Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Nineteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. The good guys let Cecelia in on the plot.
Inspector Tent and Bedelia entered from the ballroom, breaking up the conspiratorial atmosphere in the library. The fearless foursome huddled around the chaise lounge.

“Lady Snob-Johnson,” Tent announced, “I’d be more careful about the household help if I were you. Your butler turned out to be the Man in the Red Underwear.”

She fluttered her eyes ingenuously. “You’re quite mistaken. My butler is seventy years old and weighs two hundred and fifty pounds.”

“I didn’t mean your real butler was the Man in the Red Underwear. But the Man in the Red Underwear was masquerading as your butler.” He paused a moment, thinking of a pun and congratulating himself for being so clever. “A sort of red butler.”

“He’d have to use a lot of padding.” Cecelia didn’t catch the joke because she rarely read American novels that hadn’t been written yet.

“Has a packet been delivered for me in the last few minutes while I was dancing with Miss Smart-Astin?” the inspector asked.

The quartet exchanged knowing glances.

“No,” she replied, her eyes all aflutter again.

“May I pour myself a glass of wine? The dancing has made me quite thirsty, and the rum punch being served in the ballroom is a bit too sweet.”

Cecelia’s left eyebrow went up. She was not accustomed to her guests being so totally honest. Decent people lied about the quality of refreshments. Recovering, she managed a wan smile. “Help yourself.”

“Miss Smart-Astin, would you care for a glass wine?” Tent inquired as he pointed to the cabinet of beverages.

“Why, I think I would, inspector.”

“Do you mind if I pour out white?” His eyes strayed. “There’s been way too much red this evening for my satisfaction.”

“Certainly.”

After handing Bedelia her drink, Tent held up his own in a mild toast. “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed our dance.”

“Thank you.” She blushed, like a shy rosé. “You’re much too kind.”

His crooked smile took on a predatory slant. “Do you know you’re even more beautiful up close?”

“Oh my. Are you trying to sweep me off my feet?”

“That’s not a bad idea.” He leaned in to press his advantage. “I know our ages are vastly different, but there are such things as May-December romances.”

Taken aback from this tactic, Bedelia was left with no recourse but to break out in verse.

You don’t look old, dear Malcolm Tent. You have no gray hairs on your head.
You took care of that problem by applying dye on them instead.
You don’t look old, oh no not you, the fittest at Scotland Yard.
But when you look across the room your eyes are squinting hard.
Don’t mind that you are just a few years younger than my Dad.
And all your family members now are dying off, how sad.
But you’re not old, inspector dear, that’s one thing you can never fear.
So catch your breath, ignore that Mister Death is lingering near.
I can’t accept your marriage plea. I really need more time.
And is it wise to compromise to wed one past his prime?
In truth, I’m drawn to one who has more physical attraction.
I can’t deny he drives me to the edge of mad distraction.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact your character is strong.
It’s just that I can’t risk the chance your life won’t be that long.
But you’re not old, inspector dear, that’s one thing you can never fear.
So catch your breath, ignore that Mister Death is lingering near.

Andy, from his position near the lounge, noticed how intimate Tent and Bedelia were acting, and he felt compelled to cross the room so he could break up the apparent tryst. “Bedelia, darling! Have you seen the grenadine?”

Tent’s eyes wandered beyond Andy to focus on Cecelia, Millicent and the young shirtless prince. “What are they huddling about?”

“I have no idea. Why don’t you join them?” He pushed the inspector in their direction. “I’m sure they’d just love your company.”

With his erstwhile competition now distracted by the others by the lounge, Andy smiled ingratiatingly at Bedelia.

“You wanted a drink with grenadine?”

“Grenadine?” He was taken aback. “I hate grenadine—I mean, I adore grenadine but not just right now.”

“You don’t want a drink?” Her instinctive skills to analyze bizarre situations left her for the moment.

“No, I’m afraid that was a ruse to talk to you.” Andy glanced at the inspector. “To keep you from that other man.”

“He proposed.” She took a quick sip, her head poised with confidence.

“Proposed what?” He too succumbed to dull comprehension.

“Marriage, sort of.”

Andy’s mouth flew open. “You turned him down, I hope.”

“And why should I?” Her tone was couched with a challenge for Andy to make a counteroffer.

“Because—because he’s old and has oodles and oodles of wrinkles.” Even though he knew that sounded ridiculous, Andy tried valiantly to disguise his embarrassment.

Actually….

