Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.
Have a seat, Mr. Secretary,” Lincoln said. Scratching of chairs covered another comment which Gabby couldn’t understand. Lincoln chuckled and Stanton harrumphed.
“The information from Chancellorsville was late yesterday afternoon. There was a surprise attack led by General Jackson.”
“How bad was it?” the president asked.
“Hooker was caught off-guard and—“
“More lives lost.” Lincoln sighed. “More lives will be lost.”
“Meade acquitted himself well, but it was not enough.”
“Meade’s a good man.”
“Hooker must be replaced,” Stanton said.
Gabby became aware of an awkward pause.
“Or perhaps he should be given another opportunity,” Stanton offered. His tone was softer.
He wanted Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought, but Stanton did not want to say so. The war secretary wanted the president to say what he would tell the cabinet upstairs, except he was still locked in the basement. The president, Gabby repeated in his mind. If he—Gabby–were actually president, then perhaps Stanton was waiting for him to step from behind the crates and barrels to tell him what to do. Gabby moved a foot slightly before two other thoughts seeped into his mind: he did not know what to do, and if he were indeed president, he would follow the adage that the leader who leads least, leads best.
“And if Hooker were replaced,” Stanton continued after another long silence, “who’d replace him?”
Again, stinging silence controlled the room.
“You’ve nothing to say?” Stanton asked.
“Oh. You expected a response,” Lincoln ingeniously replied. “I presumed you were merely thinking out loud.”
“You know very well I wasn’t.” Stanton spat. “If I wish to think aloud I needn’t come here.”
Gabby heard Lincoln’s sigh and respected his remarkable restraint.
“Where will you put me if I’m wrong this time, Old Capitol Prison?”
Stanton began to gurgle in indignation.
“I apologize,” Lincoln said. Gabby thought he should not have. “Try to forget what I said. I seem to be in the middle of a malaise. Why I should be melancholy I don’t know—once again I slide into irony. It’s the Union’s future that’s important, and not me.”
“Thank you, sir,” Stanton whispered.
“Replace Hooker with Meade. With whom we shall eventually replace Meade can be discussed another day.”
Very wise that I stepped back to allow Lincoln to decide, Gabby thought. He did well. Chairs shuffled about, indicating Stanton was leaving.
“Mr. Stanton?” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was subdued.
“Yes?” he wearily replied.
“I’m worried about Private Christy. His clothes are disheveled and his hair—“
“His appearance is his own business.” Stanton turned away.
“I’m not complaining about his appearance,” Mrs. Lincoln persisted. “It’s the reason for his appearance. He’s not happy.”
“We’re at war.” H emitted a brutal laugh. “No one’s happy.”
Before she could reply, the door opened. Gabby could see that it was Adam returning the chamber pots. Stanton left, and Lincoln disappeared behind his curtain. Mrs. Lincoln just stood there, eyeing Adam with sympathy. Gabby wanted to help. After Adam put the pots in their respective places, Gabby remembered what the strange man in the straw hat said to him. He reached out to touch the private’s arm.
“Ocean waves taught me always to see beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.”
Gabby followed Adam to the door.
“Young men are meant to laugh and play.”
“All right.” Adam wrinkled his brow as he unlocked the door to leave.
“Do you have a strong, lean, white belly?” Gabby reached out to touch his midsection, but Adam opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
As he heard the key locking the door, Gabby earnestly added, “Your nation needs you.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama then one night mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
Christmas came that year without much fanfare in Herman’s house. In fact they didn’t talk about it at all, except one night when they had all gone to bed and Herman said something to Tad.
“Don’t you think it would be nice if you and I made something for papa?” Herman whispered from across the room.
“What? Are you stupid?” Tad scolded with a hiss. “That would just make papa feel worse. I think we should just pretend Christmas doesn’t exist.”
By not saying anything in reply, Herman agreed that Tad was right. And he tried to ignore Christmas but when December twenty-fifth arrived Herman felt as though he would burst if he didn’t do something for his papa. His problem was Tad. If he made anything real big Tad would see it and get mad. And Herman didn’t know if he could make anything that papa would use in the first place. So finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to make papa a Christmas card. He pulled out some paper from school and drew a Christmas tree with his crayons. He folded the paper and on the inside he wrote, “Merry Christmas. I love you, papa.”
He looked down from the loft to see papa sitting at the kitchen table drinking his cup of coffee, the room lit only by a single kerosene lamp. The little scene was pretty, the solitary figure in the glow of the lamp, Herman thought. But it was sad too, so lonely.
Herman scampered down the ladder, ran over to his papa, tossed the card on the table and turned to run back to the loft. Papa grabbed his arm while he looked at the card. It was not an angry grab, like he had done in the past, but a gentle restraint. Herman was afraid to look at papa, but finally he managed to glance into the face awash in the kerosene lamp glow. At first he couldn’t tell if the expression papa’s face was changing or not. Then he spotted a small tear brimming on the eyelid.
Papa pulled Herman to him, hugged him and kissed him on the neck. “I’m sorry, son. I’m so relieved you still love me. And I love you. I wish I could show you more often, but I can’t. Just take my word for it. I do love you.”
Christmas morning was like any other morning. Papa, Tad and Herman ate a silent breakfast before heading for the barn to do their chores. Suddenly there was the sound of a car pulling up outside. Herman didn’t think anything about it until he heard the front door open.
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” Callie roared, her face beaming and her arms filled with presents. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Calvin were standing behind her.
Herman jumped to his feet and ran to his sister. She put the packages down so she could hug her brother.
“What are you doing here?” papa asked without showing any surprise or happiness or, for that matter, anger.
Aunt Joyce laughed a little and put her hands on her hips. “Why, Woody, what a thing to say to your little girl! It’s Christmas!”
Papa looked down. “Oh, I had forgotten.”
Herman knew that wasn’t so, but he forgave his father for lying.
“We were going to work in the barn today,” Tad said, trying to sound as though the visitors were intruding, but Herman noticed Tad couldn’t keep his eyes off the packages on the floor.
