Maggie Davis/Katherine Deauxville

Stage Door Canteen


The passengers coming up the stairs from the black, gritty tubes of the subway and out into Times Square at Forty Second Street blinked in surprise. A few stopped short. In the eerie dimness, everything on Broadway was there, and yet not there. This was not new, certainly not unknown, but it was still something of a shock.

"Jeez," someone in a crowd of sailors said.

All of Times Square, the record and luggage stores, the Horn and Hardart's Automat, the giant Camel cigarette sign that blew six-feet high smoke rings, the marquees of the RKO, Paramount and other movie houses that ordinarily stunned the eye with neon tubes and thousands of light bulbs - even the illuminated band of the latest news that ran around the top of the New York Times building - was dark. Above, skyscrapers were looming shadows where before there had been lighted windows, like brightly stacked diamonds, against the night sky. At ground level all was draped and shuttered to catch any stray spark. Street lamps had metal hoods, and the top section of the headlights of taxis, buses and other vehicles were painted black to reduce their light by half.

At the beginning of the war there had been no sudden blackout as there had been for parts of the west coast, which still feared a Japanese invasion. Or London, where after three years the inhabitants groped through pitch dark except when there was light from the fires set by German bombs. But there had been concern in Washington over New York's "sky glow," which could be seen for miles out to sea. When Manhattan's skyscrapers were lighted, enemy submarines could target Allied ships silhouetted against them, and launch their torpedoes. And there were plenty of submarines out there; newspapers and the radio reported that Hitler's wolf packs lurked as fearfully close as Lower New York Bay, and as far south as Atlantic City.

The east coast of the United States, it was decided, would execute a "brown-out." A dimming, rather than a complete shutting off of the lights.

And New York City did its part.


The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one’s best to the nation, when the nation is fighting for its existence and future life.

Franklin Delano Rosevelt
First Fireside Chat after Pearl Harbor, Dec. 9th 1941

A tall woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, wearing an expensive beige wool overcoat, broke away from the crowd that had come up from the subway, and crossed the street in front of the Broadway movie theaters. In spite of the darkness the sidewalks were packed with people. The city was a magnet for military leave and men and women in uniforms of the Allied nations thronged the bars and restaurants of midtown Manhattan and stood in line for Times Square’s movie palaces that featured, for the price of one, Hollywood films and stage shows with the big bands of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey.

At the corner of 44th Street and Broadway, Genevieve Rose stopped at the newsstand for a copy of the Herald-Tribune. The theater district’s newsie, Jake, held a flashlight for her while she hunted across the newspaper stacks. "You’re running late, Miss Rose," he told her. "I seen bunches of our guys going down the street. There’s already a crowd outside."

From the newsstand she could see down 44th Street to the sidewalk in front of the canteen. The stubby figure of Sgt. Struhbeck was in the line of soldiers that stretched from the front door, which was in the basement of the 44th Street Theater Building, up the stairs and down the walk. At that distance Jenny Rose couldn’t make out faces, but she knew Struhbeck because he was so much shorter than the others. Little pain in the neck, she couldn’t help thinking. She hadn’t reported him to the canteen committee yet, but she was going to have to do something.

She said, "Word’s gotten around we have a fire limit, Jake, and that we close the doors when we’re at capacity. A lot of servicemen have started coming early to make sure they get in."

Master Sergeant Struhbeck was wearing an army air force garrison cap with the wires removed and the crown flattened, which was illegal but tolerated, especially with those who had seen combat duty, and a uniform with four rows of decoration ribbons. A little cocky, pocket edition of a belligerent fighting man, a belly turret gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress. Someone had said belly turret gunners hung upside down in a bubble under the bomber while firing through a slot in the plexiglass.

The sergeant was regarded as a pretty tough cookie. There were nights when Jenny wished there were some way they could get rid of him short of turning him over to the MPs. Unfortunately, one of America’s most decorated war heroes chose to spend a lot of his evenings in the canteen while on an extended stay with a group of other Pacific war heroes, living at the Waldorf Astoria, addressing civic groups, smiling in front of newsreel cameras, and making personal appearances selling War Bonds.

Jake handed her the Tribune. "How’s your husband doing down there in Washington, Miss Rose?’

The sudden roaring of the subway under the pavement at their feet drowned their voices. "Brad’s fine, he just got a promotion," she shouted. "My husband is a lieutenant colonel now!"

She saw his eyes widen. "That’s good. Really nice, Miss Rose."

"How are your boys?" Jake had two sons in the army, one in North Carolina in paratroop training, the other from what cryptic information he could gather from his letters, in North Africa.

He said,"OK, as far as I know, Miss Rose. Vinnie says he’s still jumping out of airplanes down south, and I’m still getting mail from Anthony. They tell me it’s when the overseas mail stops and you don’t hear nothing is the time to worry."

"Let’s hope that doesn’t happen." They smiled at each other. The conversation was the same exchange about loved ones, wherever they were, that everyone was having these days. A US naval officer with a woman in a fur coat came up and asked for a city guide and Jake moved to get it. Jenny said, "I was really hoping to get a Variety. I think there’s more news about my show in the gossip columns than I get from my agent."

"Wait a minute, I’ll look." He left her, taking the flashlight, and rummaged around in the darkness in the back. "I forgot to ask you, how’s the new show doing?"

It was a good question; most of Broadway wanted to know the same thing. "Ummm, they’re still working on my part," she answered. "And new songs." She held up the front page of the Herald-Tribune and peered at it, but without the flashlight all she could make out were headlines, the war contained in a few words: RUSSIANS HOLD GERMANS AT LENINGRAD, CASUALTIES AT GUADALCANAL, NAVY STRIKES BACK AT U-BOATS.

Down in the middle of the Herald-Tribune’s front page was the lighter note all editors longed for and needed: a photo of the teen-age public’s newest idol, a skinny young man from Hoboken, New Jersey, with the face of a dissipated faun, whose local draft board had just declared him 4-F. According to the Herald-Tribune this had caused an enraged outcry of major proportions. At least in some quarters. Another photograph, undoubtedly staged by a publicity agent, showed GIs in front of the Paramount Theater throwing tomatoes at the words on the marquee: NOW FEATURING SINGING SENSATION FRANK SINATRA.

Jake came back. "I’m sorry about the Variety, Miss Rose. They don’t print enough papers, you know, even the big ones are rationed like the Times and the Daily News. I don’t get any more newspapers than what they got on the truck, what they throw off on the curb here.

"Everybody gripes about shortages," he went on, taking her money for the Herald-Tribune, "but they don’t think about a shortage of paper for newspapers. They think I’m holding out on them."

She tried to reassure him. "I know you wouldn’t hold out on anybody, Jake."

He shrugged, resigned. "These are crazy times, Miss Rose. You ask me, there’s probably a black market in newspapers. But hey, I’m not going to complain when I got my own kids in this war, right? All I want is to see them get back in one piece. "

She had to agree with that. She waved the Herald-Tribune at him and wished Jake and his two sons in the service the best of luck.

"And you and the lieutenant colonel," he called after her. "Tell him I said congratulations."

The waiting GIs spotted her coming down Forty Fourth Street. The canteen opened at five thirty and already a crowd had gathered. There was a chorus of comment as she turned in at the old-fashioned hanging globe light that said Stage Door Canteen. "Hey, look sharp, she’s coming here!" Wolf whistles. "Are there more like you inside, beautiful?" They scrambled to get out of her way, goodnaturedly, so she could squeeze past them to the door. "Hey gorgeous, are you somebody famous?" A voice in the back, "Somebody like you has to be a movie star, right?"

