Thursday, August 18, 2005

 

A short story of romance my dad wrote, found among his writings

[Working from an undated original manuscript (on onion paper!), I now joyfully present one of my dad's shorts stories. Here, he has stepped outside the fictional world of cowboys and detectives ... to show his romantic nature? That's for the reader to decide. -- I, too, would like to know if it was publshed and when. Enjoy! Ed.]
Love Flies West

by J. R. Johnston

No one on the big airliner seemed to notice the tall young man who boarded the plane at all, least of all, Judith Mason. Not that the daughter of old Jacob Mason, owner of the line, was immune to romantic ideas about attractive young males. She was too engrossed in staring absently out the window to notice.
Even after the ship had taken off and had left the Municipal Airport far behind she did not turn to see who was in the seat behind her, although she must have been vaguely aware someone was there. Absently she had noticed the fat salesman who kept ogling her from across the aisle, the two spinster sisters who quite evidently were not enjoying their first plane trip, and the grey-haired father and his 19 or 20-year-old son just ahead of her, but she had had no occasion to turn and survey the rest of the plane's interior.
It was not until the co-pilot, slender, boyish Jimmy Bell, stuck his head out of the cabin that she saw him.
“We’re running into a bit of a storm, folks,” Pilot Bell announced with a reassuring grin. “Probably just a little wind and snow. Nothing to worry about, but see that your safety belts are tight.”
The two spinster sisters let out little mouse-like squeals of alarm as the pilot went back into the cabin. Being somewhat comparatively new to this service, Jimmy was not as cock-sure as most pilots are, and his manner did not tend to instill supreme confidence in first-flight passengers, especially timid ladies.
“Snow!“ cried one of them. “Gracious! How will they be able to see? It's getting too dark, too. Why, we’ll all be killed!”
"Nuts!“ said a voice behind the trim, auburn head of Judith Mason. The word was inelegant, Judith decided, but highly expressive. “Didn’t they ever hear of radio beams, blind flying and all that?”
Judith slowly turned her head and surveyed the young man coldly. There was something vaguely familiar about him, about the way he was smiling at her, but her feeling was one of disdain. Why should he speak to her of radio beams? Was she not “Bull" Mason's daughter, and therefore possessed of a higher-than-average knowledge of the airways?
“Possibly they are also aware that radio beams sometimes go haywire and swing off,“ she answered, a tinge of ice in her voice.
He pretended to shiver. "My, what cold eyes you have, grandma!"
She turned her back on him haughtily, picking up a magazine from the seat beside her. As she did so, the plane lurched suddenly, seemed to flutter like an unsteady leaf, and then was on even keel again. A small air pocket,, she decided, looking out of the window.
Darkness had fallen, and all she could see was a very faint radiance from the port wing lights. All else was blotted out by thick flakes of the swirling snow which beat against the window. She wondered if the storm would delay them; pictured her father scanning weather reports at Salt Lake City and grumpily ordering everybody about while he waited for her.
She was conscious of a wave of affection sweeping over her. Dear old dad. He had worked hard to build Pacific Air Express, first as a pilot flying a lone ship, then as manager of a fleet of planes plying between Salt Lake and Los Angeles, and finally as the line grew in popularity and prosperity, president of a company whose great airliners raced the sun from Chicago to the coast. The proud boast of PAE had always been the safety of its ships, the carefulness of its pilots.
The door of the cabin opened again. Jimmy Bell came out and motioned to Nan Grey, the pretty stewardess. She went forward hurriedly. In the momentary glance that she had of Bell’s face, Judith thought she caught a strained, unnatural expression. Something was worrying him. Maybe it was his first blizzard, or Tom Evans, the pilot, was having a little difficulty climbing over the range.
And then it happened.
One moment the big plane was whirring smoothly through space, except for the buffeting of the wind. The next, something seemed to reach up and grab at the landing gear. There was a horrible crunching and scraping underneath.
“Trees!” cried the young man behind Judith.
That one instant always would stand out vividly in her mind, like a terrible nightmare. She saw a great welt appear in the floor, as if some giant hand had struck it from below with a mighty hammer.
The ship yawed crazily. The screaming, frightened spinsters tumbled into a disheveled heap in the aisle, revealing that they had unfastened their safety belts in unreasoning fear. The grey-haired businessman pulled his son down upon the seat, shielding him with his own big body.
She saw no more. From behind her an arm came across her breast, pinning her to the back of the seat with muscles like corded iron.
“Steady!” bade the voice of the young man behind her. "Hold ti---"
The world upheaved unexpectedly. Judith was aware of a terrific shock, of grinding steel and splintering wood. Of ripping fabric and shattering glass. Something struck her on the side of the head, and all went black.

It was a ghastly, unreal world that Judith Mason struggled back to. Daylight had come, and the wind had died. There was a blurring in her eyes, a strange inability to focus properly. When it cleared she saw that snow was still falling in big, feathery flakes. She tried to rise, and was suddenly aware of a violent throbbing in her temples.
Her attempt at moving, however, brought a face into her line of vision, the face of the young man who would been in the seat behind her. His hat was gone, and there was a wide streak of blood across one cheek. That streak stirred a memory, took her back to her childhood, to a day when a bloody-faced boy had risen triumphantly from thrashing the neighborhood bully for pestering her.
“You!” she gasped. “I know you now. You-- you're Bob Morgan, who used to tease me in school!"
“Yes, and you're that snooty little girl who lived up the street from me,” he grinned easily. “Judy Mason.. I knew you the minute I saw you on the plane. How do you feel?”
“Rather weak, and my head is splitting. Where are the others?”
His face sobered.
“They’re -- they're dead. We're all that’s left. I've just finished covering the bodies with snow, and marking the spot. Luckily the plane didn't catch fire. They must have clicked off the switches just as she hit. Otherwise, the ship would probably have caught fire.“
Judith shuddered involuntarily at the thought of being trapped in a blazing plane. She had once watched, horror-stricken, while **attractive landing flyer burned to death when his ship, too heavily laden with gasoline, failed on the takeoff and crashed in a ditch. She shuddered again.
“Cold?” queried Morgan solicitously.
She shook her head, noticing for the first time that she was lying on a blanket under a big evergreen.
“No, just thinking how terrible it would of been for us if we have been caught in there, and burned. Where is the plane?”
“Back of you. You can see if you turn your head. It's a mess, but it could've been worse. Evans managed to keep her going straight somehow. Otherwise it would've been smashed to bits.
One short look was enough. She agreed it was a mess, all right. The big airliner lay canted on its side against a huge tree that had sheared off the left wing as though it had been paper. The other wing was gone too, but was nowhere in sight. The **wreaking fumes of gasoline filled the air, mingled with the pungent odor of balsam fir.
“I smell gasoline,” she said, sniffing. “Isn't it dangerous?”
He shook his head. “No, not now. There's nothing to set it off. Whatever has been spilled will evaporate in a few hours. There's enough of a breeze to blow the fumes away. Want to get up? Here, I'll help you.“
She tried to stand, then sank back as pain stabbed through her right ankle.
“Oh!" she cried in dismay. “I'm afraid I can't. My ankle!“
He knelt hastily in the snow and gently to **offer pop. The ankle was swollen, he saw quickly, but not that severely. He sighed with relief after he had ascertained there was no fracture.
“Just wrenched, I think,” he smiled at her. “Best thing you can do is take off your stocking and put that foot right down in the snow. Can you stand it, or are you still a little 'fraidy-cat like you used to be?”
Resentment flamed in her eyes.
. “You always called me that, didn't you? And I always hated you for it, Bob Morgan! I'll show you whether I'm afraid or not."
He showed his amusement.
“OK. You know, this will probably be the making of you--this experience, I mean. Somehow, I rather pictured you as growing up to be a hot house plant. You shouldn't be now. That is,” he added soberly, “if we ever get out of this. Wish I knew where we are. Probably a hundred miles from the nearest habitation, and maybe just as far from the air lanes."
He turned away toward the wrecked plane. Better not let her know how really serious their predicament was. After all, it was likely the first time in her sheltered life that she had been thrown upon her own resources.

The gasoline fumes were not quite so noticeable now, but they were acrid enough to cause him to cough intermittently. Beside the smashed wing, close to the body of the plane, he discovered a steady dripping, and realized that here was something they might need, slowly losing itself in the snow. He climbed into the ship in search of containers.
In the tiny pantry he found several small pans and a coffee pot. The latter he left there temporarily, but carried all but one of the pans outside and put them in the snow under the dripping gasoline. That done, he returned for the coffee pot and the other pan, got his traveling bag and one that had Judith's name on it, and plowed through the drifts to where she lay watching him, her injured ankle packed with snow.
He set the bags down near her. Then he kicked and scraped a clear spot preparatory to building a fire.
“Might as well make ourselves at home,” he said with a forced attempt at being cheerful. “Found some grub in the plane, enough to last the two of us a week or 10 days, anyhow. Hungry?”
“Practically starved,” she admitted. “How long do I have to freeze this foot?”
She winced a trifle as he ran his fingers lightly over the foot muscles.
“Sore, eh?’ he asked, looking up at her drawn face. “I think the swelling has started to go down though. But you won't be able to put much weight on it for a couple of days. Soon as we have some hot coffee I’ll get the emergency kit and bind it up for you."
“Hot coffee!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you've discovered a restaurant, Mr. Morgan."
“Cafeteria style, only. You don't know how practical I can be."
From the under limbs of the nearby pines he broke off an armful of dead twigs and branches, dumped them in the middle of the cleared space, and then went to the plane. One of the pans was already full of gasoline, so he replaced it with an empty one, came back and pored a few drops upon the pile of twigs. Judith edged back on her blanket.
“You’re not going to use that to start a fire with, are you?” she asked apprehensively. “It’ll explode!”
He laughed at her. “Gasoline doesn't explode unless it is confined. Like gunpowder in a cartridge. Burns darned fast, though."
He stepped back a pace, struck a match from the box he took from his pocket, and tossed it upon the twigs. It went out. He repeated the action more quickly, before the brimstone ceased flaring. Flame puffed out instantly. The wood burned merrily as he piled on more twigs, and the heat gradually melted the snow surrounding it.
“There, I guess that will make things more homelike,” Morgan said, holding chilled fingers to the blaze. “Now for some coffee. There's only a little water left in the galley tank, so we’ll probably have to resort to snow water soon."
For the first time, she smiled at him, a little wearily to be sure, but still a smile. He thought: “How beautiful she has grown to be."
“You’re a sight,” she told him. “If you get a towel and melt some snow, I'll fix that cut on your face for you. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He explored a bump on the back of his head with tender fingers.
“Got a knot here just as we struck. I think it hit us both at the same time, whatever it was. Our heads were pretty close together."
She nodded as he started melting snow in the pan.

"I remember now. You were holding me down in the seat. If it hadn't been for you, I'd be like ---” she motioned wordlessly toward that telltale mound close to the ship.
“It saved me too, I guess, though I think I got a cracked rib against the back of the seat. Hurts when I **breathe in deeply. All the others were thrown up front. Belts snapped."
“Tell me about it."
He shook his head. “I'd rather not. You see, Jimmy was like a brother to me. He died ... in my arms."
She stared at him incredulously.
“Jimmy?”
“Bell, the co-pilot. I taught him all he knew of flying. We work together for Eastern Airlines till three months ago. Then he got this job, and wrote me that there was an opening for me. Said the old man's daughter was flying back from New York on the 10th, in one of his letters. That could only be you, so I decided to take the same plane."
“And Jimmy? He was the boyish looking one?”
“Yes. The wheel got him. Crushed his chest. The others were all smashed and tangled up against the bulkhead. Jimmy was still alive when I got out. He sort of grinned at me once, but that was all. A grand boy, Jimmy."
Judith drew the blanket closer about her, and buried her face in her hands to shut out the picture.