When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?
Actually…

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-Six

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. On their honeymoon they derail a train. Leon is now a spy par excellent.
Leon watched the sun set from the balcony of the Hotel du Palais on the beach at Biarritz in southern France. He had a newspaper tucked under his left arm. Taking one last puff on his cigarette, he flicked the butt over the railing. Senor Battisti and his two bodyguards should be leaving his penthouse suite at any moment. Leon waited for them outside the elevator. When the doors opened, Leon stepped aside to allow the other three to enter first. After he stepped in, he opened the newspaper and began to read. The Spanish guerrillas were making new inroads in their insurrection against General Franco. However, the dictator blocked funds from being deposited in Spanish banks. This action infuriated Soviet Russia officials and leftist sympathizers in the United States.
When Battisti and his guards exited on the ground floor, Leon stayed on the elevator to go down to the parking garage and kitchen level. He walked into the waiters’ locker room where he had arranged to rent an employee’s uniform.
Leon slipped into the spare waiter’s uniform, and slipped his contact a couple of bills. “Anyone else new on the staff?”
“Oh no, monsieur,” he gushed. “I would have noticed.”
“But of course.” Leon smiled. “Many years of service, I imagine.”
“Mais oui, monsieur.” The man chuckled. As he looked away.
“And well paid for it.” Leon eyed him carefully as he extended another bill which the man grabbed.
“Gracias.
Leon smiled in mild amusement. “Por nada.”
The man looked down, bowed and walked away. Leon stopped in the locker room door to tie his shoe laces so he could keep the waiter in his line of sight. Leon’s contact stopped at the servants’ elevator to the casino level, holding the door for a blond waiter who cocked his head as the man whispered to him as the doors closed. Leon took his time, looking into the mirror counted to the locker room door. He made sure the two servers had time to separate on the casino floor. His hand slid into the top of his right shoe to touch his stiletto. He then checked himself again in the mirror to ensure his one-shot revolver did not make his jacket bulge. Leon sauntered to the service elevator.
When he reached the casino a buzz already circulated on the floor that Senor Amletto Battisti had won two spectacular rounds of blackjack against the house dealer. Leon paused to take an order of martinis and deliver them before making his way over to the corner table where Battisti sat and his bodyguards stood behind him. The stolid Latin rarely moved but Leon could tell he searched the room with an unrelenting regularity. The darker guard shifted his weight from foot to foot and wiped sweat from his brow. The dealer, a small man with thick silver hair, hunched over and from time to time his left shoulder twitched. An unfortunate tell, Leon decided.
Leon also observed the blond waiter place a Cuba Libre in front of Battisti who slid it out of the way. When the waiter deftly pushed it back, the Latin bodyguard intervened. He handed the drink back to the waiter who retreated into the crowd. As the guard resumed his place, his dark companion leaned in to whisper. The Latin shook his head. His partner moved to track down the blond, but the Latin stopped him. The Latin was smart not to dilute his defense by chasing down an assassin who had already failed in his mission.
After taking a couple more drink orders, Leon felt a manicured hand clutch his right buttock. He turned to see a smiling red head.
“Hey, handsome,” she slurred. “You look like you need a break.” She held up a drink.
Leon saw a Cuba Libre with slightly melted ice.
“You’ve had a few drinks yourself,” he replied. “I can’t quite make out your accent.”
She smiled. “Does it make any difference?’
“Why are you being so nice to me? I’m just a regular working guy.”
She held the drink to his lips. “I think us working types should take care of each other.” She glanced at his crotch. “Looks like you could take good care of me, say, after midnight?”
Leon took the drink from her and sniffed it. “Is this Cuba Libre made with “Coca Cola?”
“What difference does it make?”
“It reeks of Royal Crown Cola.”
“Like I said, what difference does it make?”
“I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Royal Crown Cola.” He pushed it toward her mouth. “You drink it.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m not thirsty.”
“Oh come now.” Leon reached around her neck with his free hand and clutched her nape. “Your friend blondie will be very upset if someone doesn’t die from the drink, and it’s not going to be me.”
“Please.” Her heavily mascaraed lashes fluttered. “I don’t even know him. He paid me to give you this drink.”
“I usually draw the line at killing women, he whispered, “but in your case I’ll make an exception.” He forced her mouth open and pulled back on her neck, dumping in the drink. Half of it trickled down her ample bosom, but enough made its way down her throat. “I detected the poison when I smelled it. Unfortunately for you, the bartender used the cheaper Royal Crown Cola instead of Coca Cola which, by the way, would have covered the odor of the poison.” Leon put down the glass, removed the handkerchief from his pocket to wipe her lips dry. “You have time to make it to the powder room before you drop dead. After all, I don’t want you to lose all your dignity.”
As she staggered away, the crowd around Battisti’s table broke into applause. A bald man with an immaculately trimmed moustache stumbled up to Leon.
“I take it Senor Battisti has won again,” Leon said to the man though he kept his eyes on the red-head who had reached the casino door.
“Yeah, I’m downing a Cuba Libre each time Amletto takes a hand.” He pointed at the glass on the table. “Does that belong to anybody?”
Leon put it on his tray and began to turn away. “I think you’d be better off ordering a fresh one.”
“You’re right. Tell the barkeep I want a Cuba Libre—oh, and make it with Royal Crown Cola.”
The red head crashed into the casino door. Blondie must be really hard-hearted. He didn’t even look her way when other waiters carried her body out. Leon would have helped carry her out, but he had an order of Cuba Libre—with Royal Crown Cola—to place with the bartender.
“I saw what you did,” a child-like voice whispered.
Leon turned to see a brown-haired, fair-faced young man smile at him. He looked like he should have been in his late teens but his manner made him seem young. And the voice sounded familiar. Leon had an ear for peculiar accents.
“You just killed that woman.” The boy had the good sense to keep his voice subdued so no one else in the casino crowd would hear his secret. “Oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t bother me. I killed my own father. I admire people like us who can get away with murder.” He smiled. “But I still like to stir up a little trouble, just to be mean.”
The boy reached out to flip the tray from Leon’s hand. With the skilled agility of a dancer, Leon kept control of the tray, grabbed the glass before it could reach the floor and shatter and delivered a swift knee to the boy’s crotch. Leon leaned over in solicitation. “Don’t mess with me, kid. If I could kill the broad, I could kill you too.”
He doubled over in pain and emitted a high-pitched moan.
Leon walked away and behind him heard an old woman cackle. “Jimmy, are you getting into trouble.? I swear, I can’t take you out around decent people without you making a fuss. Now come over here and stand by mommy and tell her which cards to keep.”
Another couple of hours passed without incident. Leon kept surveillance on the blond assassin who from time to time tried to become intimate with Senor Battisti, but both bodyguards kept him at bay.
If I had this assignment, I would try to take out one of the bodyguards to improve my odds of getting close to the don. Leon considered the two guards. The Latin, like his boss, had a bladder made of iron. On the other hand, the fidgety dark guard looked like he was about to leak massive amounts of urine at any moment.
T
he guard in question leaned over to his partner. As he whispered, the Latin nodded and looked around. Hurrying through the crowd the dark one left the casino floor and headed for the men’s room. Leon noticed the blond waiter wasted no time following him, and the mercenary was soon in tow.
When Leon entered the toilet, the guard hugged a urinal, and the blond waiter slipped a knife from his jacket. Leon spun him around, stuffed him in the nearest stall, took out his pistol and shot the man between the eyes. As the body slumped down on the commode, Leon dropped the gun into the water tank.
The black guard had his own revolver pulled out and twirling around the room trying to figure out where the shot came from.
“Hold on, cowboy,” Leon said as he stepped from the stall, pretending to be zipping his pants. “Haven’t you ever heard a car backfire before?”
“Not from inside a damn john.”
Leon nodded toward the door. “The street’s just out there.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He cleared his throat and shook his shoulders. “Well, you better get back to work.” He sniffed. “You don’t want to get into trouble.”
“You got that right, boss.” Leon straightened his bow tie and left.
By the time he returned to the casino, a man with a Van Dyke beard and slicked back pepper-gray hair and wearing a handsome tuxedo stood next to Senor Battisti and raised his arms.
Mesdammes et monsieurs, s’il vous plait. I have an important announcement.”
The room went quiet, and the black guard stumbled into the casino.
“The casino has closed as of this moment.” The man paused long enough for the murmuring to dissipate. “Senor Amleto Battisti has broken the bank of the Biarritz Hotel de Palais Casino.”
The customers broke into applause. Battisti’s Latin bodyguard pushed the crowd aside as the successful gambler walked out. The other guard merely fell in line behind him.
Leon unobtrusively headed to the service elevator down to the waiters’ locker room. He had changed into his white linen suit by the time the other waiter–whom he had paid for the uniform–showed up. Leon slipped to the door to see if anyone else were coming. When he was certain he would have a few minutes alone with the waiter, he walked up behind the man who had opened his locker door.
“It seems you were wrong about new staff,” Leon whispered.
“Huh?”
Leon rammed his stiletto up under the waiter’s rib cage.
Gracias.” He shoved the man’s body into the locker and shut the door. “Por nada.”