They pressed around her, young, somehow less fresh-faced, less innocent-looking than six months ago. "I’m a stage actress, boys." She looked for Sgt. Struhbeck but he was somewhere out of sight. "Sorry to disappoint you but I’m in the theater, not the movies."

"What show?" "Are you a singer?" They crowded her, taking in her slim figure, long bright hair, approvingly. "Hey, are you in Hellzapoppin? I had a USO ticket to that, it’s great."

She knocked twice, then a pause followed by another, the signal for the staff, and the door opened. Charlie Hanrahan stepped aside to let her pass.

"You’re late, Miss Rose." Charlie had been the backstage doorman for the Shubert Theater for forty years before he retired. At the canteen’s door he checked dog tags and other military IDs, handled small emergencies and kept out the drunks. Or tried to. He said, morosely. "Mr. Lunt was looking for you."

The main room of the Stage Door canteen had a warm, rich odor that couldn’t be anything but ham. It suddenly brought back wonderfully all the unrationed Sunday dinners of peacetime. Jenny said, "Charlie, tell me, did we get a donation for tonight?"

He looked glum. "That’s what Mr. Lunt wants to see you about."

The canteen occupied a large basement area that had been painted and decorated by scenery and stagehand volunteers from the theaters around Times Square. Founded during the First World War mostly by actresses from the New York stage, it had been quickly revived after the Japanese had attacked at Pearl Harbor. Producer Lee Shubert had donated the site of the former speakeasy, Irving Berlin had sent over a piano. Great theater names from Ethel Barrymore to Al Jolson and Marlene Dietrich still came to help, if not as often as the publicity handouts said they did, as well as wardrobe mistresses, stage managers and theatrical producers. From the start it had been enormously popular with Allied armed forces who wanted to rub elbows with the stage and screen stars they’d seen and heard of all their lives, and who did not seem too disappointed when most of the time the volunteers turned out to be as ordinary as the people they’d left back home. As soon as Charlie Hanrahan got the signal at five thirty and threw open the door, the place would fill with a rush. A dozen junior hostesses were already there in their ruffled, checked aprons, cleaning off tables, filling up paper napkin dispensers and trying to look busy.

Across the tiny dance floor a small group of musicians was setting up on the bandstand: a bass player, two saxophones, piano and rhythm guitar. The canteen staff was instructed to be especially welcoming to the volunteer musicians; they were hard to get since so many of them had been, or were about to be, drafted. Only occasionally did someone like Xavier Cugat or Tommy Dorsey bring in their full bands. And on Monday and Wednesday nights there was recorded music.

Carmen Thompson, the supervisor of volunteers, looked up from a table covered with schedule sheets. She said, "Miss Rose, you’re late."

"Hello to you, too, Carmen." She kept smiling. "I need to talk to you. That little air force sergeant is outside and I know we’re going to have to do something about him. He goes around trying to pick fights. Tuesday night we had a bunch of British marines - "

"There’s a pile of telephone messages in the office from volunteer hostesses," the other woman interrupted, "and I need you to do some telephoning. Mrs. Bennett is going to be late, the Long Island Railroad is broken down again. There may be some other things, I haven’t had time to sort it all out."

Anne Bennett was the canteen manager and the Long Island commuter line was notorious; its chronic breakdowns had become worse since the war. Jenny said, "I can’t do telephoning, I’m scheduled to work at the milk bar. Look, this little sergeant is especially obnoxious with foreign troops like the Aussies or the Free French. You know that’s really looking for trouble."

Carmen Thompson went back to checking her lists. "We can’t take any action unless they’re drunk and disorderly. And even then we think twice about calling the MPs. Read the canteen guidelines - our fighting men are our honored guests, and the sacrifices they’re making for us transcend personality flaws. Is Struhbeck the one with the War Bond group at the Waldorf?"

"Personality flaws? Is that what you call it?" She tried not to laugh. "It looks to me like he has a great big chip on his shoulder. He’s going to start some sort of riot some night."

"We’ve never had a riot in the canteen, that’s absurd." She did not look up. "I asked the office not to give us those telephone calls to do because once we open up we need every volunteer. But they insist it has to be done around dinnertime when the girls are home, as most of them work. That is, all except the students from the performing arts academy in Brooklyn. Incidentally, the dean has taken a blood oath those kids are all over eighteen. Try to distribute them across the schedule, will you, so we won’t have a gang of Brooklyn teenagers all on one night?"

"What’s wrong with Brooklyn teenagers?" Jenny wasn’t enthusiastic about spending her volunteer night in the back office telephoning. "If we didn’t have girls from the Bronx and Brooklyn around here I don’t know what we’d do for warm bodies."

The other woman put her pen down very deliberately and looked up. "Look, I can’t help it if the office passes calls on to us to do during canteen hours. Somebody has to do it. Besides, you can’t work the milk bar tonight. Katherine Hepburn is coming in."

For a moment she could only stare. "Ah, the newspapers are coming to do another story."

Carmen went back to checking her lists. "Actually, no, Miss Hepburn comes in at least once a month when she’s in New York. They tell me she’s very dedicated."

Jenny had glimpsed the great Hepburn only once. But those who had seen her with servicemen and women in the canteen said she was flatteringly attentive, with a kind of steely, patrician graciousness. The distinctive voice, too, helped. The GIs were usually too dazzled to be intimidated. But the staff was.

"Whatever happens," Jenny told her, "I still have to go to the kitchen and see what Mr. Lunt wants. He left a message for me."

She made her way to the back of the main room, past the milk bar and food service counter, then to the door to the small, hot, smelly kitchen. Alfred Lunt, a tall man with the abstracted look of an Oxford don wore a white chef’s apron and was supervising two women and a man at a table full of baked hams. The tall, handsome stage star was officially in charge of Stage Door Canteen food, which usually meant rounding up donations, not preparing it.

He greeted her by kissing her on both cheeks, not bothering to put down a huge carving knife, which he brandished dangerously close to Jenny’s left ear.

"Jenny, my darling," he said in his wonderful, plummy actor’s voice, "and how is the third most beautiful woman in the world?"

"Hello Alfred." She kissed him back. "It depends on who’s first and second."

He laughed, really looking at her this time. "Darling Lynn, of course, one’s wife’s always most beautiful, and somebody else — um, probably Garbo. Look at these goddamned hams," he went on, pointing. "I pried them out of Gristede’s, it took me six weeks of negotiating with their public relations department. Jenny darling, I do need you to carve. Tonight is special, we’re giving the fighting men and women of the free world genuine ham sandwiches, something decent in place of that disgusting pork product that says it’s ham but is really pig meat in embalming fluid." He handed her the knife. "I am immeasurably grateful to you because I have to get out of here, I’m meeting darling Lynn in half an hour to go to dinner at Terry Helburn’s." He stopped, gave her a sharp look. "God, that reminds me. Terry and Larry Langner aren’t going to ask us for money for your damned show, are they? Lynn and I are not rich enough to be backers. Tell me the Theater Guild’s not that desperate."

She said, cautiously, "Good heavens, I wouldn’t say the Theater Guild is desperate." She wished now that Jake had had a copy of Variety; perhaps something had happened that she hadn’t heard about.

"Frankly," he was saying, "if I had any money to invest I would put it in any show by Dick Rodgers and Larry Hart. But the point is they’re no longer together. I know, I know, my dear - poor little Larry’s become impossible to work with, and nobody blames Dick for dumping him. But what’s Rodgers without Hart? Or the other way around for that matter?"

