Hasse, superb episode! The historical tidbits are outstanding as is that old photo, that's one I've not run across before. Can't wait to see what they will have Julius flying.
Whoa Fullofit, that was a near collision there between Toby and Pellyn. Chesty needs to have a talk with that lad. Too bad about the denied claims, but you know how HQ can be.
Raine, wonderful stuff, love how Jim is around Alex, the poor, stricken sod. And with the following, the ball is back in your court, Sir!
Captain Swanson had been tramping about Salisbury since arriving on the 27th, despite the occasional light rain. The temperatures, while cool in the evenings, were unseasonably mild during the days, which made for some enjoyable meanderings through town and the surrounding countryside. Swany had received confirmation that his good friend James Collins would be joining him by early evening of the 29th, so he'd been killing time until then. The Captain had been fairly surprised, and a bit embarrassed, at the reception he continued to receive nearly everywhere he went. As soon as folks spotted the strip of crimson ribbon on his chest, (and then the three wound stripes on his sleeve), they would treat him as if he were a member of the Royal Family. Despite his best efforts to play it all down, saying he was only doing his part and that there were thousands of other brave men in the air and in the trenches doing every bit as much as he was if not more, their enthusiasm could not be assuaged - people simply adore their heroes. The only respite he had from the public attention, which had grown somewhat tedious by the second day, was either during his early morning run, (he went sans tunic, blouse, and cap, with his greyback flannel shirt offering no clue to his achievements), or when he sat in the cozy bar at the Old George as it was fairly quiet, at least until later on in the evenings. It was at the latter, at about half-past-four in the afternoon of the 29th, when she entered.
Swanson was sitting at a small table at the back near the yard entrance. A cup of ginger tea rested in front of him, (a drink not normally offered at the Old George but one now provided its star guest after a casual request at breakfast the first morning of his stay). In the young airman's left hand was a somewhat dog-eared volume of German phrases and their English translations which he'd acquired at a second-hand shop on the High Street. Having consumed all the information available in the little German conversation booklet he had back at Feinvillers, Swany had gone looking for something a bit more substantial. As he sipped at his tea and devoured the text in front of him his focus was unexpectedly diverted by the woman who came strolling confidently in from the foyer. She was one of those individuals that drew your attention. Dressed in a trim tweed skirt and jacket with unassuming dark brown boots and matching bag, it was an outfit that likely would not earn a second glance if worn by a lesser woman, yet she gave it an air of impeccable style that demanded you notice. She was striking, perhaps even stunning - not pretty, but fascinating rather. She scanned the room with piercing blue eyes, assessing each and everyone in it: the two men at the bar discussing politics; the elderly couple seated next to the hearth quietly sipping their drinks; the portly businessman hunkered down in one of the overstuffed chairs reading a copy of the Illustrated London News. Her gaze locked on Swanson. A faint smile lifted the corner of her mouth as she sized up the Captain, then came directly towards him. Swany watched her approach, suddenly feeling as if he were being stalked by some wily and wondrous animal. The hairs prickled on the back of his neck, his muscles involuntarily tensed as the delicious danger approached.
"You must be Swany."
The woman's opening salvo caught him completely off-guard. "Yes, I ah, yes I am", the Captain stammered as he rose to his feet. Quickly recovering his composure he continued, "I know we've never met as I would certainly remember someone like you."
With a lilting laugh the woman offered her hand and an introduction, "I'm Alex Anderson, a friend of Jim's, and he's told me some things about you including your nickname. I hope I wasn't being too familiar."
"Not at all, any friend of Jim's is a friend of mine. And you're American!" Swany beamed as he shook her hand and invited her to join him, then held the chair for her before sitting back down himself.
"What are you drinking Alex, and where is Jim?"
"A sherry would be nice, and he should be down in a few minutes."
Swany called over to the barkeep for a sherry then turned his attentions back to his newfound companion. "So Jim has told you something about me, eh? Nothing good I'll bet. And you have me at a further disadvantage since I know absolutely nothing about you. How do you two know each other?"
Alex explained that she was a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and that she and Jim had met little more than two weeks ago after she'd written an article about his first Zeppelin downing. She went on to elaborate that she and another of her press colleagues were working on several stories about how the Brits have not only been hiding their ace pilots from the public, but they've also been pulling their VC recipients from the front and sticking them in Home Establishment for safe keeping.
The barkeep approached with a small tray holding the single sherry which Swany lifted and handed across to Alex as he interjected jokingly, "So that's why I'm suddenly back here in England, I thought maybe da French had gotten fed up with me butchering their language and demanded I be expelled from their country."
Alex laughed as Swany gave a boyish grin.
“Swanson, you old devil, leave the ladies alone!”
Swany sprang to his feet and met his long lost friend halfway across the room, giving him a big bear hug as they met and lifting him several inches off the floor in the process. The two quickly caught up on some of the more salient things that had transpired since they parted ways months ago. Each admired the others honours, both on their chests and on their sleeves. Swany blushed as he admitted to having forty-seven confirmed victories, and was then shocked when James announced he had four Zeps to his credit.
"Four Zeppelins?" Alex, (whom both men had temporarily forgotten about in their excitement to catch up), interrupted. "Why didn't you tell me this?" The woman did not seem pleased.
Collins fumbled a bit, explaining he'd been explicitly ordered not to discuss it with anyone. Alex was having none of it.
"Jim, we've talked about this", she scolded. "Britain needs to know."
Captain Swanson was surprised and more than a bit amused, he'd never seen his friend at a loss for something to say with anyone. But here he was struck speechless and looking like the schoolboy who'd just been caught dipping the girls' pigtails in the inkwell. Alex was clearly a force to be reckoned with, a force which suddenly swung its attention around to Swany.
