Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Tad knows she’s not his mother but thinks she’s part of the plot to save his father.
Lighting the last of a dozen candles around Tad’s room, Alethia settled next to him on his bed at Anderson Cottage and cuddled.
“The candles look nice,” Tad murmured, resting his head on her full bosom. “Mama always said candles were romantic.”
“They can be.” Alethia caressed his brow. “But they can also be comforting, soothing, nurturing for the soul.”
“Could you sing me that Gloria song? It’s nice.”
Softly and off-key, Alethia sang, and Tad hummed along.
“I don’t know what language that is, but it’s pretty. I like this. It makes me feel good and calm. I sleep better. I’m gonna miss it when Mama comes back.”
“I’m glad.”
“I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the way Mama puts me to bed. I still want her back. But I’ll miss you…”
“Hush, Taddie, my baby.” Wrapping her arms around his head, she continued, “I know what you mean.”
Moments went by without a word, and Alethia relished the intimacy.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Tad whispered. “I got worried about you last summer. Your head was all bloody. I thought you were going to die.”
“No need to worry.”
“I don’t think we could find another lady who looked like Mama and who was so nice.” He paused. “I liked going to the White Mountains with you and Robert.”
“It was so cool there,” Alethia said. “The wind gently blowing against my brow made my head feel better.”
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go hiking with Bob and me. It was fun.” He looked at her. “But you would have got a headache. I don’t want you to have headaches like Mama. They’re awful.”
“Thank you.” She smiled. “I loved watching you two from the veranda. I could tell by the way Bob put his hand on your shoulder he loves you very much.”
“I know,” he said with a chirp. His face clouded. “He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, but he still loves me.”
“And I love both of you.”
“Mama does too,” Tad said. “It’s just that…”
“What?”
“What Mama calls love, some folks might call bossing people around.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You love up on me, but Mama fusses at me about brushing my teeth and combing my hair.”
“She means well,” Alethia said. “She loves both of you.” She smiled. “I’m sure she was as proud as I was when Bob graduated from college in June.”
“He wants to join the army, but Mama’s scared he’ll get killed. She’s lost two sons already, and she doesn’t want to lose another. I can sound like Mama when she’s fussing at Bob. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, thank you.” Alethia paused to take all this information in. “So should I keep him out of the army?”
“If you don’t want him to find out you’re not Mama. I don’t think he’d play along with it like I do.” Tad frowned. “There’s something else Bob told me as a secret. I don’t know if I should tell.”
“Please.”
“He’s afraid you’ll make him go to law school next month.”
“I see. Thank you for the help.”
The candles began to wane.
“There’s something else about Bob.”
“What?”
“Bob’s got a girlfriend.”
“How sweet.” Alethia smiled. “What should my reaction be?”
“Fight it at first—Mama would, until you find out who the girl is. She’s a doozy.”
“Really? Who is she?”
“A senator’s daughter. A big shot with the Republicans. Mama will love that.” Tad smiled. “Do you want me to show you how she’ll yell when Bob tells her?”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I can imagine.”
“The candles are just about out.” Yawning, Tad settled down into bed.
“Then that means it’s time to go to sleep.” She hugged him again. “Let me pray for you.” She mumbled sweet words and then kissed him on the forehead. “Good night, my love.”
Standing to leave, Alethia went to each candle to make sure it was out and then walked to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Mama. When the war’s over, and Mama and Papa come back, and you go, I hope you have a happy life.”
“Thank you, my love.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Nine

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent.
The ballroom door opened and who should enter but Malcolm Tent who could not hide the suspicion in his eyes. “Oh, there you are. I noticed you were missing from the party.” He stopped abruptly when he noticed Eddie’s bare chest. “Young man, you’re not wearing a shirt.”

“I’m jest bein’ stylish.” Eddie stuck his chin out with pride.

“Skin is in.” Andy stood uncomfortably close to the inspector, his eyes roaming up and down Tent’s body.

Tent quickly stepped aside. “So. What have we going on here? A conspiracy?”

“We don’t have a conspiracy.” Eddie emitted a laugh that would not be allowed in Buckingham Palace. “Yo’re the one who—“

“Oh Eddie!” Millicent had to think fast before Eddie spilled the beans. “You have such a fabulous body! I can’t keep my hands off you!” She pushed him back onto to the chaise lounge and jumped on top of him, planting kisses all over his face.

Andy again sidled next to Tent. “Oh that Millicent! She’s so loyal to the royal family.” He stroked the lapel of Tent’s coat. “I think black is sooo sexy.”

