'Ah, Love! Could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits – and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire.”
-Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, LXXIII
It wasn't like Angie intended to come to England just to be bossed around or ignored. That was just how it all played out. Things happened.
Ok, so maybe she had put herself into this situation, but it had only been with the best of intentions. She'd marched straight up to the local recruiting officer for the Air Force back in New York, and demanded to be allowed to serve as a mechanic. He'd laughed for minutes, doubled over and crinkling his starched uniform, during which time she'd scribbled a quick diagram on a napkin. It was a crude drawing, but it did the job: a P-51D Mustang but with an added little fillet to the vertical stabiliser. Then she'd shoved the napkin into his face and told him he should also consider her idea for a simple locking mechanism for the loading gear.
He'd stopped laughing quick-like after that, then spent the next few minutes squinting at her, and at the napkin, and back at her again. Then he'd snatched the references from her hands. Aiming a glare at her over the papers, he'd snapped, “Don't make me regret this.” and she'd been on her way.
Goodbye, Manhattan. Hello, England.
That was 1943. Now it was 1944. Pretty late in the grand scheme of things, but what's a poor girl from Brooklyn to do? Her best, that's what. And this was certainly not her best.
Currently she was elbows deep in a battered Hawker Typhoon. This one still had a modified balance weight assembly from the previous year, and she wanted to rip the damn useless thing apart, and fix it with a redesigned assembly. Not to mention that god-awful tail – who designed these garbage cans anyway?
Grumbling to herself, smeared head to toe with grease across her baggy, male, standard issue overalls, Angie ignored any looks she got from neighbouring mechanics. The others were all men – strange, she thought. She'd heard the WAAF had a decent amount of lady engineers, but apparently they'd all been deployed elsewhere. Not that she could blame them. Who'd want to be stared at by the local scrubs like she was a zoo attraction?
But if her male co-workers muttered about her oddities, they still couldn't deny that Angela Martinelli had a gift.
Angie was as much of a grease monkey as they came. She could take apart anything mechanical and put it back together again before you could say 'fuselage.' Back home her father ran a successful chain of garages throughout the greater Manhattan area, and Angie – the only one of his six daughters who found the business remotely interesting – learned at his knee. Even now at the ripe old age of twenty four she knew more than most of the senior mechanics working at the aerodrome. Planes weren't her speciality – not like cars were – but stick an engine under her nose and she could learn every piece in an afternoon. By touch, look, name, function, whatever you fancy.
And if she also gave all the planes cute nicknames the boys scoffed at, well...a girl has her priorities in life after all.
All that talent, and they had her tinkering with banged up, outdated Typhoons.
Less than a year, and she was already starting to regret her decisions in life. Oh, boy. Wouldn't Ma be full of 'I told you so's' and rapid-tongued Italian life advise that involved more meat on her bones and men in her life. Probably men on her bones too. Who knows.
Swearing softly under her breath, Angie shifted her weight, the step ladder creaking beneath her feet. Even three thousand miles away from home and she still swore quietly as though afraid of being caught.
Something moved out of the corner of her eye. With a puzzled frown Angie glanced over, then did a double take.
She knew there were other women on the site, but they typically haunted the Comms building – telephone operators, secretaries, stuff like that. Nice looking gals, too. Always with their best nylon stockings and pressed skirts. Their pretty painted nails probably never saw a smidgen of grease in their whole lives, and Angie kind of envied them in a way. Being glamorous and turning heads, that was never her shtick. But a girl can dream, right?
This lady, though – well, Angie just blinked dumbly, still elbows deep in a partially dismembered engine, ill-fitted sleeves rolled up and hanging slackly. This lady looked like she'd stepped from one of those recruitment posters, dark hair coiffed to exact regulation standards, white collar gleaming against the lapels of her suit, sharpened with enough starch to cut. How on earth she moved so quietly across the polished cement floor in those heels was beyond Angie. Honest to god witchcraft. And on top of it all she was an officer, not just some dancing girl for that Captain America show they used to circulate before the Cap, well – died. Her rank was ill-defined but the brass gleamed at her padded shoulders and the corner of each lapel.
