David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. MI6 makes them a team. David becomes king. David abdicates and they marry. The Windsors escape oncoming Nazis. Leon shadows their every move. Leon dies. His family mourns his death.
The blonde was back at her blackjack table at the Rialto in Nassau, none worse for the wear. The buzz around the casino was the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Freeport where he would take up duties as governor. He and his wife arrived safely because of the work of Leon Johnson, now dead. She thought she should feel some guilt for putting a bullet in his back, but she did not. Her only regret was that she never went to bed with him. From the first moment she saw him saunter into the casino in his white linen suit she thought him so desirable she wanted to throw herself into his arms, but that would not have been professional. And she always thought of herself as a professional.
Her real name was Alina Romanov, perhaps the last of the Russian dynasty still alive, although she had no way of knowing for sure. The name her mother told her to use was Aline Montgomery—a reference they now lived in Montana. Her mother changed her own name from Anatolia Ribbentrop to Toni Montgomery. Her mother said the name Montgomery would give a hint they were of English descent, which, of course, they weren’t. Aline had never had any contact with the Romanovs or Ribbentrops. Her mother Toni told her not to try to make a connection with them or else her life might be endangered. Aline took comfort in the stories her mother told her to while away the evenings in their Butte, Montana, brothel. It didn’t bother her. She slept well every night—hardly any noise at all, unlike most respectable hotels.
Her mother, Toni, never kept the truth from her, no matter how ugly it was. Because of her upbringing, she was able to make it seem not that bad at all. Toni was a member of one of the oldest, most wealthy monarchies in Europe, the Romanovs. As a child, Toni had no idea there was evil in the world and its appearance shocked her very much. She told her daughter she never wanted her to be sheltered from evil. That way she would never be shocked by it. The evil first appeared with the coming of the Bolsheviks who vowed to kill everyone in the royal family, even the cousins. Her parents paid a handsome sum for a member of the Ribbentrops of Germany to marry her and take her away to live in the Bahamas. The Bolsheviks would never find her, her parents told her. But, of course, they did. The Bolsheviks assassins killed her husband and would have killed her if it hadn’t been for a Bahamian bodyguard. He was only sixteen years old, but he dispatched the assassins efficiently.
As Aline grew, her mother added details to the story. Toni made love to the bodyguard, and it was wonderful. A sad romantic husky tone entered her voice, as though that one night was the most fulfilling moment of her life which she would never have again.
“His name was Leon Johnson.” Toni’s voice became husky as she spoke his name. “He was the best lover I ever had.”
Perhaps the earliest emotion Aline experienced was that of deep sorrow for her loving mother. She decided to ask her mother about this man every chance she got. Aline loved the twinkle that entered her mother’s eyes when she said his name.
Leon Johnson. She paused and gazed out the window to the long verandah. What if he was the same man she killed in Lisbon? The same name. The same lethal skills. The same sensuality. What a waste.
“Hey, stop daydreaming!” A man’s rough voice interrupted her thoughts. “I said hit me!”
Aline dealt the card, but she continued thinking about her past. Toni told her she felt safe once she reached the wilds of Montana. No Bolshevik would think of looking for her there. She settled in Butte and with ease found a job at the local whore house. None of the other girls had her looks and refinement. From the beginning she earned top dollar for her skills.
Within a month of her arrival at the brothel, an out-of-shape young man who had not yet developed his paunch stopped over for the night. After his brief encounter with Toni, he stayed on for six months. He was a gold miner named Harry Oates. He was born in Maine and went to medical college until he heard about the Klondike gold rush. He dropped out of college and mined in the Klondike, California and anywhere else where there was the slightest hint of a gold vein. He was on his way to Kirkland Lake Northern Ontario until he became enamored of the wiles of the wayward cousin of the Romanov family.
“For a brief moment in time,” Toni told her daughter, “I thought I was about to return to a life of opulence to which I had been born when I told Harry I was carrying his child.”
“How do you know it’s mine? After all, you’re a whore,” Harry protested.
“But you paid me to move into your hotel suite six months ago, and we’ve been playing house ever since,” she told him.
She described to her daughter exactly how dejected Harry looked. It was like the recess bell had rung and he had to go back to class.
“Babe, you know I love you, but I got my future to think about. I told you my parents are rich. That’s how I could afford medical school and afford to run around the continent looking for gold. I’ve even got some high falutin’ relatives in England. If I play my cards right, I could end up as a duke or earl or something.” He grimaced. “I’ve even got to get rid of this American accent I’ve picked up along the way. Why, if I go home after striking gold and with a wife from a brothel and a baby, I’d might as well kiss my dreams of high society good-bye.”
Toni shrugged. “Well, I know what it’s like being high society one day and out on my ass the next.” She stuck out her hand. “Been nice knowing you, Mr. Oates.”
He shook his head. “Oh no, I’m not going to be that way. Hang on here until I hit the mother lode. I promise to send you a healthy check every month for you and the baby. And when the kid is old enough to work, send him to me. I know I can fix him up with something.”
Aline smirked as she dealt out a new hand of cards. Well, he got the gender wrong but at least he was good to his word. He didn’t say he’d fix me up with something respectable, just with something.
“When do you get off work tonight, gorgeous?” one of the men sitting around the table asked.
“Passed your bedtime, gramps.” Aline threw in a snipe about the guy’s age to make him shut up. It always worked.
Gramps, like I ever knew what it was like to have a gramps. I mean a nice old man who loved me and kept his hands to himself.
The man she called gramps stood and walked off in a huff.
“We’re starting a new game, ladies and gentlemen,” she announced in a clear, well-intoned voice. After all, her mother taught her to behave like a lady even if she wasn’t one. She paused hardly a moment before dealing the cards.
I actually loved my mother. She did what she did to stay alive. And she made only two mistakes in her life, and they were both Harry Oates. I can’t blame her for the first one. At least I’m alive because of it. She couldn’t be held completely accountable for the second one. Mother was on her death bed because of pneumonia in 1925 when the letter came from Harry saying he had a glamorous job lined up for me in the Bahamas. My mother encouraged me to go to the Bahamas, even though I was only twelve years old. I always looked older than my age. That was better than dying a whore in Butte, Montana.
Aline could tell when she walked down the gangplank that Harry—now in his middle-aged full rotundity–didn’t know whether to embrace her with the full sentiment of a father/daughter reunion or to shake hands as a business courtesy to a new employee. Aline made it easy on him by extending her hand to him, which he shook with the efficiency of a stock broker. Harry meant nothing to her.
The past was the past. Hatred just made wrinkles show up on your face sooner with nothing to show for it. Revenge was for suckers.
Harry took her to the Rialto, showed her around the casino and asked her about her poker skills.
“Mother taught me all about poker, among other things,” she replied.
They settled on the terrace where a server took their orders for lunch. Sipping his wine, he gazed out at the ocean. “I hope all the checks I sent your mother arrived every month.”
“What checks?”
“Didn’t she tell you? I sent monthly checks to help raise you.”
Aline shrugged. “All I know is I never went hungry and always had nice clothes to wear.”
Harry nodded. “She got the checks all right.” He kept staring at the shore. “I don’t blame her for not telling you. She was a classy broad.”
“She wasn’t a broad,” she replied in a firm voice.
“You’re right, of course.” His apology was quick. “I’m the guy who spent his life digging in dirt for gold. I ain’t got no class.”
She didn’t say a word but just stared at him.
“Did Toni ever mention anything about the organization?”
“What organization?”
“Good. She had a head on her shoulders.” He took another sip of wine. “How can I explain this? Each country’s government has spies to resolve problems they don’t want splattered across the newspapers. But ordinary wealthy people have problems they don’t want splattered across newspapers either. So who are they going to hire to resolve their problems?”
“I thought that was what the Mafia was for.” So far, Harry wasn’t impressing Aline at all.
“They’re a very clannish group,” he explained. “Besides, they like to be the bosses, and rich people want to run things themselves. They want someone to go in, get the job done, take their money and forget about it.”
“Mercenaries.” Aline rolled her eyes. “They’re called mercenaries, Harry.”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “That’s a good name for them.”
“Are you telling me my mother was a member of this group of scumbags?”
“No, no. She was one of the poor ordinary rich people who hired the scumbags.”
“So you’re one of the scumbags.” Aline enjoyed nettling her father.
“Well.” He smiled rakishly. “I didn’t get all my money mining gold.”
“So, you think I’d agree to be one of these scumbags?”
“They pay very well. And you’ll be groomed before the first mission. Right now all you have to do is pass messages to our top agents.”
She finished her drink. “Well, if my mother thought well of this organization, then who am I to say no?”
“Glad to hear it.” He rubbed his hands together. “Now we can eat.”
The server put plates in front of each of them.
“Your first assignment is tonight. You will pass a note to a Bahamian man who will be wearing a white linen suit.”
Aline remembered her first meal at the Rialto as the best meal she ever had. Ever since then she’d never had any regrets, until Lisbon.
“Baby, if you don’t get your head out of the clouds, I’m leaving.”
When she focused on the present of 1940, she saw gramps had returned. “You promise?”
The other men around the table laughed. Aline looked over the shoulder of the old man and saw Pooka standing in the casino door.
“The table’s closed.” Aline walked straight to the old woman, took her by the elbow and escorted out to the beach. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Won’t that mess up your pretty shoes?” Pooka asked.
“I don’t give a damn about the shoes. Walk.”
It didn’t take them long to be at water’s edge and out of the lights of the Rialto.
“I told you never to come here.”
“But I thought you’d want to know Jessamine is dead. As soon as she heard about Leon she walked into the ocean.”
“And the boy?”
“You wanted him dead too?” Pooka’s eyes widened. “He’s so strong. Like his papa. I know I can control him for you.”
“You know very well the orders from the commander was that the entire Johnson family was to die.” Aline twisted Pooka’s arm.
“Are you sure?” the old woman asked.
Aline took off her left shoe and pressed a button on the heel. A sharp, slender knife shot out. She slammed it repeatedly into Pooka’s neck. The old woman crumbled to the sand. Aline looked down at her and noticed how wrinkled she was. She kicked her over and over until the body entered the surf.
She must have been eighty or ninety years old. It was time for her to die.

