David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Seven

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary. MI6 briefs the Windsors on the situation in the Bahamas.
Sidney bought a newspaper before he started walking across the northern hills to meet up with Jimbo. Word had made it over to Eleuthera that some trouble was expected tonight. It was a long time coming and not a secret. Details of the air field construction projects began to leak. Whites imported from the United States were to receive four times the pay for the same work black Bahamians would do. All of the crew leader jobs were going to be offered to white Bahamians.
A story on the front page of the paper stated the Duke of Windsor had cut his diplomatic tour of the Eastern United States short and had returned to the Bahamas to address certain government issues. Sidney grunted.
I guess they didn’t want to admit a race riot was about to break out.
As he entered the village, Sidney wadded the newspaper and threw it in the brush alongside of the road. Two fears held his attention: first, he didn’t want the Duke to be involved in any way. Sidney’s contact with the organization made it clear there would be hell to pay if any harm came to the island governor. Second, he didn’t like the way Jimbo was getting involved in the situation. He was a big boy, for sure, but he was still just a boy, much less grown up than Sidney.
He didn’t want to see his new friend hurt. Even though Sidney was only sixteen himself, he felt like a father figure to Jimbo. He was family. And Sidney knew families’ bellies must be filled.
By the time he arrived at the campground, Leonard Green was already preaching to the crowd.
“We are tired of feeling like second-class citizens.” Green’s voice was loud and intense. “We are the majority in the Bahamas, but we are treated like the minority! It’s not fair, and it ends tonight!”
“I’se a man!” a voice in the crowd called out.
“That’s right!” Green agreed. “I’se a man!”
The chant rolled through the crowd as they held their torches high. Sidney searched the mob for some time before he found Jimbo. He didn’t like the glint in his friend’s eyes highlighted by in the torch flames.
“Now pick up a stick, a rock, anything,” Green ordered. “We’re going to the Public Square right now!”
Sidney stayed right by Jimbo’s side as they marched back over the hills to the town square where the Governor’s House sat alongside the Parliament building and the Colonial Secretary’s Office. When they arrived, Green conferred with a group of older black men in suits who stood at the top of the steps which led to a plaza connecting the three buildings. He turned to address the crowd.
“I have been informed by this group of gentlemen that a representative of our new Bahamas Federation of Labor is meeting at this very moment with the Duke of Windsor about our concerns.”
A white man stepped in front. “I am Attorney General Eric Halliman, and I assure you the Duke is very interested in your concerns and will act on them within the fullest measure the law will allow.”
A low moan of disbelief went through the crowd.
“Now I ask you, most kindly, to go home and not to spoil the good impression you have made.”
Most of the men did as they were told and in due time turned back towards home.
A woman’s voice rang out, “Cheap talk! That’s all it is!”
“Let’s go shoppin’ down on that Bay Street they’re always talkin’ about!” a man shouted.
“We never even seen it before!”
“Yeah! They won’t even let us walk down the street!”
“Let’s see what they got down there!”
“Yeah!” Jimbo chimed in.
Oh crap. How am I going to keep him from getting killed?”
Before Sidney knew it he and Jimbo were being shoved downtown. Stones shattered windows. Rioters flung torches in the shops. The night sky glowed in orange and yellow. Women spurred the men on.
“Get me some of that expensive perfume!”
“I want a fancy radio!”
Small children danced through the ransacked stores, laughing as though they didn’t understand the dire circumstances of the insurrection.
“We declare war on the conchy joe!” another voice erupted from the crowd.
“No white man is passin’ here tonight!”
Sidney grabbed Jimbo’s arm. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get out of here!”
“No!” Jimbo replied in a shrill snarl. “They right! They right!”
Sidney looked around when he heard the thudding of soldiers’ boots on the cobblestones. The governor had called out the troops.
Jerking on his friends arm, Sidney hissed, “It doesn’t make any difference if they’re right if the soldiers shoot us dead on the street!”
Now Sidney heard the bells on the firetrucks arriving to stop the shop burning. His worst fears came true when his eyes focused down the street where a slender white man silhouetted against the flames stood directing the action. Sidney decided the Duke left the negotiations when he was informed of the rioting.
Damn. Who knew he was going to be a hero tonight?”
The situation exacerbated when he saw Jimbo pick up a shard of glass in front of the stores.
“Damn white governor,” Jimbo growled. “It’s all his fault.” He started stalking toward the Duke.
Jimbo’s not thinking straight. He should know the Duke was really on their side. It’s too late to explain it to him now. He’s hot under the collar. How can I stop this without killing anybody?
He ran to catch up to Jimbo and kicked him several times in the back of the knees, which caused the boy to collapse on the street moaning.
Sidney looked behind him and saw a gray-haired black man who looked as scared as Sidney felt. He pointed to his friend on the ground.
“He done got sick. Take him back to the camp, please.”
The older man nodded, leaned down to help up Jimbo, and they disappeared in the crowd. As soon as he was sure they were gone, Sidney looked back at the Duke and saw several black men creeping up behind him.
Sidney ran to the Duke, grabbed him around the waist and dragged him to one of the firetrucks. He shoved him into the arms of a firefighter.
“He’ll be safer over here.” Sidney told the firefighter as he began to walk away.
“Who are you?” a fireman asked.
“One of the good guys—whatever the hell that means.”
The Duke turned around, shook his head and looked at Sidney. “Come by the Governor’s Palace when everything calms down. I want to thank you, properly.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twelve

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain.
Ward Lamon tapped the window of the train car as the engine chugged its way from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Rain streamed down the pane blurring the passing dark landscape. Lamon did not notice. He was anxious to see his friend Abraham Lincoln after an absence of two and a half years.
They had been friends in Springfield, Il. Part of that time Lamon was Lincoln’s law partner. When Lincoln became president, he asked Lamon to be his bodyguard on the trip to the capital. Later Lamon served officially as Federal District Marshal and unofficially as the president’s protector. Many nights he slept on the floor outside Lincoln’s bedroom door to ward off assassins. Then one day in September of 1862, Lamon rode to a meeting on Capitol Hill in the carriage of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton told him the president had gone into hiding because of threats on his life. Doubles replaced both Lincoln and his wife. To insure the protection of the president, Stanton told him, Lamon had to pretend Lincoln was still living in the Executive Mansion.