It stopped snowing about midmorning, and by noon the sky cleared. Weak and tired, Judith fell asleep soon after Morgan had fixed a lunch, and he took the opportunity to look around a bit. It was three o'clock when he returned. She was wide-awake. He thought he caught a look of relief in her eyes, but it was gone immediately.
“You might have told me you're going away,” she said peevishly. But I suppose it's just like a man to make others worry all the more."
He bridled at that, throwing a furry bundle angrily to the ground.
“Whoa, now! I was beginning to have hopes for you, but I can see you’re the same stuck-up little snob you always were. I've been out trying to locate some hunter or trapper to help us. To get you some fresh meat, I chased a rabbit half a mile through the snow in spite of the pain in my side --- and you snap at me like a bulldog when I get back!”
“Well,” defensively, “you could of said something about going. How did I know you hadn't deserted me? And you don't talk to me like that, Bob Morgan! Remember you’re only a hired man."
His lip curled slightly. "And you’re the boss's daughter, eh? Well, you and that bull-necked Old Man and of yours can go jump in the lake if you think I’m going to be your yes-man. Besides, I'm not working for him yet."
He turned on his heel disgustedly and started over to the plane, coming back with a pan and a small knife. She watched him covertly as he skinned the rabbit he had killed, but neither spoke until he had it up and set it over the fire to stew.
“You-- you didn't find anyone, did you?” she asked him.
He shook his head, avoiding her gaze.
“No. Not a sign of anyone. Or anything else, for that matter, except the rabbit and tracks of some big animal that had feet like a cat's. I'm afraid we're a long way from civilization, maybe hundreds of miles."
“I suppose the radio is smashed?”
"Uh-huh. I looked at it after I packed you over here. No use trying to get help that way. We’ll just have to wait until you're able to travel, or until someone happens along. If your dad hasn't forgotten all his training, he'll have half the planes in the country searching for us by this time."
But it might be days, she knew, before they were found. She recalled that an airliner that had disappeared in Utah last December had not been discovered until spring.
“I did find the other wing,” Morgan went on. “It was smashed off against a tree. Saw the first tree we hit, too."
“Up there on the hill?” she pointed to the rim of the valley to the eastward.
“Yes. Five feet higher, and we'd have cleared. Too bad."
She glanced over at the mound where lay eight still bodies, and shuddered.
“Can’t we go somewhere else? It's so near to --”
He nodded, understanding fully.
“Yes, of course. I'd been thinking the same thing. We'd be more comfortable in the plane after some of the wreckage was cleared away, but those gasoline fumes are still dangerous. There's a cave over by that black cliff. I presume we'd be better off there if another storm came up.
“Soon as we have supper, I'll pack you over there, and come back for whatever we might need. Wonder if there's a gun of some kind in the plane?”
“There may be one somewhere in the cockpit. Most of our pilots have one along. In case of emergency, you know."
"Humph. If this isn't an emergency, it'll do till one comes along."
She was silent a moment. Then: "Still angry with me? I'm sorry if I was nasty. This is a new experience for me, you know. I was really afraid of -- of being alone."
“Forget it. I guess I'm a little overwrought, too."
By the time the stew was done, it was getting dark. They ate with relish, but Judith had no word of praise for Morgan's cooking, although the food tasted better than a meal at the Ritz-Plaza.
That first night was something of a nightmare to Judith. It took several trips for Morgan to transport all the blankets, provisions and other things over the snow, but it was accomplished as darkness settled over the valley. The cave was small, and rather damp and cold, but a fire at the entrance soon made it cozy.
Twice, near midnight, Judith saw twin spots of light staring at their fire from the blackness beyond. Fright overwhelmed her as she remembered tales of wolves, and what they did to the helpless.
The second time, the fire was so low that only the embers were visible, and the glowing eyes approached quite close. She called to Morgan in a terrorized voice. He was awake and on his feet at once, demanding to know what was the matter.
“Some animal,” she quavered from the depths of her blankets. “He’s gone now, but I could see his eyes staring at me. Do you think there are wolves around here?”
He laughed, putting away the automatic he had found in the plane.
“More likely it was a coyote looking for something the eat. Don't worry. You'll be all right. I'll build up the fire again. That'll keep any animal away. Go back to sleep."
It was three days before the pain had gone from Judith's ankle and she could walk again. Meanwhile, Morgan had not wandered far from her, devoting most of his time to preparing meals and cutting wood. The galley had furnished a butcher knife and a small cleaver which were inadequate enough to make the task a tiresome one. However, the pile he was building halfway between the cave and the plane grew steadily in size, and finally stirred Judith's curiosity.
“What are you gathering so much wood for?” she queried from her seat on a boulder nearby. “Are you planning on being here all winter?”
He heaved part of a rotted log upon the pile and shook his head.
“No. It's for a signal smoker. I'll put some green wood on top of it, and send up a column of smoke that will be seen for miles. There's a chance that somebody'll see it and---”
“Listen!” she interrupted breathlessly. “Listen!”
A faint, far away humming came to his ears.
“A plane!" she cried excitedly, pointing toward a bank of clouds on the northern horizon. “Oh -- Bob, it's a plane! Do something!”
A tiny black speck crawled flylike across the face of the clouds, heading steadily eastward. From its actions, Morgan realized it was not a searching plane.
“It’s going away from us,” he said grimly. “Not looking around, either. Must be one of the regular liners. But if we can get this fire going, maybe we can attract its attention.
“Judy -- there's a pan of gasoline in the cave. Get it while I break off some green boughs, will you?”
“Of course. Oh--hurry, hurry, Bob!”
“I will. Be careful of that ankle,” he called after her.
He ran to the nearest tree, hacking at the lower branches with the butcher knife. As fast as he could break off a bough, it landed on the pile of wood.
“Bob! Bob! Help!”
A wild scream. Dropping the branch in his hands Morgan raced frantically for the cave.
Another scream, accompanied by a fierce snarl, spurred him on. He shifted the butcher knife to his left hand as he reached the cave entrance, pulled the automatic from his pocket with the other and snapped off the safety.
Judith, her brown curls a tangled mass, was down on the floor of the cave. Astride her, trying to reach her slim throat with yellowed, dripping fangs, was a panther.
Morgan fired hastily over the animal's head, trying to distract it. The panther raised his slavering jaws, snarling fiercely. The long tail lashed angrily. Then, suddenly, it sprang.
Morgan fired again, just as a ripping claw knocked the weapon spinning from his hand. The big cat sank its teeth in his shoulder, falling on top of to him.
Sharp claws dug into his stomach, tearing, slashing through his clothes. Desperately he stabbed again and again at the panther’s side with the butcher knife. The beast snarled and broke away from them, jerking the knife out of his hand. He scrambled up hurriedly as the animal pulled the dripping blade from its side with its teeth and launched a fresh attack.
A gun roared beside Morgan. The panther collapsed in midair, fell to the ground. It kicked convulsively once or twice, its hate-filled eyes watching Morgan, and then lay still.
Judith dropped the still smoking automatic and threw herself into Morgan's arms, weeping copiously.
“Oh, Bob, I was so scared!” she sobbed. “He was in the back of the cave, eating our food. Before I knew it, he'd knocked me down. Oh, if you hadn't come!"
She trembled violently, pressing against him. He forgot the biting pain in his fang-torn shoulder, the dull throbbing of his cracked rib, in the sheer thrill of holding her close. He knew now that he had wanted to do that for a long time.
“There, there,” he said with the gentleness that surprised even himself. “It’s all over. You saved my life too, you know, shooting him when you did. How’d you manage to get the gun so quickly?”
“It fell right beside me. I-I guess I didn't think much. I just picked it up and fired.“
“Are you hurt?”
She drew away from him, still trembling, and took inventory. “A few scratches, I guess. He was chewing on my coat, mostly. But you, Bob! Your shoulder is all red."
He glanced ruefully down and **its, conscious again of his pain. The panther's fangs had sunk deep under the skin."
“Didn’t do me any good,” he admitted. “I'd better get some water and iodine from the kit and fix it up."
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” she told him spiritedly. “You’ve taken care of me long enough. Now it's my turn. You sit down there while I --" Sudden panic seized her. “Bob! The plane!”
He sniffed glumly. “I almost forgot it. Must be gone by now. Maybe we’d best light the fire, anyhow. I'll do it while you get the water."

The column of smoke was cheering , if nothing more. It rose like a beckoning finger to the sky as Judith applied stinging iodine to the teeth marks in Morgan's bare shoulder.
“Might do some good,” he grinned, “for surely someone is looking for us. But you know, if that panther spoiled much of our food, we'd be more sensible trying to get somewhere than to stay here and starve."
“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed. “You’re in no condition to go rambling around the country."
“I'm all right. What good would it do to stay here? Besides, what if the panther's mate should be back there in the cave ready to ---”
One such experience was quite a enough for her frazzled nerves.
“Bob! You're joking!”
He smiled down at her strained features, arms tightening around her.
“I don't remember how it came about, but I've never forgotten how I felt at the time. You moved away shortly afterward, and I didn't hear anything about you until four years ago. I've been keeping pretty good track of you since then."
Her eyes were as curious as her throaty "Why?”
“Couldn’t get the memory of you of my mind, I guess. That's why I took this plane on my way to see your dad about a job. I didn't think you'd recognize me, and I wanted to see you again. Then, when I did see you, I wanted to do this."
His head bent, but she was too quick for him. His lips brushed her cheek as she squirmed out of his arms and leaped to her feet.
“When I want to be kissed, I’ll tell you,“ she said, trying to straighten her hair. “If we're going, let's get started."
He rose slowly, half angry, half amused. “Sometimes I don't know whether to love you, or hate you, Judy Mason. All right, let's pack what ` we can carry, and get out of here. If we go in one direction far enough, we ought to reach someone."
They decided northeastward was as logical as any way to go. So, after salvaging what little food they could, and rolling it into the blankets, they started up a long slope in the direction they had seen the plane.
In their weakened condition, it was not long before they became tired, and were compelled to halt frequently to rest.
“I must of lost more blood than I thought,” he confessed at last as they lay panting beneath a fir. "Think we can make it to the top of the ridge? It'll be easier going on the other side."
She looked at the mass of rock in front of them and shook her head dubiously. “I don't know but we can try. Let's go up the east side, where there isn't so much snow. Here, lean on me."
“Daddy's little helper, eh?” he managed to grin. “There may be some hope for you, after all. Come on, I'm good for another hundred miles."
But he wasn’t, and Judith realized it only too well. His face was getting white, strained, and he winced with pain at every step. He had not complained about it, but she was sure the panther had somehow hurt that cracked rib.
They were going up the steepest part of the ridge now, and the high altitude took their breath. Often they slipped, skidding backward a few precious feet before they could stop and start upward again.
It was an anxious, despairing young woman who half-dragged Morgan over the crest and dropped breathlessly to the ground. Morgan closed his eyes and relaxed, exhausted. Judith was exhausted, too, but she did not relax. Instead, she was staring, fascinated, at something in the valley on the other side. A hysterical burst of laughter escaped her.
Morgan sat bolt upright, startled.
“Judy!” he cried. “What’s the matter with you?”
She pointed down the slope, unable to control her hysteria.
“There! Look!” she exclaimed brokenly. “A town, Bob, a town!”
Morgan whirled, unmindful of a twinge in his side, and stared in disbelief. A town, for sure! A drab little hamlet, dirty and squalid, surrounded by a dozen mine slag heaps, but a sight to delight the eyes of a Mecca-bound pilgrim.
"Do you understand, Bob?” Judith cried, shaking him. “A town --- and all the time we were within five miles of it! Think what might of happened to us if we'd gone some other way!”
He drew her down to him, breathing heavily.
“It isn't. I know it isn’t, she said. “Can you walk? I want to get you to a doctor. You’re getting a fever.”
“Two fevers, Judy,” he said. “One of them is because I love you.”
She laughed, but this time it was an easy laughter, with no hysteria about it.
“But you can't, Bob Morgan. You think I'm a hot house plant, a little snob, and a lot of other things. You told me so yourself."
“Oh, that. Well, you used to be. Maybe you still are, but I can't help loving you. I think I always have, even when you made me so mad I could have spanked you. Didn't you used to care for me--just a bit?”
She evaded the question by the simple expedient of burying her face against his shoulder. The pressure was painful, but he didn't mind.
“A little while ago,” she said in muffled tones, “I said I'd tell you if I wanted to be kissed. Do you think you could do such a favor for a personable young lady?”
She raised provocative, tremulous lips. There was no restraint in the soft arm that stole around his neck.
“I'll tell the world I could!” he answered happily.
[The End]

