Meet Me in Perdition can be found in






Orders or no orders, no brass
hats were going to keep Janice away from
her husband—even though he was missing in action

MEET ME IN PERDITION

By WILLIAM LAWRENCE HAMLING

A HALF-EMPTY bottle of Scotch stood in the center of the table. There were a number of bottles of charged water with the caps off, and glasses. Four men sat leisurely behind the glasses: a young sandy-haired lieutenant of infantry, two artillery captains and an air force major. The major was pushing his half-filled glass around the inside edge of a plastic coaster. Drops of moisture followed the path of the glass and smeared over red lettering in the center of the coaster. The letters said: Miami Rehabilitation Center Officers Club.

“There’s only one thing I know for sure: this is a man’s war.” The young infantry officer spoke with slow deliberation and raised his glass. It was empty when he put it down.

“You’ve got the wrong idea, Lieutenant. Women have given their share in this fight.” The major smiled, raising his eyes.

“Hah, that’s where I’ve got you, sir. Sure they push pencils a lot better than a man. Some of them do a good job of bandage rolling—like those nurses over there.” He turned his head toward another table across the room around which five army nurses sat talking. “But when it comes to fighting and danger—what the hell!”

One of the artillery captains scowled. “I’ll bet you were damned glad to have a nurse working over you when you stopped that mortar shell with your legs.”

The lieutenant sighed, refilling his glass. “That’s a different story. I was wounded risking my life. How many women can say as much?”

The major straightened. “Some of them can.”

“Well I’ll buy drinks for everyone if you can prove I’m wrong!”

“I think I can.” The major said slowly.

The lieutenant laughed. “My offer stands. Go ahead and try!”

The Major looked off across the room for a moment and then fixed steady grey eyes on the lieutenant. “Very well. I’ll have to go back to a spring day in ’45. There was a flight nurse stationed at Fort Benning...."

"THERE? isn’t that better now?”

Lieutenant Janice Moeller eased the blankets around the knees of the soldier and stepped back from the wheel chair. The patient’s thin drawn face broke into a smile. “Guess so, ma’m it’s pretty hot out' here in the sun. Georgia sure isn’t like the Aleutians.”

Janice looked around the sprawling green expanse of lawn with the afternoon sun beating down on it. “That’s exactly why you’ve got to keep this blanket around you.” She laughed. “Fort Benning is a long way from Kiska, and you’ve been a very sick man. We can’t let a draft on your legs start a pneumonia relapse!”

The grin on his youthful features widened. “I like the way you said that, ma’m—calling me a man—I’m not even twenty-one yet. But I guess you grow up fast in war. Seems like I’ve lived a lifetime in the past couple years. If it hadn’t been for Mary I’d think it was almost like a bad dream.”

Janice looked down at him. “Mary? Your girl? Where does she live?”

His chin thrust out proudly. “Mary’s my wife, ma’m. She’s in the WAC; we met up in Whitehorse, Alaska. She’s a swell girl—the best. It was just like heaven being up there together. If it hadn’t been for this lousy pneumonia, we’d still be together. Guess I won’t see her for a long time now. The Doc says I won’t be sent back, says I’m too run down and can’t stand the cold anymore. Maybe he’s right but I’d give anything to be back there with her. If you have anybody overseas you’ll know what I mean.”

Janice looked away. The green lawn the hot sun and the warm whisper of the breeze vanished. Something else took their place. A laughing face with steel-grey eyes and curly brown hair. The months rolled back before her and she could see him just as plain as if he were standing beside her in his flashy flying jacket with the silver wings and twin silver bars. “I take thee, Janice ...” The ten days leave they had spent together in Atlanta before his orders came. That last moment when he had held her close and whispered: “I’ll be thinking of you darling, every minute, every second. It won’t be so long; we’ll be together again, maybe sooner than you think. You may be joining me overseas yourself...”

The lawn was back again and with it the Georgia sun. Janice looked into the eyes of the soldier. He was frowning.

‘Ts there anything wrong, ma’m?”

She smiled. “I was just thinking. You see, I do know how you feel, because I have someone overseas—Dick, my husband. He’s flying somewhere over Italy in a Liberator. I’ve been hoping that my orders would come through for the European theatre. I’ve been waiting for months...."

The soldier nodded understandingly. “I hope they come through for you, ma’m.”

Janice smiled at him again and then turned away. “I’ll be back in a little while, after—” She broke off suddenly, her eyes watching a figure hurrying toward them across the grass. It was Sergeant Janssen, chief clerk in the commandant’s office. She watched him approach and returned his salute.

“Lieutenant, Colonel Marble sent me. He wants to see you right away.” Janice felt her pulse quicken. “Sergeant, is it—”

Sergeant Janssen shook his head. “All I know is that the Colonel wants to see you, right away, Lieutenant.”

She nodded and turned back to the soldier in the wheel chair. “I’ll come back later—and don’t you take that blanket off!”

He smiled wistfully up at her.