“There’s time enough for that tomorrow,” Uncle Calvin replied. “Today’s Christmas.”
Callie walked across the room and put her arms around Tad. “I know you won’t hug me, so I’ll hug you.”
Then she looked at her father, her head down. “Hello, papa.”
Herman could have sworn the next moment lasted all day. Callie stood there, with her head down, her shoulders beginning to shake a little like she was about to cry because papa wouldn’t hug her. Tad pretended he was interested in eating the pancakes on his plate, but Herman knew that wasn’t true because they were cold already. Uncle Calvin shuffled his feet and acted like he’d really rather be somewhere else. Aunt Joyce kept her hands on her hips and stared at papa. And papa continued to stare into space, his eyes so blank he might as well be as dead as mama was. Finally papa’s face changed, but Herman could see the eyes take on a sorrow of the whole house. His cheeks scrunched up and his lips pursed as his eyes closed tight, as though they were trying to keep the tears from getting out. He thrust his arms out to Callie who ran into them. Papa cried softly and kissed Callie on her cheeks and mumbled words like “I love you” and I’m so glad you’re home.” Even Tad got up from his chair, forgetting his cold pancakes, and patted Callie on the back. Uncle Calvin stopped shuffling, and Aunt Joyce smiled.
“Now that’s better,” she announced. “I didn’t think you menfolk were going to make a fuss over Christmas so we brought Christmas dinner and all the trimmings to you.”
“I’ll go to the car and get it,” Uncle Calvin said and disappeared out the door.
Herman could tell his uncle was glad he had something to do other than stand around and shuffle his feet. Aunt Joyce cleared the breakfast dishes and cleaned around the kitchen, fussing to herself that it takes a woman to keep a house really clean. Callie presented each of her Christmas gifts. Herman’s was the biggest, and he stole glances at Tad to see if he were jealous.
“Oh boy, Herman! Hurry and open it!” Tad said, sounding happier than he had in a long time.
Relieved that his brother wasn’t jealous, Herman ripped the paper off to see a brightly painted wooden car, just right for Burly to ride on. Herman hugged it, but not too tightly because he didn’t want to break it. “Callie, this is beautiful! Thank you!”
“Uncle Calvin actually made it,” Callie said, looking at her uncle with an appreciative grin.
He turned around from his unpacking of food to smile shyly. “Aww, it wasn’t hard to do. Callie did the hard part. She painted it.”
Herman’s hand glided across the smooth, red surface. “Burly’s going to love it.”
Tad poked at him. “Burly’s going to love it? Why, he’s nothing but burlap and stuffing. How can he love anything?”
Callie looked at him straight, like she was annoyed. “Herman can use his imagination, can’t he? That’s more than you ever do.” She paused and then poked at Tad. “Go ahead and open your present.”
“I’m getting too old for toys,” Tad said gruffly but his voice sounded too excited to be all grown up.
“Who said it was a toy?” Callie replied.
By that time Tad had the wrapping torn away and was awed by a hunting knife. “Gosh,” was all he could say.
Aunt Joyce looked over her shoulder as she scrubbed the kitchen sink. “Now you take good care of that knife, Tad. It was my papa’s.”
Tad smiled. “Oh, I’ll take real good care of it.”
“Thank you,” Joyce,” papa said with difficulty. “That’s mighty kind of you.”
Aunt Joyce reached over to pat papa on the shoulder. “Think nothing of it, Woody.”
Callie handed papa a small, flat square package. “Merry Christmas, papa,” she whispered.
Papa kissed her on the cheek and then carefully removed the paper. His eyes began to fill with tears as he looked at a small framed picture of his daughter.
“It’s so you won’t forget what I look like.”
Papa hugged her. “I’d never do that, baby. Never.”
Callie pulled away, her eyes now filled with a bit of hope. “Well, then do you think—“
Papa gently put his fingertips to her mouth. “Don’t ask, please. Just believe it’s all for the best, all right?”
Callie nodded and stood. “I guess I better help Aunt Joyce with the dinner.”
Herman had the biggest urge to jump up and run over to papa and Callie and pull them back together and yell, “No! It’s not for the best! Please, papa, let Callie come home!” But he remembered what Burly said. Callie looked too much like mama for papa to let her stay. That wasn’t for the best, but there was nothing Herman could do to change papa’s mind. He remained silent.
Callie looked around at Herman and smiled. “Herman, guess who I have out in the car?”
Herman’s eyes brightened. “Pearly Bear!”
“Yes!” Callie replied. “Why don’t you go out and get her and play bear family while we’re cooking dinner?”
“Play bear family?” Tad said with a sneer, then stopped to clear his throat. “That sounds like fun.”
Papa reached over and patted Tad on the back. Herman went out to Uncle Calvin’s car for Pearly and took her and the toy car up the ladder to the loft.
He gathered Burly and Burly Senior on his bed.
“Pearly!” Burly Senior exclaimed. “I knew we would be together again!”
The bear parents exchanged a burlap embrace. “I’m so happy to see you again,” Pearly said. She looked at Burly Junior in his new car. “How do you like it, Burly?”
Burly made car engine sounds. “It’s great.”
Herman sighed. “I wish papa would let Callie come home.”
Burly stopped his pretend driving and looked at his friend. “I know you do. You love your sister very much. And you can see how happy she makes your father if he will let her.” Burly paused to pat Herman’s arm. “But you know, down deep, that he will never let her make him happy.”
Herman nodded and was about to cry.
“Now this is silly,” Pearly Bear announced. “You should be happy and laughing because this is a wonderful day.”
“Yes,” Burly Senior added. “Don’t make it sad by wishing for things you know can’t be.”
Herman hugged all three and looked over the edge of the loft. Papa and Tad were sitting close together looking at his brother’s new knife. Uncle Calvin hugged Callie.
“They really seem to like Callie,” Herman said.
“Of course they do,” Burly replied.