Remember Chapter Sixteen

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy. Vernon decides to marry Nancy.
“Miz Cambridge?” Bertha called out. “This is Miz Godwin.”

“Come in.” She spoke softly and with difficulty.

Bertha cracked the door just enough for her to slip into the room, glancing back into the hall to make sure no one saw her. She padded over to Lucinda. “I jest wanted you to know I’ve made up my mind about calling the fire marshal and thought you ought to know that you might have to look for other lodgings if they shut Emma down.”

“It makes no difference.” She was lifeless, almost not hearing what Emma Lawrence’s sister was saying.

“I know you only moved in here because it was cheap,” Bertha continued with self-deprecation. “I hope this won’t put a crimp in your pocketbook.”

“Don’t worry.” Lucinda forced a smile. “I have plenty of money. Finding another place to live won’t be difficult.”

“But I thought—“

“I had other reasons for living here,” she interrupted Bertha, “but that makes no difference now.”

“Well, that’s good. Here I go. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda wished the woman would leave the room, do what she had to do and leave her alone.

Bertha was almost to the door when she turned back to look with pleading eyes at the teacher. “The only phone is in the kitchen, where Emma can keep an eye on it. She’s in the laundry room in the basement right now starting a load of clothes. Could you come with me and stand at the top of the stairs to let me know when she’s coming up. If she catches me on the phone with the fire marshal she’ll kick me out of the house for sure.”

Actually Lucinda wanted to lie down for a nap but she could not resist Bertha’s soulful plea. They went down the stairs. Bertha went to the phone, and Lucinda took her place at the top of the basement stairs.

“I’m so nervous I can’t remember the number.” Bertha reached for the phone book on the kitchen counter and fumbled with it as she flipped through the pages.

Lucinda would rather be anyplace but standing guard on the lookout for Emma Lawrence. And then she wasn’t there but back in her class room as Vernon, dressed in blue jeans and a freshly pressed short sleeve shirt, came through the door.

“Vernon. What are you doing here?”

Vernon looked down at his feet. “I know it’s been a long time, since last Christmas.”

“Oh, you mean it’s that spring already?” she muttered to herself.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been by your class room this semester.”

“Vernon, I’m very tired. I really don’t have the energy to listen to this. Would you please leave and come back later?”

“I know you have a lot of papers to grade, Mrs. Cambridge, but I’ve got to talk to you.”

“So that’s how I began, by asking him to leave,” she told herself. Lucinda looked at him, plastering her best sympathetic smile on her lips. “Very well, what is it?”

“I guess you heard about Nancy and me.”

“Yes.”

“We were all decided to get married after the spring semester started,” he began slowly. “I found me a pretty good job to support us. I could only take nine hours so I didn’t take your course.”

“You don’t have to explain, Vernon.”

“Nancy said she wanted to go out of town to visit her grandparents one last time as their little girl. That sounded kinda sweet to me so I didn’t think nothing—“ he paused to look at Lucinda. “Ain’t — aren’t you going to correct me anymore?”

“You’re able to correct yourself.”

Before Vernon could continue, Lucinda became aware of Bertha’s screeching voice on the telephone.

“Hello? Court house? Can I talk to the fire marshal? You’ll connect me? Thank you.”

“I guess you’re right.” He breathed in deeply trying to compose himself. “Anyway, the day after the last day to add or drop any classes Nancy came back to town.” He pursed his lips. “It seems it was some dark-haired guy and not me that had got her pregnant and when she told him about it, he married her right on the spot.” He smiled in sadness. “So I guess the joke was on me.”

“He ain’t there? Is there somebody else I can talk to?” Bertha drew Lucinda’s attention back to the present but only for a moment.

“You can make up those courses this summer and still enter the university on schedule next fall.” She tried to be comforting.

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not? Surely money can’t be a problem now—“

“I’ve been drafted,” he interrupted her.

“Oh.”

