The Dream

I have a lot of dreams.
This is mostly because I have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. Put simply, I stay in the dream stage and never go into the deepest level of recuperative sleep. Sorry to bore you with my medical history, but it’s plot exposition, and I thought it best to get it out of the way up front.
One recent night I had this vision of a young boy in a tee shirt and blue jeans. He had a long angular face—soulful, sad. He seemed to be sitting on an L-shaped shadow. Then he spoke.
“Mom is worried about you.”
The pronouncement was so shocking I bolted awake and immediately tried to figure it out. My first thought was it was my interpretation of my son’s concern for my health. Before he leaves for work he reminds me where his work number is written down and tells me to be sure to call if I start to feel ill.
But how would he know if his mom was worried about me too? She died three years ago. And why would I see him as a child in my dream? He’s 45 years old. And he didn’t look anything like the dream boy when he was that age.
Then I remembered the framed photographs hanging in my childhood home. My picture was there, as well as my two brothers. The fourth photo was of the oldest brother who died six years before I was born. He was about seven years old. He wore a white shirt and bib overalls. As I thought more about it, his long face in the photograph did look very forlorn.
That meant when he said, “Mom is worried about you,” he was talking about our mother who died when I was fourteen years old.
The pieces were coming together for me. For traditional dream interpretation I am the one who is worried about myself, and I chose family members who had already passed to express my subconscious concerns.
For one who has an active imagination, however, I wonder if it weren’t a dream at all. Maybe it was an actual message from the other side saying I’ve got dead folks who are worried about me. It’s nice to know somebody up there cares.

Remember Chapter Seven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.

“Yes.”

She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”

“Great!”

Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”

Two Pennies

Two weeks ago Frank’s breakfast buddies suggested over their omelets that they all go to the opening of a ballroom dancing school. Anyone showing proof of being on Social Security got in free.
Before Frank could respond, a woman in a flamboyant caftan and large dangling earrings entered the restaurant and immediately stopped in front of Frank and pointed.
“Are you married?”
“No.” He unconsciously reached for the gold band on his left hand.
Without another word she walked away, disappearing in the crowd.
“That was weird,” Charley observed. “As I was saying, let’s have a guys’ night out where we get to touch some old broads without getting slapped. What do you say, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I have two left feet, and Joan had two right feet so it seemed to work out okay. But me with a woman with two normal feet, well, that could prove embarrassing.”
“Look, you’ll probably never see any of these women again, so why do you care?” Charley asked.
“You guys are overlooking the main word in this conversation,” Ralph interjected. “Free. We can’t break the old fart’s creed. Never pass up anything free.”
So on the night of the opening Frank dressed, not really knowing what to think. He heard Charley honk. The time to think was over. It was time to go. The dance school was in an old car repair garage. Frank had gone there a few times until he realized there was a cheaper garage down the street. The parking lot was full. It was amazing how many people come out for something free.
Just as he stepped out of Charley’s car he looked down and saw a shiny penny on the ground. Legend had it when a person found a shiny penny someone who had died was letting them know everything was all right. His wife Joan wanted him to have a good time. Frank didn’t know if he believed in such things, but just for tonight he decided he wanted to, so he picked up the penny and put it in his pocket.
The old garage looked pretty good now. The grease on the floor had been cleaned up and replaced by wooden tiles. The whole place was painted black and mirrors covered every wall. A mirror ball twirled above, radiating twinkling lights everywhere, making everyone in attendance look twenty years younger.
Frank stopped in his tracks when he saw the woman in the middle of the room holding a microphone. She was slender and straight, wearing a white beaded jacket and black beaded short dress and looked just like Anne Bancroft. For the first time in years, Frank felt he was developing a crush on the woman who glittered like the Milky Way.
“I need a partner to show how easy dancing is,” she announced in a wonderful accent.
Frank couldn’t tell if she were Spanish or Italian. Either way, shivers went up and down his spine.
She pointed in his direction. “I choose you, the cute one. You know who you are.” Walking over to him, she took his hand and led him back to the center. “You handsome men, you always play hard to get.” She smiled. “Have you ever danced?”
“Not in a long time. I’m afraid I was never any good,” he whispered.
She patted his cheek. “And he’s shy too. Isn’t that adorable?”
Frank noticed her red fingernail polish matched her lipstick. Inhaling her perfume, he tried not to faint.
“Don’t be scared. We’ll start out easy. A waltz.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, the music began. Frank could hear the three-quarter time distinctly and moved his feet accordingly. The glittering woman melded into him and with her legs led him around the dance floor, creating the illusion that he knew what he was doing. He knew the tune well enough to know it was about over. He was relieved he had not embarrassed him, yet he had to admit he didn’t want to let her go.
“Dip me,” she whispered.
Now dipping was something Frank knew how to do. It was his favorite cheap trick and his wife Joan loved it. He moved his left hand up to support her head and the right went to the small of her back—which he noticed was, indeed, very small. Then he gently bent her backwards and smiled. What he wasn’t expecting was that she planted a kiss on his lips. They immediately came back up, and the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.
“Ladies, ladies,” the woman in sequins announced. “You must dance with this man! He is very strong!”
The next two hours were both pleasurable and frustrating. Frank ended up dancing with every old woman in the house, each one wanting to be dipped. On the other hand, Frank kept an eye on the dance instructor and try as he may, he was not able to get close to her for a return performance. His buddies patted him on the back.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Charley said.
“When she kissed you I thought you were going down for the count,” Ralph added.
The three of them had almost decided to put out the dough for a month’s lessons when the glittery woman took the microphone back to the center of the dance floor.
“Thank you all so much for attending the grand opening of my ballroom dance school. Enrollment forms are on the table by the door. But most of all, I want to thank my husband. After he retired he agreed to turn his auto repair shop into this beautiful ballroom. David, please come out and take a bow.”
A tall, bald fat man lumbered out wearing black slacks and an oversized black shirt. She practically jumped into his arms, landing a big, long kiss. How she found his lips through that bushy beard, Frank would never figure out.
“Tough luck, pal,” Charley muttered.
“Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here,” Ralph added.
Frank was about to climb into the backseat of Charley’s car when he looked down and saw another penny which he swore was in the same place of the penny he picked up going in. But this one was dirty and smudged. Joan was trying to tell him something. Maybe like even though the evening didn’t turn out the way he wanted, she’d always be with him. Or something like that.
Frank left the dirty penny on the ground.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Five

