Seizing each of the two men by the back of the neck, her suddenly vise-like hands slammed their heads together with such fury that even before they hit the floor she knew she could forget about them and rush to the aid of her love. She need not have bothered. One more good kick in the "jewels" from Janice and Meyer was through. As she raced to Janice only now did Mel think to remove her gag. In the pale moonlight streaming through the window she was horrified to see blood trickling down the side of Janice's face. A closer examination thankfully found that Meyer's bullet had only just nicked Janice about an inch above her left ear.
They continued on for almost another year but one day while, on a Constellation bound for Cairo, Melinda had decided enough was enough. For one of the few times in their relationship she was about to stand up to the formidable Janice over an issue of consequence. It was not going to be easy for her. In fact just thinking about the possible confrontation was almost enough to make her ill. Janice could be so difficult at times. However in her heart she knew it was something she had to do.
Biting her lower lip, she reluctantly began. "Ja-yun?"
No sense beating around the bush with this, she thought. Spit it out, girl. "I, I think it's time we...you and I...you know...found another...line of work." There, darn it, she thought. I said it. Though certainly not her motive, Mel did not care if the archaeologist thought her to be a coward or not. In truth her real fear was for Janice. She seemed to relish in the risk taking and that worried Mel. While Melinda found that element of uncertainty--or danger even--exciting, she had never thrown herself into these jobs with the same type of ferocious enthusiasm the gung ho Janice had. Besides, she longed for the day when the war would be over and they could get back to what was their real profession. But she had been willing to endure life in the OSS for two reasons. One, because her country had asked her to. Secondly, and in her mind more importantly, because she simply could not bear the thought of her beloved Janice going off on these "jobs" without her. Come hell or high water she had to be with her. However the Southerner had come to the grim conclusion that one of these days they were going to tempt fate once too often. To her way of thinking it was only a matter of time before luck ran out for one--or both--of them.
Sitting there staring into the blank face of her friend Mel wondered what the forceful Janice's reaction would be to this. Would she become angry at her or even worse, ignore her? Would she dismiss Mel's innermost fear with a simple wave of the hand? What? Damn it, what?
Janice's green eyes then became very intense and for what seemed like an eternity they bore in on Mel's anxious face.
"Way-ul, aren't you goin' tuh say anything?" Mel wondered aloud.
At last, to her relief, she saw the faintest hint of a smile begin to tug at Janice's lips. "You do huh?"
"Yes, Jan, I do," she answered solemnly.
"Well, Melinda, maybe you're right," Janice said, under her breath.
Mel knew this was serious business because Janice almost never called her by her full name. "Yuh mean it?" she inquired, hopefully.
"Yep," said Janice. "It's high time you and I got out while the gettin' is good. Hell, they're sayin' the war is gonna be over by Christmas anyway. When we get back to Washington we'll ask General Donovan to give us our walking papers."
"Ohhh, Jan." Upon hearing this Mel wanted to hug Janice so very badly but sitting there as they were with ten other people around them she decided this was not the time nor the place to overtly display her gratitude. She would do that later in her own "special" way.
And Janice, as she always was with Mel, was true to her word. Immediately upon their arrival in Washington she had went straight to OSS headquarters, the delighted Mel in tow. After plopping down on Donovan's desk the report that Mel had written up on the plane she had then unceremoniously announced the two of them were through. Though loathe to lose such valuable personnel Donovan did not attempt to convince her otherwise. They were, after all, civilians and he really had no authority to prevent them from quitting. Besides, some of his superiors had lately been wondering aloud if it was not time to begin making cutbacks in OSS personnel. With the liberation of France the resistance movement in that country had by and large ceased to be a viable entity and with it the justification for the sizable OSS network that had been co-operating with them. This coupled with the widespread belief that the war in Europe would soon be over was enough to cause considerable pressure to be brought to bear on Donovan to cut expenditures. In light of this all Donovan had been able to do was shake hands with each of them and, in that gruff way of his, express his country's appreciation for their past efforts. And so, as of Monday, January 1, 1945 Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas were officially unemployed.
But not for long. Given Mel's impeccable academic credentials and the fact that she was able to list as references such luminaries as William J. Donovan and Henry Morgenthau on her resumé, she quite naturally had no trouble landing a position. In very short order she was offered, and quickly accepted, a post at the State Department.
For her part Janice Covington had to wait just a little longer
to find gainful employment and when she did it came from a totally unexpected
source. On the morning of January 26, a cold, damp Friday, she received a Western-Union
telegram from a certain Sidney Poole. Tearing it open, she read:
Understand you are no longer in government employSTOP Am building team for
archaeological expedition to French Indo-China as soon as politically practicable at
war's endSTOP Would you be interested in heading up sameSTOP Preliminary
preparations already underwaySTOP Need you to start immediatelySTOP Promise
to make it worth you whileSTOP Reply ASAP
Well! Even the socially clueless Janice knew who Sidney Warner Poole was. Steel and coke magnate, financial wizard, incorrigible playboy, the dashing Poole had been one of the richest men in New York State even before making a mint supplying gas tanks to the government for everything from jeeps to B-17's. A notorious womanizer, it was even rumored he had never slept with the same one twice. Janice had dismissed this as "bullshit" but still, she allowed he was just the type who would fall head over heels for Mel. Well, she thought, a little jealously, it wouldn't be the first time. Indeed, despite those ridiculous horn-rimmed glasses she insisted on wearing and despite shyness which sometimes bordered on the painful, Melinda's late blooming, statuesque beauty was so powerful that she was always turning men's heads like that. Though she pretended not to notice Janice was all too aware of how they stared after Mel when they passed by--how they licked their lips and leered at her like she was some juicy prize ripe for the plucking. And she hated them for it. Even something so innocuous as the ubiquitous wolf-whistles they encountered somehow seemed...vulgar when directed at Mel. Strangely, though a beautiful woman herself, it somehow never occurred to Janice that they might actually be whistling at her.
But Melinda Pappas endured these little incidents, as always,
with quiet dignity. Never once had she given any of Janice's tormentors the
satisfaction of even acknowledging their presence. Very often she would simply
edge still closer to her volatile lover as they walked and strike up some little
chat about a topic she knew to be near Janice's heart. Over time she learned
that asking Jan about the pennant chances of her Bronx Bombers was one that
never failed. These were often silly little things but the wily Janice recognized
them for what they were-- Melinda's tender attempt to reassure her the she,
Janice Covington, was the one--the only one.
I don't deserve her, thought Janice for perhaps the thousandth time as she had folded up the telegram. Turning her thoughts back to Poole, she wondered why a man like him would be so interested in French Indo-China. Whatever it was, she concluded, there was a buck involved. No, make that lots of bucks. But why had he chosen her? She figured it was probably because her reputation as an unscrupulous money-grubber was still very much intact. Well she was willing to play ball. Work, after all, was work. Besides, she had never been to Indo-China before.
Her excitement had been tempered somewhat by concerns over what Mel's reaction would be to this seemingly irresistible offer. As always, she need not have worried for when she had shown Mel the telegram, the belle had exclaimed, "Ja-yun, we gotta take this job!" So much for a career in public service.
Needless to say, in a face to face meeting with Poole five days later, Janice accepted. Over the next month Janice became more and more enthusiastic about Poole's plans. It had now been three and one half years since she last headed up a dig. That Andean job now seemed like a lifetime ago. It felt good to be back once again planning for, worrying about and, yes...griping over for what she truly loved to do.
Trouble was, the Japanese did not seem to want to co-operate. As of April, 1945 French-Indo China was still firmly in Nippon's hands and from what she could gather from the news reports about the horrendous kamikaze attacks on the US Fifth Fleet off Okinawa, it seemed as though they were everywhere determined to refuse surrender and fight on till the last man. Against them were men like Douglas MacArthur and "Bull" Halsey who were more than willing to accommodate them despite the anticipated one million American casualties it would cost to take the Japanese home islands.
Janice, of course, knew nothing of these grim projections. All
she knew was she wished to hell it would all end soon. And then yesterday had
come the urgent, and somewhat disturbing, call from Donovan. Even now, as she
locked the front door to their Annapolis home, Janice could only speculate as
to what he wanted this time. As it turned out she would just as soon
not have known.
Chapter 3: A Blank "Czech"
Donovan waved his hand toward the two chairs strategically positioned in front of his large mahogany desk. "Glad you could make it, ladies. It's just like old times. Please sit down."
Both did and no sooner had Janice's buttocks hit the fine leather of her seat when, characteristically taking the bull by the horns, she growled "All right, what's all this crap about?"
Donovan gave his head a little shake and flashed a faint, though mirthless, smile. "Same old Covington," he pronounced. "It's nice to see you haven't mellowed."
"Look, General, no offense but I know you did not call us here just to hash over old times, now didja?"
Donovan walked over to one of his office windows and absently peeked through the blinds. "No," he answered. "Of course not." There followed a few moments of uncomfortable silence before he continued, "I want the two of you to do a job for me."
Out of the corner of her eye, Janice saw Mel involuntarily stiffen upon hearing this. In the past three-plus years the gracious Southerner had become all too familiar with Donovan's pet moniker for a mission that might prove to be a tough one. "Uhh, General," said Janice slowly, "we don't work for you anymore...remember?"
"A mere technicality," Donovan retorted, ignoring the hint of sarcasm in Janice's voice. "This is a big one. I need you two to bring a man safely out of Austria for me."
"Perhaps we did not make ourselves clear," said Janice, doggedly. "We don't--"
"Covington, for once will you shut the hell up and just listen?!" roared Donovan. His temper was even more legendary than Janice's. "We don't have time to hem-haw around here."
"Just who the hell do you think you are?" Janice shot back angrily. "Just because some guy wants a free ticket to America, that does not give you the right to interrupt our lives whenever you feel like it!" She knew she ought to stop right there but she was mad now and so she just had to add, "What is he anyway? Some fuckin' Nazi bigwig who has all of a sudden miraculously seen the error of his ways?"
In truth the aghast Melinda was the one that had the legitimate complaint about being inconvenienced. She was still working at State and had been forced to take the entire day off in order to make this appointment. Most of the now irate Janice's work had been done over the telephone. She, however, was not about to get in the way of these two forceful personalities now glaring at each other as they verbally slugged it out. Donovan and Janice had wrangled like this for three years and still Mel was not used to it. So she did the only thing she could. She sat there, her gloved hands meekly folded on her lap.
"You know, Covington, you're a smart ass. Why is that?"
"Call it a gift," she replied tersely, staring him dead in the eye. "Just who is this palooka anyway? What makes him so special?"
"Until you agree to take the job I'm not at liberty to say," replied Donovan. "You ought to know that. However since I'm a good guy I'll tell you this much. The man is a Czech national who was forced into scientific work for the Germans. When the program he was working on collapsed he was sent, of all places, to a aircraft plant in Austria. Of course our boys have bombed the hell out of it but like a lot of other places they have merely splintered the operations into smaller cells and kept on right on churning out planes.
"How do you know all this?" Janice asked, suspiciously.
"Sorry, Covington. That information is classified," sniffed Donovan. "And besides, that's what we do here, remember?"
For Janice there was something about this whole affair that absolutely smelled to high heaven. The old mental alarm bells that had served her so well over the years were going off left and right inside her head. No doubt there was a sense of urgency in Donovan's voice. But why? What was the rush? All this guy had to do was keep his head and lay low when the time came and just wait for the inevitable German pullback. Unless... She tilted her head and squinted at Donovan. Though she and her former boss had fought these little battles very many times before they had never let their disagreements become a personal thing. "You guys aren't so sure this Joe actually wants to fall into our hands...are ya?"
For a moment Donovan's face hinted at something like admiration for his ex-employee. "You know, Covington," he said evenly, "sometimes you're too smart for your own damn good."
"I don't seen to recall running into too many blockheads on the OSS payroll," came her reply.
Perfect, thought Mel, a back-handed acknowledgment of a back-handed compliment.
For a few eon-like seconds no one spoke. Finally Donovan said, "Well, how 'bout it ladies? You game or not?"
Janice shook her head. "Sorry, can't help ya. I've been hired by Sidney Poole to plan a post-war dig. I can't just..."
"We'll square it with him for you," Donovan quickly assured her. "And we'll see to it your job is still there waiting for you when you get back." He then looked over at the silent Melinda and added, "Those folks over at State will no doubt miss you but they'll get by well enough."
Mel's only reply was a nervous little smile. She was always tense in the presence of the ever scowling Donovan.
Hard though he might be, Donovan was also an astute judge of character. He could sense Janice was weakening--if only a little. But he needed to apply more pressure. This was where her lovely companion came into the picture. If he could talk, wheedle, cajole, or threaten her into accepting then as surely as the sun would set this evening the fiery little woman that was her intimate friend would have no choice but to follow suit. He knew full well Janice would never allow Mel to go it alone.
As if on cue Janice asked "Why us? I mean, surely you have somebody in there already."
"Yes we do but for all the good it would do us we could have a man next door," replied Donovan, gloomily.
For the first time during the entire meeting Mel gathered up enough nerve to speak. "You don't know who you're lookin' for, do you?"
Again, for Donovan's purposes this was perfect timing. "As a matter of fact, Miss Pappas.." He could never bring himself to call this charming young lady anything but that--no "Pappas" or even "Melinda" here..."we don't." He deftly paused before adding, "And that is why I specifically sent for you."
"Meeee?" Mel gasped.
With some alarm Janice quietly demanded, "Whaddaya mean by that crack?"
Here we go, thought Donovan. Round Two. "Stay out of this, Covington," he said, brusquely. "I need help here and, besides, you're got you precious jo-oob. Remember?"
"So how about it, Miss Pappas?" he asked, ignoring Janice. "Are you going to be like your friend here and turn your back on your country in its hour of need as well?"
"Now just a fuckin' minute here!" exploded Janice. "We've both laid our asses on the line for our country a dozen times and more and you know it, General."
Donovan was unmoved by her outburst. "Shut up, Covington," he snapped. "I've decided we don't need you after all."
Janice snorted defiantly and then chuckled. "Mel's not going anywhere without me. Are ya, Mel?"
"That's pretty damn arrogant of you, Covington, don't you think?" observed Donovan calmly. "Miss Pappas is a highly intelligent individual who is fully capable of making her own decisions."
Poor Melinda. She was now a very unwilling pawn in this fierce war of wills between two individuals very much used to having their own way. "Golly, Jan, I...don't...know."
Janice never batted an eye but inwardly she was somewhat taken aback by Mel's hesitancy.
Donovan chose this moment to walk around his desk and park himself on one of its corners. Leaning over, he said, "There's a lot at stake here, Miss Pappas. I won't lie to you about that."
"Lay off her," warned Janice ominously.
"In fact the whole balance of power in the post war world may very well depend on your answer."
"Brother, how melodramatic can ya get?" cracked Janice. However she could not help but note how intently Mel was listening to him now. "Christ, she's buying into this malarkey!" she thought.
Again Donovan did not bother to reply to Janice but instead plowed straight ahead. "Now our people have been over this a dozen times and, believe me, if there was anyone else we could get to put in there, we would. But there is no one else. You, Miss Pappas of Columbia, South Carolina are the only person we can lay our hands on at the moment with enough experience in covert operations to properly finger this guy."
"Bullshit!" barked Janice. Turning to her friend, she cautioned, "Don't listen to him, Mel."
"I can assure you there is no one else," said Donovan in his most sincere voice.
"You mean to tell me there are no photographs of this joker?" asked Janice incredulously.
"Not that we can find anyway," he replied. "It seems our boy had quite a colorful youth and consequently later developed quite an aversion to having his picture taken." Turning back to Mel, he bored his eyes in on her. "Well?" he asked expectantly. "Each moment you hesitate is potential opportunity lost."
"Oh my," Mel murmured, after swallowing hard.
"God damn it! Can't you see what you're doing to her?" said Janice, her anger again rising. At this moment she hated Donovan for the anguish he was causing the gentle Melinda. You and your fucking mind games, she thought. OSS director or no, she was about to suggest he do something anatomically impossible when she heard Mel's quiet drawl.
"Could Janice and I have a word alone, sir?"
"Why of course, young lady," Donovan replied smoothly. "That's a good idea. You two talk it over between you and just yell out when you've come to a decision." I've got 'em! he crowed silently. He then smugly reminded himself he had not been one of the best attorneys in New York for nothing. Being very careful to avoid eye contact with the glaring Janice, he stepped out the office and pulled the door shut after him.
No sooner had the latch clicked before Janice hissed, "What the hell's the matter with you? Have you lost your mind? Can't you see he's just tryin' to play you--us--for a sucker?"
"Now, Ja-yun," Mel drawled, "you heard what he said. They need us."
"They need us just like Kate Smith needs to put on weight." Ignoring Mel's chuckle, she went on, "Don't you see? It's one thing to put yourself at risk in order to stop somebody from killing the President or prevent the Panama Canal from being blown up. Those were real threats to real people. All Donovan is talkin' about here is vagueness and ambiguity."