Booth’s Revenge Introduction

Author’s note: This is the sequel to my historical novel Lincoln in the Basement which I recently finished serializing on this blog. I would like to point out the title, Booth’s Revenge, does not imply that he was in the right to seek revenge, just that he took revenge.
A little known American myth* alleges Secretary of War Edwin Stanton became so disillusioned with the way President Abraham Lincoln was handling the Civil War in the fall of 1862, following a summer of disastrous Union defeats, he decided to kidnap Lincoln and his wife and hold them under guard in the White House basement. Diverse historians pieced the story together from reports of interviews with surviving participants of the bizarre ordeal.
Stanton found a deserter in the Old Capitol Prison to impersonate Lincoln and an imprisoned Confederate spy to impersonate Lincoln’s wife. After intensive research, historians identified the man as Duff Read of Michigan who was sentenced to hang and the woman as Alethia Haliday of Bladensburg, Md., who was convicted of trying to sneak an escape plan into prison to notorious spy Rose Greenhow. After the war, Smithsonian Institution officials requested Old Capitol Prison to turn over its records for historical preservation. Mysteriously they discovered pages missing during September of 1862. Careful study revealed that Duff and Miss Haliday were admitted to the prison in early 1862 but no records noted when they were removed. When the Smithsonian delegation confronted Prison Superintendent William Woods about the missing records, he refused to comment. After museum researchers went to the hometowns of the missing prisoners, they found evidence the couple indeed bore striking resemblances to the Lincolns and that no one ever saw either one after the war.
Stanton chose Private Adam Christy to guard over the Lincolns and tend to their daily needs. Christy, by coincidence, came from Stanton’s hometown of Steubenville, Ohio. Rumors began to circulate throughout Steubenville after the end of the war that Christy did not die at the Second Battle of Manassas as reported in official War Department documents. Christy’s father swore to the day he died that Secretary Stanton had assigned his son to duties at the White House.
At the turn of the twentieth century, relatives of poet Walt Whitman found among his papers a curious story about a half-witted janitor in the White House named Gabby Zook. According to the story, Zook stumbled into the basement to discover the kidnapping. The story also claimed that Stanton forced Zook to join the Lincolns for the next two and a half years. Literary circles dismissed the story at the time as poetic expression of the feeling of confinement all Americans underwent during the war.
The questionable Whitman papers also alleged Stanton often went to the basement for advice from Lincoln because his own policies were not working as expected. Zook told Whitman of an incident in which the guard Christy became so distressed by his role in the conspiracy that in a rage he killed an unnamed White House butler. Zook insisted Stanton and one of his henchmen disposed of the body. Some historians speculate the henchman was Secret Service officer Lafayette Baker.
By the end of the war, the secretary faced the dilemma of what to do with two Lincolns. No one knows exactly what happened to the Lincoln impersonators. According to the Whitman account, Zook believed Stanton blackmailed Christy with the butler’s murder, forcing Christy to find assassins to kill the real Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Secretary of War William Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Conventional history identified the presidential assassin to be John Wilkes Booth.
Zook confided in Whitman that Lincoln in the final days of the war had succumbed to extreme melancholia. He did not interact with his wife and Zook in the basement room nor did he eat. On the last day, Zook described Lincoln’s emotional state as one heading to the gallows, unable to control his own destiny.
Grandchildren of President Andrew Johnson told friends in Greeneville, Tennessee, that Johnson revealed on his deathbed that he discovered the kidnapping plot and the eventual assassination of Lincoln at the hands of Stanton. That discovery led Johnson to fire Stanton in 1867, provoking Congress to impeach Johnson. The Senate failed by one vote to remove Johnson from office.
To this day, no one knows what happened to the other participants in the plot.
*This report is absolutely true because I made up the myth myself in 1988.

Juneteenth and Why It Matters

So, how did you celebrate Juneteenth today? Neither did I, and that’s the problem.
To refresh your memory, June 19, 1865, was the day the Union military announced the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, a really long time after President Abraham Lincoln issued it. One reason put forth for the delay was that the plantation owners wanted to get one more cotton picking season out of the slaves before they set them free. For the first few years, Juneteenth was only celebrated by freed slaves in Texas. Eventually black communities throughout the south observed the date.
I’ve participated in two Juneteenth celebrations since I’ve lived in Florida. When I was a child in Texas I only knew the date as a day my father, who drove a soft drink truck, sold a lot of Royal Crown Cola and Nehi fruit sodas. It was his biggest sales day, second only to the county fair.
A large black man organized both Florida events and asked me to help with the publicity. I wrote letters to business and community leaders asking them to sponsor the event for anything from $50 to $1,000. No takers, but my new friend was impressed by the effort I put into it. One problem we had was that he was dead set on having a four-day event with everything from carnival rides for the children to a living history freedom trail featuring historic artifacts from the slave period. When he was told that area carnival ride companies were all going out of town that week, he refused to take the rides off the program.
“If I have to, I’ll give them all piggy back rides around the park,” he said, refusing to change his plans.
Actually the opening program went very well. City and community officials showed up and made speeches. There was the horse cavalry group, based on the historical black cavalry unit during the Spanish-American war. Local churches sold barbecue, children sang and danced and a good time was had by all. By the last day, however, only a handful showed up to hear a very long presentation on the history of slavery in America.
A couple of years later my friend tried it again, but instead of a city park he had to hold it in the parking lot of a fraternal lodge. Many black residents who participated the first time did not want to bring their children to a place where beer was sold. I think there were more people on the stage than sitting in the chairs. June in Florida is very hot. The highlight of the day was a group of rappers from Orlando who were there to get exposure for their act.
A lot of the problems arose from my friend. He was bull-headed, and his social skills declined from there. It’s sad to want to lead the parade only to have everyone behind you go home early. But he was relentless in keeping the entire community aware of racial injustices in the town’s past, which is tough going when you’re talking to the descendants of the men who owned the slaves.
He was a little sloppy with details too. He tried to run for city council and had to provide a statement from his daughter that he lived in the city limits with her. He had her sign the document and took it to a friend who was a notary public. The man notarized the document even though he did not actually see the daughter sign it. The local authorities were ready to throw him in jail for it when he died of a heart attack. The last time I saw him I gave him copies of stories about the case from a bi-weekly newspaper I wrote for. My friend looked terrible but still determined to fight for his rights.
Now when Juneteenth rolled around I thought of the man who was not socially equipped to fight for the rights of black citizens, but he didn’t let that stop him. Maybe what we need next Juneteenth is a memorial for all who have died to create a society where everyone knows indeed they are equal. And white residents need to acknowledge that the struggle continues, and no one is truly free as long as just one black person marches in a civil rights parade.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. The Windsors escape oncoming Nazis. Leon shadows their every move. Leon dies.
Sidney Johnson’s day was the same as every other day of his life in the last few years. He worked on Jinglepocket’s fishing boat. He liked the spray of the brisk salt water in his face. Jinglepockets commented regularly about how Sidney’s body was growing stronger and how soon Sidney would be working harder than he did.
“You may be only seventeen years old,” the old fisherman said, “but you put in a better day’s work than men twice your age.”
The compliment only made Sidney work harder, which gave him more coins to jingle in his own pockets.
He knew his mother would have a good supper waiting for him and afterwards he would go to his room to read the books his father brought back from his many travels. Sidney learned about history, mathematics, business principles, proper English, a smattering of other languages like Spanish and French. He memorized whole passages from guides on self-defense. He knew how to be aware of his surroundings, to heighten his reflexes so no one could catch him off-guard. Most crucial part of his studies was the art of killing his enemy quickly and silently.
This education led him to do the same job his father did. Leon had revealed in bits and pieces over the years to Sidney that he worked for a secret organization which often needed his expertise in stealing valuable items and killing people.
“Were they bad people?” Sidney asked.
“I don’t like to use words like good or bad,” his father replied with due deliberation.” If someone is good or bad must always be determined by the person who’s trying to fill his family’s bellies.”
Sidney did not know if he entirely believed what his father said, but he worshiped his father, and it would take great thought to reject anything he said.
Walking down the sandy lane from the pier to his house, he saw Pooka come up to the gated wall around his large home. It looked out of place in the neighborhood of fishing shacks. They had this house because his father killed people for a living. Nagging guilt kept him from feeling any sense of pride. His mother opened the gate to let Pooka enter. A churning in his gut made him break out in a trot. When he reached the gate he heard his mother scream.
“No! You lie! Leon said you were evil, and he was right!”
Sidney ran to his mother’s side and put his arm around her, murmuring loving words in her ear. He knew very well his father’s feelings about the high priestess of Obeah, a religion that mixed Christianity with Caribbean superstitions
“I have friends in Lisbon,” Pooka continued, “who sent me about a newspaper article.” She extended it to her. “Read it for yourself.”
Sidney took it. His mother’s eyes were already filled with tears. The headline was, “Windsors Sail for Freeport.” He scanned the article until he reached near the bottom of the story.
“As the crowds dispersed from the pier they found a black man lying on his face. He was dressed as a Portuguese peasant.” He read in a soft respectful voice. “Police authorities reported finding a bullet wound in his back. He was dead. Police found a key to a nearby hotel in his pocket. When they investigated the hotel room, they found a passport belonging to—“Sidney stopped, not wanting to say the name.
“Go on,” Jessamine ordered. “Read it all.”
“Leon Johnson,” Sidney continued. “An investigation revealed Johnson had been observed in surveillance of the home where the Windsors were staying. The police concluded Johnson was responsible for the attack on the house earlier in the week.”
“Your husband is dead, Jessamine. I tried to protect him through the years with the powers of Obeah, which he repeatedly rejected—with scorn.” Pooka raised her chin in pride. “Now will you believe me? Will you now follow me in the belief of Obeah?”
Jessamine stared at her. “You say friends in Lisbon sent this to you.”
“Yes.”
“You have lived on this island all your life.” Jessamine’s words were calculated. “How could you ever have friends in Lisbon?”
“Obeah.” The smugness faded from Pooka’s face. “I have friends around the world because of Obeah.”
“A little religion in the Caribbean has followers around the world?” Contempt licked each syllable Jessamine said.
“Your faith is weak.” Pooka’s eyes fluttered, out of control. “I can teach you to believe Obeah has believers around the world.”
Sidney watched his mother’s face turn crimson. He had never seen her so angry with Pooka. She had always had the highest regard for the priestess. He often overheard arguments between his parents about the high priestess. Jessamine promised Leon she would shun Pooka, but whenever he left on one of his long mysterious trips, she ran to the old woman for guidance and comfort. But no more.
“You leave my house.” Raging emotion clouded his mother’s voice. Not as a thunderstorm but as the black billowing clouds rolling in before the light and explosions. “And never come back.”
“You will come crawling back to me because you know I have the truth.” Pooka paused to look down her crooked nose at Jessamine and spit on the ground before going through the gate and turning down the road to her own hovel.
Jessamine wiped a few tears from her face, turned to Sidney to smile and put her arm around him. As they walked into the house, she whispered, “I have freshly caught grilled fish, rice and roasted vegetables, your father’s favorite meal. I had this feeling he would be coming home, and he did. He will never leave again. He lives in our hearts forever.”
Sidney thought this was a strange reaction, but much better than the screaming and rending of clothing he had often imagined would be her behavior when news came of his father’s death. Even though he doubted her sincerity, he did find it soothing.
As they sat at the table eating, Jessamine revealed her inner thoughts. “As you may remember, I never got along with your grandmother but I did love her and respect her. I want you to believe that.”
She paused. Sidney decided it was more discreet to say nothing at this point.
“I am carrying on as I know your grandmother would have. Your father would have wanted it that way.”
Sidney was relieved with his mother’s promise of stoic silence. He could feel his heart pounding. He needed blessed nothingness hanging over them like a sanctified blanket of comfort. It was not to be.
“Don’t worry about your future,” Jessamine continued. “Your father provided well for us. This house is ours. No one can ever take it away from us. It will be yours until the day you—well, are no longer here. You are faithful to old Jinglepockets. He loves you like a grandson. When he—well, is no longer here, his fishing business will be yours. Follow your father’s example. Find yourself a good woman—hopefully, a better woman than he found—and have many children. Be the example to your children like he was to you.”
Jessamine paused to look out the window at the setting sun. “You have three aunts. Just at the moment your grandmother Dorothy needed them most, they moved to Nausau to find husbands—well, they found men, instead. If they ever come to you asking for money, don’t give it to them. I know your father always said to fill the bellies of your family, but when your aunts turned away from Dorothy, they were no longer members of this family. Your father demanded it. Trust me. He told me so many times.”
Though he had never heard his father speak of his sisters, Sidney believed his mother. The command rang true with every other decree his father issued on matters of family.
“I appreciate your helping me clean the dishes every night,” Jessamine continued without emotion, “but I want you to get your rest so you can put in a hard day’s work on the fishing boat. You are the man of the family now. I will wash the dishes by myself tonight.”
Sidney stood, walked around the table and kissed his mother on the cheek. Without a word he climbed the stairs to his bedroom. But Sidney stopped and cocked his head. He did not hear the clanking of dishes in the sink. Instincts told him something was wrong. Leon had often commented about his son’s uncanny intuition and insisted he should always follow it. It would keep him alive. Sidney rushed from his room and bounded down the stairs. He glanced in the kitchen. His mother was not there. He ran outside, through the gate and around the house.
There he saw his mother walking with serene determination into the sea. Sidney began to chase after her, but Pooka came out of the shadows and wrapped her old arms around him.
“Sshh, this is what your mother wants,” she whispered.
“No!” He struggled to get away. “Mother! No!”
“Your mother lived for your father,” Pooka continued. “Would you make her suffer through life without him?”
Jessamine splashed through the waves and continued walking until she disappeared in the ocean. Sidney stopped struggling. It was too late.
“Do not worry.” Pooka released her hold on him. “I will guide you.”
Sidney lashed out, pushing her down into the sand. “Go away! My father hated you! My mother told you never to come back! I hate you! If I ever see your face again, I will kill you!”