Green

Green is my favorite color. It goes back to the fifties and the Davy Crockett craze—movies, songs, television shows, coonskin caps, the whole bit.
I’m the great-great-great grandson of Crockett so all that attention was like it was for me. There was a skip in my step every time I heard, “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free.”
I may have been born in Texas, which was the biggest state at that time, but my heart was in the greenest state. Any time I had a choice in clothing, food, you name it, I picked green, spinach, lettuce, lime sherbet, and a lot of green shirts. After I graduated from college and I could live anywhere I wanted I bought a green Ford Torino and drove to Tennessee and fell in love with the trees, the mountains and my wife. She was actually from Virginia but her last name was Hawkins, the same as the county in Tennessee where Crockett’s grandparents are buried.
My bedroom has always been painted green. It’s really a restful color to look at as I close my eyes in sleep. Green represents good things too—serenity, ecology, renewal, hope, guacamole, pistachios, Jolly Green Giant, Kermit the Frog, Green Eggs and Ham, freshly mowed grass which smells like watermelon, also green, and the best traffic light, green which means let’s go.
Nothing reduces my blood pressure better than a drive down a road with tall trees whose branches hover over the pavement with green leaves in all shades from chartreuse to forest, and everything in between, olive, celery, sage, parsley and Kelly. The green trees are filled with life, squirrels, birds, insects and tiny microbes.
Christmas trees are green, and what can be better than Christmas trees? They have presents underneath them. Children gather around them to giggle and play. And when the children go to bed, parents can sit by the Christmas tree to kiss and cuddle.
Green goes well with other colors too. Who doesn’t like to see a blue sky peeking through the trees? And at night, when the sky is black and speckled with tiny white lights, green tones down its shade to blend in. Green with orange in the fall says it’s time for harvest, and green with red means it’s time for Santa Claus. Green with yellow is the time of spring. Green with purple means it’s time to have the color adjusted on the television.
And, of course, green is the color of money. Who doesn’t like money? Getting a check is nice. Checking the bank account and seeing new deposits is great. But nothing beats seeing green bills being handed over, lots of them with pictures of Jackson, Grant and Franklin. It would be fun to jump into a pool filled with green bills, especially if I knew all those bills were mine.
The nicest thing about green is that it doesn’t have to be money to make you happy. Green leaves work just as well, which is good because it’s easier to be surrounded by leaves than dollar bills. Green food, like guacamole and lime sherbet tastes better than dollar bills too. I haven’t tried it but common sense tells me money tastes terrible and has little nutritional value.
As they say, the best things in life are free. And many of those things are green.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-Two

