My Night in Paris

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny

January 1945

I arrived in Paris, delivered supplies for allied officers staying at the Chateau Rothschild, and was directed to remain at the chateau until my new orders arrived (See previous post, Over There). My unit, the 404th Fighter Group, was in Belgium and cut off by German panzers in the Battle of the Bulge.

I bathed with ample hot water and perfumed soap—neither of which I’d known during the depression—then slipped on my best uniform to join the other officers in the chateau ballroom.

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Chateau Rothschild as it appears today. After the war, it was never reoccupied

Generals and admirals surrounded by senior staff officers and spike-heeled French ladies stood and talked under the high-vaulted ceiling. Red-uniformed Algerian staff brought trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks, wine and champagne.

A tuxedoed, string quartet played in one corner of the ballroom. A lavish buffet on one wall offered assorted breads, cheeses and caviar, followed by sliced pork, duck, and salmon carved and served by the Algerian staff.

When none of the groups opened a space for me, I went to the bar for a beer. I selected an Alsatian brand over the caramel-dark concoction the bartender said the Germans preferred.

“Those hobnobs got in last week,” said a Midwest accent behind me. The Army Air Corps Captain had silver pilot’s wings on his jacket and a glass of dark beer in his hand.

I tipped my bottle toward the multi-starred uniforms and their girlfriends. “I guess you’re not with them?”

He shook his head. “I’m at Beauvais with the 322nd Bomb Group. Came down to speed up supply … but this is useless. Only supply these desk jockeys worry about is whiskey and champagne. Heard they skedaddled out of Brussels soon as the panzers rolled over the border.”

“I just got in, escorted a dozen cases of Scotch here from England.”

“That’s explains how you ended up here.” He took a pull on his beer. “How about we grab a bite and I show you the town.”

Charlie flew the A-26 Marauder, medium bomber, and had been in the war since D-Day. He was also from Toledo and a Detroit Tiger fan, so we talked about Hank Greenberg, their first baseman, and agreed that Ty Cobb was a greater ball player than Babe Ruth.

Charlie’s favorite part of Paris was an area near Sacré-Cœur at the foot of Montmartre. He said it was called Place Pigalle and there was a metro stop. I later found out US servicemen since World War One had called it “Pig Alley,” the famous red light district. Even though it wasn’t my idea, I didn’t tell Phyl this story until years later.

It was close to midnight, but all the city lights were on. Paris is known as The City of Light. The street was jammed with servicemen of all ranks and all services, and in all states of intoxication. They stumbled about—in spite of the cutting winter wind—bottles in hand, shouting, singing, hanging on each other and on skimpily dressed women.

I looked on in silence as we walked. Charlie read my expression, laughed, and pointed to a narrow, open doorway down a short flight of steps.

In the dim light and blue tobacco smoke, I saw high-heeled, naked legs kicking from a row of stools. Charlie pushed me in. The bar on the narrow back wall provided most of the light. Candles on small round tables provided the rest.

We grabbed an empty table in the corner. A small Frenchman in a red-striped shirt took an empty bottle from the table and brought two glasses. Charlie ordered a bottle of Bordeaux and offered a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in exchange.

Most of the customers were boisterous young Americans in want of decent bathing. A sultry woman sang a mournful French tune and leaned over a black piano player.

I shrank into the corner. Charlie patted my shoulder. “Relax, Ed, this may be the only R&R you get.” He shook a pack of Luckies at me until one emerged. I lit it off the table candle and took a draw. The waiter showed Charlie the Bordeaux label, poured our glasses half full, and left the bottle. My first night in Paris, I thought, sipping my wine and taking another draw on my cigarette.

“Hey you, flyboy,” a gruff voice blasted over the crowd. The place got quiet. I looked up. “Yah, you.” A beefy, infantry sergeant pointed his ham-like fist at me. Charlie backed away. The piano player stopped. The chanteuse shifted to lean on the piano, eyes curious.

“You’re a fighter pilot, aren’t ya?” He was Polish. I knew the accent.

“Yes,” I cleared my throat, “I am.” I hadn’t flown a minute in combat, but I was a certified fighter pilot.

“P-47?”

“Right.” Charlie shifted his chair further away. The big sergeant pushed his table back and crossed the room in four steps.

“This pilot,” he shouted back to the room then checked my nametag, “Lieutenant Kenny here, he saved my sorry ass.” He wrapped his ball-mitt-size fists around my upper arms, lifted me out of my seat, and set me on the bar. I’d leaned down since basic but still weighed 160 pounds and stood six feet tall.

Sergeant Pulaski pointed to the bar’s top shelf. “I want to buy Lieutenant Kenny a drink, the best in the place.” He then turned to the room. “I’m going to tell all of you our little story, and I want you to listen.”

