Burly Chapter Ten


(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. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town. Herman liked it, but didn’t know why black people had to sit behind a rope.)
Burly Senior’s questions—were bears and people much different why black people were not treated honestly–bothered Herman all that summer as he worked in the cotton field alongside his father, Tad and Callie. He didn’t dare mention black people to papa for fear he would look like he smelled rotten eggs again. One day, as they hoed weeds around from the leafy green plants, Herman gathered his courage and asked Tad.
“What do you mean, why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?” Tad snapped. “You don’t want to sit next to some big fat old colored woman, would you? She might touch you.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Does it rub off?
Tad spat and hoed faster. “Don’t be stupid.”
Callie, who was in the next row, glared at Tad. “Don’t call Herman stupid.”
“I’ll call him anything I want!” Tad yelled.
“You’re the stupid one!” Callie retorted.
Papa walked up with his hoe, and the argument stopped. A few minutes went by and then Callie looked round and whispered to Herman.
“What was all that about anyway?”
“Aww, I asked if the black rubs off on you if a colored person touched you.”
Callie stifled a giggle. “Of course not. That is stupid.” She paused and added quickly. “But it was wrong for Tad to call you stupid.”
They hoed side by side for about an hour before Herman had the courage to ask her the main question. “Callie, just why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?”
“We sat as far back as they did,” she replied without looking at her brother.
“But we came late and we didn’t have to sit behind a rope, like we were different.” When she didn’t say anything, Herman added in a whisper, “Are they different?”
Again Callie studiously kept her eyes to the ground. “Papa says they are.”
“Is—is papa right?”
First giving a quick glance to her father, Callie answered, “I don’t think so. But don’t say that to papa. He might get mad.”
Herman was confused. “Why? Doesn’t he want us to be honest? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we were honest?”
“Yes.” She hoed hard and fast. “But papa doesn’t think so. Maybe someday things will change.”
“But if papa thinks they’re different, maybe they are,” Herman thought aloud.
“Less talk! More work!” papa barked.
Herman didn’t ask any more questions, but he was terribly confused. He didn’t understand why Callie would believe different than papa or Tad. Maybe it was mama who believed differently, and Callie got it from her. That evening, after the hoeing was done, and Tad had gone swimming in the creek and Callie took Pearly Bear to play dolls with her friends, Herman went into the house and walked up to his mother who was chopping vegetables for a stew.
“Mama?”
His mother sighed but answered sweetly, “Yes, dear?”
“Are black people different?”
She stopped and looked down at him, her slender hands going to the nape of her neck to massage it. “What makes you ask a thing like that?”
Herman looked down. “I was just wondering.”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it,” she answered and went back to her chopping.
“But—why?” He was about to say Callie thought differently but stopped because he didn’t want to get her in trouble.
Mama laughed. “You think more than any one child I’ve ever seen.”
“But—“
Interrupting him firmly she said, “Go to the loft and play.”
Herman did as he was told, climbed the ladder and crawled into the bed to snuggle with Burly.
“Of course Callie is right,” Bear Senior announced. “People are people, no matter what color they are. Just like bears are bears, whether they’re made of burlap or some fancy material from Sears and Roebuck.”
“I even think bears and people are alike,” Burly offered.
“That’s right, son,” his Burly Senior agreed.
“But how could Callie know this and not papa, mama or Tad?” The more they talked, the more confused Herman became.
“Why do you know it?” Burly asked.
“I don’t know if I know it or not.” Herman hung his head.
“Of course you do,” Burly Senior told him.
Herman pulled them into his arms. “I guess I know because of all you.”
“No,” Burly said. “You knew before you even talked to us. You knew because it bothered you to see the black people roped off.”
“But you helped,” Herman offered.
“Of course,” Burly quipped with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Herman sighed. The whole situation was too much for him to understand. “I’m glad you talk to me.” He looked at Burly Senior. “Don’t you talk to Tad?”
“I would if he wanted me to,” the papa bear replied.
The summer continued, and Herman kept his thoughts about honesty to himself. Even though it was hard work, keeping the cotton rows clear of weeds and nice and soft for the plants to grow big and strong, he rather enjoyed it. This was the first year papa decided he was old enough to help, and Herman could feel himself grow taller every time Papa walked by, patted him on the back and said, “Good work.”
Eventually the hot, clear skies gave way to the clouds of fall, and school came back. This time Herman was not as scared. For one thing, the session had hardly begun when all the farm children were allowed to leave so they could pick cotton before bolls rotted on the branches. To pick them quickly was so important that papa actually paid a family to help pick the cotton.
The Johnsons were black, and Herman was happy papa had given them work for they looked very poor. Mr. Johnson was gray and stoop-shouldered. Mrs. Johnston was short and very stout, but also very talkative and friendly. They had three children, all boys and all older than Herman. They were distant and brooding. Herman liked to sit next to Mrs. Johnson when they stopped for lunch. She sang songs and told stories. Sometimes she would take his fingers and sing a little tune while wriggling each one.
“Don’t let her do that,” Tad scolded him as they went back to work in the rows of cotton.
“Do what?” Herman was puzzled.
“Touch you like that,” Tad replied in a hissing, whispery voice, glancing over his shoulder at the black family.
Herman laughed a little. “All she did was wiggle my fingers.”
“All she wants is to be able to touch a white person.
“Why should she want to do that?”
Tad looked at Herman with scorn. “Stupid. Don’t you know that’s what all blacks want to do?”
“Touch white people?” Herman couldn’t believe what Tad was saying.
“You just watch it.” Tad skulked away.
That night mother asked Herman to find his father quickly. She was sitting in one of the straight-backed wooden chairs with her head between her knees. That scared Herman, so he ran out to the barn, where he usually found his father. Instead he found the Johnsons bedding down in an empty stall.
“Well, hello, little fellow!” Mrs. Johnson said cheerfully.
“Have you seen my papa?” Herman’s voice was all tight from fear.
Mrs. Johnson frowned with concern. “What’s the matter, baby?”
Herman,” papa said from the barn door. “Come here.”
Herman ran to his father to tell him that mama wanted him, but before he could say anything, his father pulled him away.
“I thought I told you to stay out of the barn while we have them sleeping in there,” he lectured harshly. He emphasized the word “them” with a nastiness that made Herman uncomfortable.
“But mama, she’s not feeling good,” Herman whined. “She wanted me to find you.”
Papa straightened and stared at the house.
“Oh.”
He walked quickly to the door. Inside mama was already back at the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“Opal, are you all right?” Papa asked so sweetly than Herman didn’t feel uncomfortable anymore.
“Oh, I was just a little dizzy, that’s all.” She laughed, but it soon turned into a cough.” She turned to smile at Herman. “Thank you for getting your father so fast, Herman.”
Papa put his long, wormy arms around her. “Are you sure?”
She leaned against him. “No, I was just being silly.”
“I think I ought to take you to the doctor,” he said softly.
Mama turned to her work at the sink. “What would we pay him with?”
“We’ll have money when the cotton is sold,” papa replied.
“We need that money for more important things.” Mama was always practical.

