What Might Have Been Can Live Again
Episode 3: Shades of Grey
"OH HI, EUGENIA, how was your lunch?" Gertie asked as the station's organist entered.
"Just lovely. I was at The Buttery with Jeff and Hilary, well not exactly with them, they were there you see and I sat at the next table but I wasn't alone either I was with Mr. Foley and he ..."
Sensing that this description was only beginning, Gertie interrupted.
"How are your wedding plans coming alone? When's the big day?"
"Well I just can't get Mr. Foley to name a date, he's been so silent about it. But we've just selected our colors, lilac and avocado green."
"Oh, how ..." Gertie thought for a second, "nice."
"There are so many decisions to make, colors, then the guest list. And I've got so much left to do."
"Those kind of decisions can be overwhelming at times," Gertie reflected. "But the sooner you make them the sooner you can enjoy the wedding."
"You're right, of course. Well, I ... I just have to buckle down and get it over and done with."
"Gertie, has mail come yet?" Maple asked as she approached from the green room.
"No, it'll get here when it gets here. Now stop asking me every ten minutes."
"Sorry," Maple paused, "but we haven't heard from Scott in nearly a week and I'm impatient."
"Maple come on, a week isn't that long. And besides, 'we' didn't hear from him, he wrote you remember."
"Yeah," Maple thought for a moment and laughed, "and he wrote Hilary."
"Do you remember Hilary's face when she saw that he'd addressed it to 'Mrs. Jeffrey Singer'?"
Maple laughed, "How, could I forget that."
"That's was a sight, even for Hilary," observed Gertie.
Maple sighed, "I'll bet Scott's sad he had to miss that! I told him about it in the last letter I wrote him, but I don't think words could do Hilary's expression justice."
"True," Gertie replied.
"But I think underneath all that Hilary was glad to hear from him," Eugenia added.
"Probably," Gertie concurred.
"Yes," Eugenia said, "Well, I'm happy Scott's taken the time to write us, and let us all know how he's doing."
"He's written nearly everyone here, hasn't he?" Gertie asked.
"Except ..." Maple bit her lips and gestured down that hall toward the writer's room.
"Oh, yes." Gertie nodded. She fully understood the implication. Then in a lower voice, "Does she realize that everyone else except maybe Victor has gotten a letter from Scott?"
"I'm not sure," Maple replied, "I haven't felt that I could bring Scott up with her. I wish she'd bring him up."
At that moment Hilary burst from the green room and went into the studio. Jeff followed right on her heals.
When they had gone Maple broke the temporary silence. "So what is it anyway? Jeff and Hilary I mean, is this their third or forth honeymoon?"
"I guess it depends on how you count, fourth for Jeff, third for Hilary." Gertie paused for a moment. "That is assuming of course we have all the correct information. Who knows what secrets they may still be hiding," Gertie stopped. She looked both directions. "Well, Eugenia, Maple, as you both know I'm not one to talk, but this business with Jeff and Hilary, it's just a tad ..."
"What?" Eugenia gasped.
"... Suspicious. They say they're married," Gertie continued, "but so far we've seen none of the usual er ... uh, usuals, no fighting, no excessive ... uh, well no excessive anything. Mark my words things aren't what they seem."
"They couldn't have gone to Mexico could they?" Eugenia asked.
"No, there wasn't time," Maple replied. "But I heard Jeff bragging to Mackie that he took her to Loco Pedro's Burrito Hut as a fill in. But, you know how Jeff likes to exaggerate."
Gertie laughed, but Eugenia just looked horrified.
"Frankly, I'm not sure what's going on," Eugenia explained. "Hilary just seems so ... I can't put my finger on it."
"Cold? But then why should this month be any different," Gertie added.
Maple laughed. But Eugenia's puzzled expression told Gertie that she hadn't understood the joke.
Maple decided to change the subject. "I hear we're starting the shows for the troops with the W.E.N.N. next week?"
"Really?" Eugenia asked.
"I think so, at least that's what the grape vine informs me." Maple stopped for moment and cast a sly glance at Gertie, who quickly averted her eyes. "We'll find out more soon I think."
"Oh dear!" Eugenia looked at the clock. "I didn't realize it was so late. I'd better get in there or 'Valiant Journey' will be performed without an organist. Excuse me."
"I'd better get in there too." Maple turned to follow Eugenia.
"See ya," Gertie said.
Gertie flipped on her radio.
"I JUST CAN'T BELIEVE THIS OF PHILLIP," said Hilary as Daphne, "it's so extravagant of him, a surprise ski vacation in Colorado! How exciting!"
"Yes, well that's Phillip, full of surprises," Jeff laughed in character as Leonard. "Yes, it will be a ... surprising weekend." He added with a suspicious air.
"What fun, you, me and Phillip all out there in that crisp mountain air. Just the three of us."
"The three of us?" Jeff said deviously.
"Oh, it will be wonderful."