"I don't know, he sounded pretty convincing to me," said Mel.
"Have you looked at a map of Europe lately?" Janice asked. "Austria is being hammered from three sides. You've got the Russkies comin' in from the east, Patton's boys are pushing in from the west, not to mention those tens of thousands of very pissed off Germans who are by now enraged enough to shoot anything stupid enough to get in their way." Her voice then softened and she said, "Mel, please, the war's almost over. Nobody, least of all Donovan, can say we didn't do our part. Now let's walk out of here right now and forget all about this foolishness."
The heart-broken look on Mel's face told all. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint Janice but in her heart she felt this was one of those rare times when she simply had no choice. If Janice tried to insist that she stay...well, she would just have to defy her that's all. "I know you're just tryin' tuh look out for me," said Mel gently. "As always. And Lord knows I don't want to go against you..."
"Then don't," said Janice, close to pleading now. "Not on this."
Her eyes welling up, Melinda almost apologetically said, "I have to."
"Like hell you do," said Janice. But for all her tenacity the tears told her the battle was already lost. Melinda Pappas had made up her mind.
For all her grace and charm Mel Pappas was not without a heavy dose of stubbornness herself. This trait came not only from the obvious origin--the ancient warrior's spirit within her, but more recently from her great-grandfather, Charles Wills, who had helped "whup" the Federals at Chickamauga. Though normally quite content to let other, more assertive folks take the lead, there were those rare occasions when Mel felt the need take the initiative on her own. One of those occasions had been back in '40 when she had summoned up the courage to leave her quiet, bookish life behind and go to Macedonia to hunt down one Janice Covington. Every day she thanked the Fates for that decision. And now, she sensed another one of those times was at hand. But her surprising decision to go was not just based on stubbornness or a sense of duty. Clearly there was something else at work here.
Looking deeply into her lover's eyes, she said, "Ja-yun, I'm going. I can't explain it. I know everything you said is true but something, something way down deep within me is tellin' me I not only ought to go, but I must go.
The archaeologist had heard this before. "You think it's...her?" asked Janice, referring to spirit of the dark warrioress within her.
"I, I think so," said Mel. "I think I'm supposed to do something over there."
Though she still had severe misgivings about the whole thing, Janice knew it was useless to resist any further. She knew she could trust the ancient one for Xena always looked out for Mel's best interests.
Having put her cards on the table, Mel now leaned back and patiently waited for Mount Covington to erupt once more. But this time there was no outburst, only silence.
She saw Janice close her eyes and sigh deeply. "All right," she said, finally, "have it your own way. We'll go."
"Thank you." It was a simple reply but none ever came more from the heart.
Janice pointed a finger at Mel and quickly added, "But we'll do this my way, understand?"
"Of course, Jan," Mel answered, meekly. "Jes' like always."
"Uh huhhh," Janice grunted. She was still trying mightily to be angry with Mel but it was all to no avail. In the good old days she could work up an anger lasting all of two or three minutes against the accident prone woman but now, after all they had been through she found she could not even do that anymore. "Mel," she said in helpless admiration, "you're some piece of work, you know that?"
Mel smiled and leaned over to her. Whispering ever so softly into Janice's ear, she cooed, "I luuv you too, Janice Covington."
Words to die for, thought Janice. Maybe they would be. With a look of tenderness no one but Mel was allowed to behold she laid the back of her hand to the woman's cheek. Mel took the hand in her own and lovingly caressed it for a moment before lightly kissing its fingers one by one.
"All right then," Janice mumbled, winking at Mel, "let's go see what's waiting for ya." Boy, could I use a good stiff belt right now, she thought.
"You're the boss, Jan," Mel replied, smiling warmly.
"Donovan!" Janice barked out.
Donovan slowly swung open the office door and strode across the room to his desk.
"Okay, General," Janice said, as he took his seat behind the desk, "you win. We'll do it."
"Atta girl," he said, trying to hide his relief. "I knew we could count on you." He reached into a desk drawer and extracted a single sheet of what looked to be typing paper. He then glanced at it briefly before shoving it across the desk to Janice. "These are your contacts," he said as Janice picked up the paper. Neatly printed on it in plain pencil were three names.
Scanning the first name, she read, "Flight Leftenant Andrew Sim, RAF." Hmm, a Brit, she thought. Probably not his real name. Or his real service for that matter. Most likely an officer in the SOE, the British counterpart to the OSS. The second name read, "Captain Rex Coleman, USAAF." It was the third name, however, that really caught her eye. "S/Sgt. Brownlow Anthony." Now what the hell kind of name is that? she wondered.
"Okay," said Donovan, "let's get down to cases. At approximately 0330 hours tonight a C-87 will be taking off from Bolling Field. Be on it."
"Tonight?" Mel asked, with some surprise.
"That's right," said Donovan. "And don't worry about clearance or any of that other crap. I can assure you that nobody will be asking any questions. Just make sure you take your ID's."
"We're gonna need some money," Janice declared. "In case we have to buy our way out."
"Of course," replied Donovan smoothly. Reaching once more into the depths of the desk drawer, he hauled out two thick envelopes which he then pitched down on the table in front of the two women. "There's ten thousand bucks," he said. "Five for each of you in case you somehow get separated. Think of it as a kind of insurance policy."
Janice nodded to Melinda who promptly stuffed the two envelopes in her purse. "Just so you know," she said. "Don't be expecting any refunds when we get back."
Donovan got her meaning. "It of course goes without saying that you will be free to keep whatever amount is left over after you have completed the job."
"You're all heart," said Janice.
"Your first stop will be St. John's, Newfoundland. From there you will proceed to Station 179 northwest of London," said Donovan, ignoring her jab. "Sim will be expecting you. As soon as you land you are to meet with him and he will make the necessary arrangements for your flight to Gibraltar. Again, you will be there only long enough to re-fuel and then you'll be flown straight on to Rome. Captain Coleman and a colleague will be waiting for you there and the two of you will be flown in P-38's to an as yet undisclosed site. Once there you will join up with Sergeant Anthony and from there..." Here he reached into the drawer yet again and pulled out a clasped envelope. "...from there this takes over."
"Donovan, you're been watching too many movies," said Janice. "This sealed orders stuff is silly."
"You won't think it's silly if you're forced down somewhere," said Donovan.
"You know of course that we'll be worn out by the time we get there."
"Can't be helped," said Donovan. "You'll just have to make the best of it. The time factor is critical."
It was here Mel softly cleared her throat. "Umm, General?"
"Don't you think you ought to tell us jes' who it is I'm supposed to identify?"
Donovan smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. "Damn. I almost forgot." He grinned ruefully at Janice and said, "See what you do to me, Covington? I don't know how I put up with a pain in the butt like you all those years."
Janice, naturally, was not sympathetic. Subtly lifting her eyebrows, she said, "You must be slippin', Donovan. This ain't rocket science you know."
The two women saw a queer smile come to Donovan's face. "Funny you should say that," he said. "Because this time that's exactly what it is."
Both ladies emitted a confused "Huh?"
"The man you are after is named Janik Cernak. And he is, as matter of fact, a rocket scientist." He looked expectantly at Mel. "Rings a bell, eh?" he asked her.
"Why...yes," Mel answered, haltingly. Oh my God she thought.
Janice turned and looked quizzically at her partner. As she did she noticed all the color seemed to have gone from Mel's face. "You never said anything about knowing any rocket wizards."
Before Mel could answer her Donovan interjected, "It was October 17, 1938. Miss Pappas here was not long out of college and was working as a special assistant to her father. On this particular evening, Miss Pappas and two other friends went downtown to see a one night performance of "Henry V." Early in the fourth act Miss Pappas excused herself from her two companions in order to visit the ladies room. Hurrying along so as not to miss Henry's big speech in scene three, Miss Pappas rounded the corner and ran headlong into a young man exiting the men's room."
Well, it sounds like Mel anyway, thought Janice.
But all Mel could wonder was, How does he know these things? She would have been astounded to know how embarrassingly easy it had all been for the FBI. They were already aware of the fact that Cernak had spent the fall and winter of '38 in the United States. A check at Immigration had revealed he had been registered as a cultural exchange student at the University of South Carolina.
While both scouring the local and campus newspapers from that period in the outside chance they might find a picture of Cernak, they ran across a curious item in the gossip page of the campus newspaper regarding a certain dean's daughter and a promising young scientist. Correctly guessing the scientist to be Cernak, the G-Men had then run a check of the all the deans at the school. This had produced the name Melinda Pappas, daughter of Mel Pappas, Dean of Archaeology.
Ordinarily this would have sent them straight after Mel herself
but in the meantime they happened across one Janet Thomas. She had been one
of Mel's closest friends, such as they were, during their college days and she
knew all about Mel and Cernak. In fact, two women had double-dated once or twice.
From her they learned all they needed to know. Melinda Pappas had indeed dated
Janik Cernak several times in late 1938. Locating Mel's whereabouts had been
another simple matter and learning that she had actually been in government
employ for practically the entire duration of the war had put a certain ironic
twist on the whole affair.
"Well," continued Donovan, "one thing led to another and..."
"We went out...some," Mel blurted out.
Donovan reached into the still open drawer and retrieved two sheets of paper stapled together one corner. Flipping over to the back page, he said, "Right up until January, 1939 when Cernak went back home to Czechoslovakia, right?"
Mel nodded stiffly but said nothing.
"Okaaay," said Janice evenly. "You've established that Mel knows--or knew--the guy. What I wanna know is what makes him so hot."
"What makes him so hot is that he is the world's leading authority on rocket guidance systems," said Donovan. "Before the Germans decided to put him in the steel business he had spent the previous thirty months at Peenemünde working on the V-2 project with von Braun. Any Londoner can tell you these guys are so far ahead of any of the Allies in rocketry that it ain't even funny."
"And now there will soon be a race to see who can scarf up the most of these wonder boys, the Russians or us, right?" Janice cynically asked.
"There already is," Donovan corrected her. "And that's why we need Cernak. Before it all fell apart for him he was one of the top two or three men in von Braun's program."
"Well I'd say his options for future employment in rocket building are severely limited," said Janice, wryly.
"This isn't funny, Covington," admonished Donovan.
"What makes you think he might be sympathetic to the Russians?" Mel asked, quietly.
"Miss Pappas, you should know that one," replied the General.
Seeing Mel's discomfort at this remark, Janice said, "Suppose you tell us instead."
"All right; two reasons. One, the guy was clearly a Communist sympathizer..." He looked hard at Melinda..."wasn't he, Miss Pappas?"
Melinda nodded weakly. "Yes." What else could she say ? It was true. More than once she had heard him express his admiration for the supposedly wonderful changes being made to Soviet Russia under the Stalin regime. As a woman who loved her country that kind of talk had always made her feel very uncomfortable.
"The other, of course," continued Donovan, "is opportunity. You see, it's a sure bet von Braun and most of his associates are going to end up working for us--eventually. Now a guy like Cernak...well from what we know of him he just may be one of those ducks that likes a small pond, if you catch my meaning. As long as von Braun is around Cernak will always be nothing more than a supporting player but if he goes to the U.S.S.R..." Donovan let his words trail off.
Mel knew he was right. If there was one thing she remembered about the enigmatic young man with the amazing intellect it was how extremely ambitious he was. She also remembered how bitter he had been over the failure of the West to stop Hitler's aggression when they had the chance.
"So our job is to not only find this fella but convince him to return with us?" asked Janice, her incredulity clearly evident.
"That's the plan," replied Donovan.
Janice shook her head and said, "Why can't you just have your boys grab this palooka and then do the sorting out later? And if it turns out you got the wrong man you can always haul the guy's ass back, right?"
"I wish it were that simple," replied Donovan, wistfully. "Even though we now know where Cernak is being held it's like we're being asked to pinch hit with two strikes already on us. One, we've learned there are several other from the aircraft factory mill being held at this same place. Two, we have to take into account the likelihood that Cernak may not..." For Melinda's sake he took pains to soften his assessment..."be too keen on co-operating with us. It's entirely plausible he could trade identities with somebody all too willing to fall into American hands.
Janice had to admit it made sense.
Both Janice and Donovan turned to the source of the soft interruption.
"Yes, Miss Pappas?"
"Mister Donovan, you keep sayin' Janik, er...Mister Cernak might not want to come back with us."
"Well, what if he doesn't? I mean, we can't make him come back."
Janice stared down at her feet and said nothing. By now she had more or less figured out the answer to that one. Go on, she thought, angrily. Tell her, Donovan. Tell her what you want us to do.
Instead Donovan smoothly replied, "My dear Miss Pappas, that's all the more reason why we need you in on this. You see, we have every confidence that you will be able to convince him that the good ol' USA isn't such a bad place after all." Donovan did not feel too badly about lying to the charming lady because, after all, the way he saw it this was only half a lie. And who knew? She might actually be able to pull it off.
"Even if she can this ain't gonna be no picnic you know," Janice declared.
"You've been in worse places," retorted Donovan with a shrug. "Now give me back that list of names and get out of here."
Standing up, Janice leaned over the desk to hand the sheet back to him. As she did Donovan shot her a very dark look and said, "Miss Pappas, would you be so kind as to go out front and ask my secretary for a couple of aspirin? It seems Covington here has given me a headache."
"Why of course, General."
As soon as Mel had cleared the door Donovan rasped, "One last little thing. While it is, of course, desirable to us that you bring Cernak out let there be no misunderstanding here. No matter what, he is not to fall into Russian hands. Do I make myself clear?"
He had but Janice wanted all doubt removed. "What the hell are you saying?" she asked in a loud whisper.
Through gritted teeth Donovan again enjoined, "He is not, repeat not--to fall into Russian hands." With that he slowly pushed the desk drawer closed.
Janice straightened up and stared down at him. "I get the picture," she said, grimly.
"Good. Just don't forget."
Shaking her head in something akin to disbelief, she said, "You're one cold son of a bitch, you know that?"
"To quote General Sherman, 'War is hell,' Janice. You should know that by now," said Donovan. This was the first time in her recollection that he had called her by her first name. "And besides, you don't have to worry about getting your own hands dirty. That's one of the reasons you're taking Anthony along. However, if by chance some calamity should befall him be-fore..."
"Don't worry," Janice grimly reassured him, "I'll do what I have to do. And for the record Sherman never could remember having actually said that."
"Here ya go, General," Mel said brightly, upon re-entering.
"Thank you, child," said Donovan, taking the aspirin.
"Come on, Mel," said Janice, taking Mel by the elbow. Turning,
she shot one last icy glance back at Donovan and then said, "We've got work
Chapter 4: Under Way
Janice slid in behind the wheel of the big sedan and stuck her key in the ignition. Melinda got in on the passenger side, ducking her head as she always did to avoid bumping it. Depressing the clutch, the archaeologist started the car and pulled the shifter first back toward her and then down, putting the transmission in low gear. She then checked the traffic and carefully eased the vehicle out onto the street. The car was a 1936 Oldsmobile which the two women had each put up two hundred and fifty dollars to buy. That had been in late 1943 and since that time the "Gray Ghost," as Mel called it, had proven to be worth every dollar of the purchase price. Melinda simply loved that car. Though Janice was somewhat leery of her partner's driving, Mel nevertheless drove it to work on the average of twice a week as part of the car pool she shared with two other State employees. As part of this Mel felt it was her duty to keep the car immaculate--so much so that Janice had once accused her of applying so much wax that it was now thicker than the paint.
But now, as they crossed Blandensburg Road where New York Avenue once again becomes US Highway 50, Melinda's mind was a long way from the joys of waxing and buffing. It was on the blond boy with the far away look in his eyes she had known back in what was now a different lifetime ago. Janik Cernak! she thought. My God, I haven't thought about him in years. Not since...
Janice. She wondered what her take was on all this. She had not failed to notice that since their departure from Donovan's office the woman beside her had not uttered one single word. Golly, she thought anxiously, you don't reckon she's...angry, is she? Nah, of course not. Why should she be? But still--one never knew with Janice. She was so unpredictable at times.
After another two miles of silence Mel could not stand it any longer. Seeking to break the ice, she reached into her purse and pulled out an unopened pack of Life Savers. "Yuh want a Life Saver?"
Mel removed her gloves and tore open the little package. "Which flavor?" she asked.
Janice slyly looked out of the corner of her eye. Very casually she said, "Ohh, orange I guess." She knew well enough that Mel always kept the orange ones for herself. Hearing this, Mel snorted and, without breaking stride, plucked out a lemon one and gave it to her. "Close enough," Janice said, good-naturedly eyeing the candy before popping the candy into her mouth.
Mel did the same with her precious orange one. "Ja-yun?" she said, folding the wrapper over. "About...Janik."
"What about him?"
"You're not...upset, are you?"
"Of course not," Janice snorted. "What makes you think that?"
"I don't know," said Mel. "I just thought--"
"Why in the world would I be upset about somebody you dated a year and a half before I ever laid eyes on ya?"
"No, silly, it's not that," Mel countered.
"Well it's that I, you know, never told you about it."
