Chapter One (In The Beginning…)
The Forties was a time of world conflict. Each person felt the 'reality' of war. Most having lost a father, husband, son, brother, sister or friend. War was not experienced by a select few.
That generation did not know the meaning of the word, apathy.
They cared passionately, stood up to be counted when difficult questions were raised, did not back down when confronted by tyranny or evil of the greatest magnitude.
Out of that generation, men of integrity, honor and strength of character emerged. Their conviction and courage helped shape the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth.
This is a story of three of those men.
J.D. McGinnis exited his 1940 Ford Coupe, glancing up the front of the WCL Radio Station building. He liked the bustle and noise of Chicago in the mornings. His stride was that of a confident, competent man. He swaggered along the sidewalk tipping his fedora to every woman he encountered, a deceptively innocent smile on his ruggedly handsome face.
He noted several cars pulling into parking spaces, people walking in and out of buildings lining the street he walked. He entered through the revolving door, strolling past a full waiting area, and a petite blonde receptionist, who smiled widely at him. He smiled back, continuing on to the right where the elevator waited patiently. J.D. reached over and pushed the button to the seventh floor, annoying the elevator operator.
It was a game he played with the young boy. It amused J.D. to irk the kid in any way he could think up. The kid reminded him of Jimmy Schaffer, a raw kid in his old Unit. He gave Jimmy the business on a daily basis...until a Jap sniper bullet ended the game for all concerned.
He exited when the doors slid open, glancing about his new environment, his thoughts carefully organized and controlled now.
Glass Booths lined the left side of the large office complex. He could see inside the Control Booth which was always crowded and occupied with one program or another. Whether it was the current Soap Opera actors doing their thing, Center Stage, as now... or the game shows which allowed live audiences to fill the two hundred seat Amphitheatre seats, all of which were empty now.
Control booths sit high over the arena, two filled to the brim with technicians. There were small offices down the hall. J.D. made his way in that direction.
Inside the Booth, a small orchestra tuned their instruments, settled down into a pit below center stage. McGinnis continued on his way.
Inside yet another enclosed glass booth, down the corridor...Charles Edwards looked up from his typewriter to the clock over the orchestra pit, then glanced irritably to the less than expensive watch on his thick wrist, muttering his annoyance.
He had exactly twelve minutes to complete an assignment he had not even begun to write.
The man glanced about his small office space, the nail polish fumes filling his over-strained senses.
"Do you have to do that in here...you have an office, I presume?" he wasn't sure because he had never seen the other occupant of the room make use of any one in particular.
Grace Morgan sat, painting her long, perfectly manicured nails, feet propped up on the ledge of the glass patrician to his right. She hummed a song from 'Snow White'. Charles Edward's eyes traveled the slim torso, taking in a starched white, short sleeved blouse, grey slacks, two inch heels with their attractive strap and the pretty white scarf tied about Grace's slender neck.
The woman flipped her long, silky hair, the gorgeous waves cascading down her back. Two decorative barrettes held the soft tendrils from her face.
"You're not typing." She interrupted her singing to offer an observation.
"It's hard to concentrate with all those fumes filling my head." Charles stated, waving the air to ward off the pungent odor of the red polish.
"You're going to get in trouble." Grace sing-songed cheerfully, continuing her nails.
"So are you." He stared at the sheet in his typewriter morosely, responding absently to the taunt.
"Are you going to spank me?!" Grace had stopped her activity, her pretty face suddenly hopeful.
"You wish." Charles muttered. "Go play with your voodoo dolls. I'm creating here."
"Doesn't look like you're doing anything but 'sitting and staring' to me." She returned to her nails.
"Looks are deceiving, now leave me alone." The man situated himself more determinedly in his chair then threw her a threatening glare. "I mean that, now!"
"Why is it so hard to write the copy?" she picked a file from her purse, shaping her index finger carefully. " I mean.. you've seen people killed before, right?"
Charles glanced up from his brooding, his attention finally caught.
"What was it like?" Grace asked aimlessly but then...really looked at him, her thoughts troubled suddenly. "Was it really bad? Those two people? And that little boy…I've never seen anyone dead before." She fell silent for a moment, a long moment. " It must be terrible!" she whispered shakily.
Charles was touched by such naiveté. "Yeah, Honey, it's pretty bad."
"But, you've seen that stuff." Grace was fretful and sad. "You were at the Front and all."
"It's...different." Charles lamented softly.
"Why?" She wondered curiously.
"I guess...you expect people to die in war." The man was suddenly introverted, quiet. "You know you will see bad things."
"So, you prepare yourself?" Grace asked gently.
"You can't prepare yourself. I don't know." Charles stared at the empty sheet. "You kinda...shut down. It's just what you do."
Elliot Learner exited his massive office, a purpose in mind. He cruised down the hallways of his domain, easing past 'jingle singers' who crowded the entryway to the second sound booth.
"Girls...pick it up! We're selling hair products, not mortuary plots." He called back over his shoulder. "Give me some pep and sting in those lyrics!"