My Dear Friend


You may remember the news reports surrounding the death of best-selling novelist Irving Stone in 1989. He was found slumped over his desk, dead from an apparent heart attack, with his hand still holding a pen as though he were in the middle of a letter. On the paper he had scrawled, “My Dear Friend”.
Literary authorities debated for months who this dear friend was and why had Stone had only one other word written on the page before he died and what was the meaning behind it. Irving has been gone several years now and I myself am an old man, so I think it is safe to reveal that I was his dear friend.
It was late 1978, and I was flying to Virginia to join my wife and son at my in-laws’ house for Christmas. I looked forward neither to the flight nor the visit. I didn’t know to be afraid I might die in a plane crash, or to fear surviving the flight and have to endure my wife’s parents for two long, cold weeks. The last thing I needed was a grumpy old man plopping in the seat next to me and start mumbling to himself. His comments became louder and unfortunately more distinct. When he got to the part about how it was intolerable that first class was filled to capacity, I could no longer contain myself.
“Well, I’ll try not to breathe on you.”
One of my worst character flaws was opening my mouth and letting fly words that I wish I could immediately grab and cram back in. Not only was I subjected to a disgruntled aristocrat generally angry at the airline for not accommodating him but also was going to be the personal object of his disdain for the next three hours. Glancing over at him, I watched his face change from shock, anger and incredulity to surprise, humor and relaxation. He laughed out loud for about half a minute, which in a crowded tourist class airplane section was exceptionally long. Several fellow travelers turned to see what was going on.
“This is the first time I’ve laughed in at least three days,” he said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
Smiling, he stared at me, which made me uncomfortable. I decided I would have preferred to have him angry and ignoring me in excess than have all this attention.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?”
My first impulse was to ask, “And why should I care?” Instead I restrained myself. “I take it you are a person who prefers to fly first class.”
He chuckled again. “And why should you care in the first place?” Settling into his cramped seat, the man looked straight ahead. “I apologize for being an insufferable bore. I assume everyone knows who I am and will try to convince me he has written the next best-selling novel in the world if only he could get a foot in the door.”
I had written a novel and sent the first three chapters to Doubleday. An editor replied he liked them and wanted to see the rest of it. By the time I mailed it, he retired and the next editor didn’t like it at all. Since I didn’t want to add another rejection to my list of achievements, I refrained from telling the author my story.
“You don’t have a novel, do you?”
“Oh, no,” I lied. “Used to work for newspapers though. But that’s not real writing, is it?”
“All writing is real writing. I admire how you people can write a full story, zip like that and have it published the next day. I could never do that.”
“It’s called a deadline. And the necessity of being paid.”
He laughed again. “None of the reporters I’ve talked to have ever made me laugh. Why is that?”
“The deadline.” I paused. “I interviewed a famous author once. One of the Haileys. Not the one who wrote Roots but the other one. You know. Hotel. Airport.”
“Yes, I do know him.”
“He acted like he was a character in one of his own novels.”
The man giggled.
“And he looks like he has a personal tanning bed in his house and uses it daily.”
“He does, he does.”
Three hours passed quickly as I tossed out random comments about writing and writers while the man laughed all through it. I never felt so clever in my life. By the time we were circling the airport, he pulled out a note pad and pen.
“Please put your initials and address on this,” he said. “I would like to hear from you. But I think it would be better if we kept our identities to initials. It would ruin it, don’t you think, if you knew exactly who I was.”
It was just as well. I didn’t think I wanted to be on first name basis when anyone that eccentric anyway. By the first week of the new year I received a handsome letter on personalized stationary. At the top of the paper were the initials “IRS”. He apologized again for his rudeness on the plane and reiterated how much he had enjoyed our conversation.
“By the way, I was at Hailey’s house for New Year’s Eve and giggled at him the entire evening. He was quite put out by it and asked what the matter was. I couldn’t tell him that he was acting like a character in one of his novels, so I just said I had had too much wine. Please keep me informed about what you are reading. I don’t get honest opinions often.”
This put me in a rather odd situation because I was going through a period when I wasn’t reading much of anything. The last novel I had picked up I hadn’t even finished.
“I tried to read Irving Stone’s book about Sigmund Freund, Passions of the Mind, but couldn’t finish it. I supposed it was over my head. I can’t read William Faulkner either.”
In the return mail I received this note from IRS:
“I agree about William Faulkner. He tried to be the American William Shakespeare. Stone was just lucky. He needs to remember to be appreciative of what he has been given.”
At the time I thought he was bit rough on Stone, but since he knew all these people personally I didn’t want to dispute his opinion. Through the years we corresponded, and I resisted the temptation to talk about my own writing. I wrote a few more novels, some plays and screenplays, none of them getting past the standard rejection slip. Every now and then I did pump him for gossip. For example, I asked if he thought Ernest Hemingway actually committed suicide or was it murder.
“Hemingway was crazy,” IRS wrote. “He could have been a great writer if he wasn’t always trying to prove he was a real man, whatever a real man is.”
By the middle of 1989 I had a huge stack of handwritten letters from the anonymous novelist. In September not one single letter came in the mail. Perhaps he had grown tired of connecting with a common man. On October first, however, I received this:
“My dear friend, I am sorry I have not written lately. My health is beginning to fail. Not to bore you with details but I’ve been hospitalized for the last month. I fear I have written my last novel, which is a shame since it’s all I’ve done for the last fifty years. Once again I feel remorse over our relationship. I regret having taken advantage of your good nature and humor. In the ten years we have corresponded I should have dropped my self-defense mechanism to reach out to help you with whatever dreams you have. To make up for it, I want you to feel free to ask me for one favor. No matter what it is, I will do everything within my power to grant it.”
This put me in a particular bind. While my heart raced a bit with the prospect of finally being published by a real publisher, I didn’t want to ruin the good feelings of our ten-year relationship by having him try to sell my books and fail. However, I’ve always felt it was bad manners to reject someone’s offer to do me a favor, so I wrote back this:
“My dear friend, Corresponding with you for ten years has been an honor and a pleasure, I think, made even more special by the anonymity. Therefore, my only request is that you share with me what your middle name is. That way you can keep your privacy and I can have the joy of knowing a private fact about a public person.”
Another month passed without a letter. Again I assumed I had presumed too much and lost this special relationship. The next morning I read the local newspaper. Irving Stone, author of bestsellers Lust for Life, Agony and the Ecstasy and Passions of the Mind, died at his home, leaving an enigma—an unfinished letter to “my dear friend.” I smiled when I read the only word on the letter.
“Rebecca.”
(Author’s note: I don’t know why I feel compelled to add this clarification since as a short story it’s obviously fiction and therefore not true. Anyway, for the record, Irving Stone’s middle initial was I and not Rebecca. I don’t know what it was but I’m sure it was something serious and dignified, like Irene.)

