The Telegram - Cover

The Telegram

by TonySpencer

Copyright© 2020 by TonySpencer

Drama Story: A half-drowned stranger suffering from exposure and speaking a foreign tongue is brought to shore in an isolated fishing city at the height of the Cold War and mistaken for a Russian spy. Meanwhile, his girl mourns for him.

Tags: Fiction   Historical   Tear Jerker  

Beth Wojciechowicz MD opened the telegram on July 1st and smiled. It was expected confirmation, accepted as part of the USA Olympic Team, departing to Munich in five weeks’, on August 18th 1972.

She had three roles, a doctor on the medical team, a running reserve for the 100 and 200 meters, and squad member of the 4x100 meters relay. At 27, she was at her peak of fitness but still regarded herself as a purely amateur athlete. Most of the top athletes were totally professional. Although she had won a sports scholarship at college, she’d had to self-finance her way through med school and, as a consequence, her athletics training and participation in competitions had taken a back seat. Mostly, she was delighted to be involved in her first Olympics as a doctor, even though her aunt would have to take up much of the slack in the community hospital during her absence.

This was also going to be a first return to the continent of her birthplace for her, too, since she was about three years old. Although she had most of the features of a pale-skinned black woman, this was 25 years before the term African American became the acceptable term for her racial description, she had been born in England to mixed-race parents, neither of them natives of those islands.

Her surname indicated that her father was of Polish origin, her mother an African American physician, both brought to England by separate routes, playing their parts in defending freedom. Each contributed in their own way, the soldier and the doctor, one to fight and defend, the other to keep alive and heal.

Beth was tall and willowy, like both her parents, soft brown-eyed with mid-brown rather frizzy hair, worn big in the style of the day, which she would tie back neatly behind her head when running. It was so close to the upcoming Fourth of July that most people were busy making preparations for the celebrations. That reminded her of another telegram, an older one, now twenty years old. Beth didn’t need to see it or read it again, she knew every single word of that terse but positive message by heart. Beth knew exactly where she kept it, in her bedside dresser, where it remained for her a symbol of hope.

Nora Molyneux, “Molly” by her friends, worked in what was designated as the city hospital on July 4th 1952 when the shipwrecked seaman was brought in on a stretcher. Calling her office a hospital was a fairly loose description. It was just an office of three rooms, situated next door to the Sheriff’s Office in Main Street, handily opposite the Dispensary, housed in the General Store. There was a waiting room, treatment or consulting room and a two-bed ward, with separate bathroom facilities out back. There was an apartment above the office, which Molly used, when she wasn’t staying at her parents’ farm at the edge of the county. The hospital was open for emergencies only on this public holiday, no outpatient appointments booked, but Molly was available for anyone overcome by the expected heat wave or minor accidents during today’s traditional history pageant and the evening’s fireworks display.

Even calling the city a city was a gross exaggeration. It was a basic settlement, established 130 years earlier. The two thousand inhabitants scratched a living from either sea or land. It wasn’t much more than subsistence living either way. There was no mill, mine, or factory, no railway depot, only a bus came thru twice a week and a school bus as required to take students to the High School inland aways.

Most of the farmers had a truck or two, the majority of them ancient. The better off farmers and a few city tradesmen had station wagons or utilities. Some folk used horses and traps to get around and keen gardeners would eagerly shovel up any horse-borne bounty almost as soon as it hit the dusty street, keeping the city was generally neat and tidy.

There was little to interest folk beyond self-entertainment. The nearest movie house was a fifty-mile drive. There was a diner at a truck stop up on the interstate highway but that was thirty miles distant. The general store had a soda fountain which attracted teenagers and you could get breakfast and coffee at the hardware store at the harbor end of Main Street.

Any kid with gumption got away to the nearest big city as soon as they could and never returned except to visit. Nora Molyneux did attend the state university to learn nursing and was the exception to the rule. She was still single, as no-one of her age in the neighborhood was regarded by her as a suitable suitor. That didn’t stop them trying, though.