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Stanton and henchman Baker clean up the mess.
Jessie sat at a small table covered by a red-and-white checkered cloth in the back of a small, busy café. She tapped her fingers awaiting Adam. He broke their engagement last night, and she was not happy. Jessie was in love, but sensed something terrible had gone wrong. As much as she cared for Adam, his honesty about what was going on at the Executive Mansion disturbed her.
Her face lit when Adam first walked through the door, but it darkened as she watched him weave between the tables. He had not changed his clothes, shaved, or washed. When he plopped down in the chair next to her, Adam tried to kiss her, but she turned away.
“Ye stink and look terrible.”
“I’m a man, a soldier.” Adam leaned back in his chair and looked ahead.
The waiter came up.
“What do ye crave for supper?”
“Whiskey.”
After the waiter pulled out his pad, Jessie leaned to Adam and said, “I want a bowl of beef stew and a glass of milk.”
When Adam did not respond, she looked up at the waiter who nodded.
“And for the gentleman?”
“Whiskey,” Adam demanded.
“We don’t serve hard liquor.”
“Nothing, then.”
“Very well, sir,” the waiter said and turned away.
“Me darlin’, what’s wrong?”
“I’ve been given the awesome knowledge of life and death.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s terrible to give a young man the awesome knowledge of life and death.” Adam said nothing more because the waiter arrived with Jessie’s bowl of soup and glass of milk.
“Ye need to talk to a priest.” Her voice was soft. “Somebody who can help ye.”
“It’s too late.” Avoiding Jessie’s eyes, he shook his head. “The awesome knowledge of life and death changes a man forever. A woman will never know the awesome knowledge of life and death.”
“Will ye stop that ‘awesome knowledge of life and death’?” She pushed away her soup bowl. “I lost me hunger. Take me home.”
Adam bolted for the door. Jessie paid the waiter and scurried after him. He was already in his seat on the omnibus when she climbed on board and passed the fare slot.
“Sorry, miss, I need your coin,” the driver said.
“I’m with the gentleman,” she replied, motioning to Adam in the back.
“Oh. Him. He just paid for himself.”
Searching her reticule in frustration, Jessie finally found the right coin, deposited it, and walked to the back. She debated whether to sit next to Adam, who left her humiliated in his wake. The bus started with a jerk, causing her to fall into the seat by him.
“Where were ye last night?”
Adam stared into the night.
“I think your actions are despicable,” Jessie said in a low, intense voice. “And don’t give me any more of that knowledge of life and death foolishness. Ye are a better man than this, me laddie.”
Turning toward her, Adam smiled with a touch of the devil in its curl. Jessie shuddered. When her street came up, She stood to leave; Adam began to follow her.
“I don’t need an escort.”
Again he smiled like a devil’s slave, which caused her to hasten to the omnibus door, where she jumped to the road and trotted toward her boardinghouse. Not looking behind her, Jessie sensed Adam was staggering behind her. At the door, she rummaged through her reticule, trying to find the key, until she smelled foul breath over her shoulder.
“Adam, please go away before I tell ye to go away forever.” She did not look at him, but spoke in a soft yet solemn voice. “Now.”
Spinning her around, Adam planted a moist, open-mouthed kiss on her lips. His teeth smashed her lips against her own teeth, causing them to bleed. The taste of his tongue was acrid and repellent. His body odor crawled up her nostrils, making her gag. Finally her hand, still fumbling through her reticule, found the key. Grasping it tightly, she scraped the key on Adam’s temple. He moaned as his hand went to the bleeding gash. Jessie unlocked the door, rushed in, and locked it. Adam lunged forward, banging his hand on it.
“Jessie!” he screamed.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Eighteen

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia. The good guys let Cecelia in on the plot.
Just then the door opened and Andy entered performing his best tango moves in perfect timing with the music. He closed the door, took the picture of Lily Langtry from his jacket pocket and presented it with aplomb to Cecelia.

“Lily!” She held the picture to her breast. “Oh, I’m so pleased.” Cecelia returned it to its place of honor on the mantle and turned back to Andy. It was as though a light had gone off in her head. She pointed at the picture and then at Andy. “So that must mean you’re the Man in the Red Underwear!”