"Just think of it Daphne, Colorado," Jeff said in a seductive tone. "Up there on the mountain on a starry night, looking down at twinkling lights from the valleys below. Could almost put ideas into your head."
The intensity of Jeff's performance made Hilary blush for a moment. She averted her eyes back to her script and her voice betrayed a hint of uneasiness when she read her next line. "Well if you'll excuse me Leonard. I must speak to Gwendolyn about my luggage.
"Gwendolyn," Hilary called, "come with me upstairs and I'll explain what I need."
"Oui Madame," Maple said in her role as Gwendolyn, "I shall have your zings ready right away!"
Betty had a lot of things on her mind as she walked into the station that afternoon. She'd talked to Victor earlier and she wasn't sure what to make of the experience. During lunch she found herself distracted by nagging questions. But there was work she still had to get done. She'd have to file away these concerns for later and deal with the more important matters.
"Oh, hi, Betty. Goodness I didn't even hear you come in. I've been listening to 'Valiant Journey.' How was your lunch?"
"It was OK," Betty sighed. "I just had a sandwich at The Buttery."
Jeff's voice was heard over the radio, "Manfred, did you mail that letter to Daphne from Phillip."
"You mean the one you forged, sir?" Mackie said in a formal butler's voice.
"Of course!" Jeff said in triumph.
"Yes," Mackie replied.
"Splendid," Jeff declared.
"NO! That cad!" Gertie said to her radio.
Even though Betty realized that Gertie was only half listening to her she continued, "Victor had to to leave for Washington this morning. He's got a lot of people there counting on the work we've been doing here. He really wants to meet their expectations." Betty paused, looked about the room then back at Gertie. "It's important work. We were suppose to have dinner tonight but ... There's so much start up work that he has to do to get the W.E.N.N. going."
"Oh," Gertie replied. Her eyes were still fixed on her radio, as if sight was necessary as well as sound to properly enjoy the program.
"Phillip is so wrapped up in the work he is doing for the allies that he'll never catch on," Jeff said.
Betty continued, "Victor's hoping to line up some big names for some of our W.E.N.N. programming. He's got one already for the first show. In fact he ..." She paused, "Gertie, is mail here?"
"Yeah, give me just one minute." Gertie moved a couple piles of paper aside and muttered something to the radio that Betty couldn't quite decipher. At last a little stack of envelopes was revealed. Gertie retrieved the items and handed them to Betty, "Here's your bills and the like."
"Thanks, uhm ... any other mail that was ... interesting."
"Nope we didn't hear from ..."
"I'll called in a favor, and Philip will be ... unavoidably detained this weekend," Jeff gloated.
Gertie's eyes went big as she stared in disbelief at the radio. "No!" she gasped.
Betty shrugged and headed down the hall to the writers room.
MEANWHILE BACK IN THE STUDIO, Daphne Danvers had arrived in Colorado.
"Leonard," Hilary said. "Thank you so much for picking me up at the train station, and you're right Colorado is lovely this time of year."
Jeff put his hand over the mike and whispered in Hilary's ear, "Mexico would be better."
Hilary blushed, but tried to continue with the script. "I suppose Philip is already at the ski lodge waiting for us."
"Actually." Jeff hesitated. "Philip isn't ... here, uh, ... his train was delayed and he won't be joining us after all."
"Oh!" Hilary said.
"And good riddance," Jeff laughed as he blocked the mike.
Hilary smiled but tried to focus on the show. "That's not like him. Are you sure you knew the right train number because mine got here just fine?"
Mr. Foley used his sound effects record to create the sound of a car coming to slow a stop, and a door opening.
"Daphne we're here. Now let me get your things."
"Can't the servants get them?"
"There aren't any servants. There's no one here but you," Jeff moved right up to Hilary's ear and whispered, "and me."
Mackie rolled his eyes as he approached the microphone while Eugenia struck a dramatic cord on her organ. "What does Leonard have planned for the weekend?" Mackie asked in his formal announcer voice. "Yes, you'll want to tune next time for 'Valiant Journey.' "
MAPLE HAD RETURNED TO GERTIE'S DESK desk after finishing her scene to listen to the rest of the program. She had a nail file in her hands but seemed to be paying more attention to the radio then her cuticles.
Betty approached from down the hall with a stack of scripts in her arms.
"See now Gertie you spoke too soon, here it comes!" Maple observed, "They're headed straight down the path of their eternal love stuff."
"Shhh," Gertie silenced her as Jeff and Hilary emerged from the studio. When they were safely in the green room Gertie spoke again. "Well they sure took long enough getting there! At least for now they're still basically keeping to the script. But I still say that there's something going on that we don't know about."
"Hilary seemed surprisingly cool," Betty observed. "I mean almost like she was holding back."
"See now that's just what Maple and I were discussing earlier," Gertie replied.