“Egad!” Tent moved away as far away from Andy as he could without jumping out the window. It was his turn to break into a soliloquy.

As chief inspector Malcom Tent my name commands respect
But that won’t pay for the lifestyle I have come to expect.
So that is why I am so sly to run a protection racket.
Tonight’s the night I clinch the deal with the contents of that packet.
Those meddling fools are in the way of that I have no doubt.
I got to stop the man in red before he finds me out.

Andy, Eddie and Millicent converged on the lounge with their own serious patter.

We’ll work and work to save the dough earned by the innocent.
We will not rest until we lock up mean old Malcolm Tent.

The inspector was so engrossed in his own thoughts he didn’t notice their collusion.

I worked the streets for all those years. I made all those arrests.
I never got the fame I earned even though I was the best.
The shopkeepers will pay the price of Astin’s sin of pride.
I worked the system so complete and all from the inside.
So that is why the villain in this pastiche is plain for all to see.
In fact this story is pretty dull without the likes of li’l ol’ me!

After he finished his soul searching, he turned back to the group to observe their cozy situation on the lounge.

Noticing that Tent was noticing, Millicent leaned back into the prince. “By, the way, Eddie, have you talked to your grandmother yet about our marriage?”

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Millie, honey. I keep fergittin’.” Eddie stood and slapped himself for being so scatterbrained.

Millicent went to him and patted his bare chest. “That’s all right. First we’ll teach you to remember to wear a shirt, and then we’ll work on your remembering to ask for permission to marry.”

“Shirt, marriage,” he repeated in earnest.

Millicent reinforced her request with positive incentives. “Shirt.” Kiss. “Marriage.” Kiss.

Tent interrupted their lesson. “Pardon me for being so bold, Prince Edward, but why do you talk like that?”

“Talk like what?” Perhaps it was Millicent’s training methods, but Eddie responded in the Queen’s English.

The Baby Shower Part One

I was looking forward to flying with my son to New York for my daughter’s baby shower on Labor Day weekend. All my son-in-law’s relatives were to be there, and they are a lot of fun. We’d fly up on Friday, help them with the preparations on Saturday, enjoy the party on Sunday and fly back on Monday. What could be easier than that? My only problem was that I wasn’t paying attention to the weather.
Yes, we were having late afternoon rain but that’s sort of a Florida tradition, isn’t it?
The sun was shining when we arrived at the airport. We checked in, got checked out by security and settled in by our gate to wait for our departure. Then the afternoon clouds formed. Darn, I was hoping to take off before the rain began. With lightning and thunder.
What had not registered with my mind was that there was a low pressure trough lingering off Tampa Bay up to Apalachicola. It was now a tropical storm and wasn’t going away anytime soon. Someone came over the loud speaker to announce all flights had been delayed because of the lightning. Thirty minutes. That wasn’t too bad.
At the end of the thirty minutes lightning was still popping over the airport so the departure was delayed again. At the end of that thirty minutes the loud speaker person said the flight was now on schedule but they were looking for a pilot.
Well, that caught my attention. I thought getting a pilot was at the top of the check list for scheduling a flight, not a last minute afterthought.
By this time the clock was approaching 8 p.m. The storm had abated but evidently still no pilot. The announcer came back on and said the flight was canceled because of turbulent weather and that passengers would have to go to the gate counter to get a card with the emergency number to call to reschedule.
This is why I like traveling with my son. He took care of things like for me now that I am a senior citizen. The newest aggravation was that when the person on the other end of the phone was about to give him important information the loud speaker blared out instructions for passengers at other gates. The best we could do was go back home, an hour’s drive away, and take off the next morning.
The airline offered to make reservations for us at a nearby hotel, but it wasn’t going to pay for it. If the official reason for the cancellation had been no pilot, then it would have been the airline’s fault; but, since the reason was bad weather, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. No thanks, we went home.
The nice thing about the flight the next day was that there was only an hour’s layover in Atlanta which was a nice convenient amount of time to walk from one gate to another. On the transfer plane I knew we were landing in White Plains because I saw a lot of Gucci bags walking down the aisle. (I’d take time to explain that joke but I’m still too tired from the trip.)

