By Jennifer Payne
Remember WENN and its characters are the property of Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, and of American Movie Classics. No copyright infringement is intended.
It had been Hank Meyers who had mentioned it; the man two places to his left, at one of the poker tables in the back of the George and Dragon. Information to save his life - well, maybe just his sanity. He was the particularly bad poker player who was sailing to America the next morning as a radioman on an ocean liner. He had mentioned that they were in need of someone to handle the encryption of their messages for the new requirements of the convoy, right before he lost his shirt and had to leave.
At first mention, Scott had not been interested. He had not wanted to give up on London quite yet. It would be admitting defeat as a promoter to leave with nowhere to go. But then he met Victor Comstock. Taking over a radio station that had financial trouble sounded intriguing, and if this Betty Roberts was anything like what Victor had described, then it would be too good of an opportunity to pass up.
As he ran through the rainy streets of London's east end, he contemplated the quickest route to the dock yards. While doing so, schemes flew through his mind about how he was going to con his way onto the ship, since he had no money and it was bound to be overbooked as it was. Lots of people wanted to leave England; children were being sent to America by the shipload, bound for safer places. It was early May, 1940. The Germans were just starting their offensive on the Low Countries and France, which would inevitably lead them to the brink of the invasion of the British Isles, itself. No one seemed capable of stopping the juggernaut of the German war machine. This was not the best time to be out of work in London and looking for opportunity back in America.
The ships had to travel in convoys now, since the German U-boats were sinking anything and everything that left from or arrived in England. For Scott, this only meant that the next ship traveling to America would not leave for another couple of weeks. He did not want to just hang around with his mind focused on an unattainable goal. Besides, how would he eat during the waiting? Oh, he would think of something, but it was unbearable just to bide time in such a situation.
Once he arrived at the dockyards, completely out of breath and soaked to the bone, he stood a ways off from the gate, pondering how he would get past the guards. He finally made up his mind and walked up to them, confidently and in a hurry. The helmeted soldiers lowered their rifles at him. They were understandably nervous, guarding a ship during times like these during the night. It did not help that the place looked eerie with the street lights illuminating the wet pavement. It could have been a scene out of a Hitchcock movie.
"Halt! Who goes there?" one of the young soldiers shouted, his high-pitched voice cracking and revealing his uneasiness. Scott did not hesitate, but confidently told them that he was there to meet with the ship's head of security, and if they could tell him where he could find it, he would be greatly obliged. He flashed the men his identification. They were impressed with his demeanor, and believed him. What criminal or spy would ask to see the head of security? They were nearly going to let him pass with no further questions, but their supervising sergeant came out to investigate.
"Sergeant?" the other man called. "Sergeant, there's a man here…"
"Of course there's a man there," the Sergeant complained, as he stepped out of the shelter of the guard house. "Now, what does he want, and who is he; these are the things that interest me more."
The Sergeant was obviously not one to be simply intimidated. He was a thin man, but firmly built, with a trimmed, reddish-brown moustache that drooped around his serious and hard-set face. His pistol belt was secured around his overcoat and his Tommy helmet was cocked to one side.
Without wasting a second, Scott answered confidently, "Scott Sherwood is the name, and I am here by appointment, to meet with someone in the office of security about officially registering on the ship's roll, since I was taken on last moment to work in communications. My passport…" Scott handed him his papers.
"Well, that's alright then," the Sergeant said, as he handed back Scott's papers. "Sir, please follow me; you must have an escort beyond this checkpoint without a ship's assignment." Here he glared at his two young charges. "Continue your watch, gentlemen," he said with sarcastic politeness.
Shouldering their rifles, the young men snapped to attention, and about-faced to continue their watch.
With a grim face and a steady stride, the Sergeant led Scott across open pavement to an office building to their right. The rough board planks creaked as the two of them walked up to the door of the security building. It was lit up by a single bulb that hung down from the overhang. The Sergeant opened the thin door, and Scott went in first, the Sergeant following and removing his helmet.
Inside the dreary room, a bare-headed corporal sat behind a table-top desk that was covered with personnel files. Scott walked up to the desk and repeated his story.
The clerk was surprised, but pleased. "I didn't think those fellows over in communications were ever going to find someone, but apparently they did. Could I see your passport, please?"
Scott dropped it on top of one of the stacks of paper and took off his fedora.
"Mr... Sherwood, this will only take a moment; if you'd care to take a seat over there…" he said, motioning to the chairs against the wall.