“It would be hard not to like Callie,” Pearly added.
Herman hugged all three bears again. “Merry Christmas, bear family.”
There’s more to the Ring of Kerry than animals, although the animals were very cute.
Our tour guide began talking about a fellow which I understood to be Donald O’Conner who was the father of Ireland. We were going to stop at his birthday place so we could take pictures. Now I thought Donald O’Conner was a great song and dance man. His number in Singin’ in the Rain, Make ‘Em Laugh, was hilarious and when he went through that fake wall, I laughed. But the father of Ireland? Isn’t that taking great entertainment a step too far? It seemed I needed to clean out my ears. The tour guide said Donald O’Connell not O’Conner. O’Connell was born in the seventeenth century and was the first Irishman elected to the British Parliament. That was a big deal since Irishmen couldn’t even vote at the time. So when we stopped I had my son Josh take my photo with Donald’s statue which overlooked the ruins of the house where he was born. He may not have been able to make people laugh but he was able to begin the legal battle for his countrymen’s political rights.
I want to talk about the little town of Sneem again. You know, the one with the mountain goat and the statue of the world champion wrestler. It has a waterfall too. The teen-agers from our group were going down these steep steps to cross the jagged rocks to the edge of the falls. They were laughing and having fun. And I thought to myself, “Why can’t I have the same kind of fun as these teen-agers?” Then I remembered, “Oh. Yeah. I’m 70 years old and have a bum knee.” The other side of my brain reminded me that I wasn’t going to be in Sneem, Ireland, again anytime soon so if I wanted to climb over the rocks to the waterfall I better do it now. When my son saw he wasn’t going to be able to talk me out of this foolishness he decided he’d better come with me to pick up the body when I slipped and fell. Once I got down to the rocks I realized there was more than climbing involved in standing at the falls. There was also jumping from rock to rock. In addition, even though it felt rather warm out that day, the water puddled up between the rocks was frozen. My son took my picture, then told me I needed to get back to the bus before I broke my neck.
I did get a few pictures of Josh, one of them at the Ladies’ View. This place got its name because when Queen Victoria and her entourage came on a sightseeing tour of Ireland this long valley of lakes and streams, her ladies in waiting liked this view the best. They had good taste in scenery. The main reason I included this picture was because of my son. Every time I wanted to photograph him I had to tell him to take off his sunglasses, smile and don’t hold his hands either in front of him or behind him. Just let them hang there. He’s a Florida corrections officer and that pose is the one he takes most often at work.
“I don’t want a picture of Officer Cowling. I want a picture of my son.”
Officer Cowling is a very good state employee. He keeps order at the prison. He is trained in self-defense. I have a better bodyguard than many celebrities. I like Officer Cowling. I trust Officer Cowling. But I love my son Josh Cowling and I want pictures of him.
The weather on our trip was more than we could have asked for. I had several layers of clothing on—everything from my longjohns to heavy boots and coat, scarf and woolen cap because the temperatures were going to be between the 30s and 50s. And Ireland in March is rainy, very rainy. I had an umbrella and rain poncho in my backpack just in case. But not a drop of rain. We became totally aware of how lucky with the weather at lunch on the Ring of Kerry. This restaurant sat on a cliff side overlooking a bay dotted with little islands and outcroppings. The bus driver said if we had come a day earlier we would have seen nothing but fog.
Josh and I grabbed a table next to the long window overlooking the view. Most of the students gathered together along the other wall to giggle and chat. But one boy sat at the next table to us against the window and stared out at the view the entire time. It struck me that he got it. He knew what this trip was all about. I have nothing against giggling and chatting. Some of the best times I have had in my life have been giggling and chatting. But we can giggle and chat anywhere. When you’re on the Irish coast on a clear day in March, you look out the window. When you’re in Sneem, you climb on the rocks. When you’re in the valleys of Ireland, you relax and smile. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen often.
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest.
The November air in Berchtesgaden 1929 was bracing. Joachim Von Ribbentrop stood on the balcony of his hotel taking in the view of the beauty of the Bavarian Mountains covered in snow. Berchtesgaden was on the southern border of Germany and Austria, not far from Munich and the Black Forest. Although the weather and scenery always reinvigorated his spirit, Ribbentrop could not help but think back to his exotic encounter with Wallis Spencer in Paris over a year ago. Wallis expertly removed every layer of clothing from his body but only stripped down to her satin slip. She could do things with her hands and mouth that threw him into a sensual madness.
He read in the newspaper she recently married Ernest Simpson. He hoped she remembered it was his help with finding a lawyer that made her new-found happiness possible. Ribbentrop felt he had to be with her again and give her another white carnation in tribute to their experience.
A knock at the door broke his revelry. A slender young man dressed in a crisp shirt and slacks and a jacket with a swastika on the sleeve, stood attention when Ribbentrop opened the door. He knew he was looking at an emissary from Herr Adolph Hitler, the most powerful politician in Germany.
“Herr Hitler requests your presence at Berghof.”
Ribbentrop smartly clicked his heels, put on his overcoat and followed the young man downstairs to a waiting black limousine. He settled into a comfortable position in the back seat while the brown-shirted boy sat in front with the driver. On the long, winding drive through the mountains, Ribbentrop congratulated himself in his skillful manipulation of his socially influential friends to gain an audience with the man who one day would rule Germany—indeed, all of Europe with an iron hand. His mind, however, could not help but wander back to Wallis. He knew she would be impressed when she learned he was close friends with Adolph Hitler.
When the car made a final turn to reach its mountaintop destination, Ribbentrop was disappointed to see that Berghof was a rather small, unimpressive hunting chalet. He expected Herr Hitler to have more awesome accommodations. The limousine came to a stop in front of the entrance, and a teen-aged girl scurried out, opened his door and curtsied.
“Herr Hitler is waiting for you in parlor,” she said as she escorted him into a plain vestibule, turned right and opened a door to a darkened room.