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Twenty-One


Previously in the novel: A mysterious man in black foils novice mercenary Leon from kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer.
By the summer of 1928 Wallis was planning another trip to Europe with Aunt Bessie. She loved traveling with her mother’s spinster sister. Bessie wasn’t pretty, witty or judgmental. She had her head in the clouds. What better companion could a young woman want? Before the departure, she told her aunt she had to return to Warrenton to maintain her Virginia residency so she could finally escape the horrors of marriage to aviator Winfield Spencer.
Her actual destination was the old homestead in Baltimore where Uncle Sol, according to rumor, was on his death bed. This was her last chance to exact revenge for the horrible deeds he had inflicted upon her when she was a little girl.
Wallis lingered out on the street until she saw the nurse leave Sol’s house. Looking around the empty neighborhood she picked the lock to the front door and slipped inside. She crept upstairs to her uncle’s bedroom. When she entered she saw him swallowed up by sheets and blankets.
“Uncle Sollie, so glad to see you’re alive.”
Sol’s eyes fluttered open. When they focused on his visitor and he recognized his niece, they widened in fear. He quickly moved a pillow to his crotch.
“Bessiewallis, no. Please, no.”
She sat on the edge of the bed. “Besides hearing you were dying, I also heard the nasty gossip that you had changed your will. Instead of leaving your millions to me, you decided to create a home for destitute ladies in memory of that wicked mother of yours.”
Sol’s lips quivered. “But you have so much money now. I didn’t think you would mind.” He stopped short when he saw Wallis pull a long hat pin from her stylish black lacquered straw hat with a white satin ribbon around the crown.
“That wicked woman did not approve of my father. She didn’t even attend his funeral. Of course, I hadn’t even been born then but Aunt Bessie told me.”
“Bessie was wrong. Mother was there.”
“Now, now, that’s no way to talk about Aunt Bessie. She may be as dumb as a cow, but she does pay attention when it comes to who attends a funeral and who doesn’t.” Wallis removed the pillow from between his legs and leaned in with the hat pin.
“Oh God, no, Bessiewallis.”
She leaned back. “Just kidding. You always look so funny when you think you’re getting the pin.” Wallis stuck it back in her hat and stood to walk to the night table. Holding up her hands, she began to remove her gloves, revealing a large opal ring. “You don’t mind if I take my gloves off, do you?” Not waiting for a reply she added, “Have you had your morning coffee?”
”No.”
“Oh my. Let me pour it for you.” With her back to Sol, Wallis opened the top of her opal ring, emptied a white substance into the coffee cup and stirred. “Here, you must drink it all.” She lifted it to his lips.
With apprehension he emptied the cup and fell back on the bed.
“I told you of my adventures in China, didn’t I? I loved exploring all the shops in the Shanghai marketplace. It was so sinful. I found an old woman who sold all sorts of fascinating potions. I bought a powder ground from some herb with such a long name I can’t even begin to remember how to pronounce it. Do you know how long it takes for that poison, once ingested, to work its way through the body and kill you? A week! That gives me time to go to Europe. Before you die.”
Tears filled his eyes. “I’ll tell. You won’t get away with it.”
“I forgot to mention the first symptom is immediate paralysis of the vocal cords. You won’t be able to tell about anything.”
Sol opened his mouth to speak. No sound came out. The potion had already taken effect.
“Good-bye, Uncle Sollie,” Wallis said, walking to the door. “You be a good boy. And, by the way, burn in hell.”
A week later, Wallis and Bessie strolled along the Champs-Elysees when they stopped at a news stand to buy a paper. Actually, Wallis was the one who wanted something to read because Aunt Bessie was prattling on about the upcoming debutante season in Baltimore. Wallis had grown beyond her aunt’s interests. The world of espionage was much more fascinating.
She tapped her foot as the man in front of her took too long buying a magazine. Wallis imagined he was more concerned with flirting with the newsstand girl. He was a tall man in a vanilla ice cream colored suit. His black hair was slicked-back. When he finally paid, he turned, smiled and gave a smart bow. Wallis found it impossible to remain miffed because he had a pencil-thin moustache and an appallingly deep dimple in his chin.
After he moved on, one particular headline on the front page caught her attention.
“Baltimore Inventor Dies.”
Wallis pulled coins from her purse to pay for the newspaper and scanned the story to see if it speculated on cause of death. She smiled when she read the words “natural causes.” Then she handed it to Aunt Bessie who looked at the headline.
Without any emotion she commented, “I never much cared for Sol.”
“Oh, he was all right, as long as he was going to leave everything to me.”
“Does the story say anything about the will?” Bessie asked.
In a few moments they were seated at an open air café along the Seine. Before Wallis could continue reading Sol’s obituary she was distracted by the sight of the man in the vanilla ice cream colored suit sitting at a table across from them. He lifted his champagne glass as though in a toast. Doing her best to ignore him, Wallis slammed back her own glass of champagne before returning her attention to the story about Uncle Sol.
“Finally,” she announced. “Here it is. Mr. Warfield’s will left his entire fortune of five million dollars to build a home for destitute dowagers.”
“Destitute dowagers?” Bessie repeated. “I don’t think I know what that means.”
Wallis wadded the newspaper up and threw it in a nearby trash can. She motioned to the waiter to bring her another champagne. She was in the process of slamming it back when she heard a deep male voice.
“You mustn’t toss back champagne like it were a lager in a beer garden.”
“And who appointed you queen of etiquette?” Wallis looked up to see the man in the vanilla ice cream colored suit standing over her. She blew smoke in his direction.
“I’m in the champagne business. I sell wholesale to all the best restaurants in Europe.”
“In that case, sit down and point out the best champagne on the menu.”
“Only if you promise not to guzzle but sip.”
Wallis appraised him and smiled. “You’ve got a deal.” She refused to acknowledge Aunt Bessie’s profound sigh of resignation.