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. MI6 orders David and Wallis to infiltrate a secret planning session held by Adolf Hitler.
Wallis and Ernest found themselves in the unique position of being in London at the same time a few weeks before Easter 1936, sharing breakfast in their Bryanston Court apartment in London. They split the morning edition of the Times, the society pages going to Wallis and the rest to Ernest. She read each line of social news while Ernest only gave a cursory glance at the national and international news.
“It says here Downing Street gave a constrained but determined statement concerning the German army’s invasion of the Rhineland,” he said, breaking the silence.
Wallis bit into a scone. “Now, how can a street make a statement? It’s only a street.”
“I meant the prime minister, darling.” He lowered the paper and smiled. “Sometimes I don’t know how to take your comments. I don’t know if you are marvelously uninformed—which I sincerely doubt—or you are having a laugh with me because you think I am uninformed.”
She raised her pages, covering her face. “Now why would I think that?”
The breakfast conversation stalled, as though a cloud hung over their heads. Not a rain cloud, but a cloud never the less. It didn’t bother Wallis in the least, but she could tell Ernest was uncomfortable by the way he shifted in his seat and rustled his section of the Times.
“I had a rather harsh lecture from Emerald recently.” She bit into a slice of bacon. “She fussed that you don’t attend as many of her get-togethers as you used to. I told her you had business to tend to in New York.”
Ernest lowered the paper and smiled. “Lady Cunard? Herself?”
“Of course, darling. All the ladies in our social circle are quite taken with you. I really should be jealous.”
“You shouldn’t be, you know.” His eyes fluttered. “Well, if Lady Cunard misses me, I suppose I must make an effort to be sociable. When is her next gathering?”
“She’s having a garden party at Easter.”
“Easter, eh? I think I’ll be available for that.” He paused to reflect. “I suppose you will want a new frock for the occasion.”
“Oh dear me, no. I have several suitable dresses.” Wallis cocked her head. “Anything else interesting in the news?”
She could swear she noticed a puffing up of his chest, and it actually made her feel warmly for him. After all, he was a good egg for the circumstances in which they lived.
“The RAF has announced an expansion of military aircraft.” He wrinkled his brow. “Now why would they want to do that? Germany is forbidden from having an air corps.”
“Hmm, strange, isn’t it?”
A knock at the door came at an opportune moment for Wallis. A Buckingham courier nodded to her when she opened the door and handed her an engraved envelope and a simply but elegantly wrapped box from Cartier. Coming back to the table Wallis used her butter knife to open the envelope.
“It’s from the palace. We’ve been invited to the Silver Jubilee of King George and Queen Mary reception in June.” She looked up and smiled. “Wasn’t that nice of David to think of us.”
Ernest daubed his mouth with his napkin. “Yes, it was. June, you say? I planned to spend the summer in New York, but I suppose I could delay my voyage until after the jubilee.” He glanced at the box. “And what is that?”
“Well, I must open it to find out, mustn’t I?” She used her butter knife to tear through the paper, opened it and lifted a small cross outlined in diamonds and embedded with rubies. “Oh cute. Another charm for my bracelet.”
“Cute isn’t quite the word I would use for a pastiche of diamonds and rubies.” He stood. “I must have a serious chat with David about these trinkets. I don’t mind him showering them on you, but I do resent having to pay for the insurance.”
“Oh, Ernest, don’t be dreary.” Wallis watched him walk to his bedroom. “So you don’t plan to go on holiday with the gang to Cannes in August?”
He did not turn back. “I’ll be in New York, remember?”
“Then drop in on dear sweet Mary Raffray,” she called out. “I understand she’s going through a dreadful divorce and could use all the consoling she can get.”
Ernest closed his door with a discernible thud. Wallis smiled, lit a cigarette then opened the tiny compartment in the charm.
“Monday next. Noon. The Fort.”
An overcast sky and gray atmosphere greeted Wallis when she drove a borrowed sports coupe into the front drive of Fort Belvedere. She didn’t bother to knock at the door but rather walked around the side of the house to the garden. David was involved trimming of some bushes on the far side, where the trees were taller and denser, which created convenient shadows for planning espionage.
Wallis sauntered up to David who was bent over a difficult thistle bush that didn’t want to be uprooted. She took a moment to observe how his back muscles flexed through his tight woolen sweater as he tugged on a branch.
“You’ve worked up a nice satiny sheen of sweat,” she said. “If I were so inclined I could become aroused.”
David stood and smiled. “Is that so? Remind me to go sans shirt in Cannes.”
Wallis expected him to be irritated. When he took her quip as a compliment she was nonplussed. A pebble flew from a dark corner of the woods and landed between them. Without another word they walked in that direction. Leaning against an ancient sturdy oak, General Trotter lit his pipe.
“So nice you could join me. This will only take a few minutes.”
“I assume we’re discussing our holiday in Cannes.” David took out his cigarette case and offered one to Wallis before lighting up.
“Yes.” Trotter puffed on his pipe. “As you may well know, Mussolini has designs on Ethiopia. As is his wont, Emperor Haile Selassie waxes poetic stirring up the natives to defend the homeland. However being a realist, he contacted the home office about securing a proper residence should he have to go into exile.”
“Couldn’t a good real estate agent handle that?” Wallis succumbed to boredom quickly. The general should have known that by now.
“It isn’t the exact domicile that concerns us but the means to pay for it. If he made an overt transfer of funds the morale of his troops would be directly affected. What you will facilitate is the transfer of crown jewels and other golden baubles to be held as collateral.”
“Where will this exchange take place?” David asked.
Wallis noticed his eyes remained fixed on her, and again she didn’t know whether to be peeved or pleased.
“After a few days at Cannes you will announce to your guests you want to have some alone time with Mrs. Simpson on Corsica. On a date to be determined later you will disembark the royal yacht at midnight. Waiting for you will be an Ethiopian gentleman who will hand over five small crates. The two of you will load them to the royal suite as quickly as possible. Upon your turn to Cannes you will inform your other guests they will join you on the next train to Kitzbuhel, Austria. You had so much fun there in January you wanted to return for the summer sporting season. While you and your friends are ensconced in the train, the yacht will sail for Portsmouth where our agents will retrieve the five crates and hold them awaiting the wishes of emperor Selassie.”
“How fun. I always enjoy missions that involve jewels.” Wallis cackled.