How sincere can you get? Janice wondered. She thought of her own past relationships--one or two of which had even bordered on being serious. Not one of these had she ever so much as breathed a word of to her sweet Melinda. None. Not one. And now here she was feeling guilty? Ridiculous! "Mel...honey, it's none of my business. Boys and girls do date you know. I mean, God! What guy in his right mind wouldn't want to go out with a beautiful woman like you?"
Despite Janice's reassurance Mel was still a little apprehensive. Thus she felt compelled to add, "They weren't really...serious dates ya know."
Mel paired her gloves together and absently folded them in her hands. "What I mean to say is, we did go out a few times but usually just to a movie or maybe a basketball game with a stop off at some diner for a bite to eat afterwards."
Janice pulled down the corners of her mouth and then said, "Well I don't know how they do it down south but where I come from--that is a serious date."
"This ain't funny, Jan," Mel said, earnestly.
They drove on in silence for a few minutes before Janice, with typical bluntness, finally spoke. "So how come you two never did it?"
"Did what?" Mel asked, with genuine innocence. But when she saw the very wry glance Janice was now darting at her out of the corner of her eye she "got the drift." "Oooo-ooohh. You mean...it."
"That's right, Janice said with a devilish smile. "It."
"My Lord, Jan," said Mel, blushing. "You are jes' the most awful thing."
"True, but don't change the subject."
"Tuh tell you the truth," Mel said, a touch of sheepishness in her voice, "after the first couple of times I don't think he was really all that interested in me. I think he felt I was harmless; someone he felt he could jes' talk to."
"What was he," Janice wondered aloud in amazement, "nuts?"
Mel looked down at her gloves and quietly said, "I'm afraid I wasn't...much...good at socializin'." With an apologetic little smile she looked at Janice and added, "Well you know how I am."
This self-deprecating, but totally sincere, remark was enough to cause Janice to take her eyes off the road and glance sharply at the woman sitting across the front seat from her with head now slightly bowed. Her voice dripping with sarcasm, she said, "Here we go again. Yeah, I know how you think you are. Damn it, Mel. Even after all this time, after all we've been through, you still think you're that awkward, timid, person I first met back in '40, doncha?" Without giving Mel a chance to reply she bore straight ahead. "Well that's crap, Mel, with a capital C. You wanna know how you are? I'll tell you how you are...you're smart, and brave, and compassionate beyond words and I won't even go into just how fuckin' drop dead gorgeous you are. That, my hopelessly insecure friend, is how you really are so stop that. I don't want to hear any more of that stupid nonsense about how you are, comprende?"
She had not meant to use such a truculent tone of voice but it irked her that even now, for all her obvious talents, Mel Pappas' level of self-esteem was not what it should be.
"Okay then, Janice," Mel said with an embarrassed little smile. "Have it your way. You know how I was."
"That's better," said Janice, approvingly nodding her head once. "Sooo, what can me tell you about him?"
"Way-ul, he was---ummm--you want another Life Saver?"
"Sorry." Still, she took the time to hand Janice a lime Life Saver before continuing, "He was very smart, obviously. Even his professors were in awe of him."
"What sort of fella was he?" asked Janice. "I mean, personally. Did he have a lot of friends?"
Mel cocked her head to one side in thought. "I can't rightly say he did. I think that was the attraction between us in the beginning. We were both, you know, kind of loners."
Janice deftly pulled the Oldsmobile over into the left lane and whipped past the slow moving dump truck they had been trailing behind for the last mile. Mel waited until she had eased the car back into the right lane before continuing. "He was a nice boy. Reserved--very polite. Wasn't one much for jocularity." She squinted her eyes slightly and added, "And to his credit he wasn't nearly as arrogant as a lot of those super-intelligent types you see runnin' around on college campuses."
"Did he ever talk to you about what was happening back home?"
"Oh yeah," came Mel's quick reply. "All the time. You could tell he was very worried. I remember him sayin' more than once that now that the Naah-zees had gotten away with annexin' Austria, it would only be a matter of time before they came back demanding the Sudetenland and once they controlled that the rest of Czechoslovakia would be wide open for 'em."
"Boy, he hit that right on the head," Janice mused aloud. "So he knew his politics then?"
"Uhh huhh. That's why he went home in '39," Mel answered. "Because he saw his worst fears becomin' a reality and he was going to try to get his family out of Czechoslovakia."
Janice did not miss the slight hint of disappointment her voice. "You liked him, didn't you?" she asked gently.
Mel smiled warmly at her best friend and then very quietly said, "Janice, he didn't see me as a gangly, four-eyed klutz. He talked to me like I was his intellectual equal. You can't imagine how that made me feel." She slid over next to Janice and looped an arm around hers. "Like I said he was a nice boy." She trailed her finger up the full length of Janice's arm and, in a very silky voice, said, "As boys go."
A half hour later Janice eased the big Oldsmobile into the driveway of their Annapolis home. As she reached to pull the key out of the ignition, Mel suddenly covered her hand with her own.
"Jan?" she asked. "About what Mister Donovan said. I don't believe for a minute Janik is going to pay any attention to what I have to say. What if it turns out he doesn't want to come back with us? "
"I don't know, Kid," said Janice, evenly. "I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it." Desperately she was hoping her eyes were not giving her away. She hated herself for lying to the ever-trusting Melinda but there was no way she was going to impart the details of Donovan's dark "little thing" to her. And if later events necessitated that she carry out Donovan's directive...well down deep she wondered if she would have the guts to do it. Make no mistake, Janice Covington was not squeamish. Indeed she had killed before and she had no qualms about doing it again if the situation arose. But before it had always been in self defense and this time it could very well prove to be cold-blooded murder. Even more disturbing than this was the thought of what it would do to her dear Melinda if she ever found out. Janice knew full well it would rip the guts out of what they had together. Just what will you do, Janice Covington, she wondered, even as she thrilled to the warm touch of Mel's hand, serve your country and risk losing the love of your life or let Cernak go and in doing so maybe betray your country? At this point she honestly did not know. And besides, there was always the hope that they, or more specifically--Melinda and her many charms--could convince him he would be better off coming back to the United States with them.
In the pale light of the cockpit the co-pilot put down his clipboard. "Pre-flight complete."
"Okay, start number one engine," said the pilot.
The co-pilot hit the switch and listened for the familiar high pitched whine of the starter motor turning over the big 1200 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine.
Whiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Number one coughed, expelling clouds of smoke out the exhaust manifold, and sputtered to life. In a few seconds she was turning over smoothly and to the co-pilot's experienced ear it was like a kitten's purr. One by one the three remaining engines of the C-87 transport were brought to life in the same manner. C-87's were actually stripped down B-24 Liberator bombers which had been converted to carry cargo and passengers. And to that end, the C-87's, unlike their famous cousins which carried a crew of ten, carried only a crew of four. While the accommodations on these planes were crude compared to civilian aircraft they at least featured heated cabins. Janice, for one, was grateful for this. She had had enough of being jostled around on those freezing Superforts.
As the plane sat there warming up a jeep suddenly appeared out of the darkness and screeched to a halt just behind the plane's elevator. The vehicle had no sooner stopped when out tumbled two dark figures--one tall and lean, the other short and lithe. The short one barked out a "thanks" to the jeep's driver and then slung one strap of a standard field pack over the shoulder. In the darkness, dressed as they were, it would have been easy to mistake Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas for men. Both were wearing plain lace-up work boots and loose fitting khaki trousers with extra large pockets. Janice naturally had on her treasured old hat and her battered flight jacket with the cracking leather.
Melinda meanwhile had chosen to wear the waist length submariner's jacket a smitten young ensign had gallantly provided for her after his sub had rendezvoused with the two women off the coast of Uruguay in early '43. Though still a lady in every sense of the word and one that enjoyed wearing nice things, Mel had learned early on just how important it was to dress properly for these missions. Nevertheless, she wished more of their missions had been like that one in Lisbon in December '43 when she had gotten the opportunity to wear that simply exquisite diamond necklace and that wonderfully luxurious full length mink coat while posing as the wife of a US diplomat who was in the process of being blackmailed. Since then she had regularly vowed to herself that one day, one day...she would have a coat just like that of her very own.
But not today.
As the two of them neared the neared the fuselage door a hand extended out from inside the plane. Janice looked at Melinda and jerked her head toward the hand, indicating that she should go first. Mel did as directed and once she was safely on board, Janice slipped the pack off her shoulder and tossed it up to the assisting figure in the doorway. First taking one last look around the dimly lit airfield, she then climbed up to join her companion inside.
Once the oil temperature gauges had indicated each of the engines' oil was sufficiently warm the pilot, First Lieutenant Doug Jackson of Moses Lake, Washington, picked up his hand microphone. "Uhh tower, this is Flight Ten requesting taxi clearance, over." Actually this was totally unnecessary for in the wee hours of 0345 Bolling Field was not exactly a hive of activity. Nevertheless the proper procedures were, as always, strictly adhered to.
"Roger, Flight Ten. Ahh please advise the status of your payload, over." The "payload" was of course, Janice and Melinda.
Activating the intercom mike at his throat, Jackson, said, "Barney, ya got 'em strapped down?"
"Shore 'nuff, Lootenant," crackled a voice over his headphones. "You can let 'er rip."
"Payload secure, Tower. Over," said Jackson.
"Roger, Flight Ten. You are clear to taxi."
Easing the throttle up on two of the engines, Jackson carefully maneuvered the plane out from its parking spot and onto the main runway.
As soon as they were in position Jackson heard, "Flight Ten, you are clear for take-off."
"Roger," Jackson answered. "Well, Max," he said to his co-pilot, "you heard the man."
"Let 'er rip, Doug," replied Max grinning.
Forty-five minutes out of St. John's they were at ten thousand feet, the C-87's optimum altitude for long range flying. For Jackson and his co-pilot, Maxwell James, this was just another day at the office. Trans-Atlantic flights were old hat to them by now. As it turned out, on this particular one Janice and Mel were the only ones on board besides the crew, much to Janice's relief. For she was already having a rough time of it. She wasn't so much afraid of flying, it was just that it sometimes made her ill. It did not happen each and every time she flew but when it did....
Five hundred miles into the flight Melinda patted her friend on the knee. "How are you feelin', Jan?" she asked with a sympathetic little smile.
Her head pressed back against the seat, mouth agape, Janice weakly rolled her eyes toward the soft voice. "Mel," she said weakly, "I'm too young to die."
"Now, Janice, you're not going to die."
"Ohh yeah. This is it," groaned Janice. "Meeel?"
"Yes, Janice?" Mel asked, trying not to smile. It was not that she was amused by her lover's plight it was just that the absurdity of the situation was not lost on her. Big, bad Janice Covington, afraid of neither man nor beast nor anything else for that matter---acting like a kid who had eaten too many green apples.
"After I'm gone, promise me you'll go ahead and take that job with Poole, okay?"
"Shhhhh. Maybe you ought to try to get some sleep," Melinda suggested, trying to be helpful.
"You kiddin'?" It was here the plane chose to hit an air pocket, dropping a good hundred feet. "Jesus!" yelped Janice.
"I think maybe you ought to leave Him out of it," said Mel, evenly. "After all I don't think it was His idea for you to have all that greasy bacon for breakfast."
"That's it," Janice moaned pitifully, "kick a girl when she's down. Mel Pappas, I'll get you for this. Ohhhhh."
"Now, Janice, Mel said, soothingly, "don't be that way."
"Sorry." Suddenly Janice's face grew very pale. "Mel," she said her voice rising, "I think you better find me something to..."
"Meeeeell!" Janice gagged and lurched forward in her seat. In desperation Melinda shoved under her face the only receptacle she could lay her hands on--Janice's hat.
"Sorry, Jan, it was all there was."
"Damn it, I..." But here the woman once more heaved violently into the vomit spattered hat.
"Welcome to Chuckyerguts Airlines. Can I get you anything, ladies? Coffee, tea, a barf bag?" an amused voice asked from behind. It was Curry, the navigator. "Having trouble, ladies?"
"What's it look like...wise guy?" gagged Janice.
Ignoring the stench, Melinda cupped her hand over Janice's forehead. "You wouldn't happen to have a towel we could use, wouldja?" she asked Curry.
Curry saw the genuine concern for her friend in the woman's ice blue eyes and suddenly rued his wisecrack. "I'll see what I can do," he said.
"Fuckin' asshole," gulped Janice, after he had gone.
"Jan, he didn't mean nothin' by it," Mel said tenderly. Leaning down, she lightly kissed the suffering archaeologist on her sweaty temple. "Feeling better?" she asked.
"No--yes--I don't know."
In less than a minute Curry returned bearing something green. "I couldn't find a real towel," he said. "We usually haul cargo--not passengers. However I did find these." He peeled apart three small rags and handed them to Mel. "They're shop towels," he said. "Don't worry, they're clean." He then nodded toward Janice. "Is she gonna be okay?"
"She'll be fine," replied Mel.
"That's easy for you to say," groaned Janice.
Pointing to the fetid hat, Curry said, "How about if I get rid of that for you? I can chuck it out the cargo hatch."
"Thank you," said Mel, gingerly handing the hat up to him.
"I uh, I took the liberty of dampening one of those rags for ya. I figured she might could use it."
"You are very kind," Mel said, gratefully. Finding the damp one, she began to gently wipe Janice's face with it.
"Mel, I'm not a kid," Janice weakly protested. However she did not resist.
"Why I reckon I know that," cooed Melinda. "Now just shush and sit still."
Standing there watching Melinda wipe the stricken woman's face, Curry could not help but feel the chemistry between them. Obviously the two of them were very close. He saw Mel put an arm around Janice and whisper something inaudible in her ear after which the blonde flashed a mischievous, albeit brief, grin. Strangely beginning to feel somewhat like an intruder, he finally said, "Well uh, I better get back forward, I need to check our course."
"Thank you, Mister ahhh...."
"Curry, Miss. Al Curry. You can call me Al."
"Thank you...Al. You've been so very kind," said Mel.
Curry nodded stiffly and moved forward, delicately holding Janice's poor hat by the brim with both hands.
"What a nice fella," remarked Mel.
"Yeah, a regular Thomas Jefferson Smith," sniffed Janice.
"For goodness sake, why is it you can't stand for anybody to be nice to you?" asked Mel in exasperation.
"I let you be nice to me, don't I?" Janice asked, with some irritation in her voice.
But Mel ignored this. She was just glad to see that some of her friend's color was now returning. "Well it's a wonder," she said. "I mean, the way you carry on sometimes."
"Screw 'em," snorted Janice.
"Janiiiice," admonished Mel.
Still holding the damp rag to her forehead, Janice turned to her friend. "Look, my trusting friend, I learned at a very early age that when some stranger offers to help you they invariably want something in return."
"That's simply not true," replied Mel. "Well, most of the time it's not true. Folks help each other for no other reason than it's the right thing to do."
"Baloney," Janice shot back. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred they're not doin' it for the other poor shmuck's benefit. No sir. They're doing it because it enhances their own feelings of self-esteem--superiority even."
"You are such a cynic, said Mel, accusingly.
"Ain't I though?" replied Janice. Leaning back in her seat,
she put down the rag and closed her eyes. For the next hour she sat there, mentally
castigating herself for allowing that sneaky Donovan to do this to Mel and her.
Two hours later, in the gray North Atlantic light, trouble came to the C-87 in the guise of a small jolt.
James felt it too. "What the hell was that?" he asked.
Up front, as if replying to her unheard question, Jackson barked, "It's that God damn number four again!"
"Those turds back at Bolling were supposed to fix that fuel line," said James.
"They did," replied Jackson. "But I think it's busted open again."
"Jesus," muttered James. "Fuckin' piece of junk."
The C-87s were not very popular with their crews, who complained about all sorts of hazards, particularly with the fuel system, with the engines, and with the cockpit accessories. The C-87 was notorious for problems with leaking fuel tanks, and midair fires were an ever-present danger. The C-87 also had some dangerous icing properties, which made it a very risky plane at high altitudes. Thus, there were few tears shed when the Army's C-87s were withdrawn from service.
Now James saw the big prop on number four begin to spin erratically and then finally, stop. "We've lost her," he said.
"Cut the fuel and feather the prop," James ordered. God damn
it! he raged silently. In itself the loss of one engine was not that serious.
Like other four-engine planes the C-87 could easily fly with three engines.
However it made adjusting the plane's trim harder, thus making it more difficult
to fly. This, naturally, meant a lot more work for Jackson.
Chapter 5: England
"You are clear to land. Come right to zero, two, nine degrees."
"Roger." Jackson banked the C-87 to the right and very carefully lined up with the runway. Night landings in a blacked out England could be tricky but Jackson had done it many times before. Five minutes later they were safely down at Harrington Field, more commonly known as Station 179, and being waved to a spot near one of the main hangars. That Donovan had selected this particular place was no great surprise because Station 179 was the primary base of operations for OSS activity. Known as Operation Carpetbagger, the OSS, in co-operation with the Eighth Air Force had flown hundreds of clandestine sorties into the European continent to supply the French Resistance, insert agents, and drop leaflets. Though their activities had been severely curtailed by April, 1945, Station 179 was nevertheless still active.