Jesus Christ Superstar Becomes Our Siren Song


Every time I hear an ambulance go by I think, “There goes another person who saw “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
This odd mental phenomenon goes back to 1971 when I was the area editor for the Kingsport, Tn., Times-News. A bunch of part-time reporters and I were responsible for filling up a page about news from the surrounding counties everyday. Some days that could be quite a chore.
Back then the politicians had a habit of deciding to hold a meeting an hour earlier than announced so that when the reporter showed up they said, “Sorry, you missed it.”
One time I had a school superintendent on the phone asking him why a certain mountain school was being closed. He stammered a moment and then the phone went dead. The guy just didn’t want to talk to me about why the school was being closed. It was tough reporting the news back then.
However, I did get a call from a proud parent in a nearby town that her son had the lead in a touring company of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” which was going to perform at the Kingsport high school gymnasium. This was right after the record album had come out but before the Broadway production. Basically it was a concert version with performers on risers and stools. I told the editor and he immediately assigned the story to the entertainment editor. I never got to write about anything interesting.
Somehow, however, I became the person in charge of getting free tickets for everyone in the newsroom. Since the story ran front page, that was easy enough to do.
Even though it was bare bones, the production was great. A good time was had by all. The gymnasium was packed. When the movie came out, I felt it was a pale comparison to what I saw in Kingsport.
A few weeks later the religion editor—for a small town newspaper, this operation had a lot of editors—wrote a story about one of the local ministers who took the town to task for taking “Jesus Christ Superstar” to heart. For one thing, one of the young male leads had his picture taken in a close hug with June Lockhart and it was in the National Inquirer. Older woman takes young lover. That sort of thing.
Of course, that was nothing compared to the vitriol against the musical itself. Rock music and the gospel? Never! The idea that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend. Outrageous! Who knows what he would have thought about the “DaVinci Code” and its assertion that Jesus and Mary were married. Herod portrayed as a homosexual? The list of infamies went on and on.
He concluded with the statement, “Every time I hear an ambulance, I think there goes another person who saw ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’”
Over the years my wife and I had a good laugh over it, repeating that assertion whenever we heard an ambulance siren. In the last few years, we saw the road show production starring Ted Neely, who had the title role in the movie back in 1976. For an old man he looked pretty good in a loin cloth, except it went all the way up to his rib cage. If he kept doing this show much longer, his loin cloth would be up to his arm pits.
Nevertheless, I might even go back to see him in it again. The music is the music of my youth and brings back fun memories. And when I’m walking into the theater, I know I will see other old, paunchy gray haired people, some of them pushing walkers, with big smiles on their faces.
Maybe that guy was right. Considering the popularity of the musical and the age of the generation that made it popular, the person in the ambulance passing by probably has seen “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Forty-Five


Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy tells the Lincoln Tad has become ill. Lincoln demands the boy be brought to them.
Adam collapsed into the omnibus seat, exhausted physically and emotionally, and watched the street signs appear. Avenue H, Avenue I…his mind stopped noticing for a moment as it tried to comprehend the explosion he had just witnessed. Never had he thought the soft-spoken, gently witty Lincoln would, could muster such rage so quickly. And what if Stanton said no? he fretted as Avenue K arrived. He waved at the driver to stop and stepped off the omnibus, which clanged its way up Fifteenth Street. Adam ran down the avenue several blocks until he reached Stanton’s brick home. Coming down the steps as he leaped up, two at a time, was a strange, swarthy woman wearing dangling earrings and a peculiar scarf over her black curls. She nodded and smiled mysteriously at him and evaporated in to the night. He stood at the door, gathering courage to knock and fighting his doubts about Stanton’s intentions.
Some nights, after cleaning and returning chamber pots to the billiards room, Adam sneaked out and wandered over to one of the taverns, where he was developing a taste for ale. Soldiers returning from battle swapped tall tales, but Adam stayed to himself, preferring not to explain why he had no wounds. He had learned quite a bit about the political scene in the capital and much of the gossip, including where the best whorehouses were, and who was taking graft in the government. For instance, he learned Edwin Stanton had become secretary of war by exposing the corruption of former secretary Simon Cameron, who was said to be willing to steal anything but a red-hot stove. Then one night, as Adam was nursing his second glass of ale, he overheard something disconcerting. During the summer of 1862, when Stanton was formulating his plan to move Lincoln to the basement, he had been the target of nasty rumors of failure to supply medical aid and armaments for the soldiers. There was even talk of forcing the president to remove him.
So, as Adam stood on the front step of Stanton’s house, he could not help but wonder if Stanton’s self-preservation was the actual reason for the grand scheme to save the republic, of which the private was an integral part. He finally knocked.
A maid opened the door, and Adam told her he wanted to see Stanton. He sat on a long bench in the hall while she disappeared through a door to the parlor. In a moment she returned.
“Mr. Stanton will join you in a few minutes.”
She disappeared down the hall, and Adam, despite his better instincts, went to the door and listened.
“Ellen, who was that woman?”
“Mrs. Laury, from Georgetown.”
“The name sounds familiar.”
“She’s a spiritualist.”
“Ah, the one who told Mrs. Lincoln that all her husband’s Cabinet members were his enemies.” Sarcasm tinged his voice.
“It was Mrs. Lincoln who recommended her to me, since we share the sorrow of losing sons.”
“Mrs. Lincoln? When?”
Adam noticed an urgency to the question.
“Last summer. Mrs. Laury’s been ill with influenza until recently. Why do you ask?”
“No reason.” Stanton paused. “Why do you need a spiritualist?”
Adam heard Mrs. Stanton sigh, but not reply.
“Well, I’ve someone waiting for me outside,” Stanton said. “We can talk about this later.” When he came out of the door, his eyes widened. “Oh. I didn’t know it was you.” He looked around nervously. “I told you not to come here.”
“It’s an emergency.”
“Not here. Outside.” Stanton pushed Adam out the front door. “What is it?” They stood on the porch and began to shiver in the November night.
“The boy—Tad—he’s sick.”
“So?” Stanton raised a cynical eyebrow.
“It’s nothing serious, but he wants to see his mother.”
“Isn’t that woman there? She should be there.”
“He knows.”
“What do you mean he knows?”
“He thinks his father placed substitutes in the White House as part of a plan to end the war. That’s why he hasn’t told anyone—yet.”
“Yet?”
“He says if he doesn’t see his mother tonight, he might forget not to tell.”
“Little brat tries to blackmail me, and he won’t live until morning.”
“Sir?”
“Hell.” Stanton spat on the steps and scrunched his shoulders. “Fine. Take him to the basement. Just make sure no one sees you.”
Within thirty minutes, Adam was back at the Executive Mansion and bounding up the service stairs. Entering Tad’s bedroom, he found Alethia and Duff hovering over him.
Beaming brightly, Adam announced, “It’s all right. It’s been approved. Mr. Stanton said yes.”
“Hear that?” Alethia brushed Tad’s hair. “In a few minutes you’ll see them.”
“But only for a few minutes,” Duff said. He looked up at Adam and back at the boy. “You don’t want to endanger your father’s plan.”
“Oh no,” Tad said. “I don’t want to do anything to hurt Papa, but I do want to see Mama. I think it’ll make me well faster.”
“Of course it will.” Alethia smiled.
“You’re a nice lady.” Tad looked up at her and then at Duff. “And you’re a nice man. Papa picked good when he picked you.”
“No one must see us,” Adam said. “What about Nicolay and Hay?”
“They came in from a round of tavern visits while you were gone.” Duff stood. “I think they’re still awake.”
“Oh.” Adam’s face clouded.
“I could go down to their rooms and discuss tomorrow’s agenda,” Duff offered.
“That’s good,” Adam said.
“They’re good boys. Our late-night talks can last an hour, easy.”
“That’ll give us plenty of time,” Adam said.
Duff left to walk down through the glass partition to the office reception area. The bedroom which Hay and Nicolay shared was in the corner across from their office.

