I met James Dennis at a nearby café and, after coffee and doughnuts; we walked two blocks to the train station and waited for the train to arrive.
I should take a moment to describe Mr. James Dennis to the reader. He was a tall, well-favored young man, dressed to the nines in tight-fitting dark brown slacks which were pegged at the cuffs in the current fashion favored by the under twenty-five set. He topped them off with an expensive camel's-haired sport jacket. He could easily have passed for a male model in a cigarette ad found in popular magazines or billboards along the highway.
While not a homely man myself, I wore a casual pair of corduroy slacks, along with a tweed sports jacket that had seen better days.
Dennis had purchased first class tickets which caught me off-guard. I hadn't thought of him as a big spender, but here he was picking up the tab, not only for the train ride to New York City, but for World Series tickets, which as one might expect, are very difficult to come by any year. But this year with an inter-city rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers obtaining tickets was almost impossible. Yet he was non-plussed about the whole thing, even though he had yet to come into possession of the ducats.
"I have some influential pals," he said and left it at that.
Moments later we boarded the train and were led into the first class compartment, where we found that we were the only passengers.
Dennis queried the conductor and learned that we would be the only ones in the car until Trenton, and even then there was the possibility we would remain the only ones in the car. This was unheard of in my traveling experiences, but then most of that had been just prior and after the war when traveling by car was difficult since gasoline was rationed.
Just about a minute before the train pulled out, I saw two women scurrying along the platform, trying to board the train. I presumed they were mother and daughter because of the disparity in their respective ages. The younger woman was striking in her beauty and I couldn't keep my eyes off her.
To my surprise, only the younger one boarded the train; this I knew for a fact, for the train began to move and the older woman ran a few steps after the train waving to the younger woman. When I turned to mention it to Dennis, I found that he'd not only seen them, but had left the compartment to seek out the woman.
I was astonished when Dennis opened the door to our compartment with the young woman in tow, prattling on about how we would welcome her company and it was not at all unbecoming for her to join us.
Ushering her into the seat facing us, he presented me to her first and then introduced himself. "James Dennis, at your service, Madam, you may recognize my voice as I am heard on the radio twice weekly announcing the Pall Mall Hour on WQAN out of Scranton."
"Well ... yes, I believe I have heard you, Mr. Dennis, and I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance Mr. Shannon. Oh, but let me introduce myself. I'm Beatrice Stringfellow. Um, that's Miss Stringfellow," she said, and then appeared stricken with shyness as she sat back in her seat and stared at the floor.
"You may want some reassurance that we've not kidnapped you by whisking you out of the common compartment to join us in first class, but I want to assure you, Miss Stringfellow that we have only the purest of motives in doing so."
I chimed in with, "They may appear to be selfish motives, Miss Stringfellow, but I do believe that while Mr. Dennis has acted on impulse, his intentions are honorable."
"Of course my motives are selfish, Miss Stringfellow. I couldn't bear to share your company ... your beauty with the common ilk that sits in the passenger car beyond that door."
Dennis continued along this avenue, with lie following lie and if I were asked to support just one word of his I couldn't venture to say how I would answer as I considered it all drivel. I had to ask myself if he had been plying me with more of the same in talking me into joining him on the foray into the city.
It seemed evident that Miss Stringfellow saw through his charade too, for after a while she said: "I ... I ... really should go back to the general seating. The conductor..."
"The conductor will say nothing to you, Madam," Dennis said smoothly. "It's all taken care of. Consider yourself our guest. Why you're far too pretty to be sitting amongst the rabble."
"Oh they're not rabble, Mr. Dennis, not at all."
"I know, I know," Dennis replied, his oily tongue gliding over her protests with an ease that amazed me. "But we certainly welcome your company, and find the cost of a first class ticket a bargain if it allows us to enjoy your presence for the trip to New York City. You are headed to the city, are you not?"
"Um, yes I am, Mr. Dennis."
"Wonderful! We shall lunch together, then.