"I mean something just didn't seem quite right with Hilary," Betty continued. "She usually doesn't play the .. the wilting flower."
"Things just don't add up ... ah well. But with Jeff and Hilary when do they ever?" Gertie sighed, "Entirely that is." She looked at Maple. Maple's attention was once again turned to her nail file. "Maple you look really nice. You have plans for the evening?"
"Yep, Louise from my building fixed me up with her brother. He's a geo-low-gist. I'm going as a favor, but you never know. We'll be having dinner at some French place."
Betty voice seemed unusually harsh, "Maple before you apply polish to your nails. Do be aware that we still have shows to do today. You might have fun tonight or you might get bored out of your senses. After all we must put aside our own wants and wishes for the ..." She paused, and then with a softer tone in her voice, "Tonight's show may involve murder, but I wouldn't want your nails to bleed on the script, careful with that polish," she smiled handing Maple a script.
"Sure," Maple replied. She looked at Betty curiously.
"And, I have some news about the W.E.N.N. which you might be interested in as well," Betty said. She wanted to change the subject. "I was just on the phone with Victor. Our first broadcast will be this Wednesday."
"Great!" Maple exclaimed. Gertie seemed equally pleased.
"Our audience will be small at first," Betty continued, "but to help build momentum we will be getting some well known personalities to guest star on programs. Victor said he had to pull a few strings but he managed to get Martha Ashton - you know the popular singer? - to appear on our first program."
"I've heard of her. She's kind of new isn't she?" Maple asked.
"Yes, and from what I understand that is why we were able to get her. Victor is hoping that things go well so we'll be able to get bigger names in the future. But Martha Ashton's career is going well, in a couple of years who knows where she'll be. Then of course everything we do will be recorded so it can be re-aired in the future."
"I'm sure it will be just great, Betty. Now I'd better get in the studio," Maple smiled, her fingers still polish free. She picked up her script and left.
BETTY WAS READY TO GET BACK TO WORK. A sudden urge for caffeine caused her to take a detour. As she walked into the green room she was surprised by Jeff and Hilary seated on the couch. They looked equally startled by her appearance. Jeff looked up, started to say something but let it pass. Betty couldn't help but notice the tense expression on Hilary's face. She wanted to excuse herself. Just as she turned to go Hilary greeted her.
"Betty, do you have my script for 'A Woman's View on the News?' "
"It's in the writer's room. I can get it for you if you ..."
"Don't bother, I'll get it myself." Hilary gave Jeff a blank glace and left the room.
Betty turned to Jeff, "What was that about?"
Jeff tried to laugh, "Well you know, usual marital bliss and all." He paused, "Oh my, uh ... nearly time for 'Sam Dane' ... better go."
BETTY DIDN'T HAVE MUCH TIME to think about Jeff and Hilary's puzzling behavior over the following days. Getting the scripts ready for the first broadcast of the W.E.N.N. was more than enough work to keep three people busy. The day to day goings on at the station seemed to escape her notice as she became even more deeply buried in her scripts.
"Fine," Victor said as he reviewed the material Wednesday morning in the office. "It's only our first show but I think we are headed in the right direction."
Betty rose from her seat to leave. "So when is Miss Ashton expected?"
The office radio was set low and Mackie's voice could be heard, "Now stay tuned for 'Your Health and Welfare.' "
"Just after two," Victor replied. "That gives us much of the afternoon to rehearse. I managed to clear our afternoon schedule so that ..."
Gertie's voice was heard coming from reception. "Mail's here!" she exclaimed. "And there's a letter from Scott ... Maple, it's for you,"
Betty took a deep breath. She stepped into the hall and joined Maple, Mackie, Eugenia and Mr. Eldridge at Gertie's desk.
"What's it say," Gertie exclaimed while Maple broke the seal.
"Gertie, you mean you didn't read it first?" Maple repled.
Gertie took up an air of contrived innocence. "I don't know what you're implying."
"She's loosing her touch," Mackie observed.
Finally Maple had extracted the letter and unfolded it. Her eyes raced across the first paragraphs.
"What's he say?" Eugenia exclaimed.
"He's doing well!" Maple smiled. She skimmed ahead. "He misses everyone, and he's been ... " Maple was quiet for a while. "Oooh no!"
"Maple!" Victor approached from the office. " 'Your Health and Welfare' started two minutes ago. Mr. Foley is currently adlibbing about foot care."
"Oh my gosh!" Maple gasped. "Sorry guys," she said to the others as she took the letter and rushed into studio A.
MARTHA ASHTON WAS A SMALL-ISH WOMAN. Betty guessed that she was in her twenties. But she couldn't be sure, her blond hair was done in such a way that she seemed even younger. At her right was a tall, middle aged man who had something of the look of an office accountant. He wore an average charcoal grey-suit which didn't quite fit right.
"So here we are, what a charming little station." Martha smiled.