My Son’s Birthday


For my son’s 44th birthday he wanted something different than our usual dinner and a movie. I’m always up for an adventure, but I didn’t realize I was going to enter the mind-warping world of virtual reality.
It was a place called Void at Disney Springs in Orlando. Forty years ago they called the lakeside shopping center Disney Marketplace. Then they updated and expanded it under the name Disney Village. Now it’s been tripled in size and added a giant parking garage so it needed the new moniker.
This was not our first encounter with Disney Springs. Two Christmas Eves ago my son and I went over for a different holiday experience. We ate at this expensive steak restaurant and within half an hour I was puking my guts out. As much as the meal cost, it should have come with sick bags.
Luckily this time we were more interested in the live occurrence than the food. My son bought tickets for a specific time online so we didn’t have to wait too long, although we did have to fill forms clearing them of any responsibility if the virtual reality show made us sick. The restaurant could have used those warnings.
The situation was this: we were the good guys who had stolen Storm Trooper uniforms and we were on a mission to save the princess or steal plans for the Death Star or something else just as dangerous. We put on a power pack, got a rifle and a helmet. When the helmet’s visor lowered we were in complete darkness until the show began.
This was one of those exercises in trust where you were led into a room, totally without vision. Then when the switch was flipped we were in a science fiction world worthy of the George Lucas name. We weren’t really moving but somehow walked down this dark hallway when Storm Troopers started jumping out at us, and we had to shoot them. I actually felt the impact of their blasters, and when I looked down I saw singed dents in my virtual uniform.
At some point our guides directed us into another room which was no more than three steps away but felt further than that. After all, it was virtual reality. In front of me was an opening in the fortress tower and below was a river of lava. We had to cross an iron grid bridge with no handrails.
How on earth did this pass safety regulations? One false step, and I would fall into the lava. That wouldn’t be good. Then I remembered I was in a virtual reality. I was walking on durable commercial-grade carpet. One step either way wouldn’t make any difference. But I had trouble convincing myself of that. I actually felt dizzy like I was going to fall down.
That’s when I virtually slapped my face and told me to get a grip. I didn’t want to really fall down and embarrass my son. Although at the time I didn’t exactly where he was. We were in a small group of virtual warriors and all the Storm Troopers looked alike.
So I bucked up and crossed the bridge only to find myself confronted by a giant dragon rising from the lava. We all focused our fire on him and he soon melted away. I did have lingering doubts about how a dragon that lived in lava could be done in by a few laser shots.
But there was no time to waste. We had to find the princess/the Death Star plans/whatever. In the fourth and final room we saw what we came for, but, of course, you-know-who was standing in the way—Darth Vader himself. Well, I lost it and unloaded my blaster into him. After all he was the one who killed Obi Wan Kenobe.
We didn’t kill him, but a voice did come through our headsets telling us we had recovered the object we came for and we could now escape the empire fortress. On the way out we had our pictures taken. I tried to look like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo shooting his rifle and screaming at the same time. Instead I looked like some demented old man who needed to be taken back to the Home immediately.
For lunch we ate at a huge fast food place across the plaza from the Void. It wasn’t fancy or expensive, but at least it didn’t make me throw up. All in all it was a fun day. I didn’t embarrass my son too much. That was the least I could do considering it was his birthday.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. One day Gabby wakes up with a clear head.
Everyone looked to the door as it was unlocked. Stanton entered. Adam lowered his head, took the tray, and left quickly. Mrs. Lincoln stiffened and went behind her French lace curtains, and Lincoln stopped eating his apple. Gabby could feel the tension rise in the room. He found the broom to begin sweeping.
“I thought you might be interested in General Grant’s latest plans,” Stanton said as he sat, motioning to Lincoln to do the same. “General Grant’s in favor of multiple large attacks on the Confederacy to destroy rail lines.” He pulled out a notepad, put on his glasses, and began to read. “Banks’s forces at New Orleans will move east to Mobile, then on to Georgia; Sherman will advance on Atlanta and then to the coast; and Grant’s army to Suffolk, Virginia, and then to Raleigh, North Carolina.” He paused to glare at Gabby, who was at his shoulder. “Must he be hovering?”
“He’s not hovering; he’s sweeping.”
“As I was saying, Grant thinks the enemy would be forced to evacuate Virginia and East Tennessee.”
“What do you think, Mr. Zook?”
“I think if General Grant moves to North Carolina,” Gabby said, keeping his eyes on the floor, “he’ll leave the capital unprotected.”
“Thank you, Mr. Zook,” Lincoln said. “I agree.”
“I’m not defending the proposal; I’m merely relaying it to you.” Stanton stared at him. “Very well.” He turned to Lincoln, crossing his arms across his chest. “What’s your opinion?”
“Mind you, I don’t think his entire plan is without merit.” Lincoln leaned forward. “Just not properly focused.”
“What does that mean?”
“He means General Grant is spreading his forces too thin,” Gabby mumbled
“For instance, General Bates attacking Mobile is good,” Lincoln continued, “but he should not march on Georgia too. General Sherman will do that. But General Sigel should attack the Shenandoah, and General Butler should move against Petersburg and then Richmond. Leave Grant’s Army of the Potomac where it is.”
Shutting his notebook, Stanton stood, grumbling to himself. Lincoln reached to touch his sleeve.
“I’m concerned about Mr. Nicolay. The trip out West kept him occupied, but now…” Lincoln paused to collect his thoughts. “He’s a good man. I don’t want him hurt if he figures out what’s going on.”
Gabby had not thought about what danger awaited those who knew about Stanton’s plan. He might be killed; and because of him, Cordie might be killed. His mind began to feel a dull pain.
“I’ve kept him busy,” Stanton curtly replied. “I sent him to New York to talk to Thurlow Weed, who was not pleased with the appointment of Chase’s friend John Hogeboom as appraiser in the New York Customs House. Nicolay tried to appease him and shore up support for your re-nomination. He went to the Republican convention, and now he’s busy with plans for the fall campaign.”
“Good.” Lincoln stood and disappeared behind his curtain.
Stanton grabbed Gabby’s arm and shook at finger at him.
“And don’t you ever speak like that again.”
Gabby wanted to reply, but became aware his mind could not compose thoughts. His shoulders slumped.
“Yes, sir.”
As Stanton left, Gabby’s eyes felt heavy, and he walked to his corner to rest. Mrs. Lincoln stepped from behind her curtain and gasped.
“Mr. Zook, are you all right?”
“Just fine, ma’am.” His eyes went to the floor. “Just fine.”
Lying on his pallet, Gabby thought about what had just taken place. As president, he should have that man, Stanton, punished for his insolence. That is—Gabby’s mind clouded, and he closed his eyes in pain—if he were president.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Eight

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet.
Andy nodded and took a few steps toward the fireplace. “I miss Bedelia desperately. And I hate this masquerade. It’s turned her against me.”

“But it’s necessary to delude the chief inspector into thinking you’re no threat to him.” Millicent tried to console him.

“I know, but Bedelia thinks I’m—“

“Happy?” Eddie interjected.

“That’s not quite the word we’re thinking of.” Millicent raised an eyebrow.