As the C-87 rolled to a stop Janice, who for the most part was feeling better, picked her pack up off the floor and stood up. Turning to her statuesque friend, she said, "We're late. Let's hope that Sim guy is still around." This was the direct result of the C-87's losing its number four engine. By the time they had touched down at Harrington it was well after dark and the two women had no clue about what was to happen next. Everything hinged on Sim.
As he came aft Radioman Griffin, seeing the two women were having trouble opening the fuselage door, shouldered it open for them.
"Thanks, Mac," said Janice, dropping easily to the ground.
Melinda gave him a polite nod and followed her friend out the door.
"It looks like our welcoming committee has bugged out," said Janice, scanning the darkened airfield.
"So what do we do?" asked Mel.
"The first thing," replied Janice, zipping up her jacket, "is to find somewhere to get out of this cool night air." Turning to Griffin who was still in the doorway, she asked "Say, how do we get in touch with a Flight Lieutenant Sim?"
"Beats me," said Griffin, shrugging his shoulders. "You might try the duty hut."
"Where would that be?"
Griffin pointed to a silhouetted rectangle some two hundred yards away. "There."
Janice gave him a small wave signifying her appreciation. "This is a hell of a way to run a railroad if you ask me," she muttered, under her breath. "Well, Mel Pappas," she sighed, slipping one strap of the pack over her shoulder, "what do you say we go shake somebody's pecker?"
"Janiiiice!" Mel gasped. In the darkness Janice could not see the crimson now spreading across her friend's face. "I declare I sometimes think you do that on purpose."
"Come on," the archaeologist said with a chuckle. Mel was right. She did do it on purpose.
As the two of them melted into the darkness Janice asked "Are you hungry?"
"Oh, I suppose," Mel answered, casually. In truth she was famished but she did not want to admit that to Janice. The last thing she wanted was for Janice to take special pains for her. "How about you?" she asked.
"Are you kiddin'?" grinned Janice. "After what happened on the plane?"
"Be that as it may you really should try to eat something," Mel coaxed.
"We'll see," said Janice. Going hungry was no big deal for Janice
Covington. Unlike the privileged Mel, Janice knew what real hunger was--not
just the ready-for-supper kind. In the hard years of the early '30's an empty
belly had been a frequent visitor for the teen-age daughter of an indifferent,
obsessed man who was never home.
For Second Lieutenant Ellis Perkins of Fort Collins, Colorado
this night had all the ingredients for being a long one. Although only at his
post for little more than an hour now he was already finding it difficult to
remain awake. At first he had thought himself glad to have finally gotten rid
of that snotty RAF officer but now that the fellow was gone he found himself
missing having someone to talk to--even if...it...was a...Limey..........
Janice turned the door knob and, opening the door just a crack, peeked inside. "Well somebody's home anyway," she said. Pushing the door the rest of the way open, she stepped inside--Mel close at her heels. A young man with the gold bars of a second lieutenant was sitting behind a desk with his chin resting on his chest. "This joker is asleep," said Janice.
"You think we ought to wake him?" asked Mel.
"Now, Mel," Janice snorted, "you don't want this boob to get shot for sleeping at his post, do you?"
"Oh my, Jan, do they really do things like that?"
"Maybe," Janice impishly replied. Poor Mel, she thought good naturedly, for someone so intelligent you can be so gullible at times. Leaning over, she pushed on the man's shoulder. "Hey."
Perkins snorted and then mumbled, "Huh?"
Janice pushed again--harder this time. "Hey, Eisenhower! Wake up!"
"Hahhhh?" Lieutenant Perkins snapped his head erect and blinked hard at the two apparitions looming before him. "Who the hell are you?" he asked, somewhat flustered.
"Nazi spies, who do you think?" retorted Janice.
"Hey, you're dames!" he exclaimed.
"That gives you one dollar," said Janice. "Do you wanna try for the two dollar question now?"
"Just how did you manage to get in here anyway?" he asked.
Uhh boy, thought Janice, this one isn't exactly well stocked in the brains department. "Why through the door, genius," she answered, a little blithely. "How else?"
"Okay, smart ass," Perkins growled, "let's see how much poppin' off you do in front of the MP's."
Suddenly his hand shot out and yanked open the top most of the desk drawers. He had concluded this must surely be some sort of security violation and the .45 automatic in the drawer would go a long way toward making sure these two, whoever they were, would not be trying anything cute. He was quick enough to get his hand in the drawer all right but to his shock and dismay he found the lithe little blonde with the smart mouth to be much too agile to allow him to get the hand clear of the drawer. For no sooner had he made his move before Janice, instantly recognizing his intention, had dashed around behind the desk and, using her knee, slammed the drawer shut against his wrist.
"OWWWWW! Jesus, lady," screeched Perkins, "you're crazy!"
"Look, asshole," snarled Janice, "I wasn't born yesterday. I know what you were thinking. So don't be puttin' any fuckin' hands in fuckin' drawers where I can't fuckin' see 'em." Needless to say she was really angry now. The very idea of this man pulling a gun on Mel was enough to make her blood boil. Still applying pressure to the drawer, she continued, "Now pay attention, creep. I'm only going to explain this to you once. My friend and I just flew in from the States and a RAF guy named Sim was supposed to have met us here. End of fuckin' story. Now why don't you be a good little boy and give us a hand here." With a faint smirk she added, "Sorry, Bub, no pun intended."
"He...he was...here," yelped Perkins.
"Yeah. You just missed him by about ten minutes or so."
"Golly, Jan, he might still be around," said Mel.
"You're right," said Janice. Abruptly she drew back her knee and picked up the telephone. She then savagely slammed it down in front of Perkins and said, "I don't care who you have to call," she raged, "but you find that guy and you get his ass back here!"
From behind Janice heard the squeaking hinges herald the opening of the door. "Perkins!" a smooth voice called out. "The plane is here. Have you seen any sign--"
"Are you Sim?" Janice asked, cutting him off as she whirled to face him.
For a moment Sim simply stood there, gaping wide-eyed at the scene before him. Perkins, sitting at his desk with a daze look on his face. Beside him stood a fine looking, though obviously irate, woman. On the other side of Perkins' desk was a tall, raven-haired lady wearing horn-rimmed glasses that did nothing to distract from her stunning beauty. However this did not last long. In the cool manner of a true Englishman he quickly gathered himself. "I'm rather afraid you have me at a disadvantage, madam," he said, calmly.
Janice strode over and stuck out her hand. Although she was well aware that very many of the English were uncomfortable with this American custom she did not care. When Sim took the offered hand she announced, "I'm Covington and this is my friend, Mel Pappas."
But here again the usually unflappable Sim had to pause. This was not what he had expected at all.
"Is something wrong?" Janice asked, noting the look of puzzlement on his face.
"You say you're Covington?" he asked. "Jan Covington?"
Having already dealt with one man's incredulity, her mood was not improving any by the prospect of facing yet another Doubting Thomas. That she was getting tired of this was borne out by her answer. "Did I stutter?" she asked impatiently.
Sim ignored the crack and casually gave Melinda the once over. "Mel...Pappas?"
"Pleased tuh meet you I'm sure," said Melinda with a nervous little smile.
"This is most irregular," Sim said. "Most irregular."
"What are you talking about?" Janice asked in exasperation.
"Could I possibly trouble you for some identification?" asked Sim.
Janice sighed heavily and dug her hand into her inside jacket pocket. There she retrieved a small leather wallet which she handed to Sim. Inside was a small card which contained not only all the basic information, but also what Janice deemed to be the absolute worst photograph ever taken of her. "Satisfied?" she asked, taking the wallet back.
He smiled thinly and said, "Quite. Sorry about that, but one cannot be too careful. However you can surely understand my confusion. The communication I received stated I was to meet a certain Jan Covington and Mel Pappas.
"I get it," said Janice, breaking into a grin. "You thought we were guys."
"Yes," he admitted. "I rather was expecting chaps."
Janice grinned once more and moved to Melinda's side. Sweeping her hand over her friend's plainly visible "assets" she asked "Does this look like a 'chap' to you?"
"Janiiiice," said Melinda, in a mild reproof.
To ease her friend's embarrassment, Janice smiled warmly at the belle and gave her a wink.
"I should say not," sniffed Sim. "Else I think barracks life was starting to get to me."
For her part Janice did not believe that line for a second. It was clear to her this man was no ordinary flight officer. He had an air of self-confidence about him that spoke of experiences far beyond getting shot at by Messerschmitts. However she went along with the ruse. "All right," she said, "now that we are all pals shall we get down to business?"
"I have a motor car waiting to take you to your quarters," said Sim, casting a wary eye toward Perkins. "We can discuss details on the way over."
Janice nodded her assent and turned to Perkins who had been keenly watching this little exchange. "Thanks for all your help, general," she said mockingly.
"Ladies, if you would be so kind as to follow me?"
"Ahhh before we go anywhere with you," said Janice, "how about you let us see your ID?"
Sim looked at her quizzically for a moment and then opened his wallet. This one doesn't trust anybody, he thought. I like that. Holding his ID up to Janice's face, he then said, "I trust everything is in order."
"Yep," said Janice. "Lead on."
Once they were in the car she asked "By the way, where are we going?"
"Gravely at Grafton Underwood," replied Sim. "That's the nearest Lancaster base."
Although Janice was curious about the details of the next part of their mission she had been on enough of these to know that Sim would tell her in his own good time. So she held her tongue and patiently waited while they cleared the checkpoints and then drove them off Station 179. As soon as they were past the main gate Sim cleared his throat and said, "I'm afraid there is going to be a bit of a delay."
"How come?" Janice asked.
"It seems one of the engines on your plane blew a cylinder this morning on the way in."
Christ, thought Janice, that's all I need--another bucket of bolts plane.
"Couldn't we just get another one?" Mel asked.
"Eventually, yes," replied Sim.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Janice.
"I'm afraid one simply cannot go around commandeering aircraft," he explained. "Bomber Command frowns on that sort of thing you see. These things require authorization."
"And to get said authorization would take longer than it would to change the engine, right?"
"So, how long?"
The maintenance chaps are on it even as we speak," replied Sim. "The plane should be operational by morning at the latest."
I can live with that, thought Janice.
An hour later the archaeologist dropped her pack to the floor and gingerly stretched out on the rough blanket covering the steel cot that was her bed. "Ohhhh."
"Mel?" she groaned. "I tell ya, I am getting too old for this stuff."
Melinda sat down on Janice's bunk and gave the woman a little pat on the knee. Smiling at her, she said, "I expect there's enough life in those old bones of yours for one more turn at bat."
These assurances aside, Melinda was also grateful for one more opportunity to catch some sleep in a real bed. The original plan had called for them to lay over at Gravely for only about an hour before taking off directly for Gibraltar. Of course, with their Lancaster bomber now undergoing frantic repair efforts that had all changed. As far as she was concerned Janice just hoped their efforts were not too frantic.
In the meantime Sim had managed to produce some warmed over soup, a couple of ham sandwiches, and a couple of Cokes for their supper. This the two ladies had gratefully downed while Sim went to scour the base for some suitable quarters for them.
As Janice had guessed he was not actually assigned to Gravely and therefore was unfamiliar with the layout of the base. Because of this it had taken him some time to arrange a proper billet for the two women. In the end he had solved the problem rather nicely by having an orderly at the hospital haul over two of their spare bunks and set them up in the empty supply room he had found. As an added bonus the orderly, learning the beds were in fact for a couple of "birds," had also brought along one of the hospital's portable radios.
Now Mel began to unlace Janice's boots. Although as independent any individual could be, Janice nevertheless liked the fuss Mel always made over her. "You know, Mel," she teased, "only God knows when we'll get to bathe again."
In a somewhat surprising answer Mel said, "Well I reckon nobody ever died from body odor."
This elicited an odd look from Janice. While Melinda was not exactly afraid of dirt she was nevertheless very fastidious about her appearance--even in the field.
As Mel pulled the boot off Janice nonchalantly tucked her hands underneath her head. "Oh yeah? Well that boyfriend of yours might see things a little differently."
Already unlacing the other boot, Mel now suddenly stopped. Looking straight ahead, she lowered her eyes and in a very soft, plainly hurt voice said, "I told you he was not my boyfriend. I never had a boyfriend. I never had anybody. That is--until you, Jan."
Right about here Janice felt about as low as the proverbial snake's belly. She had not meant to hurt her friend. Far from it. In fact she was a little puzzled by Melinda's reaction because the belle very rarely took exception to her silly barbs. Usually she would just smile good-naturedly and shake her head. Not this time however.
Mel said no more and silently went back to unlacing Janice's boot.
"Gosh, Mel," said Janice, rising up in bed, "I was only joking. You know I didn't mean anything by that crack." She then hopefully added, "Don't cha?"
Melinda did not reply right away. Instead she merely pulled the boot off Janice's foot and carelessly pitched it over the foot of the bed.
"C'mon, Mel," coaxed Janice, "talk to me."
Then she reached out and placed her hand on her lover's arm. Clearly her careless line about the rocket whiz had struck a nerve. She was all too aware that Mel was a bundle of contradictions but the one she had never quite gotten a grasp on was how a beautiful, intelligent girl like Melinda could have grown up in such an obviously loving household feeling so lonely? Yes, Janice too had experienced this same emptiness from time to time but she had always manage to convince herself it was the price she had to pay for clawing her way to the top of a decidedly male profession. As she saw it Melinda had no such excuse.
Why then? Had it been that chronic shyness bordering on timidity? Had it been her gangly, sometimes painful, awkwardness? Or was it because she had simply been confused about her own sexuality? Janice could not say for certain because this was the one subject she had never quite been able to draw Melinda out on. Whatever the case, it had left the gentle, incredibly sweet woman with a desperate yearning to love--to be loved.
"What can I say, Kid? I'm an ass," said Janice.
"Janice Covington, you are no such thing," chided Melinda, placing her own hand on top of Janice's. She then looked her friend in the eyes and with a very straight face added, "You're, you're just demented, that's all."
Janice laughed and said, "Well you've got me there." She was relieved Mel was not too upset and mentally she made a note to dispense with the teasing.
She then lay back down and, after scooting to one side, patted the bed. Mel took the cue and eased her lanky body down onto the bed beside Janice. In an almost involuntary gesture each of them reached out for the other's hand. They lay there on their backs for a few moments--saying nothing--just quietly holding hands and reveling in the warm glow of the other's company.
After a time, Melinda spoke, "Don't you reckon we ought tuh try tuh get some sleep?"
"I can't sleep," sighed Janice. She then added, "But you should try to get some."
"I know you've probably had lots of lovers but was there ever...you know...anybody you really cared about?"
"Yeah," Janice answered. "You."
"Come on, Jan, I'm serious."
"Damn it, Mel," Janice growled in mock annoyance, "we've been together almost five years and you're just now gettin' around to asking me that?"
"Well, I had hoped that maybe one day you would tell me own your own," replied Mel.
"Why is it so all fired important that you know now?" Janice asked.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," said Mel, softly.
"I have nothing to hide from you, Mel Pappas. In all honesty I can't say as there ever was," Janice replied. She rolled over on her side and looked into Mel's icy blue eyes. "Mel," she began, "I won't kid you. I've helped to rock a few beds in my time. Mostly they were locals who just happened to be handy, okay?" She smiled thinly and added, "After a month or so without it you wouldn't believe how good some of them begin to look."
Melinda had figured as much. Janice had simply been too good at making love not to have had a lot of practice--going both ways. She contrasted this with her own experiences--such as they were. She had never been with a man. In fact before Janice she had never had anyone--unless of course, she counted her own fingers.
Janice squeezed Melinda's hand. "Are you shocked at that, Scarlett O' Hara?" she asked.
"Of course not," Melinda replied. "This ain't exactly the Victorian Era, ya know."
"Hmph," snorted Janice. "Those people fooled around as much as anybody else. Anyway, like I said I've done my share of sleeping around and then some. But you know something?"
"All that time, it was just...fucking, you know? Wham, bam, thank ya ma'am don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. That's all." She chuckled mirthlessly and added, "Like rabbits in a hutch." She rolled over so close to Mel that the belle could feel the hot breath on her neck. "That's all it ever was--just screwing. You, Melinda Rose Pappas, are the one, the only, person in my whole licentious life that I have ever, ever...made love to."
"Golly, Jan, I, I don't know what to say."
"That's simple enough," said Janice, huskily. "Say you love me."
"Ohhh, Jan, you know I do, the belle gushed. "From almost the first moment I saw you in that nasty old tent. You called me a lady, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," Janice replied softly as she snuggled still closer to her belle. "Although I gotta admit I was a lit-tle more preoccupied with our ahh, 'guests' right at that time."
Mel giggled and said, "Lord, Janice, when I walked into that tent and saw those fellas with those big ol' guns I thought I was going to pee in my panties."
"Hey don't feel bad," Janice retorted. "Because when the shooting started, I actually did!"
