CHAMPION FOR FREEDOM
Thanks for the input I received on WENNList regarding names and terms. Now, the characters of WENN belong to Rupert, Steven Taylor only is mine. This is my second story involving Steven in the World of WENN, the first being "21 Questions". His own stories can be found over on under the umbrella title of "The Eagle Chronicles".
"It is the Germans!" declared the French woman. "They are searching every house!"
"Quick, grab those coffee cups and we'll hide in the cellar," ordered the American.
They ran down to the cellar and waited nervously. Soon they heard the front door crash open and booted footsteps on the floor above. Shouts in German hinted at what was going on. It wasn't long before they heard the turning of the doorknob.
"If they find us here, we will be killed!" cried the woman.
"Will Champion make it out of the cellar and away from the Nazis? Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of Champion for Freedom." Mackie looked up at the clock above the control room. "It is now 12:00 and time for the news."
In the writers' room, Betty Roberts smiled at how well her new story had come across. Ever since war had been declared in December, she had begun to work the war and patriotism into all the storylines in some form or other. That's when she had decided to create a new show of an adventurer fighting the Nazis in Europe.
Jeff Singer, the handsome leading man of most of the programs, stuck his head inside the door. "Just want to say I think you've got another winner. This is great stuff."
"Thanks, Jeff. It seems to write itself."
"Where did you get the inspiration for it?"
"A little bit of Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel."
"Well, whatever you're doing, keep it up."
"Betty, are you finished with The Hands of Time? We go on as soon as Mackie is done with the news."
"Yes, Hilary. I just finished it." She handed the diva her script.
"Oh, lovely new story, Betty. It's a bit rough, but there is some potential." She left.
"She's just upset the lead is a man," said Jeff with a wink as he left the room.
Betty sat at her desk with a sigh. This was going to be a long day.
Mackie was just starting the last story when Hilary and Jeff entered the studio. "And in Connecticut, the trial of Steven Taylor started yesterday. He is suspected of being the international jewel thief known as the Eagle. We at WENN will be following the story as it happens. Now stay tuned for The Hands of Time."
A few days later, Betty was in the manager's office catching up on a few account details when there was a knock on the door. "Come in."
Maple LaMarsh entered the office. "Betty, you wanna go to the pictures after work?"
"I don't know, Maple. I was going to stay late and work on-"
"There is life outside the station. C'mon, what's one night off gonna do?"
Betty looked at the papers on her desk. Maple was right. She had been letting the station run her life, especially since Scott and Victor…left. "Right. Let's go."
"We still have a few hours yet," the redhead said with a laugh. Just don't change your mind on me."
The minute the last show was done, Maple rushed to find Betty and get her out the door before she changed her mind. Betty surprised her by being the one waiting at the door.
Gertrude Reece, the station's receptionist, was preparing to leave as well. "Champion for Freedom is wonderful, Betty. I think it's the best thing you've done. It just seems so real."
"Some of it might be. I did read a number of articles on what's been happening in Europe. I just added my own twist. Maple, are you ready?"
"Yeah, Betty. G'night, Gertie."
They made it to the cinema in good time. They each bought a small popcorn and soda before finding a seat. "Just in time for the newsreel," commented Maple. "I wonder if we'll see a familiar face."
"What makes you think we'll see someone we know?"
"With all the people out there, it's inevitable."
Betty sneezed. "Drat!" She began to search her purse for a hankie.
"The trial of the suspected jewel thief known as the Eagle began today. Proof of his guilt will not be an easy task as the Eagle was known to work alone and not many have seen his true face."
Maple stared at the screen and was stunned to see a face she knew. "Hey, Betty," she hissed. "Isn't that the friend of Scottie's who visited the station last year?"
Betty looked up at the screen. "It does look like him." There was a close- up of the man and she gasped. "It is him."
Receiving nasty hushing sounds from their neighbors, Maple and Betty remained silent for the remainder of their time in the theatre.
"I don't believe it," she said as they walked down the street. "We had an international criminal at the station." Maple was in awe. "Do you think Scott knew?"
"After he left, I was with Scott in the office and he called the man Steven. He also said that he knew him by lots of names. I doubt he knew exactly who he was."
"He was handsome, charming, and those stories he told about his time in Europe." Maple let the thought go as a new one came to her. "Betty, you used him for your story! You based Champion on him!"
"Well, maybe a little."
"Betty Roberts! First Victor, then Scottie, then a charming criminal!" she teased with a smile.
"I will admit that I did have him in mind when I first started writing, but I might work in Victor's story at some point."