Remember Chapter Fifteen

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy.
“Well, she lies. I caught her in several lies when she was in my English class.” Lucinda wagged the piece of chalk at him. “She was very irresponsible about homework.”

“I don’t believe this.” Vernon stood. “Just because someone doesn’t turn in their homework you think they’re evil?”

“I didn’t say she was evil. But other teachers have told me—“

“Here this poor girl is carrying a baby out of marriage and all you can talk about is what kind of student she is?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s more than that.” Lucinda noticed how she was using the chalk and put it down. “I just began with that.”

“When I came in here I thought you’d give me some good advice. Some help.” Vernon turned toward the door. “I never thought you’d attack Nancy.”

“I’m not attacking Nancy.” She pounced on the word “attack” to giver herself a platform for her defense. “She’s always been civil to me. It’s just what I’ve heard—“

“I never thought you’d stoop to petty gossip.” He kept walking out.

“This is a hard question for me to ask — but are you sure you’re the only one she’s been to bed with?” Lucinda lurched toward him. “Are you sure you’re the father?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Cambridge.” He turned to assess her with a cold eye. “I didn’t know what to do until I came in here.”

“Vernon—“

“I didn’t know if I wanted to marry her or not. Now I know I have to marry, if for nothing else than to protect her from vicious gossips — like you.” The last words he spat with hot anger.

“No, Vernon—“

“So now I know what I’m going to do. I’ll take nine hours next spring. That will leave time for a full time job to support my wife and my baby — yes, my baby.”

Lucinda noticed his voice was fading back into her memory. Vernon’s image floated between the classroom of ten years ago and her boarding house room of today. “Vernon! Don’t do that! It’s a mistake! Vernon!”

“I have just one last thing.” He pointed out the door into the boarding house hall. “Nancy’s little girl. She’s mine, ain’t she?”

“Isn’t, not ain’t,” she said, slipping back into her old ways.

“I’ll say ain’t if I damn well want to!” For the first time in front of his teacher, Vernon raised his voice in rage.

“Please, Vernon—“

“She’s my little girl, ain’t she?”

“Legally—“

“Ain’t she!?” He lost all control of his emotions.

“Yes.” Completely depleted, Lucinda collapsed into her rocking chair, now firmly affixed to the present. Her hand went to her chest.

“I’m a daddy.”

“She’s lovely — and smart.” Lucinda closed her eyes and smiled. “She has this way of seeing the world clearly, like you.”

“She’s smart.” His voice was fading like an echo.

“Very.” She rocked slowly, comforted by her mind’s images of Shirley.

“And good. I want my little girl to be good.” His voice was hardly discernible.

“No sweeter child ever lived.”

“I wonder what she thinks of her goofy old daddy.” Vernon laughed.

Lucinda’s eyes opened, her consciousness jostled to harsh reality. “Well . . . .”

“What?” His laugh evaporated.

“She doesn’t know.”

“Who does she think her daddy is?”

The very absurdity of the words caused Lucinda’s breath to become labored. “Nancy told her Warren Beatty, but Shirley doesn’t believe it.”

“Shirley?”

“Nancy named her after Beatty’s sister, Shirley MacLaine.” She covered her mouth with her hand to hide her quivering lips.

“That’s an old lady’s name.”