Lamon never trusted Stanton, nor his personal bodyguard Lafayette Baker. Both of them were short men who bullied people to make themselves feel bigger. Since he himself was well over six feet in stature and burly in appearance, he had no need to bully people for respect.
Stanton told him that night to mind his own business and leave well enough alone. Baker smirked, which irritated Lamon to no end. He hated the man. Rumors circulated throughout Washington City about Baker’s nefarious history in California. The little man worked for companies that paid him to beat men to death who did not fall in line and accept low wages and stinking living conditions. Lamon believed every story.
He had pressed the Lincoln impersonator to tell him the truth during those two and a half years, but the impersonator had revealed little. Sitting in the railroad car staring out at the dark, Lamon remembered another train trip. He and the imposter were coming back from Gettysburg after the cemetery dedication. They looked out of the window as the train pulled into Washington City station.
Placing his hand over the double’s fist he whispered, “Say nothing but continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it. Is this plan really the plan of Mr. Stanton?”
The hand shook but did not change configuration.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
He again made a quick fist, but his hand trembled.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
The hand went flat.
“Are you afraid?”
The hand stayed flat, but Lamon could sense beads of sweat popping up on the knuckles. Lamon wanted to jerk the man up by his shoulders and shake him. Be a man and tell the truth, he wanted to scream at him. You are not worthy even to pretend you are Abraham Lincoln, he wanted to yell. But, Lamon reminded himself, they were surrounded by people who did not need to know this man was not their commander-in-chief. Instead he patted the man’s hand. “Wave to the people, Mr. President.”
Cowardice was another personality trait the federal marshal did not understand. Lamon had never been afraid of anything, at least until this day as he rode the train to Baltimore. Now he feared he would not find President Lincoln in time to save his life. Shifting uncomfortably in the wooden bench seat on the train, he thought back to going to the Executive Mansion earlier that day. It was Good Friday morning, and he had implored the double to tell him where the real Lincoln was being held.
“Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” After a pause the imposter added, “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right,” Lamon told him. “Nobody has to die. Where is Mr. Lincoln?”
“Baltimore. Fort McHenry.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
The man grabbed Lamon’s arm. “Take the woman with you. I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.” Lamon offered to take him, but the man replied, “No, I have meetings to attend. People still have need to see their president.”
Lamon frowned as he recalled walking into Mrs. Lincoln’s bedroom where the woman sat by the window. “I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight. There’s no reason for you to stay.”
“I don’t want Tad to be alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
As Lincoln’s friend continued to stare out of the rain-stained window, he decided he had been wrong about the imposters. At first, he thought they were despicable for participating in such a deception, but now he realized they were in the final analysis ordinary people forced into a terrible situation. And when the end was near, only thought of the good of others. Lamon hoped he would return from Baltimore with the president in time to save the couple. He realized their lives were in danger also. If Stanton were capable of kidnapping, he was capable of murder. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Lamon decided he would feel better once he had rescued Lincoln from Fort McHenry. The world would be set aright once he could look into the president’s eyes.
But what about looking into the eyes of his own wife back in Springfield? Lamon felt the back of his neck burn with guilt as he acknowledged he had set aside the needs of his own family when Lincoln became president. His first wife Angeline died in 1859. Two daughters, Kate and Julia, died in 1853 and 1854 respectively. Lamon asked his sister to raise his surviving daughter Dorothy. Right at the same time as the election in 1860, he married Sally Logan and immediately left his daughter and new wife to serve Lincoln in Washington City.
Sally and Dorothy saw him only occasionally in the first two years. After all, the nation and the president needed him. When Fort Sumter was under siege, the president sent him to Charleston as his special representative. Republicans criticized him for his failure to save the fort from falling. His wife and daughter never mentioned the war in their letters. They only said they wanted to see him again.
After September of 1862 when Lincoln allegedly went into hiding and an imposter took his place in the Executive Mansion, however, Lamon rarely made the train trip home to see his wife and daughter. He had to be in the White House constantly, looking for clues about the location of the real Lincoln and pushing the imposter for information. He even cancelled plans for his wedding anniversary with his wife to go with the imposter to Gettysburg. Her letters did not speak of her disappointment, but he could tell by her stiff penmanship she was in emotional pain.
Once the president was safe, Lamon told himself, once the crisis was officially over, he would return to his law practice in Springfield and be the proper husband to his wife and father to his dutiful daughters.

Portrait of a Ballerina, Part Two

Previously, twin sisters become estranged when one of them does not correct a ballet director’s decision.
Upon La Vieja’s death, she willed the dance school to Nina. Jose became a master electrician and settled down into a satisfying prosperous life. They had two sons. Jorge played soccer and Miguel became a dancer. In the meantime, Nina continued to read stories in the newspapers about Maria’s successful career and her disastrous private life. Maria had several affairs with prominent men, but none of them married her. Maria’s lowest point was a miscarriage of a baby whose father was a local politician who refused to divorce his wife. Nina never shed a tear for her.
The years passed, and Nina took an assistant to demonstrate new steps to her students. Again she read in the papers about her sister when she broke her leg attempting a difficult leap. The ballet company urged her to teach, but she refused and instead retired to concentrate on her oil painting.
When he grew up, Miguel auditioned for the French National Ballet and was accepted. Jorge joined his father’s expanding electrical company.
Over time Nina’s students learned, grew and often returned to thank her for the training and for being like a second mother. Some of them actually became professional dancers, accepted by companies across Europe.
When Nina read Maria had a painting accepted by the national gallery, she only grunted and raised an eyebrow. She told her sons she was too happy being abuela to her own grandchildren to be concerned with her sister. Nina didn’t show any grief when she read Maria died, collapsed on the museum floor in front of her painting.
