14 of 20 Something

Charlie set out for the college to bring Rose home on Friday afternoon. He was in a quandary as to whether he should share with Rose what he’d learned about the clandestine radio signals. National security might be at stake. He didn’t know. Still, she was the one who brought him the initial alert, the question of its legality. Without her keen perception of what amateur radio should be the station might still be undetected. He’d been on the fence for a week, but by the time he reached the college campus and found a parking space he had decided she should be in the loop. The previous storm had left an abundance of snow. Though the crews had labored tirelessly clearing it there were still windrows of dirty, gritty snow and ice occupying half the parking spaces. He wasn’t sure which one of the three exits she would use, the main entry midway along the side, or the two steel stairways at the end that served as entryways as well as fire escapes. Then he spotted her descending the steps at the west end of her dormitory and went on foot to meet her. She took his breath away. In spite of her multi-layered clothing and bulky overcoat he could still sense the gentle sway of her hips. “I have something to tell you,” he said after she was in the car and had pulled the door shut. “What?” she asked, her face falling. “It’s not bad news,” he assured her, watching the worry lines diminish. Then, without waited for a response he reiterated the signals she had reported and then briefed her on what had occurred since she’d first questioned the legality of the station – the radio compass system he’d fabricated and his heading south after dropping her off the previous Sunday. Her eyes grew larger as he described his experience inside the barn where the clandestine station was hidden. “You could have been shot, even killed,” she blurted as he told her about the radio operator entering the barn with a gun “Well, I stayed pretty quiet,” he assured her “I heard another station respond to his transmission. It was on a different frequency. I would never have known that had I not located the barn.” “So what’s the plan, or should I be asking, I mean this is hush hush stuff, is it not?” “Indeed. Major Holmes, my commanding officer at Iceland, is experienced at locating radio stations. Before being assigned to Iceland, he worked behind enemy lines in France and Italy operating a portable listening post. After writing him a letter, sharing with him what I knew, he insisted we should discuss it in-depth and in person. So I’m inviting you to accompany me to the meeting with the major. “I’d love to go. When is it?” “A week from this coming Saturday morning at 10 o’clock. Please remember that you must tell no one about this. Not a soul. Not Mom. Not Dad, No one. Agreed?” “Yes, absolutely. My lips are sealed.” “It’s important.” “I know,” she said, reassuring him that mum was the word. Charlie had dinner that evening with Rose and her parents, and upon returning home he found the phone ringing. “Hello?” “Charlie?” “Yes?” “This is the Holmes. I’ve switched my schedule and cleared tomorrow for our eyeball. Same time. Same place. Can you make it?” “Absolutely. I’ll be there, sir. I didn’t recognize your voice over the phone.” “Nor I yours.” Charlie called Rose. “Rose, can you go to an early lunch with me tomorrow. There are some people there I’d like you to meet.” He wasn’t sure she picked up the jest of his question. Bertha, the telephone operator, would be listening and her tongue was loose on both ends. Gossip was her middle name. If she suspected anything was afoot she would broadcast it to the world. “Let me see if Dad has any plans.” Charlie heard voices and moments later she returned to the phone and said it was okay. She was free to go along. After a hearty, farm breakfast the two of them set out for Kansas City. Upon reaching the city they turned and headed east on US 50. About twelve miles out Charlie recognized the truck stop and diner in question. The time was shy five minutes of 10 o’clock straight up as they swung into the parking lot and pushed through the heavy glass door. The place was alive with drivers and tourists alike. Overhead, a cloud of bluish cigarette smoke hung like a soiled magic carpet. The floor was littered and the place reeked like an old cigar butt. Across the dining area Major Holmes occupied a corner booth that sat apart from the others. Holmes had not changed. Even though he was now retired, leaving the Army Signal Corp in his wake, he maintained his military appearance, sharply creased trousers, shines shoes, clean-shaven, every hair on his head in place. Charlie was betting he visited his barber every nine days. Taking Rose by the hand they threaded their way through the tables. “Charlie, you haven’t changed a bit. I’ll take that back. You seem more content. I’ll credit that to the company you keep. Who is this beautiful lady?” Holmes asked, rising from his bench and displaying a warmth Charlie had not seen before.” “Major, may I present my best friend, Rose. Rose this is Major Holmes, my old CO.” “He speaks of you often,” said Rose. “Good words, I hope,”he said, smiling. Then his smile faded, “Charlie, need I remind you the subject matter we about to discuss is sensitive. It should be classified as a need-to-know.” “Not to worry, sir. Rose is the individual who first brought this transmission to my attention. She understands the gravity of the situation.” “Okay. I’ll take your word on that,” he said after a slight hesitation, and then with the flick of his hand he indicated they should be seated. After the waiter had taken their orders Charlie began a lengthy explanation of everything he knew about the clandestine station. The major extracted a small notebook from a shirt pocket and began scribbling notes – frequencies, times of transmissions, duration, location, and code speed. “And you tracked down the station using a homebrew receiver and a modified loop antenna?” “Yes sir. I copied what I could recall from a radio compass system I’d seen on a C-54.” “Remarkable. Excellent work, young man. However, the station we have yet to locate could be hundreds of miles from your QTH, or from the college campus. Any error, in your system will increase with distance.” “I’m aware of that, sir, but I don’t know how to improve on what I already have,” said Charlie. “Did you bring a schematic of your receiver?” “Yes sir,” replied Charlie, pulling a hand-drawn schematic from his jacket pocket, unfolding it and spreading it out on the table. “Hmmm. Let me take your system home to my shop and experiment with it. I may be able to make some modifications that will improve the sensitivity. Let’s take a look at the antenna.” Major Holmes paid for their meals and then the three of them filed out into the parking lot. Charlie and Rose stood back while the major tuned in a few stations and then rotated the antenna for the best reception. “I can make some improves here as well,” he said while making a few sketches in his note pad. “I’ll call you in three or four days. After helping him load the equipment into the major’s car, they bid him farewell and then watched him head east on highway US 50. After he was out of sight they headed for home.