“At your service, Lady Snob-Johnson.” He bowed deeply.

“Oh good! I’ve always liked your family. So, you’re not—happy?”

“I don’t think thut’s the word—“ Eddie didn’t finished because Millicent put her hand over his mouth.

“Not even giddy,” Andy assured her.

“So what we want you to do is notify us immediately upon Billy Doggerel’s arrival,” Millicent instructed her mother. “We’re sure he will have the packet on his person.”

“And what a person.” She started swooning again.

“Please, Mother! This is important.”

“All right. But I think I’m in love. Oh dear, does this mean he’ll have to go to prison?”

“I’m afraid so,” Andy said.

“Oh well, this is my punishment for exposing Millicent to danger.”

“Shall we bring Bedelia into our confidence?” her daughter asked.

“Yes!” Andy beamed.

“No!” Cecelia glowered.

“Why not?” Eddie scratched his head.

“Mother’s lost her head over the fact Bedelia’s parents were never married.”

Millicent should have known better than give a logical explanation to Eddie about anything, because he immediately went to Cecelia and carefully looked at her face, both ears and the back of her head.

“It’s right thar.”

“What is?” Cecelia fluttered her eyes in annoyance.

“Yo’r haid.”

“Why, of course it is!”

“Millie jest said you lost it, but how could you lose it when it’s still on yo’r shoulders?” Yes, he was really that stupid.

“Shall we return to the business at hand?” Andy smiled, trying to overlook his friend’s irritating observations.

“Yes, please.” Cecelia was ready to move on also.

“If we let Bedelia into our confidence then she’d know I’m the same man who’s always loved her,” Andy tried to make his point.

“Unfortunately, I think mother is right,” Millicent offered as sympathetically as possible. “Bedelia has fallen under the chief inspector’s spell.”

“I don’t know what a fine young man like you wants with a girl like her, anyway,” Cecelia told him.

Andy decided the only way to express his feeling for Bedelia to Cecelia was through poetry.

She’s a flower, her petals smooth.
I want to touch and make her move.

“Oh, Andy.” Cecelia smiled sweetly. She finally caught it.

Eddie leaned over to whisper to Millicent, “Psst, Millie, that part about her bein’ a flower and him wantin’ to touch her petals and watchin’ her move, I think that’s kinda dirty.”

“Eddie, shut up.” There were even limits to Millicent’s patience.

“We must catch Tent with the packet tonight.” Andy circled the room deep in thought. “I doubt another merchant will cooperate with us if we fail.”

“So we must be very careful to see in which pocket the inspector puts the packet,” Millicent agreed.

The four of them recited in unison.

Let’s plan the plan as only we can plan to foil old Malcolm Tent,
We must catch him red-handed with that most incriminating packet
Completely filled with allegations and evidence to back it.

“What will he do with it when it arrives?” Andy asked.

“He’ll put it in his pocket!” Millicent replied with a snap of her fingers.

“So we must watch which packet in his jacket he will put the packet in.” Cecelia nodded.

“Then we must snatch the packet from the pocket in his jacket,” Andy said.

“Yes that is what we must do.” Eddie was so pleased he know what was going on.

“He has a charm upon a chain in his left front pocket,” Millicent remembered. “I felt it there when I jumped upon his back before the fencing match.”

“Well, you felt him up purty good, didn’t you?” For an amiable dumb guy, Eddie was capable of jealousy.

Cecelia put forth, “So he won’t put the packet in the pocket with the locket.”

“He carries a revolver in the right front pocket because all chief inspectors carry one in that exact same pocket.” Andy furrowed his brow retrieving information from his memory.

Cecelia shrugged. “So he won’t put the packet there—“

“For fear he might cock it,” Millicent said.

Eddie tapped her shoulder. “But in the ballroom I saw him lookin’ at a pawn ticket.”

“Then he may well have pawned away his company revolver,” Andy hypothesized.

“I didn’t feel it when I was on his back.” Millicent shook her head.

Andy looked at each member of their little cadre. “So he just might have put the packet in the jacket pocket that held the revolver—“

Millicent continued the thought, “Without fear he would cock it—“

“Because he had to hock it!” Cecelia completed their deduction.

“Oh please! I’m getting’ dizzy!” Eddie had to sit on the lounge to stop his head from spinning.