Burly Chapter Nine

(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. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town.)
Herman and Tad ran out the front door and scrambled into the back of the pickup. Callie rode in the cab next to her father. They were well on their way down the road when Tad leaned over to Herman. “Can you keep a secret?”
Herman became scared because whenever Tad said something like that he was in trouble and going to get Herman in trouble too. “I guess.”
Tad smiled as he pulled from under his shirt Burly.
“Burly!”
“Shush,” Tad whispered. “I said keep it on the QT.”
“Thank you.”
Tad shrugged. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything, and, heck, you’ve been a pretty good kid, making good grades and, well, you pull your weight around the farm.”
“I love you, Tad.”
His brother stiffened. “Aww, don’t get sloppy on me.”
The rest of the ride went in silence, but it was the happiest silence Herman ever shared with Tad. When they arrived at the tent they had to take seats towards the back since it was almost filled. Herman had never seen so many people together in one place, which also made it very hot. The sides of the tent were rolled up so air could move through, and people with the show were giving out hand fans.
“Hi, Herman!” a boy called out.
Herman looked up and smiled. It was one of the nicer boys from school, Gerald Morgan.
“Who’s that?” papa asked.
“Oh, a boy from school.” Herman stopped smiling long enough to make sure Burly wasn’t showing from underneath his shirt and then gave Gerald one last wave.
They hadn’t been there long when a band marched out and sat right in front of the stage. Music began, and the curtain opened. Herman cautiously pulled Burly from under his shirt so he could watch too. Glancing over at his father, he saw a happy grin on his face. The actors came out and began talking. To be honest Herman didn’t really understand much of what they were talking about or who was who. One fellow was definitely a bad guy, who talked nasty to people and threatened all the pretty girls on stage. Another actor was the good guy. Everybody seemed to like him. Finally there was Toby. Harley Sadler didn’t look a thing like he did that afternoon. He had on a silly red wig and had freckles painted on his face, and he wore funny looking wooly chaps. When he came on stage everyone else sort of disappeared because the entire audience laughed at Toby.
Partway through the show papa leaned over to Herman, who jumped and quickly put Burly under his shirt. “Can you see all right, son?” he whispered.
“Kind of,” Herman replied.
Papa looked behind him to make sure there wasn’t anyone he would be blocking and then lifted Herman to his shoulders.
At first Herman had a few butterflies in his stomach because he was so high but he could see better. It felt good being so close to his father so the butterflies soon went away. After a while Herman asked his father if he was hurting his back.
“Not to mention, as long as you’re having a good time,” Papa replied.
The hero beat up the bad guy with the help of Toby. One of the pretty girls turned Toby down when he asked her to marry him, which didn’t seem right. But another pretty girl did marry the hero, which made the audience cheer. The curtain came down, the band played some happy-sounding music, and the audience applauded.
On the way out Herman smiled with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what a tent show was now and of feeling love flowing from his family. Then he saw something that broke the warm feeling. Off to the back left was a section roped off for black people. He hadn’t noticed it when they came in. Indeed, it was the first time Herman had ever noticed that black people were treated differently and it bothered him. As his father lifted him off his shoulders and onto the ground, Herman’s first reaction was to ask his father about it, but he decided not to say anything.
He had almost forgotten the separation of the black people when they got home. Herman was about to walk into the house when his father called him over to the shed where he was putting the pickup away for the night.
“How did Burly like the show?” Papa asked.
“What?”
Papa smiled knowingly. “You better take him out from under your shirt now. He’s going to rub your skin raw.”
Herman pulled Burly out. “How did you know? Did Tad tell?”
“Why? Did Tad know?”
“Um, no.” Herman didn’t want to get his brother into trouble.
Papa patted Herman’s back. “Don’t worry about it. Get on to bed.”
Herman was leaving when he decided to ask about the black people. His father’s serene expression changed as Herman spoke.
“Oh, the coloreds.” The last word floated up through Papa’s nostrils as though it were the stench of rotten eggs. He turned away from Herman, his way of saying a conversation was over. “Don’t worry about them.”
Now Herman wished he hadn’t brought the subject up. It put a sour ending to a wonderful evening. When he climbed the ladder to the loft he found Callie and Tad already asleep. He took his clothes off, opened his window and climbed into bed.
“How did you like the show?” he asked Burly.
“What I saw I liked. Of course, I couldn’t see much from under your shirt.”
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“Oh no. I was glad I got to go, no matter what.”
Herman smiled as he nestled into his pillow. “Wasn’t it nice of Tad to bring you?”
“Of course. I keep telling you he loves you.”
Herman sighed. “Yes. But often it comes as a surprise.”
From across the room came two other bear voices.
“How did you like the show?” Pearly Bear asked.
“Was it fun?” Burly Senior added.
“Oh yes, mama, papa,” Burley replied. “Even though I did have to sit under a shirt.”
“Sit under a shirt?” Burly Senior said with a hint of indignation. “Herman, why did you do that to Burly?”
“I—I was afraid of what Papa would say,” Herman stammered.
“But your father knew all along,” Pearly said. “You would have been better off being honest, and then Burly would have had a better view.”
Herman frowned and thought about the black people again. “Are people being dishonest about black people?
“I don’t know,” Pearly replied. “I just know about bears.”
And then Burly Senior asked, “But are bears and people much different?”

