Author Archives: jerrycowling

Death Visits Savannah

This story comes from Boris Karloff, the original Mummy, the original Frankenstein monster. He was in his last movie which was the first movie directed by Peter Bogdonovich. It was called “Targets” and was inspired by the sniper shootings from the University of Texas tower in Austin in 1968. Mr. Karloff played—basically—himself, an old actor tired of his image as the King of Horror. In one scene he tells a simple story, the camera fixed on his face. His story took place in the Persia during the Middle Ages. I place my version in Atlanta in the 1880s.
Joe was a servant who worked for a wealthy merchant in Atlanta, Georgia, Percival Hawthorne. Hawthorne had the largest mercantile establishment in not only Atlanta but also Macon, Valdosta, McDonough and Savannah. Joe was his personal valet, tending to his every need. For his loyal service Joe slept in his own room at Hawthorne’s mansion, wore new clothes and ate as well as his employer. He was never whipped, never had to do heavy lifting, nor did he ever break a sweat.
One day at noon Hawthorne called Joe into his office and asked him to walk a few blocks down the street to the farmers market to buy apples for his lunch. Nodding with a big grin, Joe left the large store and walked down the street. He was happy and content with his life. When he reached the open air market he carefully examined each vendor’s produce. He wanted only the best apples for Mr. Hawthorne.
Suddenly, Joe stopped short because standing before him on the streets of Atlanta, was Death. When their eyes met, Joe saw that Death was surprised. Death’s mouth fell open and he pointed his boney finger at Joe.
Joe knew when Death pointed his finger at you, no one else in a huge crowd but you, it meant only one thing. Your days on this earth were numbered. Joe turned and ran away, knocking people out of his way, going back to Mr. Hawthorne.
“Sir, forgive me. I did not buy your apples.”
“And why not, Joe?”
“I saw Death,” he replied. “He pointed his boney finger at me. And you know what it means when Death points at you.” Joe choked back the tears. “I am not ready to die.”
“And I am not ready to see you die, Joe.” Hawthorne stood and put his arm around his loyal servant. “Go now to my stable. Tell them I order them to pick out the fastest horse and give it to you. Mount the horse, Joe, and ride all night to the store in Savannah. There is a bedroom over the store. Stay there. Death will never find you there.”
Joe did exactly as his employer told him. He went to the stable and asked for the fastest horse. As he rode out of Atlanta and down the dusty road to Savannah, his spirits lifted. Death would never find him now. He would live a long and happy life.
The next day at noon, Hawthorne left his office and walked down to the farmers market for his apples for lunch. There, standing among the fruit and vegetable stalls, was Death. Hawthorne approached Death and accosted him.
“Why did you point at my man Joe yesterday in this market?”
“I am sorry, sir.” Death said. “I did not mean to gape and point at your man, but I did not expect to see him at the farmers market in Atlanta. I have an appointment with him at midnight tomorrow in Savannah.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Ninety-One

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales and socialite Wallis Spencer. David becomes king then abdicates to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney becomes a mercenary. David hires him as his valet. Sidney hires Jimbo and his fiancee Gertie to live in his house.
Sidney took his time putting on his new white linen suit he bought especially for the wedding of Jimbo and Gertie. The memories of his father in his white linen suit were among his fondest.
Oh hell, all my memories of my father were wonderful. I can only hope to live up to what he taught me.
Sidney looked in his bedroom mirror. Everything fit perfectly. Glancing at his watch he noticed it was time for him to knock on the bedroom door of Jimbo and Gertie. They decided they wanted Sidney to walk both of them down the dusty lane to the church.
Jimbo looked good in his white slacks and white shirt open at the collar. Gertie wore a pleated white skirt and a white blouse which hung off her shoulders.
Sidney liked Gertie. She was broad in the hips and had an ample bosom. Her smile could brighten anyone’s day, but if that person crossed her she could call on all the demons in hell to rain down torment upon them. She had planned to spend days scrubbing the house so it would make Sidney proud at the wedding party, but Sidney gave some money to hire neighborhood women to help her clean and to cook the wedding feast. When she protested she could do it all by herself, he told her it was a good way to get on the good side of the people who live close to her.