Bug Poem

A bug flew up my nose.
What kind of bug, nobody knows,
But a bug flew up my nose.
It must have thought my nose was a rose.
Why else would a bug fly up my nose?
That bug must have screamed a lot
When it discovered it was snot
A rose but a nose where it had got.
It continued through my sinus holes
To find a way out of my nose,
Defying the laws of gravity
As it navigated through each cavity.
The bug found the exit, there he goes!
Vowing never again to mistake for a rose
The inside of an old man’s nose.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty-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. On their honeymoon they derail a train. Leon is now a spy par excellent.
Leon did not fulfill his promise to kill Pookah upon his return to Eleuthura from Nassau because the dead plant in his pot was already askew when he walked down the dusty path to his home September 1937. The organization worked fast, he told himself, and it found him more useful alive than dead at this point in time. He found the note which instructed him to take the next ship leaving Nassau to Montevideo, Uruguay, and to await instructions there.
Before he left he whispered in Jessamine’s ear not to speak to Pookah until his return. She wrinkled her brow at first but then nodded. She stepped aside so Leon could say good-bye to his son Sidney. Leon extended his arms to hug him, but Sidney stuck his hand out. Leon didn’t hesitate to take it. His son was growing into a strong young man and hugs were beyond him now. Leon did take comfort that the handshake was strong, warm and held for a long time.
As had become his custom on ocean liners, Leon spent most of his time in his cabin, meditating and exercising. Leon still intended on killing Pookah when he returned, but this mission promised to be a very profitable one. It would fill his family’s bellies for a very long time. He rested his head on the pillow and thought of a conversation he had with Sidney before setting sail.
“Father, you’re always insisting it will be my job to fill my family’s bellies,” Sidney began in slow tones as they sat on the deck of Old Jinglepocket’s fishing boat.
“Yes, I’ve always believed that, and you must believe it too.”
“But you mean more than just physical hunger, don’t you, Father?”
Leon took a moment to reply to his son’s question. He had never thought of it that way. All his life his thoughts had never risen above getting actual food into his family’s bellies. But he had to admit he had created a life for his son in which just eating was not enough.
“Of course, Son, that’s what I meant. More than food. Safety. Security. Happiness.”
Those words continued to echo through his mind throughout the rest of the journey to Montevideo. When Leon descended the plank at port, a half-dressed native pushed a small pottery bowl into his hand.
“Here, here, what you need.”
Leon reached for his wallet to pay, but the beggar disappeared into the crowd. Leon took a note jammed into the bowl.
Hotel Carrasco.
Hailing a cab, Leon instructed the driver to take him to the hotel. When he arrived, Leon paid the cabbie, stepped from the taxi and noticed a small boy sitting on the curb. Leon took a few pesos out of his pocket and dropped them into the bowl which he handed to the child.
“Here, fill this with food for yourself.”
“Gracias, senor.”
Leon entered the elegant lobby as though he owned it, approached the desk and signed in. A bellhop took the key and his luggage and went to an elevator. On the way up, he muttered to Leon, “You should see the sunset atop Fortress Carro. It is quite impressive.”
The sun had just touched the far horizon on the observation deck of the fortress when a man came up behind Leon.
“Don’t turn around.”
Leon recognized the American southern accent he heard when he was tied up on the Nassau wharf. At least this time he didn’t have a sack over his head.
“The organization doesn’t know what to do with you, Mr. Johnson. Your insolence merits instant assassination, but you are our best agent. The commandant selected you personally for this assignment. Beginning tonight, you are to roam the casinos of Montevideo until you find a man named Amleto Battisti. I won’t waste your time describing him. If he is at the tables, everyone will be saying his name. He is known as a mathematician with the memory of an elephant. He is also vindictive, so don’t cross him. Senor Battisti lost a million dollars at Biarritz on the Atlantic coast near the border of France and Spain eight years ago. He came home to Uruguay to lick his wounds and hone his skills. Next week he leaves for Biarritz to break the bank. The organization, for a sizable cut, is bankrolling his endeavor using a syndicate of Cuban, South American and French adventurers as a front.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“Biarritz Hotel du Palais casino has paid Spanish guerrillas to kill him if it looks like he will succeed.”
“And you want me to kill them as inconspicuously as possible.”
“But of course.” He paused. “Damn, the sunset over the mountains is spectacular. Anyway, find him, learn his habits, keep him alive, but never let him know you exist.”
Leon had a light supper in the Hotel Carrasco dining room before hailing a taxi to take him to the nearest casino.
“No need for me, senor,” the driver said with a smile. “The best casino in town is just down the street.”
Leon pressed some coins into the man’s hand, tipped his hand and sauntered in the casino’s location. When he arrived he saw a line of cabs waiting to unload their passengers. He passed two elderly, well-dressed men getting out of their cab.
“Do you know if Amleto is here tonight?” one said to the other.
“I believe I heard it rumored, yes,” his friend replied.
“Oh hell, let’s go someplace else where at least I’ll have a chance,” the first man said, pushing his companion back into their taxi.