"Oh, Janice, you did not," chided Mel, cheerily.
"I did a little, I swear it," said Janice, holding up her fingers Boy Scout style.
Now, Melinda doubted if Janice had ever peed her panties because of anything. Nevertheless she thought it cute of her to say so.
Janice then groaned and said, "Speaking of which, I've got to go find a can."
"Now, Janice," Mel giggled, "I think the proper term on an air base is latrine."
"Call it what you want," said Janice, smiling at her, "I still have to pee." She pulled back her sleeve to check her watch...8:55. Almost 2:00 A.M. local time, she thought. Hastily pulling her boots back on, she then donned her jacket and said, "Mel, turn on the radio. Maybe we can catch some news."
"Mel arose and turned on the radio just as the final strains of Dinah Shore's voice faded away. Closing the door behind her on the way out, Janice heard, "This is the BBC, London. Here is..."
This sure is a big place, she thought, as the sound of the radio died away.
As is turned out Janice walked around for twenty minutes and never did find a latrine. Ultimately she was reduced to grumpily squatting down behind a stack of barrels in order to relieve herself. A few minutes later found her back at the door of their hut. As she entered she heard a soft melody did not recognize wafting over the room.
"Damn it, I never did find a---"
Something was wrong. Melinda was sitting leaned over on the edge of the bed, one elbow propped on her knee with her forehead buried in her hand.
"What's wrong?" Janice asked as she quickly strode to her friend. Mel looked up and with alarm Janice saw the tears streaming down her face. "God, Mel, what is it?" she asked, kneeling down in front of the belle. "What happened?"
A black thought came to her. "It wasn't that fuckin' Perkins, was it?"
Melinda sniffed and wiped rubbed a finger under her nostrils. "He's....dead, Jan," she said, quietly.
"Who, Mel? Who's dead?"
"The man on the radio said...he said..."
"Tell me, sweetheart," Janice gently coaxed. "Tell me who died."
"It's Mister Roosevelt. My God, Jan. He's...dead."
For Janice it was like a slap in the face. Like most Americans she was vaguely aware that the President's health had been deteriorating for some time. One had only to look at the newspaper photographs of the who had once been so robust and vibrant but was now so much thinner and haggard looking to know that. However few realized the President had been dying. But as early as the historic MacArthur-Nimitz meetings at Honolulu in June, 1944 MacArthur, who had not seen the President in years, had been shocked to see how much Roosevelt had changed.
"How did it happen?" asked Janice.
"They called it a cerebral hemorrhage," said Mel, still sniffing. "Jan this is awful."
"I know, Kid," Janice murmured, softly patting Melinda on the knee. "I know." In spite of her best efforts to stop them, Janice could feel her own tears welling up now. Her mind raced back to that dreary day in November, 1941 when she had meekly shaken the hand of the jovial man from New York who even then had been President of the United States longer than anyone in history. Though she had spent only a few minutes with him that day she could fairly reckon the experience had changed her life. After all, he had been the one that had shown faith in her at a time when even she had doubts about herself. While performing the "favor" he had requested of her she had come to learn that there were some things more important than just beating some rival to the latest archaeological prize.
During her three year stint in the OSS Janice had encountered many people--on both sides--willing to sacrifice all for the cause they believed in. These people were not "suckers" but highly intelligent, highly motivated individuals totally committed to that cause, however just or unjust it might be, which they believed to bigger than any of them.
For Janice Covington this was something new. For most of her young life her sole cause had been the pursuit of the almighty dollar. In this she had done quite well. But the arrival of a certain lanky, somewhat irritating Southern belle on the scene had soon caused the cynical archaeologist to step back for the first time in her life and re-examine her priorities. For to her surprise Melinda Pappas had somehow managed to strip away the veneer of her jaded exterior and find the loving heart that beat within. Before she knew it she came to realize that it was indeed Mel that mattered most of all and everything else, yes even money, now came in a poor second.
But her education did not stop there. With America's entry into the war she found another reason worth risking all for--the cause of freedom. Already presented with the opportunity to do her part, she knew she would never be able to live with herself if she turned away while tens of thousands of American boys were every month dying all over the world in places she had never even heard of before.
Though Janice Covington would never have expressed it in so
many words, she knew well enough that freedom must never be allowed to be relegated
to just being another word in some musty old history book. Freedom had to forever
be kept alive as a living ideal whose spirit could never be beaten into submission
no matter how hard the chest-beating tyrants of the world tried. And to keep
that spirit alive it is sometimes necessary to fight for it. And maybe die for
Franklin D. Roosevelt had died for it. For he was a casualty of the Second World War just as surely as any of those dead Marines in that shocking "Life" magazine photograph taken after their maggot covered bodies had washed up on the beach at Tarawa. The greatest American president of the twentieth century, and along with Winston Churchill freedom's greatest friend, was dead.
Back in 1932 a nation on the brink of despair had turned to Roosevelt to show them the way. In his inauguration speech he uttered, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." and a desperate nation took it to heart. Promising a "New Deal" for America, he implemented massive public works programs like the WPA and the CCC to put hundreds of thousand of the unemployed back to work. He introduced legislation to protect the hard earned savings of Americans and to provide at least some measure of income for them upon their retirement. Although some of his proposals, most notably the National Recovery Act and his attempt to "pack" the Supreme Court, were lambasted in the press, most working class Americans soon came to believe that in Roosevelt they had a president who was in their corner. In his hundreds of "fireside chats" he referred to the American people as "mah friends" and they in turn came to view him in the same light. This was made manifest in his three subsequent landslide election wins. By World War Two many of the young men going overseas could barely remember, if at all, anybody else but Roosevelt as president.
This is not to say he did not have his detractors. Many feared
his gentle push of America to the left was merely a prelude to socialism or,
worse, full fledged Communism. The Republicans hated him for his ability to
pin the blame for much of what was perceived to be wrong with America on them.
This was not necessarily the case but Roosevelt was, above all, the consummate
politician. He had cut his political teeth on this no holds barred, down and
dirty, smoke-filled back room kind of wheeling and dealing and naturally had
made his share of enemies over the years since. Some called him the "consummate
hater" and indeed he could be very vindictive. But for the rest of their lives
millions of hard working Americans who had known what it was like to lose their
homes, see their children go hungry, or despair at being unable to find work
during those dark days of the Great Depression would look back and remember
with great affection the man who, though himself born to privilege, had truly
felt an affinity for the average person and worked so hard to better their lives.
As she knelt there before her friend Janice found she was having difficulty remembering just who the vice-president was. It's not Garner, she thought. Damn it, who is? Truman! Yeah, that's it, Truman. For a fleeting moment she wondered what he would be like.
Then one of those stubborn tears broke free and rolled down her cheek. Janice Covington, she vowed, fiercely, you will not cry. You will not cry. You will...
She recalled the fatherly way he had spoken to her, how he had even called her "child." It was no use. Quickly rising to her feet, she said, "I'll be back."
"Where are you going?" Mel asked, her voice low.
"To get some air," Janice tersely replied.
Melinda understood perfectly. Not even in front of her own lover would Janice allow herself any overt display of grief. "Okay," she said, "but don't be too long, okay? That plane will be fixed before you know it."
Janice's only reply was a muted, "Yeah." And she was gone.
Thirty minutes later she returned. Her red eyes and slightly runny nose were dead giveaways as to what she had been doing but for the most part Janice was through grieving now. Terrible as this news was, she had other things to worry about at the moment. By the time she returned Melinda had turned off the radio and was curled up on her side on one of the cots. Janice quietly removed her boots and jacket and, ignoring her own bed, crawled in beside Melinda. After a while she heard Mel's breathing become deeper and more measured and was glad her partner had finally managed to fall asleep. But lying there on her back, she resigned herself to the fact that sleep would not be visiting her any time soon tonight.
Sometime later the quiet was broken by Melinda's soft drawl. "Jan? You still awake?"
"Are you okay?"
Melinda sighed and said, "Me neither."
"Go back to sleep, Kid," said Janice.
Despite her thoughts to the contrary, sleep did finally come
to Janice Covington--exactly forty-nine minutes before a shadowy figure appeared
before their door.
Chapter 6: On to Italy
Janice awoke with a start to the sound of urgent rapping upon the door. "I'm up," she called back, rolling out of the cot. She ran her fingers through her hair and blinked hard a couple of times as she shuffled to the door. Upon opening it, she found Sim standing there.
"Did you hear the news?" he asked.
"Bloody ironic that he should die now...when we're so close to victory I mean," observed Sim.
"At least he knew we are going to win," replied Janice.
Sim pointed to the Lancaster bomber warming up some three hundred yards away. "Your carriage awaits m'lady," he said, bowing slightly.
"Hmph," she snorted. "Personally I'd rather have a Cadillac."
"Hustle along," he said. "We want to be in Gibraltar as early as possible."
"Right," nodded Janice. She stepped quickly back to the bed and leaned over her sleeping friend. "Mel? Mel, come on. It's time to go."
"Mmmmm. Can't we just sleep in and order something for breakfast later?" Mel pleaded with a groan.
"Not unless you want to swim to Gibraltar," Janice said, playfully. She then gently whacked the belle on the rump and in a dreadfully exaggerated drawl said, "On your feet, honey child. You know ol' Wild Bill doesn't cotton to shirkers in the ranks."
"Oh funny," moaned Melinda.
Eight hours later the Lancaster touched down in Gibraltar. Janice had whiled away the mercifully uneventful flight by becoming acquainted with every bolt, rivet, and screw in the plane's floor and bulkheads. All in all it was a rather quiet flight as neither she nor Melinda spoke much and the British personnel on the place certainly did not seem inclined to make small talk. Even Sim had kept his distance. In fact Janice had the distinct feeling he was along to see to it the flight crew did the same. Probably that damn Donovan's doing, she thought.
After a layover of some six hours in Gibraltar the Lancaster was once again airborne and bound for Italy. Although it would have been much shorter to simply cut right across France, Donovan had not wanted to take the risk of them running off course and blundering into a stray German fighter somewhere. Again it was a routine flight and again the atmosphere on board was one which could rather be described as "restrained." However by this time Janice did not care. Both she and Mel had full stomachs now, she was not sick, and they were getting ever closer to their link up with Coleman. For her part Janice would not be sorry to leave this bunch behind.
As it had been in England, it was dark when they arrived in Rome. Actually they landed nowhere near Rome itself but a well used airstrip some ten miles east of the "Eternal City" instead. No sooner had the two women bade a polite farewell to the enigmatic Sim and began to walk away from the plane when a tall figure emerged from out of the shadows of the dimly light airfield.
"Pardon me, ladies," the figure said. "But are you two Pappas and Covington?"
"Who wants to know?" asked Janice, eyeing the figure suspiciously.
The figure stepped out to where his face could be seen the pale light. He was a handsome young American officer wearing captain's bars. "Yeah," he said. "You're them all right." He flashed a wide grin at Melinda and offered his hand. "Captain Rex Coleman, United States Army Air Corps--at your service, ma'am."
Melinda politely took the hand and said, "I'm pleased tuh meet you, Captain. I'm Melinda Pappas...and this is Janice."
"Janice," he said, now offering her the hand.
With the introductions now out of the way the three of them stood there in awkward silence for a few moments. However Janice noticed Coleman kept stealing little glances at Mel. Uhh boy, she thought, ruefully. Not another one. Indeed it did seem as though Captain Coleman had taken quite an interest in her beautiful companion.
Finally, as much to break the tension as anything, Coleman asked "So, are you two nurses or something?"
"Or something," replied Janice, tersely. Clearly they were not nurses.
Coleman took off his garrison cap and scratched his head. "Then I don't get it."
"What do you mean?" asked Janice.
"Well gee, as of right now Rimini is only a couple of miles behind the front lines, Covington."
Janice looked hard at him. "Rimini? That's where we're going?"
"Why yes," said Coleman with some surprise. "You mean you didn't know?"
"They never told us squat," replied Janice. "I take it Anthony is there?"
The captain's response was to furrow his brow. "Who?"
"Anthony," Janice repeated. "First Sergeant Brownlow Anthony. He is supposed to be waitin' for us."
"Well I don't know anything about that," Coleman said with a shrug. "All they told me was to fly down here and pick up a couple of dames...ah...women and then ferry them over to Rimini."
He eyed the two of them curiously and then said, "Can I ask you something?"
"That depends," was Janice's guarded answer.
"No offense but what in the hell are two non-medical women doing in a war zone?"
"No offense but it's none of your damn business," said Janice, glaring at Coleman. She hated the way men were forever denigrating their role.
As an officer in the Air Corps, Coleman was not used to being spoken to in this manner. Naturally Janice's rebuke irked him. "Now just a--"
"What she means to say," said Mel, gracefully interceding, "is that our purpose for bein' here is highly sensitive in nature and so quite naturally we are not at liberty to divulge any information regardin' that." She took off her glasses and with a dazzling smile added, "I'm sure you bein' an Army officer an' all, you can understand, can't you, Captain?"
"Why uhh...yes," replied Coleman, nervously clearing his throat. "Sure."
Once again Janice could not help but marvel at the powerful effect Melinda's endearing drawl, radiant beauty, and undeniable charm had on people--including her. If it had been anyone but her belle Janice would have suspected the timely removal of the glasses to be a clever little ploy to distract the irate Coleman. However she knew her partner would never do anything that devious--would she? "Sorry, Coleman," she said. "No hard feelings?"
"Ahh no," said Coleman, absently.
Melinda put her glasses back on and this caused Coleman to more or less snap out of his daze. "Whatever the reason," he said, continuing, "we won't be gettin' up there till tomorrow."
"Why not tonight?" asked Mel. Now that they were so close she found herself becoming more excited about "the mission." And though she would never admit it to Janice in a million years, she was looking forward to seeing Cernak again. Janice, too, now felt a growing sense of anticipation. Austria! It might be their last mission but they would certainly be going out with a bang. Just make that a figurative bang, she thought.
"Sorry, Miss," said Coleman. "Orders. George--George Masters, he's the other pilot--George and I are not to be flyin' you around in the dark. Looks like somebody's interested in keeping you in one piece." With a devilish grin, he added, "Besides, it's only about a hundred and twenty miles. A P-38 can do that in around twenty minutes."
Oh shit, thought Janice. She had not thought about that. Somehow the idea of tearing through the skies at three hundred fifty miles an hour in the cramped cockpit of a fighter plane did not appeal to her one iota. Suddenly it dawned on her. "Hey, how are we supposed to fly with you? The P-38 is a single seater...right?"
"Not ours," Coleman corrected her. "The Air Corps wanted to install a special radar in some of 'em so they had the boys back at Lockheed convert some Lightnings into two-seaters. That way one can guy can concentrate on flyin' the plane while the other guy works the radar. You ladies will have the radar seat all to yourselves."
"Oh," replied Janice, barely hiding her disappointment. "I see."
My poor Jan, thought Melinda as she watched her lover's shoulders sag almost imperceptibly.
Coleman clapped his hands together and then said, "So, ladies, shall we?"
Janice looped one strap of pack over her shoulder and, following Coleman's lead, the two women then began making for a nearby Quonset hut.
"Is that where are we staying?" Janice asked, referring to the arching, semi-circular shaped building.
"It's where you are staying," Coleman explained. "George and I will be sackin' out over at the maintenance hangar. I've got a buddy here that runs photo reconnaissance and he said you can have his quarters."
"That's very kind of him," said Mel, "but we would not want to cause any inconvenience. Really."
"Ahh don't worry about that," Coleman said, over his shoulder. "He's gone to Rome on a three day pass. Hell, old Carl is probably there already, swilling down wine and getting acquainted with the local talent. You guys will be long gone by the time the recon boys report for duty. The only thing is, you two ladies will have to share the same bunk."
Well I certainly hope so, thought Melinda.
I'm counting on it, thought Janice. Aloud she said, "We'll manage all right."
"Say, did you hear about Mr. Roosevelt dying?" he asked.
""Fraid so," Janice answered. "Stinks doesn't it?"
"Sure as hell does," Coleman said. "He was the best president we ever had. Oh, I almost forgot. Are you hungry?"
They both replied in the negative and after a short walk to the Quonset hut they found themselves standing before a door bearing a hand lettered sign that read "161st Photo Recon." Coleman cracked open the door and peeked into the dark interior. "Carl's quarters are at the other end of the building," he said. "I don't know where the hell the light is so be careful not to bump into anything."
"We'll be careful," Janice assured him. Having learned her lesson at Harrington, Janice asked. "Where's the nearest can?"
"Over there," said Coleman, pointing. "I'll be here at zero five thirty."
"We'll try to be ready," said Janice. "Thanks."
Coleman stepped out of the doorway to allow Janice and Melinda to pass on through and then quietly closed the door behind them. Now that they were out of the fresh air Melinda noticed an odd odor as they began to pick their way through the many tables. "Golly, Jan, what's that smell?" she said.
"Developer, stop bath...you know--darkroom stuff," Janice told her.
Sticking very close to her companion, the belle said, "If you ask me this place is creepy."