"Thanks," Scott replied. He let a little smile crack as he sat down. This was way too easy. He would have preferred it to be a little more challenging or dangerous, but this would have to do. He leaned forward in his chair, turning his hat around in his hands. He did not care for waiting when he was so close to his goal.
The Sergeant sat down across from Scott, and studied him. He broke the silence, "So, you're an American, then?" He was curious about his background. "What brought you over here?"
"A business opportunity," Scott replied. "After working for the Spanish resistance – which didn't quite go the way I planned – I came here for a couple of different reasons."
"Spain…" the Sergeant mused. "I lost a good friend there, bloody Nazis. And now they think they can walk right into France… and then England, I shouldn't wonder. I'd rather die than let bastards like them destroy my land."
Scott was struck with the unbidden memory of his experiences in Spain. He had seen terrible things, and he wasn't even at the front lines. "I'm sorry about your loss," he offered.
The Sergeant nodded. "Well, I should return to my men. It's always a pleasure to meet any of my brothers from Spain," he held out his hand. Scott shook it, not knowing what to say. "Hopefully America will soon become our brother in this war as well. Have a safe voyage then." With that, he got up and left, leaving Scott in a much more somber mood than when he met him.
With the mention of the English-American partnership, Scott thought about the man he had just met in the pub, and the same vision that he held with the sergeant. "Victor…" he tried to remember out loud. He took the book of limericks out from under his arm and opened it. "Comstock," he finished. "Victor Comstock."
Just then, the clerk interrupted his thoughts. "Mr. Sherwood, your papers are all finished; here you go."
"Thanks," Scott said, picking them up. He looked at his watch. "Oh, would you look at the time! Not a moment too soon… I've got a meeting on board! What's the fastest way to the ship's communications center?"
The clerk gave him directions and he took off.
There were more guards by the gang-plank, but he didn't have to say a thing with an official ship's pass. Scott walked on board and took the turns he was told, and soon arrived in the radio cabin. There, checking through a stack of books, with a look of consternation on his face, was Hank Meyers, the guy from the bar.
Hank looked up when he heard someone stop at the hatch. "Sherwood? What the…"
Scott just smiled as he stepped into the room. "Just thought I'd try my luck in America," he replied with a twinkle in his eye.
"I suppose I know how you found out about the job, but how on earth did you manage to get accepted so fast? Did you run into Lt. Kurtz too?"
"Actually, no one here knows about me yet," he answered.
"But security?" asked Hank, with real concern.
"Piece of cake!" Scott supplied with a laugh. He held up his security pass. Hank just gawked at it. "Actually, is Lt…"
"Kurtz," Hank filled in.
"Is he around? I need to see him about getting set up here," Scott finished.
"Uh, he's probably in his cabin, but he's coming up here soon to check on how I'm learning code," Hank answered.
"Where's his cabin?" Scott asked.
"To our left, down the ladder, take a right, and then a left. His is the third on the left. And good luck to you," he added, as Scott took off.
The lieutenant was never 'told' anything. He was a little too old for his rank, and he knew it. He did not take anything from anyone, and he always went by the book, even if it was meaningless or unnecessary. He always tried everything he could to get promoted, and if something or someone rubbed him the wrong way, he took it personally. He liked being in control of situations, but in his current role, he was only in charge of the ship's communications. And that was not very meaningful.
Scott knocked smartly, three times on the lieutenant's hatch. There was a bustle about the room, and then the lieutenant opened it. He was a heavy-set man in his early 40's.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked, candidly.
Scott didn't waste any time. "I am the man that security just sent over to handle the ship's encryption. Scott Sherwood, sir," he said, anticipating his first question and holding out his papers.
"Well, it's about time they responded to my inquiries. Seven hours before we ship off too!" he said, as he grabbed the papers, glanced them over, and raised his eyebrows at Scott's previous job title. "I suppose you've never been on a ship before?"
"I've sailed a schooner in the Pacific, but that's a bit different from this," Scott supplied.
"Quite right," the lieutenant followed up. He liked Scott. After a pause, he said, "You better meet Seaman Meyer, the radioman, as that's who you're going to be working with. He should be interested to know that he doesn't have to bother blundering through those code books anymore. Before you came, he was going to have to teach himself code."
"And where do I bunk?" Scott asked.
"Yes, yes. We'll have to arrange that," he seemed to think out loud. "Last minute arrangements… stupid security."
When they reached the radio cabin, Lt. Kurtz burst in and found Hank winding wires.