"I thought that was supposed to stay hush-hush."
"I won't use real details, of course. Just about a man who, while working against the Germans, is uncovered and brainwashed."
"Wow, you really have this planned out."
"No, just a bunch of ideas." She smiled. "I just might work on it tonight."
The following morning, Gertie entered the station, a bag from the bakery in her hand and the morning paper under her arm. Whistling It Had to be You, she strolled down the hall to the green room where she poured herself a cup of coffee before starting a new pot. Checking the clock, she saw she still had some time before she had to man her post. She sat at the table with her coffee and breakfast and opened the paper.
"Oh, my Lord!" Staring back at her from the front page was a familiar face: a man with movie-star looks who wasn't a movie star. She remembered how his smile turned her legs to jelly. She read the accompanying article to learn that the man was only twenty-one and a world-renowned jewel thief. "And to think he was here."
"Who was here, Gertie?"
"Oh, Mackie, I didn't hear you come in."
"That was obvious. So, who are you talking about?"
"A jewel thief."
"Why not? We've had Nazi saboteurs."
"Look." She held out the paper. "Scott's friend was the Eagle."
"Can't be. Maybe it was someone who just looks like him," Mackie said, taking the paper from her. He scanned the article. "It could be. I mean, we really never got to know him, did we?"
"And Simon Townshend has the same initials as Steven Taylor."
"Well, it would make it easier in case he had anything monogrammed."
"Good point." He gave her back the paper. "Do you think the others know?"
"If they don't already, they will when they see this." Gertie checked the clock. "Oh, I'm late." She picked up her donut and coffee and headed out to the switchboard.
Pouring his own coffee, Mackie left for the studio to read the morning news and to wait for the arrival of Jeff and Hilary so they could start Bedside Manor
Jeff and Hilary made their usual entrance into the station: arguing. "Hilary, it was just a little flirtation."
"I'm sorry, but she was far from little."
"Why am I explaining myself to you anyway? We're not married anymore." He grinned at the thought.
"Well, someone has to keep you in line." She casually removed her gloves as she entered the green room, placing them on the table, her hat following. A photo on the front page of the newspaper caught her eye. "Hm, that's interesting."
"A topic for Bedside Manor?"
"No, it's just a photo of Scott's friend. You know, the one who had been in Paris."
"You mean the one you practically drooled over?" he asked, walking over.
"Why, Jeff, I do believe you sound jealous," she said with a smirk.
"Well, we were married at the time--I think." He took the newspaper from her. "Hilary, this says here that the man is an international jewel thief."
"Don't be silly. That man was not a thief."
"What do you know that the Connecticut police don't?"
"He was simply too charming and too much like a film star to be a thief. Looks like that attract attention which is something a thief doesn't need."
"True, but it also says that he works with disguises and makeup. Plus, if he were to get into society where the jewels are, wouldn't movie-star looks and charm help?"
Hilary shook her head as she took a sip of Jeff's coffee. "I wonder."
"What are you thinking now?"
"Just wondering how much he said was true."
"Hilary, the man was a thief, possibly a con artist. I wouldn't believe anything he said."
"A pity. He called me radiant." The two left to join Mackie in the studio.
Scott had the radio on as he transcribed spoken word into code. It allowed him to practice and kept his mind off Pittsburgh. He thought of the news as words at letters, not comprehending until three words sunk into his consciousness. He stared at the radio, doubting his ears. "Steven Taylor, the Eagle, was found guilty of theft and robbery just moments ago in Connecticut."
"Well, whaddya know? I knew the man was good, but the Eagle?" He shook his head. "There is no way a man with his talents is gonna stay in jail for long. Maybe I could say something in the right ear. What am I thinking? I don't have the pull to get a convicted man our of prison." A slow grin spread across his face as he thought of the reactions back at WENN. The biggest question they would be asking was whether or not he knew. At least that's what she'd be thinking. At least she'd be thinking of him.
After leaving the White House, Steven was taken to a non-descript office building in downtown Washington that he guessed belonged to Intelligence--Military or Federal, he couldn't tell. He had just been left in this room to cool his heels. He guessed he was here to be instructed in some sort of Resistance protocol or a how-to crash course.
The door opened slowly and Steven looked to see another uniformed arm. The body that followed was one of the last he expected to see. "Scott? What the hell are you doing here?"
Scott Sherwood, a man who had conned and schemed his way around the globe, entered, a huge grin on his face. "Steven," he said, pumping his hand. "I hear you've been busy since I last saw you."
"Very funny. What are you doing here, and in uniform no less? Wait, let me guess: the same reason you went to WENN."