"So tell me about yourself", Alex demanded smilingly as she produced a notebook and pen from her bag. "I want to know everything. Where you grew up, how you came to be a pilot, your accomplishments in France - all of it."
Jim laughed as he signaled the barkeep to bring him a beer. "You're in the hot seat now my friend, let's see how you like it."
Swany gave an uneasy look. "Not sure I'm comfortable talking about all of it, Alex. Are you planning on writing a story about me?"
"Captain Swanson, as much as Britains need to know about their aces, Americans need to know about theirs as well", Alex stated concernedly. "You are a hero and our country needs to look to men like yourself as inspiration, so that we might become fully involved in this conflict. Surely, as a volunteer to the cause, you can see the importance of this."
Swany's eyes grew fierce as he responded. "Miss Anderson, in da last three months my squadron has lost over two-thirds of its men to da cause so I can assure you I see the importance of this, far more clearly than you might think." His northern Minnesotan Norwegian accent grew stronger despite his best efforts to keep both it and his anger in check. "Jim and I have each lost good friends to dis war, and we will lose many more before it's over - that's a sure bet."
"I did not mean to..."
"Please let me finish", Swanson cut her off as he continued. "Da likelihood of me surviving this is slim at best - I've accepted that - death takes care of itself, no need to worry about it. All any of us can do is get on wit da job at hand. So, if da article you intend to write will better the odds of ending this madness sooner rather than later, then I will give you whatever you need. But I hope you are not going to parade more of da garbage I've read in what few papers I've seen from home since coming over. There is nothing noble or glorious or patriotic or thrilling about war, it is kill or be killed, plain and simple, and da faster we can destroy the enemy and crush his will to fight, da sooner this all stops."
Alex sat silent, she'd not written a single line, the pen in her hand appeared welded to the paper beneath it. Jim looked restively across at his friend who had just expressed, in no uncertain terms, the truths that every battle-weary soldier knows all to well but seldom speaks of in public, much less in mixed company.
"Your drink Sir." It was the barkeep who broke the tense, uneasy silence at the little table.
"Ah yes, thanks my good man", Jim replied in the best upbeat tenor he could muster.
Swany gave a weak smile as he reined back his emotions. His anger subsided, slinking back into its hiding place. "My apologies to both of you, these last weeks have been hell. Sorry if I've dampened the high spirits."
"Dampened?" James shot back. "I'm afraid you've wrapped them in anchor chains, dropped them off the far end of the pier, and drown them." After a long, pregnant pause all three at the table burst out laughing.
"You're a pip, Jim. I've missed you." Swany grinned across at Collins, grateful for his friend's humor and understanding. He then shifted his chair so that he was facing directly the striking young woman seated next to him and with a resumed cheery tone proclaimed, "Let's get this show on the road Alex, ask me your questions. And when we're finished let's all go over to the Haunch of Venison for dinner, my treat. It's the least I can do after my embarrassing and uncalled for outburst."
Alex was much relieved that the tension had subsided and was now eager to get to the interview. As prelude she pulled from her bag a Sobranie and an amber holder. She requested a light, which resulted in the immediate scrambling by both men at the table to provide the needed match ASAP. It was James who won the race by a fraction of a second as Alex touched the tip of her cigarette to his flame and drew the smoke in deeply. It curled back out from the corner of her mouth as she turned to the subject of her inquiry.
"Alright then Swany, let's begin again. You were born in Warroad, Minnesota, correct?"
After nearly forty-five minutes of back and forth between Miss Anderson and Captain Swanson, the interview was wrapping up. James, having felt fairly superfluous at the table after the questions began, had taken his beer and moved to the bar and attempted to join the two men there involved in an ongoing discussion, but was unable to focus on the topic at hand; whether or not certain members of Parliament were personally profiting from war contracts they themselves had help secure. Instead, he kept looking over at Alex, who seemed to be getting more friendly with Swany the longer she talked with him - a bit too friendly for Jim's liking, truth be told. However, he decided to chalk it up to the reporter in her and not something else. It was her job after all, to get people to talk about themselves and open up to her. Of course she might have to be overly attentive to someone in that situation - smile at them - touch them lightly on the arm from time to time - lean into them and blithely laugh. James ordered three fingers of scotch and slammed it down, then did the same again before walking back over to the table.
"About done here from the looks of it, are we?" Collins intervened with a mildly squiffy smirk. "That Haunch of Venison is sounding pretty dam'd good. Don't know about you two but I'm starving."
"Oh I haven't forgotten old chum, and I'm fully prepared to help you part with some of your ready cash."
"Did you have a nice time at the bar, Jim? Looks like you're a fair distance ahead of us on the celebration track." Alex smiled thinly while raising an accusing eyebrow at her escort.
"Nonsense, I've only been lubricating the wheels of the train in preparation for the trip."
Alex returned the notebook, pen, and empty cigarette holder to her bag then stood, adjusting her skirt slightly as she did so. "Well I'm ready."
Swany, who had stood when Alex rose, slid the chair out of her way and followed as she and Jim headed through the small bar, across the foyer, and out into the street. The air was cooling again and it was fine weather for the short walk up the High Street, over to Bridge Street, and onto Minster where the Haunch of Venison stood. As the three of them strolled into the wonderful old establishment, with Miss Anderson being flanked by the two VC Captains, every head in the place turned. In all likelihood it was Alex who was the far greater attraction over the two RFC heroes, but either way the crowd inside parted like the Red Sea and they were led to one of the finest tables available. A complimentary bottle of champagne materialized almost immediately, providing a marvelous start to the evening. It would prove to be an evening to remember.