A few days later she received a phone call from the executive director of the Prado who informed her Maria put in her will that her sister and family be invited to a memorial service at her painting in the gallery. It was Maria’s wish, the director said, for the rope to be removed and for Nina to be the first to observe the painting up close.
“Never.”
Nina was adamant until her husband Jose and her grown sons hugged her and reminded her there was no reward in heaven for holding a grudge. They didn’t knew what the bitterness was, they told her, and that they didn’t want to know what it was. But, they added, her heart would heal if she relented and looked at the painting as her sister wanted. Against her will of steel, Nina conceded to call the museum and agreed to attend the ceremony.
On the day of the event Nina and her family arrived exactly on time. She didn’t want to be early and subject herself to questions that were none of the reporters’ business. With great pomp the museum officials removed the red rope, and the Prado director led Nina to the picture. She looked at it but only saw globs of black and white.
“Mama,” Jorge whispered, “Look at the face of the ballerina. It looks exactly like you.”
“Of course it does,” Nina snapped. “We were twins.”
“No, I’ve lived with that face for forty-five years,” Jose interceded. “That’s you, Nina.”
“Look again, Mama,” Miguel urged. “Look closer.”
As Nina focused on the face she had to admit it was her chin, her nose, her eyes, her mouth. There were the slight differences only a twin could detect. So, yes, it was she as a young ballerina, almost ten feet tall.
Miguel stepped closer to the shadows behind the ballerina. “Mama, look at this.”
Nina stood next to him and saw in varying shades of black, gray and dark blue, other dancers cowering, pulling away. The faces on them were that of Maria. The closest figure to the dancer in the spotlight was definitely Maria on the day of the audition. Her face bared shock, disappointment and shame.
As the spotlight’s glow faded more figures appeared, each of the same dancer, aging in despair the further she went from the star until she was a hunched-over vieja. Many of them cried. Others moaned. Still more pulled at their hair in loneliness and self-loathing. The last figure, in the farthest corner, was a barely detectable body, collapsed on the floor, like a pile of dirty rags.
Nina remembered reading in the morning newspaper that Maria was found with a small can of black paint and a tiny brush in her hand, as though she died applying the final stroke.
“Nina, my chica, will you finally tell us what all this is all about?” Jose asked in tenderness.
“No.” She clinched her jaw. “I have never spoken of it and neither did Maria. In all the interviews, if someone asked her about her audition for the ballet she would leave the room. It said so in the newspapers and magazines. So no, it is a secret we shall both take to our graves. And perhaps in death we may finally forgive each other.”
“But Mama,” Jorge begged. “We are your family. We have always loved you, respected your wishes, and will be by your side when you leave this life.”
“Yes, Mama,” Miguel took up the case. “Don’t you think we deserve to know? After all, we love you more than we can say.”
Nina smiled as her wrinkled face found grace and peace. She waved her shriveled hand across the vast expanse of the canvas.
“You want to know the truth. It’s all right there in front of you. All you have to do is discover what it means.”

Portrait of a Ballerina

Nina Carmen de Seguin read in the morning newspaper on the front page that Spain’s greatest prima ballerina Maria Consuelo Rodriguez—her sister—died.
She did not cry.
Nina further read that Maria’s body had been found on the floor of the Prado Museum in front of her classic self-portrait, which Maria previously proclaimed would never be finished. She began the painting early in her career and art critics judged it to be a masterpiece comparable to eighteenth century giants in light and composition. It was of a ballerina in a spotlight, on pointe with her arms outstretched. Behind her were indiscernible dark shapes. Maria eventually conceded to have the painting displayed on the stipulation that no one be allowed to stand closer than thirty feet away from the twelve-by-eight foot oil painting behind a red velvet cord. She also demanded that she be allowed to continue work on it at night and at her discretion. Now that Maria had passed, Prado officials announced the rope would be removed so museum visitors at last could behold the masterpiece up close.
Wadding the newspaper, Nina threw it across the room.
“It’s so like her to remain the center of attention even after death,” she muttered.
Nina hated her sister and had not spoken to her in fifty years since the day they both auditioned for the Spanish National Ballet company. The sisters were twin sixteen-year-olds. They swore to each other that the ultimate dream would be for both of them to chosen. But if only one were selected, the other would be fully supportive. They walked on the stage, holding hands and wearing matching costumes for good luck.
The company director looked grim. “I must tell you now we can only take one of you, even though we have been informed that you are both equally talented. The least mistake may be the deciding factor. I sincerely apologize.”
The girls squeezed hands and smiled at each other with love. Then the music began. Nina and Maria squared their shoulders and extended their arms as though they were wings. Each performed leaps, pirouettes and lunges. At one point they held hands and twirled on pointe, their backs arched and their heads looking up into the heavens. Nina’s heart broke a bit as she noticed Maria lose her balance and waver. They broke the position and went into their final bows.
Holding hands they watched the company director and his staff confer. Finally the director spoke.
“A wonderful performance by both of you. Of course, the stumble at the end ultimately cemented our decision, but we must be blunt. The winning performance was far superior from the very beginning. The one who stumbled never showed the spirit of the winner.”
Nina’s breathing became labored as she realized her dearest dreams were about to come true. The director came to her and gave her a full embrace.
“Do not be discouraged,” he whispered. “You have great technical skills. Please consider opening your own ballet school when you are older and hope someday a dancer you trained will join your sister at the national ballet.”
Nina went numb and lost her ability to speak as the director turned to Maria and shook her hand.
“Congratulations. Your audition shows you will be the greatest ballerina of your generation.”
Nina waited for her sister to correct the director, to tell him she was the one who stumbled. All Maria could do was smile and mumble thank you. Once Nina realized Maria was not going to reveal to the director he had been confused because they were twins, she made a quick exit. When she arrived home Nina informed her mother she was going to live with her aunt in Barcelona. Her mother was caught off guard.
“When?”
“Tonight.
“Call Tia Rosa now, and I’ll be on the next bus to her house.”
Tia Rosa often confided Nina was her favorite niece so she knew her aunt would welcome her. She packed with efficiency and was out the door.