All the curtains were closed and a movie screen hung on the far wall. Several comfortable chairs were centered in front. A black and white cartoon of a dancing mouse on the deck of a boat played across the screen. A catchy little tune filled the room along with male laughter.
“Herr Von Ribbentrop?” a voice called out.
Ribbentrop thought how he could be late since he could go nowhere until Hitler’s limousine arrived at the hotel.
“Don’t worry. No one can live up to my exacting standards.”
Hitler stood and turned toward Ribbentrop, his face illuminated by the glare of the movie projector, a dancing mouse flitting across his forehead.
“I have heard many good things about you. You are an excellent salesman of a totally useless product—champagne. I admire that. That’s what a good leader is, you know, a salesman.” He patted the armchair next to his. “Come, sit.”
As Ribbentrop sat, Hitler stared at him and raised a knowing eyebrow. “I am sure you are thinking how this man can be the future of Germany and live in such an ordinary house. Well, I am renting it from Herr Wachenfield. I plan to buy it soon and turn it into a show place to rival the grandest castles on the Rhine.” He sat back to continue to watch the cartoon, which played over and over again. “That mouse, he’s very funny. He’s small but he always wins, always. That’s like Germany, you know. It’s small, but it can win, always win, when it has the right man at the helm of the steamboat.” He glanced at his visitor. “Do you think I’m a good steamboat captain?”
“Yes, Herr Hitler.”
“Good. You have skills beneficial to my cause. You are a celebrity among the London social crowd, are you not? You can do much to win them over. They are particularly vulnerable since they already open to the idea of following a supreme leader like a king.” He spat in derision. “That stupid man. I tried to interest the Prince of Wales in our Princess Stephanie. She’s a Jew, but nevertheless beautiful and completely loyal to me.”
“I know Stephanie very well,” Ribbentrop interjected. “She asked to introduce her to the prince.”
“Yes, I know,” Hitler replied with a sly smile. “I know everything.”
“What can I do for you, mein fuhrer?” He swallowed hard.
“Since Stephanie was unable to seduce the prince into being our surrogate,” Hitler explained, “we have to find a way to demoralize the English people to the point of discarding their own government and welcome me as their ruler.”
“How can I do that?”
Hitler leaned in, but first peeked at the screen and smiled at the mouse’s antics. “I love how that little mouse dances. Walt Disney is the only American I have any respect for.” After a pause, he continued, “Help me to steal the crown jewels of England.”
“What?” Ribbentrop blinked.
“This is not a new idea. It was in an English novel. Arthur Conan Doyle. One of those Sherlock Holmes mysterious.” He raised an eyebrow. “You must read British literature, don’t you?”
Ribbentrop blinked again. “I prefer the German classics.”
“Well, of course. But you must open your mind to new ideas, even if they come from the English.”
“Of course, mein fuhrer.”
“Once the English people realize I was able to steal the jewels from the Tower of London, they will see their government is completely impotent, incompetent. Demoralized, they will turn to me to lead them.”
“How can we steal the jewels.” Ribbentrop felt himself getting drawn into Hitler’s vision.
“Out of your many acquaintances in London, surely someone has a connection with a person who works at the Tower of London. Use your influence to have them steal the diamonds.”
Ribbentrop smiled. “I think I know such a woman. A Mrs. Barnes. Her husband is the ambassador to Tanganyika. They are currently in London but will return to Africa within the month. I have had desperate telephone calls from her begging for a rendezvous before she leaves.”
“Does she love you?” Hitler looked up to the projectionist. “That’s enough for today. Come back tomorrow.”
“She loves sex.”
“Are you sure she’s British?”
“Yes. I’ve found it is mostly the men who are the cold fish, especially the rich ones.”
“Continue.” Hitler showed no emotion.
“She talks all the time about her brother-in-law who is the assistant administrator at the Tower of London. She’s having sex with him too and is afraid her husband will find out. Her lover has direct access to the crown jewels. The little idiot doesn’t even understand the importance of what she said.”
“Can you trust her?”
“Of course not. She doesn’t have the sense to be trusted. That’s why I would not tell her who will get the jewels eventually.” Ribbentrop pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He began to relax with the fuhrer “I have an idea. I’ll tell her I have connections to a secret world-wide crime organization which will pay handsomely for the diamonds. They will be able to re-cut them and sell them on the open market. She will receive a handsome payment.”
Hitler’s face clouded in suspicion. “Is there such an organization?”
“Oh.” His eyes widened in surprise. “No. Of course not. I just thought of it. You inspired my imagination.”
“Of course I did.” Hitler leaned back with a smug smile.
“Then I’ll instruct her to take the jewels with her back to Africa for transfer to the, um, organization.” He waved his cigarette about nervously. “Ambassadors’ luggage is rarely inspected by customs agents. Then one of your men can secure the diamonds from her on the train in Tanganyika.”
Hitler grimaced in deep thought then stood. “Good. Do it. You may leave now.”
Ribbentrop stood, clicked his heels and bowed. He found it hard to smile because Hitler stepped closer to examine his face. Perhaps the fuhrer sensed he was lying about the organization.
“I momentarily considered sticking my tongue into the dimple on your chin.” Hitler extended a finger and touched Ribbentrop’s cleft. “But I changed my mind.”
Our next stop on the Ring of Kerry was Sneem, an Irish village whose only claim to fame was that the world wrestling champion from 1942 to 1947 was a local boy, so they put a statue of him up on the town square. To put this in perspective, I was born in 1947 so the town of Sneem has been in a dry spell for a long time. The most interesting thing on the town square was on the other side where this man with a long gray beard had his pet mountain goat lounging around, and, of course, his cap was on the ground available to receive tips. He told me he had found his buddy abandoned in the mountains a few years ago, and had trained him to let anybody pet him. I thought this was wonderful. I hadn’t got close enough to pet the baby lambs by the statue of Mary but I got to pet the goat that was kinda close to the statue of the wrestler. I told my son Josh to pull out his camera.
“Yeah,” the Irish gentleman piped up, “get a picture of three old goats.”