"Let me get your coat Miss Ashton," the man said. He took her pink overcoat, revealing a green checkered blouse and a purple and yellow floral print skirt. She had a purple scarf pined around her neck. Betty was puzzled. There was a neatness in her dress which didn't fit with her strange choices in wardrobe.
Gertie and Eugenia stifled gasps, but Victor seemed unfazed. He approached her and shock her hand. "Victor Comstock," he introduced himself. He turned to the man, "You must be Mr. Owen."
"Yes, A pleasure sir," he replied.
"This is quite an honor Miss Ashton," Victor continued.
"Well I'm happy I could help." she smiled.
"Yes Miss Ashton enjoys performing for her public," Mr. Owen declared.
"Oh Harold!" Miss Ashton giggled. "You always talk like an agent."
Harold colored but didn't say anything.
"Miss Ashton, Mr Owen, I would like you to meet, Betty Roberts, our head writer."
"Nice to met you," Miss Ashton replied. She shock Betty's hand.
"Gertrude Reece, our receptionist." Victor indicated Gertie at her desk.
Gertie waved, "It's nice to have you here."
"And Eugenia Bremer," Victor continued. "She'll be providing your accompaniment."
"Nice to meet you." Miss Ashton shook Eugenia's hand.
Eugenia was glowing. "The pleasure is all mine. I don't own any of your albums myself, but I think I heard you on the radio once ... but that might have been Martha Tilton."
"If you will come this way," Victor said, "I can show you to our studio, we have several hours, of course, before the broadcast but I'm sure you're anxious to rehearse and get a feel for the locale."
"Certainly," Miss Ashton replied.
The group followed Victor down the hall.
At that moment Maple exited from the green room, she appeared to engrossed in what she was reading that she wasn't looking where she was going. She almost ran into Betty.
"Oh that's alright Mapppplle ..." Betty looked down and caught a moment's glance at the paper in Maple's hand. It was Scott's letter.
Victor introduced Maple and Miss Ashton and gave Maple instructions to gather the rest of the cast. Betty barely heard any of this as her attention was focused ... elsewhere.
"Betty?" Victor said shaking her of this revelry.
"What?" she replied.
"I was just saying that you would be going over the scripts with Mr. Owen."
"Oh, right." she followed the other men into the studio.
"Comstock," Mr. Owen intoned, "as Miss Ashton's agent it's my charge to see that my client's career advances in the way that is most beneficial. It would be most unfortunate if I were to direct her career in a way that was not in her best interest. Therefore I must carefully review the scripts with my client as soon as possible."
"Certainly, the cast will be here as soon as they finish broadcasting 'The Hands of Time' from studio B. You may go over the scripts with Miss Ashton while we wait."
Mr. Owen considered this for a moment, "Yes, I'll have to discuss this with my client."
Suddenly both men became aware of the fact that Miss Ashton was not in the studio.
Victor turned to Betty. "Could you find our star?"
BETTY FOUND MISS ASHTON BY THE WATER COOLER. She was fiddling with a silver necklace which seemed awkward when worn with her large gold earings and bracelets. Despite these oddities there was a regal quality about her posture that was very suggestive of the glamorous cover of Martha's last album. Betty couldn't help but feel rather starstruck approaching her.
"Miss Ashton, Mr. Owen is wondering about the scripts ... " Martha didn't answer. "Miss Ashton?"
"What?" Miss Ashton finally reacted, blushing, "Sorry I was lost in thought."
"I'm not certain about your needs Miss Ashton," Betty said, "but I know Mr. Owen wanted to get your opinion on the scripts for tonight."
"It's Martha, please," she smiled.
"And you can call me Betty."
"Sure. Oh, and tell Harold I'll be right there,"
"That's a lovely necklace."
"Oh, yes, It was a gift to me from my boyfriend Mark." Martha sighed. "Mark lives in Cheyenne, in Wyoming - where I grew up - and I don't get to see him very often. I'm on the road so much these days. And then I'm sure that he'll enlist or be drafted. Mark's just the kind of guy to do that sort of thing. Always standing up for what's right and all. I just know he'll be sent overseas before I have a change to see him again. I just want to ..."
"Miss Ashton." Victor stood in the doorway to the studio room.
"You are needed in the studio," he said.
AFTER THE MAJORITY OF THE WENN CAST finished their broadcast in studio B they assembled in studio A for the rehearsal. However the read through had not gotten very far with a problem emerged.
"Well Agnes," Jeff said reading from his script, "I hope you'll make me an apple pie before I have to report at the base?"
"Oh, well I ..." Martha dropped character, "Harold, I'm just not sure about the apple pie. I don't know how to make an apple pie. I mean what's my motivation? I'm a soldier's sweetheart, I want to please him, but I don't want to prepare his favorite dish and do it badly. Can't we change the line to strudel? I make an excellent strudel."
"You are so right Miss Ashton," Mr. Owen exclaimed. "You do make a wonderful strudel!"
