I started off quite well but just never knew where to take it. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know. If I remember when I set it, we're looking at early 1944 leading up to D-Day.
Steven opened the door to the station, glad he had the time for this side trip on his way to DC. These people had been friends to him even when they didn’t know who he really was.
The older red-haired woman at the switchboard turned at the sound of the door. “Welcome to WENN. How can I help you?”
He removed his hat. “Hello, Gertie.”
She looked up at him stunned, as if she were trying to reconcile the fact he was there. “Steven!” She removed her headphones and rushed around the desk to hug him. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Gertie, what’s all the excitement?”
Steven looked over Gertie’s shoulder to see Miss Betty Roberts, the head writer—the only writer—for the station walking down the hall. She hadn’t changed much in the two years he had been gone. She still had that country girl air about her but she also now had a certain business-like quality too.
“Mr. Taylor. This is a surprise. You’re looking…well.”
He scoffed. “We both know that’s a lie, but thank you. I am doing better. My aunt force-fed me while I was home.”
“You must have been in dire straits then.” Gertie realized how bad that sounded. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
“It’s OK. I did look like Death when I got home.”
“Come into the green room and let me get you some coffee.” Betty walked alongside him. “Are you here long?”
“Just overnight. I need to continue to DC in the morning.”
He followed her through the swinging doors into the room the actors used between performances. “You made a special detour to see us?”
“Why not? You guys have been so wonderful to me and I wanted to see you. After all, you were pretty much the last people I saw before I left for France.” He sat down on the well-worn couch. “Place doesn’t seem to have changed much.”
She sat in one of the chairs around the table. “Physically, no, however it’s even more crazy and hectic now that we broadcast shows in association with the Armed Forces Radio.”
“Yes, I did get to hear a few of them. Some of the men I was with didn’t believe I knew you.”
“We’ll just have to give them a shout-out.” Betty looked at him. “Which is your favorite?”
He decided to tease her a bit. “I’d have to say Champion for Freedom. I feel a connection to it somehow.”
Before she could answer, the door sung open and in strode Jeff Singer, the station’s leading man. “Betty, Hilary has banished me from the studio again.”
Betty sighed. “What’s the reason this time?”
“I don’t know. But what about the show? She’s changed the script by saying Champion wasn’t even there.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Excuse me, Mr. Taylor.”
It wasn’t until then that Jeff even noticed him. “Steven.” He shook his hand warmly. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too. I see you’re still with Hilary.”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
Betty headed for the door. “Jeff, why don’t you stay here with Mr. Taylor? I’ll try to straighten Hilary out.”
“Sure thing, Betty.” Jeff sat on the couch. “What was it like, being in Berlin?”
“Go right to the heart of the matter, eh, Jeff? I didn’t come here to talk about Europe. I’ll be doing that enough in the next few days. I want to know what’s been going on here.”
“Nothing spectacular. Same old thing. I don’t know why you want to listen to that.”
“Normalcy. I need to be grounded in life on the home front. I’ve a feeling I’ll be heading back to England and I want to take some Americana with me.”
“You of all people should know that life here is far from normal,” said Jeff as je poured a glass of water.
“But you project that to the country and the troops.” He took the glass Jeff offered him. “I know it means a lot to hear such simple stories and forget what’s going on around you for even just a brief period.” He took a sip of the water. “I do like how Betty’s worked the war into the storylines. Sometimes writers can come across heavy-handed and propagandist, writing like that.”
Jeff sat across from him and Steven could tell he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure where to start. “Betty, um…she…”
“She based Champion on me. Yeah, I know. I just haven’t told her yet,” he grinned.
“What’s the plan?” Jeff leaned forward conspiratorially.
“Act like I’ve no idea and see if she’ll break down and tell me.”
“Is that one of the techniques you learned with the Resistance?”
“No, living in a house full of women. My sister fell for it every time.”
“I think you might need to teach me that so I can use it on Hilary.”
“With you being an actor, I hope she’ll believe you. You might want to practice on something easier.”
Betty came back into the room. “Hilary is willing for Champion to come back.”
“Great!” Jeff stood and head for the door.
“But not you.”
“Betty, who else is going to take the part? Mackie’s playing the whole Third Reich and half the Resistance.”
“I was thinking of another linguist we have on hand.” Betty looked at Steven.
Steven nearly choked on his water. “Me? I’m no actor.”
“I beg to differ. You’ve been almost as many characters as Mackie. You should have no trouble with Champion.”