She Needs Me


Tillie Purcival clutched, ever so gently, her sixteen-year-old Chihuahua Toots as she sat in the rocking chair on her front porch, waiting for her son and his wife to arrive. When she saw their sedan pull up, she set her jaw and tried to control the tears forming in her steel gray eyes. The son and his wife walked up the sidewalk, smiling and holding hands.
“So which one of you told this little dog she was old?”
Good grief. Here she goes again. I’m not a puppy anymore. Get over it.
Tillie’s husband Butch never allowed her to have a lap dog. He considered them a waste of time and money. Now, a hunting dog, he told her, there was a good investment. At least they could bring home something she could cook for supper. And Butch gave Tillie strict instructions never to pet the hunting dogs. That would just turn them into sissies and then what good would they be?
Three days after his sixty-first birthday, Butch took his dogs hunting. They were chasing a covey of quail when Butch tripped over the dogs, fell and blew a hole in his belly with his shotgun. After the funeral, Tillie gave the shotgun and the dogs to her son as a Christmas present. She promptly went to a dog show in nearby Dallas, strolled the aisles until she found a table of baby Chihuahuas, paid an obscene amount for the tiniest female, named her Sweet Little Tootsie Roll (Toots for short) and took her home.
Tillie and Toots became inseparable companions. An expert seamstress, Tillie created a lovely bag which fitted Toots perfectly. When she took her dog to the vet, he told her the Chihuahua was in good health but did have a slight curvature of the spine which would develop into arthritis as Toots grew old. Tillie decided never to allow that to happen so she always called her pet a sweet little baby puppy. Everyone who visited the house was instructed to do the same.
All went well for the next sixteen years until Toots indeed develop arthritis. Her little head perpetually cocked to the left and her tiny feet veered to the right. The odd walk never accounted for much because Tillie kept the dog in the bag or in her arms. The problem was with visitors who insisted on commenting what a sweet old dog Toots was.
“She is not old! She is my sweet little baby puppy!”
“Of course, she is, mother,” her son said.
“And if I accidentally used the word old, I am very sorry,” his wife added.
“She is not old!”
Stop screaming in my ear! I’m not deaf!
“Is she eating better than she was?” he asked.
“Yes, but I don’t want her to gain too much weight. Her little legs won’t hold it.”
The new stuff in the tiny packages is yummy. I’m glad she started buying it.
“I just don’t want her to be unhappy, that’s all,” Tillie sighed, relenting in her lecture.
I’m happy. I’m happy. Just stop screaming in my ears.
“She’s very dear to you,” the wife said. “I know.”
Oh great. The old broad’s beginning to quiver again. I better give her a kiss to calm her down.
Toots licked Tillie’s knuckles, which were becoming a bit arthritic too.
“You see,” she said, lifting the little dog to her cheek, “she needs me.”
You see, she needs me.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Twenty


Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite.
In April of 1927 David found foolish emotion creeping up through his body and felt his heart and mind working together to undermine the British Empire. Freda Ward, his mistress since 1918, began to occupy more of his thoughts since he returned from the failed mission to Manhattan. On the liner across the Atlantic, David encountered several ladies willing to share his bed but a strange thing occurred. He preferred to spend his hours writing letters to Freda.
This was a problem he had never considered when MI6 first approached him when he was in school to train to serve in the elite espionage corps. His love-deprived childhood and tortured school days filled with bullying convinced him true, nourishing enduring love was a cruel myth. At first his relationship with Freda was no more than his usual vent of sexual frustration and a convenient cover for his espionage activities. But now he considered the possibility that true love actually existed.
On this particular day David drove his Ace roadster coupe to unoccupied country home near Windsor Castle with Freda in the passenger seat. He gunned the two-liter six-cylinder engine.
“Now do you like my new car?”
“Very sporty, like you,” she said.
“It’s exactly like the one Victor Bruce drove when he won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1926. I was simply dippy for it so I special ordered it.” He kept glancing over at her trying to read her inscrutable face. Usually she glowed at him with something likening a mother’s love. Today he saw a hint of disapproval and exasperation.
“I was on a round of princing recently out here in Surrey—I had to hand out rosettes to a bunch of cows or some such foolishness–when I came upon this property and became quite dippy about it.”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” she interrupted.
“Which word?”
“Never mind. You’ve said it twice in consecutive sentences.” After a shake of her head, she smiled warmly. “Continue.”
They rounded a brushy corner and the manor house with its fanciful towers and curving walls appeared.
“There it is, Fort Belvedere. It screams gothic revival architecture, doesn’t it? Anyway, I did a bit of digging and found out it was built in 1750 as a folly. You know what a folly is, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, but playing professor gives you so much pleasure.” Freda emitted one of her motherly sighs. “Do explain it to me.”
David parked in front of the house and jumped out to open Freda’s door. “This one was built to look like a military fort, but the only guns ever used around here were for hunting weekends. A small hunting lodge, just for fun, pretty to look at but not much use for anything else. My God, sounds like me, doesn’t it?”
“Well,” she paused long enough to give him a nudge, “you’re not all that pretty.”
He guided her to the front door and unlocked it. “It was expanded in 1828 to meet the requirements as a full-scale hunting lodge and used on and off ever since. Now the kick of it is that it’s one of my father’s properties and I’m trying to figure out a way for someone on his staff to insert the idea into his sotted brain to give it to me. My God, I am a grown man and I should have my own house, don’t you think.”
“Yes, I think it would do you some good to be responsible for something for once in your life.” Freda looked around at the dark wood flooring and paneling. “But it will need a bit of redecorating, I think.” Her eyes flashed with an idea. “Why don’t you make it a home for deprived orphans of coal miners?” She walked out of French doors onto a terrace overlooking a large wooded area. “Think of all the fun they could have playing among the trees and planting gardens and such.”
“Oh, there you go, playing angel waif again.” He gazed at her with a mischievous grin. “Now how am I to host weekend parties with plenty of naughty friends when all those children are around?”
“Well, that’s what I meant.” She gathered her thoughts. “Don’t you think it’s time to stop being naughty, at least on such a grand scale?”
He took her hand and guided her to the shade of the trees. “The same idea had crossed my mind. How do you see this as a honeymoon cottage?”
Freda’s mouth opened but nothing came out for a moment. “Remember, I am married.”
“But not happily. Otherwise, why would you be mucking around with me?” Before she could form a reply, David continued. “Of course, you couldn’t officially be queen, when it comes to that, but there is such a thing as a morganatic marriage—that’s where we could be legally married and our children would be royal but not you. That wouldn’t be so bad would it? I mean, I think the tweedy types would go for it. They like you. After all, your father is a member of Parliament and vice-chamberlain of the royal household. And you’re so discreet.”
He held his breath. He did not know if he really meant it or not. If he married—actually married and conducted a normal family life—his life as an espionage agent would be over. Being an agent gave his life meaning. But a life with Freda could also give it meaning.
Gently folding her fingers in front of her mouth, Freda said, “Do you remember earlier when I ask you not to use a certain word but I declined to say which word it was?”
“Yes, but before you say anything else, please consider this. We have been lovers since 1918. Ten years. Good grief, I know some people who can’t stay married for ten years. Do you remember when we met? It was at a dance hosted by some woman. I can’t remember her name. She had her brother there. I think she was trying to shop him around.”
She sighed and shook her head. “It was Maud Kerr-Smiley, and she wasn’t shopping her brother around. He was quite debonair and wealthy. In the shipping business, I think. Simpson, that’s his name. Ernest Simpson. Oh, here we go again. You can’t keep your mind focused and you drag me along into your wonder land.”
“No, no. All this has a meaning. In the middle of the dance we had to dash off to a bomb shelter where we became close, very close. I knew then. You were exceptional.”
“And you look at me with your puppy dog eyes and say sappy things like that.” She exhaled in exasperation. “Please let me finish.”
“Very well.”
“You said you were dippy for this your car and then said you were dippy for this property.”
“So?”
“Dippy is such a childish word.”
“”It’s a joke. It’s fun to use words like dippy.”
“David, I would divorce my husband because he is many years older than I and is rather, well, stodgy. But I am not ready to turn in an old codger for a little boy. When I do—or if—I remarry, I want to marry a man my own age, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, someone who would not use words like dippy.” She paused to wrinkle her brow. “Have I hurt you terribly?”
He smiled and turned away. “Oh, if you ever knew.”
“What?”
David rested his butt on a moist stone wall and cocked his head. “You know how I seem to make fun of my duties, you know, calling it princing?”
“Yes,” she replied softly.
“Well, it’s all a series of stunts, camouflage and propaganda. Think about it. Why do they really need to be trotting me around the globe shaking hands?”
“Because you are so good at it?”
David chuckled. “I’ve been told that before.”
“What?”
“Never mind.” He went to Freda to kiss her lightly on the lips. “No, I am not hurt and I understand.” He looked around at the house, the terrace and the woods extending into the horizon. When Daddy gives me this place, will you play hostess? Redecorate it for me?”
“Of course I will,” she replied, sounding more like a mother than a lover.
“I’m looking forward to doing the gardening myself. I really do like getting my hands dirty, you know.” He waved towards the trees. “A hundred acres of trees. Think of the things I could plant there, and nobody would ever know.”
“You scare me sometimes, David. I never know when you’re making a joke and when you’re serious.”
He pulled a small stuffed teddy bear from his jacket pocket and tenderly placed it in her palm and closed her fingers around it.
“This is for you. Always keep it with you. From time to time, pull it out and look at it to remind yourself of the one brief moment when the Prince of Wales was completely sincere.”