As they walked down the road local residents of Eleuthera tossed flowers at them. Sidney doffed his hat and nodded. Gertie picked up her favorite ones to form her bouquet. The crowd at the church door applauded as Gertie and Jimbo entered. Their camp friends from the hills north of Nassau filled the seats. Sidney had paid Jinglepockets to recruit as many fishing boat captains to transport them.
The Duke and Duchess not only gave Sidney several days off for the wedding, they also offered to attend. With a humble bow, Sidney declined, saying he wanted all the attention to be on Gertie. They both nodded in approval.
As soon as the bride, groom and host entered the church, all their friends stood, some wiping their noses on their soiled sleeves, but all done with the best of intentions to show respect. No one seemed to have remembered to bring instruments to serenade the couple. Out of nowhere a rhythmic patting on the wooden pews and an a capella aire floated to the rafters. Sidney observed the faces of Jimbo and Gertie as they let the music flow over them, and felt warm inside. They were, indeed, his family now.
The minister offered a few appropriate words and pronounced them husband and wife. As they marched out of the church, the crowd broke out in applause and huzzahs which matched the improvised music in lilting spirituality.
Sidney followed the crowd up the lane. He paused only a moment when he noticed a familiar face in the masses.
Aline stood there. She pulled her hair back and tied a scarf around her head. She wore a ragged blouse, dirty skirt and sandals, the same as she wore when she surveyed Sidney’s carnage at the hacienda.
The crowd pushed him along toward the gate to his courtyard. Once he was inside he saw Gertie standing on the step to the front door with Jimbo by her side. When the crowd heard her bellowing voice, it become still and obedient.
“Welcome to the hacienda to celebrate our wedding. Please honor the founder of the feast, Mr. Sidney Johnson!” She pointed to him standing by the gate.
Sidney enjoyed taking a bow. Gertie spoke up again to quell the crowd.
“Me and Jimbo are from the hills above Nassau so our camp friends are invited indoors, but do not despair. The same food will be served in the courtyard as inside.” She paused and turned serious. “Now this is Mr. Johnson’s home, and I won’t abide anyone messing up this courtyard. And my friends have a double warning. Not one drop of food on that nice furniture. And if I catch one person on that staircase I will not only kick you out of this house, I will kick you out of my life and you will become my enemy. Do you understand?”
The crowd was stunned into silence. Sidney himself was shocked until he realized she was using the exact words he had used with Jimbo who repeated them to her. He raised his eyebrows. She took her orders literally.
“I said do you understand?” Her voice took on the authority of God.
“Yes ma’am,” Jimbo mumbled.
She turned and slapped her new husband on the shoulder.
“Not you.” She pointed out. “I’m talking to them.”
A rippling sound went through the crowd.
“Yes ma’am. Yes ma’am.”
From a mumble it grew to a full-throated affirmation.
“Good.” Gertie smiled. “Now we understand each other, let’s have a party!”
Out islanders pushed past Sidney until he found himself alone. When he looked around he saw Aline still standing across the lane. She walked up to him.
“What are you doing here?” Sidney asked in disapproval.
“Do you mind?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“This wedding is the worst kept secret in Nassau,” she replied. “I think it’s a terribly nice thing for you to do for your friends.”
“I needed security for my house now that I work for the Duke. What better way than to have a couple living here.”
“That’s why I’m here.” Aline smiled. “The organization is pleased you are working in the governor’s palace. What better way to protect him?”
Sidney looked around. “Let’s walk down to the beach.”
When they were far away from the laughter of the party, Aline told him, “The organization is unhappy with Harry. He’s stupid, loud and makes too many mistakes.”
“So what is that to me?”
The organization has chosen Alfred de Merigny to lead the Bahamian operation.”
“I thought Harold Christie was Harry’s partner.”