Chairs rattled as they turned toward us. The bartender stepped onto a stool and brought down a dusty, black bottle. He wiped it with his apron then twisted off the cork and set and filled two glasses. The sergeant handed one to me and took the other.

“Me, my wife, my three kids, and all my friends here,” he waved his glass to the soldiers who raised their glasses, “we thank you and all P-47 pilots. God bless you.” He tossed it back. I did the same and coughed at the burn.

“Good, huh?” he growled and squeezed my arm.

“Reeeal smooth,” I said, hardly able to draw a breath.

The Sergeant leaned into the room and fixed each customer with his gaze. “You boys in the 1st Infantry, you know we stopped ’em at Elsenborn Ridge. That’s why them Nazzzi’s decided to go south through Bastogne.” All the soldiers nodded solemnly. “I was in town, in the rubble of the courtyard, cleanin’ up whatever we mighta missed. A shell exploded, splintering the stone wall behind me. A pillar fell, raining slabs of concrete that blocked the courtyard rear exit. At the entrance, stones and gravel slid from a buried Tiger tank. Its big ‘88’ cranked and ratcheted toward me while machinegun bullets rattled and ricocheted, keeping me pinned.” The Sergeant scanned the room and dropped his voice low. “I said my prayer, and I said goodbye to Maria as I watched through a crack in the stone.”

The Sergeant suddenly pointed to the ceiling at the back of the room and shouted, “There he was, high in the sky behind the Tiger, Lieutenant Kenny in his P-47.” The Sergeant’s hands and arms brought his words to life. “He winged over and swooped down like an eagle from heaven. I hardly breathed as I watched that sweet five-hundred-pounder drop away—watched it plunge into the Tiger’s engine compartment. Kaboom! I ducked. The turret bounced past me.” He turned to the bar and shook me with both hands.

Cheers went up. Other soldiers slapped my back. All evening, they bought Charlie and me drinks. We stumbled to the metro just before dawn.

Back at the chateau, Charlie thanked me for a great evening. He said this was his last night and wished me luck. By the time I got up for breakfast, he’d already left. I never heard what became of him.

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The Yanks Are Coming

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny

We were the Class of ’41, Lincoln High School, Van Dyke Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Graduation was in June, seven months before Pearl Harbor, and I was seventeen.

Jobs were scarce that summer—the country was climbing out of the depression—but all my buddies from school had found some sort of work. We called ourselves the “Cherokee Club.” When I wasn’t working or visiting with my high school sweetheart, Phyllis ‘Phyl’ Bender, I met with them to play basketball or have fun. The war changed everything.

We all decided to go down and enlist in the United States Army Air Corps and become flyers. Of the 28, eight managed to pass the physical and mental tests, and three eventually qualified for flight training. Bob Schronic died the year after he was called up in a flight school accident. Bob Brown made flight officer but shifted to bombardier training.

It was several months before I got into the Aviation Cadet Program for ground school. I was called to active duty in February 1943 and shipped to Miami Beach, Florida, for Army Basic. That May I was sent to Kent State University in Ohio for Officer’s Candidate School, meteorology, and geography. There I was appointed student officer of cadets.

Phyl had written to me every day and was my lifeline throughout training. We married on campus in the chapel of Kent State University on June 27, 1943. It was a quick wedding. Her family drove down from Detroit. We got a license at the county clerk’s office. Phyl changed to her wedding dress at the back of the office, and I wore my uniform. All my buddies attended. They’d taken up a collection for a present, twenty-one dollars, mostly in pennies.

That night, we had dinner at a hotel in Dayton. Next morning after breakfast, Phyl’s family left for home. When the sergeant told me that my two-day pass had not been approved, I went AWOL for the weekend. I was back for muster Monday morning. The sergeant gave me fifty guard tours for punishment—it was worth it. Phyl took a room off campus, and we got together whenever I could get a pass.

Graduation came later that summer. After the ceremony, the sergeant handed me rail and meal tickets for the entire class of 110 students. As Officer of Cadets, I was in charge of getting us from Kent State to the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio, Texas. We boarded three buses for Cleveland early the next morning, everyone in crisp tan uniforms, dark ties, and brown leather jackets. We caught the Nickel Plate train that ran from Cleveland to Chicago on the Kankakee line. We were to have lunch in Chicago and change trains to head South.

We pulled into Chicago a little late, but veteran services had our lunches ready on the platform; a row of picnic tables with bags of sandwiches, fried potatoes, soft drinks, and, of course, popcorn balls, all served by pretty girls and their mothers in bright print dresses. The popcorn balls had names and mailing addresses rolled up inside—in case a soldier wanted to write a girl back home. While the cadets ate, I looked for depot number three, where we were to catch the train to San Antonio.

The stationmaster checked our tickets and boarding time then scratched under the bill of his uniform cap. “Sir, these are for the CB&Q, the Burlington train leaving Union Station on Canal Street. This is Central Station, Michigan Avenue.”