"Well, Betty what you wrote, 'apple pie' works too sort of, but in a different way," Martha continued. "I mean it must be his favorite dish."
Betty was about to speak, but before she could say anything Mr. Owen spoke.
"The original line certainly does; it's perfectly expresses homespun patriotism!"
"But then is that what we want to express?" Martha continued. "Is it what's best for this program, this country? I mean patriotism isn't always homespun. Agnes could make a raspberry soufflé to appeal to the upper middle class?"
Jeff looked very confused.
While the others pondered this Victor ventured to settle the matter. "Miss Ashton, the general point is communicated in any of those deserts. Now if we could select one, and move on that would be very much appreciated."
Martha gasped; she didn't seem to understand Victor's words.
Mr. Owen, sensing Martha's unspoken cry for help, came to her rescue.
"Well, Comstock, I agree with Miss Ashton. The precise meaning of words is extremely important to what we are doing. After all words are the medium by which we succeed or fail in the world of radio. I insist that Miss Ashton be allowed to find the words that make her most comfortable."
Martha smiled at him with admiration.
Victor was about to speak but Mr. Owen interrupted. "It is of the upmost importance that the integrity of Miss Ashton's career be protected and if I may remind you, creative approval is in our contract. The one this station made detailing the arrangement between my client and this station."
Betty was totally taken aback. She was very familiar with the ownership of their regular shows and that the sponsors did have final say, but the W.E.N.N. was a totally new field. She didn't know what to say, and neither it seemed did Victor.
Mr. Owen took that as an answer, "Good ... Now Miss Ashton please what were you saying about soufflés?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure," she replied.
REHEARSALS HAD BEEN REDUCED to a snail's pace as Martha seemed to stop at every other line and debate the merits of the dialogue, the settings, and the character's last names. She even debated whether Judy in the 'girl back home' sketch should wear a yellow ribbon or a green one.
Betty couldn't finalize the scripts one way or the other until Martha gave Mr. Owen the go ahead. All she could do was to make the proposed changes by adding two or more versions of the same line on the same page.
When the rehearsal reached yet another impasse Jeff took this opportunity to solicit Hilary.
"Come on Hilary, we've gone through the sketches a dozen times and we're no better off now than we were three hours ago. So why don't you and I go and get a bite to eat, before the broadcast. No one will miss us."
"Not now Jeff, I mean I really think we should rehearse our scenes. Remember this program is going on the air in less then two hours and is going to be heard by many soldiers ... not to mention sailors as well."
Jeff sighed, turned and exited the studio. "Well I'll just go get another cup of coffee."
"Well then Hilary," Betty said, "you and Martha should run through the nurse sketch again." Betty looked around the room, "Martha?" Mr. Owen was missing as well.
"I think she went to get some coffee," Hilary replied. "I don't see what difference it makes if she's here or not, we don't seem to get anything done either way."
"We might actually be able to get something done if she would decide on these changes," Betty moaned. "She's got everyone here in limbo waiting for her to choose, but she doesn't choose,"
"Well Mr. Owen certainly isn't helping her make up her mind." Hilary added.
"You know what I think?" Betty continued. "I think inside she really knows what she wants she just won't listen to herself!"
Martha entered the studio with a fresh cup of coffee.
"Martha," Betty began, "Mr. Owen needs the order of your songs and we need you to decide about the changes to the script."
"Oh right," Martha paused. "I just need a little longer to think about this. So that I'm really sure. Just a half an hour more, I promise."
Hilary rolled her eyes.
"Well, Martha, Hilary," Betty said, "let's run through the nurses sketch again. Wait where's Maple?"
Betty popped into the hall and looked both directions. She noticed Gertie and Maple in the reception area. They were deeply engaged in conversation of the whispered variety.
"Maple, we need you in the studio," Betty said still standing by the studio door.
Maple noticed Betty and gasped. Betty couldn't help but notice the suspicious looks in Maple's and Gertie's eyes as they exchanged glances. It was the look of misbehaving children who had been caught by the teacher.
Maple shifted her demeanor immediately. "Oh, uh, Betty are we ready to rehearse some more?"
"Yes," Betty replied.
Gertie and Maple exchanged some final whispered words, which Betty couldn't hear. While Maple walked back into the studio Betty noticed that she put an envelope in her purse, it was Scott's letter.
THERE HAD CERTAINLY BEEN PROGRAMS MORE HECTIC than this one. But never had they done a show where fifteen minutes before the broadcast there were three or more versions of the same scripts.
Betty headed into the studio as Eugenia was warming up her organ and Mr. Foley was arranging his sound effects equipment. He rearranged it every time he looked at a different version of the same sketch, as he was unsure of which items would actually be used. His frustration went unspoken, Betty could only imagine what he would say about it after the broadcast.
Jeff, Hilary, Mackie and Maple entered the studio
"Betty it's nearly time to go on the air," Jeff began, "hasn't Miss Ashton given you any decision about the scripts? Which lines am I suppose to read?"