When she arrived in Barcelona, Nina ran and fell into Tia Rosa’s arms. Her aunt never asked the reason for the move. Nina enrolled in the local parochial school so she could finish her education. Then she found a dance studio owned by an elderly woman who in her youth had been in the corps de ballet with the national company.
One day Nina worked up the courage to talk about her past with La Vieja, but the teacher raised her hand.
“All you have to say is that you auditioned for the Ballet Espana. Say nothing more. Be assured you will always be loved here.”
Nina’s family never communicated with her. All Tia Rosa would reveal from the letters she received from her sister, Nina’s mother, was that the family thought she had failed to support her sister Maria. As the years passed Nina was content to have Rosa as her only family. She read the newspapers about the rise of a new ballerina named Maria but never dwelt on the news’ secret meaning to her.
She became too enamored of La Vieja’s handsome grandson Jose de Seguin who was an apprentice electrician. His dark eyes sparkled every time he saw her and refused to kiss her good night until she had danced for him. When they married, she even danced down the aisle to everyone’s delight. Of course, no one from the Madrid family attended, but Nina didn’t mind. Now she had La Vieja as her abuela.
(To be continued)

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails a mission because of David, the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer is also a spy. David becomes king. David abdicates, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary. Woolworth heiress invites them to dinner.
The Windsors returned to the Bahamas just in time for the sultry season of summer; and, oh, how Wallis loathed it. Social life centered on dinners with the Bay Street Boys and their poorly dressed wives who fawned over her to excess. The wife of Harry Oates, the only one with anything of interest to say, had the good sense to go north during the dog days. An idea kept buzzing in Wallis like an irritating house fly while local gossip flourished in the after dinner social hour.
Wouldn’t I be put to better use somewhere else around the world killing a Nazi or someone else equally unpleasant?
Wallis did find a satisfying usefulness in her afternoons with the Red Cross ladies. On any given day she could be found at the hospitals caring for sick babies, counseling unwed mothers, darning socks, distributing clothing and bedding among the unwashed on the north side of the island among the unwashed. She would take notes of where medics needed to visit homes and tents where dreadful diseases abounded. Her fellow volunteers were women of compassion, reason and ideas. They were also ladies of age who after an afternoon with the Red Cross went home to a quiet supper and forthwith went to bed. They needed their rest to have the strength to attack their duties the next day.
Of particular interest to the Duchess were the children of the street. They appreciated little things like new sandals, shirts and an extra bit of food. In their eyes she saw the French valet’s son Jean who was pushed aside because the adults deemed him of no consequence. Yet it was he who saved her life the Christmas at La Croe. Who knew if one of these children might do the same thing if given the opportunity?
By September Wallis couldn’t stand the tedium and convinced David they might be of more use building goodwill among the Allies with another trip to the United States. Besides, she hadn’t had a decent new dress in years—at least it seemed like years. Even MI6 agreed another trip to the states was a good idea.
As usual, crowds lined the streets of Washington, D.C., as the Windsors drove down the boulevards in their limousine. British Ambassador Lord Halifax was out of town, which Wallis and David expected. The Royal Family demanded the couple receive as little attention as possible in their activities. Wallis had to remind herself that the King, Queen and his Royal Mum knew nothing of their MI6 connection. They assumed David’s abdication was as it was presented to the world—an affaire d’amour taken to excess. It was not as though Buckingham Palace was rude to them: it just acted like they didn’t exist.
Palace connections did maneuver behind the scenes. A White House dinner for the Duke and Duchess was cancelled for no apparent reason. Still, David did have an extensive private talk with President Roosevelt. The Duke spoke to the National Press Club. And the British embassy hosted a small dinner for them. Wallis was surprised they weren’t served watercress sandwiches and day-old tea cakes.
The palace did allow them to visit David’s ranch near Alberta, Canada. He bought the four thousand acres in 1919. On the surface David ran it as a business with a paid management staff. MI6 also used it for agent training. David had not been there since a couple of visits during the thirties. Wallis had never visited the ranch. The Windsors assumed the King didn’t want them to receive a large reception in metropolitan areas like Ottawa or Montréal. The tweedy types in the King’s cabinet didn’t know MI6 had arranged the time on the ranch.
When Wallis and David walked into the ramshackle log ranch house, they saw the smiling face of Gerry Greene, who had replaced the retired General Trotter as their main MI6 contact.
“Are we having fun yet?” Greene asked, seated in a large tufted chair.
“Now that you’re here I certainly hope so,” Wallis cracked as she lounged across an old leather sofa. “I hope you have an assignment for us. Something terribly sinful.”
“It might be.” Green looked at David. “There’s another one of these comfy chairs for you. “ He paused. “Oh. I’m supposed to stand or something when you come into a room. I hope I wasn’t rude.”
David plopped in the chair. “Not any more than my own family. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to it by now.” He pulled out his cigarette case and offered cigarettes to Wallis and Greene. “I do have one concern. I do miss my brother George. The rest of them I could do without, but if you could arrange a brief encounter with George every once in a while I’d appreciate it. Of course, I know he can’t know anything about MI6 but I’d just like to talk over old times.”
“And his wife Marina,” Wallis added. “She’s such a dear.”
“Well.” Greene broke into a wicked grin. “You be a good little boy and girl and keep war from breaking out in the Bahamas and I’ll see what we can do about George.”
Wallis sat up. “Another war? Don’t we have enough to worry about with the rest of the world going to hell?”
“It’s all related, my dear,” Greene replied.
“The RAF fields, right?” David looked at him with his squinty eye.
“Those bases must be built,” Greene continued. “No one has given too much thought about the danger of a German takeover of the Caribbean. It is vital not only to British interests but to American.”
Wallis blew smoke through her nostrils. “I thought that was a done deal. The Bay Street Boys were taking care of it.”
“The Bay street Boys are taking care of themselves.” Greene slouched back. “The Empire has been trying to impress on them the national security necessity of the project but all they can think of are big profits for themselves.”
“Of course.” David’s voice was licked by his usual schwermut.
“We could take out Harry Oates and Harold Christie,” Wallis offered. “They’re the worst ones. In fact, I’d enjoy killing Harry myself.”