"Kinda. Now I feel like I'm really doing something worthwhile. I found I had a knack for code breaking after catching two big-time saboteurs in Pittsburgh."
Steven was quiet for a moment as he let this information sink in. There was something going on here and he wasn't too sure he approved. He told Scott what he thought. "You just might be joining me overseas."
Before Scott had a chance to answer, the door opened again and a tall, balding man in a grey suit entered. He had an imposing presence and it was impossible not to know he was there, the very antithesis of an Intelligence agent.
Scott looked at the newcomer with surprise. "Victor?"
Victor Comstock turned his attention from Steven Taylor to see Scott Sherwood. The rakish charm he had exhibited at WENN seemed magnified now that he was in uniform. "Sherwood. They hadn't told me you were here. Well, that's given you time to get to know Mr. Taylor."
"Steven and I are old friends, Victor. I've known him for a couple of years now," Scott told him. "We met in London right around the time I met you."
Somehow, it didn't surprise him at all that these two had met before. He had nominated Sherwood for this because his proficiency with codes and ciphers paired with his less than scrupulous scheming mind made him the perfect candidate. Now came the time to see how he would react to the situation. "Sherwood, you'll be going to London to act as Mr. Taylor's contact."
"Wait a second here," interrupted Taylor. "But what does a radio personality--a supposedly dead one at that--have to do with Military Intelligence?"
Victor sighed. Yet another exhaustive exposition. "Believed to be dead in the bombing, I was recruited to go into Berlin and pretend to be a turncoat broadcasting propaganda."
"Jonathan Arnold. I caught that a few times. Your Texas accent could've used some more work, but other than that, not bad."
"I was discovered, conditioned, and returned to WENN where, if I had carried out what I was supposed to, I would be dead in reality."
"So now you're still with Intelligence and have enough pull to get Scott assigned to this." Taylor looked at him shrewdly, seeming to know exactly what was going on.
"Not knowing what was occurring, Sherwood tried to get me a cozy posting in London, so I felt I owed him."
"You found out about that, hunh?" asked Sherwood.
"What I'm offering doesn't have the same perks as that job, but you will be staying in London. In addition to working on codes, you will be putting some of your other talents to use."
"Victor, I don't think those talents are what Intelligence is looking for."
"I meant in radio."
"There has to be some other reason for you to bring us here before we left."
Again with the maddening intuition. "I've secured an exclusive interview for you both. We have to leave now."
Sherwood looked at Taylor. "Very exciting."
After receiving Victor's phone call, Betty had to quickly juggle the program schedule to allow for the exclusive he had told her about. He had sounded so excited that it was contagious. She was busying herself so as not to dwell on wondering what it was even though it drove her to near distraction. The others had plagued her with questions that she couldn't answer.
She went to the control room and watched with C.J. as the cast acted the latest episode of Champion for Freedom when Ted Champion gained a new partner, a schemer who just oozed charm. She looked at her watch with impatience knowing it was near the time Victor said he would arrive.
"Oh, would you look at the time."
She turned in surprise to see Scott Sherwood in uniform leaning against the doorjamb. "Scott."
"What are you doing here? I mean, it's good to see you." She walked over to the door and pulled him into the hallway where they could talk. "You look well," she started awkwardly.
"So do you." He looked around. "Gee, I've missed this place."
"And it's missed you." And so have I. "But why are you here? I was expecting Victor."
"Oh, he's in the office making a few calls."
"You came with him? But-"
"We met up in Washington and he proposed an idea that I found hard to refuse."
Betty looked at that smiling face and wondered what he was hiding, for he certainly was. "What is going on, Scott?"
The door to her office opened and Victor stepped out looking immaculate, if not a little travel weary. "Ah, Betty, there you are. Is everything ready?"
"Yes, I've cleared the schedule once this program is over." She looked at her watch. "A little less than five minutes. You'll have to hurry." She then noticed a man standing behind Victor. "Wait a minute. I know you."
He walked forward. "Miss Roberts, how nice to see you again."
"Victor, this man is a convicted felon! Will someone please tell me what's going on?" she called as the men kept walking into the studio. With a grunt of frustration, she stalked after them.
Just as Mackie finished the closing announcements, the studio doors opened and in strode Victor followed by Scott of all people and…Whoa! Wasn't that Taylor the convicted thief? He backed away from the microphone to let Victor speak.
Hilary, Maple, and even Eugenia were making eyes at Taylor but he ignored them, shaking hands with Foley and Jeff. He then stretched in front of the others to reach him. "Good to see you again, Mackie."