Once inside the casino, all Leon had to do was follow the excited whispers to a faintly lit corner where men in tuxedos sat around a poker table. Stylishly dressed women leaned over all the players except one slender man who sat apart from the others. Two large men with their arms crossed in front of them flanked him. Leon had been in the business long enough to know that the men were bodyguards, probably from the Mafia. The man himself was thin, unassuming, approximately forty-something years old. Balding. Expensive suite but unaccompanied by any jewelry except for plain wedding band. He neither smoked nor drank.
Leon settled into the bar across the room but still in good view of Senor Battisti. Nursing a glass of champagne for the rest of the evening, he wondered why the organization would be concerned for the gambler’s safety if he were under the protection of the Mafia. Battisti rarely moved his face as he reached for cards and then discarded them. His eyes were dark and never revealed any emotion. As the game progressed, other players threw in their cards until only one remained, a silver haired gentleman in a white linen suit similar to what Leon wore. Eventually the old man conceded, stood and extended his hand. Guards stepped forward. The old man withdrew his hand and stepped away.
When Battisti stood to leave, the crowds moved back. One guard walked in front and the other followed behind. Leon leaned into a shapely blonde seated next to him, smiled and began a conversation. He smiled and extended his hand to her knee, and she didn’t flinch. In a few minutes, Leon noticed the whispers in the casino had subsided, indicating Battisti had left the establishment. He winked at the woman, paid for her drink, glided off his chair and left.
Leon slept in the next morning. He wanted to be fully rested when he arrived at the casino that evening. Over lunch he decided to buy a black tuxedo. His white linen suit was his favorite. It made him stand out, but Leon knew he did not need to stand out on this mission. He must blend in, be invisible. Good bodyguards would notice if the same black man in a white suit appeared every night at the casino. Leon even took the precaution to hire a native Uruguayan lady, whose complexion matched his own, to be his companion. She wore a filmy chocolate brown gown slit low to display her décolletage. If anyone in the casino glanced at them, they would assume Leon was more interested in his escort’s bosom than the gambling.
Battisti and his guards arrived promptly at eight o’clock and the maître‘d showed them to their corner table. Leon realized that from his seat Battisti saw the entire room, the entrance, the door going to the kitchen and the fire exit. His guards filled the space behind him and the wall. No one could pass behind the gambler. Battisti never drank during the evening. That would necessitate a trip to the men’s room sometime during the game, and he didn’t move from his seat. As far as Leon could detect, the gambler had no discernible tells. The mercenary was not worried, however; he still had several nights to observe before they moved on to Biarritz.
When Leon returned to his hotel that night, he requested the desk to send him every morning newspaper published in Montevideo. He ate his breakfast in bed as he read every paper where he found several accounts about Senor Amleto Battisti. While he was indeed a native of Uruguay, Battisti now resided in Havana, where he owned the largest, most opulent hotel/casino in Cuba, and was close friends with the president. He held interests in the transport of liquor and in the entertainment industry. Taking into account the nature of the syndicate members who were financing his foray into Biarritz, Leon judged with confidence Battisti was a leader in the Mafia. He also speculated the Spanish guerrillas had more than one reason to assassinate the Uruguayan. As communist freedom fighters against fascist dictator Francisco Franco, they would considered any member of the Mafia as a mortal enemy.
Leon arrived early at the casino that night wearing ordinary street clothes and entered through the kitchen where he bought a waiter’s uniform from an employee. It consisted of black tuxedo slacks, white linen shirt, black bowtie and red silk vest. As he moved from table to table, Leon concentrated on habits of the body guards.
Both were wide at the shoulders and thick of waist. One was as dark as Leon, but the other looked more Latin, perhaps from Cuba, Italy or France. The Latin was stolid, rarely moving his head either way. About halfway through the evening, The Latin motioned to his partner he had to make a trip to the men’s room. The darker guard’s face showed every emotion he was feeling as he scanned the room. Once in a while he lingered over the figure of a voluptuous woman. As a test, Leon let a glass slip from his tray and crash on the floor. The guard jumped and his left hand went involuntarily to a concealed shoulder harness.
The fourth night Leon returned in his white linen suit and sidled up to a blonde at the bar. Neither guard noticed him. Battisti used a handkerchief several times during the evening, but Leon couldn’t make out a pattern to his behavior. Perhaps he just had a cold. On the last night, Leon arrived in his tuxedo and the woman in the chocolate gown. Toward the end of the evening, as another experiment, he accused a man of brushing up next to his lady friend. The man was startled and stepped away, but Leon continued his loud, aggressive accusations. Battista and his Latin guard ignored the confrontation, but the black guard stirred and began to move in Leon’s direction when the gambler discreetly touched his sleeve. The accused man exited without a word, and the room resumed its normal atmosphere.
As a final test, Leon stepped in front of Battisti and his entourage as they left. None of them broke their stride or glanced Leon’s way. He not made any impression on them, a good sign for the upcoming occasion in Biarritz. Leon felt satisfied he was ready for anything that might arise on the hot border between France and Spain.