And as fate would have it, the conductor made an appearance, Dennis made a show of paying for Miss Stringfellow's first class ticket and gave the man another bill or two to secure lunch for the three of us.
Twenty minutes later we were eating Cobb Salad and drinking a very good white wine. Miss Stringfellow no longer made any protest about moving back among the rabble, as Dennis succinctly phased it, and appeared eager to share her life story with us.
It seemed she was going to visit her sister, who resided in the Bronx. Her sister's name was Lizbeth, and her husband was stationed in Germany and this opened a new stream of conversation dominated by Dennis.
For the record, having defeated Hitler, we occupied Germany, sort of. Actually, the victorious Allies split Germany into four parts: The British got the West, the French got the highly industrialized Ruhr Valley, The Russians got the East and the US got the South, principally Bavaria. Goals for the occupation were varied: those who had been conquered by the Nazis wanted an impotent agrarian Germany; the United States wanted a neutral self-governing democratic version of the dynamic industrialized Germany before the Nazis. Each of the occupying powers was territorial and for the time being each of the four sectors or "zones" was almost a separate country. The only "universal" in the Germany of 1947 was that the American cigarette was accepted everywhere in lieu of currency.
American goals were to de-Nazify and rebuild the country, which we certainly were striving to do, despite the resistance by the Russians every step of the way.
Miss Stringfellow's brother-in-law was a sergeant in the United States Army and had written his wife about the obstructionist policies adopted by the Russians in the Eastern Zone.
Dennis offered his opinion on the matter, and I had to wonder how he had become so well informed. "We'll be at war with the Ruskies before long," he said, startling Miss Stringfellow and myself.
Being a journalist, and having kept abreast of the world situation, I was quick to challenge him. "My God, Dennis, how could you say such a thing? You've caused Miss Stringfellow unnecessary alarm with this preposterous statement."
A bemused expression crossed Dennis' face, but he was quick in his reply, "Unnecessary alarm? I doubt that. We have every reason to mistrust the Reds. We shouldn't underestimate them either. Their goal is fairly obvious. At least it should be to our military men, and of course Harry Truman's seen Stalin's mind work up close."
Miss Stringfellow was nervously nibbling on a corner of her dainty hanky as I objected again. "Where are you getting this ... this drivel, Dennis? I haven't seen anything in the press, or heard Winchell utter a word about it."
"What I'm getting at is the obvious differences we already face with the Ruskies: Currency, German Unification, Soviet War reparations, and mere ideology are among the many differences the two sides have. Of course I'm lumping France and Great Britain in with us. The Russians won't compromise on anything. That, my friend, has been reported in the press and on Winchell's show. They really want us all out of Berlin. They see it as the key to taking control of all of Germany."
His reply left both Miss Stringfellow and me speechless. Seemingly satisfied with himself, Dennis settled back in his seat and lit up a cigarette.
Miss Stringfellow appeared flushed and began to squirm in her chair. Dennis noticed it immediately and said, "But now, you must be exhausted, let me show you where the powder room is. You can freshen up there, my Dear."
"Oh, there's no need, Mr. Dennis," Miss Stringfellow murmured as she peeked out shyly through her lashes at both of us.
"But I insist. Even though the powder room is at the end of the compartment any number of things might befall you if I didn't provide you with assistance."
Miss Stringfellow blushed under his effusive words of gallantry and stood up awaiting his "assistance" in walking the aisle to the powder room some thirty-five feet from where we were sitting.
Dennis shot me a grin that told me many things. Foremost was his mentioning that we might get laid in New York. I suddenly recalled Miss Stringfellow's deliciously innocent eyes, luscious lips, and pure complexion. And as I watched her lithe body traverse the short distance to the powder room on Dennis' arm definite scenarios ran through my mind. But the moment Dennis disappeared in the powder room on her heels; I was up and moving to the powder room myself with a secret smile on my face.
When I opened the door to the powder room, Miss Stringfellow was standing and Dennis was already seated and patting the seat next to him. He saw me enter, but did not acknowledge me.
.... There is more of this story ...