“Wipe the drool from the corner of your mouth, dear,” David suggested.
“But they’re not the only players,” Greene explained. “We’ve heard bad things about this fellow named Merigny.”
“I know he wants to marry Harry’s daughter,” Wallis confided. “And he gets under Harry’s skin.”
“It isn’t just the Bay Street Boys,” Greene continued. “Right now there’s a race problem. Oates and Christie refuse to pay the black workers the same as the whites.”
“Ah, the Bourbon Street Boys,” Wallis threw in.
“Burma Road Boys,” David corrected her.
“I knew that. Maybe bourbon is on my mind because I’m thirsty.” She looked around room. “Where do you keep the booze?”
“We have to walk a tight rope,” Greene continued. “We don’t need a full-blown race riot. The airfields have to be built, dammit.”
David nodded. “Shanghai. 1925.”
“Exactly,” Greene agreed.
“I remember Shanghai.” Wallis smirked at David. “I saved your life.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Reminisce later,” Greene ordered.
An envoy entered and handed Greene a telegram.
“Hey, you,” Wallis called out to the envoy. “Do you know where they keep the bourbon?”
Greene opened the wire, read and threw it aside. “More good news. A tropical storm just trashed the north side of Nassau. Ravaging the people who aren’t getting enough money as it is.”
Wallis sat up and turned serious. “Are we caught up? David and I need to get this trip over and back to the islands. Can you see that a telegram is sent to the Red Cross assuring them help is on the way?” She rolled her eyes. “Oh God, and we have to finish this awful tour.”
Greene agreed to cut their talks short. The Windsors returned to the United States, stopping off at Aunt Bessie’s house in Baltimore.
“My darlings, how wonderful to see you!” the old woman exclaimed. “I’ve been reading about you in the papers.”
Wallis’s face lit up. Bessie seemed more cogent than the last time they saw her in La Croe.
“Now when are you inviting me back to your lovely place in France? I enjoyed that Christmas there. But of course, you did seat me in the wrong place.”
And the air escaped Wallis lungs.
The Windsors had one last stop before returning to the Bahamas—New York City. Wallis needed a brief shopping spree to recover from the visit with Aunt Bessie. Dear Aunt Bessie who was still in decline, never to return.
Wallis picked a particularly elegant gown for their last social evening of the season—dinner at the home of Jessie Donohue at 834 Fifth Avenue, the size of a grand hotel but just for one family.
Once again Jimmy and Wooly greeted them at the front door, like they had in Florida, and escorted them to the grand staircase just as Jessie, in a haute couture gown accented with brooches, rings, bracelets and a diamond necklace around her sagging neck, descended to receive them.
Wallis put on her best official social event smile.
This is exactly the type of American poseur I loathe. So why do I find her so fascinating?

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Eleven

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain.
Gabby scurried down the muddy path to Fifteenth Street and then broke out in a full run through the rain. He tripped over his own feet and fell face first into a muddy puddle, his hat flying off. He stood and without pausing to wipe his face, Gabby started running again, his arms flailing against the raindrops as he reached for the hat. He could not help but moan in terror as he scrambled along. Nothing looked familiar to him. His feet slipped on a wet rock and he fell into another quagmire. He tried to lift himself up but fell again.
“You would think the police would do something about the drunks on the streets.”
Gabby looked up to see two men walk by, glaring at him from under their wide umbrellas. His hands reached toward them.
“Help me!” He stood and stumbled in the direction of the two men who quickened their pace.
“I will send a telegram tomorrow!” one of the men said in a growl. “This is totally unacceptable!”
“No, please. I need help.” Gabby heard the tone of his voice. He sounded crazy. The two men disappeared in the darkness. Realizing his hat was missing again, he went back for it. Bending over, Gabby gasped for air. He had to calm himself down. Cordie was not here anymore to take care of him. He had to take care of himself. Before he put the hat on his head, Gabby turned his face to the dark angry sky. As the rain washed his face clean, Gabby told himself to keep thinking about Cordie and surely something would come to him. Cordie never let him down. Yes, Cordie worked at the hospital. Armory Square Hospital, the private had told him. All he had to do was find Armory Square Hospital.
Walking down Fifteenth Street again, Gabby realized he had to act as if he were in control of himself. People would not talk to anyone on the street they thought was crazy. He straightened the stovepipe hat on his head and brushed the overcoat to make it look presentable. Gabby approached an older man walking by himself.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said in as possessed a voice as he could muster, “could you please point me in the direction of the hospital?”
“What hospital?” the man asked, raising an eyebrow.
Gabby’s mouth gaped as he forgot the name of the hospital. “Ahh….”
“There are plenty of hospitals around here.”
“The one with the soldiers,” Gabby replied in a weak voice.
“They all have soldiers” The man emitted an aggravated grunt and walked away.
Gabby scampered after him with his arm outstretched, “No, please, I need help.” He stopped and after a moment began to cry.
A man and woman walked past, but Gabby did not try to hide his tears. He heard the woman stop and turn.
“That poor man is crying.” She sounded like she cared.
“Can’t you tell he’s mad,” the man replied with a hiss. “He’s obviously stark raving mad. Stark raving madmen on the street in the rain can be very dangerous.”
“I knew you were a coward when you paid to avoid the draft,” Her tone was sharp. “This poor man needs help.”
“No,” the man insisted, pulling on the woman’s arm. “He’s dangerous, I tell you.”
“I won’t hurt anybody.” Gabby wiped tears from his eyes. “I just want to know where the hospital with the soldiers is.”
“All the hospitals have soldiers,” the man retorted.
“John, please.” The woman pulled away and walked to Gabby. “Now, calm down so I can help you.”
“Thank you, ma’am. My sister Cordie used to work at one of the hospitals. She’s dead now, but she said the woman there was real nice and would help us if we ever needed it.”
“Do you remember the woman’s name?” The lady smiled, and it was gentle.
“No…” Gabby’s voice trailed off.
“I am wet and I am hungry.” The man patted his foot in a puddle.