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Adam meets John Booth.
Before Adam replied, he went to the door and closed it. He studied Booth’s eyes. Was he the interested party for whom I was searching?
“How were you assigned to the White House, Private Christy?”
“My father knows Edwin Stanton.”
“He’s another person with no morals.”
“Yes,” Adam replied. “I hate him.” He paused. “I hate them both.”
Adam could see Booth’s brain working through his etched, pallid brow. He hoped he had convinced the actor.
“And why do you hate Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton?”
“I was supposed to get a commission,” he replied. “They lied.”
“I could have told you Republicans were liars.”
“I hate them all,” Adam lied again.
“I’d have fought for the South,” Booth confided, “but the reality of war is that it does eventually end, and life goes on, and my life is acting. I might have been scarred in battle, which would have ruined my career.”
“Oh.”
“I feel guilty,” Booth added. “I want to do something. Now. To redeem myself.”
“Why are you telling me this? We’re not friends.”
“I make friends easily.” Booth smiled. “I’ve many friends here. You should meet them.”
“Friends or conspirators?” Shivers roamed over Adam’s body, but he forced a smile on his face.
“If they be conspirators, they must be friends first,” Booth replied.
“Then if you consider me a friend you must want me as a conspirator.” Adam had a strange feeling this conversation was going the same way as those he had had with prostitutes on street corners at midnight. What kind of good time do you want to show me, he remembered saying to painted women in cold shadows. “And what kind of conspiracy are you talking about?”
Before Booth could answer, a brutish young giant of a man opened the door and stuck his large head in. This fellow was bigger and brawnier than he, and his facial features—chin, cheeks, nose—were more handsome than his; however, Adam felt superior because stupidity flowed through the giant’s eyes.
“Hey, Johnny,” the man said, “this guy pickin’ on ya?”
“No, Tommy,” Booth replied. “I think we’ve a new friend here.”
“Oh.”
“Now please leave and shut the door.”
“All right, Johnny.” The large, stupid man left.
After a moment loud, thumping footsteps faded away. Booth smiled at Adam, a smile which made him nervous.
“What kind of conspiracy do you think I’m talking about?”
“Kill the bastards. All of them.” Adam was tired of romancing about the subject. Stanton wanted it done by the end of the week, so he decided to be blunt.
“What do you bring to the table?” Booth asked.
“What?”
“What do you know that I don’t already know about assassination?”
“I know a man who thinks like us.” Adam narrowed his eyes. “Things like how to get close to the president.”
“When can you arrange a meeting?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tonight.”
“Too soon,” Adam lied.
“It must be tonight.”
“Very well. Tonight at midnight, under the Aqueduct Bridge.”
“Do you think the man will show up on such short notice?”
“I don’t know,” Adam lied again. “I’ll try.”
“We’ll be there.”
“All right.” Adam was more nervous knowing he was closer to killing Lincoln. Self-preservation made men do terrible things, he decided, and therefore extended his hand.
“To success,” Booth said as he shook it.
“To redemption,” he replied.
That afternoon he met Stanton at the turnstile gate between the grounds of the Executive Mansion and the War Department.
“I met someone,” Adam whispered. “He’ll be at the bridge with friends.”
“How many?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to ask too many questions.”
“Very well. Mr. Baker will be there. What did you say?”
“I said I knew a man who knew how to get close to Lincoln.”
“Good.”
When Adam took the supper tray to the basement, Mrs. Lincoln hugged him and Gabby was still grinning at the old photograph Adam had given him in the afternoon. Adam could not help keeping his eyes down in front of Lincoln.
“Anything wrong, Private Christy?”
“Nothing, sir.” He did not want to look the president in the face.
A traitor, a lowly coward that was all I am, all I’d ever be. In Steubenville, I could have lived into old age without realizing what a despicable person I am. I could have been content to think I have admirable, manly qualities, but my life in Washington has stripped away my pretensions, leaving me with a person I neither like nor want to be.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera, but someone is trying to kill Wallis.
Early Christmas morning David, Wallis and their guests took a caravan of limousines to a country church of the Anglican denomination. The servants lined the driveway to wave them on to their Christian duty. Monsieur Valat stood at the gate and once the last car entered the road he closed it. Turning to the retinue of staff, he waved his hands, and off they all flew to the kitchen to prepare the Christmas feast for the returning supplicants.
The woman in dark clothes blended in with the authentic employees, pretending she had actual duties to perform. Her actual purpose was to find a more reliable weapon with which to kill Wallis. The poisoned wine had proven ineffective. Her first thought was a revolver. At close range it would prove impeccably efficient. It could then be thrown off the cliffs into the Mediterranean or, returned to the gun storage unit. But the woman did not know where the guns were stored.
Mon Dieu!” the sommelier blurted out in the middle of the kitchen. “I forgot to chill the champagne! Someone! Go to the basement and bring up a case!”
The woman in dark clothes tugged at his jacket sleeve. “I will go, monsieur,” she murmured so no one would detect her German accent.
Non, non, non. It is heavy. Find a man.”
“I am strong, monsieur.” Again she murmured.