At the far end of the building Janice found the door and began groping for the knob. "Damn it, where is...Oh, here it is." She pushed open the door and the two of them cautiously stepped inside. It took a few moments to find the single bare bulb dangling from the ceiling but they did and it was Melinda who gently tugged on the little chain, switching it on. Her eyes unaccustomed to the bright light, Janice momentarily squinted before scanning the room. Not bad, she thought.
The "room" was really a ten foot by ten foot space partitioned off from the rest of the Quonset hut. A steel bunk was positioned up against the back wall, right under a small window. Taped side by side on the wall over the bed was a well worn pin-up poster of Betty Grable and a much newer one featuring the alluring Rita Hayworth. Standing in the corner, next to a footlocker, were a couple of battered lockers. Except for the duffel bag stashed in the opposite corner with the field jacket neatly folded on top of it that was all the room held.
"What do you think?" asked Janice.
"Well it ain't exactly the Waldorf-Astoria," said Mel, mildly. By now, though, she was used to these cramped little rooms with only the barest of comforts. From Borneo to Panama to Uruguay to Fairbanks, Alaska to Los Mochis, Mexico to Tehran to a half dozen other places with names no one had ever heard of, Mel had slept in dusty rooms with hard little beds. Growing up back home in Columbia, South Carolina her closet had been almost as big as this place. But none of it mattered to her as long as she was with her precious Janice. She was willing to tolerate just about anything then.
Janice took off her A-2 and took a tentative sniff under her armpit. "Hooo! I could use a shower."
"I don't even wanna think about that," sighed Mel, taking off her own jacket.
Janice sat down on the side of the bed and began unlacing her boots. Off they came but unlike back at Harrington she did not stop there. It was clear to her this would be the last night alone with Melinda for quite some time and she was not about to waste it on something so mundane as sleeping. Still sitting, she leaned back and unfastened her belt. She then stood up and, once unzipped, her trousers fell easily away from her slim waist. The shirt went next and all that was left was her panties, bra--and her US Navy issue socks. Of course none of this little scene had escaped Melinda. As she stood there watching Janice so casually undress she felt her passions stirring.
Still standing, Janice deftly balanced herself on first one foot, then the other in order to remove her socks. By now Melinda was eating her up with her eyes. She is so gorgeous! Janice stood only about five-foot three or so but there was nothing about her that suggested fragility. Her legs, naturally, were short but her thighs and especially her calves were quite muscular for one her size. Her butt could not be described as merely "tight" because it just as rock solid as her sturdy little legs.
How Melinda Pappas loved that butt! Even now she would sometimes catch herself staring longingly at it, especially on those occasions when Janice wore something tight. The rest of the package, the washboard abs, the firm, supple breasts, the beautiful shoulders, were spellbinding enough to the belle but Jan's ass was especially dear to her.
And she envied Janice because although she was taller, her body
was not nearly as well toned as her smaller friend's. Nor was she as well proportioned
and while in her vanity she did her best to disguise it, her breasts were in
fact surprisingly small. Janice, however, could have cared less. For like Melinda
she faulted her own body and envied that of her lover's. She hated being so
short and those graceful legs of Melinda's seemed to go on...and on...and....
And where Melinda saw small breasts Janice saw exquisite orbs of flesh just
the perfect size for caressing and suckling.
"What are you lookin' at?"
Melinda blinked and answered with a distracted "Huh?" It took another moment for Janice's words to burn away the fog of Melinda's reverie.
Janice smiled impishly. "I said, what are you looking at?"
"Well I reckon I'm lookin' at you, Janice," came the soft reply. As if you didn't know, she thought.
"Oh you are huh?" Janice stuck a thumb up under the elastic of her bra and gave Melinda an inviting smile. "So uh," she said, playfully snapping the elastic, "you wanna help me with this?" It had been three eon-like days since she had tasted her lover and by now she was dying for Melinda's caress.
Without a word Mel casually sauntered over to Janice. In a clear signal as to what she expected next, Janice haughtily took off Mel's glasses and dropped them down on her little pile of clothes. Moving in behind her, she unfastened the bra and pushed the straps up over Janice's shoulders. Janice finished removing the bra and no sooner were her breasts free before they were cupped by Melinda's hands reaching around from behind. Janice moaned softly, reveling in the warm touch of those strong hands. She tilted her head to one side, offering her lovely neck to Melinda's lips. Her partner did not disappoint. Now softly stroking each of Janice's hard nipples with her middle fingers, Melinda bent forward and very gently nipped the soft flesh of Janice's neck with her teeth.
"Janice," Mel whispered, huskily, "you are soooo beautiful."
"Shut up and do me," Janice impatiently murmured.
"Whatever you say, Janice." Still towering over her lover from behind, Melinda smiled faintly and, to the tune of Janice's soft moans, began to slowly, methodically work her lips and tongue over Janice's skin from the base of the ear to the tip of the shoulder.
Still wrapped in Melinda's arms, Janice now suddenly turned and faced her lover. Her breasts, already firm, were now swollen seemingly to the point of defying gravity. The two women wrapped each other in loving embrace--Janice with her hands up on Melinda's shoulder blades, Melinda's naturally fell to cup the cheeks of Janice's butt. Their lips met in a series of short kisses; light ones at first but incrementally more forceful with each successive meeting of the lips. Finally they ground their mouths together in very long, very passionate kiss. Already their eager tongues were hard at work.
After a couple more minutes Janice broke away and in her lustful haste to remove Melinda's shirt, tore off one of the buttons. For all Melinda cared Janice could have ripped the entire shirt off her. Off came her bra next and, still clad in her trousers, Melinda found herself being forced down on the scratchy blanket covering the bunk. In an instant Janice was upon her, her lips tugging hard at Mel's left nipple.
Melinda put the palm of her hand to the back of the smaller woman's head, pulling her still closer. "Jaaaaan?" she groaned.
Not bothering to remove her lips, Janice answered, "Mmmm?"
Her voice almost breathless, she said, "Fuck me, Jan."
Janice smiled so broadly she lost contact with her precious nipple. The dreaded "F" word was not a word her refined Southern lady was in the habit of saying. God! Janice thought. She is really hot. Nevertheless in a cool voice she told Mel, "Not yet."
Mel found it extremely exciting whenever Janice imposed her will on her like this. And by the same token her delicious whimper stimulated Janice even more and after trading back and forth between breasts for a couple of minutes, the archaeologist finally got around to removing the rest of Melinda's clothes. By now both women's panties were drenched. Removing her own panties now, Janice eased herself down between Mel's receptive long legs and began to slowly grind her crotch against Mel's. It was in essence their version of the sex fight without the competition.
Whispering harshly in Mel's ear, Janice asked "Is this how you want it, Puss?"
"Uhhh huuuhhh!" Melinda gasped. "Harder, Jan. Harder!"
In eager compliance to Mel's plea, Janice pressed her slim body down even harder. Melinda found this especially stimulating and it was not long before she erupted into orgasm. As the throbbing pulses of pleasure surged forth within her, Melinda gave out a little cry and again cupped Janice's butt with her hands, pulling her hips against her own as hard as she could.
Her undulating body glistening with perspiration now, Janice patiently waited until Melinda released her. She then extracted one short, rough, kiss from the groaning belle and rolled off her. Turning on her side to face Janice, Melinda stretched out her arm and cradled Janice's head in it. On her back now, Janice drew her knees up high and expectantly spread them wide apart. Taking her cue, Melinda went straight for the crotch with her free hand and began to gently stroke her lover's clit with her long middle finger.
Now it was Janice's turn to submit. Melinda leaned over and the two of them kissed once more--this time in a slow, leisurely manner.
"Janice?" she cooed. "Say you love me."
Her lover's only response was a faint grunt. Removing her finger from the swollen clit, Melinda then plunged it deep into Janice's vagina. "Say it!" she commanded.
Janice lifted her pelvis upward to meet the thrust and emitted a low guttural moan. "I...love.....youuuuu."
Melinda vigorously worked the finger back and forth for a minute or so and, upon pulling it out, lasciviously began to suck on it. "Ummmm, Janice," she purred, "you taste soooo good." She then inserted the same finger deep within her own vagina and after wetting it with her juices, held it up to Janice's face. As Janice lay there toying with her own clit she opened her mouth in greedy anticipation and when her lips closed around Melinda's finger she lovingly ran her tongue along its length.
"Do I taste good, Janice?" Mel asked, her voice very husky.
Her mouth still closed around the delicious finger, Janice could only nod slightly and whimper, "Uh hmmm."
With a haughty smile Melinda pulled out the finger from Janice's reluctant mouth and began to slowly kiss her way toward Janice's crotch. By now the once and future archaeologist was literally aching for Melinda's talented tongue. Fortunately for her lover did not make her wait. At the first touch of the belle's tongue on her clit Janice shuddered in wild ecstasy. Intoxicated by the aroma of Janice's juices, Melinda began to suck hard on the swollen clit.
Janice bucked hard at this and then wrapped her short legs around her beautiful, raven-haired lover. She uttered a soft cry and in a feeble voice, said, "I love you."
Her lips drenched in Jan's juices, Melinda stopped her blissful work only long enough to answer back, "I know...Puss."
And when at last Janice's body began to reel in the throes of her gigantic orgasm, she gave thanks to any and all deities for sending her this brilliant, captivating beauty with the tender heart--and the tongue of a goddess.
And so ended Round One. Melinda threw herself down on the bed beside her precious, precious Jan. They each turned to face the other and the taller woman gracefully swung her long leg up over Janice's hips. Pulling her close, they lay there locked in loving embrace, all the while looking forward in glorious anticipation of Round Two.
Both of them suspected this was only the beginning of a very long night indeed.
Janice awoke to the sound of a sharp snuffle by Melinda. Though not normally a snorer, Melinda, for whatever reason, sometimes seemed to have trouble breathing when sleeping in a bad bed. Melinda did it again and for a moment Janice wondered whether or not she should wake her. Naw, I'll let her sleep as long as she can, she decided. While she figured these little spells were nothing very serious she made a mental note to have Mel see a doctor regarding them. It struck Janice that Melinda probably did not even now she was doing this.
It had been a wonderful night. For the longest time each of the two lovers had reveled in the thrilling caress of both their own and the other's sentient body. And as they always did after these sessions, they had fallen asleep in each other's arms.
Now Janice wearily massaged her eyes with the fingers of one hand and then held her watch up the pale moonlight streaming through the window. Thankfully, she had remembered to set it to local time upon landing. Now it read ten minutes till five. "Damn," she muttered. Soon Coleman would be along and they would be on their way to Rimini. In that quiet, pre-dawn moment she found herself wishing she could just lie there forever with her beautiful Mel or, even better, just take her home. However it was much too late for that now. For better or for worse she and her partner had a job to do and, by God, they were going to do it.
But at what cost? she wondered. Janice felt like a kid poised at the top of a long slide. Once on it, there was no stopping to get off. The only option was to just ride it out till the end. When they reached Rimini they would be sitting at the top of their own slide with no turning back. She would crack open those sealed orders giving them their final destination along with last minute instructions and that would be it. She knew there was a distinct possibility the situation could arise where, per Donovan's grim directive, it would fall to her to kill this Cernak. But could she? Janice had given this no small amount of thought and even now she did not now. She just did not know.
Another check of the watch. Five-fifteen. It's time, she thought. Raising up, turned back the blanket and gently pushed on her friend's shoulder. "Mel? Mel, sweetheart, wake up. It's time to go."
"Okay," came the murmured reply. There would be no protest this morning for Melinda knew just as well as Janice that their real journey would start today. Janice dressed and, as Melinda did the same, checked the contents of her pack one more time. Inside were two cans of Spam, two PayDay bars, a Swiss army knife, a compass, two extra clips for the .45 automatic, the holstered .45 itself, the money Donovan had given them, now tightly bound into two rolls by thick rubber bands, both their ID's, a GI issue can opener, a bottle of aspirin, a box of Band-Aids, a roll of adhesive tape, a roll of gauze, Mel's copy of Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," and lastly, the envelope containing their orders.
As Mel donned her jacket Janice handed her one of the rolls of cash. "Put this in your pocket," she told the belle. "And be damn sure you don't lose it. That could be your only ticket outta here."
Mel nodded and did as she was told. Janice tucked her own roll into the inside pocket of her A-2 jacket and again checked her watch. Five twenty-eight. Janice Covington looked up to her companion. Smiling faintly, she asked "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be," replied Mel.
She turned to leave only to feel Mel catch her by the arm. "Ja-yun?"
"Thanks for...you know...comin' with me. I reckon I'd jes' be lost without you."
Janice looked at her like she had three heads. "What, are you kiddin' me? Did you actually think I would have let you done this alone?"
"Mel, if you asked me to go to hell with you, I would," said Janice, her voice quietly fierce.
Blushing, Mel softly replied, "Well I'm kinda countin' on the both of us gettin' invited to the other place."
Janice playfully jabbed her on the arm and said, "No doubt in my mind. You're good enough for the both of us."
They made their way outside and, sure enough, there was Coleman jogging toward them. "You two all set?" he asked, upon reaching them. Janice nodded that they were and the three of them set off toward the two planes warming up about two hundred yards away. As they neared the aircraft Janice said a silent prayer that she would not puke all over the cockpit.
After introducing his fellow pilot to the two women, Coleman asked "So, who goes with who? Or is it whom? Hell, I never can remember that."
"Mel goes with you," Janice said to him. Her only reasoning for this decision was that his plane looked to be newer.
Five minutes later both women were strapped into the radar seat of the P-38's and a very short time later the twin-boomed fighters were streaking down the runway toward the gray light of dawn. It was a credit to its designers that the Lockheed P-38 was the only American fighter plane in production at the start of the war that was still being produced at the end. To the Germans it was "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel"--"The Forked-Tail Devil." To the Americans it was known as the "Lightning." In the Pacific Theater it would not only decimate the vaunted Japanese Zeroes but in fact be responsible for the destruction of more of their aircraft than any other plane. While the pilots of the American P-51 "Mustang" and the German Focke-Wolfe 190 probably had a more valid claim, for the thousands of loyal men who flew her in the Second World War, the "Lightning" was the plane they stubbornly insisted to be the best of them all.
It seemed to Janice that she did not have time to be sick for
exactly twenty-six minutes after take-off they were touching down at Rimimi.
Chapter 7: Of Sergeants and Showers
Once again Janice and Melinda had no trouble making connections for First Sergeant Brownlow Anthony, late of the 10th Mountain Division, was dutifully waiting for them when they landed. No sooner were the two women out of the Lightnings before Coleman, after a little wave, spun his plane around and began to take off once more with Masters close behind.
"So uh, Anthony," Janice asked as she watched the P-38's lift up off the runway, "how did you happen to get mixed up in all this?"
"I guess it's because I speak Russian," the man replied.
"Russian?" Janice felt an sense on uneasiness descend upon her.
"Yep. Our family originally came from a village near Smolensk. Mom was already pregnant with me when he took the rest of the family and bugged out after the Bolsheviks took over. Our name in the old country was Antonov but when pop came over to the States he figured we oughtta have a good ol' American name so he chose Anthony."
Janice made a face hinting of bewilderment and said, "I don't get it. Our boy is Czech. And besides, he speaks English." Of course she remembered Donovan's dark comment about his real purpose for coming along but she was finding herself still somewhat puzzled over this latest revelation.
"What boy?" Anthony asked, quizzically.
"You mean you don't know what we're going to do?" asked Janice. However deep inside she was wondering if the man did not know more he appeared to. The fact that he knew Russian bothered her to no end. Had Donovan not told her something?
"Naw, nothin," Anthony answered. "All they told me when I volunteered was that it might have something to do with goin' behind emeny lines." And in truth that was all there was to it. There was no ulterior purpose for his being there.
"If you knew that much then why the hell did you volunteer?" asked Janice.
Anthony shot her a very wry grin and said, "Lady, if you'd spent all last winter up in those mountains freezing your ass off and dodging German mortar rounds all day long you wouldn't be askin' that question. So when they came around a couple of weeks ago lookin' for guys who could speak Russian I didn't exactly ask 'em for any details, if ya know what I mean."
Janice had to admit she saw the logic in his reasoning. Sticking out her hand, she said, "Welcome aboard, Anthony."
"Ahh, just so I know," asked Anthony a little tentatively as he took the hand, "who is gonna be in charge of this operation?"
"I am," replied Janice, eyeing him intently now. She decided to put to rest right now all doubt about what she considered to be this most basic of tenets. "You have any problems with that?"
"Hey," said Anthony, lifting his hand in a defensive posture, "it's no skin off my ass. I just want to be sure where everybody stands, that's all."
"All right then," said Janice. "Now you know. So tell me, do you have any idea as to whom we are supposed to see about arranging transportation?"
Anthony shrugged and replied, "Damned if I know. Say, are we really goin' to Czechoslovakia?"
"Not quite that far," said Janice." Son of a bitch, she raged inwardly. Now what? Then it came to her. Of course, her orders!