"Yeah." He made his way over to Betty. "Did you know about this?"
"I'm just as in the dark as you are."
Mackie checked his watch. "If we give Victor another five minutes, we might just find out what the deal is."
Maple sidled over to the infamous Steven Taylor. He strangely seemed more attractive now than when he was the mysterious friend of Scottie's. "I never thought I'd be seeing you again."
"Neither did I, Maple, but I should've guessed when Victor told us he had an exclusive interview lined up."
"So, why are you here?"
"As I said, an interview," he said evasively.
"There has to be a reason for the exclusive. C'mon you can tell me."
"And steal Victor's thunder?"
"But I thought that's what you did."
Jeff almost couldn't bear seeing Scott in uniform when it was one of the things he most wanted. And as for Talbot--Taylor now--he had lived a life of intrigue that rivaled anything Hollywood could come up with. The only harrowing experience of his that came close was being married to Hilary.
Victor was winding down his introduction. "Earlier this morning, the President pardoned Steven Taylor-the Eagle-who will be going over to Europe to help the Allied cause. We here at WENN have been lucky enough to secure an exclusive interview with the man himself. Ladies and gentlemen, Steven Taylor."
Jeff then looked over at Scott who was grinning like the whole thing was his idea. Maybe it was. What could he be getting out of this? He was going to London to act as Taylor's contact! Of all the luck! It did make some sort of sense, seeing that they knew each other, but Scott?
Gertie exited the Ladies and saw a larger group than normal in the studio. She slowly opened the door to see what all the fuss was about and the saw him at the microphone. "Oh, my."
"Gertie, who's answering the phone?" asked Betty.
"I don't think we're going to get any calls until he's done," she replied without looking away. He saw her and smiled that smile at her once again. "Oh, my."
It took some time for
the words he was saying to sink in. Something about a pardon and
Europe. Did that mean he was going to serve in exchange for his
freedom? She hoped it wouldn't be as a common soldier, not him. Maybe
it would be with some Intelligence, or maybe with the Resistance, she
thought romantically. A slight smile crossed her face. Maybe it would
be like one of the characters from Champion for Freedom.
While the others were watching Taylor, Hilary took Scott into the hall. "I didn't think to see you."
"I know we struck a deal after I left, but Hilary, this was Victor's idea. If I had refused, he would have suspected something was up."
"Especially since he knows how you feel about Betty." She tried not to sound spiteful because she still felt the same about Jeff.
They were both quiet for a moment.
They laughed nervously. "You first," said Scott.
"I do like you, Scott. You were there when I needed a shoulder to lean on- "
"And the same for you."
"Please, don't interrupt, this is hard enough." She took a deep breath and continued. "We were both in low spirits-"
"That was the one thing we weren't low on." She glared at him. "Sorry."
"And we acted impulsively. We both love someone else and I think we need a divorce." She looked at him and felt a great weight lifted off her shoulders.
"Hilary, I'd be happy to un-marry you. When I get set up in London, I'll give you my address and you can send me whatever papers I need to sign."
"Not a word to anyone."
"Of course not. If nothing else, I know how to keep a secret."
Steven smiled at the unbelievability of it all. Once the decision was made that he would be going to France in exchange for his pardon, he thought it would have been done on the QT, not acknowledging that they needed to send a thief over there to help out. Yet, here he was doing a radio interview that Scott said would be broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, and, eventually the networks. A strange thing for a man who avoided publicity.
It was nice to know that his choice was being greeted so warmly. He knew there would be those out there who would think it was just for his freedom and not patriotically motivated. Most thieves in his position would have chosen to stay in a cozy prison cell rather than risk their lives in a foreign country for no profit whatsoever. No one could say he wasn't patriotic. He had stolen from Hitler after all!
Not to say he was the only patriotic one in the room. Victor had risked his life in Berlin before the U.S. was even involved in the war and Jeff had been wounded broadcasting from London in the same air raid that "killed" Victor. And as for the others, they had stopped Nazi saboteurs twice!
But since it was a done deal, he was glad it was at WENN. Even though he had only been here the one time, he knew they were a tight group. They may not always get along amongst themselves, but should anything-or anyone-from the outside mess with one of them, he messed with all.
As he answered the questions put forth by Victor and the others, his eyes wandered around the studio and saw Scott and Hilary enter from the all, each with a secret, knowing smile. They were up to something, but what could those two have in common? It was obvious they didn't want anyone else in the station to know and they made his desire to find out even stronger. He and Scott had a long flight in front of them and that would provide the perfect distraction.