She wanted to say that Dick Rodgers had not dumped Larry Hart; if that was the current gossip it was unnecessarily cruel. But the tall actor had taken off his long white chef’s apron. Now he put it around her, saying, "Although I admit Ockie Hammerstein is a big teddy bear, he can work with anybody, the man’s brilliant."

"If they’re going to put on a preview for you," Jenny told him, "I know it will be wonderful. Dick Rodgers has already written quite a few songs." Someone had told her that, she was sure. "Besides, I really don’t know anything about raising money, I’m only an actress."

"Never say ‘only,’ darling, you’re a very fine actress." He bent over to tie the strings of the apron. "In my opinion the problem is the play, a musical version of it doesn’t exactly inspire enthusiasm. I remember the thing had a miserable run when it opened years ago, when it was called — what the hell was it called?"

She said, "Green Grow The Lilacs."

"Yes, of course. Never liked the title, either."

"It’s the name of an old song." He was masterful; she had on the apron and the knife in her hand without really agreeing to anything, certainly not slicing baked ham. If she had been a theater full of people she knew she would have been totally in his power, waiting to burst into applause.

"You really want to do this, don’t you darling?" he said in her ear. "I would hate it if I felt I had forced you to make ham sandwiches when the very thought revolted beyond endurance."

She smiled. "I can endure a lot."

The three kitchen volunteers looked up as she joined them. One of the women handed her a roll of paper towels. "Here, Miss Rose, you’ll need this, the grease gets all over your hands."

The other woman said, "I think I saw you last year in New Haven in Showboat, and you were wonderful. Just think, here we are now making sandwiches!"

Jenny had to laugh.

They worked for about half an hour, putting the ham together with white bread and mayonnaise and mustard and a leaf of iceberg lettuce. When they finished and viewed the stacks of sandwiches, someone said something longingly about ration stamps, and not having tasted real ham for at least six months. They agreed that it was best not to dwell on real ham, real steak or real pork chops; the best meat was being diverted to the men and women in the armed forces. "It’s for a good cause," George, the third sandwich maker, said.

While they had been working Charlie Hanrahan opened the canteen’s doors. The noise of the eager crowd stampeding down the steps carried through the main room and back to the kitchen, then slacked off as lines began to form at the food service counter. The band started to play something loud and lively, jump jive, full blast. The noise level rose several thousand decibels.

"Isn’t it a little early for dance music?" one of the dishwashing detail complained. "Don’t they know all these guys want to do first is eat?"

Jenny picked up a tray of stacked sandwiches to take outside. Elise, who was a refugee from eastern Europe and often helped as an interpreter, picked up another. As she backed through the door into the main room Jenny smiled at her and Elise, who was so shy that she never initiated any conversation that Jenny could remember, smiled back.

It was still early but the canteen was already three quarters full with the U.S. servicemen who had been waiting outside, a group of Australia-New Zealand Air Force enlisted personnel who came down from their training base in Canada, drawn by the allure of New York City, a handful of Dutch or Norwegian merchant sailors who had escaped the Nazi occupation. Recently there had been protests to the canteen committee about the so-called "regulars," GIs from metropolitan New York military bases whose schedules could be arranged to let them come early and claim a place in line on 44th Street. A maneuver that made sure they could get inside of the canteen, even though it might shut out others who were only on New York leave for a day or two.

Jenny didn’t know if it was a valid complaint, but a representation of the Allies usually made everyone a little happier. Among the GIs lining up for sandwiches she saw some wearing the collar tabs of the United States coast artillery, meaning they would spend the war behind big shore guns defending places like lower New Jersey, sailors from the Pacific theater with rows of combat ribbons, Navy yeomen and other clerical types from New York’s military regional command offices, several WAACS who could be in transit for overseas duty that was rumored to be in North Africa, merchant seamen from the perilous North Atlantic run, and the shabby, bearded Norwegians who stood to one side, surveying the food line.

It occurred to Jenny that the Norwegians or whoever they were probably wondered if they had to pay. It was a common problem. Some baffled Allies could get stuck in a canteen hospitality limbo for hours if they didn’t speak English.

"You don’t speak Norwegian or Danish do you?" she asked Elise.

The small, dark girl looked in their direction, then shrugged. "Don’t worry," she said in a barely audible voice, "those types will ask for beer. When they find out we do not serve it here they will be astonished, then they will leave."

The crowd at the food line moved slowly. Jenny saw Master Sergeant Eugene Struhbeck pick up his tray with a sandwich, potato chips and coffee and start for a table. Then he saw the Norwegians and stopped short, eyes narrowing.

"Besides," Elise was saying, "they are not Norwegians, they are Russians."

On good nights, which were most nights, there was a reassuring rhythm to the way things went in the canteen. The early birds who’d been waiting outside on 44th Street were greeted by the junior hostesses and taken to the food counter or the milk bar, then settled down at tables around the room. Music started up after approximately half an hour, soft, popular ballads that encouraged friendly talk. A canteen orientation booklet for the junior hostesses instructed them in the basics of conversation with members of the U.S. and Allied forces. The guidebook pointed out almost one hundred percent of the servicemen and women using the Stage Door Canteen were away from home and often lonesome, and therefore one could not go wrong bringing up familiar subjects such as their folks, their girlfriends, school chums, hobbies, or even their pet dog or cat. Subjects to be avoided were the hostess’s own background and aims and ambitions, problems, or any other personal information. After that came the war itself. Do not ask, the canteen guide warned, where the U.S. serviceman or woman or other member of the Allied forces has come from, or where he or she thinks he or she might be going. This part was vital. A big poster on the wall over the food counter showed a sailor with a cautioning finger to his mouth and a torpedoed ship going down in the sea behind him. The poster said: LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS. Finally, junior hostesses were told, one should absolutely discourage any questions about, or interest in, a possible date. Dating persons met in the Stage Door Canteen was strictly forbidden. To break that rule meant immediate expulsion.

That was the early part of the evening. By nine-o’clock the canteen changed. Crowds were thicker and noisier, the music faster, the dance floor crowded. The staff got into the spirit of things by dimming the lights. At midnight it all ended abruptly. The dance floor cleared after the band played Good Night Sweetheart, the room emptied, tables were stacked, the junior hostesses turned in their aprons, the outside door was closed and the trademark hanging globe stage door light that said Stage Door Canteen went out. Most nights this was a warm, somewhat exhausting, but satisfactory ending for everyone who volunteered at the canteen and, it was to be hoped, all those who had come there to enjoy it.

There were other nights, though, and in the four months Jenny had been volunteering at the canteen there had been quite a few, when nothing went right. Some vital member of the staff would be delayed, or couldn’t show up due to an accident or sickness; things went wrong in the kitchen, such as no evening’s delivery of bottled Cokes; all the fuses blew in the entire 44th Street Theater Building when the microphone on the bandstand was plugged in, or the military police had to be called for persistent, combative drunks who wouldn’t be turned away.

Jenny had a feeling this was going to be one of those nights when she saw Carmen Thompson squeezing her way to her through the crowd around the dance floor. When she got close enough the supervisor of volunteers cried, "Miss Rose, what are you doing out here? Did you call those those girls in Brooklyn, the junior hostess volunteers? Four of them have showed up here, now!"