She had no trouble finding the stairs to the basement. A stream of servants went up and down them fetching eggs, vegetables, fruit and bread. In the basement she found a hall with two doors on each side. A quick look informed her the open doors lead to the liquors, wine and other potables, another to fruits and vegetables and the third to bread and cheeses. The closed door was marked “Armory”. She had found the guns. However, when she tried to open it, she found it locked tight. She sighed with frustration. Monsieur Valat would be the only person with a key. One of many on a large key ring in his front trouser pocket. Her pickpocketing skills were minimal. Then she remembered her original purpose for being in the basement. Entering the wine vault she lifted a case of champagne with no effort at all.
After delivering the champagne the angel of death looked around the kitchen for another weapon. On a long table was a canvas bag unrolled, revealing a special pocket for each knife needed in food preparation. This would be perfect, she decided. The knives would not be counted until the end of the day. By that time she would have time to steal it, ram it up inside Wallis’s ribcage, wash it off and return it. Again her hopes were dashed when one particular cook go over to count the knives. A few minutes later the same cook came back to return a knife, and she took the time to count them all again before retrieving a larger one.
The assassin’s mind raced. How would she dispatch the duchess? The only weapon that came to her mind at the moment was the garrote. All she would need was a length of rope with a knot tied in the middle. She was strong. It would take no time nor effort to strangle the skinny little woman. She slipped back down the stairs and inspected the crates to see if any of them had been bound by rope. There were none.
As she rushed into the hall to make her way back to the kitchen she bumped into a gangly boy winding a clock.
Excuse moi, mademoiselle.”
The woman in dark clothes noticed the dull stare in his eyes. Such children should be exposed to the elements at birth, she told herself.
When she returned to the kitchen, she heard the buzzing of voices. The limousines were coming through the gate. The ladies would want to freshen up before partaking in Christmas dinner. Monsieur Valat noted in a loud voice time was running out.
Yes, time is running out. She disguised her face with a simple smile.
Monsieur Valat assigned her to stand behind and to the left of Aunt Bessie. She noticed the backward boy was behind the Duchess of Windsor who was seated next to her aunt. The boy’s attention wandered the room and every so often his shoulders twitched.
How would he know what the duchess wanted? He was useless.
“The table is beautifully set, Wallis.” Bessie patted her niece’s hand. “As always you did a wonderful job.”
“Thank you, Bessie, but I didn’t set the table. The servants did it while we were at church.”
“At church?” Bessie looked at Wallis. “Oh yes. Church. I was meaning to ask you why we went to a Catholic church.”
“It was Anglican.”
“Anglican? I go to the Episcopal church back in Baltimore.”
“Well, it’s basically the same church,” Wallis explained. “In England they call it—“
“Oh! I just caught a mistake you made! We must change the seating immediately!”
“What is that, my dear?”
“The seating should alternate lady, gentleman, and we’re seated side by side, and we’re both ladies.”
“I seated us next to each other on purpose so I could help if you needed it.”
The dark angel sniffed. They all deserve to die. The old woman has lived beyond her usefulness. The boy just makes me nervous, looking around, unaware of anything. And the Duchess of Windsor, well, she deserves to die for special reasons.
After dinner, all the guests dispersed to the sunny terrace overlooking the Mediterranean for coffee and cigars. The grim female reaper was quite efficient clearing the table. In fact Monsieur Valat pulled her aside to compliment her work. She giggled and curtsied, but inside she was furious with herself for standing out, in any way.
The idea flitted through her mind to hug Valat for his nice words and search for the key ring hanging somewhere in his trouser pocket, but in the end she decided that would be too risky. She still needed a weapon with which to kill Wallis. She was not too worried. She took pride in selecting just the right instrument of death. She had done it many times before.
After the last pot had been put away, the servants began to whisper in excitement. Word had spread that the duchess had purchased and personally wrapped Christmas presents for each of the servants.
Monsieur Valat clapped his hands to gain their attention. “To the grand hall. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor have a special surprise for each and every one of you.”
As they gathered at the bottom of the large Christmas tree, they saw Wallis sorting through different piles of presents wrapped in silver and white. The duke straightened his tie. Evidently he wanted to look his best as he handed out the presents. The servants created a line to the left so they could receive their gifts, unwrap them and exit to the right, which led back to the kitchen.
The process took a long time because the duke, upon handing out the present, shook hands heartily and took a moment to chat with each one. Wallis hugged and kissed each servant and had something appropriately festive to say.
What a bore. The woman in the dark clothes tapped her foot.
The gifts themselves ran from elegantly utilitarian, like silver cheese graters, to extravagantly personal, like alligator-skin wallets and handbags. Finally the woman reached the front of the line. By this time, she had decided on a giggle. A giggle could disarm the most suspicious person. When Wallis went in for the hug, the woman retreated slightly, which Wallis apparently took as shyness and quickly passed on to the next servant.