“Since I have opened my dress shop in Soho I have been able to ingratiate myself to the baker next door. I buy all his pastries at the end of the day to hand them out to the children on the street. He agreed to include in his extortion packet a note to the chief inspector asking for a delay in the next payment. He will carefully detail the entire operation. One of Tent’s henchmen will pick up the packet tonight and if I’m not mistaken he will deliver to him right here at the party. If we can get our hands on that packet, we can put the inspector away.”

“Where?” Eddie asked innocently.

“What?” Andy wrinkled his brow.

“You said you wuz goin’ to put the inspector away. Away where?

“Hopefully, the Tower of London,” Millicent replied.

Eddie nodded. “Oh. I’ve had some relatives there.”

“But why do you think it will be delivered here?” Millicent inquired.

“I have discreetly followed the henchman from the bakery after he picked up the payment, and he has always gone directly to Tent. Since Tent is here tonight, I think the henchman will be knocking at your door any second.”

“That makes sense,” Millicent agreed.

“Yeah, and prob’ly pounds too.” Eddie nodded vigorously. “Maybe a few crowns and farthings.”

Andy and Millicent turned to glower at him. He cowered like a whipped puppy.

“I’m sorry.”

Andy shook his head and continued talking to Millicent. “Do you think we should bring your mother in on our plan?”

“Oh no,” Millicent replied. “She loves to gossip. She’d tell everyone she’s working undercover for the Queen of England.”

“Wull, whut kind of work could she do under the bedcovers?” Eddie made another valiant effort to be part of the conversation.

“Eddie, will you please shut up!” Millicent immediately regretted snapping at her beau, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, which brightened his face considerably.