Dancing Robot


Siegfried and Otto were extremely put out that the Fuehrer had gone down into his bunker and put a bullet through his brain.
There they had just created the perfect prototype of a robot soldier, ready to goosestep across Europe, and the war was over. What on earth were they ever to do?
Within a year they had migrated to the United States with a brilliant new idea for their robot. Siegfried and Otto reworked the circuit to transform the goose-stepping marvel into a tap-dancing fool. They envisioned creating entire theater companies to tour with No No Nanette in every major city in America, three shows daily. Ordinary human dancers had to eat, sleep and insist on being paid, while inconveniently coming up lame with pulled muscles and sprained ankles.
“He is a masterpiece!” Siegfried exclaimed.
“Perhaps we should lose the mustache and the hair down the forehead,” Otto offered.
“But why? He is the exact image of the Fuehrer!”
“He looks like one of the Americans’ Three Stooges, Moe,” Otto replied. “He would not be taken seriously.”
“You think?”
“I know.”
“Very well. Perhaps different color of hair?” Siegfried asked
“Ah! Make him a blond!” Otto jumped with glee.
“Ja!”
“He will be the perfect auto robot!”
“Und why should he be named for you?” Siegfried demanded. “I am just as responsible for his creation as you are!”
“What do you mean, named for me?”
“You said to name him Otto robot,” Siegfried responded.
“I said auto robot as in automated robot,” the short bald-headed scientist said, stomping his foot. “Not Otto robot!”
“You should not speak with such a thick German accent when we are discussing business.”
“Dumpkoff!”
“Let’s get back to the topic at hand,” Siegfried said, opening the back of the dancing robot with a screwdriver to make final adjustments. “Ah, that is it.” He closed the panel and pushed the bright red button between the robot’s shoulder blades.
The robot began a perfect tap routine with shuffle ball change and butterfly jumps. Otto’s eyes widened.
“Und what, may I ask, is that?”
“Tap dancing! American tap dancing!”
Otto stomped again. “Nein! That is sissy tap dancing!” He grabbed the screwdriver from Siegfried’s hand and went to the robot to punch the red button. “I thought we had settled this question weeks ago.”
“Nein. We just stopped talking about it,” Siegfried replied. “I made the final decision to make the robot dance like Fred Astaire. Und Fred Astaire is not a sissy! He is a happily married man. Millions of Americans love his suave dancing style.”
“Scheitze! Millions more Americans love the style of Gene Kelly!” Otto threw open the panel, stuck in the screwdriver and adjusted the panel. “Bended knees! Wider steps! Dance like a man, for God’s sake!”
When Otto punched the button the robot bent its knees and flew across the floor, tapping its little feet off. Siegfried ran to his partner and wrested the screwdriver from his hand and turned to the dancing robot as it began bouncing off the walls.
“Nein! Nein! No No Nanette cannot be danced like that!” Seigfried screamed.
Before Siegfried could reach the robot to punch its red button Otto jumped on his back. “No sissies in No No Nanette!”
The two scientists rolled around on the floor as the dancing robot entered its final sixteen bars which included a pirouette and clicking of heels. Unfortunately on the second heel click the robot tripped over Siegfried and Otto, collapsed and its legs fell off. The scientists stopped fighting, stood and surveyed the damage.
“I never liked No No Nanette in the first place,” Otto said.
“Ja. Too American,” Siegfried agreed. “Besides, we would have had to pay royalties.”
Otto, who now possessed the screwdriver, tapped Siegfried’s arm with it. “Ballet. We pick a composer from the eighteenth century, and the music is ours for the taking.”
“Just like Poland!”
“Exactly!”
Each picked up a leg and went to the work table. They went back for the torso.
“Of course, it will have to be programmed to dance in the style of the Bolshoi Ballet,” Otto said matter of factly.
“Bolshoi?” Siegfried replied. “But I prefer Kirov!”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Forty-Four