Death’s messenger was unenthusiastic in her tearing away of the paper which revealed a white box. Her eyes widened when she opened it because, lying on a puffy cloud of cotton, rested a silver knife.
Out of nowhere Jean bumped into the woman who dropped the box. The boy went to his knees to pick it up. His eyes were down as he returned it to her.
“Pardonnez-mois, mademoiselle.”
***
The sun was setting, and all the guests at La Croe were settling into comfy corners where they shared stories about this, that and the other things that reminded them of happy Christmases long ago. And most agreed this was one to be remembered for the rest of their lives. The Brownlow children played with their toys, and the adults nursed their cocktails while nibbling on little sandwiches made from Christmas dinner leftovers.
Wallis found herself feeling detached and somewhat depressed. Who was it who said every Christmas everyone got so excited about the presents and the food and in a few moments, the paper was on the floor and the food was eaten and it was all over. Ah yes. It was Uncle Sollie. No wonder I wanted to kill him.
She knew she could not fool herself about that little canard. No, it was Aunt Bessie. She had grown old in such a short time. Perhaps Wallis should have put more effort into visiting Baltimore to see how her dear aunt was doing. The last few years had been breathtakingly exciting, dangerous and entertaining. Wallis shook her head again. She was trying to lie to herself once more but her strong inner core would have none of it.
Wallis saw herself in Bessie. The image of dementia eating away at her mind and soul frightened her to death. If she were on better speaking terms with the vicar of Antibes she would seek out his counsel. She wished for one true friend whose shoulder she could cry on and be certain the story wouldn’t be the gossip of Europe the next day, she would do it.
Puffing on a cigarette, she looked around the grand lounge to see David down on his haunches talking to Caroline and Henry about their new playthings. She could trust him. They had saved each other’s lives. Surely they could share their inner most secrets. Wallis didn’t think much of him when first introduced as her MI6 partner. She laughed at the idea of their marriage and pretending to the world to be in love. But now she felt he was the only person she could confide in, to help her keep sanity.
She walked over to him. David looked up at her and smiled.
“Thank you, Caroline and Henry, for sharing your presents with me for a moment.” He stood. “But I think my wife has something she wants me to do for her.”
They walked to the expansive French doors leading out to the lawn overlooking the Mediterranean cliffs.
“Do you have a moment to walk outside with me?” she asked.
“You’re not worried about the assassin, are you?” His brow wrinkled. “I think he’s given up and slipped away in the night.”
“No, it’s about something else.” She opened one of the glass doors and flicked her cigarette out onto the lawn.
“I think I know.” His voice was soft and tender. “It’s Aunt Bessie, isn’t it?”
My God, I do think I’m falling in love with him.
Before she could speak, Jean ran up and tugged on David’s dinner jacket sleeve.
Monsieur, s’il vous plait.” He looked at Wallis. “Pardonnez-mois, madame. C’est tres importante. Tres importante.
David frowned, then smiled at her. “This won’t take long. I’ll join you down by the cliff in a few minutes. We’ll have more privacy there.”
“Of course.” Her lips split like a viper’s mouth, which she often did when she was trying to hide her aggravation. Wallis patted Jean’s slender shoulder. “What a sweet boy.”
She turned and walked down the lawn to the edge of the cliff. In the last rays of sunset she could make out the waves on the Mediterranean. Looking down at her arm, Wallis realized she had not brought her purse and therefore did not have any cigarettes. What a bother.
“Wallis! Wallis! Look out!”
What on earth could David be yelling about? She turned just in time to see the woman in the dark clothes rushing at her, with the silver knife uplifted, ready to thrust down into her chest. Her training in China surged from the back of her mind and adrenaline activated her body. Wallis punched the woman in the throat and did a round kick to the back of her knee. The woman collapsed at Wallis’s feet, dropping the knife on the lawn. Mounting the woman’s body, Wallis picked up the knife and held the tip of it at her throat.
“Who the hell are you?” she growled.
David ran up. “The boy tipped me off. He’d had his eyes on her from the day she arrived.” He put his hand on her back. “Are you all right?”
Wallis concentrated on the woman. “Who sent you here?”
“No one.”
“Tell me the truth or I’ll slit your throat right now!”
“I sent myself,” she blurted out.
“Sent yourself? What the hell does that mean?”
“I watched you at my master’s house,” she sputtered. “I saw how he looked at you. I hear how he talks about you still.”
“You master?” Each bit of information only made Wallis angrier. “Who the hell is your master?”
“The Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.”
“You mean Hitler’s behind all this?” David interjected.
“What does he know?” Wallis’s voice lowered ominously.
“Nothing. I swear. My mistress Eva Braun knows nothing. But I know. I know you are evil. You want to replace Eva in the Fuhrer’s heart and become the most powerful woman in the world!”
“You think I’m trying to seduce Adolf Hitler?”
Ja. I heard about how you were going to make love to him in the choo choo room but Herr Ribbentrop broke in.”
“I wasn’t trying to seduce him! I was trying to kill him!” Wallis’s mouth flew open. She knew she had said too much.
“Then my lady Eva Braun is safe?” The woman in dark clothes sounded relieved.
“Sure. Eva Braun is safe. But you’re not.” Wallis slit her throat, stood and handed the knife to David.
The Duke of Windsor rolled the body off the cliff and threw the silver knife far into the black waves of the Mediterranean.