The band had broken into a driving rendition of Twelve O’Clock Jump. Two sailors got up from their table to do a fast jitterbug with a pair of hostesses. Sgt. Struhbeck, on the far side of the room, picked a spot where he could watch the Russian merchant seamen going through the food line. Communist was a controversial word in the United States; the Soviets had first been Hitler’s allies, now they had done an about face and were fighting courageously against invading German armies. But a lot of ingrained suspicion — and confusion —was still there. Sgt. Struhbeck’s glare, Jenny noted, reflected neither of these; she couldn’t tell exactly what was behind that innocently boyish facade.

"The dean of their school," Carmen Thompson shouted, "said someone here at the canteen told him the performing arts students could come in — into the canteen - for a look around before they began volunteering!"

"Nobody told them that," Jenny yelled back. "I certainly didn’t, I’ve been making ham sandwiches in the kitchen."

"How could you! You’re not a kitchen volunteer, you work out here, at the milk bar!"

"You told me Katherine Hepburn was going to work at the milk bar tonight."

?"You’re not making sense, Miss Rose." She looked distraught. "These girls from Brooklyn just came in. If you’d done that telephoning they wouldn’t be here! What are we going to do with them? They think they’re going to stand around and watch, but they haven’t even filled out their applications. The committee will have fits! We have to get them to leave right now!"

?"Where are they?" Jenny really didn’t have to ask. The students from Brooklyn were the only females except the WAACs not wearing the Stage Door Canteen checkered aprons. They stood at the edge of the dance floor watching the jitterbugging, four teenagers with teased pompadours and long flowing back hair, vivid makeup, large plastic earrings and short skirts. Big city girls, somewhat garish, endearingly pretty. Inwardly, she sighed. "I’ll go talk to them."

"No, no — don’t do that!" Carmen Thompson put out a restraining hand. "Really, we can’t upset them, we need them - we’re dreadfully short on junior hostesses."

"I have no intention of upsetting them. God, can’t we do something about the band?" The drummer was in he midst of a prolonged Gene Krupa-like solo. "What are they doing?"

More couples were on the dance floor. Jenny saw suddenly that it was too late. Sgt. Struhbeck had shifted his attention from the Soviet merchant sailors in the food line to the small group of performing arts students watching the jitterbugging. Finding something just as fascinating there, he got rapidly to his feet. She watched the top of his head disappear in the mass of close-packed bodies. In a few seconds his small, khaki-clad figure emerged, leading a girl out onto the dance floor.

He’s going to dance, she thought. Sgt. Struhbeck wasn’t going to start a riot or create an international incident, he was going to dance the Lindy Hop with the prettiest of the performing arts girls.

Holding her by the hand, Struhbeck led his partner out onto the crowded floor, pulled her to him for a brief moment while he jiggled up and down getting the beat, then slung her out as far as he could reach and still keep his grip on her, his knees fanning back and forth like rubber. The other dancers, looking over their shoulders, made room. Hubba hubba, someone in the crowd of onlookers yelled.

Carmen Thompson came back. She put her mouth to Jenny’s ear. "Anne Bennett is here, she’s in the kitchen. She wants the band to take a break because it’s getting too rowdy out here!"

"What about the milk bar?" There was no one behind the counter.

"She’s here, she just came in."

Jenny nodded. Rowdy was hardly the word; the dancers on the floor seemed to be caught up in a rivalry for the most daringly athletic versions of the Lindy Hop. As the band’s saxophones squealed out piercing high notes and the drummer attacked his drums, one of the sailors lifted his partner, threw her across his right shoulder, her skirt hiking up to reveal pink underwear panties, then neatly fielded her as she rolled across his back and landed on her feet to his left. The canteen cheered; there was a round of applause. Sgt. Struhbeck promptly picked up his girl, crouched, and bounced her in a sitting position against his left knee, then his right.

The drummer dove into a long-drawn-out riff. The four jitterbugging couples seemed to explode. As they flew apart, then came back together again, Sgt. Struhbeck lifted his partner high in the air. The pretty brunette brought her feet together, toes pointed, her hair streaming out behind her as he let her fall. He dropped her lightly on her backside and slid her between his legs. Then something happened.

The surface of the wooden dance floor was waxed and polished to a high, slippery gloss. The girl’s momentum going through the little sergeant’s legs made him stagger and lose his balance. He lost his grip, let her go, and she skidded away on her bottom and kept going right to the edge of the dance floor while the crowd howled. Fortunately the group from the performing arts school caught her. They hauled the flushed girl to her feet as, with a final bleat of saxophones and faltering drum beats, the band straggled to a stop.

Jenny took advantage of the lull to start through the crowd to give the musicians Anne Bennett’s message that now was the time to take a break. She was halfway across the room before she noticed the prolonged pause. It wasn’t just because the music had stopped. Attention in the canteen seemed to be focused on the entrance.

She turned.

The flight of stairs that descended from the street was broken by a small landing, followed by two more steps that right-angled into the basement room. Standing there, projecting a powerful feeling of tension, uncertainty and even hostility, were eight tall, muscular young Negro soldiers who could not have been more perfect if they’d been illustrations for a military regulation dress manual: uniforms knife-edged, spotless; buttons, belt buckles and shoes mirror-bright, the ends of their ties neatly tucked into shirt fronts at exactly the correct position. And now almost visibly vibrating with the audacity that had brought them, all eight of them, down the stairs and into if not forbidden, then at least unknown, territory.

Jenny had a sinking feeling. She quickly looked around. The Stage Door Canteen, run by famously liberal-minded theater people, was not the place to find any sort of color line. But as luck would have it there was no one in the room to prove it.

These were, she thought a little desperately, probably southern boys from southern military bases where there had been clashes over all-white facilities. But before she could properly collect her thoughts a blade-thin figure in gray slacks, white silk man-tailored shirt and gleaming, shoulder length hair the color of mink appeared in front of the young black servicemen standing in the canteen doorway.

"Ah, how wonderful you look," trilled that inimitable voice in flat, silvery accents, "welcome to the Stage Door Canteen. Let me take you to the milk bar and show you the ice cream menu." There was a pause and one hand lifted gracefully, beckoning them forward. "You do like ice cream, don’t you? Of course," the great Hepburn said, not waiting for an answer, "everyone likes ice cream, I understand the favorite national flavor is vanilla although it’s not mine. Now, let’s not waste a minute."

The young soldiers’ faces had showed surprise, then recognition. Then dawning disbelief. It couldn’t really be, their expressions said. Then, slowly, Yes it could, too. Because wasn’t this the place where you came to see famous movie stars and all? Wasn’t that why they were there? And didn’t it look like there wasn’t going to be any problem about getting in, either? Even though maybe they’d expected it?

In the hush the eight young soldiers followed the willowy figure of Katherine Hepburn across the room to view the ice cream selections at the milk bar.

A loud burst of talk started back up. At a table in the rear of the canteen known appropriately enough as "Siberia," the Soviet seamen had settled down with cups of coffee, bottles of Coca-Cola, and a large communal plate of ham sandwiches. Although she looked for him, Jenny couldn’t find Master Sergeant Eugene Struhbeck, last seen in the crowd lingering around the dance floor. The rest of the performing arts students had distributed themselves at a ringside table with appreciative sailors from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Elise materialized at Jenny’s elbow. "Mrs. Bennett says can you see her about doing some telephoning?" she murmured. "She says you still have about an hour and it’s important because she doesn’t want any more of the girls from the academy to come in."