Monday, August 15, 2005

 

Copyright 2005 Steve A. Johnston

My blog is copyrighted.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

 

A short story my dad wrote, found among his writings

Love Flies West

by J. R. Johnston [from 1940 original typewritten manuscript; the double asterisk (**) marks words not deciphered]

No one on the big airliner seemed to notice the tall young man who boarded the plane at all, least of all, Judith Mason. Not that the daughter of old Jacob Mason, owner of the line, was immune to romantic ideas about attractive young males. She was too en-grossed in staring **absently out the window to notice.
Even after the ship had taken off and had left the municipal airport far behind she did not turn to see who was in the seat behind her, although she must have been vaguely aware someone was there. **Absently, she had noticed the fat salesman who kept ogling her from across the aisle, the two spinster sis-ters who quite evidently were not enjoying their first plane trip, and the grey-haired father and his 19 or 20-year-old son just ahead of her, but she had had no occasion to turn and survey the rest of the plane's in-terior.
It was not until the co-pilot, slender, boyish Jimmy Bell, stuck his head out of the cabin that she saw him.
“We’re running into a bit of a storm, folks,” Pilot Bell announced with a reassuring grin. “Probably just a little wind and snow. Nothing to worry about, but see that your safety belts are tight.”
The two spinster sisters let out **old mouse-like squeals of alarm as the pilot went back into the cabin. Being somewhat comparatively new to this service, Jimmy was not as cocksure as most pilots are, and his manner did not tend to instill supreme confidence in first-flight passengers, especially timid ladies.
“Snow!“ cried one of them. “Gracious! How will they be able to see? It's getting too dark, too. Why, we’ll all be killed!”
"Nuts!“ said a voice behind the trim, auburn head of Judith Mason. The word was inelegant, Judith de-cided, but highly expressive. “Didn’t they ever hear of radio beams, blind flying and all that?”
Judith slowly turned her head and surveyed the young man coldly. There was something vaguely fa-miliar about him, about the way he was smiling at her, but her feeling was one of disdain. Why should he speak to her of radio beams? Was she not “Bull" Ma-son's daughter, and therefore possessed of a higher-than-average knowledge of the airways?
“Possibly they are also aware that radio beams sometimes go haywire and swing off,“ she answered, a tinge of ice in her voice.
He pretended to shiver. "My, what cold eyes you have, grandma!"
She turned her back on him haughtily, picking up a magazine from the seat beside her. As she did so, the plane lurched suddenly, seemed to flutter like an unsteady leaf, and then was on even keel again. A small air pocket, she decided, looking out of the win-dow.
Darkness had fallen, and all she could see was a very faint radiance from the port wing lights. All else was blotted out by thick flakes of the swirling snow which beat against the window. She wondered if the storm would delay them; pictured her father scanning weather reports at Salt Lake City and grumpily order-ing everybody about while he waited for her.
She was conscious of a wave of affection sweep-ing over her. Dear old dad. He had worked hard to build Pacific Air Express, first as a pilot flying a lone ship, then as manager of a fleet of planes plying be-tween Salt Lake and Los Angeles, and finally as the line grew in popularity and prosperity, president of a company whose great airliners raced the sun from Chicago to the coast. The proud boast of PAE had always been the safety of its ships, the carefulness of its pilots.
The door of the cabin opened again. Jimmy Bell came out and motioned to Nan Grey, the pretty stew-ardess. She went forward hurriedly. In the momen-tary glance that she had of Bell’s face, Judith thought she caught a strained, unnatural expression. Some-thing was worrying him. Maybe it was his first bliz-zard, or Tom Evans, the pilot, was having a little diffi-culty climbing over the range.
And then it happened.
One moment the big plane was whirring smoothly through space, except for the buffeting of the wind. The next, something seemed to reach up and grab at the landing gear. There was a horrible crunching and scraping underneath.
“Trees!” cried the young man behind Judith.
That one instant always would stand out vividly in her mind, like a terrible nightmare. She saw a great welt appear in the floor, as if some giant hand had struck it from below with a mighty hammer.
The ship yawed crazily. The screaming, fright-ened spinsters tumbled into a disheveled heap in the aisle, revealing that they had unfastened their safety belts in unreasoning fear. The grey-haired business-man pulled his son down upon the seat, shielding him with his own big body.
She saw no more. From behind her an arm came across her breast, pinning her to the back of the seat with muscles like corded iron.
“Steady!” bade the voice of the young man be-hind her. "Hold it ---"
The world upheaved unexpectedly. Judith was aware of a terrific shock, of grinding steel and splinter-ing wood. Of ripping fabric and shattering glass. Something struck her on the side of the head, and all went black.
It was a ghastly, unreal world that Judith Mason struggled back to. Daylight had come, and the wind had died. There was a blurring in her eyes, a strange inability to focus properly. When it cleared she saw that snow was still falling in big, feathery flakes. She tried to rise, and was suddenly aware of a violent throbbing in her temples.
Her attempt at moving, however, brought a face into her line of vision, the face of the young man who would been in the seat behind her. His hat was gone, and there was a wide streak of blood across one cheek. That streak stirred a memory, took her back to her childhood, to a day when a bloody-faced boy had risen triumphantly from thrashing the neighborhood bully for pestering her.
“You!” she gasped. “I know you now. You-- you're Bob Morgan, who used to tease me in school!"
“Yes, and you're that stuck-up little girl who lived up the street from me,” he grinned easily. “Judy Ma-son. I knew you the minute I saw you on the plane. How do you feel?”
“Rather weak, and my head is splitting. Where are the others?”
His face sobered.
“They’re -- they're dead. We're all that’s left. I've just finished covering the bodies with snow, and mark-ing the spot. Luckily the plane didn't catch fire. They must have clicked off the switches just as she hit. Otherwise, the ship would probably have caught fire.“
Judith shuddered involuntarily at the thought of being trapped in a blazing plane. She had once watched, horror-stricken, while **attractive landing flyer burned to death when his ship, too heavily laden with gasoline, failed on the takeoff and crashed in a ditch. She shuddered again.
“Cold?” queried Morgan solicitously.
She shook her head, noticing for the first time that she was lying on a blanket under a big evergreen.
“No, just thinking how terrible it would of been for us if we have been caught in there, and burned. Where is the plane?”
“Back of you. You can see if you turn your head. It's a mess, but it could've been worse. Evans man-aged to keep her going straight somehow. Otherwise it would've been smashed to bits.
One short look was enough. She agreed it was a mess, all right. The big airliner lay canted on its side against a huge tree that had sheared off the left wing as though it had been paper. The other wing was gone too, but was nowhere in sight. The **wreaking fumes of gasoline filled the air, mingled with the pun-gent odor of balsa and fir.
“I smell gasoline,” she said, sniffing. “Isn't it dan-gerous?”
He shook his head. “No, not now. There's noth-ing to set it off. Whatever has been spilled will evapo-rate in a few hours. There's enough of a breeze to blow the fumes away. Want to get up? Here, I'll help you.“
She tried to stand, then sank back as pain stabbed through her right ankle.
“Oh!" she cried in dismay. “I'm afraid I can't. My ankle!“
He knelt hastily in the snow and gently to **offer pop. The ankle was swollen, he saw quickly, but not that severely. He sighed with relief after he had as-certained there was no fracture.
“Just wrenched, I think,” he smiled **letter. “Best thing you can do is take off your stocking and put that foot right down in the snow. Can you stand it, or are you still a little 'fraidy-cat like you used to be?”
Resentment flamed in her eyes.
. “You always called me that, didn't you? And I al-ways hated you for it, Bob Morgan **exhibition. I'll show you whether **afraid or not."
He showed his amusement.
“OK. You know, this will probably be the making of you--this experience, I mean. Somehow, I rather pictured you as growing up to be a hot house plant. You shouldn't be now.** That is,” he added soberly, “if we ever get out of this. Wish I knew where we are. Probably a hundred miles from the nearest habitation, and maybe just as far from the air lanes."
He turned away toward **direct plane. Better not let her know how really serious their predicament was. After all, it was likely the first time in her sheltered life that she had been thrown upon her own resources.
The gasoline fumes were not quite so noticeable now, but they were acrid enough to cause him to cough and remotely. ___**___ the smashed wing, close to the body of the plane, he discovered a steady dripping, and realized that here was something they might need, slowly losing itself in the snow. He climbed into the ship in search of containers.
In the tiny pantry he found several small pans and a coffee pot. The latter he left there temporarily, but carried all but one of the pans outside and put them in the snow under the dripping gasoline. That done, he returned for the coffee pot and the other pan, got his traveling bag and one that had Judith's name on it, and plowed through the drifts to where she lay watch-ing him, her injured ankle packed with snow.
He set the bags down near her. Then he kicked and scraped a clear spot preparatory to building a fire.
“Might as well make ourselves at home,” he said with a forced attempt at being cheerful. “Found some grub in the plane, enough to last the two of us a week or 10 days, anyhow. Hungry?”
“Practically starved,” she admitted. “How long do I have to freeze this foot?”
“Sore, eh?’ he asked, looking up at her drawn face. “I think the swelling has started to go down though. But you won't be able to put much weight on it for a couple of days. Soon as we have some hot coffee I’ll get the emergency kit and bind it up for you."
“Hot coffee!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you've discovered a restaurant, Mr. Morgan."
“Cafeteria style, only. You don't know how prac-tical I can be."
From the under limbs of the nearby pines he broke off an armful of dead twigs and branches, dumped them in the middle of the cleared space, and then went to the plane. One of the pans was already full of gasoline, so he replaced it with an empty one, came back and pored a few drops upon the pile of twigs. Judith edged back on her blanket.
“You’re not going to use that to start a fire with, are you?” she asked apprehensively. “It’ll explode!”
He laughed at her. “Gasoline doesn't explode un-less it is confined. Like gunpowder in a cartridge. Burns darned fast, though."
He stepped back a pace, struck a match from the box he took from his pocket, and tossed it upon the twigs. It went out. He repeated the action more quickly, before the brimstone ceased flaring. Flame puffed out instantly. The wood burned merrily as he piled on more twigs, and the heat gradually melted the snow surrounding it. “There, I guess that will make things more home-like,” Morgan said, holding chilled fingers to the blaze. “Now for some coffee. There's only a little water left in the galley tank, so we’ll probably have to resort to snow water soon."
For the first time, she smiled at him, a little __wearily___, to be sure, but still a smile. He thought: “how beautiful she has grown to be."
“You’re a sight,” she told him. “If you get a towel and melt some snow, I'll fix that cut on your face for you. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He explored a bump on the back of his head with tender fingers.
“Got a knot here just as we struck. I think it hit us both at the same time, whatever it was. Our heads were pretty close together."
She nodded as he started melting snow in the pan.
"I remember now. You were holding me down in the seat. If it hadn't been for you, I'd be like ---” she motioned wordlessly toward that telltale mound close to the ship.
“It saved me too, I guess, though I think I got a cracked rib against the back of the seat. Hurts when I **breathe in deeply. All the others were thrown up front. Belts snapped."
“Tell me about it."
He shook his head. “I'd rather not. You see, Jimmy was like a brother to me. He died ... in my arms."
She stared at him incredulously.
“Jimmy?”
“Bell, the co-pilot. I taught him all he knew of fly-ing. We work together for Eastern Airlines till three months ago. Then he got this job, and wrote me that there was an opening for me. Said the old man's daughter was flying back from New York on the 10th, in one of his letters. That could only be you, so I de-cided to take the same plane."
“And Jimmy? He was the boyish looking one?”
“Yes. The wheel got him. Crushed his chest. The others were all smashed and tangled up against the bulkhead. Jimmy was still alive when I got out. He sort of grinned at me once, but that was all. A grand boy, Jimmy."
Judith **pulled the blanket closer about her, and buried her face in her hands to shut out the picture.
It stopped snowing about midmorning, and by noon the sky cleared. Weak and tired, Judith fell asleep soon after Morgan had fixed a lunch, and he took the opportunity to look around a bit. It was three o'clock when he returned. She was wide-awake. He thought he caught a look of relief in her eyes, but it was gone immediately.
“You might have told me you're going away,” she said peevishly. But I suppose it's just like a man to make others worry all the more."
He bridled at that, throwing a furry bundle angrily to the ground.
“Whoa, now! I was beginning to have hopes for you, but I can see you’re the same stuck-up little snob you always were. I've been out trying to locate some hunter or trapper to help us. To get you some fresh meat, I chased a rabbit half a mile through the snow in spite of the pain in my side --- and you snap at me like a bulldog when I get back!”
“Well,” defensively, “you could of said something about going. How did I know you hadn't deserted me? And you don't talk to me like that, Bob Morgan! Re-member you’re only a hired man."
His lip curled slightly. "And you’re the boss's daughter, eh? Well, you and that bull-necked Old Man and of yours can go jump in the lake if you think I’m going to be your yes-man. Besides, I'm not working for him yet."
He turned on his heel disgustedly and started over to the plane, coming back with a pan and a small knife. She watched him covertly as he skinned the rabbit he had killed, but neither spoke until he had it up and set it over the fire to stew.
“You-- you didn't find anyone, did you?” she asked him.
He shook his head, avoiding her gaze.
“No. Not a sign of anyone. Or anything else, for that matter, except the rabbit and tracks of some big animal that had feet like a cat's. I'm afraid we're a long way from civilization, maybe hundreds of miles."
“I suppose the radio is smashed?”
"Uh-huh. I looked at it after I packed you over here. No use trying to get help that way. We’ll just have to wait until you're able to travel, or until some-one happens along. If your dad hasn't forgotten all his training, he'll have half the planes in the country searching for us by this time."
But it might be days, she knew, before they were found. She recalled that an airliner that had disap-peared in Utah last December had not been discov-ered until spring.
“I did find the other wing,” Morgan went on. “It was smashed off against a tree. Saw the first tree we hit, too."
“Up there on the hill?” she pointed to the rim of the valley to the eastward.
“Yes. Five feet higher, and we'd have cleared. Too bad."
She glanced over at the mound where lay eight still bodies, and shuddered. “Can’t we go somewhere else? It's so near to --”
He nodded, understanding fully.
“Yes, of course. I'd been thinking the same thing. We'd be more comfortable in the plane after some of the wreckage was cleared away, but those gasoline fumes are still dangerous. There's a cave over by that black cliff. I presume we'd be better off there if an-other storm came up.
“Soon as we have supper, I'll pack you over there, and come back for whatever we might need. Wonder if there's a gun of some kind in the plane?”
“There may be one somewhere in the cockpit. Most of our pilots have one along. In case of emer-gency, you know."
"Humph. If this isn't an emergency, it'll do till one comes along."
She was silent a moment. Then: "Still angry with me? I'm sorry if I was nasty. This is a new experience for me, you know. I was really afraid of -- of being alone."
“Forget it. I guess I'm a little overwrought, too."
By the time the stew was done, it was getting dark. They ate with relish, but Judith had no word of praise for Morgan's cooking, although the food tasted better than a meal at the Ritz-Plaza.
That first night was something of a nightmare to Judith. It took several trips for Morgan to transport all the blankets, provisions and other things over the snow, but it was accomplished as darkness settled over the valley. The cave was small, and rather damp and cold, but a fire at the entrance soon made it cozy.
Twice, near midnight, Judith saw twin spots of light staring at their fire from the blackness beyond. Fright overwhelmed her as she remembered tales of wolves, and what they did to the helpless.
The second time, the fire was so low that only the embers were visible, and the glowing eyes ap-proached quite close. She called to Morgan in a ter-rorized voice. He was awake and on his feet at once, demanding to know what was the matter.
“Some animal,” she quavered from the depths of her blankets. “He’s gone now, but I could see his eyes staring at me. Do you think there are wolves around here?”
He laughed, putting away the automatic he had found in the plane.
“More likely it was a coyote looking for something the eat. Don't worry. You'll be all right. I'll build up the fire again. That'll keep any animal away. Go back to sleep."
It was three days before the pain had gone from Judith's ankle and she could walk again. Meanwhile, Morgan had not wandered far from her, devoting most of his time to preparing meals and cutting wood. The galley had furnished a butcher knife and a small cleaver which were inadequate enough to make the task a tiresome one. However, the pile he was build-ing halfway between the cave and the plane grew steadily in size, and finally stirred Judith's curiosity.
“What are you gathering so much wood for?” she queried from her seat on a boulder nearby. “Are you planning on being here all winter?”
He heaved part of a rotted log upon the pile and shook his head.
“No. It's for a signal smoker. I'll put some green wood on top of it, and send up a column of smoke that will be seen for miles. There's a chance that some-body'll see it and---”
“Listen!” she interrupted breathlessly. “Listen!”
A faint, far away humming came to his ears.
“A plane!" she cried excitedly, pointing toward a bank of clouds on the northern horizon. “Oh -- Bob, it's a plane! Do something!”
A tiny black speck crawled flylike across the face of the clouds, heading steadily eastward. From its ac-tions, Morgan realized it was not a searching plane.
“It’s going away from us,” he said grimly. “Not looking around, either. Must be one of the regular lin-ers. But if we can get this fire going, maybe we can attract its attention.
“Judy -- there's a pan of gasoline in the cave. Get it while I break off some green boughs, will you?”
“Of course. Oh--hurry, hurry, Bob!”
“I will. Be careful of that ankle,” he called after her.
He ran to the nearest tree, hacking at the lower branches with the butcher knife. As fast as he could break off a bough, it landed on the pile of wood.
“Bob! Bob! Help!”
A wild scream. Dropping the branch in his hands Morgan raced frantically for the cave.
Another scream, accompanied by a fierce snarl, spurred him on. He shifted the butcher knife to his left hand as he reached the cave entrance, pulled the automatic from his pocket with the other and snapped off the safety.
Judith, her brown curls a tangled mass, was down on the floor of the cave. Astride her, trying to reach her slim throat with yellowed, dripping fangs, was a panther.