The Future Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded. I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man trying to pass himself off as my father said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s note: This is, of course, sort of a fantasy. I already have a grandson named Liam.

Remember Chapter Six

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley.
“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at him he came into sharper focus. She noticed his fair-skinned cheeks were rosy from the cold. And the prettiest eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“Of all the days of my life you had to remember, why did you have to pick this one?” Vernon kicked the desk knocking his books to the floor, scattering them everywhere.
“Please! Compose yourself!” Lucinda’s hand went to her mouth. She rubbed her left arm. “You’re making me very nervous.”

Vernon paused, looked at her and breathed deeply. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambridge. It was very rude of me to break into your conference period like this. I’ll gather my books and leave.”

“No, you don’t have to leave. Just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”

“Oh, it’s daddy again,” he replied as he picked up the last book and plopped into a chair.

“What did your father do?”

“It’s what he didn’t do.” Vernon held his head in his hands. “My grades from the first semester came in the mail, and I showed them to him. I made an A in algebra.”

“And all he noticed was the C in English composition,” she said, trying to anticipate his story.

“No. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

“He didn’t notice anything.” Lucinda had a bad problem with correcting the grammar of people trying to communicate with her. Since she did not see this characteristic a problem, she would probably never change it.

“No.” Vernon looked at her. “You wouldn’t notice anything. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

She could not help but smile. “I should have given you a B.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Good grief, he just doesn’t care about anything but the farm.”

“Exactly what did he say or do?”

“He looked at the grades for a moment, put the paper down and said I needed to mend the fence out back of the barn before the goats got out.”

She clasped her slender fingers in front of her face. “From what you’ve told me, that seems to be his way, isn’t it?”

“But it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make me feel like he appreciates what I’m doing. I mean, I put in a lot of work on the farm and pull a full load at school. Okay, I only had one A and a bunch of Cs but I didn’t flunk anything.

“I think I’m going to give you today’s assignment early, so you can start thinking about it.” She went to her blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk.

“What?” The comment caught Vernon off guard. “I thought we were talking about daddy.”

“I want you to write an essay on the person you most admire.” She wrote Most Admired at the top of the board.

“That’ll be easy. I’ll write about you.” He smiled broadly without a hint of the overly complimentary nature of his reply.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” On a line below the title she wrote My Father

Vernon slumped in the chair. “Aww, you gotta be kiddin’.”

“Please, don’t lose your diction along with your composure.” She looked over her shoulder to smile.

“Very well. You must be kidding.” His mouth twitched with aggravation.

“No, I’m not. Get out a piece of paper and pen.” Lucinda turned and leaned against her desk.

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want you to take notes.” She had set aside all her reservations and fears about remembering her time with Vernon, and she was enjoying it immensely.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using the assignment as an excuse to lecture me about daddy,” he grumbled.

“Nonsense. Now list all your father’s good qualities.” She turned back to the board and wrote the numeral one. “Put a number one and a period. At least it will be a start.”

Vernon wrote that, then looked up. “Now what?”

“Surely you can think of something admirable about your father.”

“No.” It was a flat statement, devoid of emotion.

“Try.”

“He hasn’t done much for me.” He put the pen down.

She went to his side to look over his shoulder at the paper. “You’re always talking about how strong you are.” Lucinda patted his back but quickly pulled her hand away. “You got your strength because he had you work on the farm with him. He helped you there. And how many sons get the opportunity to work side by side with their fathers?”

“Guys get muscles working on a chain gang too, but that’s no reason to thank the warden.” He looked up at her, dead serious.

“Oh Vernon, you’re so negative.” She walked back to the board and began her own list. “Your father is dependable. He has always been there for you and always will. He is steady, sturdy, a sound foundation on which you have built a pretty wonderful person.”

“In other words, he’s like a rock.”