Sgt. Struhbeck, Jenny saw as the crowd parted for the briefest of moments, was leaning up against a pillar and talking animatedly to the prettiest of the Brooklyn girls. At the milk bar the eight young Negro soldiers listened raptly to Katherine Hepburn as they grouped around the counter. Some coast artillery GIs were being boisterous in the food line. The Soviet merchant seamen at their table in the back of the room suddenly broke into song. The Russians, Jenny remembered someone telling her, liked to sing.

"Yes," she said to Elise, "tell Anne Bennett I’ll go to the back office and start telephoning the junior hostess girls right away."


The lights, of course, were gone from Coney Island.

Where the great amusement park lay, in Lieutenantkapitan Helmut-Lothar Ensmann’s memory and present reality, was revealed in his binoculars as a low-lying strip of land that was a darker, denser blot against a charcoal-colored sky and the slightly rolling sea of Lower New York Bay.

The lieutenantkapitan had not expected to find lights. He had lived in New York as a child and knew, even if there had not been a war, that they would have been turned off after Labor Day, the official end of the Coney Island season. On the other hand, he also recalled, if the weather was good in September and temperatures mild, some of the big attractions like Luna and Steeplechase Parks would continue to draw crowds and stay open, at least on weekends, until October. He had been greatly disappointed one time when his father brought him all the way from Manhattan on the subway only to find brisk weather had been the signal for most of the attractions to put up their shutters, closing them down until spring.

The U-426 rolled in another swell, and the lieutenantkapitan leaned against the railing of the deck gun emplacement until it had subsided, then lifted his glasses. Above him on the bridge the officer of the watch, his twenty year-old first officer, Straedel, and three crewmen also monitored the surrounding darkness. The moon was not due to rise for three hours. The U-426, a 180 feet long, 18 feet wide, class VII-C submarine carrying an all-volunteer crew of forty one, rested on the surface in nineteen feet of water on the eastern part of Lower New York Bay, on what was known as the East Bank, its diesel engines going at a speed just enough to maintain headway.

The U-426 had not been so close in to the coast of the North American continent in months, but surfacing off Coney island was not all that perilous: Like all submarines, the U-426 was almost flush with the surface of the water, its most visible profile the not-easily-discerned conning tower. In addition the breaking of U.S. and British naval codes in midsummer made it possible to track Allied ship movements, including warships, with what was claimed by the high command at Bremershaven to be reliable accuracy. The evening’s radio transissions had already informed the U-426 of tankers without escort moving out from the oil depots at Paulsboro, New Jersey, coast guard patrol boats in Lower New York Bay and off Long Island, and a convoy forming several miles south off the port of Norfolk. It was quiet, though, at that hour between Coney Island and Far Rockaway, with only occasional coastal trawlers and tugs with barges in the Coney Island and Amboy channels. Still, lookouts on the U-426’s bridge were vigilant.

Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann was amusing himself to see, in spite of the lack of light, what he could make out in still-remembered territory. To the lee of the U-426 was the Coney Island ship channel and a marker, beyond that the Steeplechase Pier. Somewhere against the night skyline were the parachute tower and Ferris wheel, easily identifiable landmarks by day. Also, he remembered, there were not one but several famous roller coasters that were designed to scare the very devil out of a middling-small boy. Why else would he go to Coney Island with his schoolmates if not to take a roller coaster ride, screaming in terror all the way, pinned against the seat, while the demon mechanism ripped out one’s elemental innards? He and his friends, of course, had loved it; they had kept riding the things until at least two of them had thrown up.

But now Coney Island, like the rest of New York City, was dark.

Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann braced himself as a long, rolling swell rocked the U-boat. He had been a schoolboy of thirteen or fourteen, riding roller coasters at Coney Island. No, he corrected himself, since he had been attending the Heinemann Academy on Third Avenue and 97th Street, a private German grammar school, he could not have been more than twelve. The following year was 1913, when the staff of the German consulate had been drastically reduced due to the fear of impending war. By then, in the spring of 1913, Klaus Ensmann, the cultural attache, and his family had been ordered to take ship back to the homeland.

At that time Yorkville on the upper east side of Manhattan was a very German district where one could shop, go to restaurants, even consult a doctor without having to speak English. The lieutenantkapitan had taken four years of violin lessons in German, an excellent musical education that had not, due to the rigors of the first great world war, been continued after his family left New York. In fact, there was only one tune from all that time that he could recall, a favorite by a good German composer. The name came to him after a few seconds’ thought. Fritz Kreisler.

Nevertheless, when he and his schoolmates went to Coney island in a group they spoke English. The Neptune Avenue subway stop. He had not forgotten. Also the Brighton Beach Line. One could take the subway in the sprawling city even in those days and go anywhere. There were trains to the theaters in mid-Manhattan and the Metropolitan Opera House - his mother loved opera, her favorites were anything by Verdi - up Broadway and into the Bronx and the zoo, or across to Brooklyn and the beach.

The lieutenantkapitan peered into the binoculars, trying to picture Coney island, the big amusement parks like Luna and Steeplechase, as they were now. The roller coasters would be full of American sailors and soldiers. And of course, girls.

At that moment the low voice of First Officer Straedel spoke from the bridge informing the lieutenantkapitan down at the deck gun that the electrical battery had been freed from its position under the U-room deck plates, and would shortly be coming up.

One could not miss Straedel’s distinctive speech. There was a hesitancy there, almost like a hiccup, while Straedel fought back a reflex, ingrained as a longtime member of the Hitlerjugend, to precede every statement with "Heil Hitler." After three months aboard the U-426, Straedel had last been impressed with the necessity of not invoking Der Fuhrer’s name as a matter of everyday intercourse. But what they had now, his commanding officer couldn’t help observing, was a peculiar verbal check, like Straedel swallowing his damned tonsils.

Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann could hear muffled voices coming from the conning tower. Below the engineer for the electric engines was supervising the removal of a battery that had cracked and absorbed water; the warning signal had been a whiff of the telltale odor of chlorine gas. When the battery was pried out from under the deck plates, it would be silently passed from hand to hand by the crew, up through the conning tower, to be jettisoned in the waters of Lower New York Bay. For the time being, U-426 was hove to on the edge of the Coney Island Ship Channel, warily, but not fearfully, watching the night.

The lieutenantkapitan was suddenly aware that the galley hatch just aft of the deck gun had opened. The shadow that was the cook emerged with a can of garbage, followed by another shadow that was the cook’s helper. In silence they proceeded slowly over the U-426’s deck gratings to empty the containers into the sea. A sudden gust of wind brought the pungent odor of something other than kitchen refuse.

Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann muttered under his breath. Permission had been given for the dumping and was, as with many things aboard a cruelly overcrowded submarine, a matter of necessity. There were two latrines for the crew, but one of them was nearly always pressed into service for storage. The U-426’s stern toilet was packed to the ceiling with containers of flour and other staples, and every nook and cranny stuffed with food tins and the inevitable strings of sausages. Waste, in spite of popular folklore, was only expressed through the torpedo tubes in an emergency; even then most captains would hardly run the risk of fouling them.

On the surface of the water something caught a stray gleam. The lieutenantkapitan put down his binoculars and leaned forward against the gun railing. A dim object floated by, down the long, narrow steel cigar tube sides of the U-boat, bumping against the metal hull.

Refuse from the galley he told himself. There were unpleasant pictures in this war that anyone would wish to put out of one’s mind. Black lumps of garbage, paper wrappers, a rotten head of cabbage the cook couldn’t salvage, were bobbing in the watery dark. Watching this float by, a person could wonder again why anyone could be persuaded to ship out on an oil tanker, since even a matchstick could send it sky high. To say nothing of a torpedo.