“That’s what Shirley says.”

“So she doesn’t know about me?”

Lucinda closed her eyes again and shook her head.

“You live in the same house, and you haven’t told her?”

His voice invaded her being and was intolerable. With all her strength she whispered, “It’s not up to me to tell her. I keep hoping Nancy will explain it.”

“The only thing I ever made that turned out good, and she doesn’t know I even existed?” Vernon’s voice weakened again, going down into the darkness of unpleasant memories.

“It’s not up to me.” All she could do was to repeat herself.

“I don’t exist for my baby.”

Lucinda’s native, irrational optimism gave her strength. “She’ll know someday. You’ll see.”

“Maybe I won’t.” His voice was almost gone. “Maybe Nancy will forget all about me before she tells Shirley. Then I’ll really be gone. Nobody will care.”

“I care.” Lucinda more than cared, but she did not have the courage to admit her feelings to Vernon.

“No, you don’t. Nobody cares.”

The words were vaporous, and she almost did not discern them. When she opened her eyes, Vernon was gone, and someone was knocking at her door.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter One Hundred Three

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Duff holds his last cabinet meeting posing as the president. Duff and Alethia leave on their last carriage ride, never to return. Adam then watches the Lincolns leave for the theater.
With his throat choked up, all Adam managed was a small wave to the Lincolns. And for the second time that night, he watched a couple ride into the darkness of their destinies. This time, however, he could not hold back tears. Rushing to the service stairwell, he cried as his feet made the straw mats crackle. At the bottom, he fell against the door, sobbing like a ghost. When he regained control, Adam opened the door and walked to the billiards room. Inside, he found Gabby curled up on his pallet about to doze off. Adam touched him with a gentle nudge.
“What?” Gabby sat up.
“It’s me, Private Christy.”
“Oh.”
“You have to go.”
“But Mrs. Lincoln said I could stay.”
“Things have changed.” Adam started putting Gabby’s clothes together in the middle of one of his quilts. “I know someone who’ll help you.”
“I remember. The nice young woman Cordie liked.”
“No,” Adam replied with a steady voice. “Unfortunately, the young woman died. Miss Dorothea Dix will give you a place to stay. Do you know who she is?”
“Yes. The boss lady. Cordie was scared of her.”
“Well, she’s nice once you get to know her. She’ll care for you until a man from New York will come to take over.”
“New York’s good. I know New York. My mother and father died there. New York’s a good place to die.”
“Don’t talk like that.” Adam choked back tears. “You’re not going to die any time soon. I think you’re going to live happily for a long time.”
“We all have to die sometime. New York is a good place to die.”
Adam bowed his head and finished tying Gabby’s bundle. He looked up when Gabby began to sniff.
“I smell rain.”
“It started drizzling a while ago.”
“I don’t like getting wet. It’s a long way to the soldiers’ hospital, and I’ll get wet. I hate getting wet.”
His mind racing, Adam finally thought of the hat and coat on Lincoln’s bed. They would be too large for Gabby, but they would keep him dry.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time. It’s raining.”
As Adam bounded up the matted service stairs, he felt that giving the hat and coat was the least he could do for Gabby after all he had been through because of Stanton’s terrible conspiracy. When he opened the door to the second floor, Adam slowed his pace, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He slipped into Lincoln’s bedroom, picked up the clothes, and left. Back in the billiards room, he found Gabby still in his corner. Adam smiled at him.
“Here’s a hat and coat. Now you won’t get wet.”
“They’re too big.” Standing, Gabby inspected them.
“That means you’ll have more protection from the rain.”
“But I’ll look stupid.”
“Yes, but you’ll be dry.”
“It’s better to be dry.” Gabby inspected the hat and coat more closely. “These are nice.” Putting on the coat, Gabby looked down and stroked the fabric. He scrutinized the black stovepipe hat. One of his fingers found the hole. “What’s this?”
“A bullet hole,” Adam replied. “Mrs. Lincoln didn’t want her husband to wear it.”
“The president’s hat?” Gabby’s eyes widened. “Is this the president’s coat?”
“Yes.”
Gabby carefully put the hat on his gray head.
“Does this mean I’m really the president now?” His eyes revealed deep concentration as he picked up his bundle.
Adam hesitated. He knew the president’s double was dead. Lincoln was to be shot soon. How many assassinations would be carried out overnight was uncertain. In this hour of leadership confusion, why not have a leader who was in a permanent state of confusion?
“Yes. You’re president.”
“I thought so.” Gabby nodded with assurance and picked up his bundle. He walked out of his safe place behind the crates and barrels. “My father would have been so proud.”
“Good night, Mr. President.” Adam gave him his best salute.
Gabby paused long enough to nod with grave formality before going across the hall, through the kitchen, and to the service entrance door. Adam listened to Gabby opening the door, and expected to hear it slam shut. Then he would be alone to decide his own future. When he did not hear the clang of the door, he frowned. What was happening now, he wondered.
“Who the hell are you?” Adam recognized Baker’s voice.
“I’m the president, aren’t I?”
Adam held his breath. He did not want Baker to kill Gabby too. No one deserved to die, but Gabby deserved to live more than anyone.
“Get the hell out of here,” Baker snapped.
“Yes, sir,” Gabby replied with meekness.
The door clanged shut, and Adam heard Baker’s footsteps through the kitchen, on his way to tie up the last loose end of Stanton’s intrigue. The future was now, finally, in Adam’s hands. He could wait for Baker to enter the door to kill him. He could shoot Baker as he came through the door. Those were not acceptable choices. Pulling out his revolver, Adam placed the barrel in his mouth, satisfied that, at the end, he was able to control his own destiny.

(This concludes my novel Lincoln in the Basement. If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment below and use Pay Pal to leave a gratuity to help defray the cost of the blog. Next week I will begin serializing the sequel Booth’s Revenge.)

