“What?” Dum Dum asked, prodding his seatmate in the ribs with his meaty elbow for the umpteenth time. “Seriously, Falsy, what?”
“Squirfle,” the Brit said, or something like it. His face, under the mustache, had turned an amusing shade of puce that was rapidly verging on the alarming.
“Yeah, buddy, I know she’s pretty, but she’s just a dame, ain’t she?” Dum Dum said. He jerked his head at their driver. She was just a short brown-blonde coif from the back, though from his position against the side of the transportation jeep, Dum Dum could make out a smooth, pale cheek, an archly-painted eyebrow, and impeccable red lips.
The driver reminded him, in all the best ways, of Peggy. She had the same kind of tenacious spitfire aura around her too – a woman thriving in what was otherwise a man’s world. She held her head up with the same sort of regal pride as Peggy, the bossy princess type.
Honestly, Dum Dum expected Rogers to be the one drooling, not Falsworth, who seemed of the kind of weirdo stale upper-crust kind of man who cared about titles, and who was related to who, and who was inheriting the estate in the entail. (What? Dum Dum had sisters. He’d read Austen. He wasn’t a total boor. Dames loved Austen.) So his interest in this workin’ gal was surprising. He never seemed to aim at any trophy less than a baronet’s daughter.
“Ahumanah,” Falsworth agreed. “Nefivritsahr?”
“She had great gams,” Jim offered, filling the garbled silence. “I’ll give her that.”
“Sacre bleu, Americans,” Dernier muttered, and unlike Falsworth he was able to keep his eyes off the back of their driver’s head. But just barely. Instead he was twisting his beret in his hands, over and over.
In the back of the transport jeep that was taking them from the SSR headquarters in London to the All Hallows airfield, the Terrible Twosome were muttering over Rogers’ sketchbook and passing some money back and forth, clearly taking bets about whatever it was that seemed to have offended Falsworth’s ridiculous British manners this time. Technically All Hallows was a class three landing site only, which made it the perfect place for the Howling Commandos to use for their stealth drop into Poland. Nobody was expecting the planes coming out of All Hallows to be carrying anything of any importance.
But of course, Rogers was a big golden retriever, lolloping and fatally loyal. If he and Peggy were an item, then all other women otherwise would be just fellow soldiers in his mind. In fact, Peggy was just a fellow soldier in Roger’s mind as it was, it seemed. Dum Dum wondered if he would have to start plotting with Stark to accidentally lock the two of them in a supply locker sometime in the near future. The unresolved tension was starting to get a bit ridiculous. Rogers was just too damn much of a gentleman sometimes.
“What’s with Falsy?” Gabe asked, leaning into Dum Dum’s space, and discreetly passing across the bottle of American whiskey that they had smuggled out of the Stork Club before they’d shipped out.
“No idea,” Dum Dum replied, and took a swig.
“No idea?” Dernier exclaimed, aghast. “Quelle bande de bâtards pitoyable ! Comment pouvez-vous être si ignorant tout?”
“’Bout what?” Gabe asked, and as Dernier explained, faster than even Dum Dum’s rudimentary forays into learning his teammate’s language allowed him to understand, Gabe’s face got yellower and yellower in pale, sickly disbelief.
“What, really?” Gabe breathed when Dernier was finished, his voice just a ghost of disbelief.
“Care to share with the class?” Dum Dum demanded.
“Not particularly,” Gabe said, slung the bottle out of Dum Dum’s hand, and downed a good third of it in a single quaff.
Falsworth seemed to come out of his stupor then, and knocked the bottle away from Gabe’s mouth.
“You can’t get drunk!” he hissed. “Not here. Not in front of... her.”
“What in the Sam Hill is goin’ on?” Dum Dum snarled. “Someone explain.”
That was, of course, when the transport stopped. Gabe got paler, if possible, and Falsworth lost all of the little sense his anger had returned to him. Bucky twisted around on his bench and undid the hatch, and he and Rogers were out of the jeep before it had even rocked back to settle, the sketchbook and the money both vanishing into their packs quick as lightning.
From the look of the field around them, they’d arrived.
The rest of the men tumbled out, hauling up packs of explosives, sleep rolls, and backpacks filled with radios, altered HYDRA technology, and all the ammo required for a stealthy little jaunt into the mountains to zip-line onto a moving train. You know, just the essentials.
Dum Dum was the last out of the transport, and he dropped onto the ground right beside with the pretty driver. She was kneeling down by the rear wheel well, hands covered in grease as she levered a wrench down to tighten a knut on a hubcap.
“Bloody thing,” she snarled at it. “Piece of rubbish! Really!”
The rest of the men were just lingering around her, looking uncharacteristically deferential and hesitant, hemming and hawing.
“Need help, darlin’?” Dum Dum asked her, not waiting for her answer. He pushed hard on the wrench between her hands and the knut groaned, but moved.
“Ah!” the woman said, startled. “I say!”
“No, no, it’s quite alright,” she said. “Sometimes a little bit of a helping hand is necessary.” And then straightened. She held one wrench in her hand and wiped the grease off the other hand on her coveralls. “Very good, I thank you.”
Her accent was toff. Falsworth had been teaching Dum Dum about accents, and this one sounded about as snooty as they came. But the lady it was coming out of was more than just pretty – she had snapping blue eyes and rich brown hair, in this light, and Dum Dum wondered how far up those ‘nice gams’ of hers actually went.