"All right," she snapped, "let's clear this mess up once and for all." Thrusting her pack into Melinda's hands, she said, "Here, hold this."
While the startled belle clutched the pack to her tummy Janice opened it and extracted the nine by twelve inch brown envelope with the metal clasp on the back. Opening it, she found what looked to be a folded up silk handkerchief and a single sheet of typing paper folded in three places.
"What's that, Jan?" Mel asked, nodding to the handkerchief.
"It's one of those maps they give to the Air Corps boys," said Janice. "They print 'em on silk to make them easier to handle in case the pilot is shot down."
Janice carefully folded the map and tucked it into her pocket. She then turned her attention to the sheet of paper. Before opening it she took a deep breath and glanced up at Melinda. Pulling up one corner of her mouth in a little half-smile, she said, "Well, here's our ticket."
"Go on, Jan," Mel urged, softly. "Open it up."
"Right." With Anthony peering over her shoulder, Janice unfolded the sheet and began to read aloud:
Once your linkup is complete you will take overall command
and proceed as quickly as good judgment will
allow to the location specified on the map that has been issued to you. While you are hereby advised that in-
telligence reports indicate the subject is kept under 24 hour guard by the Germans and that the use of extreme
caution is recommended, the rapidly changing lines of battle in this sector make it paramount that you establish
contact with the subject ASAP. If Nazi forces pull back before you are able to do this the subject might possi-
bly be executed or, worse, be afforded an opportunity to simply disappear.
Therefore, you will make contact with the subject and, once
positive ID is established, escort them to the
"Damn," Anthony muttered.
With a wry little smile Janice asked him "Still wanna come, Sergeant?"
"Are you kidding? Sure!" He rubbed his nose and then asked, "Just one thing. Am I supposed to wear my uniform?"
"I'll leave that up to you," said Janice, looking hard at him. "But I'll tell you right now if you get caught out of uniform, soldier or not, the Germans will shoot your ass as a spy right along with the rest of us."
"Understood," said Anthony, quietly. God, he thought, this dame is tough!
"Okay then," said Janice, clapping her hands together. "Mel and I are going to find this Colonel Templeton."
"What do you want me to do?" the sergeant asked.
Janice answered this with a question of her own. "Have you got a weapon?"
"I have my M-1," said Anthony.
"Bring it," said Janice, shaking her head. "But get yourself something more easily hidden to go with it. We'll meet you back here in an hour."
"Gotcha," said Anthony, nodding.
Suddenly the smaller woman seized him forcefully by the arm and walked him a few feet away from the surprised Melinda. "There's one more thing, Anthony," she said, her voice barely audible. "Did anybody tell you that it may come down to where we have to kill somebody? Do you think you can do that?"
"They told me," replied Anthony, his eyelids narrowing. "Don't worry, Covington. I've killed before."
"Face to face?" asked Janice. "Have you ever killed somebody who was so close to you that you could smell them?"
Janice had. In the first week of July, 1943, just prior to the invasion of Sicily, a seemingly nondescript fellow named Edward Tiller suffered a massive heart attack and was dead even before he hit the floor of the train station in Hartford, Connecticut. By all accounts he was an ordinary individual whose obituary in the next day's Hartford Courant ran only a few lines long and, except of course for his family and friends, nothing about his death--or his life--seemed important enough to merit the presence on the front porch of the Tiller home the next morning of a detective from the Hartford police department and two important looking strangers. One was an Army bird colonel, tall and grim-visaged, the other a very handsome looking blonde woman with intense green eyes dressed in a stylish pant suit.
Janice Covington, in her only "job" of the war in which Melinda was not a participant, had been rushed to Hartford along with the aforementioned colonel, an Army G-2 specialist named Al Brand, to call upon the unfortunate Mrs. Tillman. Regrettably, it was not the government's concern for Mr. Tillman or his family that caused these two to board a special overnight military flight to Hartford but rather what he had been carrying with him at the time of his premature death. For locked up in his battered briefcase were the plans for one of America's most closely guarded secrets--the Norden bombsight. How he had come to possess these documents was something no one had bothered to disclose to Janice but she guessed Mr. Tillman's responsibilities were something more than what his duties as a mid-level executive at Pratt and Whitney entailed.
When told by Janice she would have to sit this one out Melinda had been extremely disappointed initially. As always she wanted to be where her Jan was. But like the trooper she was she soon bucked up and with a crushing hug and a soft kiss wished her life's partner a speedy return. For her part Janice hated making her stay behind and had especially regretted not telling her the truth about what she was to do but it had been made clear to her in no uncertain terms that she was not to discuss her assignment with anybody...anybody.
In reality it was Colonel Brand's task to take legal possession of the plans (They were, after all, government property.) and them safely to Washington. Janice's sole purpose in this affair was to make absolutely certain that he did just that. Such was the value placed on these few scraps of paper..
Within minutes of appearing at the grieving Mrs. Tillman's door credentials and court order in hand, Colonel Brand and Janice Covington had gained possession of the briefcase and, after going over their list to make sure none of the plans were missing, had hurriedly expressed their sympathies and departed. His part in what he saw as a distasteful affair over, the detective then went his own way. With his own case now securely handcuffed to Brand's wrist it fell to Janice to drive the staff car the fifty miles or so back to the huge New London submarine base where they had flown in. So far everything was going by the numbers and after the all night trip to Hartford Janice was looking forward to spending this next night in the arms of her lover.
But about twenty miles out of Hartford Janice became aware of a persistent presence behind them and, after informing Brand of her suspicions, made a couple of unscheduled detours from their route. By now there was no longer any doubt of it. They were being tailed and Janice did not need Sam Spade to tell her what they were after. Unfortunately Brand had neglected to bring a weapon and Janice, assuming there would be no trouble, had done the same. Now she silently cursed her negligence.
She pulled back out on the main road and as she and Brand were going over their limited options a panel truck roared out from behind a billboard and rammed their car in the front end. Both she and Brand were shaken up but otherwise unhurt. The next thing Janice knew someone was pressing the barrel of a sawed off shotgun under her chin and yelling at her to cut the engine off and get out of the car.
Forty-five minutes later she and Brand were being pushed through the office door of a gas station which had gone out of business. No sooner were the two of them forced into the garage area when one of their captors pulled out a snub nosed .38 and shot Brand in the back of the head, splattering blood all over Janice's jacket. Immediately Brand's executioner was subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse from his two cohorts--not because of what he had done but because he had made too much noise doing it. It was suggested that the "dame" be taken care of in a much more "quiet" manner.
While his mates fell to work freeing the briefcase from Brand's wrist it fell to the biggest one to pull Janice by the hair of her head into an empty store room in the back. Once there the man punched her in the face and, clamping his huge hands around her neck, began to strangle her. In vain the struggling Janice twice tried to knee him in the groin but the smirking behemoth would have none of it. Already beginning to black out, Janice gave it one last attempt with everything she had left within her strong little body. Again she missed but the force of her effort caused her plant foot to slip out from under her and she lost her balance. Her surprised assailant, already leaning forward, was pulled headlong down on top of her and when they crashed to the floor Janice found herself free of his deadly grip.
Being much more nimble, she scrambled to her feet and kicked him once in the ribs as hard as she could--the toe of her shoe creating a very satisfying thump. Without thinking she wiped the blood from her split lip and tried to kick him again. This time, however, the man shot out a huge arm and sent her sprawling face down on the floor. Cursing violently, the enraged man got to his feet. He reached down and again took the unexpectedly troublesome woman by the hair. Calling her a "bitch," he fiercely yanked her to her feet to exact his revenge.....
What he got instead was six inches of rusty steel rammed into his heart. While lying on the floor Janice's groping hand, unseen by her momentarily dazed attacker, had latched on to a long discarded Phillips head screwdriver. This usually benign instrument was what she had planted in her horrified foe's chest. Realizing there was no time to lose, before he had even slumped to the floor her hands were inside his jacket, desperately searching for what she was certain had to be there.
And so it was.
Almost simultaneously as her probing fingers bumped into the cold steel of the hoped for pistol one of her victim's partners, having heard the commotion caused by their brawl, stuck his head through the door. He never knew what hit him because Janice promptly shot him right through the left eye. Pausing only to peek out from the store room door, she saw the last man, briefcase now in hand, tearing for the garage exit. Janice quickly brought both hands up to the firing position and got off one round before the man disappeared through the door. Thinking she had missed, she rushed after him but upon gaining the door she found her quarry lying on the floor writhing in agony in a pool of his own blood. Her bullet had struck in the left lung and within minutes he too was dead. It had been one of the most harrowing experience of her life. Even now the memories of it were enough to make her hands shake....but she had saved the blueprints from falling into hostile hands.
The head of Army Intelligence gave her a medal for it, upon
a recommendation by Donovan President Roosevelt personally wrote her a thank
you letter for it, and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau had went out
his way to shake her hand for it. And somehow she had managed to keep it all
from her lover. Melinda Pappas never knew about any of it because for the rest
of her life Janice Covington breathed not one word of it to her. To her this
terrible experience was something that her gentle friend did not need to know
about. And she never did. The medal and the letter from Roosevelt were carefully
tucked away in some of her old archaeological notes and never saw the light
of day again.
"I killed a Kraut with a trenching tool once," replied Anthony. "Does that count?"
Janice's lips formed into something resembling a tight, mirthless little smile and she said, "I'd say it does."
And with that she and Melinda left him standing there and went off to find Colonel Templeton. This was not a difficult task as Colonel Templeton was Chief of Flight Operations at the base so of course everyone knew him. Their meeting with him lasted only a few minutes as Templeton had already been informed as to what was expected from his end and therefore had already drawn up plans for their insertion into Austria. A Mitchell B-25, the medium bomber made famous by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle in the early raid on Tokyo, had been specially pulled from the 340th Bombardment Group for their purposes and a suitable spot to put it down had been found. Their take off time had been computed down to the last minute and, barring any unforeseen difficulty, they were to land at the prearranged landing point once the all clear signal was received from the two agents who had located the landing zone. Although he was a soldier and would do as ordered, Templeton did not much care for what he considered to be "cloak and dagger stuff" and he told the two women as much. To him his pilots' job was to wear the uniform and kill the enemy.
Naturally Janice cared little for his opinion and in what Melinda knew was for her an uncharacteristically subdued manner told him as much but their meeting otherwise went amicably enough. Once the details had been hammered out Janice asked him where they could get a shower and was told by Templeton that they could use nurses' quarters which were not more than a stone's throw away. Their business done, the two women took their leave and headed straight to the nurses' hut for the long overdue shower. Once there they met up with a very nice woman by the name of Mary Owens who happened to just be getting off duty. Upon learning what they had come for she provided them with clean towels and a brand new of Ivory soap. While they both would have of course preferred some fresh clean clothes to put back on it was not all that terribly important. Even the fastidious Melinda was by now able to accept the fact that once in the field one was apt to be forced to "rough" it as Janice called it.
The shower room was in fact simply one of those portable showers inside a roughly boxed in little corner of the building with a blanket for a door. Since there was only one shower head Janice told the belle to go on in and at least try to save some hot water for her. So while Melinda's soft skin reveled in the wonderfully refreshing sensation of lather and warm water penetrating into its every pore, Janice parked herself on one of the nearby nurses' bunks and opened up her pack. She took out the big envelope again and began to review Donovan's orders once more.
A few minutes later another nurse entered the room and, thinking Janice to be a new addition to their group, went over to say hello. Hearing her approach, Janice glanced up at her, affording the young nurse an opportunity to get a good look at the stranger's face.
"Hi, I'm Anne. Anne Black," the nurse said as she extended her hand. "You can call me Annie, everybody else does. I must say I sure am glad to see you."
"Hello...Annie," replied Janice, eyeing her curiously. "And why would that be?"
Only then did the realization hit Annie that this woman was definitely not a replacement nurse. For one thing she was quite a bit older than the other nurses--well, thought Annie, except maybe for Mary, the head nurse. She knew Mary to be about thirty years of age which around there practically classified her as a grandmother type. Like her, most of them were fresh out of accelerated courses at nursing school and were in the nineteen, twenty, twenty-one range. With the American casualty rate in Europe growing ever higher the military was finding it necessary to churn out nurses at a proportionally higher rate as well.
Soon enough she had learned that it was one thing to be trained as a proper nurse, it was quite another to face the grim reality of dealing with combat casualties. In her six months in Italy Annie had by now seen practically every imaginable horror that burning hot lead, fire, and jagged steel ripping through the air could inflict on the pitifully fragile human body. She had seen men with bodies burned so horribly that she wondered how they had managed to survive the trip from the battlefield to the field hospital. Usually they soon died anyway. She had seen men with their arms, legs, hands, feet in any and all combinations shot away. She had seen men with their noses or their genitals ripped away or their eyes destroyed by shrapnel. More times than she could remember she had held the hand and tried to soothe someone who, with nothing more to be done for them, had died an agonizing death while still lying on the stretcher they had been borne in on.
For a Colorado farm girl who had never seen anything more gory
than her father cleaning fish back home it had been a horrifying awakening as
to what war was really all about. Not surprisingly, this was something the recruiter
had neglected to mention. To be sure she had spoken glowingly about the ideals
of defending freedom and the American way of life from those butchering Germans
and those "Godless" Japs. But it was not until that first day of duty in Italy
that she had realized just what that really entailed. Back in nursing school
her instructors had tried to prepare them for what she and her classmates would
soon be facing but nothing could prepare a twenty year old for the first time
she saw a boy no older than she was carried in with his lower jaw shot away.
In spite of this she was gratified and yes, proud even, to discover that she
could indeed "take it." Like everybody else she had a job to do and the doctors
and--as she saw it, more importantly--those boys needed her and, by God, she
was not about to let them down.
Realizing her mistake, Annie stammered out, "Umm, you're not...a nurse, are ya?"
"Ahh no," the stranger answered with a wry grin.
The one concession Annie from Colorado had made to the crushing stress of her job was that she had taken up smoking. Now, feeling somewhat awkward and unsure as to what to do next, she found herself wanting a cigarette. Smoking was permitted in their quarters so without thinking she dug her hand into her shirt pocket. "Do you want one?" she asked, offering the half-empty pack of Lucky's to Janice.
To her surprise Janice heard herself saying, "Yeah." Because Mel so strongly disapproved Janice had by and large given up the habit but as ex-smokers are sometimes wont to do, she still had her moments of weakness. And right now she felt she could really use a cigarette. She jammed the envelope and its contents back in her pack and placed it on the floor by her feet. After the two women lit up Janice nodded to a spot on the bed beside her. "Have a seat," she said.
"Thanks," said Annie. She plopped herself down beside the older woman and watched her take a long drag on her Lucky. Despite the woman's somewhat unkempt appearance Annie could not help but notice she was quite beautiful and with a little effort on her part would be even more so. Studying the face, Annie saw there was something more there than just physical beauty. It hinted of a worldliness that Annie had not seen before. The young nurse was normally very perceptive and behind those pleasing features she sensed a hardness, a dogged--grim even--sense of determination.
"So, how long have you been here?"
Annie blinked and said, "Huh?" It took a moment for Janice's words to register on her consciousness. "Oh uhh, about six months." My God! thought Annie. Those eyes! To her they seemed like two little orbs of burning jade and Annie inexplicably found herself not only drawn to them, but also wondering about that passion which was so clearly evident there. Already Annie had decided she had never met anyone like her and she was quickly becoming enraptured by this mysterious, unsettling, beautiful woman. She seemed so...dangerous. And to her utter surprise she found that uncertainty in her exciting--no, more than that she found it...captivating.
She took a nervous puff and then asked "What...what brings you to Italy?"
The only smile on Janice's face was in her eyes when she replied, "Business."
"Oh." By now the young nurse was dying to know more about this woman but she somehow had the feeling that the woman's laconic reply was all that was going to be said on the subject. Still, she worked up enough courage to ask "Are you a reporter?"
"Hardly," came the terse reply.
"I take it you work for the government then," Annie observed. This was not a very great exercise in deduction on her part. After all, no unauthorized civilian would be allowed anywhere near the base.
"You might say that," said Janice, her voice hinting of amusement now. Ordinarily she might have been becoming peeved by all the questioning but she knew the girl meant no harm. And besides, Janice was beginning to like her a little.
It was then Annie heard a voice emanating from the shower softly begin to sing "Always." It was not unusual for someone to be in the shower any time of the day or night because the nurses all worked such crazy hours and, not knowing when they might get another chance, they were always popping in for a quick one. But on this occasion Annie did not recognize the voice.
"Hmm, I wonder who that is?" she remarked.
"That's my friend," the woman said, her voice suddenly warm.
"Oh. Umm, I see."
Janice could not be sure but she thought she detected the slightest hint of disappointment in the young woman's voice. "Have you...and your friend been assigned here?"
"No," Janice told her. "We'll be gone by tomorrow morning."
"Can I ask where?"
"Egypt," lied Janice. She might be a nice kid but ya never know, thought Janice.
"Gee, I'd love to go there--after the war I mean," said Annie, wistfully. "When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist." She smiled sheepishly and added, "Stupid huh?"