Morgan fired hastily over the animal's head, trying to distract it. The panther raised his slavering jaws, snarling fiercely. The long tail lashed angrily. Then, suddenly, it sprang.
Morgan fired again, just as a ripping **cloth knocked the weapon spinning from his hand. The big cat sank its teeth in his shoulder, falling on top of to him.
Sharp claws dug into his stomach, tearing, slash-ing through his clothes. Desperately he stabbed again and again at the panther’s side with the butcher knife. The beast snarled and broke away from them, jerking the knife out of his hand. He scrambled up hurriedly as the animal pulled the dripping blade from its side with its teeth and launched a fresh attack.
A gun roared beside Morgan. The panther col-lapsed in midair, fell to the ground. It kicked convul-sively once or twice, its hate-filled eyes watching Morgan, and then lay still.
Judith dropped the still smoking automatic and threw herself into Morgan's arms, weeping copiously.
“Oh, Bob, I was so scared!” she **stopped. “He was in the back of the cave, eating our food. Before I knew it, he'd knocked me down. Oh, if you hadn't come!"
She trembled violently, pressing against him. He forgot the biting pain in his fang-torn shoulder, the dull throbbing of his cracked rib, in the sheer thrill of hold-ing her close. He knew now that he had wanted to do that for a long time.
“There, there,” he said with the gentleness that surprised even himself. “It’s all over. You saved my life too, you know, shooting him when you did. How’d you manage to get the gun so quickly?”
“It fell right beside me. I-I guess I didn't think much. I just picked it up and fired.“
“Are you hurt?”
She drew away from him, still trembling, and took inventory. “A few scratches, I guess. He was chewing on my coat, mostly. But you, Bob! Your shoulder is all red."
He glanced ruefully down and **its, conscious again of his pain. The panther's fangs had sunk deep under the skin."
“Didn’t do me any good,” he admitted. “I'd better get some water and iodine from the kit and fix it up."
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” she told him spirit-edly. “You’ve taken care of me long enough. Now it's my turn. You sit down there while I --" Sudden panic seized her. “Bob! The plane!”
He **sighed glumly. “I almost forgot it. Must be gone by now. Maybe we’d best light the fire, anyhow. I'll do it while you get the water."

The column of smoke was cheering, if nothing more. It rose like a beckoning finger to the sky as Ju-dith applied stinging iodine to the teeth marks in Morgan's bare shoulder.
“Might do some good,” he grinned, “for surely someone is looking for us. But you know, if that pan-ther spoiled much of our food, we'd be more sensible trying to get somewhere than to stay here and starve."
“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed. “You’re in no condi-tion to go rambling around the country."
“I'm all right. What good would it do to stay here? Besides, what if the panther's mate should be back there in the cave ready to ---”
One such experience was quite a enough for her frazzled nerves.
“Bob! You're joking!”
He smiled down at her strained features, arms tightening around her.
“I don't remember how it came about, but I've never forgotten how I felt at the time. You moved away shortly afterward, and I didn't hear anything about you until four years ago. I've been keeping pretty good track of you since then."
Her eyes were as furious as her throaty "Why?”
“Couldn’t get the memory of you of my mind, I guess. That's why I took this plane on my way to see your dad about a job. I didn't think you'd recognize me, and I wanted to see you again. Then when I did see you, I wanted to do this."
His head bent, but she was too quick for him. His lips brushed her cheek as she squirmed out of his arms and leaped to her feet.
“When I want to be kissed, I’ll tell you,“ she said, trying to straighten her hair. “If we're going, let's get started."
He rose slowly, half angry, half amused. “Some-times I don't know whether to love you, or hate you, Judy Mason. All right, let's pack what ` we can carry, and get out of here. If we go in one direction far enough, we ought to reach someone."
They decided northeastward was as logical as any way to go. So, after salvaging what little food they could, and rolling it into the blankets, they started up a long slope in the direction they had seen the plane.**
In their weakened condition, it was not long be-fore they became tired, and were compelled to halt frequently to rest.
“I must of lost more blood than I thought,” he con-fessed at last as they lay panting beneath a fir. "Think we can make it to the top of the ridge? It'll be easier going on the other side."
She looked at the mass of rock in front of them and shook her head dubiously. “I don't know but we can try. Let's go up the east side, where there isn't so much snow. Here, lean on me."
“Daddy's little helper, eh?” he managed to grin. “There may be some hope for you, after all. Come on, I'm good for another hundred miles."
But he wasn’t, and Judith realized it only too well. His face was getting white, strained, and he winced with pain at every step. He had not complained about it, but she was sure the panther had somehow hurt that cracked rib.
They were going up the steepest part of the ridge now, and the high altitude took their breath. Often they slipped, skidding backward a few precious feet before they could stop and start upward again.
It was an anxious, despairing young woman who half-dragged Morgan over the crest and dropped breathlessly to the ground. Morgan closed his eyes and relaxed, exhausted. Judith was exhausted, too, but she did not relax. Instead, she was staring, fasci-nated, at something in the valley on the other side. A hysterical burst of laughter escaped her.
Morgan sat bolt upright, startled.
“Judy!” he cried. “What’s the matter with you?”
She pointed down the slope, unable to control her hysteria.
“There! Look!” she exclaimed brokenly. “A town, Bob, a town!”
Morgan whirled, unmindful of a twinge in his side, and stared in disbelief. A town, for sure! A drab little hamlet, dirty and squalid, surrounded by a dozen mine slag heaps, but a sight to delight the eyes of a Mecca-bound pilgrim.
"Do you understand, Bob?” Judith cried, shaking him. “A town --- and all the time we were within five miles of it! Think what might of happened to us if we'd gone some other way!”
He drew her down to him, breathing heavily.
“It isn't. I know it isn’t, she said. “Can you walk? I want to get you to a doctor. You’re getting a fever.”
“Two fevers, Judy,” he said. “One of them is because I love you.”
She laughed, but this time it was an easy laugh-ter, with no hysteria about it.
“But you can't, Bob Morgan. You think I'm a hot house plant, a little snob, and a lot of other things. You told me so yourself."
“Oh, that. Well, you used to be. Maybe you still are, but I can't help loving you. I think I always have, even when you made me so mad I could have spanked you. Didn't you used to care for me--just a bit?”
She evaded the question by the simple expedient of burying her face against his shoulder. The pres-sure was painful, but he didn't mind.
“A little while ago,” she said in muffled tones, “I said I'd tell you if I wanted to be kissed. Do you think you could do such a favor for a personable young lady?”
She raised provocative, tremulous lips. There was no restraint in the soft arm that stole around his neck.
“I'll tell the world I could!” he answered happily.
[The end]