"Oh, I wish I knew, for now unless you hear other wise just pick one as we go."
"Just pick one?" Hilary moaned.
"Well I can't help it, Martha ..." Betty looked around the room, "Martha?" She wasn't there. "Just wing it. Excuse me, I have to find our star."
Betty turned around and rushed into the green room. Martha was intently looking at two dresses on the table.
"Martha? Are you ready we are on the air in twelve minutes?"
"Oh dear, I didn't realize it was that late. But I just can't decide? Should I wear the yellow dress or the blue dress. I like them both and blue it's such an elegant color, but yellow is so happy, it was my mother's favorite color. But I know Harold likes blue. But ..."
"What does it matter? No one is going to be able to see you anyway this is radio."
"Yes but this is all very important to Harold, you know the idea of image building. Letting it influence your role. And my mother's favorite ..."
"Never mind them. What do you want?" Betty hoped that Martha would come to some sort of decision. No use, she simply stared back at Betty with a blank look in her eyes. "Martha you don't have time to dress, we need you to make you final decisions on the scripts. Please go into the studio as soon as possible and inform the cast of your decisions. They can help you, I have to make sure that Washington is receiving our signal."
BETTY LEFT THE GREEN ROOM and was accosted by Mr. Owen. His left eye was twitching.
"Miss Roberts I am shocked and appalled at the lack of organization at this station. There are ten minutes before the broadcast and we still don't have a solid script."
"Well, I have given Miss Ashton all afternoon to finalize her decisions but she hasn't informed me of any of her decisions." Betty tried to remain calm.
"Now, Miss Robert's that pretty harsh. Miss Ashton has plenty on her plate tonight. She is carrying the weight of this entire program of yours. I should think some understanding would be in order." Mr. Owen paused for a moment. He shifted around in his loose fitting suit. "Miss Roberts, as Miss Ashton's agent I must put my foot down. If Miss Ashton does not receive an adequate script before we go on the air I will find this station in breach of contract!"
Betty tried to digest his meaning but she could find no logic in his statement. She didn't know what to say. Ever since they arrived Mr. Owen and Miss Ashton had done nothing to help the progress of the program. They had given her more work and she was now being blamed for not doing their work on top of it all! Mr. Owen stalked off to the green room and Betty continued to the control room. Before she could say anything Victor spoke.
"Our connection to Washington is ready. Where's Miss Ashton?" he asked.
"She's still in the green room trying decide which dress to wear," Betty replied.
"This is radio, tell her it doesn't matter."
"I already did, but we have a new problem."
"Mr. Owen. He's threatening to find us in breach of contract if we don't present Miss Ashton with a finalized script before we go on the air. But I've been trying all afternoon to get Miss Ashton to make a decision on the script, but she hasn't."
Victor gave an ironic laugh.
"I just can't stand them any more. Can't we do something?" Betty cried.
"Unfortunately, no," Victor signed.
"Betty, I highly doubt any charges he would file would be accepted in court, all we have to worry about is that he might try to pull Miss Ashton from the show?"
"But what can we do? We're on the air in," she looked at her watch, "six minutes."
"All you need to do is appease him and keep him happy. By the end of the broadcast he'll have forgotten all about it."
"Make him think we have a completed script."
"I haven't a clue. But we only have six minutes and a lot of people in Washington counting on us and as I'm sure you've heard the show must go on."
Betty's frustration fell into sarcasm, "No I've never heard that before, tell me how it goes again?"
"Betty, the time!" Victor ushered her out of the control room.
BETTY'S SANITY LEVEL STAGGERING near the precipice of madness had nearly gone over the edge. Martha wasn't in the studio which meant she was still in the green room. She muttered under her breath as she stocked down the hall. Betty prayed she wouldn't see what she knew she would see there. She opened the door; sure enough, Martha was still in contemplation over the two dresses.
"Martha!" Betty's voice boomed. "We are on the air in less then four minutes. We need you in the studio now!"
"Wait I've almost decided. Blue, no wait yellow. Yellow is sort of a happy color," she paused.
Betty regretted her tone of voice when she noticed Mr. Owen. She didn't want to do anything that might further up set him.
Martha continued to fiddle with the dresses, "This hospital I visited once, had the walls painted yellow. It will be perfect for the nurse sketch. No wait I think the hospital walls were blue."
"Oh, uh, well," Betty began in the most confident voice she could muster. "We have the completed script for you to look at."
"You do?" Martha said. Her mouth hung open. Betty hoped Mr. Owen didn't notice it.
"Well it's about time!" Mr. Owen vented.
"Yes ... of course!" Betty continued. "And Miss Ashton you are needed in the studio it's almost time to start the broadcast." Betty turned to Mr. Owen, "And Mr. Comstock 'needs' you in the control room to ... uh ... supervise the program."