Rubbing Tummies

I used to have a black lab mix which my wife insisted we adopt about thirteen years ago because the dog had a cute face. Forget that those honking big puppy paws meant she was going to be the size of a bull mastiff. How adorable that she could walk on the back of the sofa. What grace. What style. Eventually she got so big she couldn’t walk atop the sofa and fell off, looking at me as though I had done something wrong.
Then she went through her bratty years. I could not pet her back leg without her growling and exposing her teeth. I kept petting her leg but lightly slapped her mouth. What kind of mixed message that sent out I don’t know. I’m not a dog whisperer. She liked to chew on my prescription lensed glasses. This was getting expensive until my doctor told me to buy No. 2 grade magnifying glasses at the drug store.
As she matured she started liking the way I patted her belly; in fact, she would position herself in front of me so I couldn’t move unless I leaned over to pet her. They developed into full-blown tummy rubs. Usually after the rubs she’d prance around the room like she had just scored the winning touchdown. She quit eating my glasses but she did like to carry around my socks and handkerchiefs, tossing them in the air and catching them on her nose. In fact, she could not sleep unless she was cuddling something that was drenched in my body odor.
She’s gone now. Towards the end, I didn’t rub her tummy as often as I had. She stood patiently while I stroked her underside and afterwards she gave me an appreciative look before settling on her designated spot on the sofa.
This reminds me that as we get older we forget to be kind to the people we are closest to, not because we don’t care but because we focus on the constant crick in our sacroiliacs. Our loved ones seem to understand but they still appreciate it when we remember. And when they leave–like my wife and the dog have done–it’s too late for that caress.
(Author’s note: Please realize this is only a metaphor for life. Only rub the bellies of your long-time pets who may be expecting it. Do not rub the belly of a dog that does not belong to you. If you do and the dog bites, don’t demand the dog’s owner pay for your doctor bill. Also, do not attempt to rub the tummies of long-time friends and relatives. This could result in being arrested and held for psychological examination. Repeat: this is only a metaphor on how we should treat our loved ones.)
On the other hand, if you have been married to your spouse for 40 or more years, and you can’t remember the last time you rubbed his or her tummy, please do so sometime this evening. I think you will be in for a pleasant surprise.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. MI6 orders David and Wallis to infiltrate a secret planning session held by Adolf Hitler.
By the time Ribbentrop returned to his Berchtesgaden hotel his mind was a swirl with thoughts about the day’s events. The ungodly scream and then the abrupt crowd dismissal was bad enough but Guderian’s announcement his valet was missing sent Ribbentrop over a brink of anxiety. The missing valet was the same man who had caught his attention because of his odd behavior. Ribbentrop ordered his valet to stay behind a while to learn what had actually happened. He was certain there was some connection between the two incidents. He sat in the hotel bar waiting for his valet’s return when he noticed a solitary lady enter the lobby and go to the registration desk. It was Wallis Simpson.
“Wallis, my dear!” he called out as he stood.
She turned, looked confused a moment before smiling. Ribbentrop stopped short of embracing her but instead waited for her extended hand, which she never offered.
“Joachim. What a surprise. I thought you were still in London. How is your wife—what is her name again?”
“Please join me in a drink.” The tension in his shoulders disappeared. All he could think of was their wonderful week in Paris.
His valet came through the door and hustled toward him. “Herr Von Ribbentrop, I have the news—“
He held a palm up. “I’m busy now.”
“That’s quite all right,” Wallis said. “I must check in, settle into my suite first. And before I can even think of having a good time I must change out of my traveling clothes.”
Ribbentrop bowed, clicked his heels, took his valet by the crook of his elbow and guided him into the darkest corner of the bar. Without any hesitation, the valet leaned in and began to whisper.
“The scream was a kitchen scullery maid. She went into the meat locker. Made a horrible discovery. The naked body of a man. Gestapo agents identified him as one of the valets. He was thick around the waist, though his neck was slender. He was about five feet seven inches.”
“But Guderian’s man was taller,” Ribbentrop interrupted.
“Valets often wear lifts in their shoes to appear more imposing.”
Ribbentrop raised an eyebrow. “You’re short. You don’t wear lifts.”
“I don’t need lifts,” he defended himself. “My dignity makes me imposing.””
“Go on.”
“His hair was black and his complexion extremely fair. A checkered table cloth, one used for terrace dining, was tied around his neck. From the discoloration of his skin, the Gestapo estimated he had been dead in the locker since late last night.”