Sunday, August 07, 2005

 

Dad left too little behind -- he was a PR officer in 1945. An interesting & humorous piece!


Col. G. R. Johnston
AAF Public Relations School
Craig Field, Ala.

SCRIBE HOTEL, PARIS
by
G. R. JOHNSTON

No history of World War II would be complete without some reference to that curious institution—born in the minds of men who should have known better—called the “Press Camp”. Each theater of operations had its own, where war correspondents of both sexes and assorted nationalities congregated to bedevil harassed public relations officers (PROs), and to grind out ream upon ream of copy from grisly communiqués, interviews or personal observation. Many subordinate commands had their press camps, too, all devoted to the same end—the care and facilitation of corres¬pondents—and they were as varied and individual as the temperamental characters who inhabited them.
Africa, Italy, England, the Marianas, the Philippines, Japan and the OBI all possessed press camps of one form or another. Germany had several close to the war’s end and afterward, notably those at Wiesbaden, Hamburg and Frankfurt. And yes, at Bad Kissengen, headquarters of the Ninth Air Force, where public relations was housed in a former Nazi “baby factory”— a place where strong-bodied German Storm Troopers came to consort with strapping Nazi maidens to produce more specimens of the “master race”,
And at Nuremberg, too, for coverage of the war crimes trials, there was a press camp located in ancient Sabor Castle, a dank, tremendous pile of stone once owned by the Eberhard-Faber pencil magnates. Here W.B. Courtney, of Colliers, Anne O’Hare McCormack, of the New York Times, Geoff Parsons of the New York Herald Tribune, and many others—including Carl Levin, of United Press, the man who got the interview on de-Nazification which cost Gen. Patton his job, and indirectly his life.
Unlike any other wartime innovation was the press camp. And the most fantastic of these curious institutions, and the one most remembered by military men and correspondents alike, was the Hotel Scribe, in Paris.
Hotel Scribe—a kaleidoscopic combination of events and people, of grotesque happenings and singular experiences, yet a place brimful of human interest and nostalgic memories. For here, in the glamour capital of the world, amidst the tense days of the Battle of the Bulge and the surge to final victory, were written many of the most gripping tales of our times.
Scene of some of the heaviest verbal battles of the war, the Scribe was occupied by public relations officers and war correspondents while the wild scenes of the liberation of the French capital were still in progress. As they were the first uniformed Allied forces to come to roost after the hurried departure of the Hitler horde, they were the subject of great curiosity and emotional greetings.
Hundreds of women descended upon the hotel when the word got around, all wanting to see or feel an ally—an occurrence which, while pleasurable, interfered greatly with the preparation of news of the glad event. Mil¬itary police eventually had to be stationed at the front and rear doors of the hotel—and some near the skylights—to protect the shy Americans from mass feminine adulation.
For a time, those who had entered the city with French or American troops were the only correspondents and public relations personnel in the Scribe. But when Gen. Eisenhower moved his Supreme Headquarters from London to Paris, another swarm of correspondents came with him. These, representing many nations, were crowded more or less haphazardly into the hotel, where they promptly proceeded to get in all kinds of trouble.
Located on the Rue Scribe near the Opera, the Scribe was only a half-block from the Chatham, where all the SHAEF brass was billeted, and was only a block from SHAEF offices in the American Express build¬ing. So the correspondents were handy to everything, not excluding the cold atmosphere of the Follies Begere, where goose-pimply “babes” performed their routines in satisfactory stages of undress.
Life at the Scribe was one of continual adjustment and readjust¬ment. Prior to its liberation, it had been occupied by German propaganda forces, and it took considerable time to get the hotel employees to refrain from saying “nein” and similar Germanic expressions. And there was always the hustle and bustle of change in military personnel, the arrival, and also the departure—sometimes with loud huzzas—of members of the correspondent corps.
Most of the correspondents had permanent rooms assigned to them, from which they operated. Those unlucky souls without good billets carefully cultivated those correspondents who were often at the front, so that they could borrow their keys and live in splendor for a time, least.
Military operations—as distinguished from other varieties—in the Scribe were begun when public relations officers set up a press conference room and plastered its walls with huge maps. The entire Western Front was pictured, and keep up-to-date except during the Battle of the Bulge when no one, including SHAEF, knew where any unit was. Correspondents complained, and not without reason, that the room was the coldest spot south of the Arctic Circle.
Four press conferences were held daily, at 10:30 A.M., 2:30, 5:30 and 10:30 P.M., with an occasional one for good measure at 2 A.M. The tough session for PROs was at 10:30 p.m., when newsmen habitually ranted and raved, bellowed and burped because most of the news handed out had been on BBC radio earlier in the evening. This was attributed to leaks from No. 10 Downing Street. Although SHAEF officers could do nothing about it, the cries of rage directed at them for releasing stale news could usually he heard as far as the Moulin Rouge.
But despite this trouble, many vivid accounts of the war, including all of those concerning the hectic Battle of the Bulge, were prepared somewhere within the dingy recesses of the Scribe. So were all of the dispatches about the progress of the Allies across France into Germany which were datelined “SHAEF”.
“WIDEWING—code name for USSTAF headquarters—acquired the dubious honor of running the Scribe when SHAEF moved on, and retained possession until the press camp closed officially—but not regretfully—in December, 1945. Other public relations organizations at times operated there, also. “Gangway”, for instance, didn’t mean “One side, brother!” around the Scribe. That was 9th Air Force public relations, which maintained an office on the third floor next to WIDEWING.
Communications facilities of Press Wireless and MacKay Radio were set up in the hotel, and there was a restaurant and bar in the basement where any given person, military or correspondent, could be found at specified times. With food, lodgings and working facilities under one roof, many correspondents covering headquarters did not get out of the building for days at a time. They wrote their daily stories, slept, ate, entertained female friends, and did their elbow-bending without going outdoors sometimes for a week or two.
War correspondents from all over the world were numbered among the Scribe’s “guests”. There were Americans, Canadians, British, French, Chinese, South Americans, and Swedes, as well as more Europeans after their countries were freed of the Germans. Their tastes all differed. Some wanted “Borsht” and others “Smorgasbord”; some wanted news bulletins on the hour and others on the half-hour. Many a PRO—already convinced that “No one in his right mind would ever be a __”, rued the day he had agreed to take on such duties. No zanier collection of characters—from those harmless individuals who sported Custer-style mustachios, to others bordering on the gibbering idiot—was ever assembled under one roof be¬fore or since.
Perhaps, to do them justice, it was the conditions under which they labored to enlighten the world that contributed to their zaniness. In winter there was little heat, though it was better than the 15 degrees C. maintained in most of the other occupied buildings. Soap at times was scarce, and the food got pretty monotonous. Frequently the power system failed, and correspondents many times clustered shiveringly around the hall desk and wrote their stories by the feeble light of sputtering candles. The two tiny elevators moved with maddening slowness, and when a correspondent of the Quentin Reynolds type got in, the cables squeaked and groaned until the other passengers could barely keep from shouting, “Run for your life!”
In the famous news blackout immediately following the Ardennes breakthrough, when SHAEF decreed nothing would go out for several days, the Scribe was the scene of fierce verbal battles between PROs and the correspondents. Even the incessant poker and gin rummy games were inter¬rupted while the newsmen cornered harassed PROs and tried to wheedle, trick or frighten them into making a release.

PROs often were told their system “stank to High Heaven”, and one particularly vitriolic writer termed it “the worst public relations setup in six years of war.” Another said bitterly “You can call it ‘private relations’ if you want to, but you’ve got no right to call it ‘public relations’.” Such battles went on and on, and in sober analysis it is something of a miracle that generally friendly relations prevailed.
From the correspondents’ standpoint—expressed as often as they could get anyone to listen—everything was wrong with the way SHAEF and WIDE¬WING and GANGWAY ran things. PROs customarily announced newsworthy developments when received, at any hour of the day or night. Some corres¬pondents complained that they missed news, and then were the recipients of sarcastic queries from the home office, because they would be asleep when the releases were made.