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home. Tad Lincoln becomes ill.
Mrs. Lincoln would know what to do, Adam Christy told himself, but she is not the woman tending to Tad right now.
“I suppose so,” he muttered.
“I don’t know,” Neal said. “If it’s his appendix, it could bust right soon, and he’d be dead before morning if nobody does anything about it.”
“Neal.” Phebe slapped his arm.
They walked off fussing at each other as Adam nervously unlocked the door. Could Tad die? He was worried, as he entered with the three pots.
Gabby took his. “That Mr. Stanton, do you talk with him often?” He kept his eyes down.
“Yes.”
“Please tell him—in a nice way, because I don’t want to get him mad, since he’s so hot-tempered in the first place—to be nice to Cordie.”
“I will.”
“She doesn’t feel well.”
“Oh.”
“I think she has the family disease.”
“What’s that?”
“Sitters disease.”
Gabby turned to scurry behind the boxes and crates. Mrs. Lincoln came from behind her curtain combing her hair out, and for the first time since Adam had known her, wore a look of quiet resignation instead of pent-up anger. She smiled at him.
“Back already? My, you’re quick like a bunny rabbit.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam felt his face flush as he thought of Tad and his bilious condition. As had become the custom, he placed the chamber pots down outside the curtain and turned to go.
“Private Christy, is there anything wrong? You’ve the oddest expression on your face.”
“No, ma’am.” He turned back and felt his face turn redder. “There’s nothing wrong.”
“Nonsense.” She clutched the comb in both hands. “Your face is as red as a beet.”
“Well, I—I well…”
“Spit it out, boy,” Mrs. Lincoln ordered.
Lincoln, his collar undone, exposing masses of black hair on a bony chest, stepped from his private corner and put an arm around his wife’s waist and squeezed.
“It’s—it’s personal, and private.”
“You’re lying,” she declared.
“No, I’m not!”
“Now, Molly, no need to harass the boy so late at night. He needs his rest, and you need yours. I definitely need mine.”
“It’s Tad,” she whispered. “Something’s wrong with Tad.”
Adam’s eyes went to the floor.
“It is.” Her voice began to mount to its usual stridency. “I can tell. Oh, my God! Something’s wrong with my baby.”
“Come on, Private, we don’t believe in killing the messenger of sad tidings,” Lincoln said. “What is it?”
“The kitchen help said your son wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “They said he was bilious.”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Lincoln replied.
“Not so bad!” Mrs. Lincoln struggled to free herself from his grip. “What imbecility is that? Haven’t you heard of appendicitis? Food poisoning? It could be any number of terrible, terrible things, and you say not so bad?”
Lincoln turned to Adam. “Why don’t you go upstairs and do a little reconnaissance work for us?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam left and went up the service stairs, his heart pounding so hard he could barely hear the straw mats crunching under his boots. On the second floor, he went straight to Tad’s room, where he found Alethia wiping the boy’s head with a wet cloth. To the side was a bucket filled with vomit.
“Poor child,” Alethia said as she looked up at Adam, “he must have eaten green fruit again.”
“No, I didn’t,” Tad protested.
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Oh, I think so.” Alethia smiled and stroked his cheek. “I gave him a dose of subnitrate of bismuth.”
“It tasted awful,” Tad said.
“But you haven’t thrown up since,” Alethia said.
Adam breathed deeply “That’s good.”
“I want Mama.” Tad looked from Alethia to Adam and back again. “My real mama.”
“Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alethia replied.
“I think you’re a very nice lady who looks like Mama, but you’re not her. And that man isn’t Papa,” Tad whispered conspiratorially. “It’s part of a war plan. I got that part figured out.” His bottom lip crinkled. “But I don’t feel good, and I want Mama.”
Adam stared at Alethia, not knowing what to do, and hoping she had some answer, but the scared look on her face revealed she knew as little as he did. He jumped a little as he suddenly became aware of Duff’s presence in the room.
“What do you think?” he asked him, frowning.
“I think you should tell his parents that he’s received medicine and is feeling some better, but wants to see them. They deserve to know that much.” Duff looked at Tad and smiled. “I knew you were a smart boy. Thanks for keeping our secret.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “But I still want Mama.”
“Of course, it’s not my decision,” Duff said to Adam, “but I think it’d behoove us to keep this child happy and willing to go along with our game. Isn’t that right, Tad?”
“Yes, sir.”
“I don’t know.” Adam shook his head. “I don’t know what Mr. Stanton would say.”
“What difference does it make what that old poop thinks?” Tad chimed. “My papa is in charge of this switch, ain’t he?”
“Of course, he is,” Duff said.
Adam and Alethia exchanged nervous glances.
“This young fellow here just likes to keep everybody involved in this caper happy,” Duff continued, smiling at the boy and reaching to muss his hair.
“Hmph, I don’t care if old Mr. Stanton is happy or not,” Tad said in a pout.
“I’ll see what Mr. Lincoln wants.” Adam’s stomach tightened as he lied to Tad. More and more, he feared the threads of Stanton’s tapestry were unraveling—the war continued, the boy knew and could talk, and the kitchen help was curious, too curious.
“Yes.” Alethia patted Tad’s cheek. “Soon you’ll get a hug from your mama. But you must promise not to tell anyone.”
“Not even Robert?” he asked.
“Especially not your brother,” Duff replied.
“Good.” Tad smiled impishly. “I like keeping secrets from my brother.”
In a few minutes, Adam was in the basement again, unlocking the door to the billiards room. Inside, Mrs. Lincoln rushed to him, grabbing his arm.
“How’s Taddie? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. The lady thinks he has just a plain old bellyache. She gave him subnitrate of bismuth.”
“How much?” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes widened. “Subnitrate is powerful medicine. If a child is overmedicated…”
“Now, Molly, I’m sure the lady upstairs knew the right amount to give him,” Lincoln interrupted as he walked up.
Adam noticed the look in Lincoln’s eyes did not match the moderation in his voice. Not even on the day he had brought the president to the basement did he see such anguish as he observed now. It made him nervous.
“Something else is wrong,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “I can tell. Your emotions are written on your face like Mr. Dickens writes stories on a page. What is it?”
“Tad is all right,” Adam repeated.
“What is it, son?” Lincoln asked ominously.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me!” she demanded, trying to control her hysteria, as Lincoln’s big hands clutched her shoulders tightly.
“He wants to see his mother.” Adam’s eyes wandered around the room and spotted Gabby peeking from his corner. He must have courage, or else he would dissolve into another Gabby Zook.
“So he knows that woman is a fake.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled with vindication.
“Of course he does,” Lincoln said, relaxing a bit. “He’s smart, just like his mama.”
“Then bring him down here. It won’t hurt. He already knows,” Mrs. Lincoln insisted.
“He’s kept the secret for two months now,” Lincoln added. “He can be trusted.”
“Oh, I know he can be trusted,” Adam agreed. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Lincoln’s tone became ominous again.
“I don’t know if Mr. Stanton will approve.”
“Stanton! That evil man!” Mrs. Lincoln’s hands began to flail about.
“Now, Molly,” Lincoln said, forcing her hands down, “let me handle this.” He solemnly looked at Adam. “Go get Mr. Stanton’s approval right now.”
“He doesn’t like to be disturbed,” he explained.
“This woman’s already lost two babies.” Lincoln suddenly grabbed the front of Adam’s rumpled blue tunic, pulling him off his feet to eye level. “She gets fearful upset when another is ailing and she can’t pet him,” Lincoln stated softly, coldly. “So I suggest you get Mr. Stanton’s permission to bring that boy down here.”
Adam gasped in surprise as he nodded obediently. He quickly, painfully, became aware of Lincoln’s strength and anger. Scrambling for the door and fumbling for the keys, he followed the orders of the president of the United States.