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“How do we get over there?” I asked, noting the boarding time.

“You could wait for a bus, but you can’t all get on one, and it’s not due for another twenty minutes. It’s not a long walk. A little over a mile and a half.” He pointed the way. “Cross Michigan Avenue Boulevard, take 12th Street West across the Chicago River, turn right on Canal Street North. Takes you right to the Canal Street station.”

I ran back down the platform to rouse the cadets from their lunches and conversations. “Gotta march, boys. Grab your bags. We’ll finish eating on the way.” I heard some grumbling, but no one lingered. We lined up smartly and headed out two-by-two. When we crossed Michigan Avenue, the walkway narrowed and our march slowed. A Chicago policeman rode up on a motorcycle.

“Officer,” I showed him the tickets, “we’re supposed to be on the Burlington train leaving the Canal Street station at 4:40.” He nodded, waved us from the walkway onto the road then led us up the street. At the next corner, he talked to two policemen directing traffic. They jumped in a patrol car and sped off, clearing our path to the Canal Street.

We lined up four-abreast and made good time marching in the center of the road. About a quarter mile out, one of the cadets took up singing and everyone joined in.

Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word, over there

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere …

Other songs followed. It was a beautiful sunny day. People left the shops and sang with us; some marched with us, too. Musicians pulled up chairs along the sidewalk, played, smiled and waved. We turned north on Canal, and the crowd followed. Policemen stopped traffic and waved us along.

As soon as the station came in sight, we broke into a run. By the time we reached the platform on our tickets, our train was nearly out of sight. We’d missed it.

“Whatcha got,” the stationmaster asked, waving me over. He was a short, heavy-set man in a tight, dark uniform and a billed, conical cap. I showed him our tickets, and he checked them against the passenger train schedule.

“Next train out to St. Louie ’ll be here Thursday, three days.” My face dropped and my arms fell to my sides. The stationmaster added, “Course that won’t get you to San Antone. These tickets call for switchin’ trains in St. Louie, I—” He looked at the tickets again then at a pocket watch he pulled from his vest. “Hmmm. There’s a three-hour lay over.”

He walked into the station house, cranked up the wall phone, held the speaker to his ear, and leaned into the mouthpiece. “Helen, Charlie, be a doll and connect me to the president CB&Q. Got a problem at Union Station, Canal Street.”

I looked back at my 110 pilot cadets. One played “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” on his harmonica. Most sat on their bags or leaned on platform posts, smoking or waiting silently.

The stationmaster hung up the phone then hurried to collar an engineer and conductor coming off shift. They had a quick exchange. Both men looked at me, nodded, and ran off across the yard. The stationmaster strolled back with a swagger in his step and a wide smile on his muffin face.

“Mister, we got you a train to St. Lou. A fast ‘n, too, so you should make your connection to San Antone.”

“How—?”

“Courtesy of my boss, the President of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.” His smile told me he held something back. “You said a hundred and ten cadets?” I nodded and he nodded back. “I told the engineer to hook up five Pullman sleepers and a diner car, so you’ll be ridin’ in style.” Hearing that, my cadets cheered, jumped up, and began talking loudly.

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The locomotive was the Burlington Zephyr Rocket, top of the line, with seven cars attached. The conductor helped me get everyone settled in their bunks and cleared it with the diner to accept our meal tickets. We’d had a long day, so it wasn’t long before everyone turned in. I heard a long, sharp whistle, felt the train lurch, and saw the lights of the Canal Street station slip slowly past the windows.

I thanked the conductor, a tall, lean, black man who never lost his smile, then said, “Now I need to find some place to curl up.”

“No thanks necessary, sir. Come with me.” He led me to the back of the train to the last car, unlocked the door, and motioned inside. “The President of CB&Q Railroad said you was to have his personal coach.” He showed me around. It was a millionaire’s executive rail car, done up like a nineteenth-century luxury hotel room, polished brass, cut glass, imported furniture, and a full bath.

“You’ll want to say goodbye,” the conductor said, leading me outside onto the rear platform. I heard the wind rush by, the powerful chugging of the engine, and the clickety-clack of wheels running over the rails.

As the city lights receded in the distance, the conductor handed me a cold bottle of Old Milwaukee beer. “Sir,” he said, holding up one of his own.

We clicked bottles, and I offered a toast, “To your fine city, to Chicago, and to fine folks like yourself.” We drank down the beers and had a couple more.

As I looked out and listened to the clickety-clack, clickety-clack, I thought of Phyl taking another train to San Antonio. She followed me throughout my year of training, camp-to-camp, and took rooms off post.

Invaders from Space, Part 2

In last week’s blog post: At the clan council fire, bird-like warriors discussed how to deal with the invaders from space. Leal suggested that they might be trying to communicate.