“Dick Livermore,” the woman mumbled, “that’s who I should have married. He is a real man. Fought in the war. Decorated for bravery. No, I had to choose you—“
“Dick, that’s the name,” Gabby interrupted. “I remember now. Dick somebody. No, not Dick, Dicks, or something like that.”
The woman focused on Gabby. “Dorothea Dix?”
“Yes, that’s it.” Gabby jumped a little with joy. “Miss Dix. That’s what Cordie called her. Do you know her?”
“Everybody knows about Dorothea Dix,” she replied with a smile.
“What hospital is she at?”
“Armory Square Hospital.”
“That’s right. That’s what the private said. Armory Square Hospital. Sometimes I get so upset I forget things.”
“For God’s sake can we go now?” the man growled.
“But I don’t know where Armory Square Hospital is.” Gabby was nervous again.
“This is Fifteenth Street,” the woman pronounced in a slow cadence. “See the sign? Fifteenth Street.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Keep going down Fifteenth Street. You’ll cross a big iron bridge across the slough at the Mall. Then turn left on Independence Avenue and go past the Smithsonian Museum. It’s the big red stone building. Keep going until you see the hospital. There are signs outside of it. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“Tell me back what I said to you,” she instructed in a soft voice.
“Oh for God’s sake,” the man hissed. “If you don’t come with me right now I’m going without you.”
“You better go, ma’am,” Gabby said. “I don’t want you to miss your dinner.”
“Are you sure?”
“Elizabeth!”
“He sounds mad. You better go.”
She patted his shoulder and hurried away with her husband. Gabby kept repeating the instructions in his head. He did not want to forget them. He had to find Miss Dix. She would know what to do. He ducked his head down and walked toward the Mall. Go across the iron bridge….
The street began to fill with people running the other way on Fifteenth Street. The low buzzing of the crowd became louder until it was a roar. Gabby stopped a man by the arm.
“Excuse me, sir, but what’s going on?”
“The President has been shot at Ford’s Theater.” He pulled away and continued running back up the street.
Gabby felt the soaked coat he was wearing. The private said it was the president’s coat. He was wearing the coat, but he knew he had not been shot. Maybe they were talking about the other man, the one who had been in the basement with Gabby for two and a half years. That was not fair, Gabby told himself. Life could not be that unfair. His heart pounded in his chest. Gabby gave in to his emotions and started running with the crowd to Ford’s Theater.
After only about a block Gabby stopped. He remembered he needed to find Dorothea Dix. She would know what to do to help him. That poor man who was shot did not need his help now. Turning again down the street Gabby focused on the signs to make sure he was going in the right direction. Out of the darkness loomed the large iron footbridge across the Mall slough. He knew he was on the right track. Next find Independence Avenue and turn left. No matter what those people in the Army told him, Gabby knew he was smart. He could follow orders. The Smithsonian Institution was on his right. Gabby kept going until he saw the sign: Armory Square Hospital.
After he walked inside, Gabby felt awkward. The walls were whitewashed and pristine. The wooden floors were swept and mopped. He, on the other hand, dripped rainwater and mud. The nurses bending over the beds were in crisp clean dresses. Even the wounded soldiers looked freshly bathed. He did not belong there, Gabby told himself. He would make the soldiers sick. Gabby stepped back, about ready to leave the hospital, when a nurse looked over to see him. Even though she smiled, Gabby wanted to leave.
“Sir? May I help you? Please don’t leave.” She was a tall woman with broad shoulders and big hands. “Are you here to see someone? Are you ill?”
She had a sympathetic face so Gabby stopped, his hand on the doorknob. Behind the first nurse came a second, this one almost as old as Cordie with pepper gray hair pulled back in a bun. He stepped toward them and tried to brush the raindrops from his coat.
“Oh, my dear man, you are soaked to the bone.” The first nurse took the stovepipe hat from his head and pulled the drenched coat from his back. She turned to put them in a closet.
The second nurse put her hand to his forehead and muttered, “No fever. You must get out of those clothes. We have a nightgown for you. There’s a changing room in the back.”
“I—I need to see Miss Dix, Dorothea Dix,” Gabby announced as loudly as he could without sounding ungrateful for all the attention he was receiving. “The private told me Dorothea Dix could help me.”
“Of course, of course,” the second nurse murmured as she ran her fingers over his head, straightening his hair. “All in due time. But first you must get out of these wet clothes and into a nice warm bed.”
“Cordie, she said Miss Dix was a good person….”
“And what is going on here?”
Gabby looked up when he heard the shrill, high-pitched voice. He flinched as his eyes beheld a short, thin woman dressed in black with her hair pulled back in such a severe bun that Gabby was sure it gave her a headache.
“This poor soul says he wants to see you, Miss Dix,” the first nurse explained.
Miss Dix, Gabby thought. This woman looked too scary to help anyone. He felt the urge to run out the door into the rain, even without his overcoat. The women firmly held his arms so he could not escape.
“What do you want? Who are you?” Miss Dix’s voice reeked of impatience.
“Cordie said you were a good person. She said you could help me. But you don’t have to. I think I’m in the way here, so I’ll just leave—“
“Cordie?” Miss Dix interrupted him. “Do you mean Cordie Zook?”
“Yes, ma’am. She was my sister, but she’s dead now.”
“Yes, I know. She was a dear soul. You must be Gabby. She talked about you all the time,” Miss Dix softened her tone.
“Cordie always took care of me. Now she’s dead, and I’m all alone. I don’t have anybody to take care of me anymore.”
A gentle smile crossed her thin little face. “Poor man. Don’t worry a bit. We will take care of you now.” She extended her arms and enveloped him. “You won’t be alone again. I promise.”
Dorothea Dix was bony, unlike Cordie who was soft and plump. Gabby decided she would suffice, and gave her a hug. “Thank you, ma’am.”
He burst into tears.

In Memoriam for What Should Have Been

In the last couple of weeks a very dear friend died. She was ninety years old, so she had a long life enriched by love, art, friends and contribution to the community. No one can grieve a life well lived.
What does make me sad is what I was unable to do for her.