So the PROs laboriously installed an intricate system of bells throughout the hotel, and announced they would ring once for an ordinary handout which only the most hardy would bother about, and three times if a communiqué was too important to hold for the usual process of mim¬eographing.
A few correspondents declared they could not hear the tinkling of the bells. The PROs—always a helpful lot—took out the bells and in¬stalled a system of horns which sounded half-way between an air-raid siren and a buzz bomb. That was all right for some, but others who were not interested in spot news—magazine and Sunday supplement writers—were unable to sleep. So these began slipping stealthily down the dark corridors snipping the wires here and there, with the result that when a really important release was ready for distribution, no one appeared to show the slightest interest. A violent battle of verbiage and invective occurred in the conference room over that one, terminated only when Col. R. K. Dupuy, then in charge, hinted darkly at what might happen to sabo¬teurs.
Taking a bath was a major operation at the Scribe for PROs and newsmen alike. The supply of coal was insufficient to heat water all day long, and various hours were tried, but it was impossible to please everyone. At last, in desperation, it was ordered that hot water would be available only from 7 to 10 in the morning, and that was the way it stood. Correspondents of morning papers who slept late, usually left a call for 9:30 or 9:45. Then they would get up, fill the tub with hot water, and go back to bed. At noon, when they again awoke, the water still would be warm enough to bathe in. Some took their baths at 10 and went back to bed, but this practice was generally frowned upon as indecent, and those who persisted were practically ostracized.
With such a heterogeneous conglomeration of characters infesting it, the Scribe naturally could be expected to have its immoral moments. An event which had all Paris in a dither concerned a big dance to which a batch of society girls and wives of diplomats were invited. During the affair, someone officiously decided that the credentials of the “guests” should be checked. There was considerable chagrin when it was discovered that mingling with the “upper crust” were many girls who carried cards of a decidedly yellowish hue—as required by trench law for followers of the world’s oldest profession.
And there was a great hullabaloo over a report that an army officer, and a PRO to boot, had a woman in his room. Investigation proved, however, that it was a woman correspondent who had invited a GI friend in for "tea", and the matter was dropped.
The spot where PROs and correspondents foregathered to talk over the progress of the war was, by mutual consent, the bar in the Scribe basement. The bar was a curious feature of an already curious institution. Well-dressed French women who through some strange quirk of fate had become acquainted with a PRO or correspondent, mingled readily with the hotels habitués and were considered an essential part of the establishment. Wo¬men correspondents and French liaison officers of the opposite sex also participated in operations.
Attendance at the bar fluctuated in direct proportion to the drinkables available. At times there would be plenty of champagne and cognac for sale, and then would come long, dry spells when only pale wine and tomato juice could be had.
One boisterous evening a member of the press started into the bar without his trousers. There was some consternation until it was learned that he was a photographer. Then everybody settled quietly back in their seats, for news photographers are reputed to lack about three staves of being round, and it didn’t matter whether they wore trousers or not.
*********
Into this atmosphere, fresh from the city desk of the Kalamazoo HERALD, walked big Bill Jordan, on assignment to cover the last stages of the war for the Booth Newspaper chain. Tall, good looking, in the Cary Grant or Gary Cooper manner, he was the type often mistaken for awkward or clumsy. But Bill Jordan was a newspaperman’s newspaperman, as smart as they came despite his outward appearance, and a writer without peer. He’d never had time to take typing lessons—he’d been too busy on a police beat for that—but his ability with one finger on the left hand and two on the right was amazing.
He stood in the doorway of the Scribe bar, looking quizzically into the dark interior. There appeared to be no one there, except for the French bartender and a lone figure on the other side of the room. He strolled that way, wondering if it were someone he knew, or someone he could strike up an acquaintance with. On closer scrutiny he saw it was just a cameraman, to judge by the Speed Graflex beside him, glowering into a glass containing a villainous-looking liquid. He turned back, just in time to trip over a feminine ankle which protruded suddenly from a darkened booth. He tried to catch himself, uttering a startled “Damn!”, but failed and fell flat on his face.
“Oh, I’m so s—sorr—y!” exclaimed the owner of the ankle, trying to help him to his feet. “I thought you were going on. You—you turned so suddenly I—”
He rose and glowered at her, then stared in frank interest. She was French, a French WAC, or its equivalent, and quite pretty, and she was evidently sincerely concerned over the mishap.
“Oh, forget it,” he said, brushing off his clothes—that corres¬pondent’s uniform which was embarrassing because of its obvious new¬ness. “My fault. I didn’t see anybody around. Just clumsy, I guess.”
“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” she inquired, with just a trace of an accent. “Can I do anything for you?”
“Well,” he grinned boyishly. “You could have a drink with me. I’m new here, just arrived from the states. Thought I might see some¬one I knew, or someone who could get me used to things. How about it?”
She smiled hesitantly, then sat down in the booth and motioned him to the bench opposite her.
“I guess I owe you that much,” she smiled. “But there’s nothing left to drink—unless you want tomato juice. This is one of our dry spells. Next week, Pierre says—champagne!”
“Hope I’ll be here next week, then. My names Jordan, Bill Jordan. Booth Syndicate. That’s up in Michigan.”
“Meechigan?” Her dimples showed when she smiled. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of this Meechigan. Where they make the automobiles, no?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Only they’re not making any now. Tanks, and guns and airplanes—things to lick the Nazis with. Tell me about the Scribe—but first, yourself. Who are you?”
She told him she was a lieutenant, detached from the French army’s public relations equivalent as liaison officer to SHAEF and WIDEWING’s public relations division—Madeleine D’Arcy. There was little else, for suddenly, with a muttered apology, she was on her feet and walking swiftly toward the door where a tall American officer was looking inquiringly around. They went of f together, without a backward glance from the girl, but with one hard, penetrating look from the officer.
“You’re new here, ain’t you?” queried a voice at Jordan’s elbow. He turned quickly, to find the cameraman perched on the table, his Graflex dangling from his hand. "I'm Joe Siddall. Cleveland Dispatch.”
Jordan gave his name and asked, nodding toward the door, “Who’s the big guy? Didn’t seem to like my talking to her.”
“That’s Lt. Col. Thomas—Clarke Thomas. He’s the PRD exec. Thinks Maddy is his property. Just last week he hung a shiner on Harry Nickels, of the Memphis Star, for trying to get fresh with her—so he said. Harry was just lonesome. Better keep away from her, though, unless you’re the kind who likes trouble.” After he’d gone, Jordan finds Maddy had left a small leather case in the booth. He was about to leave it with the bartender, but decided he didn’t like the man’s looks and takes it to his room. That night the door opens—no lock—and in the dark he is dragged from bed and beaten unconscious. When he awakes he finds his room has been thorough¬ly searched and the leather case taken. Gripped in one hand is a part of a sleeve—the strap from the wristband used to fasten it around the wrist, and from a French correspondent’s uniform.
The Scribe seems full of uniforms the strap will match, but it is not until he observes he is followed wherever he goes that he suspects Jean Dubois, of L’Matin. Later Maddy seeks him out, trying to get back her case, which she finally admits contains a list of prominent members of the French underground, or Maquis, which will mean death to many held prisoner by the Germans if it reaches them. She tells him she suspects that some of the employees of the hotel—a few of whom are from Alsace—are really Nazi sympathizers, left behind by the Germans to keep them informed of SHAEF activities.
Together they search Dubois’ room, but just as they discover the case and the list where he has hidden them, he surprises them and attacks them. Beating Jordan down, he forces Maddy to accompany him and escapes. Col. Thomas arrives and accuses Jordan of spiriting Maddy away, but finally agrees to listen; and the two team up and take after Dubois, who apparently is headed for the press camp at SHAEF advance headquarters in Luxembourg, hoping to continue posing as a French correspondent and getting through the lines.
They overtake Dubois just as he reaches a German patrol. The Germans are about to shoot Maddy, Jordan and Thomas, when an American infantry battalion rises up between the Germans and their line of retreat and captures the whole caboodle. What fun!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

 
LUBA & STEVE’S TRIP TO RUSSIA - July 1-15, 2005 [95% complete -- have gone onto other pressing matters]
by Steve Johnston
The main characters are:
Steve & Luba Johnston of Spokane (Steve's 4th trip in 11 years to the city of Luba's birth)
Nastya -- Luba's elder daughter (married) and Daniel, her son, age 8 (both of London)
In Magnitogorsk (900 miles SE of Moscow in the Ural Mtns. region):
Sonya -- Luba's younger daughter and Vanya, her son, age 7 (both of Magnitogorsk)
Larissa and Mark -- Luba's half-sister and her husband
Anna -- Larissa's daughter (for whom an American husband is a "possible"): her son Vladic, 9
Aunt Nina -- the sister of Luba's late mother
Our dear Russian friends: Slava, Yuri & Olga,
Valentina -- Luba's best friend since college (of Chelyabinsk)
Sonya's friends -- Sasha,
Alla Nikilovna and Eugen -- good friends and dear (passed away since our 2001 trip)
In Moscow:
Vladimir Putin -- the present dictator of Russia, in Steve's opinion
In Tacoma:
Evonne, our mutual friend of good heart; Wes, Steve's benefactor and irreplaceable friend

When Luba and I arrived, we observed ____ was lacking:

(Sonya’s family unit) PERSONAL OR FAMILY
toaster
screens on windows
air-conditioning
drying rack for dishes
peanut butterst
shower curtain for bathtub
Murphy bed (max. floor space)

COMMUNITY

hot water (temp: pipes for apt complex being replaced)
friendly &/or involved neighbors
phone directory for the city's residents
wheelchair access
parking within an apartment complex (little available)
deposits on glass bottles to help encourage recycling
safety net, e.g. nursing homes
animal control (little or no)

…Although there was/were...
(Sonya’s family unit) PERSONAL OR FAMILY
microwave oven
gas stove
living room tripled as dining room and 2nd bedroom
one male kitten -- Oscar
full-size curtains for too few windows
kitchen basin for washing dishes
plenty of moths and some crane flies at night (no screens)
refrigerator/freezer
one double bed
two TVs & one VCR

COMMUNITY
widows (fellow residents) who wanted to charge Sonya extra for water her guests consumed
people scrounging for glass bottles to recycle for cash
220-volt electric current
three upholstered chairs (could be made into cots for sleeping)
cars going 20 mph; cars going 45 in spurts
a high density of shoppers in some stores
fashion: pointy shoes with straps
stray animals
unexpectedly high cost of food
Internet cafes
************

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
I had my doubts Luba and I would have the Breeze packed by the departure time, which I had optimally estimated as 8:30 a.m. We took five bags (3 for check-in at the airports, 2 carry-ons). [Dang, I actually did leave my lithium in Spokane. I'm writing this in Magnitogorsk -- I have only enough lithium for 1.5 days... if I don't find the prescription bottle.] One errand: drop off the audio book by Robert Parker. Then, head westward on I-90.
Yesterday/Tuesday, I had vacuumed the Breeze, replenished the antifreeze with (pet-friendly) Sierra brand (!) plus windshield wiper fluid and cleaned the windows.
It rained lightly as we hit the road, recorded as 8:40 a.m., with good road conditions all the way. Used about 3/4 of a tank of gas, so we didn’t leave the freeway for gas. Lacking a Tacoma street map, I still managed to drive straight to Evonne Agnello's house located on a golf course fairway. She was a fine hostess and served dinner to our dear octogenarian friend, Wes Tollber and us. The hot dish was vegetarian, and I found it quite tasty.
When I spoke with Hildegard Stone by phone from Tacoma, she said on the day we met in May 1989, she noticed I had nice legs. I hadn't known that before. It's nice that I do now.
************
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Departure to Moscow
We awoke at Evonne's house. She was wonderful to host us for one night -- sort of a friend's B&B. After a nice breakfast, she drove us past the renovated Narrows Bridge, and then off to the bus terminal, located downtown. I saw several changes in the area. We said our goodbyes, and almost immediately, we were able to board an airport shuttle. After a couple stops along the freeway, we were dropped off almost on top of the Aeroflot counter. That made it very convenient for us to check in our three bags. One concern was now out-of-the-way. Such was my anxiety over the anticipated homeland security rigmarole I took a Xanax. (Note: I had been boycotting all airlines since 9/11 -- United shares the blame for the hijackings -- they proved to be the weak link.) However, taking off my shoes was about the worst of it.
We waited 2 more hours to board the Aeroflot flight to Moscow -- the Boeing 767 was almost packed. Smoking is now prohibited and there were even smoke alarms in the toilets -- a welcome change from 2001! I'm sure I'd never flown 590 mph before this trip. Something I'll remember: a real-time map showed us progress toward destination, airspeed, outside temperature and time to arrival. The two of us had three seats to ourselves -- much appreciated. Landing was smooth. (Later, passengers on the flight to Magnitogorsk broke out in applause when the plane landed safely. Quite a contrast between the international and the domestic sides of the Russian travel industry.)
Once at Shermetyevo Airport, we expected to go through Customs and make a declaration (mine) regarding cash and goods into the country, but no one asked for it. There was the check-in with our passports, and that was perfunctory. Oh, and now it's Friday, July 1. Thursday, for us, was very short.
***********
Friday, July 1, 2005
We took off on the Boeing 767 Thursday at nearly 5 p.m., but we're heading east and north over the Pole. Curiously, it never got dark. We reached Moscow at 2 p.m., and that created a time difference of almost 22 hours.

