This story is by Patricia (Trish)Perry and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After a year of fighting, Captain Michael Leary had grown numb to the sight of spiraling smoking planes streaking toward the earth. With only three weeks left until November 20, 1943 when his tour of duty ended, the only thing he cared about was getting back home to California in one piece. But, along with his enthusiasm, came a nagging superstition. To overcome it, he began a ritual of patting the rear end of “Luscious Lizzy”, the pinup girl painted on the nose of the plane, before and after each mission.
Leary breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the wheels of his B-17 touched down safely on the British runway. As he brought the plane to a stop and shutdown its engines, he wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead and lit a cigarette. He patted the backside of “Luscious Lizzy” when he deplaned. Then, he headed to Rosie’s, a small pub just outside of base to have some drinks and unwind.
“Blues in the Night” was playing on the jukebox. By his third scotch, Leary felt relaxed enough to sleep. As he dug out his wallet, a beautiful blonde brushed past him on her way to the door. He almost broke his neck gawking at her.
Leary turned to the bartender. “Hey, Colin, do you know who that woman was that just walked by?”
Colin shook his head no.
Leary looked around to see if there was anyone else he could ask, but the place was empty. Feeling dismayed, he left.
The next morning, Leary met his co-pilot, Captain Bagley, for chow. Afterward, they walked from the Mess Hall to the Briefing Room. Leary found the October air exhilarating. They joined the rest of the crew already inside the putty colored room. Major Mueller, the Commanding Officer, gave assignments for the next bombing mission. Leary’s heart sank. He and his crew would be going out again that evening at 7:30.
“This is bullshit,” whispered Sergeant Mannix, the Radio Operator.
“He’s right, ya know,” whispered Lieutenant Bradford, the Bombardier. “We’ve gone out every night this week! Can’t you do something?”
Leary replied, “See that Oak Leaf on Mueller’s uniform?”
“Yes, sir,” Bradford replied.
“There’s your answer,” Leary said.
Leary had some errands to run before the mission. Among them was an eye exam he had been putting off until Mueller pulled him aside after the briefing and ordered him to go immediately. He walked to the base Dispensary. Along the way, he passed buildings that had been bombed during a recent German attack. Bastards, he thought.
A plump nurse with gray hair and piercing blue eyes took his name and directed him to sit down. All of a sudden, the blonde from Rosie’s walked down an adjacent corridor dressed in a nurse’s uniform. He quickly stood up and followed her.
“Excuse me, miss,” he said. “Would you please tell me where the Eye Clinic is?”
“It’s right over there by the sign that reads Eye Clinic,” she replied in a soft, lyrical voice.
Their eyes locked.
“Will you meet me tomorrow afternoon at Rosie’s for a drink?”
She smiled. “I don’t even know you.”
“That’s why we need to meet for a drink.”
“What time would you like to meet?”
“How about 3?”
“Alright then. I’ll see you at Rosie’s at 3.”
“What’s your name? Or should I just yell Yank when I arrive?”
“Captain Leary. Michael. And you are?”
“My name is Sylvie.”
“Any last name?”
“Nice to meet you, Sylvie Davies.”
“Likewise, Captain Leary.”
Leary rushed back to his appointment. The doctor had been waiting for him, but he didn’t care. He didn’t know what had happened to him, but he had never felt like this before in his life.
When Leary arrived at the airfield, his crew had completed their final flight checks. The bombing mission was worse than the last one. It was as if the Germans knew they were coming. Two planes from his squadron went down. Though he managed to get everyone back safely, Leary was convinced that his number was up. He wished that he could confide this in someone, but the ramifications would be too great.
At 2:45, Leary was at Rosie’s waiting for Sylvie. He ordered a scotch. “String of Pearls” by Glenn Miller came on the jukebox. The song reminded him of a young redhead named Dora he dated a few times after he arrived last fall. She was one of many. Leary never had a problem charming women into bed, especially after the war began. Fear made for a tremendous aphrodisiac. But, when he had looked into Sylvie’s eyes, he had really connected with her. She wasn’t just another faceless body like all the others had been. For the first time, he wanted something more.
Sylvie arrived promptly at 3. The whole place seemed to light up when she entered, and Leary couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“I’m so glad you made it.”
“So am I.”
“Would you like a drink?”
“Yes, I would. A martini, please. Very dry.”
They moved to a table where they could have more privacy. They sipped their drinks and talked. All the while, their eyes remained locked as if they were looking into each other’s souls. Leary had never wanted a woman as badly as he wanted her. But, it was Sylvie who suggested going to her apartment.
It was getting close to his 6:45 deadline. They had made love three times but that still wasn’t enough for him.
“I have to leave soon,” Leary announced.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I have orders I have to follow.”
“Oh, you have orders, do you?”
“Yes. Can’t argue with orders, you know.”
“What time do you have to leave?”
“What, are you in a hurry to get rid of me?” he joked.
“Yes, I am. You see, the Navy is landing soon and I have a ship filled with sailors coming to visit me.”
“Oh, you’re cheeky.”
“Hey, I’m the Brit. I’m the one who should use words like that.”
“You’re an adorable Brit. May I come by after I return from where I’m going?”
“Depends on how long you’re going to be gone. Will it be long enough for all the sailors to have their way with me?”
Even though they had just met, Leary felt a pang of jealousy. He wanted to say something to scold her, but he had no right and he knew it. “I don’t know for sure. You might want to hurry up or possibly skip a few,” he replied.
Sylvie started to laugh. “Do you know how wonderful it is to meet a man who can joke with me?”
Leary kissed her again. Then he eased out of bed and got dressed.
“Would you like me to drive you back?” she asked.
“That would be nice of you.”
“I’ll just be a minute,” she said. Wrapped in a bed sheet, she slid out of bed and ran down the hall to the bathroom. She returned looking as fresh as a summer’s day. “Let’s go, Captain Leary.”
During the bombing mission, the anti-aircraft fire was so heavy that Leary thought “Luscious Lizzy” would surely go down in a fiery streak. But, he pressed the bomber to its capacity and they got through, dropped their bombs and got out. On the way back, Leary thought about Sylvie waiting for him at her apartment. Suddenly, the idea of returning to California wasn’t quite as exciting to him.
As they flew closer to London, the air grew thick with smoke. Leary relinquished controls to Bagley and walked to the Radio Compartment to speak with Sergeant Mannix. Mannix messaged ahead and found out that the Germans had attacked London. The city had been hit hard. The base had also been bombed. There was no information about casualties.
Leary landed smoothly. He was greeted by the sound of sirens blaring citywide. Explosions sent columns of smoke billowing into the night sky. He slapped Luscious Lizzie’s backside twice.
“We’ll make em pay,” Bagley said, before he joined the rest of the crew en route to Rosie’s. Leary departed for Sylvie’s apartment.
Sylvie’s street was a disaster. Some buildings were burning; others had collapsed. Leary pulled his jeep over and started running. Several men were already combing through the wreckage of her former home. Leary scrambled up the side of the crumbled structure and started digging along with them. Suddenly, a young man shouted, “I’ve found a live one!” With his heart in his throat, Leary waded through the rubble just as the young man lifted up a little girl and ran across the street to a makeshift hospital. Leary continued digging.
The first thing he saw was Sylvie’s blonde hair. He lifted her bloody body out of the wreckage. She wasn’t breathing and there was no pulse. Defeated, Leary let out a silent scream.