Her husband, who had died three years ago, had a rich life of design in theater, costumes, dresses, cuisine and home decoration. Over the years he wrote a historical romance novel about an eighteenth century Irish actress. Many times he tried to sell it to traditional publishing houses, but at the end his manuscript was stuck in a drawer.
His wife could not stand the idea of all that work going uncelebrated. I decided to help out because I had experience in formatting manuscripts for e-publishing and in preparing paperback copies for a regional print company.
I offered to do this work for her because I read her husband’s book and fell in love with it. He used all of his knowledge to create the world of theater in Dublin and London in a time of doublets and powdered wigs.
The actress, Peg Woffington, left home as a child to join the circus. When she was a teen-ager her contract was sold to a Dublin theater where she learned quickly to shine on stage. She became a star as she moved to larger theaters until she was the talk of London. Peg shocked people by turning to her fellow actors instead of addressing the audience. She regularly played the male lead. Her love life was the scandal of the British Isles. She was not called Peg. She was “The Woffington”, with the emphasis on wolf.
The paperback copies sold quickly. Friends assured her they were buying the e-books on line. My friends bought it on line and told me how much they loved it.
The problem was my friend never received payment from the e-publisher. She had modest goals. She figured she had $200 in royalties coming to her. She kept telling me she needed that $200. She talked to company representatives. I talked to company representatives. Still no $200. At one point I offered to advance her the money, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
I knew how she felt. I self-published several books and am still in the hole. That’s why I put my stories now on my blog and let people read them for free. If I get a “thumbs up” along the way, that’s good enough.
But it wasn’t enough for my friend. We were still figuring out what to do when I saw her obituary in the newspaper.
I don’t know what else I could have done to help her. I did the best I could, but my best wasn’t good enough.

Just a Reminder

I hope you have been enjoying the stories on my blog, quirky short stories, essays from my heart and chapters from my serialized novels. Right now we’re in the middle of what happened after Lincoln was shot and of how the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were really international spies. Please note the picture of my tip basket in the upper right hand corner of my blog page. I would sincerely appreciate any donations to help defray the cost of the blog. It’s hard being a 71-year-old storyteller these days.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails 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, they marry and he becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Leon becomes a mercenary and makes friends with Nassau street boy.
By April of 1942, Jessie Donohue’s intrigues to have the Duke and Duchess of Windsor dine at Cielito Lindo had come to fruition. During the great escape of socialites from Europe as Germany invaded France, Jessie gave shelter to Lord Sefton, allowing him to stay at Cielito Lindo until he received orders from the crown. Sefton had been a Lord-in-Waiting to David and remained an ally to the duke after the abdication. She pressed Sefton to inform the Duke of Windsor about the grandeur of Jessie’s winter home. She also suggested to her niece Barbara Hutton to insinuate herself into Wallis’ life.
Now Jessie waited with patience in her drawing room seated in a red velvet tufted arm chair next to her Renaissance fireplace. Patience. A virtue she had developed into a fine art.
She heard a commotion in the entry hall. The Windsors had arrived. Her sons Wooly, now twenty-nine, and Jimmy, now twenty-six, had greeted them. They were both handsome. The older Wooly had no spine and the younger had no morals; however, they practiced the highest form of social graces when necessary.
The first voice to echo down the marbled hall was that of the duke. She had heard it enough in the newsreels to recognize it.
One of the boys must have said something amusing. Probably Jimmy. Wooly didn’t have a sense of humor.
As the hubbub became louder, Jessie pulled out her compact and looked in the mirror. She lifted her left hand to pat her jaw.
If only someone could invent a makeup to create the illusion she had a chin. Too late for that.
She picked up a powder puff and daubed a dark shade of beige under her jaw line. Jimmy’s shrill laughter pierced the air. The duke, duchess and entourage was upon her. Jessie forced her best naïve smile upon her face and stood just as the couple entered the room, as she knew they would one day. Jessie had very good connections.
“My dear Mrs. Donohue,” David announced. “Your son has the most remarkable sense of humor.”
She looked at Jimmy and smiled.
“When I introduced myself as the Duke of Windsor, Wooly replied, ‘I am the duke of Cork’.”
Jessie’s jaw dropped. She had never heard Wooly make a joke in his life.
“Don’t worry,” David added. “I know he was referring to his Irish heritage. How clever.”
She glanced at Jimmy who rolled his eyes. Recovering her sense of decorum, she curtsied first to the duke and then to the duchess. While royal command forbade such a greeting to Wallis, Jessie did it any, just to get on the duchess’ good side.
Hooking her arm around Wallis’ elbow, she led her to French doors to her formal garden.
“I want you to meet my dear friends who will be dining with us today.”
Outside were twenty-five people dressed as though they were about to be presented to the King and Queen. Jessie was pleased to see they had practiced their bows and curtsies.
Footmen, costumed for an Austrian operetta, entered, each with a glass of champagne on small silver trays, one for every single guest. After a respectable amount of time the butler opened another set of French doors on the other side of the garden which led to an Italianate dining room. The footmen attended well to each guest.
Jessie placed David next to her, Wallis next to Jimmy while Wooly was hopelessly lost among the other guests.
“I know you are Anglican so I hope you don’t mind I invited the monsignor of our local diocese to offer the blessing.”
“Of course not,” David replied with smile. “We English haven’t burned a priest at the stake in years.”
Jimmy emitted a ruffian’s guffaw which Jessie found inappropriate; but after all, he was her little Jimmy.
The priest performed a short bland prayer, and the footmen served the salad in small bowls from the eighteenth century. Jessie had just started her salad when she noticed the muscles in David’s jaw flex as he masticated his lettuce. She leaned into him.
“I hope you enjoy the tomatoes,” she whispered. “They are grown locally.”
“Good for you.” David daubed his mouth with a linen napkin before adding, “I urge everyone to buy local produce. It helps stimulate the economy, don’t you think?”
Jessie paused to consider his blue eyes. No matter how much he tried with his pleasant demeanor he could not hide their innate sadness. For the first time in many years, she felt a twinge of romance undulate through her body.