In July, the U-426 with three companion U-boats, Hartmann’s U-405, Schultze’s U-589, and Gelhaar’s U-457, intercepted a convoy south of Greenland. By the end of the first day a tanker in the convoy had become, because of the difficulty in hitting it, the U-426’s special target. On three successive nights the U-426 sank the ship ahead of the tanker, made a direct hit on a Liberty ship astern of her, and Hartmann’s U-405 torpedo had hit the corresponding ship in the next column. Still they could not seem to touch her. The convoy’s destroyer and corvettes went after the U-boats with depth charges, but the convoy was out of air support range that it really needed in that part of the mid-Atlantic, and vulnerable; the wolf pack lingered for a final day’s work. When the sun was up the U-426 finally pinned the elusive tanker in its periscope and launched a bow torpedo. There was a muffled explosion, then a towering pillar of smoke and flame that billowed up into the blue arctic sky. The merchant ships in the convoy waddled away from the tanker as quickly as they could in the hope of saving themselves. The corvette and the American destroyer raced up, virtually helpless to do anything for the stricken tanker. The oil burst out, bathing it in flames. Her crew collected on deck, small figures running back and forth, waving, yelling. And then in ones and twos and threes they leaped into the clearest patches they could find in the oil-clogged sea.

The good swimmers pulled out in front of the flaming oil. Others, less strong, thrashing in their lifejackets, fell back. The U-boat pack surfaced and the U-589 sent a second torpedo into the inferno of the still-afloat tanker. There was an explosion that made the U-boats’ hulls shiver. The Royal Navy corvette, the destroyer and some small rescue boats hurried away out of the reach of the fountains of fire erupting from the broken hull and the sheets of flaming oil spreading away from it. The tanker’s crewmen, swimming for their lives, were not so lucky. The burning oil spread faster than any of them could swim. One by one they were overtaken, licked by flames, and roasted. Even in the conning tower of the U-426, where most sound was blocked, one could hear, or imagine one heard, the screams.

But that was not the end of it. The wolf pack broke up and dove as the destroyer and the British corvette circled, dropping depth charges. Two hours later the U-426, batteries low, surfaced several miles south of the ravaged convoy in the expanse of ice-strewn sea. The gun crew went up on deck and the lieutenantkapitan with three lookouts, a petty officer and two crewmen, came up out of the conning tower and onto the bridge.

They could not believe their eyes.

Miles away on the horizon there was a pillar of smoke from the gravesite of the tanker the U-426 had torpedoed. But, incredibly, a lake of spilled oil had drifted south, following the wind and seas in some errant North Atlantic current. The U-426 had surfaced on the edge of what seemed like a return to the very place of their violent deed. There, in the midst of limitless gray-blue water littered with ice floes, was the dead tanker’s life’s blood, a moving, shifting, viscid black blot of oil inches thick, broken in places by wave action but for the most part forming a foul, stinking blanket of at least a mile. In this, half-embedded, were black objects, the charred, oil-covered heads and upper torsos, some with the arms intact, of the tanker’s crew.

The gun crew of the U-426 were young, some beardless because they were not yet old enough to grow beards; not fifty feet from where they stood floated a life raft or perhaps a piece of the tanker’s wreckage — it was difficult to tell because of the black mantle that covered everything — containing burned bodies that might have been clinging to it, or half-lying on it. It was possible to make out the color of hair on one corpse. And although all of the faces were charred, there was one black-coated head with no lips, ears, one eye gone, and the other eye a white, staring ball embedded in a raw pink socket, that lolled raffishly back and forth with each wave. In fact, there was movement everywhere in the black muck, the nightmarish dead men rising and falling with the swelling sea.

At that moment the U-426 gun crew was convinced that someone out there could be alive. Which was absurd, nothing could live in that arctic water for more than twenty minutes, much less the thoroughly broiled crewmen of the torpedoed American tanker. The shaken gun crew was dismissed and orders were given to dive. The next time the U-426 surfaced, Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann told Straedel, the first officer would see to it that the gun crew was disciplined by drawing the duty of helping clean the tanker’s oil off the hull.

Now, it was the end of September. A slight, offshore breeze had developed, and it was only garbage Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann saw in the dark, calm waters off Coney Island. The engineer and a helper were bringing the battery up through the conning tower to the bridge where Straedel and the lookouts squeezed together to make room for them to pass. The defective battery would soon join the refuse dumped from the spot below the still-open galley hatch. Lieutenantkapitan Ensmann suddenly remembered the name of the Fritz Kreisler tune he had played on the violin so many years ago. The one that he had liked so much. Actually, the only one that he remembered.


That was it. He leaned on the iron railing that enclosed the U-boat’s deck cannon and found he could still, under his breath, hum the tune.

It was so dark on the iron stairs coming down from the elevated part of the subway at 75th Street that Dina slipped, stumbled down at least two steps in her high heels, and almost fell. Which brought on an attack of giggles from all four of them.

"Drunk again," her cousin Angie said.

"Yeah, sure." She had almost broken the heel off her shoe. Dina held on to the stair rail and quickly rotated her foot to make sure she hadn’t sprained it or torn a ligament. Dancers had to look after their feet. "Like I’m drunk from all the Coca-Colas those sailors kept pouring into me. You’d think it was booze and they were trying to get me in the mood."

"Oh, no." Frankie Babinofski looked concerned. "No, really, the guys were only trying to be nice. But those women who run the canteen didn’t like it much, that the guys kept going up to the counter and getting free Cokes and then giving them to us."

"I don’t see why they can’t turn on some lights," Georgina complained, "look at these stairs, we’re all going to break out necks before this war is over. They don’t have to turn out the lights in Bensonhurst, for God’s sake. Who’s going to bomb anything this far out in Brooklyn?"

"You never can tell, Georgie." Angie giggled again. "Who knows what’s going on in the neighborhood?"

"Oh, Ange, really."

"I think they would have said something to us about the Coca-Colas," Frankie said, "that we ought to turn them down because they were for the GIs to have, not visitors, except the guy you did the Lindy with is some sort of war hero. That’s what the sailors from the navy yard said."

"Was that it?" Georgina looked surprised. "He didn’t look old enough to be a war hero to me, he looked about seventeen."

"He’s a sergeant. And he’s twenty-four," Dina said, "he told me."

"He was lying."

"No, really, he wanted to show me his ID," Dina insisted. "Actually, you gotta admit he’s very good-looking. And he’s not all that short, he’s taller than I am."

Frankie hooted. "Taller by what? Two inches?"

"He’s a shrimp, and I think he’s kind of wild," Angie said. "He’s got a funny look in his eyes."

"Ha ha ha," Frankie said, "they all have a funny look in their eyes when they look at you, Ange."

Angie swung her pocketbook at her, pretending to be angry, as they ran down the last flight of stairs with a clattering of high heels and came out onto the corner of 75th Street. The bars under the elevated were open, even though with so many people in war jobs most neighborhood taverns closed early, around twelve thirty. There were slits of light around the curtained plate glass fronts and they could hear jukeboxes.

"So did he show you his ID?" Georgina wanted to know.

"I have to wait here by the subway," Frankie told them. "I called my Uncle Sal while we were in Longchamps, he’s an air raid warden on King’s Highway, he’s going to come and walk me home."

They stood under the corner street light. Angie opened her purse and took out a package of Lucky Strikes and lit one, then offered the pack to Dina, who shook her head. Dina was very conscientious about her body’s health, especially her wind, which meant no smoking. She was also the group’s best dancer.