 

It had been five hundred years since Galactic Phoenix left Earth for a distant star system. Peter Odanoff hadn’t uploaded until just before the landing, but standing on the deck of the lander and viewing the deep orange sunrise made him nostalgic for home.

Wispy clouds on the western horizon indicated a summer storm building. The undulating string of winged creatures flying just ahead of the storm could have been a flock of migrating geese. He imagined his actual eyes squinting and the warmth of sunshine on his face. He swept an open-fingered hand over his head then jerked it back. He’d forgotten. No hair. Only contoured metal and the memory of hair.

After surveying the landing site, they’d spent the first day cutting and splitting cane stalks to build the deck. Its ramp was the only way to access the lander other than the telescoping ladder, which was difficult for Julia’s and Jeninne’s engineering chassis and for their dog Chloe.

Julia Rabkin the physical scientist had selected the landing site, a bare, level spot beside a gorge with access to potable water. The mountain-ridged horizon meant possible mineral resources. Jeninne Sobek the life scientist had started a research and vegetable garden. Our robot chassis required no organic food or medicine, but if things went well, soon there would be children, real children.

Peter was the pilot and chief technician. Though he missed Earth, he had no regrets. Interstellar travel had fascinated him from his youth. He knew his real self had lived a normal human life and been dead for centuries. How many children and grandchildren did he have now? Maybe they’d sent pictures along with software updates. He’d check when the day’s work was done.

The Russian engineers had done an amazing job, but Russians are known for their no-frills practicality. They put optical and aural sensors in his head, and thermal, tactile, and chemical sensors in his hands—so Peter’s hands could smell. He held one up to the morning light. To keep him sane, they’d reproduced his old physiognomy wherever possible. He flattered himself that he was strikingly handsome and was pleased the humanoid chassis reflected that image with a few cosmetic touchups.

Suddenly self-conscious, he pulled his hand down. The last thing he wanted to do was stir resentment. Until they manufactured other humanoid chassis, Julia and Jeninne were stuck with the engineering frames the Russians had given them—more practicality.

“Amazing sight.” Jeninne’s voice came from the agro-planter below the deck.

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“Yes,” Peter said and pointed. “If not for that second light, the illusion would be perfect.” Beside the sun was its yellow dwarf companion star.

Peter leaned over the rail as Jeninne’s gimbaled sensor whirled to look up. “Did Julia leave? I asked her to wait.”

“She took the geo-rover up the ridge.” Jeninne extended a pruning hook to the horizon. “She said that area tested radioactive. We don’t have feed materials, and the fabricator needs heavy metals.”

“I’d planned for us to scout that area together, but I know she’s been anxious. Any predators about?”

“There’s a man-sized moa-velociraptor-thing stalking the compound. I’ve only seen one, but there could be others. So far it’s kept to the forest. I’m more concerned about that pack of six-legged predators. Two dozen were sniffing the perimeter last night and pooping. They stayed out of the light. Each must weigh about fifty kilos. Julia calls them devil-dogs. They’ve got some vicious fangs and claws. If they go after her on the ridge, she has the laser stun gun, but it only gets three shots to a charge. Until we know what they’re after, I don’t want Chloe running loose.”

Hearing her name, Chloe barked. She was the only live member of the crew. The Yellow Labrador Retriever would soon be the mother of their first children. The nano-implants had already corrected Chloe’s cryo-damage and reset her gestation time.

Jeninne’s lenses swiveled back to Peter on the deck. “Need help with Chloe?”

“No, but would you unhook her tether?”

Peter called, “Chloe, come.” The big, yellow dog bounded up the ramp and, without slowing, made a hard left into the lander’s open bay.

“I don’t imagine Julia’s rover will attract any devil-dogs,” Peter said, “not for food anyway, but they might defend their territory.”

“I’ll try not to worry,” Jeninne said, rotating on her ball-base and rolling to the garden. “I’m testing the seeds we brought from Earth along with some local tubers and seed cases, also a few fern fruits and fungi for possible medicinal applications.”

The base station lab resembled a twenty-first-century, camper trailer kitchen. Peter lifted Chloe onto the white, MechMed counter. He stroked her ears, checked her pulse and breathing, then inserted the anesthesia needle.

He took a rack with four embryo tubes from the incubator, placed one tube in the MechMed, and hit scan. The timer bar glowed soft blue, ninety seconds, eighty-nine, eighty-eight.

Peter pressed the queuing button beside the comm switches above the examination counter. His preferences flashed by—Bach, Beethoven, Dvorak, Sibelius—as they had every morning for the past seven days. He liked starting the workday with the final movements of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “The Choral” in D Minor, Op. 125.

A bell chimed once and the panel beside the timer bar flashed CLEAR in soft blue. Peter removed and examined the tube, restored it to the rack, and placed a second tube in the scanner. He hummed then whistled along with the music. This time, after ninety seconds, the bell chimed three times rapidly. The panel flashed ERROR 0.07% alternating with CORRECT? Peter touched the panel. A fraction of a second later a single bell chimed and CLEAR displayed. Quantum deterioration could be expected after so long a time, even near absolute zero. He removed the second tube, switched it, and placed a third into the MechMed.