He rounded a corner, his hand covering the knob on the door of the small room as he pushed his way into the occupied area. The man spared Grace Morgan a look then threw some papers on the desk beside her before leaning over Charles Edwards' shoulder, perusing the blank paper critically.
"How does it come to this?" he asked the Universe more than those in his presence. " And on such a nice Autumn day too." He frowned down at his Ace Reporter.
"I don't know.." Grace sighed heavily, shaking her head woefully. "it just does some times."
Elliot grinned at Grace's reaction to his words, continuing his train of thought.. "They were such nice neighbors. He was very quiet." He quoted lines he had heard hundreds of times before. "they seemed like the perfect couple...and so normal too!"
"Normal is highly over-rated, if you ask me." Grace had rolled her eyes expressively.
"No one did ask you...and you, young man...what's the trouble here?" he turned his attention back to the young man.
"No trouble, Chief. I just need to map it out in my head." Charles sounded more confident than he felt.
"While you're mapping," Elliot reminded disapprovingly. "We're being scooped by the other stations." He leaned out the door, yelling to his jingle singers once again. "You're killing me here, woman! Tempo!" he gestured emphatically to the lead singer. "TEMPO!"
"It's just not right, Boss." Charles was troubled but not one to share his emotions easily. Still, he had a block here. Something wasn't jelling. "This guy makes it through two hellish years at the Front then comes home to blow his brains out all over the kitchen walls? He takes his wife and kid with him? What the hell's going on here?"
"Your job is to report, not analyze." After a silent contemplation, Elliot put things into his neat, orderly Universe. " Emotions get in the way. Tell the guy's story. Get the facts right."
"Or lie really well and don't get caught." Grace traced her pouty mouth with lipstick. The woman pursed her lips, sending a 'kiss' Charles' way.
He sent a 'kiss' right back closely followed by a rather descriptive 'Italian' gesture.
Elliot watched the interplay between the two, sighing lightly, then swung Grace's feet off the desk. "That is your father's code of conduct, little girl..not mine." He put on his best 'Boss' face. "That's not lady-like...so do NOT do it."
Grace straightened in her seat, seeking the older man out. "Can I have some of that new hair stuff the station is touting? J.D. says my hair is 'unruly' of late." She complained.
"Do you believe everything J.D. tells you?" Edward stared at the glorious main of red hair, shaking his head woefully then began typing rapidly.
"Why shouldn't I?" Grace was confused. " Is this lipstick too red?
"Can it be too red?" Charles concentrated hard, typing heatedly.
"There are samples in my office.." Elliot examined all the make up on Graces' desk, fingering this tube, that brush. "Stay out of my desk."
"You said I should investigate things. How can I investigate if you tell me I can't investigate things?" The woman put her things away in an orderly fashion, spritzing a bit of perfume on her neckline, offering a sniff to her employer.
Elliot breathed in the pleasant scent, offering an approving grunt. "Nice." He murmured contentedly. "There is nothing in my desk you need to 'investigate'. Investigate other people...not your boss."
"You're stifling me." Grace exasperated. " Are you Jewish? Jewish mothers stifle their kids. I know they do! I read it somewhere. You're acting just like one!"
"If he was Jewish, he'd not admit it in this day and age." Charles pulled his sheet of paper from the machine with a flourish. "Not a healthy thing to do, I hear tell. Especially in Europe."
Elliot took the paper from Charles, perusing it with a critical eye. " She thinks it's ok because we're in America. Hitler's Storm Troopers will never get over here, will they, Precious!"
"Well, it's very unlikely, at any rate." Grace defended her point of view staunchly. " I don't want to talk about that. It depresses me which makes me want to eat chocolate. J.D. says my butt is big enough already without that!"
"Not talking about it won't make it go away." Charles patiently awaited Elliot's decision on his piece, rising from his chair, kinking his back this way and that. " And your butt looks fine to me, just saying." He glanced at the object superficially.
"As if you ever look..." Grace dismissed him entirely. "What about Old Man Crothers? He said aliens landed over in Freeport last night. He called me." The woman reminded peevishly. "That is news, right? Charles could report on stuff like aliens. It wouldn't make him so depressed and yucky."
"Get it on the air." Elliot handed the copy back to Charles, satisfied. "Grace, pull those statistics off the wire service about this Post Traumatic crap the soldiers are experiencing. I want to look at it again."
"Why do I have to do all the crappy stuff around here?" Grace was incensed and offended, clearly.
"Well, last time I looked, you were supposed to be my 'personal assistant'." Elliot explained patiently. "That's pretty much in your job description...do 'crappy stuff' so 'Boss Man' does not have to dirty his hands with such menial tasks."
"Oh." Grace pouted prettily but accepted her lot in life.
"And I'm not depressed...or yucky." Charles corrected, slightly amused for the nonsensical exchange. " Where should I stick this, Chief?
"Yeah, Chief.." Grace innocently twirled her hair slowly, her green eyes blinking languidly. "where should he stick it?
Charles tapped the back of her head in a brotherly display of 'attitude corrective-ness'.
"Ouch!" Grace pushed his hand away irritably, patting her hair back into place delicately. " Cut it out!" but in the next instant, she was beseeching Elliot Learner. "I saw some 'to die for' shoes over at Bergman's. If I got a raise, which I so richly deserve, as you know...I could afford them."