"No," Dina said, "why would I want to see anybody’s ID? I could have done without the Lindy, too, I could have really hurt myself when he dropped me."

"Oh, Dina, don’t be like that," Georgina said. "He said his hands slipped. Besides, he’s a good dancer, and with a good build, too. Even if he is short."

"Oh for God’s sake," Dina said, "stop saying that."

Angie laughed. "Well he is short. Like Mickey Rooney."

"He doesn’t look like Mickey Rooney," Georgina protested, "he’s better looking than that. He looks like Alan Ladd. Did you see Alan Ladd in that movie, This Gun For Hire? He played this really groovy guy, Raven, who was a killer, but you felt sorry for him. I cried my heart out when he died."

Frankie said, "Is Alan Ladd really short? He doesn’t look it in the movies."

"Oh come on, Frankie, don’t you read the papers? They make him stand on a box."

"Hey, lay off, Dina likes the shrimp." Angie put her arm around Dina’s shoulder and leaned on her. "Geez, are you as tired as I am? My feet hurt."

"Feet always hurt when you wear heels," Frankie told them. "When you take advanced ballet with Silberman he won’t let you wear high heels because they destroy the metatarsal. That’s what he says."

"When you dance you sweat a lot." Like Dina, Georgina Theodropolis was very serious about the theater. She had auditioned for the Martha Graham School of Modern Dance. "Look at it this way, drinking a lot of Coca-Cola helps replace all that water."

They all groaned. Dina said, "God, really, Georgie, I don’t sweat that much, you make us sound like sluts!"

"Are we going to sign up?" Angie wanted to know. "We gotta make up our minds. It’s a long subway ride from Manhattan, and like now it’s two o’clock in the morning — "

"Hey, we stopped for a drink, remember? You’re the one who wanted to go to Longchamps afterward for a drink and something to eat."

" - and I’ve got five blocks to walk yet. My family really isn’t going to be too crazy about it. The supervisor of volunteers said they like you to come to the canteen at least two nights a week. They put you on a schedule and tell you when, I don’t think you get to choose which nights."

Frankie, too, was having her doubts. "If we all went together it probably wouldn’t be too bad. Anyway, it’s also for the contacts, isn’t it? Like meeting producers?" A car drove by and honked its horn. She quickly turned, putting her back to the street. "Don’t look at them, it’s my brother Tommy’s friends. Even if they want to give me a ride home I wouldn’t get in the car with them this time of night."

Angie said, "I didn’t see any producers."

"We saw Katherine Hepburn, didn’t we?"

"OK," Dina’s cousin allowed, "so we got to look at her. Besides, she left right away. I didn’t see anybody else famous, everybody at the Stage Door Canteen was just like us. Nobodies."

There was a chorus of protests. "Speak for yourself, Angie Casabono," Georgina cried. "I’m not a nobody, what do you think I’ve been studying voice and dance for four years for?"

"I know what my father is going to say," Angie flung back. "That you don’t have to ride an hour each way on the subway to drink Cokes and dance with sailors. That if you want to do something for the boys in the service go over to the church and roll bandages with the Red Cross."

"Ugh." Dina shuddered. "Don’t say that."

"My mother rolls bandages at St. Anne’s," Georgina declared. "On Thursday nights."

"Yes, but I mean, what would we really be doing?" Angie insisted. "So we go to the Stage Door Canteen twice a week, we take the subway after work, we stay maybe four or five hours — "

"If you come for the early shift you stay longer than that," Georgina put in.

" — and we dance with all these guys and talk to them and don’t drink the free Coca-Colas because they’re only for the people in the service. Do you really think soldiers and sailors want to do that? I mean, what’s the point? They’re sitting around talking and putting their arms around you when you’re out on the dance floor, but isn’t that really kind of a tease? If I was a guy and I was about to be shipped overseas, wouldn’t I want something more?"

"They’re lonesome," Dina put in quickly, remembering the Stage Door Canteen booklet. "They just want somebody to talk to. And dance with."

"It’s so serious, isn’t it?" Frankie said quietly. "I mean, basically, they might get killed. Listen, I was just thinking, if you met somebody and really, really liked him and you knew he was going to get shipped to the worst part of the war where it was practically guaranteed that he was going to get killed, would you want to give him something that would really make it worthwhile? Like go all the way?"

They stared at her.

"Frankie, are you crazy?" Dina said. "We’re not even supposed to date them!"

"I’m a virgin," Georgina blurted. She looked around, visibly upset. "I’m a good Catholic girl, I couldn’t do that, I really couldn’t! I mean, not just like that."

"Oh, calm down, Georgie." Dina put her arm around her. "You’re gonna be a virgin until the day you’re married. We all know that."

Frankie looked defensive. "I didn’t mean the canteen, doing anything with the guys at the canteen, it just crossed my mind. About what Ange said."

"Hey, don’t blame it on me." Angie backed away, waving her hands. "I never said you should start sleeping with soldiers just because you felt sorry for them. Don’t tell anybody in the neighborhood I said that, will you?"

"Oh God," Frankie said, stepping off the curb, "here comes my Uncle Sal, I’ve got to go. Listen, let me know what you want to do about everything."

They watched her cross the dark street under the elevated. Angie said "I made up my mind. It’s okay to be a hostess if you live in Manhattan and don’t have to take the subway and are an actress or a debutante or something. But right now I work part time and have classes during the day and I don’t even have time for voice practice. So I’m out."

"Angie you’re so tough. But I guess you’re right," Georgina sighed, "it’s just too much."

"I’m going," Dina announced. They all turned to stare at her. "I’m going to volunteer for a Stage Door Canteen hostess."

Her cousin Angie reached out and snapped her fingers in front of Dina’s nose as though trying to wake her. "Hey, come down out of the clouds, Bernardine Mary Flaherty. If you think people like Katherine Hepburn and Mary Martin are going to notice you, they’re not. Believe me."

"Oh, it’s not that. Honest." Her face was a little pink, but she lifted her chin. "I really think what Frankie said is mostly true. That the boys in uniform are really going to have to die for us if they have to. That’s a big thing, you know, to lay down your life for your country. So I guess I don’t mind the hours, the long ride into Manhattan, because when you come right down to it, for me anyway, it’s you know, what everybody says. A patriotic duty."

When they were silent she added softly, "It’s okay, I can go by myself."

The moon had come up.

Jenny had read until nearly two o’clock and then turned out the lights, but the moonrise was immediately visible. The bedroom was filled with its glow.

She got out of bed and went down the hallway and through the tiny fin de siecle foyer with its improbable full-sized marble mantel and fireplace, to the living room and the windows that overlooked Riverside Park and the West Side Highway. She was freezing in just her nightgown, but heat conservation was a priority and the ancient steam radiators wouldn’t begin chattering until seven a.m.. She opened the blackout drapes for the view that always delighted, the bright, metallic shine of the river and the moonlit cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey.

One of the apartment’s glories, besides its location in a Stanford White-designed building and its high-ceilinged rooms and two working fireplaces, was that it overlooked, spectacularly, the Hudson River. They had signed the lease for it in October of 1940 when Brad had moved up to executive editor and before the Army had claimed him. Now, she was periodically reminded by something called the New York City War Housing Board, seven spacious rooms and two baths, rent-controlled and heat-rationed and with a leaky tub in one bathroom was, in overcrowded wartime New York, something so desirable it was virtually priceless. And that it would be grossly unpatriotic not to list it for additional occupancy. That is, the forms to be filled out in triplicate explained, rent out one of the apartment’s unused bedrooms to someone in a war occupation listed as "essential."