"Break a leg my dear." Mr. Owen turned and left the room.
"But how do we have a completed script?" Martha asked. "Harold was just saying ..."
"We don't have one, you never gave me your decision as to which lines you wanted."
Martha gasped, "Oh, Betty I'm so sorry, but I just get so confused. I just don't know ..."
"Well, when you go out there you'll know what you want." Betty tried to sound as convincing as possible. "Just go with you gut feelings and just choose a line with no second thoughts."
"No second thought?"
"No second thoughts."
Betty gave Martha her most confident smile to which Martha returned her usual look of confusion as she left the green room.
Betty gave a quick fervent prayer.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, soldiers and sailors," Mackie announced, "Radio Station WENN Pittsburgh is pleased to bring you our first presentation from The Wartime Entertainment and News Network. A new outlet developed by WENN and the U.S. military to provide programming for the Arms Forces Radio. And now the W.E.N.N. is pleased to present the sensational, Miss Martha Ashton.
Music began; Martha sang one of her popular songs, "I'm Almost Certain that I Love You."
Betty listened to the song in the green room. The volume was set low. She was about to go into the control room when something caught her notice. There was a purse sitting on the coffee table, it was Maple's. But what had grabbed Betty's attention was not the purse itself. The clasp was open and Betty saw the corner of a white envelop; it was Scott's letter.
THE FIRST COMEDY SKETCH WAS JUST BEGINNING as Betty entered the control room and took a seat.
She noticed Jeff fidgeting in the studio. He shifted the position of his hands on the script as he looked down at it one moment and up at Martha the next. Finally he took a deep breath, "Well Agnes I hope you'll make me ... ahhhnnn apple pie before I have to report at the base?"
Betty held her breath as Martha approached the microphone. Martha's expression was sheer terror. Betty looked to see if she could make out any expression in Mr. Owen's eyes, but his head was turned and she couldn't she his face.
Martha opened her mouth but no words came out.
The others started to panic. Sweat was beading on Jeff's forehead.
"Agnes, darling," Jeff stammered, "tell me you'll make me an apple pie." He paused, "please!" he whispered.
Martha was still frozen staring at the microphone.
The silence was becoming very awkward.
"No I won't!" Martha stated.
The others gasped.
"I can't make apple pie, but I can make strudel? Do you like strudel? I do."
"Yes, of course," Jeff stammered, "I like what ever you like, Agnes sweetheart."
"I realize of course, that strudel is usually thought of as German food. But we in America are going to take it back! We will bring freedom to all countries and their pastries!"
Eugenia looked confused as she appeared to be digesting this new information.
"French éclairs, English toffee and Greek baklava will be enjoyed by all people," Martha continued. "All will be free to join with the Danes in love for the danish. Banana splits will shared in freedom in every banana republic."
Martha just kept going. Jeff and Mackie stared at her not knowing what do.
Finally Martha looked at Jeff and with sincerity said, "Oh Fred, I'll make anything you want me to make. I'll send you whatever they'll let me while you're away. I'll write you every day, and stay true to you in my heart. But I won't make an apple pie! Now about those socks of yours I hope you plan to start washing them daily?"
Relief flowed through the room; Martha had returned to the script!
"Once a year is enough," he replied.
"Yeah, long 'enough' for them to ferment. If you squeeze those socks you'll get gin." Martha retorted.
"Economy, that's what I call it," Jeff exclaimed.
"Most people would use another word. Now about those poker games ..."
The tension in the room subsided and Betty's blood pressure finally returned to normal.
THE BROADCAST CONTINUED WONDERFULLY. And now free from those concerns Betty's mind began to wander to other topics, like Scott's letter in the green room. What had Maple read that had made her react with "Oh no"? She remembered Maple's and Gertie's curious behavior before the broadcast. Could it explain why Scott hadn't written her?
Betty's mind continued to raise more questions, until finally she got up and snuck out of the control room.
She reached the green room in only a moment. The room was deserted. Maple's purse was exactly as she had last seen it. She held her breath and took a step forward to the coffee table.
She stopped, turned her head and looked through the blinds into the hall. There was no one there. She moved closer to the purse and in a quick movement snatched the envelope from the purse and jumped away from it.
She looked back into the hall. Anyone could walk in at any moment and catch her. And Victor might miss her in the control room. She had to buy time. She looked at Maple's purse still on the coffee table; for the most part it still looked undisturbed. She glanced around the room and rushed to the sofa. Lifting one of the cushions she put the envelope under it. After the broadcast she would have time. However, if the envelope was discovered before then Maple would assume the letter had simply slipped under the cushions by accident.
"BRAVO! EXCELLENT MY DEAR," Mr. Owen clapped Martha's shoulder after the broadcast. "A job well done by all"
Jeff, Hilary, Maple and Mackie smiled in agreement. Betty turned her head, avoiding Mr. Owen's glance.