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Seventy-Four

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. The Windsors escape oncoming Nazis. Leon shadows their every move.
Leon slept well that night. He had pretended to be a busboy at a restaurant where the Windsors told the American ambassador in rather blunt terms that England will not survive the attack of the Huns. Leon didn’t believe a word of it.
He waiting for the cablegram manager to arrive to unlock the door. In the last two weeks Leon went from just sweeping and dusting to arranging boxes for delivery in the store room. His boss actually told him he wanted to train Leon to take over the office one day.
I make too much money killing people to run this little business.
Leon, remembering lessons his mother taught him, smiled and thanked the man for his kind remarks.
During the lunch hour he flipped through the incoming messages which were stabbed securely together on a long, lethal nail. Leon found one that shocked even him. It was a reply to Ambassador Stohrer, not from Ribbentrop but from Adolf Hitler himself.
“I am granting you ultimate power to ensure the Duke and Duchess spend the rest of the war living in the Wolf’s Lair at Berchtesgaden. I have decided that Spain is not a safe enough haven for them. If any guards get in your way, kill them. If the Windsors do not come along willingly, hurt them, badly. By the time the world sees them again at the end of the war, the scars will have had time to fade, and they will have learned the meaning of the word fear.”
Leon, with immense discretion, placed the cablegram back on the nail. When the manager returned from lunch, Leon hugged him.
“Good news—good news my friend. My mate from the ship just left. He said they had forgotten an important—very important crate and he searched town to town until he found me. I must leave now. Thank you, thank you very much.”
And he hugged the man again, grateful the cablegram store manager was so dense he failed to realize that Madrid is a great distance from any port and a search from town to town to find an insignificant swabby would have been futile. He was almost out the door when he turned to add, “Oh, your nephew—he is a good boy, a very good boy. I’m sure if you ask nicely he will return to work for you.”
“But he is el bobo.”
“But a good boy, si?
On his way back to his fleabag hotel, Leon stopped to buy the latest edition of a major Madrid newspaper. In his room, he flipped through the newspaper until he found a picture of the duke and duchess dancing at an expensive restaurant last night. The headline concerned something much more important than their samba.
“Windsors to Leave Madrid for Lisbon.”
Leon read the newspaper account with concern. The couple would begin motoring their way to the Portuguese capital Wednesday morning. Once there they would await further directions from the British government about what their duties will be during the remainder of the war. Sources indicated the Windsors would stay at a private villa instead of in one of Lisbon’s prestigious hotels. The source declined to give the exact location.
A private villa. From his own experience Leon realized a private villa was not as secure as one might think. He would have to examine the grounds as soon as he determined the location and identify the inherent risks of each corner and dark recess.
Leon pulled out his travel bag and took out his sheathed knife. He took the blade out and held it up to the glare of the afternoon sun. It glistened. He carefully ran his thumb along its edge, reassuring himself it would efficiently sink deep into any man’s neck. He returned it to its sheath, and then he reached for his black, shiny revolver, checking how many bullets he had in reserve. Not enough, he decided. Leon then realized he had forgotten his silencer. Perhaps his farewell to his son had been too emotional which cause the lapse in his normal adept preparations. He had time to buy another.
Looking in the dirty mirror hanging on the back of his door, Leon decided his attire was wrong. It was fine to pass himself off as a Spanish peasant, but he was going into another country. Portuguese peasant attire was different from what a Spaniard wore. The slight difference could endanger his mission. He needed dark camouflage wear for his surveillance of the villa. He also had to check the petrol level in his motorcycle and make sure the other fluids were sufficient, his tires were at the proper air pressure and to check the battery and spark plugs. Nothing could be left to chance. Leon looked out the window. The sun was high enough in the sky for him to make all his purchases before dark.
That evening he spent time at a low-class dive with plenty of cheap food, tequila and chicas whose dresses pulled tight across their ample bosoms and hips. And music. He had to be revived by a lively mariachi band. Toward the end of his carousing, Leon was sure he noticed a tall blonde in a far cubicle of the restaurant who had her long arms and legs entwined around a local peon. He tried to focus on her, but he had drunk too much tequila. But, he could have sworn she looked like the casino hostess in Nassau. Another swig of tequila made him forget her all together.
Leon spent the next day as he usually did before a mission shifted into serious mode. He slept most of the day, only leaving his room to drink several cups of coffee and eat dry toast. Leon ran the streets until he had broken out into a healthy sweat. Upon return to his room, he took a bath in the communal toilet at the end of the hall, went back to bed and fell sleep.
Awaking in the middle of the night, he gathered his belongings, put on his Portuguese peasant attire, went downstairs to pay his bill and mounted his motorcycle for a night ride southwest to the border. He kept his mind blank, except to follow the winding road. Long ago he learned when he entered the critical phase of a mission, he could not think of his son Sidney nor his wife Jessamine. No distractions to keep him from successful completion of his assignment. He did feel himself becoming drowsy as he drove through Merida. By the time he reached Badajoz, just a few miles from the Portuguese frontier, Leon knew he could not continue through the night. He checked into a shabby hotel in downtown Badajoz for a few hours of restless sleep. Leon decided he was becoming too old to continue much longer as a mercenary. Not so many years ago he could go for days on a minimum of sleep, but no longer. His only sense of relief was the Windsors must have stopped much sooner to check into a hotel than he did.
The sun had barely risen when he was back on the road and passed through the border inspection. By noon he rested on the veranda of a Lisbon café on the banks of Rio Tejo, sipping a cup of black coffee. Before long he spotted the couple’s limousine crossing the bridge. Paying his bill, Leon mounted his bike and followed them as they made a sharp left turn along the river which led away from the capital’s center. Leon became alarmed as they continued through the town of Cascais. Perhaps their plans had changed and they were going to meet a flying boat which would take them to England. This went against all the intelligence and news reports he had received.
However, he saw on the horizon a glistening pink stucco villa on the white sands of the Atlantic beach. It was surrounded by a limestone wall, which was not tall enough to keep anyone out, Leon noted. He gunned his motorcycle as he passed the limousine when it turned into the gated entrance. Again he noted the gate was wrought iron and not solid wood, leaving the Windsors open to gunfire by assassins in passing automobiles.
An hour later found Leon ensconced in a seedy seaside hotel with strong drinks being served on the patio overlooking the ocean. He asked an elderly man about to pass out from too much red wine about the owner of the villa down the way.
“Dr. Ricardo de Espirito Santo e Silva. A wealthy man. Only a wealthy man can afford such a long name.”
“But a good man, si? A wealthy doctor who takes care of his needy neighbors, no?” Leon asked.
The old man looked at him askance. “No. He is a Nazi.” He took a long drink of wine. “We are surrounded by Nazis and fascists and there is nothing we can do about it. My only hope is to die of too much wine before they take over the world.”
“I noticed many trees and bushes behind the wall.” Leon leaned in to pour the old man another drink. “He must need many workers to make the garden beautiful.”
After making a derisive spitting sound, the old man sneered. “Not a chance in hell. All of the guards and gardeners have been replaced by Germans. By the order of the good doctor. It’s like he wants someone to break in and kill the lousy Limeys.”
Leon stood. “Thank you for your help.” He bowed and was about to walk away when the old man grabbed his arm.”
“You got a funny accent. Where you from?”
“Bahamas.”
“Bahamas!” The old man’s eyes widened. “What the hell are you doing in a hell hole like this?”
“I must fill my family’s bellies.”
That night Leon, wearing his black camouflage, slithered along the front wall, looking from side to side to make sure no cars were coming his way with their headlights on high beam. The road was dark and silent. Leon didn’t know whether to feel fortunate or be alarmed. He jiggled the handle to the wrought iron gate to find it unlocked. He checked his watch. It was eleven. Now he felt alarmed. Something was planned that night. Slipping in, he made a quick inspection of the grounds. He counted the number of doors and found too many to secure it. Huge windows were only a few feet from each other, creating an illusion the villa was a house of glass. Beautiful but deadly. The indoor lights lit the garden with ghastly shadows.
His head jerked to the right when he heard footsteps. He looked up when a rock shattered an upstairs window. He quickly gathered his own supply of river stones which lined a flower bed. Rushing to the scene of the rock throwing Leon spied four men, dressed similar to himself, gathering more stones. He took careful aim and landed a rock on the head of each intruder. By the time he began his second round of throws, the trespassers ran for the unlocked gate.
In the morning, he sipped his coffee and read the front- page story about the attack. The owner of the newsstand which adjoined the cafe bitterly complained his newspapers were late being delivered, and many regular customers protested they could not wait and had to go to work without the news. He stopped his grumbling when a long line appeared, and the newsstand vendor soon sold out. He fussed the newspaper should have given him extra copies since, it knew the people would want to read about such important news.
Leon ignored him to concentrate on the story of the attack on the former king of England. The Spanish ambassador pleaded with the couple to return to Madrid where their safety could be guaranteed. The Duke of Windsor was unwavering in his vow to wait until his orders arrived from Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
After leaving the café, Leon sauntered down the street to a flower dealer close to the pier where all the ocean liners embarked to ports around the world. He selected a dozen red roses, gave the address of the doctor’s villa, and wrote a note:
“Do not be afraid. I am here to protect you. A friend who has your interests at heart.”
“Ah, she must be your lover,” the old woman cooed. “I will deliver these myself.”
As Leon handed her the money, he noticed she seemed familiar—younger than she was trying to act, a bad job of smearing dark stage makeup on her face and she stood straighter than most old women. He dismissed the observation as unimportant. He returned to his hotel room to sleep the rest of the day so he would be alert for his surveillance that night.
At eleven he appeared at the gate, which again had been left unlocked. His first duty was to locate the duchess’s bedroom window. She would not be in the bedroom where the window had been broken. It was boarded up. They would have moved her to a new location, he decided. Leon scampered among the flowering bushes and trees to the other side of the house where he found a lit window on the second floor. In it was the figure of a woman. He recognized her to be Wallis.
Looking around that portion of the garden he saw a dark figure of a man. This time the intruder had a rifle, pointed at the duchess’s bedroom window. Leon ran towards him, pulling out the revolver with the new silencer attached. Taking careful aim, shot the marksman, striking him in his chest. The man’s rifle went off as he fell. When Leon reached the body he couldn’t detect a heartbeat but he didn’t want to take any chances. He removed his knife from its sheath and stabbed the shooter’s throat several times. Leon wiped the blade on the grass, returned it to the sheath and ran for the wall, jumping over it. He didn’t want to be caught at the entrance gate.
The next morning, Leon bought his newspaper from the vendor who was beaming.
“It was late again, but they left me extra copies. Business is picking up.”
Leon ordered his coffee and toast, then read the newspaper account from the villa. Police authorities could not identify the victim. His shot had gone astray and entered the stucco wall. The Duke of Windsor announced he had received orders from the British government. He had been bestowed the prestigious position of governor to the colony of the Bahamas. He and his wife would be leaving on an American Export Lines ship the Excalibur on Friday.
Two days away. Surely the Germans would not be so foolish as to attempt another terrorist attack against the couple. But to make sure I will be in the garden each night.
Friday dawned with a feeling of relief for Leon. He had accomplished his mission. Soon he would be back in the arms of his loving wife. He could play again with his son who—he ominously realized—was the same age he was when his father died, but he was an inch taller than Leon had been.
Well, no reason to worry about that. The mission is complete. All that is left is to be paid.
Leon decided to wear his Portuguese peasant clothing to the pier so he would blend in with the other poor people who showed up to see what an authentic ex-king looked like. The Windsors did not disappoint. The duke looked dashing in a gray pin-striped suit with a suitably stylish straw hat. The duchess wore a light blue linen dress and sunglasses.
“Don’t turn around,” a familiar female voice ordered.
Leon felt a revolver pushed between his shoulder blades.
It’s her. From the casino. I thought it was her following me. She’s here to pay me off.
“The organization is not happy with your attitude. You always get the job done, but you’ve revealed you have a soft heart for the Windsors. The red roses were a mistake. Also, you’ve been sloppy and let it slip to certain undesirables about us. Pookah is a big problem. Don’t worry. Your family will receive your money from the mission. The organization is not completely cold-hearted.”
She shot him in the back. Leon fell. As his mind began to fade away, he had one last thought.
Family bellies must be filled.