“General Guderian’s man.” Ribbentrop paused. “But we saw him all this morning at the general’s side.”
“But it could not have been him,” the valet added. “It was his murderer.”
Ribbentrop dismissed him and then leaned back in his chair to assimilate the information. He had been right. The black Irish man had to have been a spy. But who? At that moment, Wallis, now wearing a chic cocktail dress and mink edged drape, walked up.
“Am I interrupting? You look deep in thought,” she said in her nasal twang he found so fascinating.
He stood to pull out a chair. “Please have a seat.” After Wallis positioned her bottom and carelessly threw one leg over the other, Ribbentrop sat and smiled. “And what will you have to drink?”
“Champagne, of course.” Her lips slit into her famous snake-like smile. “You’re the expert. You select it.”
In a few moments the waiter delivered a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket. He expertly uncorked it, poured one glass and offered it to Ribbentrop who took it, whiffed it, took a sip then nodded. The waiter poured a glass for Wallis, bowed and walked away. They relaxed and sat back. Ribbentrop expected Wallis to take the lead in conversation. She usually did, but this time she just drank and stared into his eyes.
“So. Are you on holiday?” he asked.
“Unfortunately. I don’t know why I bother to go skiing. I never advance beyond the baby slope. But the Grand Hotel in Kizbuhel is fabulous.”
“Kitzbuhel is in Austria. This is Germany.”
She rolled her eyes. “The forecast for the weekend was a snowstorm, so I escaped to a haven where there would be some other color than white. The sky in Berchtesgaden is a glorious blue.”
“And where is the prince?” Ribbentrop loved playing cat and mouse with a fascinating woman.
“Which prince? Europe is hag-ridden with princes.”
“Wales?”
“And why would you think I’d know where he is?”
“I read the newspapers.”
She smiled and sipped her champagne. “Oh dear. And we thought it was a secret.”
They stared at each other until Wallis started laughing. Ribbentrop chuckled as he lifted the champagne bottle from the ice bucket.
“Thank you. I don’t mind if I do.” She extended her glass so he could fill it.
“David’s off to Vienna to arrange waltz lessons for us next week. First he forces me onto the slopes and then on the dance floor. I think he’s trying to turn me into an athlete.”
“Well, you are, aren’t you—an athlete, I mean.”
“Why, sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The game grew exasperating for Ribbentrop. He wasn’t used to being out-maneuvered by a woman in conversation. He cleared his throat. “Aren’t you interested in why I am in Berchtesgaden?”
“No.”
“Come now, you’re going to hurt my feelings.”
Wallis pulled a cigarette from her purse and leaned forward so he could light it. “Berchtesgaden is the home of Hitler’s palace so I imagine you’re paying him homage.”
“It isn’t a palace.” He was pleased he could be in a position of advantage finally.
“Whatever it is, you’ve been there today, haven’t you? You’re not here for the blue sky.”
Ribbentrop reached across the table to squeeze her hand. “You make me mad with desire. You know that, don’t you, Wallis?”
“Not tonight, darling,” she purred. “I’m simply exhausted. Now if you plan to be around tomorrow night, well, that’s another story.”
He did convince her to be his guest for dinner, but the conversation didn’t rise above Wallis’s witty description of the royal wedding of George and Marina. She wouldn’t even let Ribbentrop escort her to her door. He returned to the bar for a drink stiffer than champagne before retiring to his own room. He began reading Hitler’s Rhineland memorandum. Sleep overtook him before he finished the first page. His valet, true to his vow of dignity, roused him early the next morning so that Ribbentrop would be the first delegate in the Wolf’s Lair conference room.
The prospect of an evening with the tempestuous Mrs. Simpson fogged his mind as the meeting began, even though Hitler’s topic was engrossing: the creation of a new German air force.
“The Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from military aviation.” He paused, placed his hands behind his back and bounced on the balls of his feet. “The leaders of the defeated Germany agreed to such terms, but I–Adolf Hitler—did not agree to anything!”
The room erupted into applause as all of the participants stood in righteous joy. Ribbentrop noticed another valet was standing by General Guderian this morning. Hitler allowed the display to continue until the men finally returned to their seats.
“In 1926 Lufthansa Airline was founded.” Hitler held up his hands in innocence. “No one could object to a private company for travel whose object solely was to make money. But—“He stuck his right index finger into the air. “—the very same pilots trained for the airline are now prepared to become ace military aviators!”
Again the crowd applauded. This time he waved them down.
“I am announcing the creation of the Luftwaffe to you gentlemen, but steps to bring it to total fruition will not be announced to the world for many, many months. Surprise! Surprise, sirs, will be the secret weapon of the Third Reich!”
Ribbentrop almost didn’t rise for the third round of ovation. He was much too obsessed contemplating the ways Mrs. Wallis Simpson would earn her new white carnation that night.

