"We nearly there?” Maggie called from the back of the Clubmobile.
“How the hell should I know?” Lilian called from the driver’s seat.
“You read the map!”
“You know how useless Lil is with a map,” Johnnie cut in, sliding into the passenger seat.
“That’s why I’m the driver!”
Johnnie smirked and opened the map on her lap. “Okay, head for the copse of trees ahead.”
Lil scanned the field. “There is no copse of trees.”
“I – what?” Johnnie’s eyes shot up, and Lil glanced down at the map.
“Watch out!!” Maggie cried, and Lil’s foot slammed on the breaks and the Clubmobile skidded to a halt – feet from a stocky soldier, two other soldiers leapt back, out of the way.
A fist pounded on the hood of the bus – “What da hell?! I’m walkin’ ‘ere!”
Lil threw the gear shift into park and scrabbled for the front door, finally throwing it open.
“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where –”
“No shit!” The stocky soldier tore his cap off his head and when he glared at Lil, he gave a start. In his anger, Bill hadn’t realized that the driver of the bus was a broad!
“Are you okay?” Lil asked, taking a tentative step towards the soldier.
“I – uh, I’m fine, ma’am.” He smoothed a hand over his hair, and the two other soldiers stepped into the road.
“Nice driving,” one quipped, while the other grinned around his cigarette.
“She’s still on probation,” Johnnie tsked, coming to stand beside Lil.
“You American?” the dark-haired soldier asked, huskily.
“Last I checked,” Maggie quipped, jumping to the ground.
“They’re with the Red Cross, Joe.” The shorter soldier retorted, he glanced at the blond-haired Lieutenant, “you know anything about this, Buck?”
“Not sure,” he replied, “you gals just roll in?”
“No,” Lil replied, “we arrived in London on Saturday.”
“Yes!” Maggie stepped forward, “that one’s an idiot with a map.”
Lil just rolled her eyes as Buck held out his hand.
“Let me take a look.”
Maggie took hold of his arm, “Why don’t you take us there?”
Johnny cut in, “Maggie I’m sure these men have better things to do than –”
“It’s no trouble,” Bill replied with a shrug.
“Who asked you?” Maggie bumped his shoulder, sending him a wink. She gestured towards Joe, “you too, handsome, come on!”
Lil paused, waiting for the men to climb in, but Joe gestured to the door.
“Christ, Joe. Look at you being a gentleman.”
“That’s the difference between you and me Gonorrhea,” Joe retorted, and Lil tripped over the top step at the word. Bill caught her arms before she fell.
“Don’t mind those two,” Buck quipped from the passenger seat, “they don’t get out much.”
Johnnie pursed her lips, trying not to laugh as Lil’s cheeks reddened.
Once all six of them were on board, Joe looked around, spotting the stove, carafes and the Victrola belted to the back door.
“What kind of joint are you running here?”
“It’s a Clubmobile, blockhead,” Bill shuffled behind the passenger seat and rolled his eyes.
Maggie turned the key in the ignition, and the engine roared to life. She threw the bus into drive, before glancing at Bill.
“You’re not too far off, just hang a left up there.”
Maggie punched the gas, and everyone lurched forward. She smiled as she scanned the road in front of her. “We’re sure lucky that we ran into you boys. With this one behind the wheel, we’d have been driving around Aldbourne all night.”
Buck laughed, “it’s a small-town Maggie. You would have found it eventually.”
“Don’t give Lil that much credit,” Maggie quipped, before taking a sharp left around the corner. Lil stumbled into Joe and Johnnie tripped over Bill’s foot – landing in Buck’s lap.
“Jesus Christ!” Bill cried as Maggie righted the wheel.
“Oh hush,” Maggie laughed, speeding down the dirt road.
“Here!” Buck cried, bracing his hands against the dashboard. “Break here!”
Maggie slammed on the breaks and threw the bus into park. When she glanced over her shoulder, she saw four disgruntled faces glaring back – Buck was trying not to laugh as he helped Johnnie to her feet.
Maggie had the decency to look chagrined. “Sorry. There’s a reason Lil usually drives.”
“No kiddin’,” Bill deadpanned. “I’m pretty sure I blacked out on that turn back there.”
“Funny,” Maggie shot back, pushing herself to her feet. She clapped a hand on Bill’s shoulder. “Here, help me open the back.”
Bill didn’t have a chance to reply before Maggie shoved him towards the front door, and then outside.
“Open the door,” she ordered, grabbing the handle on the other side. Together they secured the doors, before lifting the ramp that created the lounge area out back. The ramp landed with a thud on the grass and Maggie showed Bill how to unfold the benches before pointing back to the Clubmobile.
“Hey Joe! There should be a folding table tucked behind the passenger seat.” She called as she hefted the Victrola into her arms.
