Priority Into Eternity can be found in






All of them wore the uniforms of the Allies;
but any cut of cloth may conceal a swatstika!

PRIORITY INTO ETERNITY

by Berkley Livingston

THERE were three of us who got on the bus. I took a last look at the fog-drenched heather beyond the railroad ties and an odd thought entered my mind. That somehow all journeys began and ended in a grey welling of fog.

The driver asked: "Coming, sir?” in a soft, Scotch slurring of words, and I stepped into the bus. I was too wrapped in my own thoughts to notice the other passengers, or even to care who they were. I was going home!

It had been a long time. Three years in fact. Three years of horror-filled days watching shells land and hearing the whine and scream of bullets winging their way toward human flesh. I didn’t think of the rest. I wrapped myself into a cocoon of remembrance of other days and other places. The places and days from which I’d been wrenched.

“I beg your pardon,” a voice asked. “But aren’t you Willet Johns?”

I turned and looked blankly at my seatmate, a British officer, a Major. He was holding his uniform cap in his lap and his crisply curling grey hair spilled around his ears. He hadn’t had a hair cut in a long time. The fog had curtained the windows with mist and we were in a dimly lighted container that rumbled and swished through a grey dawn. I couldn’t see his face very well. There was only a single bulb for illumination, and his head was outlined in its light.

“That’s right, Major,” I admitted. “I thought you looked familiar,” he said. “Met you in Cairo.”

“Cairo?”

“Yes. At Shepherd’s. Just before the big push.”

The bus hit a rut in the road and we swayed heavily against each other. I became aware of two things: he used perfume and he had the sharpest elbow I had ever felt. Then we swayed back to normal and he said:

“Bit like riding a jeep, eh?”

I grinned at the comparison. It had jolted me into the present. He answered my grin and we were suddenly on friendly terms.

“Mind if I tell you I’ve always admired you, Johns?”

“No. Go right ahead. I promise it won’t turn my head.”

He half-closed his eyes reflectively and said:

“We-ll, rather difficult to say, on second thought. Mostly, I guess, because you managed to keep your perspective. Those news stories of yours had the common touch for human be-things which we have so easily forgotten.”

My skin warmed in a flush of embarrassment. I hadn’t been concerned, one way or the other, what people thought of my war stories. I had been too busy living them. Well, it was over for a while. The paper for which I worked had granted the leave I had requested. The war was going to have to get along without me for a while. I was going back to the States for a rest.

I said: “Thanks. Guess we all did our part in our own way. I see you’re with the air corps. Going over on a mission? Or is that answerable?”

“Oh, I don’t think I’d be giving anything away if I said yes.” He smiled as he said it—a warm, friendly smile. “And frankly,” he continued, “I’m looking forward to it. Been over once before, number of years back, and liked it immensely.”

THE bus made a turn in the road and we drew up before the A.T.C. transient office. The fog had lifted to let the rain through. I shivered as I stepped from the bus and waited for the Major to follow. It was then I really became aware of the other passenger. He was an officer also, of the Free French Forces. He passed us without a second glance and hurried into the A.T.C. office ahead of us.

The driver brought our luggage in and set it at our feet. The three of us stood around, the Frenchman off to one side and the Major and I together, and waited for someone to notice us. Suddenly, I didn’t want to fly! Suddenly I hoped the flight would be called off. Once, in Paris, I had waited two days for a flight. Certainly this pea-soup was too thick, too dangerous for flying.

A young, pleasant voice said: “This way, please.”

It proved to be our guide, a sergeant attached to the Air Transport Command Office. He led us into a narrow room, bare of furniture except for some benches placed along one of the walls. There were some six or eight people already there. I didn’t notice exactly how many. A Flight Officer faced us and told us how to use the Mae West jackets we were to have and what the accessories they contained were for. Also the raft the plane had. I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention.

The Frenchman had taken a seat directly in front of me and when he stooped to sit, I saw the unmistakable bulge of a pistol in his back pocket. The Major, who seemed to have taken a liking for company, made remarks to which I paid little attention.

“I say. Aren’t you coming?” a voice asked, breaking into my revery.

I looked up into the Major’s smiling face. We were the only ones in the room-

“Sure,” I said. “Where?”

“Immigration and medical examination, I suppose,” he said.

They proved to be superficial affairs: a taking of the temperature and a glance at our orders. Although we had come in later than the rest, the Frenchman, I noticed, had awaited for our arrival before he stepped into line. The immigration man stamped his okay on my papers and I moved away to let the Frenchman up. I stood there for a few seconds, fumbling with my papers, and saw the man at the desk glance up at the Frenchman with a suddenly sharp look.

“These orders—they are not..."

The Frenchman’s lips creased in a quick smile that went only as far as his lips. His eyes narrowed sharply and he reached quickly into the inner pocket of his tunic and pulled another paper from it. There was something furtive in his manner as he bent over the desk and whispered to the man behind it. A change came over the examining officer’s face. The suspicion was wiped clean from it. Everything, in fact, was wiped clean from it.

I turned away and bumped into the Major. He, too, had been an interested spectator to what had happened. We walked away together. Behind me, I could feel the Frenchman’s eyes burning into our backs. We had not turned quickly enough. He had seen us. I shrugged mental shoulders and thought: what the hell, it’s no affair of mine. But I knew I was lying. I was curious. Damned curious.

We stood around for a spell just waiting for something to happen. I looked through the windows and saw the grey of dawn had changed to a lighter grayness. The rain still pelted down in an unceasing stream. It was going to be a hell of a day for flying.

AN OFFICER approached us. He carried a board chart in his arms. At his approach, the scattered groups of people were attracted to him. He waited until we were gathered in a narrow semicircle around him, then he began to read names from the list he carried. But after the first, wh...

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