Change Planes in Moscow
After landing in Moscow, we needed a change of airport in order to board the departing/connecting flight to Magnitogorsk. We cabbed it to the nearest domestic airport (cost, $50), and then Luba found that was not a solution for us. Not to repeat the mistake of skipping a critical phone call, Luba got the needed information. Based on that, Luba had purchased tickets after we reached the first domestic airport. This guaranteed our seating. With Luba's blood pressure undoubtedly going up, we cabbed it to a second airport in the course of just three hours (another $50 expense). During all this uncertainty, we were under time pressure. Checking in our three bags one more time, we didn't have long to wait. [Consequence Avoided #1: Had we missed every flight to Magnitogorsk that Friday we would have had to stay overnight in Moscow, and we had made no such arrangements. Stopping off at a hotel simply wouldn't have fit in our budget already stretched.]
Beginning at 11:30 p.m., a smaller jet took us to Magnitogorsk in 2.5 hours. But with time zone changes, we actually landed at 4 a.m., Saturday, July 2.
************
Saturday, July 2, 2005 (now 30 hours since our departure from SeaTac)
Happily, I now know Moscow is a closer than I thought: 5300 miles from SeaTac over the Pole. Magnitogorsk is another 900 air miles. More surprisingly, the trip was entirely in daylight -- a quirk of being so far north, I believe. A Boeing 767 is quite speedy also. Early the next morning (4 a.m. local; 5 p.m. Spokane time) we arrived in Magnitogorsk to a warm welcome by Luba's daughter Sonya and grandson Vanya, age 7.
Magnitorgorsk has few provisions/attractions for tourists. It now boasts three hotels, two co-located restaurants plus a third restaurant/retail bakery (where the English Club met).
Sonia is a beauty, much as her mother was at Sonya’s age. She's now a dyed blond with brown eyes, about 5'8" and 27 years old. Vanya is nearly 8, a soon-to-be second-grader, energetic, dark hair and has a front baby tooth missing.
Without having set foot in a church, we have seen seven wedding parties over two Saturdays. Lots of outdoor picture posing.
We had very little sleep since Tacoma (Thursday morning). We were frazzled! Oh, those taxi drivers! Felt like the Russian autobahn? I'll say. Weaving in and out at times -- open road speed as high as 140 kph / 84 mph. No airbag in front of me in the front passenger seat and the driver not even bothering with his shoulder harness. His zipping into breaks in traffic: scary! Culture shock. This Lada is a lightweight 4-door, an old and unattractive Fiat model. The ride cost $50 for two people with luggage, one airport to another. The exchange rate is roughly 27 rubles to the dollar these days and stable.
Upon our arrival at Sonya's apartment, we meet the last of its residents: Oscar, a mostly white cat with some black. Vanya is obviously excited to have the kittenish Oscar as part of their household. Oscar is very wound up for a lap cat. -- We are going to be sleeping on a type of chair that converts into a cot. Later, Oscar finds us in bed, crouches and….
In the afternoon, we went walking to nearby shops and passed numerous kiosks. It's the biggest day of the week for weddings, apparently. Slava Antonov's daughter was one of the brides. We didn't catch sight of her. I remember well the Memorial to the Great War: depicted there are two giant figures, one soldier holding aloft a huge broadsword and the other a defense worker helping to support it. Luba and I agreed the figures were cast in bronze. It doesn't matter that Russia is no longer the USSR, for they have enlarged the Memorial since our visit in 2001 to include several thousand names of young and not-so-young men who perished. They've added plaques commemorating Heroes of the Soviet Union. My cynical thought is that this is the state's way of trying to impress the citizenry that so much sacrifice was needed and justified. The truth being, untold numbers of Soviet soldiers were used as cannon fodder by their generals. Twenty million dead, and still some Russians praise Stalin.
************
Sunday, July 3, 2005
A large concern: my lithium carbonate was left in Spokane and I've run out by day's end.
No church for us. It was mentioned, though.
In addition, the sight of a minaret is new. The Muslim population has shot up from my 1994 visit. Many men with darker faces, Asian features, black hair. Some women wore headscarves. The sight of so many seniors sitting on stools outdoors in the marketplace distresses me. Examples of their wares for sale: a liter of strawberries or a sack of potatoes, or black sunflower seeds -- all to supplement their pitifully small pensions. For the most part, they don't converse with one another and rarely with passersby. Aching boredom! They could sit there for hours without making a sale. It's no place to read a book; this is not the generation to be listening to music via headphones. This strikes me as a terrible waste and an indictment of the Russian leadership and the oligarchy that tolerates such high poverty.
Luba went to the indoor food market and bought an item for 18R, 10 kopecks. However, she lacked the 10 kopecks, a tiny coin. She was told, "OK, please bring it tomorrow." Now one ruble is worth < four cents, making 10 kopeks worth 1/10 of four cents. Go figure. -- She bought sunglasses for me at a kiosk for another 18R (roughly, 70 cents). They appear to be polarized.
The city reaps tax revenue from cigarettes and alcohol. Hardly a surprise, then, for one to see a kiosk open 24/6. Small but visible portions of (younger) women smoke. Unlike men (who don't realize how pathetic they look), women do not carry open bottles of beer in public and drink from them.
I've brought gifts for the English Club members, as requested: about 20 paperback mysteries in English, half donated by Senior Writers classmates of mine. It was a very good thing for me, too. Sonia has no cable TV, ergo no US network news. Hence, I average reading a novel every day. So far...
Pastime -- a Spencer novel by Robert Parker
The Vendetta Defense by Lisa Scottoline
Blackout -- an aviation thriller illustrating a deadly laser by John Nance
The Brethren by John Grisham about 3 judges in prison
... and others
Sonya's neighborhood at night is a bit frightening to me: “nice” people aren’t out walking when it’s time for them to be at home. In daylight, crossing these broad streets in the face of oncoming traffic feels like making a dash across a NASCAR track during a race. Some cars sprint at over 40 mph with pedestrians present. Parents grip their children's hands. In the middle of many of the major streets are the tram tracks, so pedestrians have to watch out for trams on the move as well.
*************
Monday, July 4, 2005
This is the first Fourth I've ever spent outside the USA and I feel strange. Significantly, it's Aunt Nina's 83rd birthday today. (The party was a family affair, and I did not attend.) She's in frail health, and it could be her last. At any rate, Luba will never be present at another of her birthday parties.
Two critical matters to tend to today: obtaining some lithium for me (may be impossible), and accomplishing my "registration" at OVIR, an action with a deadline -- one Luba takes most seriously. She's responsible to assist the "foreigner".
My "registration" at OVIR (rather like the INS) has become an ordeal, especially for Luba. The authorities made it compulsory for Sonya, as the owner of the apartment where I'm staying, to take her propiska to them for inspection. Unluckily, there's no closure for Sonya on Monday, and OVIR's directive to Sonya: Return on Tuesday, 2-3 p.m. only! What is lacking is a stamp from the apartment complex president, a volunteer official. She manages to locate this senior citizen that same (Monday) evening, but it could have gone badly for her if the babushkas hadn't browbeaten the fellow into immediate accommodation.
Late in the day, hot water flowed once more from the taps in Sonia's apartment. Yea! Replacing the hot-water pipes somewhere in the system took the workers two weeks, and there was no hot water for any of the affected apartments during that time. (Picture a complex of apartments.)
Luba took me to an Internet cafe. (90 minutes, about $1.50.) I used the Pentium machine to check my email and find out what's happening in the outside world. For example, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring. A huge struggle over her replacement is bound to ensue. John Bolton won't get approved in the U.S. Senate, but George Bush may make an interim appointment to the UN post.
The disruptions from the bureaucratic regulations: Luba is driven almost to distraction by the bureaucratic rigmarole.
An unexpected resolution to my prescription problem: While I was parked at the apartment (the better to read a novel), Luba approached a prescribing pharmacist, female, and explained my difficulty. She quite understood and sold Luba a 60-day supply of 300mg tablets. I am relieved to have it now as I avoid even a day of doing without. In a worst-case scenario, Luba would have begged some doctor's receptionist for an appointment. However, as a foreigner I wouldn't rate and emergency appointment. We’d be long gone by the time of a scheduled appointment.
************
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Sunday, when Sonia, Luba, Vanya and I were out walking, this foolish 63-year-old challenged him to a 50-meter sprint. Well, I tried too hard and pulled a groin muscle, in my right leg like last time, swimming. Today, all I did was try to kick a fish head (!) off the sidewalk soccer-style, and I strained it some more. It's quite painful as well as limiting my activity.
The very nice-looking automatic Seiko wristwatch I bought for Luba on eBay last year was apparently flawed and never kept good time. She stopped wearing it. Today, she bought another Japanese brand of watch (battery-powered) for 300R, about $12. She had the wristband resized. The same woman made my Fossil wristband smaller as well -- no more slipping underneath my wrist.
Sonia's smallish freezer needed defrosting, which Luba managed. (I suggested a hot iron.)
Found out the US space probe hit its target, a comet some hundreds of millions of miles away, on the Fourth, causing a crater, as intended. The Hubble telescope had focused on it at this time of the collision. -- Lack of US news is unpleasant for me. I'm too shut off. No US newspaper to be found in all of Magnitogorsk! I would gladly settle for an issue of Moscow Times, the business daily in English.
************
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
During several successive nights I’m awake at 2 a. m., then read a novel or write in my journal for two hours or more. Back to sleep on the cot, then, for three more hours.
At the Internet cafe, I e-mailed Evonne in Tacoma. Only one or two of my in-coming emails made for interesting reading. On the Spokesman Review newspaper's Web site: Mayor Jim West scandal is still hot news.
Vladimir, Vanya's biological father, has agreed to confer with Luba regarding his son's expected immigration to the US in 2006. I'd like to see Vanya go to St. George's School. That's where both Lynne and Cathie graduated in the 1980s. By all accounts, Vladimir’s very manipulative.
It was a week ago we left for Tacoma. We are far, far away from home. I miss our life in Spokane and our two cats.
Luba and I have been walking considerable distances, shopping and visiting. Of course, I'm not in shape, but as a diabetic, I need this exercise. I dashed a distance of 20 feet to avoid a driver bearing down on me, and came up limping slightly. Damn groin injury! Moreover, that area of my leg shows significant bruising.
[Seriously] Luba: this drink is too sweet. Grapefruit juice; maybe you'll like it, Steve. Me (sipping): it certainly is sweet. However, it's pineapple juice. -- I feel I have to question her when the word chosen doesn't fit, and that bogs down the conversation.
I priced a Pentium II at a computer shop that does custom assembly. It was about $320 or 8300 rubles. There was no operating system, such as Windows XP, which it could run, though minimally.
I'm done with the fifth novel -- Lawrence Block's The Canceled Czech (Evan Tanner, 1960s CIA-type guy). I'm now immersed in his When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.
There's no car to provide us with a tour of the city. A taxi ride reveals little (in the cabbie never talks to me). The traffic is nerve-racking and the roads are potholed or cracked.
************
Thursday, July 7, 2005
The big item on today's schedule is the English Club meeting later at 5:30 p.m.
I picked up the Lawrence Block novel Even the Wicked immediately after finishing his novel When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes. (A thought by Lawrence Block: Desire and adultery -- one is written on water, the other is carved in stone.) -- I believe that makes seven novels I've read on the trip.
My groin muscle has... tightened. I intend to do very little walking today.
Luba went with her sister Larissa and husband Mark to visit the graves of the sisters' mother and brother (Elena & Alexander). She seemed to be helped through her grieving by the visit. They had to weed the gravesite -- it was badly overgrown.
There was rain today, making sleeping more comfortable.
I'm still struck by the homeless boy (as Luba had to explain to me) who concealed himself in the shrubbery. She took it as a fact of life. I, of course, wanted to see the boy cared for.
Alexandr, a friend of Sonya's, brought over his DVD player and his collection of DVD movies in English. Valentina brought her niece Natalie and her granddaughter Anna to the apartment, and the four of us, then, sat down and watched "Hitch" with Will Smith and in English. All seemed to like it. Alexandr's DVD collection included for Nicolas Cage thrillers on a single DVD. The pirates managed that feat by eliminating all language-versions other than Russian.
************
Friday, July 8, 2005
Some highlights of this day: the first mosque and minaret Luba and I have ever seen is nearly completed. Such is the number of Muslims who have moved here. That would boost the local population beyond the last census figure of 415,000. However, poverty, worsening life expectancy, and low birth rate forced the trend downward instead. – The gold onion domes of the recently enlarged Russian Orthodox Church are magnificent. Inside, our attention is on the several dozen icons that dominate the walls. No seating for services! -- "Star Wars" (dubbed in Russian) is showing at the local cinema.
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Saturday, July 9, 2005
On my first visit to this industrial city in 1994, I was pleasantly surprised that pollution was remarkably lower than National Geographic had earlier reported. Cause: 90% of the heavy industry (referring to metals production) had been abruptly shut down in 1993. Several tens of thousands were laid off as well. Today, unemployment/poverty/low birthrate/lack of a safety net are quite evident. Newshound that I am, I was a day late in learning of the bombing in London, the progress of Hurricane Dennis or details of the Karl Rove controversy; such is the almost total absence of news reported in English.
It's disconcerting to see I may have no novels left to read on the plane going back. -- I'm looking at the idea of "just four more breakfasts," then we start the trip for home -- a happy prospect.
There are arrangements made by phone to go to Bannoye Lake. I’m told we will leave after lunch. It has an upscale lakeside resort where the Sonya's friends have a rented room in the year-round hotel. There is also a ski resort, made noteworthy because Putin uses its facilities for his vacation. They include a conference center. Sergei, a thirtysomething and Sonya's friend, picks up the four of us at the apartment. We leave almost immediately, at two, I forgot to take sunglasses or swallow a Xanax for the car trip (no centerline, no airbag; autos with powerful engines passing us going over 80 mph/135kph; and another driver indifferent to the commonsense use of his shoulder harness), so I'm left feeling anxious. Sasha/Alexandr (he loaned the DVD player to us), his pregnant wife and Sonya's former live-in lover meet us. Another 10 miles or so, and we're at the resort. Our first treat is an enclosed gondola ride to the top of the ski lift. Sergei's considerate and rides up with us, giving us a photographer for Luba and me posing together. Gazing out upon the plains, we could see up to seven lakes in the vicinity. Luba claims there's an underground river connects to a more lakes.
Our group of 7 adults and kids went up to the hotel room 206 for conversation and a snack. Too few chairs, so I went into the corridor and read the novel I'd brought. I'm finishing Excavation by James Rollins and will be starting This Far No Further by John Wessel next. After an hour, Luba had me rejoin the group for a sightseeing walk along the edge of the lake. We saw expensive condos (which would be 30 miles from one's job in Magnitogorsk), a conference center, boat ramp, a forest of birch trees (Luba's favorites) and paved paths; there were inflatable piers. An enclosed swimming area looked inviting, though the water's on the chilly side. By the time, Sergei was to drive us back, I had more respect for his driving skills after getting to know him somewhat better.
A Visa card is useless this far from Moscow. So, I voice concern when Luba tells me she/we are down to $400 US – 4 Ben Franklins. (Luba discovered that the bank found one of the $100 bank notes to be unacceptable, saying there was a 1/8" tear on one edge.) These funds must last us until we board the flight to SeaTac. Our return tickets crossing the Atlantic are purchased. All we must do now is keep track of them. We'll have a one-night layover in Moscow Luba has arranged through her elder daughter Anastassia.
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Sunday, July 10, 2005
Sleeping and reading in the morning, for me
There followed a progressive dinner at the apartment of Larissa and Mark; dessert at the apartment of Anna, Luba's niece. Also present: Anna's son Vladic, who demonstrated his growing skill at the piano at age 9.
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Monday, July 11, 2005
After all the walking recently, I am content to sit and read today. Luba had gotten postcards and envelopes for me to mail, so I composed the draft of what I might write.
Another day for Sonya at her job while Luba and I babysat Vanya
Internet Cafe one last time
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Vanya is seven. Luba and I came to the realization today that Vanya's paternal grandparents (Communist Party members still, in 2005) are poisoning his mind against choosing to ever join his mother Sonya in America. We know little of what he has been told. We have no plan for how to fight back. On this, we do agree: the paternal grandparents’ behavior is insidious. The two examples we've heard (albeit secondhand): Sonya is a bad mother, a bad person; America is riddled with crime, so much so it is too dangerous for Vanya to live there. (It is asserted that Russia is crime-free by comparison.) Soon we will again be 6000 miles away from Vanya whereas the other grandparents see and talk to him frequently.
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This stirs up memories in me about how my own daughter's mind was poisoned against me by the tag-team of her mother and her same-age male partner. I hardly know if Lynne and I were ever close. It was in 1970 that I moved the family to Boulder from Ann Arbor. Then, though possibly earlier, we drew apart. We've known protracted estrangement that can be traced back to early1992. (My grandson Patrick was not quite one year old. I haven’t seen Patrick since.)
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005 -- [to be expanded]
Slava's generosity and Luba's emotional look at the past – Allanikolavna and Eugen's gravesite
My goodbye to Slava; his appreciation for my gift of mystery novels to the English Club; one final gift
One last currency exchange
My insecurity when Luba must make use of the 50R notes I've been carrying for some feeling of security when I'm out in public
Luba's anxious search for an important (perhaps critical) misplaced document - the confirmation of our flight to SeaTac with details of departure time.
Luba's Herculean task of repacking; and eliminating one piece of luggage in the process
Final gift shopping, picture taking and picture processing