Remember Chapter Fourteen

Previously: Retired teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. She remembers letting it slip to Vernon that she didn’t like Nancy. She helps him with an essay about death, but leans in too close to Vernon.
Lucinda collapsed on the bed and at once fell into a deep sleep. Only minutes seemed to pass when another knock at the door interrupted her rest. Looking at the alarm clock on the nightstand, she saw it was already a little after five o’clock.

“Listen.” Nancy stood on the other side of the door. “We gotta talk.”

“Of course.” Lucinda stood and went straight to her rocker and sat. “Come in.”

“Somehow Shirley has heard the name Vernon Singleberry, and I don’t like it.” She stood in front of the old teacher. Her hands were on her hips.

“Shirley’s a very bright young lady, and she deserves to know the truth.”

“Maybe someday.” She narrowed her eyes and shook a finger at Lucinda. “But not now and for damn sure not from you.”

The old woman rubbed her chest and tried to show a knowing smile. “She already knows the story about the movie star is foolish. That’s why she doesn’t like school.”

“What’s so bad about not likin’ school?” she asked with a sneer. “I hated school.”

“Don’t you want better for Shirley?” Lucinda leaned forward in her rocker.

“What the hell’s wrong with being a beautician?” Nancy folded her arms across her chest and pinched her lips.

“Nothing. It’s just that—“

“Stop it,” she interrupted with acid on her tongue. “I ain’t your student no more. You ain’t nobody’s teacher no more. Nobody cares what you think. Git it?”

“Yes.” Lucinda fell back in her chair.

“If you don’t stop this, I’m goin’ to tell everyone the truth.” Nancy stepped closer and lowered her voice in a threat. “You had the hots for Vernon. Yeah, I know about the time you fell all over him. Vernon was so dumb he thought you had lost your balance, but I knew you wanted to cop a feel. Do you want these old biddies to know about that?”

“No,” she replied, too tired to fight back.

“Good. We understand each other. Don’t talk about Vernon again.” Nancy turned and slammed the door on her way out.

Lucinda breathed in, trying to fill her lungs and found herself swept back to her classroom. When she saw Vernon enter she smiled. He wore another sweater and, for once, has no books in his arms.

“Mrs. Cambridge?” he asked in a shy whisper. “May I speak to you a moment?”

“Vernon. I’m so glad you came back.” She smiled. “You’ve really been a comfort to me today.”

“Oh. Then maybe I should come back another time. I’ve got a problem.” Vernon shuffled his feet and looked down.

“Don’t mind me.” Lucinda motioned to a chair. “You know I always told you to come to me when you’ve got a problem.”

“Thank you.” He sat but kept his head down.

“Well, what is it?” She touching the tips of her fingers together, assuming the posture of a sage. “Some assignment giving you trouble?”

“No.”

“Coach Cummins harassing you again about your game playing?” She was running out of possibilities.

“No.”

Her hands went to her face as Lucinda straightened in her chair. “This is right before Christmas of your sophomore year, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“It’s Nancy Meyers.” She felt a knot tighten in her stomach.

“Yes.”

“I remember now,” she whispered.

“Mrs. Cambridge, I love Nancy very much.” He paused to search for the right words. “She’s the only girl who’s ever cared for me.”

“Oh, I’m sure others—“

“I mean,” he interrupted her, “she’s the only one who thought — who took me seriously as — you know, as someone you might want to love and — maybe — spend the rest of your life with. And I do, I do want to spend the rest of my life with her.” Vernon paused. “But not starting right now.”

“She’s pregnant.”

“Yes.”

“And it’s your baby.”

“If we get married right now.” His eyes strayed out the window. “I’d have to take fewer classes so I could work.”

“But you can’t take less than twelve hours or—“

“Or I’ll be drafted and sent to Vietnam,” he finished her sentence. A grimace darkened his face. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam. I’m afraid I’ll die there.” Vernon put his head down into the palms of his hands and cried.

Lucinda’s impulse was to go to him and put her arms around him, but she restrained herself, remembering the previous incident. “Vernon, Vernon, that’s all right.”

“I don’t know what to do.” He shook his head.

“There, there.” She thought if she continued to sit there she would begin to cry herself.

“Damn. Only babies cry,” he chided under his breath.

“Are you sure? Sometimes girls think they’re pregnant and they’re really not.”

“It’s for real.” He nodded, now staring at the floor. “She went to the doctor today.”

Without thinking about what she was doing, Lucinda stood to go to the chalk board and wrote the word “parents” as though she were about to parse a sentence. “How about your parents? Do you think they would help out enough to allow you to maintain a full class load?”

“My old man?” Vernon snorted. “You must be kidding.”

“Her parents?” She began to add those words to her list.

“They don’t have any money to spare.” He shrugged. “They’re as poor as we are.”

“Or least that’s what she says.” Her hand holding the chalk stayed motionless.

“Yeah.” Sniffing, Vernon sat up straight and looked at Lucinda with an incredulous glare. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

She turned back to Vernon, rolling the chalk between her hands. “I don’t know how to say this without hurting your feelings, Vernon, but Nancy isn’t as nice as you think.”