When the “Ode to Joy” began, Peter sang along, Freude, schöner Götterfunken. He had sung in the chorus at Swarthmore and felt a familiar thrill rising. Suddenly, from the open hatchway behind him, he heard the sound of a melodious flute accompanying him.

“Wonderful, Jeninne, how are you doing that?” A bell chimed and CLEAR displayed. As he removed the third tube, Peter continued singing.

The flute accompanied the melody flawlessly.

“Magnificent,” Peter said, turning to the hatchway. “How do—”

A six-foot, bird-like creature blocked his exit. The creature rocked on its powerful haunches, its black tongue vibrating in its hooked beak like a silver flute. At the end of the musical phrase, the creature lowered and widened its horn-ridged, purple eyes, and centered its beak on Peter’s chest.

He stumbled back against the counter almost dropping the embryo tube. Without thinking, words tumbled from his mouth.

“That … that … that was pretty good … you just do the classics?”

The creature folded its scale-like feathers and opened its beak. “All I hear,” it said in a chime-like voice. “Come for know.”

Peter pulled erect. “You speak English?”

Leal dipped his beak. “Music better.”

The Bonham Air Cadet Marching Band

As told to Keith Kenny by his father, Edward Kenny

Primary Flying School, Bonham, Texas, July 1943

I stood at attention two paces in front of the Commandant’s desk, the sergeant’s bark still ringing in my ears. “The Commandant! … His office! … On-the-double!” A trickle from my interrupted morning shower and shave ran down the back of my neck. I was nineteen, younger than most of the air cadets, and trembling in my newly pressed uniform.

Still catching my breath from the sprint up from the barracks, I ran through my mental checklist. Had he found a tin can or cigarette butt in the yard? Had I combed my hair after the shower? Aligned my belt and tie? I couldn’t remember. With my eyes forward and level and hands at my side, I couldn’t check.

The Commandant of Cadets stood hunched, the knuckles of his balled fists pressed onto his metal desk. His tan uniform was as angular and crisp as the creased folds of a paper airplane. His neckless square head was fixed to his shoulders, and his jaw muscles worked relentlessly. What was the infraction?

Suddenly, he jerked his head up and bored his burning blue eyes into mine. “Mister, I want a band out there … this Saturday … for the review. Any questions?”

“No sir,” I saluted, toed an about face and shot through the door. “A band?” I mouthed. “In five days?” I shook my head.

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Army Air Force 302nd Training Squadron and the Fairchild PT-19, Bonham Training Base, Texas

As the appointed cadet group commander, I had six squadrons to keep in line, each with its own squadron commander. “Men,” I said to the gathered commanders, trying to capture the Commandant’s bearing, “this Saturday I want a band out there … on the parade ground … for the review. Any questions?” I thought it sounded weak.

Six lean hard expressions dropped in unison. Heads shook. Everyone grumbled. “What! Impossible! Not another … !” What with flying schedules, classwork, PT, daily inspections, course study, and letter writing, we had no extra time.

Still, the grumbling passed in minutes, and we began working on a plan. Where would we find instruments? Who could play? Where would we practice? Could one of the schools or the local men’s club help? How much would it all cost? We fanned out to collect answers.

Next evening, as the bugler played taps back at the post, the band had its first practice in the gymnasium of St. Theresa’s Catholic School for Girls. Sister Barbara Graham opened the doors and patiently helped orchestrate our first rehearsal. The next few days, between flight training and classes, we worked to synchronize our music with field maneuvers. In the evening we played, and Bonham’s Air Cadet Marching Band slowly came together.

Mid-morning, that Saturday, the entire air cadet class assembled on the parade ground in full dress. Six squadrons of pressed uniforms, sparkling brass buttons, and mirror-polished shoes marched onto the field under a cloudless, blue, Texas sky, and wheeled to face the reviewing stand. Officials and senior officers occupied the stand’s central seats, tactical officers and instructors beside them. Civilian guests sat in bleachers on either side of the stand. In the steady breeze, the American flag snapped high above them and its cord and pulley slapped on the pole.

After all the dignitaries arrived, the Commandant took the high platform at the center of the stand. He stood tall, his five feet six inches drawn taut like a bow string from his door-wide shoulders to his diminished waist then down the lines of his diamond-cut uniform. At parade rest, he watched unmoving as the last of the cadet squadrons formed. Then he addressed the seated assembly and turned to the cadets on the field.

Six rectangular formations were lined up abreast, each with a squadron commander out front. In the center, ahead of the formations, I stood with my three-man staff facing the reviewing stand.

No band was in sight.

The Commandant nodded for me to begin. I faced about and barked, “Ree-PORTS!”