Steven hoped Betty would break and provide more of a reason for why he would be okay with it, but she just took him by the arm towards the studio. At the door, she motioned to Hilary to join them. As Mackie took over, Hilary stepped into the hall.
“Hilary, I’m holding you to your promise to let Champion back in this episode. It’s a major point we can’t gloss over.”
“I will not work with Jeffrey anymore.”
“I found a …temporary replacement.” Betty pushed him forward.
“Mr. Taylor,” the diva practically purred, “how lovely to see you again. So, you are to play the part of Champion today.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Well, it’s fitting. After all--”
“After all what?” Steven prompted.
“You’ve been there. You’ve lived the story and can convey the truth that we, as actors, can only imagine.”
Steven knew she had changed her original thought but accepted it. “With you to help me, I hope to do it justice.”
Betty watched from the control room as Steven Taylor took over the role of Champion. He started off a little shaky, which was explained away by a blow to the head. It also explained the reason why he had been missing from the episode earlier. He warmed to the part and was soon acting like he had been born for it. Which he has, she told herself. I have to tell him. It’s wrong to use his life for stories and not let him know.
When the episode was done, Steven smiled, surprised and amazed he had made it through without messing up. Even Hilary seemed to have good words to say.
“You are a natural, Mr. Taylor. One would think you had acted on the stage or in radio before.”
“I will admit it’s the first time I’ve worked from a script. I’m one for improvisation.”
Mackie joined them in the hallway. “Steven, it’s great to see you again,” he pumped his hand. “But what are you doing here?”
“Just a quick stopover on my trip to Washington. No ulterior motives.”
“So you’ll be around for awhile?” Mackie asked.
“I’m on a train tomorrow morning.”
“Why don’t you act a bit more? You looked like you enjoyed it.”
Betty couldn’t believe Mackie would be so impulsive. “I have no roles for him.” It was a poor excuse but she couldn’t come up with anything else.
“He can have some of mine,” Mackie replied.
Steven looked at her. “I guess I could if it’s all right with Betty.”
Two more pairs of eyes turned on her. She caved. “Fine. Mackie, you and Mr. Taylor sort out your characters. Hilary, I believe you need to be in the studio.”
Mackie grabbed Steven and took him into the green room while Hilary went back into the studio. Betty headed down the hallway towards the manager’s office. Gertie, though busy on the switchboard, waved her over. “What is it?”
“The lines have been ringing practically non-stop wanting to know who was playing Champion.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That he was filling in for Jeff on a temporary basis.” Gertie looked up at her earnestly. “How long will he be here?”
“He has a train in the morning, but he said he’d stay at the station for the rest of the day. He’s even going to take some of Mackie’s parts.”
“Will you announce that he was one of the actors?”
Betty thought on that. If they promised to reveal the name of their mystery actor later that night, it could keep people listening. “I’ll ask Mr. Taylor if he’s comfortable with it before making any decision.”
Steven sat with Mackie in the green room as they went through the characters. Some were dear to Mackie that he would never consider having another do them. Steven settled on some newer characters as well as one-shots because they weren’t too closely associated with any one actor.
The veteran actor was treating the experience like Christmas. “I can’t believe I’m giving you pointers.”
“You just have more experience in this. If you ever needed to pick a lock or open a safe, than I’d be instructing you.”
The doors swung open and a young redhead wearing a vibrant blue skirt with a coordinated top and hat. “I heard the program on the way here in the cab,” she said as she headed straight for the coffee. “That wasn’t Jeff playing Champion,” she continued, her back to them. “He was good, really good, like he knew what he was talking about.”
“I think he does,” Steven said with a smile.
Maple LeMarsh turned around and nearly spit out her coffee when she saw him. “Steven! Oh, my God!” She hugged him. “What are you doing here?”
Steven repeated his reason for being there yet again. “I’ve a feeling I’ll be busy for the next few months.”
Maple took a seat on the couch. “What are you two doing?”
“Mackie’s giving me pointers on some of his characters. Might as well do a little something while I’m here.”
Steven had to admit he enjoyed himself immensely acting over the radio. It gave him a certain kind of satisfaction, knowing his talent for putting on characters could actually entertain, instead of just getting him something. Betty had asked him if he wouldn’t mind if they announced his identity after their panel show and he thought it would be fine.