Molly was a local girl, born and raised twenty-seven years earlier. She knew everybody and everyone knew her. She was the only nurse for fifty miles, the only medical practitioner around, other than the vet and the dentist, as there was no doctor for the same distance, so anybody who required medical attention from time to time needed to see Molly.

The injured man brought in was pulled out of the water by fishermen sailing out before dawn on the outgoing tide. They found him drifting on his way back out to sea and his general condition was such that they brought him straight to the hospital. He was suffering from exposure, his skin very badly burned from wind, salt and sun. It had been very hot and sunny so far this summer and as a result there were a lot of short sharp storms. The coast had been on the edge of a hurricane only three days earlier and this man was discovered clinging to a piece of driftwood, so it looked like his ship must have gone down in that storm.

The first thing that Molly did was set up a saline drip and insert it into a vein, having swabbed the area of skin in the man’s arm where she inserted the needle.

She tried to question him, but he was delirious and spoke a foreign language. Understanding him wasn’t helped by his tongue and lips being swollen through dehydration and the salt spray. After a few minutes of being on the drip, though, he became a little more coherent but the name he tried to say, Stanislaw Wojciechowicz, was so slurred that all Molly comprehended was “Stan”.

Deputy Chuck Hanson, who came in from the office next door, the three fishermen and an unknown number of onlookers who followed them to the office, could only understand “Stan”, too. So just Stan he was.

The fishermen said that he was holding onto a piece of driftwood so hard and for so long that he couldn’t even lift his arms once he relinquished his grip. They thought he must’ve stayed awake for the whole time he was in the water otherwise he would have lost his hold and gone under. To keep himself awake he had been biting his lower lip continually, which was a pulpy mess. The fisherman, as was their habit, had departed before dawn and brought the shipwrecked seaman straight back, all thoughts of continuing onto the fishing grounds forgotten.

Roy Cavenagh was a young teenager, in seventh grade, but was big for his age, virtually full grown. His intellect was, unfortunately, not in proportion to his size. He was slow at best, or pretty damn dumb to anyone less inclined to think kindly. Roy, like a number of the kids, had heard about the stranger found floating in the ocean and went to the hospital to find out more.

News sure spreads fast in a small community with few distractions, notwithstanding the preparations for the July 4th history pageant.

Roy, being big and socially insensitive due to his lack of intelligence, was inclined to use both of those attributes to his advantage. He pushed through the crowd gathered in the doorway of the hospital treatment room until he was in a position to hear some of the exchange taking place between nurse and patient.

“I nee’ to ge’ ‘ome to see m’girl” Stan seemed to say, in a thick accent, affected by his swollen lips and tongue.

“You need to get home to see your girl, Stan?” queried Nurse Molyneux.


“He’s a Russkie spy!” chipped in Roy, voicing his thoughts exactly the same time they formed in his head, “He should be arrested, Deputy Hanson!”

Deputy Chuck Hanson was in charge of policing in the city at that moment. His boss, Sheriff Mike Horne, had been away for a couple of days visiting with his sister further up the coast and not due back until late in the morning, hopefully in time for the commencement of the pageant. Hanson, as a young man, was keen to make an impression, with the Sheriff in his late fifties and therefore a change of sheriff likely to happen in the next few years. Hanson was also one of the young men quite keen on improving his relationship with Molly, who he went to High School with, and the potential for promotion in his chosen profession would, he thought, help him no end in that direction. His ears pricked up at Roy’s comment, so he couldn’t allow it to slide without establishing his control of the situation. He was about to speak up when Molly beat him to it.

“Can we clear this room please, this is a hospital treatment room not a city hall social and I need to examine and treat my patient, now,” she said firmly, “Chuck, can you get everyone out?”

“Yeah, come on folks, out you get!” spoke up Deputy Hanson, good humoredly, and he turned to face them, spread out his arms and started to herd people out of the treatment room and back into the waiting room.