In sequence, each squadron commander down the line saluted and shouted, “All present and accounted for, SIR!” The adjutant read the orders of the day. Then I stepped forward.

“Sir!” Holding my salute, I directed my comments to the Commandant. “Sir, the parade is formed.”

The Commandant snapped to attention, saluted, and directed, “Pass in review!” A hush swept over the crowd. Official regulations required that a band lead the formations. There were rumors, but no one had heard any details about the band.

Pivoting left I commanded, “Sound Off!” Then waited. Silence ticked by. Then came a loud drumbeat, “Boom-boom.” It echoed off the barracks walls behind the reviewing stand. Another, “Boom-boom,” sounded from a big bass drum, this time followed by the “rattling-tat-tat” of a snare drum.

The drum major emerged first, high kicking, back leaning, waving and thrusting his oversized high-school baton. In his tall, fur busby, Cadet Jameson Jones was genuine world class. He had led his school band in the Orange Bowl parade and competed nationally as a top collegiate drum major. Jones high strutted, jamming his baton skyward on each downbeat, as proud and aloof as if leading 101 pieces in the Florida State band.

Behind Jones’ panache the talent diminished. For brass, we had a tuba, trumpet, and French horn; one clarinet made up the reeds section; then two drums—one snare and one bass. Seven stouthearted cadets marched and played, snapping their heads and instruments, left then right, in flawless unison, each simulating the motion of an entire section with bursting exuberance. The music was ragged but high spirited, and usually on key.

Keeping precise step, they marched with erect distinction across the field. As the band passed, each cadet squadron wheeled in formation and filed in behind. They paraded one hundred and fifty feet to the end of the field then executed two ninety-degree turns to align with the review stand. Marching back, they passed directly in front of the Commandant and the officials in the stand.

Sniggers, quiet and respectful at first, rippled through the crowd. The sniggers gave way to smirks, then loud laughter, then full guffaws. Laughter rocked the stands spreading down to the cadets marching in formation. On the high platform, the Commandant himself smirked and gripped the rail with both hands, shaking with laughter.

Only the drum major stood firm, discipline unbroken. To the crowd’s heightened amusement, Jones’ expression remained unrelenting stone. Passing the Commandant of Cadets, he jerked his head sharply about and crossed his chest with his baton in a formal salute. Stride steady, he marched past the reviewing stand punching his baton upward in constant time for the cadets to follow.

On reaching the far end of the bleachers, the drum major’s baton crossed his chest once again to salute a dark-clad figure standing alone. The six band members, as they passed, followed his salute with a head twist and a bow of their instruments. Sister Barbara pulled stiffly erect to receive the salute. I think only I saw her wipe two fingers beneath her eye.

The cadet squadrons followed in regular fashion, each saluting while passing the stand then marching off the field to return to barracks. As cadet group commander, I held fast at attention until the end, when the Commandant would pass his judgment. He double-timed down from the stand, stopped in front of me, and turned to face me. Following a good review, he normally declared the post open for the weekend. Everyone looked forward to getting a few hours away from the base.

I saluted. The Commandant returned my salute over a non-regulation face-splitting grin. “Mister … that was an excellent parade. Excellent!” He stifled a laugh then blurted, “From now on, I want the band at every review and parade. You will have open post until twenty hundred hours Sunday, any question?” Anticipating my, “No, sir!” he saluted, turned, and walked off.

In later years, I learned that the band continued until war’s end. It never exceeded six musicians and remained a perpetual curiosity to the military and to the locals. But not, I suspect, to Sister Barbara or to the seven stouthearted men of Bonham’s first Air Cadet Marching Band.

Play Date

“Professor Davis, is it time to play?” Charese stepped from the closet, tossed her shimmering blond hair, and unbuttoned her white silk blouse.

Joel Davis lifted the retinal projector onto his forehead just in time to see Charese’s bra drop to the floor. As she approached, she peeled away her tiny, black leather skirt to reveal scanty, lace panties.

“Not tonight, Charese. Maybe tomorrow night.”

“Yes, sir.” Charese pouted her lower lip then scooped up her bra and skirt as she stepped back into the closet.

Joel’s eyes followed his dolly playmate wistfully. He loved being addressed as Professor Davis and sir. Maybe one day, when he got a job. Right now the idea of playing with Charese seemed like a lot more fun than keeping his appointment with Ilyena. Meeting in person was his idea—to take their relationship to the next level. Now he felt nervous.

He gestured to Ilyena’s animated image on the wall. She waved back, dipping a bare shoulder and tossing him a kiss. Her stunning dark beauty stirred him as much as Charese’s pale rosy glow. But unlike Charese, Ilyena was a real person.