I was still laughing as the picture was taken. Also, I decided this was a good way to supplement your retirement fund. Find some adorable animal, set up where a lot of tourists pass by and put your hat on the group for tips. The trick in this is that once you break a five-euro note, you get your change in one-euro coins and the smaller stuff. Most Americans think that all coins represent less than a euro, so when you are tossing what you think is the equivalent of 25 or 50 cents you’re actually tossing away two or three dollars. As a storyteller who puts his hat on the ground, I can tell you that makes a big difference.
Further down the road we pulled into a sheep dog training farm. As soon as we climbed out of the tour bus, a border collie came around the corner of the front gate, looked at us and went back inside to get reinforcements. Before we knew it a team of border collies were racing out to make sure we knew where we were going. First they herded us into a barn where the students, once again, got to hold baby lambs. Of course, I didn’t. But at least I got my goat. Next, the dogs herded us out to a reviewing standing over a craggy valley. Once they were sure we were all in place, the border collies retreated and let the humans—who thought they were in charge of the place—take over. The humans opened a gate and a flock of sheep went willy nilly down the hillside and around a gathering of rocks. Next they released a three-year-old border collie for his daily training of finding the sheep, herding them back up the hill and into a stockade. Actually, it didn’t quite go that way. Another collie, named Lucy and about thirteen years old, came out to watch the youngin’ do his job from the top of the hill. By the time he finally got them close to the stockade, Lucy took over and got them through the gate. I don’t think she had the energy to go all the way out to round them up. In the picture Lucy had already taken over. I really liked Lucy. She wasn’t going to be retired that easily. In fact, I think I loved Lucy.
As I had previously said, the Ring of Kerry was the land of animals, even the really expensive kind. On our last encounter with animals on the ring, we stopped at the National Stud Farm, where the best horses in the world meet for romance (well, maybe not romance but I’m trying to be nice here). More thoroughbreds are mated—or as the professionals say, covered—here than anywhere else except maybe Kentucky. The stables for the studs look like a four-star hotel. We peered at one in particular who was considered a star. It seems he didn’t win very many races in his prime but he has sired many horses who have won big time. As the farm guide explained all this to us, I happened to notice a very well dressed couple being given a private tour. I think they were being courted to bring their filly there for a nice honeymoon. A few moments later a handsome stud was led from his stall and around the corner for an encounter. Frankly I felt like a reporter for the National Enquirer for watching this event. Have we no shame? Can’t guy and gal horses get together without everyone watching? We walked over to a quadrangle of stalls where expectant mares were kept comfortable until their time to foal. As we went by we saw one filly, who looked like she was about to pop, being led onto a trailer to take her to the delivery barn. I didn’t think she appreciated having an audience either.
An odd feature to the farm was an extensive Japanese garden. The original owner of the farm—who believed in checking the astrological charts of the horses before breeding began—brought a professional garden designer from Japan in about 1920. When asked why, the man said, “Why not? I’m rich. I can afford it. I like Japanese gardens.” (Actually, those aren’t his exact words, but you get the idea.) With all due respect, I think his garden was more than something pretty to look at the end of the day. I think he was trying to impress the rich people so that they would pay the “cover charges”—so to speak. I think he was telling them that everything on his stud farm was first class and expensive, and that included the gardens.
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
This makes him witness to conversations he doesn’t want to hear.
Lingering at the corner of the crates and barrels, Gabby watched Mrs. Lincoln pick up the picture frame, focus her small brown eyes on it, and turn a bright scarlet. Her cheeks puffed out. Lincoln stopped when he saw his wife staring at it. Gabby knew yelling was about to begin, and his stomach tied into knots. He lost his appetite for his fried eggs. The air in the basement room became hotter and thicker. This wasn’t any of his business, but Gabby had to listen to it. He had no place to go. He was trapped like one of the rats he used to set traps for. Even as scared as he was, Gabby couldn’t help but peek around first stack of crates.
“Oh,” was the only word Lincoln could say. His head went down, and he stuck his hands in his pockets.
“I thought you left this photograph in Springfield.” Mrs. Lincoln’s voice was soft, but intense.
He cocked his head and shrugged. “Looking at it makes me forget for a few minutes about this awful war.”
“Looking at me is supposed to do that.” Her eyes welled with tears. “I’m your wife. I’m supposed to give you comfort. But it seems you don’t want any comfort from me!”
What kind of picture would provoke Mrs. Lincoln to such anger, Gabby wondered as he peered around the crates. The frame was small, perhaps three by five inches, not ornate but plain. Could it be a photograph of their first child who died? Shaking his head, Gabby decided that was not it. He would be very happy to have picture of his father, and no one could get mad for him having it.
Lincoln awkwardly tried to but his long arms around her tiny body, but she jerked away in holy indignation.
“You promised me you wouldn’t bring it.” After a cold moment of silence, Mrs. Lincoln flung the picture across the room.
Gabby’s eyes widened as Lincoln scrambled to pick up the frame, running his bony fingers over it, to check to see if the glass had broken. Lincoln returned it to his coat pocket and walked slowly to his wife.
“She was only a child. And now she’s dead.” Lincoln’s voice almost cracked. “She’s not a threat to you.”
“Not a threat!” Mrs. Lincoln’s face twisted. “That trollop has tormented me through my entire marriage!”
“Don’t call her that.” Lincoln’s hand impulsively reached to the pocket holding the photograph. “She was a sweet, innocent child who encouraged my dreams.”
“I didn’t encourage your dreams?” Mrs. Lincoln’s hysteria grew.
“I’ve told you; it isn’t even her in the photograph.”
“But it looks like her. That’s why you bought it.” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes narrowed.
Gabby wondered who the girl in the picture was to create such a torrent of emotions between the Lincolns. She must have been a former girlfriend of Lincoln. She supported his dreams, Gabby sighed. Joe had encouraged his dreams, and he had supported Joe’s dreams. Joe had died, and all their dreams vanished with him. Gabby’s thoughts turned to his sister Cordie. He couldn’t her ever saying anything about his dreams. She was too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads and making sure they had something to eat.