“Yes!” She swung around and smiled. “Solid as a rock. Never crumbling. The rock of ages.”

“But a rock has no feelings. It’s cold. You can’t hug a rock. A rock can’t say I love you.”

Feeling defeated, she sat at her desk. “You learned metaphors too well.”

“Thank you.” His deadpan response was softly delivered.

“But,” she paused to reorganize her thoughts, “your father is not a stone. He indeed has a heart and a soul and feelings for you whether you can see it or not.”

“You don’t know him.” He nodded perceptively. “You’ve never even met him.”

“But I knew a man like that.”

“Who?”

“My late husband couldn’t express emotion. When I’d get home from a night class late he’d burst into a worst tirade. But I knew he was worried about me. He — he may not have hugged and kissed me much, but I knew he loved me.” In the back of her mind Lucinda wondered if she were trying to convince him or herself.

“My father doesn’t care if I come home late. As long as I milk the cows he doesn’t care.”

“Well then, that proves your father trusts your judgment.” She gestured to him, pleased she had finally made a cogent argument.

“Then your husband didn’t trust you?”

She shook her head. “You’re confusing me.”

“I guess I better go now.” He gathered his books.

“Yes, I think you should,” she sighed in defeat.

“Good bye.” He stood and walked to the door.

“Vernon?”

“Yes, ma’am?” He turned to look at her, his face now clear of the darkness that covered it just moments ago.

“If you can write a paper that fools me into believing you admire your father, I’ll give you an A.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vernon replied with a smile before melting away into her subconscious.

“As I recall, he got an F on that paper,” she said to herself. “I suppose it was a tribute to his inherent honesty and integrity he couldn’t write anything he didn’t believe.”

Sex Education

There was no sex education in Texas schools in the 1950s, but we didn’t need it. We had animals, and we had eyes.
People didn’t neuter dogs and cats. And you know dogs have no shame. When they get in the mood they don’t care if it’s high noon in the front yard. They go ahead and do it. And they don’t care who’s looking. Can you imagine what parents back in the good old days were forced to come up with some sort of explanation when the kids asked, “Mommy, Daddy! What are the dogs doing?”
Cats, on the other hand, are more civilized when it comes to such matters of the feline heart. They have the good manners to go somewhere private. Now when it comes to the actual blessed event when the kittens tumble out into the world, the mother cat does it in the kitchen, under the porch, in front of God and country. After seeing kittens born a few times I was glad humans had the decency to go to hospitals.
By the time the freewheeling 1960s rolled around the schools felt obliged to have some sort of sex education presented in the Phys. Ed. classes, which were segregated by sexes. I remember the year we were marched into the school auditorium where the coach turned the presentation over to the school nurse, a gaunt old woman who you thought would not have any practical knowledge on the subject. She was able to turn something very fascinating into something as boring as dishwater.
Even the class smart aleck wasn’t able to faze her.
“What would happen if a dog and a cat did it?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied with a straight face. “Wrong genetics. Any other questions?”
Most people get upset about sex education in school because they’re afraid the teachers are going to talk about technique. Wouldn’t that be the most embarrassing six weeks ever in Phys. Ed.? And you know they’d have it in Phys. Ed. Biology class makes too much sense.
It makes me shudder to imagine a coach standing over us screaming, “No! No! Raise your elbow!”
And think of the other students standing around and watching. I got laughed at enough when I struck out in baseball.
My wife and I thought we’d come up with a good solution to sex education for our kids when we stumbled across this little book in a Barnes & Noble one time. It was written on a second or third grade level with simple illustrations. It started with chickens and ended with humans. When we gave it to our son he seemed to catch on pretty fast. Of course, he was 35 years old when we gave it to him. Not really. He was 25. No, honest, I think he was seven or eight.
Now our daughter definitely was more precocious. She took it to school the next day for show and tell. We had to transfer her to a private school and instructed her to leave her book at home. This created a new problem at the private church school because the students were even more naïve than the ones in public school. At recess the other little girls would tell our daughter that their parents ordered them out of the Sears catalog. With a straight face our child replied, “My parents had sex.”
So when it comes down to sex education I’ve decided it’s much better to have our children learn about the birds and bees from the gaunt old-maid school nurse than from other more worldly children—like my daughter. After all, better to have them think sex is not something exciting and forbidden but rather think it’s just another dry, boring subject taught at school.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Four