“Oh my God, Mummy!” Jimmy exclaimed. “You should see this brooch on Wallis’s shoulder.” He turned to the duchess and smiled. “You don’t mind if I call you Wallis, do you?”
“Of course not.”
She replied in such a gracious fashion Jessie could not tell if Wallis were being sincere or not. Jessie admired that quality in a woman.
“It’s a flamingo made up of emeralds, rubies diamonds—and what are the blue stones?”
“Sapphires,” Wallis filled in as she raised her napkin to her mouth.
“Mummy, you’d just kill to have this flamingo.” He giggled. “Am I telling too many family secrets?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Ten

Previously: Just before shooting Lincoln, Booth thinks of the events leading to this moment.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson.
The short man with the red beard scared Gabby Zook. Gabby was on his way out of the White House basement wearing a long coat and black stovepipe hat with a bullet hole in it. The young soldier gave him the hat and coat because it was raining, and it was going to be a long walk from the White House to the Armory Square Hospital. He said the coat and hat belonged to the President of the United States, so Gabby decided he must be the President of the United States. He did not know for sure. The last two and a half years had been very confusing.
“Who the hell are you?” the short man bellowed at him as they met in the basement door.
“I’m the president, aren’t I?” Gabby remembered telling the man.
“Get the hell out of here,” the man barked.
More than half an hour had passed since he left the grounds of the White House, but the rough words still haunted him. That man sounded mean enough to kill someone, Gabby told himself as he put his head down to protect his face from the rain. He gathered the overcoat around him.
“If I am the president,” Gabby mumbled to himself, “then why was that man talking mean to me?” He concentrated on his shoes splashing in the mud. “Maybe he was mean to me because I’m not really the president. I’m just wearing his hat and coat.”
If only he could remember. Cordie would tell him what he needed to know. His sister always took good care of him. That was right. He could not be President because he was Cordie’s brother, and not anyone related to Cordie could be President. Gabby began to recall that he worked at the White House as a janitor. Cordie had gotten him the job because their uncle Samuel Zook was a general, and she felt the government owed the family something because Uncle Sammy was doing such a fine job. One day Gabby was setting out rattraps in the basement when this man and the young soldier brought down a very tall man and short woman to the billiards room. He was behind some boxes setting the traps when the man and soldier caught him. Because “he knew,” the man with the soldier explained, Gabby had to stay in the basement. Gabby did not know what it was “he knew,” but it must have been something bad.
They kept saying the president was being held captive in the basement. Gabby was not certain if they were talking about him or the tall man. The tall man seemed very nice and smart enough to be the President. At times Gabby was sure this man was the President and the woman was his wife. Other times Gabby was sure he was president, and the woman was his wife. He shook his head. That could not be right. He would have never married a woman like that. She was crazy.
Gabby looked up at the street sign. It was Fifteenth Street. Sighing, he wished he had paid more attention when Cordie took him places. He had to find Cordie. What did the young soldier tell him right before he left the basement? Go to Armory Square Hospital. But where was Armory Square Hospital? He must have been walking in the right direction or why else would he have been walking in that direction, Gabby asked himself. Most of the time Gabby listened to his own advice because down deep in his heart Gabby knew he was smart.
He went to West Point, and only the smartest of boys went to school there. Yes, he remembered his best friend Joe VanderPyle was his classmate. They were going to be Army officers. They would have been good Army officers, and then something bad happened. A colonel told them to drive him in a carriage into town. Gabby tried to tell the colonel he had never handled a team of horses before, but the colonel insisted his orders be obeyed. Gabby lost control, and the carriage overturned. Joe died. The colonel said it was Gabby’s fault. After that, Gabby did not know what was right or wrong or up or down. The Army confused him, and he wanted to go home to Brooklyn to his sister Cordie.
Cordie did a good job taking care of him through the years until their money ran out, and they had to sell the old house. She made sure the government gave him a good job. She volunteered at the hospital and took in sewing at the boarding house where they lived. Life was good until he got locked into the basement. The boardinghouse, Gabby repeated. Maybe that was where Cordie was. He took a few steps back the other way before stopping. No, Cordie was not at the boardinghouse. Cordie was dead.
The private told him so, just a day or two ago. But Gabby already knew. He dreamed it. He knew he would never see his sister again. The soldier had brought him a plate of fried eggs for breakfast. They were Gabby’s favorite. Now he was not hungry anymore.
“We’re going home on Friday,” the soldier told him. “You don’t have to worry about anything anymore.”
“Cordie’s dead. There’s plenty to worry about,” Gabby remembered telling the soldier. “Uncle Sammy is dead. Mama is dead. Papa’s dead. Joe is dead. Everybody’s dead except me.” Then he said to the soldier, “Don’t worry. I forgive you.”
Gabby thought the soldier appreciated hearing that. He did not want the young man to feel guilty for keeping him and the couple in the basement for so long. It was someone else’s fault. He had not quite figured out whose fault it was, but he was pretty sure it was the man with the private the day who locked him in the basement. The soldier thought he had been doing the right thing. Gabby could tell he was a good young man. Maybe he could help Gabby figure all this out.
Turning back up Fifteenth Street, Gabby began walking to the White House. The young man told him to go to Armory Square Hospital, but Gabby could not remember why. He was sure the soldier would not mind explaining everything to him again. Finally, he reached the White House grounds and trudged up the path to the basement door. He stopped short. The mean short man with the red beard was carrying a big bundle out the door. He dumped it in an open carriage and went back inside. Gabby edged closer, afraid the man would see him and yell at him again. Looking in the carriage, he saw it was a body. As he leaned in, Gabby lifted a corner of the blanket covering it. He gasped. It was the private.
The soldier’s eyes were wide open and blank. Blood covered his mouth. Gabby carefully put his hand under the private’s head. When he pulled it out he saw more blood. He held his hand out and let the rain wash it clean.
“My God,” he mumbled. “That mean man killed him.” His lip quivered. “Now I really am alone. Even the soldier is dead.” Gabby looked at the door. “And if I stay here I’ll be dead. That mean man will shoot me too.”