“This is some set up,” Bill murmured, as Joe handed him the table. He set it between the benches as Joe poked his head out of the back door again.
“Do you need these?” He asked holding a few wooden milk crates.
“Aren’t you a peach,” Maggie purred, taking them from his hands. “Yo!” She called to Bill before tossing him one.
“Yo?” Bill demanded, dropping the crate beside one of the benches.
Maggie sidled up beside him, “thank you Gonorrhea.” Breaking into a peal of laughter at the look on his face.
“Oh yeah, hilarious.”
“I dunno, I thought it was funny.”
“Well nobody asked you!”
Buck, Lil and Johnnie watched the entire exchange from the front of the bus.
“She sure is something,” Buck chuckled, lighting a cigarette.
“She’s a force of nature,” Johnnie said fondly.
“Yes, it’s better to just get out of her way,” Lil laughed, shaking her head when Buck offered her a smoke.
Johnnie took him up on the offer, and he leaned over to light her cigarette.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Johnnie winked, “in more ways than one.”
Before long the lounge area was set up – records beside the Victrola, tablecloth on the table, and there were even magazines and some books on a makeshift bookshelf.
As Buck made his way out the backdoor, Lil began to fill a metal coffee carafe and soon the water was set to boil.
“So, how long are you gals gonna be here for?”
Johnnie shrugs, “that depends. If we’re needed elsewhere in England, or if we wait to ship off to France.”
“France?” Joe blurted, letting out a breath of smoke. “Shit.”
“Well we’re not storming Normandy, but we’ll get there eventually.”
“On a goddamned landing ship?” Bill wondered incredulously.
“No, Bill,” Maggie shook her head, “we’ll be dropping in by parachute.”
Lil snorted, as she flipped through the records and Johnnie shot her a look.
“They’re paratroopers, Maggie.” Lil laughed.
Buck shot her a surprised look, and she just tapped a patch on his shoulder.
“It’s kind of hard to miss the screaming eagle.”
“How did you hear about the paratroopers, ma’am?” Joe wondered, and Lil rolled her eyes.
“My younger brother wouldn’t shut up about them. He broke his arm playing paratrooper – jumped right out of the tree house.” Lil chuckled at the memory. “My mother was furious – the word has been banned from the Walker home – indefinitely.”
The small lounge area was filled with laughter as Lil finally found the record she was looking for. She pulled it from its cover and set it on the Victrola – and was relieved to hear the Victrola crackle to life.
The opening chords of Kay Kaiser’s He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings drifted from the speaker and Buck shot Lil a smirk and she winked in reply.
Buck and Lil watched as Maggie waltzed over to Johnnie, “oh, for he’s the one that taught this happy heart to fly,” she swept the blonde into her arms spinning her around the ramp.
Joe had to step out of their way as Maggie spun Johnnie into a turn and the two continued to sing, before collapsing onto one of the benches.
“My God,” Bill winced, “that was terrible.”
“Well William, there’s a reason I didn’t join the USO,” Maggie quipped, wiping her eyes.
As the song faded out, Lil checked her watch. “Coffee should be about ready.”
“You boys fancy a cup?”
“As tempting as that sounds, we need to head back to the base for chow.”
“Well, you know where to find us.”
“Bring your friends!” Maggie called, as the three soldiers waved goodbye before disappearing behind the bus.
Johnnie looked at Maggie and just shook her head.
“Oh as if you don’t know.”
“I was being friendly!”
“Hey, I’m not the one who was sitting in a fellas lap!”
“That wasn’t my fault!”
“It doesn’t matter anyway – if Matron Smith ever caught wind of me stepping out with an enlisted man, she’d march to England to chew me out.”
Their Matron – Hetty Smith was a no-nonsense woman, who held “her girls” in high regard and to high standards. She had been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 1916 and had been one of the few who traveled over to Europe during world war one.
Matron Smith had constantly reminded her girls that had officer status and that they were to act accordingly which meant there was to be no fraternization with enlisted men.
Maggie sighed and pushed herself to her feet, “anyone want a cup before the onslaught?”
Lil nodded and followed Maggie inside the Clubmobile, once they were inside Lil nudged her friend.
Maggie glanced over her shoulder, “what?”
“What’s got you in a mood? Or maybe I should ask, who?”
Maggie pushed a cup of coffee into Lil’s hands.
Lil made an irritated sound at the back of her throat.
“Who said anything about stepping out?” Johnnie called from the backdoor and Lil choked on her drink.
“Where would we do it? On the top bunk?”
This time, coffee spewed from Lil’s mouth, and Maggie shrieked - jumping to avoid the spray.
“Honestly, you two.” Lil grumbled, wiping her chin.
“I’m only joking,” Maggie assured her, “I’d do it on the bottom.”
Loud sounds of shouted laughter filled the Clubhouse, and Maggie fled to the backdoor, Lil hot on her heels.