“What do you mean?” He took a handkerchief out and wiped his eyes.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter One Hundred Two

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Duff holds his last cabinet meeting posing as the president. Duff and Alethia leave on their last carriage ride, never to return.
Stepping inside the Executive Mansion service door, Adam slumped against the kitchen wall as he tried to comprehend what was going to happen to the very amiable couple he had known for the last two-and-a-half years. They had been kind to him, and now he mourned their imminent deaths. Adam shook off his melancholia so he could walk into the billiards room with a smile to help the Lincolns move their possessions back upstairs.
“Praise the Lord. No more chamber pots,” Mrs. Lincoln said in exultation as she finished packing. “Please take down my French lace curtains, Private Christy.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Who knows what that other woman has done to my room and my finest dresses.”
Adam stiffened momentarily, and he noticed that she had noticed.
“I know.” She touched his arm. “I’m sure she was a very nice lady. And he was a fine gentleman.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled. “Remember, I’m from Kentucky, and we Southern belles must always fuss about something.”
“Molly, time to go,” Lincoln announced.
“Father, we should say good-bye to Mr. Gabby.”
“Of course.”
Turning the corner of the stack of crates and barrels, Adam and the Lincolns found Gabby lying face down on his pallet.
“Mr. Gabby?” Lincoln asked.
“Go away. I’m sad.”
“There’s no need to be sad, Mr. Gabby,” Mrs. Lincoln assured him. “We all can go back to our normal lives.”
“Cordie’s dead. Life can’t be normal without Cordie.”
“As sad as it seems, you will go on without Cordie,” Lincoln added. “You will survive, or you too will die. And I don’t think your sister would want that to happen.”
Mrs. Lincoln gazed up devotedly at her husband, Adam observed, and he had to turn away because the same fate awaited her tonight. She would lose her husband and would have to struggle to survive, just as Gabby was struggling, and just as he was struggling with Jessie’s death. Like Lincoln said, he would learn to live with the grief or allow the grief to kill him.
Kneeling beside Gabby, Mrs. Lincoln patted his shoulder and said, “If all this is too much for you, feel free to stay here a few more days. We won’t mind.”
When he did not respond, Mrs. Lincoln stood to leave. Adam followed them as they went up the service stairs. On the second floor, Tad bounded from his room to fly into his mother’s arms.
“Mama! Papa!” Tad yelled. In a quieter voice he added, “I’m glad you’re back!”
As she caressed his tousled brown hair, Mrs. Lincoln whispered, “I can tell you’ve grown. The woman was good to you.”
“Mrs. Mama was great. And Mr. Papa.” His face darkened a moment. “I hope you don’t mind that I liked them.”
Reaching to touch Tad’s shoulder, Lincoln replied, “No, I’m glad they took good care of you.”
Again, knowing Lincoln was to be assassinated tonight, Adam had to turn his head away so they could not see his eyes clouded with guilt. He knew how it hurt a child to lose a parent. No one would comfort him. No one would listen to him when he said his heart ached. He shook his head. Much more of this emotion, Adam warned himself, and he would go mad.
“Let’s play games tonight!” Tad beamed.
“We can’t, dear,” Mrs. Lincoln replied. “Mr. Stanton arranged for us to go the theater to see Miss Laura Keene’s farewell performance.”
“Oh, him.” Tad pulled away from his mother. “Don’t go. I don’t trust him.” He went to his father. “Stay home with me and play games. Then send for that old Mr. Stanton to come here at midnight in his nightshirt. And fire him, right there at midnight in his nightshirt.”
Breathing deeply, Adam bit his lip in hopes that Lincoln would do exactly what his son asked. He could save his own life by removing Stanton from all power. His heart raced. The thought of Lincoln firing the war secretary gave him hope again.
“No, son, we have to go.”
Tad fell against his father’s flat belly and sighed.
“That’s all right.” Mrs. Lincoln turned to her bedroom. “The public expects us to attend. I wonder if I have anything decent to wear.”
“Papa?”
“Your mama hasn’t been out in one of her fancy dresses in a long time. I can’t deny her.”
“Mr. Papa had a softer belly than you.” Tad leaned against his father. “But he had a soft heart like you.” He looked up to smile. “Tell Mama she has to tell me all about the play tomorrow.”
Adam watched Tad walk back to his room and, as he shut the door, Adam felt his hope die a second time. Another door swung open, causing Adam and Lincoln to turn their heads. Mrs. Lincoln looked radiant, holding a white dress with little pink flowers.
“I found it in the back of the armoire,” she said with delight. “Mrs. Keckley brought it the last week we were here. I never wore it, being in mourning. I’m sure it still fits.” Her tiny fingers ran across the top. “I know it’s rather low-cut, and shows a modest décolletage, but I feel like celebrating.”
“Then celebrate.” Lincoln smiled at her. “By the way, Tad wants you to tell him about the play tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, I’m going to sleep until noon tomorrow.” She paused. “Isn’t it odd that in the basement, when I could sleep all day, I awoke early? And you, Father, who usually rise early, slept all day. Perhaps this means we’re going to be normal again.”
“Yes, normal again,” Lincoln echoed in melancholia.
After she went into her room to dress, Lincoln looked at Adam, who sensed the president had noticed his troubled eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Lincoln assured him. “I don’t blame you.” He turned to his bedroom. “Come with me.” After they entered the bedroom, Lincoln went to his armoire. “I’m not changing suits. I just want my good hat and overcoat.” Putting on the overcoat first, Lincoln looked startled by how large it was on him. “This must belong to the other man. He was larger than me. A dubious distinction, indeed.” He looked at Adam. “Did he really fool everyone?”
“I don’t know.” Adam averted his eyes. “I think he fooled some. Stanton intimidated others into not noticing. A few chose to see only what they wanted to see.”
“He was a good man. He treated my son well.” Lincoln returned his attention to the coat. “This will be a giveaway.” He tossed it on the bed. “I doubt he’ll be back to reclaim it.”
“No, he won’t,” Adam replied in a subdued tone.
“How did this happen?” Lincoln pulled out a worn stovepipe hat and stuck his finger through a hole.
“The man narrowly missed an assassin’s bullet last summer while riding,” Adam explained.
“Mrs. Lincoln would disapprove if I wore that.” He put the hat by the large coat and sat on the bed, motioning to Adam to join him. “You see, when I undertook the labor of running for president and thereby setting in motion the machinery of this war, I knew I’d have to pay the ultimate price for doing the horrible job that had to be done.” He leaned toward Adam to whisper, “Thank you for not saying anything to Molly. Let her have these last few hours of happiness.”
“See, I didn’t gain a pound in that wretched basement.” Mrs. Lincoln appeared, preening in her new white dress.
A knock at the door made Adam jump.
“Your carriage has arrived, Mr. President,” Tom Pendel announced.
“Are you going with us tonight, Private Christy?” Mrs. Lincoln asked.
“No, ma’am. I leave tonight.”
“Nonsense,” she replied. “We’ve no ill will against you. In fact, I’ve grown quite accustomed to you. I’d hate to break in a new adjutant.”
Lincoln looked back and forth between his wife and Adam.
“I do believe, Molly, that this young man has a hankering to go home to Ohio, even though it might cause you personal distress.”
“Oh. Of course. I hadn’t thought of that.”
Pendel knocked again.
“We must be on our way, Mother.” Lincoln retrieved his other overcoat and hat from the armoire.
“Good night, Mr. Pendel,” Lincoln said.
“Good night, sir; madam.”
After they walked down the grand staircase, President and Mrs. Lincoln and Adam went out the door. Adam was taken aback to see the front door guard John Parker standing by the awaiting carriage, already in the early stages of inebriation.
“I don’t like that man,” Mrs. Lincoln whispered to her husband. “He always reeks of whiskey.” She looked up at the cloudy, dark sky. “Oh, dear, it’s raining. My white dress will be ruined by the end of the evening.”
“Think happy thoughts, Mother,” Lincoln said. “The world turns on more than muddy dresses.”
They settled into the carriage while Parker staggered to his seat next to the driver. The Lincolns looked back at Adam.
“Good night, Private Christy,” Mrs. Lincoln chirped.
“Good-bye, young man.”