COLONEL MARBLE was shuffling through a pile of papers trying to appear oblivious of the group of nervously waiting nurses to the right of his desk. Janice took i;. the situation at a glance as she walked into the room. She saw the bald shining pate of the colonel with his eyes lowered on his papers, and the seven other nurses standing silently by his desk. She walked up.

“Sir, Lieutenant Moeller reporting as directed.”

Colonel Marble looked up. He had sharp black eyes that were as steady as a knife poised in surgery. He nodded.

“At ease, Lieutenant.” He turned his gaze to the other women. “Well, you’re all here, so I may as well make it brief. I suppose you have an idea why I sent for you. Each of you has applied for overseas service.” He paused and Janice felt a rising beat in her pulse. “Your orders have come through today. You will be ready to, leave by 0600 tomorrow. I have already assigned nurses to take over your duties. You will pack and clear through Captain Thomas in Personnel. There will be jeeps waiting to take you to Lawson Field at 0530 in the morning. I’m going to hand you your orders now and I need not impress upon you the necessity for strict silence on your part.”

This his hands were separating sheets and his voice was rolling out the words: “Lieutenants Smith, Pawelcik, Burns, Carlson, Brown, and Moeller—San Francisco. Lieutenants Devans and Brent—New York. That’s it, girls; good luck.”

Janice became aware of a chorus of voices all talking at once around her. Through a haze she saw the girls reach out with eager fingers and pick up their papers. And the words kept pounding through her in a dazed monologue: “Lieutenant Moeller, San Francisco, San Francisco, San Francisco...” A laughing face with curly brown hair loomed before her. Dick. Dick with his smiling grey eyes and whispering voice. “We’ll be together again, darling ... you may be joining me overseas..."

“Lieutenant Moeller, is there anything wrong?”

Janice started. Colonel Marble was sitting back in his chair with his arms folded, his eyes fixed steadily upon her. The others had already left. A slow flush turned Janice’s face red. “I—I’m sorry, sir, I was thinking..."

“Thinking? What’s the matter, have you changed your mind?”

Janice stepped forward. “Colonel, you remember when I put in my request for overseas service I asked to be sent to the European theatre. And now..."

Colonel Marble ran a slender hand across his forehead. “I see. You’re on orders for the Pacific. I’m sorry, really sorry. We always try to arrange requests for such duty as much as possible. When I sent your name to Birmingham I stipulated European service, but...” His voice trailed off and Janice felt a hollow aching spot in her throat.

“I wanted to be with Dick—my husband...”

Colonel Marble leaned forward across the desk. “Lieutenant, please try to understand. I know just how you feel. I myself have a boy fighting in the ranks in France. I’d give anything to be able to be over there with him, just to be near him. I can’t. In your case I did everything I could, but the final decision was up to GHQ in Birmingham. After all, our first consideration must be service and devotion to duty. And in your case as a nurse, this holds especially true.”

Janice lowered her eyes and bit her lips tightly. When she left the office she held the sheet of official orders tightly clenched in her fingers.

“GEE, that’s a tough break, kid.” Becky Devans sat on bed beside Janice, staring at the scrubbed and spotless pine flooring. Her dark hair set in a ratted upsweep was a vivid contrast to Janice’s own honey-colored hair. Her eyes were dark and friendly and dry. In Janice’s there was some of the color of the sea and a little bit of the sea was threatening to spill over.

“I wanted to be near him—maybe even get to see him once or twice. That’s why I volunteered, Becky. It isn’t fair..."

“Of course it isn’t, kid. I’ll bet those brass hats got a big kick out of doing this. If you had asked for the Pacific you would probably be going over with me and Doris?—Have you cleared the Post yet?”

Janice nodded dully and glanced at her wrist watch. It was a quarter past seven. “Yes, I signed out through Personnel at six.”

“I’m all set too. You know, it really is a shame. I pulled a little of the old woo on Ted Jones over at Lawson Field. When I reach New York there’ll be a C-47 waiting with Italy as its destination. Oh, I’m sorry, Janice, I shouldn’t have said it, you feel bad enough already.”

Janice tried to smile. “It’s all right, Becky. I’m glad for you anyway. Jack is over in the Mediterranean area, isn’t he?”

Becky nodded and got to her feet. “I feel like a heel, Janice. This makes it all the worse now. I wish there was something I could do...”

Janice sat silently for a moment on the edge of the bed. Then she looked up with a wistful smile. “If by some chance you do get to see Dick—will you tell him I—”

"Sure thing, kid. I’ll make a point of it.” She leaned over and kissed Janice lightly on the foreheads “I’ll tell him you sent one along just like it.”

Janice got up with a sigh and walked toward the door with Becky. A knock sounded from outside.

“Janice, it’s me—Doris.”

The door opened and Doris Brent came in. There was a troubled frown on her face and her lips were parted with a piece of red tongue held in one corner like a small puppy about to be whipped and not knowing whethe...

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