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy.
Adam climbed the stairs to the second-story door of the white boardinghouse at 541 H Street, his stomach tied in knots. He had always admired Lincoln, even as a youth in Steubenville, reading stories about the Illinois lawyer. In the last two years, even though he had had to keep Lincoln hostage, he had known the president was right. Adam did not want to be part of his assassination—but neither did he want to hang for killing Neal. He forced himself to knock.
“Yes?” A tall, dark-haired woman dressed in black opened the door and stared at Adam with blank eyes.
“Mr. Zook asked me to empty his sister’s room and bring the items to him.”
“She always talked of a brother.” She raised an eyebrow. “But I never saw him.”
“I assure you Gabby Zook exists,” he said. “We work together at the Executive Mansion.”
“And who are you?” Her mouth hardened at the mention of the Executive Mansion.
“I’m Private Adam Christy,” he replied. “And what’s your name?”
“I’m Mary Surratt, the owner of this boardinghouse, and as such have the right to deny entrance to anyone I consider suspicious.”
“Are you saying you’re going to deny Mr. Zook his rightful possessions?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she replied.
“Then what are you saying?”
“I just want to make sure Miss Zook’s possessions won’t be stolen.” She fluttered her eyes in frustration.
“Are you accusing me, an agent of the White House, of stealing a deceased woman’s property?”
“I did not say that.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam noticed a young man, perhaps a few years older than he, standing in the parlor door. He had a fair complexion and curly, black hair. On his face was a bemused expression which Adam could not decipher.
Covertly watching the man, Adam said, “Just because Abraham Lincoln has no morals doesn’t mean I’m a thief.”
The curly-haired man smiled.
“I did not call you a thief,” Mrs. Surratt said in irritation.
“Good,” Adam replied. “Where’s her room?”
“Upstairs.” She stepped aside to allow him in. “Follow me.”
Adam watched the young man move into the hallway as they went up the stairs.
“This is her room.” Mrs. Surratt opened the door.
“Thank you.” Adam walked in to see a clutter of tattered clothes, sources of Gabby quilts that would never be made. “You may leave the door open.”
“Of course I will.” Mrs. Surratt glared at him and left.
Looking into a chest of drawers, he noticed neat stacks of worn clothing. On top of the chest was a framed photograph of Cordie and Gabby when they were younger and not beaten down by life. Gabby would like to have that picture now, Adam thought as he reached for it.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your telling Mrs. Surratt you’re assigned to the Executive Mansion.”
Adam turned to see the young man who had been standing in the parlor door but now leaned against the wall in a nonchalant pose.
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“She often talked of her brother who couldn’t leave the mansion.”
“I’m gathering her things to give him.”
“In my opinion,” the man said, stretching to his full height, “the Republicans killed her, keeping her from her brother.” His eyelids drooped but could not cover his intense emotion.
“I agree.” Adam paused to appraise him further. “Who are you?”
“John Booth. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
“No.”
“My family is well known in the theater.”
“I don’t go to the theater.”
“I’ve performed in several Shakespearean plays.”
“I don’t understand Shakespeare.”
Booth blinked his dark eyes and ran his fingers through his curly, black hair. Adam was pleased; he seemed to unsettle Booth.
“So you think Lincoln has no morals?”
“Yes,” Adam lied.
“Neither do I.” Booth smiled, revealing white, even teeth underneath his full black mustache. “I’m from Maryland and have no taste for Union bullies.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera.
The woman in dark clothes stood in the woods just beyond the tracks and watched the Blue Train disappear in the night. She hoped Wallis would soon be drinking the poisoned champagne and thereafter die. But she had to be sure. First, she had to be at the Antibes station in the morning as they made the sad announcement the Duchess of Windsor was dead. First she had to walk by the tracks to the next station, hoping to catch the last train to the coast. The cold night air didn’t bother her. She was used to winter weather and walking long distances in the frigid air if necessary. Unpleasantness could disappear if she only made her mind blank, one of the few talents the Maker had endowed her with.
As the woman saw a train pull away. She could tell it was not the legendary Blue Train. She prayed it was not the last train of the night. Hurrying to the ticket window, she asked for a ticket to the next train to Antibes.
“Antibes? Mais non, mademoiselle,” the ticket agent replied with graciousness. He told her the next train to Antibes would not leave until noon the next day.
Scheitze,” she muttered in her native tongue.
The clerk looked surprised and then smiled. He raised an open palm up to his shoulder. “Heil, Hitler.”
“Heil, Hitler.” She returned the Nazi salute.
He allowed her inside his office, offered her a seat and listened patiently to her story. She had to be in Antibes station in time to greet the Blue Train, though she failed to explain why. He nodded knowingly and offered to drive her there with no questions. By nine o’clock Christmas Eve morning she was milling with the crowd at the depot awaiting the arrival of the Blue Train.
Most of the conversation among the excited women centered on seeing the Duchess of Windsor and wondering what expensive traveling suit she would be wearing. The men mostly talked about how fortunate the community was to have such a wealthy couple own the La Croe estate. For their Christmas celebration, the Windsors had to hire several local servants to accommodate the long list of British celebrities arriving for the holiday, and all of them equally wealthy. What a boon to the local economy.
The woman in dark clothes smiled to herself, sure she easily blended in with the mass of fellow, faceless domestics scurrying about to serve their masters. She looked up when she heard the train whistle. When the Blue Train came to a stop at the boarding platform, she strained her neck to see who would exit first.