She knew that eventually she would have to comply with the war housing board’s request, but for the time being she enjoyed having the apartment to herself.

She pressed her forehead against the cold window glass. The radio was playing in the bedroom, a Rodgers and Hart tune, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. She suddenly thought of Brad asleep in his hotel room in Washington that he shared with another air force command staffer, after a day spent in what he referred to as the frustrating, serpentine coils of the War Department. The first months they were separated the telephone bills had been enormous, the hunger for each other and the resentment at the war for keeping them apart still fresh. Now , since they had learned that everyone, eventually, gets used to the unbearable, telephone calls were mostly confined to weekends and letters made do on the other days of the week. But that didn’t mean she didn’t miss him. They had only been married four and a half years and now that he was in Washington she was lonesome, longing to talk to him, to touch him — sex was, somewhat to her surprise, as painfully, needfully lacking as loving companionship. And she had thought until this separation that loving companionship was the glue that so nicely held together their marriage. Now on dark nights alone in the apartment there were wild fantasies of Brad’s naked body beside her, there in the bed, that sometimes startled her. Lusting after one’s own husband? The war was capable of anything, she was finding. Good, solid Brad, fine husband and friend and the intelligent, witty, talented former managing editor of one of the nation’s most respected finance magazines. Who was now Lt. Colonel Haller, attached to General Arnold’s administrative staff in the building that was beginning to be called the Pentagon because of its unsual shape, undeniably dashing, handsome, even somewhat gorgeous in his United States Army Air Force pinks. The last leave he’d had in New York the women in the Palm Court in the Plaza had virtually fallen out of their seats looking at him when they’d gone there for drinks. God knows. Jenny told herself, what women were doing in Washington. He said he never went alone to bars. She wanted to believe him.

Below, on the West Side Highway, the moving pinpoint lights were cars with shrouded headlights. Beyond that, on the surface of the silver river, was the ship traffic that on black moonless nights would be almost invisible: freighters now called Liberty ships, long-waisted tankers, tugs with barges, an occasional racing motor boat, the harbor police or the military, plowing a white, moon-touched wake.

I didn’t know what time it was, until I met you.

In the dark the radio’s faint melody was nostalgic, seductively dreamy. Whatever one thought of him, Richard Rodgers had written some achingly beautiful music.

Many people in the theater regarded the composer as a sarcastic, intimidating son of a bitch, a man that few people really knew, or liked. Watching him at the piano while he worked with the big, bearlike Oscar Hammerstein, Jenny really couldn’t say; she had only the nagging thought that perhaps he didn’t seem to be satisfied with her in the part that he’d chosen her for. At first she’d been perfect. Now that the music and the actual words of the book were changing, she wasn’t sure.

Down on the moon-bright river a ship gave a low, groaning warning and was answered by another. With their dimmed running lights, she often wondered if they ever ran into each other.

For Jenny, standing in the dark listening to Richard Rodger’s music, the night was filled with a sense of New York moving in the near-blackness, unsettled, responding to the great war with its arteries of the rivers and the subway reaching out into the distant boroughs, the railroad trains coming in from the rest of the country, the airports, the military bases, the apartment houses and factories and sweatshops all moving and running and humming in the night, exerting a great effort because it had to be done. Because no one knew what would be the end of it. This was a war that spread all over the world, more terrible than one could imagine. So terrible that day by day most people tried not to think about it. They just knew there had to be victory in the end.

There had to be.

She put her hands over her eyes and rubbed them. It was silly to stay up late reading when she had an early call in the morning. If they would just make up their minds what they wanted, she told herself, shivering and rubbing her bare arms. She was sure she could do it. Whatever it was.

She closed the felt blackout drapes and started back to the bedroom to turn off the radio and then to sleep.

The four khaki-clad figures came out of the Waldorf-Astoria’s elevator and onto the fifteenth floor with a great show of trying to be quiet, except for the smallest figure, who struggled and flopped down to the floor and then was dragged back up again at virtually every step, while he yelled hoarsely that they fucking well better let him go, or he would kill all you frigging sons of bitches personally.

"Eugene, you little shit," Sgt. Tom Weathersley, who as the biggest was doing most of the dragging, told him, "just stop your goddamn hollering, will you? The Waldorf told us one more time like this and they were going to throw us OUT."

The crew’s navigator tried to grab Sgt. Struhbeck’s shoulder to shake him, emphasizing his message, but the smaller man swung at him, broke his grip, and managed to reel away. On the other side Sgt. Walter Pettit, the crew’s tail gunner, hung onto Eugene Struhbeck’s left arm as he careened into the wall, hitting his forehead with a distinct thump, then bounded back into the navigator’s arms.

"I knew we should have put in a request for rooms closer to the elevator," Wally Petitt panted. "As long as we’ve got Eugene with us there’s got to be some way of getting in and out without waking up the whole damned floor."

LeTourneau, the bombardier who was bring up the rear, added, "Yeah, that information services captain is pissed off with us as it is."

"Buddy, you shut your damned mouth." The big navigator reached down and pulled Struhbeck back up from his knees. "We wouldn’t be doing this if you’d picked up Eugene in that canteen he goes to instead of letting him get into the bars. I’m going to bust your ass when we get through, you know that, don’t you?"

"Shit, now he’s bleeeding," the tail gunner said. "He must’ve have banged his nose when he hit the wall." Sgt. Struhbeck had seized the front of Weathersley’s military jacket in both hands and was hanging on to him. "Jesus, Tom, it’s messing up the hotel’s rug. Look down there!"

"You gotta tell them," Sgt. Struhbeck was yelling, "you gotta tell them about those Jap ships. The ones they gave us all the medals for."

"Don’t worry about the blood," Weathersley said, taking the opportunity, while the other hung onto him, to drag the turret belly gunner a few steps. "You’n Buddy can come back with some towels from the bathroom and wipe it up."

"Weathersley," Sgt. Struhbeck was screaming, "you hear me? Tell them about the Jap ships. They weren’t destroyers or battleships, they were frigging supply boats! That’s what they gave us the medals for — frigging TRAWLERS!"

"Christ," the bombardier complained, "he’s onto that again. Are we going to have to listen to that all night?"

"You shut up, too, LeTourneau," the tail gunner told him, "you ain’t doing nothing back there. Either give us a hand before people start coming out into the hall to see what the hell’s going on, or shut your goddamned mouth."

"We’re no frigging heroes," Sgt. Struhbeck sobbed, sinking to his knees as Weathersley got out the room key and opened the door to their suite. "Y’hear that? I’m no frigging hero — it was all trawlers and a frigging minesweeper we sank, wasn’t it?"

No one answered. The navigator and the tail gunner dragged Eugene Struhbeck up by his arms and slung him between them and carried him to the bed and laid him, as carefully as possible, upon it. Blood streamed from his nose. His eyes closed, Sgt. Struhbeck shouted drunkenly about medals and ships and no frigging war heroes.

Sgt. Weathersley bent over him. "Eugene," he said, as he had many times before, "can you shut up and just listen? You are a war hero, Eugene, because you saved our lives. A war hero, you got that? The next time you get stinking drunk, the Waldorf-Astoria told us, they don’t care about Captain MacElsmore and the war bond tour or anybody in Washington, they’re going to throw us out." The tail gunner had fetched a wash cloth from the bathroom. He handed it to the navigator, who used it to wipe some of the blood from Sgt. Struhbeck's ’ nose and mouth.

They stepped back. But he had gone to sleep.

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