He swore at him. "How were you planning on learning code by tidying the room?"
Hank gave Scott and the lieutenant hard stares as he stopped what he was doing.
"Good thing for you, security has come through at the last minute and sent us Mr…," he looked at the papers, "…Scott Sherwood, to handle all code work with the convoy. Sherwood, meet Meyers. Meyers, make sure Sherwood gets a bunk. Carry on." He then turned and left the two alone.
"Nice guy," Scott commented with eyebrows upraised.
"Yeah, a real piece of work," Hank responded. "So, if I'm understandin' right, you've simply played one off the other and won yourself a berth?" Scott just smirked. "That was quite a poker hand that you just played," Hank continued. "I suppose you just played it like you played our game back at the pub."
"Piece of cake," Scott shrugged. He did not feel it necessary to point out that he lost his own shirt a little later than Hank did at the same poker table. For some reason he was losing his edge with cards.
"Well, I'm keenly happy to have you here, poker hands and all, so you need not worry about me telling anyone. Come on, let's see about your bunk." They stood up to leave. "Oh, do you have any bags?" Hank thought to ask.
Scott picked up the limerick book he had set down earlier. "Nope. This is it," he said.
"You sure travel light!" Hank observed. "Okay, right this way."
He led him through a set of passageways to the crewmembers quarters. There were quite a few men already asleep, as it was soon the morning of the voyage. Near the back of the room, Hank stopped and pointed out a top bunk.
"There you go… that one's yours. Better try and sleep a little as we've got to be up and underway in just six hours… gosh, I'm glad you came," he said, as he was very thankful that he could retire as well, instead of hopelessly studying codes.
Hank's sack was just across from Scott's, on a top bunk as well. The two of them crawled into them, and though the mattresses were not too thick, quickly fell asleep. Scott slept just fine, but then again, he was used to catching bits of sleep whenever he could. This was going to be the easiest adventure of his life, if they didn't get sunk by a U-boat.
Most of the first day was spent in the radio room, or on call, since the convoy was meeting up and messages were sent and received with certain regularity. Scott and Hank worked together quite well, and did their jobs efficiently, almost efficiently enough to not get noticed and barked at by the lieutenant.
The second day, the convoy was quite in order and heading at a good speed though the open Atlantic. Scott was always on call, but he did not have any immediate duty, so he promptly found a group of guys in the crew's mess that played poker. He did well at first, but as the experienced men caught on to his game, he began losing what he was going to be paid when they reached New York, so he decided to keep the rest of his pending payment and do something else with his time. That way, he would not have to barter his way to Pittsburgh.
As they met in the radio room at the beginning of the third day, Scott asked what Hank thought a surprising question, "Hank, do you have something I could look at that would help me find out a little about radio?"
Hank thought for a moment. "Well, what do you want to know?"
"Well, I was thinking on studying up a little on the mechanics and fundamentals," he answered.
"What are you going to do in the states, manage a radio station?" Hank asked sarcastically. Scott just looked back at him with a slightly wry smile. "You're kidding!" he responded. "You're not kidding," he finally realized. Scott shook his head with a big grin. "Well, let's see… you could flip through this book about frequency modulation and kilohertz, and things of that nature… but if you have any questions, or if it gets too boring, just ask me." The rest of the day, as well as the next, Scott spent mostly talking to Hank, or glancing at a few pages he found with the index or getting to know the equipment with Hank's help. He had mastered the basics quickly, because it was really only an in-depth refresher. He had to be familiar with using one in several of his past adventures, but was never particularly taught about the principles behind it.
On the fifth and final day of the voyage, he had no real need to do any more studying on the subject. He decided that this would be a good time to put his letter of recommendation together. The far corner in the mess hall was a nice place to work, so he set out a piece of paper and began writing with a pencil, as he sipped on a cup of joe.
After a few minutes of writing, he was interrupted by an orderly that told him he was needed at his post. After decoding the message that had been received, Scott asked Hank, "Hey, could I borrow the typewriter for a few minutes?"
"Sure, Scott," Hank answered nonchalantly.
Scott sat down at the desk and produced his hand-written note from his pocket. He began to type: "To all my friends at WENN…"
"What are you writing, anyway?" Hank asked, suddenly interested.
"My letter of recommendation to the radio station that I'm going to manage," was his surprisingly truthful reply. Scott owed Hank quite a bit, and felt it safe to level with him. There was no way that he could interfere, so there was no risk to his plan.