"Of course not," said Janice. "So why did you become a nurse then?"
"My two brothers joined the Marine Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. I was still in high school then but when I graduated in '43 I knew I just had to do my part somehow. I knew the Army was needing nurses so that's what I went for."
"Do you hear from your brothers much?" asked Janice.
Annie looked down at her feet and murmured, "Well they're both dead now."
"Oh...I'm sorry," said Janice. She thought back to the dreadful time Mel had gone through after Robert had been killed and could only wonder at what sort of ordeal this poor young woman--girl really--had gone through.
"It's okay," the nurse said, quietly. "I'm mostly over it by now. Carl, the oldest, he was killed at Eniwetok. Johnny died on Iwo Jima." She smiled proudly and added, "They gave him the Silver Star."
The military sure is big on giving out medals to dead guys, Janice thought, ruefully. She knew there wasn't a mother alive who wouldn't trade all the medals in the world for one more chance to hold a son lost to the stupidity that was war.
In an obvious attempt to change subject, Annie said in a bright voice, " I used to read everything I could lay my hands on about the ancient Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians--all of them. I think it would be exciting to work on a dig--to study how people used to live."
Janice took another long puff and exhaled the smoke through her nose. "Actually it's not as exciting as you'd think. In fact a lot of it is downright boring as hell. And that's not even taking into account all the work that's involved."
"Have you been on one?" Annie asked, her eyes growing wide with excitement.
Janice smiled faintly and replied, "One or two."
"Mister Anderson--he was my high school science teacher--he said women had no business in fields like archaeology," said Annie. "He said nobody would take them seriously."
Janice snorted indignantly but for the first time Annie saw her hard countenance soften--if only a little. "Kid," the woman said, softly, "your Mister Anderson doesn't know bullshit from a bazooka. If you work hard enough, if you want it badly enough, you can be any God damn thing you wanna be." Janice laid a firm hand on the nurse's forearm and said, "Don't ever let any son of a bitch tell you what you can or cannot be. Sure, getting what we want is not always easy but one of the few good things that will have come out of this war is that we've proved we can do damn near any job as good or better than a man can."
"You think so?" asked Annie, hopefully.
"Kid, I know so," replied Janice with a wink.
"Okay, Ja-yun, it's all...oh, hello."
Annie looked up at the statuesque figure emerging from the shower. To the nurse the woman's legs seemed to go on forever. Another beauty! God, thought Annie, admiringly, look at those cheekbones. She could be a model.
Seeing they had company, Melinda pulled the towel off her head letting her long black hair fall down on her shoulders. Fortunately for Janice Mel was not wearing her glasses so she was not able to see clearly enough to catch Janice drop her cigarette to the floor and discreetly crush it beneath her foot.
"Mel," said Janice, standing up, "this is Annie Black. Annie, this is Mel, ahh, Melinda Pappas, my best friend."
While reaching into her shirt pocket for glasses Melinda squinted at the blurry forms. "Pleased to meet you, I'm sure," she said, once the glasses were in place.
Immediately Annie was struck by how gentle and sincere the voice was.
"Well?" Janice asked expectantly.
"Didja save me some hot water?"
In a somewhat sheepish way Melinda beamed that dazzling smile and replied, "I reckon I might have left you a pint or two."
"Figures," groaned Janice, rolling her eyes.
As she observed the interaction between them, Annie could not help but notice the difference now in the one called Jan. To be sure she still projected an aura of toughness but the tall one seemed capable of taking that sharp edge off it. Even without Janice stating it as fact Anne would have readily known these two were very close and it did not seem to matter at all that they were apparently nothing alike.
Janice glanced at her watch and said, "I'd better get a move on. Our sidekick is liable to think we've deserted him." Reaching into the inside pocket of her jacket, she retrieved the little notebook she always kept there and quickly wrote something down in it. Tearing the page out, she gave it to Annie and said, "If you're serious about studying to be an archaeologist I recommend you go here when the war's over. He's one of the best professors in America today. If he tells you his class is full just give him this.
Somewhat taken aback by her decisiveness, Annie took the torn out page and read:
Jeep, I think the kid has what it takes.
Janice then patted the startled nurse on the shoulder and said, "It was nice meeting you, Annie." With that she headed off toward the shower but not before she gave Mel an admonishing look that the belle understood to mean, "Don't talk too much."
"She never did tell me her whole name," remarked Annie, after Janice had gone. "Is she really an archaeologist?"
"It's Janice Covington and I think she's the best darn one around," replied Mel. "But then again, I am a little biased."
As Melinda moved to Janice's former spot on the bed to wait her clumsiness rose up yet again and she kicked Janice's pack over causing some of the contents to spill out onto the floor. Among these was Janice's holstered .45. "Oops," Mel said in a small voice. Quickly she raked the spilled items back into the pack leaving the wide-eyed Annie to wonder just when the gun had joined the brush and the trowel as one of an archaeologist's tools of the trade.
"Covington, your bus stop is just up ahead," a voice crackled over the intercom. "Get ready."
In the darkened fuselage of the B-25 Janice switched on her flashlight and checked her watch. Right on time. She then arose and carefully worked her way forward in the unfamiliar plane. As she did she breathed a small sigh of thanks for not having gotten sick this time around. Reaching the cockpit, she wedged her lithe body sideways between the pilot and co-pilot's seats.
"Blake," she asked the pilot, "you're sure this is the place?"
"Well our navigator says it is and we found all the right landmarks," Blake replied, over the loud drone of the engines.
Janice raised herself up and peered past the pilot's head out into the late evening light. The sun had by now slipped well below the horizon leaving only a faint orange glow in the western sky. At least the timing is right, she thought, gratefully. During the day Templeton personally had meticulously worked out the proper time of departure from Rimini that would afford them just enough light for them to land yet still make it virtually impossible to be detected by anything other than radar. Of course such an advantageous window of opportunity was quite small but this had been the very reason the ever resourceful Donovan had dropped this baby into Templeton's lap in the first place. He knew the precision with which the veteran Twelfth Air Force Operations Chief did his job and he figured if anybody could get his "boys" safely on the ground, he could. Besides, the Mitchell B-25 was a tough little plane.
"There it is, Phil," cried the co-pilot, pointing to a long stretch of dark, grassy meadow up in the distance. "That's the place."
"Damn sure looks like it," his pilot agreed. "Okay, Buzzy, get your light ready."
Second Lieutenant Del "Buzzy" Reese reached down and brought up the signal lamp. As he did Blake began to bank the medium bomber in a long, slow turn to the right. A minute or two later he nodded to his co-pilot and said, "Okay, Buzzy, hit 'em with the light."
Buzzy immediately held the lamp to the window and began to operate the lamp's shutter lever. While he once, twice, three times flashed the challenge signal Janice and Blake strained to catch a glimpse of anything that might be perceived as a recognition signal from down below.
"Anything?" Blake tersely asked.
"Nothin,'" came Reese's just as laconic reply.
"Do it again," Blake ordered.
Again Reese sent a set of three signals and again there was no reply. "Something's wrong," said Buzzy, echoing Janice's thoughts.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Janice asked again.
Blake flipped on the intercom and repeated Janice's question to the navigator. "Arnie, are you positive this is the right place?"
"No doubt about it, sir," Arnie Evans' muffled voice answered. "I'd bet my flight pay on it."
After another unanswered set of signals Reese lowered his lamp and turned to face Janice and Blake. "They're not answering," he said. "What do we do?"
Being the sedulous planner that she was, Janice had already taken this disturbing scenario into account. Back at Rimini it had all seemed so cut and dried but now that they were actually here and it was time to put up or shut up Janice felt the weight of the situation pressing down hard upon her. What to do? Do we risk going in blind? Do we turn back and try again tomorrow night? Remember what Donovan said. "Each moment you hesitate is potential opportunity lost." But what about Mel? Bless her, she will follow me no matter what but do I risk it? Oh, God, do I risk it? Janice knew she would never be able to live with herself if something were to happen to her sweet Southerner--especially if it were due to some error on her part. What do I do? Damn it, what do I do? So there she knelt in those few milliseconds, her mind desperately weighing her responsibility to Donovan against her responsibility to Melinda.
As might be expected this was no contest. Screw Donovan and his rocket whiz, she thought, resolutely. A million of those bastards put together aren't worthy enough to wipe Mel's ass.
Now her silent deliberations were interrupted by Blake's urgent tones. "Covington, we've got to scrub this. For all we know there could be a whole company of Krauts down there just lyin' in the weeds for us."
This clinched it for her. It was then she heard a voice say, "Okay. Get us out of here." Strangely, it did not sound like her voice and yet she knew it had to have been her. Not knowing whether to be relieved or disappointed, she made her way back to her companions. She could see the dark silhouette of Anthony hunkered over in his seat, his M-1clutched close to his chest. Sitting directly across from him was the silent form of her precious Melinda. I can't risk it, she thought again. I just can't!
But however she might try to rationalize her assent to abort the mission the same distasteful feeling kept welling up within her. We've failed! Upon reaching Melinda and the sergeant she positioned herself between them and knelt down on the floor of the plane.
"What's up?" asked Anthony.
"It's off," Janice replied, tersely.
"What?" cried Mel.
"We didn't get the recognition signal, Mel," Janice explained. "And without those guys we don't stand much of a chance of getting Cernak out."
From deep within Melinda's soul a now familiar voice rang out a passionate, resounding, NO! It took her own voice to vocalize the wishes of her ancient kinsman. "No!" she cried, echoing Xena. Before Janice could react Melinda sprang to her feet and began making for the cockpit.
She had gone exactly three steps when Janice caught her by the arm. "Mel, wait."
"NO!" Mel vehemently repeated. "We have to go on!" She attempted to pull free of Janice's grip but her friend only clamped down harder. "Jan, let...go..." Mel warned, her voice growing more ominous.
"Damn it, listen to me," Janice urged. She had long since been aware of Mel's unusual strength but even she was not prepared for what happened next.
Her voice now full and throaty, Mel hissed, "E--nough!" With that she ripped free from Janice's desperate grip as if the woman was no more than a child and began to stamp her way toward the cockpit. "You must not lose focus," the voice told her. "Do not be afraid. I am with you. We will make amends with the little one later but for now you must hold firm. Much depends on you."
She was almost to her goal when, from behind, Janice literally tackled her. The two women went down to the floor of the plane in a loud thump!
"What the hell's going on back there?" Blake demanded to know.
Mel emitted a low, guttural growl and easily forced herself on top of Janice. "I said..."
"Jesus Christ, Mel," gasped Janice, softly. "Snap out of it."
In the darkness Janice heard a soft, "Ohhh my." Melinda's hands released her vise-like grip on Janice's wrists and she gently rolled off her. Of course Janice knew well enough had happened. She had been witness to this wondrous awakening of Mel's ancient protector on several previous occasions but this had been the first time this awesome power had been directed at her and to be sure it had unnerved her a little. "Golly, Ja-yun," said Mel, her voice almost timid now, "did I hurt you?"
"Only my pride," Janice good naturedly replied.
"Jan, I am sooo sorry."
"Sweetheart, you have nothing to be sorry for," said Janice, her voice very tender now. "Ever!" She leaned forward and kissed her belle on the forehead. "You wanna go back? All right then, we'll go back."
Mel put a hand to Janice's cheek and in a loud whisper said, "Janice, I love you so much. Thank you."
Back in control now, Janice leaned closer still and murmured in her partner's ear, "Mel Pappas, I'd die for you. Don't you know that?" Leaning back, she barked out, "Blake! Turn this bucket of bolts around. We've decided to go in after all."
"Are you nuts?" Blake asked, incredulously.
"You heard me. Now get us on the ground before you lose what little light you have left," said Janice.
"I'm not takin' my plane down there," rasped Blake.
"Blake, our mission supersedes you and your God damn plane!" shouted Janice. "Do it!"
Blake looked to Reese but his only response was to shrug his shoulders in acquiescent resignation. "All right," Blake said, gritting his teeth. "It's your ass. But just remember this, Covington. I'll be back here in exactly twenty-four hours and if I don't get that recognition signal from you then I ain't 'a comin' down. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," replied Janice.
"Good. Now get your stubborn ass back there and get ready to move when I set her down 'cause I ain't exactly going to put this baby in "Park" if you know what I mean."
"Right," said Janice, grinning broadly.
Women! thought Blake in exasperation as he began to make his turn.
Minutes later the B-25 was down and rolling along over the bumpy ground. As the plane slowed to a crawl Evans jerked a thumb toward the fuselage door and yelled, "Out!"
Anthony shouldered open the door and leaped out into the darkness. With a loud, "Let's go!" Janice forcefully took Melinda by the arm and together they jumped out after Anthony. No sooner were they on the ground before Evans slammed the door shut and Blake began turning the B-25 around. The three dark figures scrambled to get out of the way of the big propellers and, once clear, Janice pointed to a line of trees looming up in the distance about a hundred yards away.
"Over there!" she said, straining to make herself heard above the roar of the B-25's engines.
Anthony pulled the bill of his knit GI cap down low and, bringing his M-1 to his chest, took off across the field at a steady trot. For the first time Janice completely mounted her pack on her back and off she and Melinda went after the already vanished Anthony. By the time they made the trees the B-25 was already in the air and before long the sound of its twin engines was but a very faint hum in the distance. Soon even this faded away leaving the only sound to be heard that of the soft breeze as it whispered through the still largely barren trees.
For several minutes they lay there at the edge of the trees, intently watching and listening for any indication that their landing had attracted attention. There was none. "Looks like we're in the clear," declared Janice.
Hearing this, Anthony rolled over and sat up. "So, now what?" he asked.
Good question, thought Janice. Her mind turned to Mel, now sitting so close Janice could feel her breathing. Again she found herself wishing they were both back home in Annapolis, safely entwined in each other's arms in that big canopy bed Melinda loved so much. Sitting there in the blackness, even with her beloved Mel so near, she somehow felt very lonely.
At last she said, "Let's try to find a road running east. If we can do that sooner or later we ought to come across a sign post and then maybe we can determine if we're where we are supposed to be."
"I gotta tell ya, Covington," Anthony said in a loud whisper. "Hanging around roads in this neck of the woods is liable to be none too healthy. Them Krauts have a nasty habit of patrolling anything bigger than a rabbit path."
"We'll keep back a few yards," Janice assured him. "That way if anybody does happen along we can take cover with no problem."
"I gotcha" the sergeant answered, satisfied. He cast his eyes upward to the night sky. Fortunately the cloud cover was minimal allowing him to easily find Polaris. Stretching his arm out as a kind of sight, he whispered, "East is that way."
Janice unshouldered her pack and opened it up. Taking out her pistol, she handed it to Mel. "Hold this," she said. She then stood up and unfastened her belt. Taking the weapon back from the all too willing Melinda, she ran the belt through the holster's loop. In short order she had the belt back in her pants. "Let's get moving," she said.
As she picked up her pack she heard Anthony's low voice, "Covington? How 'bout I carry that for you?"
"Hmph," snorted Janice. "Ya wanna carry my books too?"
"Come on, I'm just trying to help," said Anthony.
"Well it is a little heavy," replied Janice, softening her stance.
He picked up the pack by one of its straps and hefted it. "This? Christ, this is nothing. When I landed at Anzio I was carrying seventy pounds, not counting my rifle."
"All right then," said Janice. "Help yourself--for old time's sake."
As Anthony shouldered the pack, Janice said, "We'll move north by east. That way we are sure to hit something sooner or later."
"Right," Anthony concurred. "Do you want me to take the point?"
"Nuh uh. We all stick together," said Janice.
"What?" Janice asked, noting the hint of urgency.
Melinda leaned over and ever so softly whispered in Janice's ear, "I have to pee."
For the first time since they left Rimini Janice felt her heart lighten. Leave to my beanpole, she thought, affectionately. "Well go on," she said aloud. "It seems all the stalls are empty at the moment."
"I ahh..." Mel nervously cleared her throat, hoping that Janice would catch the hint.
She did. "Anthony, make yourself scarce okay?"
"Hmm? Oh, uhh...oh yeah. Sorry," the sergeant stammered. "I guess I wasn't thinking. Come to think of it, I need to take a whiz myself."
Melinda obstinately waited until Anthony was safely out of range before tugging at her zipper. In the darkness Janice heard her first grunt with dogged determination and then finally gently whine with feeble exasperation, "Ja-yun?"
"What is it now?"
"My, my zipper's stuck," was Melinda's meek answer.
"Good Lord," Janice sighed. "Here we are deep in Austria with nothin' but bad guys for two hundred miles in every direction being expected to pull off some kind of miracle and for starters my best friend can't even get her friggin' pants down."
"Sorry, Janice," said Mel, a little hurt by her lover's barb.
Sensing this, Janice penitently whispered, "Come 'ere." As she
helped Mel with the stubborn zipper she playfully pressed her cheek to Mel's
breast and emitted a small chuckle. "Gee, Mel, where's Xena when we really
Continued in Part Two
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