More Than Just Toilet Paper

Billy enjoyed his daily walks with his grandpa. Most children didn’t have an old man in the family whose sole purpose was to entertain and protect little ones.
Mothers were too busy having babies, cleaning house and cooking to spend time with their daughters and sons. Fathers were rarely home. Mothers explained that the men had to go out hunting, gathering nuts and berries and protecting the family honor by killing anyone who looked like he was going to hurt the women and children. Fathers also killed anyone who owned some special object which the fathers decided rightfully belonged to them.
For the longest time Billy and his grandpa would take long hikes upon cracked concrete paths that led to fascinating places. In particular Billy enjoyed the tall mountains that his grandfather told him people from long ago built. Sometimes they went exploring inside the man-made mountains. Some were like hanging gardens with all the pretty vines which covered everything. A few times the light would go away too soon so Billy and his grandpa had to sleep inside the marvelous mountains. Lately, however, his grandpa walked slower, rested more and remembered less about what his grandfather told him about the world they lived in.
“Now what is that big bright thing in the sky?” Billy asked.
“Let me see.” Grandpa paused to think. “The sun.”
Billy wrinkled his little brow. “But I thought I was the son.”
“Well, the same word can mean a lot of different things.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t they go ahead and come up with a different word for each thing?”
Grandpa smiled. “My grandfather told me they were just too lazy.” He shrugged. “I just think they were stupid.” He put his hand on Billy’s shoulder and headed him in another direction. “We got to get some toilet paper before the sun goes away again.”
Now Billy knew what toilet paper was. That was one of the most important things in the whole world. Soon they walked up the steps to a stone two-story building and entered. Stacked all around them were toilet paper sheets bound together and covered with two sheets that were thicker and stiffer than the rest of the toilet paper. He picked one up and leafed through it. Billy found them fascinating. Some of the pages had pretty pictures and others were covered with markings with crosses, dots, and squiggly lines.
“Why did they bother to make them look pretty if it was only toilet paper?”
“Like I said, they were stupid,” his grandpa replied. “Well, bring that one with us. We don’t want to get caught in the dark.”
As they walked back home along the broken concrete path, Billy pointed at the rusted little houses with four circles in each corner. “And what were those things?”
“I told you once before they were called cars,” his grandpa said rather impatiently.
“I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t remember things too good.”
His grandpa patted his shoulder. “Neither can I. I wish I could remember everything my grandfather told me. He said people were powerful a long time ago. Then great flames leapt from the sun and all the…the machines—that’s what he called them—didn’t work no more. Eventually they forgot everything they knew. Grandfather called it history.”
“History? What is this thing called history?”
“History is a grandfather’s stories. His story. Get it?”
“I guess so.” They walked a while before Billy thought of another question. He liked to ask them over and over again to make his grandpa feel better when he could answer them. “What was the toilet paper building called?”
His grandpa shook his head. “I know my grandfather told me, but for the life of me I can’t come up with it.” He then snapped his fingers. “I remember now. It was called a library.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighty-One

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mary talks Gabby into attacking Adam. Lincoln intervenes. Ashamed and distraught, Adam gets drunk and kills the butler who stops him from molesting the cook. Stanton and henchman Baker clean up the mess.
Sticking his head out from the darkest corners of the kitchen was presidential secretary John Hay. He had been hiding in there ever since his return from one of his frequent bar strolls. He slid into the blackness once he became aware a fight was going on. He saw Private Adam scurrying through the kitchen and out the door. Hay was too frighten to move. The atmosphere settled into dark macabre. What seemed like an hour passed when Christy returned with Stanton and Baker. He heard them talking. He heard Stanton coughing. He saw Baker walk out with Neal the butler slung over his shoulder. Stanton quickly followed.
Hay thought it might be safe to slink to the stairs leading upstairs. Entering the basement hallway, he heard a voice mumbling behind the billiards room door. In another room the cook Phebe curled on her bed crying. Most curious of all, Private Adam Christy stood holding a bundle tied up in a sheet in a dark bedroom seeming incapable of moving.
Hay raced up the service stairs, his wits shaken but still trying to compose his thoughts before he entered their bedroom across from their second-floor office. He lit the lamp on the table, then shook Nicolay’s shoulder until his eyes opened.
“Something terrible has happened.”
“What?” Nicolay rubbed his eyes as he sat up.
“I just saw something horrible.”
“What do you mean, something horrible?” Nicolay coughed and shook his head.
“I just came in through the basement. I heard an odd voice inside one of the rooms, saying, ‘Stop hurting people.’”
“What people?”
“Neal, the butler.” Hay paused to swallow hard. “I was hiding in the kitchen when I heard Mr. Stanton tell Lafayette Baker—“
“Stanton?”
“—that Christy had killed the butler, Neal, when Neal had tried to keep the private from raping the cook. She was whimpering. Stanton went in and spoke to her. I didn’t understand what he said.”
“Why was Baker there?”
“He took out the body.”
Nicolay leaned into him. “Was anyone aware you were there?”
“No.” Hay shook his head. “Maybe the cook.”
“She won’t tell.” He bit his lip. “Remember what I said about doing our jobs and ignoring everything else?”
“Yes.”
“Well, we can’t do that anymore.” Nicolay stood, went to the door, and cracked it to look out, then shut it carefully.
“So what do we do?” Hay asked.
Extinguishing the lamp, Nicolay sat next to him.
“I’ve friends in the State Department who can get me a post overseas. I know the Paris consul is open. Once I get there, I’ll find a job for you.”
“But shouldn’t we stay? Try to stop Stanton?”
“I never trained in the army. Did you?”
“No.”
“Could you overpower Lafayette Baker?”
“We have the law on our side.”
“Stanton and Baker are the law.”
“Lamon suspects something. He’d be on our side.”
“If they can abduct the president and keep it a secret for two years, they can make Ward Lamon disappear too.”
“We should try to do something.”
“Like the butler who tried to stop a rape? He’s dead, and no one will know he ever existed. Do you think anyone would notice if you disappeared?”
“Oh.” Hay put his hand to his neck. “Perhaps Paris would be good.”