After dinner at The Buttery, they settled back into the green room. Betty went to the studio as she was to be moderating. Hilary read a magazine while the rest of them played some poker. They were listening to the program which talked about the war and the chosen panelists-- the mayor of ___, a Catholic priest and a local businessman—were discussing the merits of intelligence networks and using sabotage against the Germans.
“Of course, I don’t agree with war, but with this type of fighting increases the odds of civilian casualties,” said the priest.
“But doesn’t this type of warfare hamper the Axis powers?” questioned Betty.
“Until they demand reparations from nearby towns,” answered the mayor. “Then what good has been done?”
Maple saw the cookie beings used as a chip snap in Steven’s hand. “Mackie,” she warned.
The character actor looked at her questioningly.
“What gets me,” said the businessman, “is the fact they recruit from prisons and jails. If these are such important jobs, why entrust them to such lowlifes?”
At that, Steven stormed out of the green room and across the hall.
“There goes another sponsor,” commented Hilary as she turned a page in her magazine.
“I tried to get you to turn it off,” complained Maple. “Couldn’t you tell it was getting to him?”
Steven stormed into the studio. “Gentlemen, what qualifications do you have to criticize anyone who is putting his or her life on the line on a daily basis? Outside of Hollywood, do you even know what it entails? Yes, some of them are thieves and pickpockets, but they were all given a choice to either stay in prison or serve their country. Prison would have been the easier choice, but they wanted a chance to prove they’re just as loyal.” He suddenly felt drained and he must have swayed a little because the priest was offering his chair. “Sorry, took more out of me than I thought.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, that impassioned speech you just heard was made by a friend of the station who has recently returned from two years in Europe where he worked with the Resistance,” Betty said with a look at the panel. She then looked at Steven and he nodded. “Mr. Steven Taylor.”
Steven didn’t look at the three men knowing they would be staring at him. He also knew that any apologies would be hollow, only said due to his notoriety.
“Mr. Taylor, this is quite an honor,” said the businessman,
“Are you sure? I was recruited out of jail. I’m one of your so-called lowlifes.” The man opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t say it’s because of who I am. I was just lucky.”
“Perhaps you could tell us why people such as yourself are recruited,” said Betty, trying to bring things back on topic.
Steven took a deep breath. This wasn’t exactly his area. “Okay. Mr. Mayor, when you have a project that needs to be done right, who do you assign to it? Anyone or someone with the best qualifications?”
“Someone with the best qualifications, naturally.”
“Naturally.” Steven repeated as he waited for his analogy to sink in.
“Subterfuge relies on stealth,” said the priest. “Something that is second nature to those of the criminal persuasion.”
“Exactly. When you need to get inside without anyone knowing, who’s better to ask?”
“And you were chosen because…” prompted the businessman.
Steven scoffed. “In addition to my ‘criminal talents’, I speak three other languages fluently with passing knowledge of others and I have contacts in western Europe.”
Betty looked at the clock. “We are now going to open the phone to questions, but Mr. Taylor has to refrain from answering,” she added quickly.
Steven stood. “Thank you, Miss Roberts, gentlemen. Just keep in mind that everyone over there is fighting for their country. They might not be fighting in the conventional sense, and they may not even be able to talk about it when this is over, but that doesn’t mean they sacrificed any less.” With that, he left the studio.
When Steven entered the green room, the actors applauded.
“That was just terrific!” exclaimed Maple. “You certainly put them in their place.”
“That speech was delivered like a pro,” declared Mackie.
“Yeah, well, I’ve had to be very persuasive.” He sat on the couch next to Hilary. “Do you think Betty will still want me to go on tonight?”
“Of course she will,” responded Jeff. “She wouldn’t keep you from doing that no matter the response.”
“That’s good to know. I didn’t want all that rehearsing to have been for nothing.”
They talked more of the shows left for the evening and other entertainments, no war or politics. Steven relaxed and unwound in the company of friends.
When the panel was over and the guests had left the station, Betty joined them. “Steven--”
I’m sorry, Betty. I shouldn’t have barged in like that. I just couldn’t take it anymore, the way they were talking. I just had to speak my mind.”
“There’s no need to apologize. I agreed with you. Those men had no reference points to argue from. They only had conjecture. The phone calls we got after you left – they all agreed with you. No matter their previous backgrounds or whatever theatre they were fighting in, they are patriots serving their country and deserve to be treated as such.” She smiled. “All three panelists did a complete turnaround in their opinions. I even think Father Gregory plans to use that in his homily.”