"So, what made you decide to take the job? I suppose I mean that literally," he both asked and mused.
Scott smiled and replied, "After our game, I met this guy at the counter who was talking about how great his job was, back in the states. So I figured that I'd try it out, since I was between prospects, myself. And I'd been thinking about giving San Francisco another shot, so it seemed like the perfect first stop along the way," Scott thought for a moment, and then resumed typing.
"What are you telling them in the letter?" Hank asked.
"Well, I'm making it sound like the guy thinks I'm the perfect man for the job, and that he misses them all, and that sort of thing, but at least I'm telling the truth about my experiences, right? I mean, what kind of references do you need for running a radio station? All you need to know is how to make money. I bet this is probably the most forthcoming letter of recommendation that I've ever written for myself."
They both smiled.
"Did the guy you met talk about any of the people you'll be working with?" Hank asked.
"He did talk quite a bit about a young lady that he left in charge," Scott replied. "She sounds like she must be great to work with… a sweet, smart, knock-out kind of girl. I think he might have been in love with her or something. But think, what kind of woman would be left in charge of a radio station? Can't wait to meet her."
"What's her name?" Hank asked, slightly insinuatingly.
"Betty," he said.
Hank just raised his eyebrows, and Scott knew exactly what he was thinking.
"Well, would you look at the time… I need to go work some magic on this signature - I'll be in the mess if you need me," he said as he got up to leave.
"You're going to be in a mess if she figures it out," Hank said, a little disappointed with Scott's plan.
"You kidding?" Scott replied. "I'll be long gone before that has a chance of happening." He took the letter out of the typewriter. He smiled and said, "Piece of cake."
"Scott, you're something else," Hank said. "First you get yourself a free passage to the States when every ship is already overbooked, then you give yourself a manager's position before you arrive over people you've never met. Why don't you give yourself a hundred-thousand dollars and retire to Hawaii while you're at it?" he joked.
"Nah, I didn't like Hawaii much," Scott said as he stepped out of the room. Hank just shook his head and smiled. He thought it was too bad that they would probably never see each other again after they left the ship in New York. Scott was a likeable guy if he let you get to know him.
The next day they arrived in New York. It took the ship a long time to unload, because of safety screening and immigration issues. When Scott finally got on shore, he said goodbye to Hank and saw the paymaster. After receiving his meager income, and paying off his debts, Scott thought to himself, "Honest pay… honestly! What am I coming to?" He took off for the train station, and did not waste much time in getting there, besides stopping for a sandwich at a local café.
Once he arrived in Pittsburgh, he immediately took a cab to Isabella Street. Plans for the station's sponsorship swirled around in his mind. He knew, by what Victor had mentioned, that the station needed a financial boost. But the budget books would tell him exactly how much. He was brimming with anticipation.
He got out of the taxi on Isabella and North Gedney. The building that the station was housed in loomed above him. As he was standing there, near the stoplight, a businessman came by and bumped into him, knocking his precious book out from under his arm.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" the man said.
"Not a problem," Scott replied.
"Here you go," the man said, after he picked up the limerick book. "That's a diamond of an antique book you got there."
"Why do you say that," Scott asked, surprised at the unique phrase.
"Well, being in the jewelry business, like I am, I was just saying that it looked nice," the man said. "You wouldn't happen to need a stone for a lady of yours, would you?"
"No," Scott said, with an awkward smile.
"I'm sorry; I'm having a bit of trouble with advertising my store… I'm sorry I interrupted you. In any case, if you ever need a jeweler, just call 'Empire Jewelers'. My name is Gregory Boynton." Here he handed Scott his card.
"Actually, Mr. Boynton," Scott said, "I think we might be able to help each other, sir." "Do you have any sales going on right now?"
"Yes, we have lots of things, like children's watches…"
"Perfect!" Scott interrupted him. "Why don't you come by radio station WENN, right in here, in say… oh, would you look at the time! eight-fifteen? And I promise you that I'll have a solution to your advertising problem. What do you say?"
Mr. Boynton happily replied that he would, and that he was looking forward to it.
They parted ways, and Scott went in the building and took the elevator up to the station's floor. When he walked in the door, no one was seated in reception. "Strange," he thought to himself as he walked down the hall and nearly ran into a bubbly blonde that popped out of one of the doorways.
Surely, this was not Betty Roberts!
Scott blurted out, "I'm looking for the woman in charge…"
So continues, 'A Capital Idea', Episode 11, Remember WENN