“You’ve never loved me.” Tears rolled down Mrs. Lincoln’s cheeks. “Ann Rutledge won your heart, and she has it still.”
Lincoln took a deep breath, and Gabby expected a reasoned reply from him, but the door opened, and Stanton strode in, breaking the tension. Mrs. Lincoln, wiping her tears away, turned to disappear behind her French lace curtains, barely acknowledging the secretary of war. Shuddering, Gabby retreated further into his corner with his plate of fried eggs. Stanton scared the hell out of him. He cocked his head to eavesdrop.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
The next day after Callie left, papa got up extra early, roused the boys and took them fishing. Herman couldn’t believe it. Papa mostly took them fishing so they wouldn’t go hungry that night. Maybe Papa was going to make up for the way he’d been acting since mama died, Herman hoped. He and his brother fixed a picnic lunch and jumped into the cab of the pick-up.
Tad eyed Herman closely. “You didn’t bring that stupid bear, did you?”
Herman pushed Burly behind him. “No,” he lied but not very well.
Tad smirked and reached around and pulled out Burly. “Oh yes you did. Don’t try to lie to me, Herman. I know you too well.”
Herman looked down. “I don’t know what it’d hurt, for Burly to come along.”
“Nothing, I guess.” Tad sighed. “Just don’t let papa see it.”
“Don’t let papa see what?” their father bellowed out, glancing over at the two boys.
“Uh oh,” Tad murmured.
“It’s just Burly,” Herman replied bravely, holding up his teddy bear.
“Oh that,” he said with a snort. “I thought it was something you shouldn’t have.”
Herman felt happy—no, that wasn’t the word for it, Herman corrected himself. No one could be happy having just lost their mama and sister in the same week, but Herman did feel peaceful, perhaps hopeful that this new life thrust upon him would not be as bad as he feared.
Papa sat on the bank of the Sulphur River under a tree for hours staring at the water flowing by, not caring if any fish pulled on his line or not. Tad tried very hard to be the good fisherman and catch something for their dinner that night, but he couldn’t keep the bait on the hook long enough. Herman just ran up and down the bank with Burly playing make-believe battles and other wonderful adventures.
It was a happy—no, peaceful and hopeful—day for Herman, but one, as he thought back on it, that was not entirely real because no one spoke. Papa didn’t look at the boys. Tad mumbled to himself about his fishing bad luck, and Herman whispered excitedly to Burly. When they returned home, Herman volunteered to cook supper, which ended up being burnt bacon and eggs, but papa didn’t complain. For once Tad didn’t pick on him. He offered to help him learn how to watch the food on the stove. Finally papa got up from the table with a sigh and went to his room. Herman jumped up, ran over and wrapped his arms about his father’s waist.
“Oh, papa, I love you.” Herman surprised himself because he almost cried before he got the sentence out.
When papa didn’t return the hug but just stood there looking off in the distance, the tears and the reason for them seemed to leave him as the dew disappeared from the grass on a hot summer morning. Herman turned to climb the ladder to the loft. As he was about to undress for bed he heard papa call Tad into his room. Leaning over the edge of the loft Herman could barely make out what papa was saying.
“I’m going to have to rely on you, son,” papa whispered. “You’re beginning to grow up, and all this means you’re going to have to grow up even faster. I’m sorry about that.”
Once again Herman felt a tinge of jealousy because papa loved Tad more than him. His father spoke some more and Tad spoke, but their words were so soft Herman couldn’t understand. A sad pain shot through his body when he saw papa give Tad a long, tight hug. Flinging himself on his bed Herman tried to hold back the tears, but he couldn’t. He held Burly close to him.
“Why doesn’t papa love me anymore?” he asked between the sobs.
“He loves you very much,” Burly replied.
“You keep saying that, but I heard him say that he loved Tad the most. And—and now he won’t even look at me.”
“Do you know why?” Burly asked.
Herman stuck his bottom lip out. “Because he doesn’t love me anymore.”
Burly waited for Herman to blow his nose. “Do you remember why your father said he loved Tad the most?”
Herman thought back. “Because he said Tad looked like him.”
“Have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the mirror real hard?”
“Why no.” Herman wrinkled his brow. He didn’t know what Burly was aiming at.
“Then you don’t know. You’ve never seen it,” Burly said, smiling a little. “You look just like your mother. So does Callie.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“That’s why he sent Callie away. That’s why he’s not looking at you now,” Burly explained. “You and your sister remind him too much of your mother. And he loved her very much.”
“Never think too little of a man’s love for his wife,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “Your father’s love for your mother almost killed him in the last few days. I’d say he’s having a tough time talking himself into living.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know he felt that way,” Herman confessed.
“I feel the same about Pearly,” Burly Senior continued. The only thing that keeps me from being as sad as your father is the fact that I will get to see Pearly again someday. We might even get to live together again.”
“So don’t be jealous,” Burly said. “Times are going to be hard enough as it is without you causing trouble with Tad because you’re jealous.”
So for the next few weeks and months Herman held his tongue and tried to look the other way when papa spoke to Tad and gave him an extra pat on the back. One reward for Herman’s behavior was that Tad seemed nicer. Maybe he knew he was getting special treatment from papa.
“You’re becoming a pretty good cook for a nine-year-old,” Tad said at supper one night near Christmas.
Herman smiled. “Thanks.”
He quickly glanced at papa who was concentrating on his food. Herman could have sworn papa had been looking at him. Sometimes as they worked in the field or as he helped in the barn Herman had the odd sensation papa was staring at him. When he told Burly about it, his little bear smiled.
“He’s coming out of his sadness a little,” Burly said. “Give him more time.”