They’d known one another online for two years as teammates and bedmates. They shared the same passions: for music, protesting climate change, and raising money to save the starving children of Sofaragway. After making virtual love the first time, they’d stayed awake all night sharing their dreams, like getting jobs as online gamers or becoming social justice warriors. Liberating FDs (freedom deprived, no one calls them criminals anymore) was their favorite cause, along with insisting the government provide … well, everything, whatever anyone wanted. True freedom meant everything was free, right? Wasn’t that in our Constitution? And anyone being told they were special or getting a special reward just made everyone else feel bad and less equal.

Joel and Ilyena made virtual love every time they met online, and he was sure they would for real, in person—almost sure. Thinking about it twisted a knot in his stomach. He didn’t look exactly like his avatar, a few inches shorter, more heavy in the middle than top-heavy, kinda jowly. He suspected the real Ilyena might look a little different, too, and maybe wasn’t as good with a bow or long sword as she was in the games.

Joel inhaled quickly to catch his breath. He scratched the top of his forehead then pulled the retinal projector down over his eyes. He blinked to scroll the selection then winked up Dark Warrior Ilyena. Her image came up quickly. Long raven hair framed her wide, shining eyes and flowed down one shoulder to curl below her low-cut, red leather bodice.Warrior Princess“Hi there, my beautiful princess.” His athletic persona struck a bicep pose as it ran fingers through its long blond hair and squared its chin. Joel hoped his nervousness didn’t show.

“My Lord Jacquard, hi yourself,” Ilyena said then dropped her gaze. “You know I’m not feeling—”

“Me neither,” Joel said quickly. “Maybe it would be better—”

“Better to meet another time?”

“Yes. When we’re both feeling well,” Joel said, hiding his relief. “Why don’t you get some rest now. We can play tomorrow.”

“That would be wonderful.” Ilyena’s full-lipped smile returned with her upward glance. Joel felt a stir all the way down. “See you tomorrow, my lord. We have dragons to slay.” She nodded, and he winked to disconnect.

Joel lifted the projector and looked toward the closet. “Charese,” he called. “If you expect a good grade on your philosophy exam, you’ll come to your professor now.”

Purveyors of Fine Cajolery

A bell tinkled above the door, announcing Kaylee’s entry to Georgiana’s tiny shop (Kaylee also features in the story “Opening Soon”). Counters with artistic displays lined the walls and pressed into the long aisle. The scent of jasmine and ginger floated on the air along with the soft strains of a Spanish guitar.

“With you in a minute, my dear,” a grandmotherly voice called from the rear counter. The stooped shopkeeper handed a palm-sized package to a smartly dressed, young man. Kaylee noted the iridescent green wrapping and fancy red bow and guessed it was something romantic.

The man thanked the elderly shopkeeper and passed Kaylee as he left, his treasure nestled in a small, cloth-handle bag. Georgiana wore a bright, frock dress, flower-printed with purple cloth buttons. Wisps of gray peeked from the edges of her white, lace cap.

The only other customer in the shop was a well-dressed, middle-aged man. His shifty movements caught Kaylee’s attention. He palmed a cinnamon candle without interest, sniffed it then set it down quickly and looked away when he saw Kaylee noticing.

The shopkeeper ambled toward the front smiling then turned to the suspicious man. “Ahh, Mr. Blighter. Everything is ready.” She looked back and called, “Todd, Mr. Blighter is here for pick up.” A spectacled young man, rail-thin, hastened down the steps from the back loft, a bolt of twill fabric under one arm, a tape measure draped down one shoulder.

Glancing about, Kaylee thought she must be in the wrong shop. The near wall had incense and burners, candles and candle paraphernalia. Fairy- and animal-themed mobiles hung from the ceiling. On the opposite wall and counters were greeting and note cards, small books with artistic covers, bauble key chains, colored pens and pencils, and small-framed watercolors. At the back were costume jewelry, porcelain and glass figurines, and materials for all manner of art projects, hobbies, and crafts.DSC_1006-58544

The shopkeeper smiled at Kaylee, her gray eyes twinkling above her silver-rimmed bifocals. “How may I help you, young lady?”

“My manager sent me. He told me Georgiana’s carried a line of persuasive cajolery. But I don’t see—”

“Are you interested in light persuasion or something stronger?” The elderly woman gestured to the candle and incense wall. “Something to set the mood, for dinner perhaps, or,” she cleared her throat and dropped her voice, “a seduction?”

Kaylee matched the old shopkeeper’s whisper. “Yes. Something like that. I want people to believe me and trust me, hang on my every word and be drawn to me, but not hold me personally responsible if things don’t turn out exactly the way they want.”

“Oh, I see.” The old woman touched Kaylee’s arm. “You should have said that Tom sent you. We get a lot of his people.”

“Tom?” Kaylee’s eyebrows rose.

“Tom Parlous, Trusting Tom, the used car dealer at the corner of Smarting Place?”

When Kaylee winced a sardonic smile, the old woman blurted, “Well, I hope you’re not a prostitute, the requirements are similar,” then quickly covered her mouth.