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Missing day:
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Goodbyes at the Magnitogorsk airport
The flight to Moscow on UTair's jet

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Thursday, July 14, 2005 -- Disaster Averted
Catching our flight home should have been straightforward and very doable. We already had paid reservations on Aeroflot to SeaTac on Thursday afternoon’s flight. Admission: Luba was somewhat lax in that she knew there was a discrepancy in the listed departure time -- her travel confirmation versus the tickets. Her plan for us was to arrive at Shermetyevo three hours in advance of our 4:35 p.m. departure time. As it was, the cabbie dropped us off at 2 p.m. nearest the Aeroflot ticket counter. There was no crowd at the Aeroflot departure desk since everyone else had been cleared for boarding and most had already done that. As we discovered, we were so late we weren't allowed to check two pieces of luggage, but had to drag the cumbersome wheeled baggage after us even as far as the departure gate.
Luba struggled to gain approval for us to board citing her best argument -- that "this American" had had food poisoning and our late arrival was entirely due to that. (She wasn't about to admit she mistakenly thought we were on schedule.) A supervisor who was told of our dilemma reportedly commented, "That's their problem."
It must have been right about here that I flashed on the predicament of Tom Hanks character in “The Terminal.” (It’s about a foreigner who comes to the US on a personal mission only to be stopped by Customs at a NYC airport and detained there –in limbo – for 9 months.)
The Aeroflot representative's counterargument was that the flight was full: they had already sold our seats and filled them. We were misdirected to a queue at departure point #21. Fortunately, another official directed us down the hall/corridor to #13, where we needed to be.
I was proud of Luba in that she was willing to push to the front of the line and argue our urgent need to be boarding. With the reserved seating we had counted on now gone, we remained most anxious. Luba heard over the public address system that our flight’s departure was delayed 30 minutes, possibly more.
Consequence Avoided #2: One supervisor’s Plan B was for us to take a later flight. Later would not have meant Thursday or Friday: they had no direct flights to SeaTac those days. Ignore the inconvenience of it all; forget about the extra expense! My visa expired that very day, July 14! Either I got out of the country promptly or I was in violation of the law.
[It must have been right about here that I flashed on the predicament of Tom Hanks character in “The Terminal”; my daughter gifted us a copy on DVD, and I found myself empathizing with Hans’ character, never realizing …. (It’s about a foreigner who comes to the US on a personal mission only to be stopped by Customs at a NYC airport and detained there –in limbo – for 9 months.) One scenario I imagined was Luba saying to me, “Dearest, it pains me terribly to abandon you in Moscow like this, but my plane leaves soon and I must use my ticket now or else pay full-price for a one-way ticket for the next flight departing for SeaTac. Here’s your passport: guard it! Save the $300 I’m leaving with you and don’t spend it all on one night at the Metropol Hotel. Here is a map of Moscow. I’ve marked the location of the International Park, the summer home to foreigners who are broke, homeless and can’t manage an exit visa. I’m sure you’ll find company there. With good luck you’ll find someone who speaks English. You might even be able to barter those last 2 suspense novels for some other escapist fiction to continue your reading and keep your mind off your troubles. Don’t bother going to the US Embassy until you look really scruffy. Those people are so-o-o heartless. They would sooner be tempted to make an exit visa possible because you’re a walking embarrassment to them than because you’ve come to them with a sad tale to tell. Here’s a kiss. Goodbye….” – I must have an overactive imagination; it can be such a curse!]

Plan B was forgotten when a woman in charge did some further checking with a member of the flight crew. Based on what she learned, she was able to offer Luba two seats, but with the proviso that they wouldn't be adjacent. It soothed us somewhat that both “found“ seats were in Business Class. We gladly surrendered our suitcases immediately prior to entering the plane.
The person welcoming us aboard told Luba she was assigned to Seat 2B; and I was directed to Seat 3G. What passenger in coach doesn’t envy the pampered passengers in First Class? The passengers hadn’t yet buckled their seatbelts before Luba and I encountered still more good fortune: when the very nice American business traveler having the window seat next to mine became aware we had been separated, he volunteered to switch seats with Luba. That was accomplished so quickly that we were seated together in oh-so-plush seats with generous legroom moments before the Boeing 767 took off. (I ask the reader to keep in mind that, due to feeling ill and with no interest in solid food, I would be intent on sleeping much of the 10-hour trip. The additional legroom made that far more pleasant. Had we checked in two hours earlier, we would surely have ended up our reserved seats in coach. Had we remained separated, in Business Class, I would have not had Luba’s TLC.)
We were airborne. After settling down and finding that the orange juice being served agreed with my stomach, I managed to sleep. I appreciated the electronic entertainment box and earphones offered to everyone in Business Class were a huge improvement over the in-flight movie in coach. The small screen could be placed on one's lap, and the viewer could see and hear his or her choice of recent American-made movies in English. Alternatively, Luba was able to watch Russian movies in Russian.
Our worst moment at the Moscow airport had involved the official with the "that's their problem" anti--consumer attitude. By contrast, how it worked out was much a matter of “When given a lemon, make lemonade.”
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Friday, July 15, 2005 – Returning to America
As our pilot made his approach to SeaTac from the south, Luba and I were able to glimpse a spectacular sight, one this Midwesterner never dreamt of seeing: two volcanoes simultaneously, Mt. Tahoma and Mt. St. Helens.
What did it feel like to be back on the ground safely and in the US once more? I was relieved that our trip abroad had ended. In 2001, Russia was touted as being a budding democracy. Bush and Putin were friends. Moreover, that trip was made prior to 9/11. This time, I went there convinced that Russia had become a dictatorship, and I expected to see a different Russia. My worst fears weren’t remotely realized. With wealth concentrated in a few families (the Russian oligarchs), there are the tens of millions who toil in Russia and still lack the quality of life that our middle-class enjoys. Communism in the last century provided a safety net; 21st-century Russia plainly does not. While in Russia, I saw ample evidence for the idea ordinary Russians demand too little – too little of government, of society, and of themselves. In many ways, I preferred the Russia I witnessed in 2001.
[End]

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