No one should decide on the second day of a nine-day tour of Ireland, Wales and England what their favorite location was, but I did it anyway. Nothing beat the Ring of Kerry near Killarney, Ireland. The ring is an all-day excursion around the perimeter of one of the jagged peninsulas on the west coast of Ireland. The first stop was at the Kerry Bog Village, a restoration of 17th/18th century homes where residents cut blocks of peat out of bogs and dried them to use to heat their houses. Our tour guide said her favorite childhood memory was visiting her grandmother who still burned peat in the fireplace to heat the house. After smelling it, I thought grandma needed to clean the house more often. (Okay, that wasn’t fair. You should have smelled my grandmother’s place out on the plains of Texas. You won’t believe what she used to heat it.)
But the best part of the village was the enclosure where they kept the Irish wolfhounds. You know, they are the size of little ponies and are best to guard all the other livestock who lived there. When I first walked up they were up on their hind feet, staring you in the eye and accepting all the pats and scratches behind the ears they could get. By the time I got my son over to take pictures on his phone, it seems the hounds decided it was break time and they went to the far side of their pen for a mid-morning nap. No amount of cooing, kissy sounds, whistles and sweet entreaties could convince them to come back. No way. Next round of cuddling at the fence began at noon—or whenever—and fans and groupies could come back then. My son got a picture of them on break any way.
We had not been on the road again for anytime at all when some of the teen-aged girls in the back started going “aww”.
“There’s a dog on the back of a donkey!”
The tour bus driver was a real pro. He knew when people starting oohing over animals on the side of the road he made an unscheduled stop. All the cynical, blasé teens tumbled out of the bus to pet the dog and donkey, who looked bored but used to getting attention from tourists. Even us old people thought they were cute. We got out of the bus and took pictures. A gentleman about my age—meaning he was old, really old—sat on the side with a contented smile and his cap on the ground filled with coins. Several people, of all ages, said the same thing coming back to their seats.
“We can go home now. Once we’ve see the dog on the donkey we’ve seen it all.”
They spoke too soon. The next scheduled stop was only a few miles down the road, a statue of the Virgin Mary on a promontory overlooking an inlet of waves crashing against giant boulders. Scores of birds covered juts of land and islands sunning themselves. This particular statue of Mary was not known for having tears in her eyes, but for actually being observed to move. None of this, however, meant a thing to the people on our bus. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot someone screamed out.
“There’s baby lambs!”
Sure enough, on the outside of the wrought iron fence guarding the statue of the Virgin Mary, was another old man with three or four tiny lambs, not more than a week or two old, scampering around, crawling up into laps and licking as many faces as they could. The only problem was that I didn’t think everyone was going to get to hold a lamb before we were called back to the bus. Being the oldest person there, I resisted knocking children out of the way so I could hold a baby lamb—even though, I must point out in journalistic accuracy, I have never gotten to hold a baby lamb ever in my life. To show I held no misgivings about the turn of events, I did throw a coin in the old man’s hat.
(Author’s note: For the record, I did take a picture of the Virgin Mary statue but decided instead to publish the picture of the lambs. Admit it: you didn’t really want to see a statue of the Virgin Mary. You wanted to see the baby lambs.)
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol and marries Ernest. In one of their first assignments working separately, they fail to stop the theft of Jessie Donahue’s jewels.
Jessie Donahue sat in the tea pavilion of Cielito Lindo, her Palm Beach mansion, on a late morning of October 1929. She puffed on a cigarette between sips of champagne and black hot coffee, occasionally pausing to nibble at a buttered croissant.
Even in her early thirties, her receding chin was disappearing in crepe-like fat. All the jewels she wore could not hide her frumpy figure. All the latest Paris fashions could not hide the fact she looked like a fishmonger’s wife.
But she found comfort in the fact she did not have to be beautiful. Her father was Woolworth of five-and-dime fame, and it was impossible for her to spend all her money in her lifetime. All her millions could not buy her entry into the prestigious Four Hundred which irritated her like an itch on her back she could not scratch. One thing her money could buy was James Donahue. He was tall, handsome, dark hair, bright blue eyes, a wonderful dancer and a glib conversationalist. He came from a relatively rich family in the fat rendering business. Also, when it came to sexual attraction he held no prejudice against either gender.
Old man Woolworth cried on Jessie’s wedding day. He stopped long enough to walk her down the aisle. Her mother did not object to the marriage; of course, by that time she was institutionalized for dementia. James paid attention to Jessie long enough to give her two sons Wooly and Jimmy.
James, dressed in elegant mauve silk lounging pajamas, finally emerged from their mansion and wandered to the tea pavilion. He plopped in a chair, ignored the coffee and went straight to the champagne.
“Good morning, darling,” he purred with a lazy smile.
Jessie put out her cigarette in a half-eaten grapefruit.
“Jim, you know I adore you. You are a beautiful, delightful creature. You have given me two wonderful sons.”
And I worship you, dearest.”
I don’t mind that you are unfaithful to me. I don’t mind you lose millions gambling each year. Anything to make you happy.”
“I appreciate your tolerance, sweetheart.” He leaned over to peck her cheek. “And I am happy. Deliriously happy.”
Jessie pushed him back and leaned into his face, her eyes narrowing into evil, angry slits. “But I don’t like losing my jewels.”
“Of course, Jessikins.”
“You took them.”
Jim’s mouth fell open as he bit into a croissant. “Why, I thought that detective Noel Scaffa—whatever his name was—took them and pretended to retrieve them from the alleged thief for an exorbitant ransom. He spent six months in prison, didn’t he?”
“He was convicted of perjury, not theft.”
“What difference does it make? He shrugged his broad shoulders. “You got your jewels back.”
“I didn’t get back my blue sapphire. I loved that blue sapphire.”
“Remember, Jessie,” Jim interrupted in a tutorial tone, “it was just a cold, unfeeling stone. It could never love you back.”
“You stole my jewels. You broke my trust and my heart!”
He pulled out a cigarette out of her pack on the table, lit it and took several rapid puffs in irritation. “The Fifth Avenue boys arrive on the noon train. They’re coming over this afternoon for a swim party. I hope you had the pool house cleaned properly. The glass must be crystal clear so the sun can properly heat the water. And I don’t want to be embarrassed if they smell that awful pond scum, or whatever it is.”