"We all must make sacrifices for God and Country so...no." Elliot made an executive decision. "We'll slide this in between the Morton Salt jingle and the beginning of the 2nd Act of The Story of Aunt Mary." He consulted the clock over the orchestra pit. "You got six minutes. Punch it up a bit. More pathos."
"You're the boss...Boss." Charles took the sheet back, superficially glancing over the print.
"What about my alien story? It's news worthy!" Grace practically stamped her well-heeled size five foot.
J.D. McGinnis chose this questionable moment to make his timely entrance. He leaned his stocky, well- honed form on the still opened door. The guy had taken the time to flirt with most of the jingle singers on his way in. He threw a note pad on Charles' desk, grinning widely, showing strong, straight white teeth. .
"Aliens? You would fit right in." he gave the 'go ahead' with a nod of his head. " Go for it, kid!"
"Where have you been? You're late!" Grace stood petulantly, pointing. " He's late!" she tattled to Elliot Learner. "Are you going to chastise him?"
"I've been working...not doing my nails." McGinnis' grey eyes fell on the still opened jar of polish behind the woman on the partition ledge. He smiled sweetly at the girl who made an endearing face back, directly before she crossed her lovely eyes and stuck out her tongue.
"Got some more info from Flynn." McGinnis ignored the childish behavior. " Blalock was discharged seven months ago. Hasn't been able to hold down a job. Money was really tight. The guy saw a lot of combat. He was decorated...twice!" he motioned to his notes, the ones Charles was going over even as he spoke.
"Why didn't they get this guy some help? He obviously needed it." Elliot was bothered by the information. "I want some answers here, damn it! What the hell?"
"It's epidemic, Chief. This country is going to hell in a hand-basket." Grace philosophized eloquently. "I read it somewhere."
"No it isn't. Someone just has to step up and bring this problem to light." Elliot was renowned for his short fuse. "We can't fix it if we don't know it's broken!" He looked about for his 'assistant' "Grace...get those stats! NOW!"
"Well, don't take it out on me. I'm just the messenger." She made her way around those in her way, grumbling her lot in life. " I don't get it. The guy was home...safe! It was over."
"You're not home." Charles mused quietly. " Not for a long time, honey.
"You're in hell then suddenly...a month later. You're not. Trying to go on just like before you left." J.D. lowered his head, empathizing instantly with such a statement. " Messes with a guy's head sometimes."
"What's the focus here, Chief?" Grace sensed the bond the men shared, feeling her inadequacies deeply. " What am I looking for in particular?"
"I want to know why these men are not getting the medical help they need." Elliot pounded his hand into his palm once. "Why the military is falling down on the job. Get me any 'Intel" available. Someone...should be giving a crap about these men!"
"Isn't that editorializing?" Charles had heard the accusation often over the year he had been here at the station.
"No, it's 'giving a crap'...and don't get smart ass with me, boy!" Elliot was pissed and fired up, which most times...was a good thing, unless you were on the end of the crap hitting the fan.
"No sir." The man answered respectfully. " I'll tackle it from the military's viewpoint. We'll need rebuttal material." He reminded.
"Yeah...after you put the actual story on the air." The older editor settled down somewhat. "Two minutes! Take your place out there."
"You ever feel that shit?" Charles had waited a respectable moment for the others to proceed both he and McGinnis before he put a hesitant hand on the other man's bomber jacket sleeve. "You know what I mean?" he searched the grey eyes that had sought his, attempting to keep a professional demeanor. The man felt shitty inside.
"Yeah..." McGinnis drew a deep drag on his Lucky Strike, his thoughts for another time. The silence was strained for both men. Neither wanted to dredge up the past but both needed to vent the horror of the suppressed memories to some extent. " There were days when...I .. "
Charles watched the carefully composed features religiously, unconsciously holding his breath.
J.D trailed off for a long beat, crushing the cigarette in the disposal tray at the end of the hall.
"That poor S.O.B." he sighed grimly. " I wish I could have talked to him. Or at least...listened." the intelligent brow furrowed darkly. "I feel so fucking guilty." He laughed hollowly. "I made it back, Blalock didn't...not really."
Charles nodded solemnly. "No...I guess not." He concurred. "We should have helped the guy...we should have.." he had no answers. "..Found a way."
"Hell, man...even his family didn't know! How are we supposed to..." J.D. stopped abruptly. "Who the hell am I kidding? They knew." He laughed bitterly. "They just didn't know how to tell anyone..to reach out."
"God, J.D." Charles raked his hand over his eyes wearily. "We have to fix this...we have to.." he felt Blalock's pain...his frustration...the other soldier's despair and hopelessness. Tears welled in his dark eyes and he was ashamed, hiding his face for a moment until he gathered himself together. Charles swallowed the moment determinedly, clearing his throat. "..I have to get this to the Booth."
J.D. watched the man's trek for a long beat then, took his leave, the depression following him like a dark cloud on a dreary South Pacific day. He had seen enough of those to know, after all...what a complete downer they could be.