Letters

Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado
July 8, 1895
123 Main St.
Enid, Oklahoma

My Dear Wife,
I miss you terribly and hope the company will soon recognize my talents and promote me to vice president in charge of sales so I may enjoy your company more often. With luck, I shall return to you by the middle of August. The weather in Colorado is pleasant enough but I would sacrifice my comfort to be under the torrid Oklahoma sun with you and the children. Tell the children I shall take them on a great camping adventure before school starts. How is Edward Junior recuperating from his bout of chicken pox? I must be off to my next appointment soon in a small town called Golden. It reminds me of your lovely locks.
With love,
Your Husband

Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

July 8, 1895
321 Main St.
Waxahachie, Texas

My Dear Wife,
I miss you terribly and hope the company will soon recognize my talents and promote me to vice president in charge of sales so I may enjoy your company more often. With luck, I shall return to you by the first of August. The weather in Colorado is pleasant enough but I would sacrifice my comfort to be under the torrid Texas sun with you and the children. Tell the children I shall take them on a great camping adventure before school starts. How is Edwina recuperating from her bout of measles? I must be off to my next appointment in a nearby town called Red Bud. It reminds me of your lovely locks.
With Love,
Your Husband

321 Main St.
Waxahachie, Texas

July 18, 1895
Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

My Dear Husband,
I am quite confused. We live in Texas, not Oklahoma and we have a daughter Edwina, not a son Edward Junior. I have red hair, not blonde. Edwina is terribly afraid of the outdoors and the little creatures that inhabit it so she would not enjoy a camping trip. She had chicken pox, not measles. I reread your letter several times thinking I must have misunderstood it. As you have pointed out to me several times I do have a tendency to misunderstand the simplest of statements. I will continue my sessions with Dr. Fitzmorgan in Dallas. I’m sure he will straighten this out for me.
With Love,
Your Wife

123 Main St.
Enid, Oklahoma

Aug. 4, 1895
Black Swan Hotel
Denver, Colorado

To My Soon-To-Be Former Husband,
Don’t bother to come home, you lying, cheating scoundrel. You should have realized you were not clever enough to have two wives at one time. To refresh your memory, I am the blonde-haired woman living in Oklahoma with our son Edward Junior, who by the way had measles not chicken pox. I exchanged several telegraphs with the lady residing in Waxahachie, Texas. She has canceled all her appointments with her doctor in Dallas and has engaged a lawyer. I have also hired a lawyer. Please expect a letter from the main office of your company stating you have been dismissed from your job because of a complete lack of morals. I must be off now to visit my mother and to apologize. She was right about you.
With absolutely no love,
Your Soon-To-Be Former Wife