Of course, being a delicate swan of a human being, Angie's fingers decided to choose that exact moment to slip and send her scrambling for the rivet squeezer. At the ensuing clamour, the woman's head whipped around, eyes hard as tungsten drill bits. Clearing her throat, Angie pushed nervously at the pale pink kerchief that kept the hair out of her face, then tried her best to look busy and aloof.
Whether it worked or not she didn't know. Next time she looked up, the woman was gone, and Angie heaved a sigh.
“Real smooth, Ange,” she mumbled to herself.
Shaking her head, Angie wiped at her brow – heedless of the broad streak of black grease the back of her hand left behind – and threw herself into work. By the time she finished, plunking the cowl back over the engine with a satisfied brush of her hands, evening had crept up, and the sky was darkened with the drum of rain.
The boys had all left over an hour ago, and Angie didn't blame them. She would've done the same, had she been capable of leaving a project half finished and sprawled across half her section of floor. As it was, she twisted her mouth at some of her neighbours' projects, immediately spotting their glaring flaws, but she turned her itching fingers to the rumpled pack of cigarettes in her breast pocket instead.
Smoking in the hangar was a big no-no, so outside she went, clinging to the wall, huddled beneath the narrow eaves for any brief respite from the downpour. She broke one match, and another was snuffed out by a fat raindrop before she finally lit her cigarette.
From the opposite building – wasn't that Command? – she saw a figure turn up their collar and race to a car in the parking lot. Idly Angie watched as the car stubbornly refused to start. After enduring the engine stuttering for a good two minutes, she rolled her eyes, gave the cigarette one last long drag until the ash burned her fingertips, then made a mad dash through the parking lot.
Always gotta be a good Samaritan, Ange.
She ignored the thought, rapped on the window, and gestured to the hood of the car. Inside, the dim light illuminated none other than the mystery lady officer from earlier, looking less than pleased. Grumpy or not, Lady-Officer still popped the hood and climbed out of the driver's seat to join in on the inspection.
“Get back in there,” Angie waved her away once she'd propped the hood up and leaned over the engine, “I got this.”
“I'm perfectly capable of fixing my own car,” Lady-Officer replied, her British accent crisp and waspish.
Angie bristled, “Look, English. I get it. You've had a long day. But I need you on the ignition when I give you the wave, alright?”
Lady-Officer wrenched her mouth open like she was going to put up a fight, but instead she huffed and stormed back to the car, slamming the door behind her.
Shaking her head, Angie gave the engine a quick once-over. The battery looked fine, but whoever had put together the relay wiring connections should be tried at the Reichsgericht and shot. Alternator belt looked like it was giving up the ghost as well. Lady-Officer should really change that before it became a problem.
After cleaning everything off and tightening the wire connections as best she could given the current circumstances, Angie dropped the hood with a clang and waved as she made her way around the car. Lady-Officer turned the key as Angie slid into the passenger seat, and the engine purred to life.
“There!” Angie smiled broadly, ineffectually wiping water from her cheeks with her forearms – the only part of her that was clean in any shape or form, “All better!”
Lady-Officer scowled at the muck Angie's overalls were imprinting on the genuine leather seats. Immediately Angie felt that this whole good Samaritan thing was overrated. She should have just left her in the rain and gone to her own quarters down the road.
For a moment they sat together in silence while the car idled, rain hammering against the rooftop, Lady-Officer's once fastidious curls limp and dripping. Cherry red nails dug into her palms around the steering wheel as Lady-Officer clenched her hands. Finally she said, stiff, “Thank you.”
“Don't mention it,” Angie breathed into her cold wet hands in a vain attempt to warm them, “I should go. Enjoy your evening, English.”
Without a backward glance Angie clambered out back into the rain and slammed the door shut behind her, sprinting for cover. Once she was safely beneath the hangar eaves once more, she did look back. The car was still there. Then it pulled smoothly away and drove off into the night, tail lights vanishing behind heavy sheets of rain.