Maybe, when they were back from this mission, Zola tucked safely under their arms, he might look her up. The toff ones always liked a bit of Yankee Rough, didn’t they?
Dum Dum spread his most flirtatious smile at her, and Falsworth made a sound like he was strangling rabbits.
“At ease, soldier!” a voice snapped behind Dum Dum, and he stepped back from the pretty driver swiftly. He’d be more embarrassed by his pavlovian response (what? He knew what that was, too.) Except that everyone reacted that quickly and automatically when Peggy had that tone in her voice. “Please do not paw the locals.”
“Sorry, miss,” Dum Dum said, tipping his hat to the driver and offering up his best ‘aw shucks, ain’t I just the humblest little corn-fed American you’ve ever met?’ look he had in his repertoire.
“Quite alright,” the driver said, and then turned on her heel and dismissed him completely.
Dum Dum had never felt so thoroughly ignored and superfluous in his entire life.
“Margaret!” the driver said, dropping the wrench and flinging out her hands for an embrace that Peggy stepped into willingly.
“Liz!” Peggy returned, hugging the driver. It seemed a common nickname for a woman with such a sharp accent, but who was Dum Dum to judge? His nickname was Dum Dum.
“How are you, darling? Haven’t seen you since, oh, Churchy’s dinner?”
“Lord, yes,” Peggy said, stepping back to get a good look at the driver’s face. “You’re looking well.”
“Feeling it, for as well as we can be when the Family Business is so tied up in all this tragedy.”
“And your father?”
“How do you think?” Liz cut Peggy a doleful look. “Say, do you have a fag?”
Peggy doled out cigarettes for them both, and the driver, Liz, provided the light.
“Thanks, cuz,” Liz said. “This is a much more fun play date than the ones mother used to set up for us on the old lawn, don’t you think?”
“Less cameras,” Peggy agreed.
Falsworth actually turned his back on the pair of ladies and covered his face. The sight of a dame smoking shouldn’t have been that abhorrent to him, no matter how posh and gentlemanly he tried to be. He had been the one passing out the hard-to-acquire cigarettes and matches in the club to the beautiful women he was wooing just the night before.
“I don’t get it,” Dum Dum said to Jim as they both watched the women smoke. Normally Peggy was the one unwilling to linger, but now she was chatting away with Liz like they didn’t have a small window in which to get in the plane and get on that train.
“Carter,” Bucky spoke up, eventually, when the ashes were clinging to the backs of both the women’s fingers. “Now or never, sweet-cheeks!”
“Right! Yes,” Peggy said, snapped out of her tete-a-tete by his call. “I told you never to call me that, Barnes,” she said, flinging her butt down into the mud, but she was smiling.
Barnes was grinning back, like butter wouldn’t melt, and Dum Dum reassessed his plan to lock Rogers and Carter in a locker together. Looks like they’d need a closet big enough to include Bucky as well.
“Get us in the air, and I promise I’ll never call you that again, doll!”
“Ha!” Peggy said, but with a last hug and a kiss on the cheek for Liz, she was turning on her heel and beckoning the company to follow. In the distance, a supply plane sat on the tarmac, paint blacked and lamps shuttered.
The men filed after Barnes and Carter, Rogers first, until it was only Dum Dum and Falsworth left.
Dum Dum tipped his hat to Liz again and said, “Maybe, when I get back, I could take you to the Stork Club, darlin’?” he asked her.
“Asdfghjk,” Falsworth said.
The driver dimpled at him and shook her head slightly. “I’m afraid Phillip wouldn’t appreciate that overmuch.”
“Ah. Is Phillip your fella?” Dum Dum asked, keeping the disappointment out of his voice. There were always other dames, and it never hurt to part on a good note.
“Nothing so formal,” Liz admitted. “But we have hopes. For after the war, you see. We write. Quite a lot, actually.” And here she ducked her head and actually blushed. Hot damn.
“Well, I wish you luck, then, Liz,” Dum Dum said.
“Thank you. And I wish you luck out there as well, Corporal.” She didn’t offer her hand to shake, so Dum Dum nodded one last time and then turned to go. “C’mon, Falsy! Shake a leg!”
“Um, yes, I just... yes...” Falsworth muttered, and then, obviously steeling himself, he stepped up to the driver and dip into a bow the likes of which Dum Dum had never seen the man perform, and he’d seen plenty hand-kissing and gentlemanly airs when Falsworth was out at the pubs lookin’ for company. “Thank you for the ride, your royal highness,” Falsworth choked.
Before Liz even had a chance to respond, Falsworth was sprinting to catch up with the rest of the Howling Commandos, his face a red beacon against the night sky.
“Oh?” Dum Dum asked, as he and Liz both turned to watch Falsworth go. “S’that who you are?”
“Quite,” Liz said.
“All the same, y’aint my queen. Not since 1776.” What? He read history books.
“I am nobody’s queen, yet,” Liz said, with another twinkling dimply smile.
“Well, we’ll get through this war, and you may be yet, pretty lady,” Dum Dum said, and then the plane’s propellers had begun to spin and he was going to be left behind if he didn’t get a move on. “Good luck!”
“And to you as well, Corporal!” Princess Elizabeth called after him, just barely audible over the roar of the motors.
That was the first time Corporal Timothy Dum Dum Dugan met Princess Elizabeth. It was not, however, the last.
But that is a tale for another time.