"Thank you all," Martha replied. "I really enjoyed it. I'd love to do it again, if you'll let me? Wouldn't that be fun!"
Jeff, Hilary, Mackie, Betty and Maple all stared at her in fear. But before they could say anything Victor intervened.
"Thank you Miss Ashton, for your contributions. Now I'm sure that you and Mr. Owen would enjoy hearing the response from Washington. If you'll follow me to my office. I'll phone Washington to find out about the reception of our first broadcast, both in mechanical terms and in human opinion." The three headed to the office.
Jeff and Hilary put on their coats while Betty collected the mangled scripts from the cast.
"I think I'll call it night," Hilary yawned. She turned to leave. "There's plenty to do before the morning comes."
Jeff grinned from ear to ear and gave Hilary a very obvious wink. "Right behind you pumpkin!" he exclaimed as he held the door for her.
Hilary gave Jeff an anxious smile. She looked blankly at the others as she followed Jeff out of the station.
Gertie rolled her eyes in resignation. Maple met her glance and smiled.
"Hey, Betty," Maple turned to face her, "Gertie and I are going to get a bite to eat; you wanna come?"
"Ahh ..." Betty looked at the purse in Maple's hands. "No thanks. I have to ... to get these scripts filed." She gestured with the scripts in her hand. "See you tomorrow." With one final look at the purse Betty turned to leave. She almost tripped in her shoes as she hurried to the writer's room.
Maple tried to hide her grin. Gertie gestured to her.
"Maple, did she, take it?" Gertie whispered.
Maple approached the desk, "What'd ya say?"
"Did she take it?" Gertie said again, this time pointing to Maple's purse.
Maple smiled. "Worked like a charm!" She gave Gertie a peak inside the purse.
"You sure it was her?"
"Positive. You saw her just now. Besides she's been watching me with it all day. Of course I did my best to encourage her there."
"So what next?"
"Oh I don't know," Maple grinned again. "Let's talk at the restaurant."
WITH THE BROADCAST OVER, the station was shut down for the night. Betty waited for the others to leave before she ventured into the empty green room. She returned to the couch and pulled the letter from it's hiding place. She sat on the couch and looked down at the paper in her hands. Her palms were sweaty as she opened the envelop and unfolded the letter.
She took a deep breath and read.
How are things? I'm doing great. They've been keeping us so busy, I've hardly had a chance to write lately. But I do think about you guys often, and I miss all of you, yeah even Hilary. I miss our shows but I especially miss real food! The food here is terrible. Last week I got really sick from it, man, it wasn't pretty ...
Betty skimmed ahead.
drills ... marching ... exercises ... shooting ... a purple Pekingesé ...
That's all there was? Usual army stories? There had to be something more dramatic. Wait, what's this? Her heart stopped; she saw her name. All else was forgotten.
And what's Betty doing? Is she ... ? Will somebody just please tell me. Just knowing would at least be something, closure and all that.
Betty gasped. "Scott ..." her lips formed his name. A mix of emotions swelled through her. It was all so confusing! She read the letter again trying to understand what it meant, what her feelings meant. 'Is she ..?' Is she what? Betty couldn't answer, or was it that she didn't want to answer? She didn't know. But before she had time to think any further the green room door opened, it was Martha; Betty froze.
"Oh Hello Betty, I forgot my ... " Then noticing Betty's shocked expression, "Oh, I'm sorry I didn't mean to interrupt you, but I forgot my music book. It's right here." She took the book off the table. "You were so right about the broadcast. It's funny how a person can know what they want and not even realize it."
Betty tried to segway into more casual goodbyes. "Well I hope you've enjoyed your time here. Do you have many more appearances to put in?"
"Yeah, I'm still on tour after all. I'll be in Chicago next week. But at least I'll get a break, my boyfriend Stan lives there."
"Wait, I thought your boyfriend's name was Mark?
"Oh yeah, Mark!" Martha though for a moment. "He lives in Cheyenne and Stan, well, Stan lives in Chicago. Oh dear." Martha tried to decipher this question, but finally gave up. "Well so long Betty, it was nice meeting you." She waved and headed out the door.
Betty gasped and rolled her eyes. How Martha could just keep everybody waiting was a mystery Betty would never understand. Really, what kind of girl can't make up her mind between two dresses or two men? Betty eyes drifted to the letter, "Scott ...?" she whispered. Betty folded the letter and put it back in it's envelope as her earlier questions returned, 'Is she ... ?' she thought hard. 'Is she' ... involved with ...
Victor appeared in the doorway. Betty panicked. She tried to hide the envelope in her hands.
Victor, however, didn't seem to notice this. "Betty." He smiled at her. "You did great job tonight. I'm just getting ready to leave, how about a late dinner?"
Betty gasped, looked down at Scott's letter and then up at Victor. Her thoughts were racing from different colored dresses and different men to Scott's "Is she ...?" question. Her mind was spinning until her heart gave her an answer