Already on the platform was a contingent from the local government, the mayor, councilmen and other dignitaries, who fairly hopped around with anticipation. The first to exit was Edward, Duke of Wales. He did not look happy, a good sign for the woman in dark clothes. The poison must have worked. The Duchess must be dead. Her hopes were quickly dashed as the Duchess stepped out on the platform wearing a fashionable gray suit with fur collar. She carried two docile, obedient cairn terriers.
Sighing, the woman turned and began her walk to La Croe on the Mediterranean coast.
***
After gracefully dismissing the official greeting contingency, David, Wallis and the two terriers disappeared in their limousine and began the ride to their seaside estate. Wallis leaned back.
“On the first day of Christmas, an assassin gave to me a poisoned bottle of very good champagne.” Her singing was nasal and tinny which detracted from the grim cleverness of her lyric.
David lit a cigarette. “You know he will try again.”
“The bastard. Trying to kill me on my very favorite holiday.”
Monsieur Valat telegrammed me in Versailles he had to take on several additional servants. Due to time restraints he was unable to check out all their resumes and character references. He truly groveled in print, which one would expect from an excellent concierge.”
“Well, I’m not going to let the bastard ruin my good time. I spent too much time buying presents for all the servants and wrapping them to not enjoy playing Mere Noel. I even bought extras for last-minute hirelings. I picked out the tree and ornaments which were shipped to La Croe yesterday.”
The line of servants waiting to greet the duke and duchess stretched halfway down the driveway at La Croe, every one of them, dressed in black, waved and wore hearty smiles. Once they disembarked their limousine, Wallis began to shake hands with as many servants as possible. David sought out the concierge Monsieur Valat to inform him of the situation concerning the duchess’s safety. Valat confirmed several servants had been added even as late as this morning
David looked away in thought, when he noticed the concierge’s son milling around in the crowd. He had a soft spot for the boy who reminded David of his youngest brother John who had epilepsy and died at age fourteen. David carried a deep guilt within himself. When he was a young man, he had no patience with John, at times calling him an animal. As David matured and saw more of the world he began to see his deceased brother as a hero and a person of great character and courage. Additionally, David felt John had this other-worldliness about him as he wandered around in his own world yet keenly aware of details about the people around him. Valat’s son was actually eighteen or so but deemed unemployable. When the concierge informed David his son’s name was Jean the duke’s heart was stolen. He created a job of official clock winder at a more than generous salary.
Waving Jean over, David asked the young man to watch the newly hired servants for any unusual behaviors that might indicate ulterior motives to harm anyone, particularly harm the duchess. Jean’s large brown eyes widened.
Oui, monsieur.”
“But don’t tell anyone about it, except your father and me. It will be our special secret, won’t it, Jean?”
Oui, monsieur.”
By late afternoon, their guests began to arrive. Most of them were British who remained friends with the Windsors during the abdication crisis, although David didn’t understand why anyone would truly like him unless there was something in it for themselves, a bad trait which lingered on from childhood. There were Lord and Lady Brownlow and their children, Caroline and Edward, Sir Charles and Lady Mendl and John McMullin. And, of course not to forget, the guest Wallis most anticipated, her Aunt Bessie. She had not seen her substitute mother and traveling companion for two years. Bessie’s limousine arrived last.
Aunt Bessie had trouble getting out of the car. Normally Wallis would wait until the attendants had helped the guest, but without thought she went to the old woman’s side putting her arm around Bessie’s waist. She finally got her aunt to her feet and guided her to the front door.
“It’s rather warm for Easter, isn’t it?” Bessie asked.
“It’s Christmas, dear,” Wallis whispered.
“Christmas? You must be kidding me! There’s no snow on the ground.”
“We’re in the south of France, darling. They do things differently here.”
Christmas Eve had always been Wallis’ favorite part of the holiday, which puzzled David. When he was growing up, the servants put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Then the family, decked out in regal finery, posed in front of the tree, unsmiling, as the royal photographer took a dozen pictures all looking the same. He could not think of anything more boring.
Wallis, on the other hand, spent days in Paris picking the absolutely perfect tree for the parlor at La Croe. She coordinated the creation of the ornaments, all of them white and silver, with interior designer John McMullin, who made sure each decoration was placed in the exact right place. And at great expense both the tree and the decorations were shipped by train to their Mediterranean villa to allow the guests the pleasure of decorating it themselves Christmas Eve night.
David noticed Wallis spent most of her time supervising Aunt Bessie.
“I thought you said this was Christmas?” her aunt asked.
“It is, darling,” Wallis purred.
“But Christmas trees are supposed to red and green balls,” Bessie protested.
“I thought it would be fun to have something different.”
“Why does everything have to be different?” her aunt replied.
Wallis wrapped her arms around Bessie. “Why, Aunt Bessie, you’re the one who taught me how much fun it was to be different.”
David sat back in one of the more comfortable parlor chairs and puffed on a cigarette.
Wallis must be breaking up on the inside. Though she would never let anyone know. I envy her. I’ve watched many family members grow old and senile and never felt any sorrow for them.
He felt uncomfortable. Putting out his cigarette, David stood, went to the Brownlow children Caroline and Edward and offered to lift them so they could place a silver bauble at the top of the tree. They giggled.
More than grief for Bessie, I know Wallis sees in her aunt what will happen to her one day, and the thought terrified her.
After he returned Caroline and Edward to their parents, David walked to Wallis and patted her shoulder.
But why in hell should I care about the feelings of a fellow MI6 agent? How many times had I lectured the old agent about becoming too personal? And now I was doing the same with Wallis.