Once he had cleared them out of the room, he closed the door and turned to face Molly, who he could see was already dealing with her patient, applying a lotion from a jar thickly to the injured man’s sunburnt face and neck.

“You, too, Chuck,” she said as she lifted her head from her task, with a grateful smile and nod as a reward for his efforts, “I need to treat my patient.” They were about the same age, having known each other since kindergarten.

“Sure, Molly,” Chuck said, “Just need to ask Stan to establish his nationality briefly before I go.”

“American,” Stan answered with his thick accent, without further prompting.

“How long you been an American, Bud?”

“Two year,” Stan replied.

“Where were you from before that?” Chuck persisted.

“I cum ‘ere ‘47,” came the reply, “Before that Englan’ sin’ ‘39, born Krakow, Polan’ in 1917 an’ fam’ly moved to Gdynia ‘25.”

“Do you have any identification papers on ya?”

“Nah, ev’thin’ wen’ down wi’ ship,” came the reply.

“OK, Chuck, that’s enough, leave us now.” Molly was insistent, Chuck already had the information he felt he needed.

Chuck nodded and took his leave, closing the door behind him and set about sorting out the crowd still packed into the waiting room, with more people gathered outside on the sidewalk. He shooed them all through that outer door in swift fashion so they were all out on the sidewalk, spilling into the street pavement. Most of them went without much fuss.

Roy Cavenagh was the main exception but he had a few stubborn adherents who added their voices to Roy’s objections.

Roy’s father was a veteran of the first world war, wounded in the trenches and then served as a reservist in the second war, although he remained Stateside throughout that conflict. Roy’s older brother, Lenny, was killed fighting the Communists in Korea in 1951. As far as Roy was concerned, the enemy identified as Communism was the biggest threat to his country. Now he could see with his own eyes that a Russian spy was right here within his own community and this intrusion needed dealing with before the rest of them Reds invaded in the spy’s wake.

Roy also happened to be dressed in his historic costume for the pageant, his great-grandpappy’s Confederate Army officer’s uniform, complete with gun belt and antique gun. There were no shells in the curious nine-cylinder weapon but it was still a gun. This alone probably made Roy feel even bolder than usual.

“What’ya doin’ ‘bout the Russkie Commie, Dep’ty Hanson?” asked Roy.

“He ain’t a Russian, Roy,” answered Chuck, “He’s Polish.”

“Well, them Polish guys is Reds, too!” retorted Roy.

“Well, he used to be Polish, he says he’s now an American Citizen,” said Chuck.

“So he says,” Roy replied, “He got papers to prove it?”

“Nah, says he lost ‘em when his ship went down.”

“More like,” suggested Roy, “There’s a Red Sub lyin’ offshore, ready to land soon as this scout signals ‘em to come ashore an’ kill anyone who gets in their way.”

A number of other kids and even some of the adults gathered around started to agree with Roy, adding their voices to what was becoming a general clamour. Young Deputy Chuck wished the Sheriff was already back from his sister’s. He was due by lunchtime when the pageant was programmed to begin but it was still mid-morning.

Meanwhile, Molly had finished treating Stan’s face and turned her attention to his body. His coat had already been removed by the fishermen and was dumped on a chair by the side of the bed, dripping steadily on the floor. Stan’s shirt and trousers were also sodden. He had long since lost his shoes while he was out there treading water.

She used a pair of shears to cut off his shirt to avoid removing the saline drip. She noticed that he was painfully thin and his skin was puckered due to the water exposure. His temperature was stable and she was confident that he would with care quickly recover. His body was slender but then he was tall and well proportioned, his muscles firm and well-formed, she thought. He had nice, warm brown eyes and said he was only 32. Not too old, she thought, but he had also said he had a girl, probably had one in every port. She gave him a bottle of water to sip slowly and thought that she would heat up some soup in her kitchen upstairs for him later when she had finished her examination and initial treatment. She noticed several old bullet wounds and other scars on his torso.

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