“No, of course not,” Kaylee said, chuckling at the thought. “I’m a stage actress, and I have to be believable on stage. Our director sent me over. I’ll be staring in Life Goes On. We open at the Paramount in two weeks.

“I’m so sorry.” The red-faced shopkeeper pursed her wrinkled, gray lips. “We get so many different requests. What sort of role do you play, and how much are you willing to spend? We carry everything from duck calls and fulfillment transponders to heart renders and agent provocateurs.”

Kaylee looked confused, so Georgiana elaborated. “Everything from making every man in the audience want to father your child to sending him off to righteously defend your honor.”

“I would prefer something very short term,” Kaylee said, eyes wide. “The effect only has to last until the play ends, maybe after the audience goes home. I don’t want any stalkers or fights breaking out.”

Georgiana’s head turned toward the fitting room as Mr. Blighter stepped out. “Or until the voting polls close?”

Kaylee thought him very distinguished and intelligent looking, a true leader in his trim gray suit — quite unlike the sly schemer she had seen earlier.

Georgiana frowned. “Mr. Bilious Blighter is running for State Senate.”

Good Neighbors

“Will I be issued a human chassis?” Djix pulsed.

“Your configuration will be humanoid, but clearly mark you as alien. For this mission to succeed, humans must see you as an alien. Otherwise, they will dismiss you as a hoax.”

“Alien? Isn’t this alien enough?” Djix exuded and waved a scale-lined appendage in the ammonia brine.

“Too alien,” Kalig pulsed. “Psyops was very clear on this. To get humans to cooperate, they must see us as advanced versions of themselves. In addition to studying humans, our abduction and probing missions have prepared them to accept this design.”

Kalig extended a pseudopod, inflating the end to form a bulb with two prominent blisters mounted atop a stick-limbed torso. “These blister sensors respond to electromagnetic radiation in the 450-800 terahertz range.”

“Humans will accept that?” Djix creased and pulled in like a folding accordion.

“Our research indicates very positive reactions from our captives. An older couple we examined even invited our scientists down for a Texas-style barbeque.”

“Barbeque?”

Searching for a sensitive way to put it, Kalig eventually rattled, “Humans consume organic materials.” When Djix’s folds tightened, Kalig added the rest. “Their bodies are composed of loosely adhering bags of dihydrogen monoxide solutions.”

Djix pursed a scaly dimple. “I know, I know, I have to go. You’re going to tell me I was specially selected … the only one you trust to handle this sensitive mission … my special skills—”

“I won’t twist your hooley,” Kalig interrupted. “You are expendable: the only one we could spare.” Djix’s receptors narrowed. “Despite their primitiveness, humans are extremely dangerous,” Kalig continued. “If you are to survive, you must appear not only intelligent but also frail and childlike. Humans must respect you but not fear you, especially since your message will not be welcome.”

Seeing Djix study the alien chassis, Kalig paused a beat. “After some discussion, we decided it best not to give you any reproductive organs—”

“Reproductive organs? They don’t let the robots … I mean they still … with their bodies … together—”

“Human lore abounds with stories of gods, aliens, and mythical beasts seducing, impregnating, or abducting their women. We don’t want to play into that narrative.”

Djix’s scales shuddered then contracted in resignation. “Okay. Brief me on my mission.”

Green Bank Telescope

“You know the electromagnetic interference, the jamming that’s blocked our communication and given everyone such a core-ache.”

“The deviant pulsar emissions?”

“That’s from humans trying to make contact. They’re the ones stinking up the galaxy, spraying their e-mag pollution, trashing every frequency, begging us to come and give their life meaning. They call it their search for extraterrestrials, and they feel very smug about it.”

“Absurd,” Djix pulsed.

“Nevertheless, you’ve been selected to contact them.” Kalig paused to let Djix recalibrate. “Tell them we’ve put up with their neediness and caterwauling long enough. No one wants to contact or encourage them, and no one wants them in the galactic neighborhood. We tried to ignore them, but they just go on and on and on. The community finally got together and drew straws. We drew the short straw.”

“You mean, I drew the short straw,” Djix pulsed.

“Tell them we’re not going to solve their problems. We will not make them get along with each other or tell them how to cure cancer. If we solve their problems, they won’t get off their hind-joint sockets. The answers to all their problems are in front of them. They just need to purge their organic memory bins, stop conjuring fabulous fears, and stop worrying about who gets credit or has more of something.”

Djix oscillated so hard it almost rocked over. “I miss the ones before them, the dinosaurs.”

“A worthy species. Alas, asteroids do happen. You know, Djix, before dying out, the last thing the dinosaurs did was to restore the planet to its original condition. They dropped all their trash and technical devices into volcanoes and leveled every city. They wanted the species that came after them to have a fresh start. I’m glad they aren’t around to see this crazy bunch.”