“I’ve never had any dirt on my estate in my life and you know it. You always pull that when you know you’re losing an argument. Just because you grew up in a house that smelled of pig fat doesn’t mean there are odors in my house.”
“Whatever. Can I go change now? I bought five new bathing suits and I don’t know which one to wear for the party.” He petulantly blew smoke through his nostrils.
“I want you to obtain new jewels for me,” she continued.
Her voice lowered which made Jim drop his nonchalant attitude and listen.
“Special jewels that will have to be re-cut before I can wear them. No one must know what they really are, but I will know. Perhaps then I will forgive you.” Jessie reached out, took his hand and squeezed hard until he grimaced. “Believe me. For you own safety, you want me to forgive you.”
Snatching his hand away, Jim took a quick gulp of champagne. “And how the hell am I supposed to do that?” He tried to expel a masculine grunt, but it sounded more like a whimper.
“Contact the same organization which stole my jewels.”
He stood and paced about the pavilion. “A special mysterious organization that knows how to get away with crime? You’re delusional.”
“No,” Jessie replied with slow sinister composure. “You’re delusional if you thought you could hide your crime from me. I knew about this organization before we met.”
“You did?” Jim blinked, and his cigarette slipped from his fingers. “How?”
“My father told me about it.” She sat back and lifted her double chin. “You don’t think he made all that money selling trinkets, did you?”
“Jessie, darling, I’m sorry.” He began to speak rapidly. “I did it for you. I was being blackmailed. I didn’t want you to be embarrassed by the publicity. I’ll never steal from you again. If a bastard tries to blackmail me, I’ll have him killed. Honest, we’ll work together on it—“
“Shut up, Jim.”
“So enjoy your little party with the boys; but right after that, make your contacts. I want new jewels.”
“How long do I have?”
“I’m generous. A year. Two at most.” She stood to walk back inside her mansion. Looking over her shoulder, Jessie added, “And pick up your damned cigarette butt.”
Three days after grandma’s funeral, Jeff began the dreary duty of clearing out her house.
Each room was filled with items bought at yard sales. Jeff knew. Every Saturday for the last three years he had driven his grandmother throughout scattered neighborhoods looking for that one special item that would make her life happy. Usually she found at least two or three items at each sale, and they went to as many sales as they could before grandma had to return home for her afternoon nap.
Stacked on the dining room table were wicker baskets of all sizes and shapes, each one bought to store a specific item.
“This one will be perfect for all the mail that comes in each day,” she told him, “and this one over here will be good to put all the bills in before I mail them out.”
She picked up another basket, saying, “I can put my knitting supplies in this one.”
Another basket was shaped like a swan. “I don’t know what I could put in this, but it is so pretty I cannot pass it up.”
Now all the baskets were dusty as they lay one inside the other. A few had dirty dish towels draped over them, towels which his grandmother fussed about not being able to find. On the floor underneath the dining room table were extra dishtowels grandma had bought to replace the ones she thought she lost.
Jeff walked into the spare bedroom where he began to pack boxes of porcelain figurines, some of Greek goddesses and some of colonial ladies, all of them slightly faded and chipped. If he closed his eyes he could still hear the joy in her voice as she cooed over her discoveries. He even remembered the twinkle in her eyes and the way her bony fingers danced across the porcelain.
It was not that he begrudged the time he spent taking his grandmother from yard sale to yard sale. She had been kind to him when he was a child, and his parents seem to care more about their careers in retail sales. Both of them went from major store to major store– Sears, Ward’s, JCPenney and many others– working long hours for little appreciation and even less income. But grandma always make sure he had all the attention he wanted or needed.
As his grandmother grew older and needed help getting around, Jeff realized the job would be left up to him because his parents still thought one day they would be rewarded for all their loyal service to the big retail stores. So every afternoon after he had spent the day teaching middle school English, Jeff went to his grandmother’s house to see what she needed. Most times she had the local newspaper spread open to the section about yard sales and was planning her route for the weekend.
Jeff sat next to her, pen and pad in hand, to take careful notes. After three years he had every neighborhood in town memorized.
“What I really need,” she confided in a whisper, “is a new bathrobe.”
Jeff just smiled and nodded and wrote it down on his pad, even though he knew his mother had given his grandmother a new bathrobe for Christmas which she had bought on sale at Sears.
After he had packed all the porcelain figurines in bubble wrap and placed them in boxes, Jeff walked into his grandmother’s bedroom and began to take down from the closet all the dresses and coats she had picked up for only 50 cents or a dollar. He knew the exact prices because many of the clothes still had the price stickers on them.
“What did she think he was buying?” Jeff muttered to himself.
By the weekend, he had all of his grandmother’s possessions organized, priced and ready to go on sale in the front lawn. As usual, he had to do all the work by himself because Saturday was always a busy day for his parents at the store. Besides that, grandma was very specific in her will. All the treasures in her home were left to Jeff to do with as he wished. She knew, as stated in the will, he would benefit greatly financially when he sold them. All Jeff really wanted was to make enough money to pay for the classified ad he had placed in the newspaper.
On Saturday morning Jeff sat in a lawn chair, which still had the sticker on which was written 50 cents.
First to go were the wicker baskets.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” an old woman said while holding up the swan to a young woman standing by her side, “but it’s so pretty I have to have it.”
Jeff sold it to her for 10 cents less than his grandmother had paid for it last year.
“You can never have too many rags,” an old man told a little boy standing by him as he grabbed a handful of the older dishtowels. “They’re good for cleaning up around the garage.”
The towels went for one penny each, and how the man’s eyes twinkle as he counted out carefully each coin.
“You see, Billy, this is how you save money.”
By noon Jeff had sold out of all of his grandmother’s treasures and realized what she had been buying all those years at yard sales. It was the same thing these people had just bought.