Aline shook her head. “That’s their real estate business. You have to think bigger when it come to the organization.”
“Oh.”
“De Merigny shows up a lot at the palace, doesn’t he?”
Sidney looked out across the ocean. “I’ve seen him there.”
“You still don’t trust me, do you?”
Sidney detected a crack in her voice which threw him off balance, so he didn’t respond at all.
“And you don’t like me.” Aline made her remark as a statement rather than a question.
“I thought the organization liked it better that way.”
She stepped in close. “I knew your father.”
“At the casino, I know.”
“Your father liked me.”
“I don’t want to know this.”
“You know my father.”
“I don’t care.”
“Harry Oakes is my father.” She breathed out in exasperation. “I hate him.”
“I still don’t care.” Sidney looked around at his house. “I should make myself seen at the party.”
Aline’s voice dripped with sadness. “I don’t blame you.” She turned toward the hacienda. “I’m so lonely.” Reaching into a pocket of her ragged skirt, she pulled out a note and slipped it into a pocket of Sidney’s linen jacket. “I have a lovely secluded apartment near the governor’s palace. The neighbors are very discreet.”
All the guests had left the party as the sun went down. Gertie was busy helping the hired women clean up. She had not quite caught on to the concept of being a boss yet. Jimbo took out bags of garbage. Sidney motioned them over.
“You two should be alone tonight,” Sidney said. “Jinglepockets is waiting for me at the pier.”
Jimbo shook his hand. “Thank you, my friend.”
“Did you see the blonde lingering outside the gate?” Sidney asked.
Jimbo shook his head.
“She wasn’t a guest, was she?” Gertie’s eyes narrowed.
Sidney’s hand went into his jacket pocket to caress the note. “If she ever comes here when I’m not around, don’t let her in.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Sixteen

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer.
Rain pelted Booth’s back as he rode his bay mare quickly and boldly down Tenth Street away from Ford’s Theater. Few people were out in Washington City at this hour. They did not know the tyrant had been struck down. Booth’s mind raced with details of the day. Invigorated by his success, he was still unaware of the pain in his broken leg. He wondered if David Herold would have the sense to meet him on the other side of the Navy Yard Bridge over the East Branch of the Potomac River, commonly known as the Anacostia. Herold should be there soon. His family lived in a small house on the other side of the Navy Yard, considered to be the worst neighborhood in city. A bad place to be caught alone after dark. Booth arrived at the bridge sentry post.
“Stop,” the guard said.
In his mind, Booth composed a scenario that he was a gentleman of leisure on a late night ride to his home in the country. The sentry was only doing his job, and one must not be too concerned with the obligations of the working class.
The guard walked up, held up a lantern and squinted through the raindrops at Booth. “Where are you going, sir?”
“I’m going home, down in Charles County.”
“Where in Charles County?”
“I don’t live in any town. I live close to Beantown.”
“Beantown? Never heard of that.”
“Good God, man, then you never went down there.”
“Do you know it’s illegal to cross the bridge after 9 p.m.?”
“What time is it now?” Booth asked.
Fumbling with his pocket watch, the sentry held it close to the lantern. “It’s 11:40, a good two hours past the curfew. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of the curfew.”
“No, I haven’t been in town for some time so it’s new to me.”
“Why are you out so late?”
“It’s a dark road, and I thought if I waited a spell the rain would let up and the moon would shine through parted clouds. Well, when the rain persisted, I decided I would have to muddle through.” Booth watched the sentry look up in the sky where the moon ought to be on a clear night at this time, just clearing the tree line.
“I’ll pass you but I don’t know as I ought to.”
“Hell, I guess there’ll be no trouble about that.”
Booth rode about a mile after crossing the bridge and stopped to wait for Herold. Only a few moments passed until he saw a rider hunched over his horse coming down the road. Only David Herold slumped over his horse like that. Booth was relieved to see him. When Herold pulled up, Booth saw he was astride a roan. He always rode that particular horse. It was gentle and easy to control. Their other friends teased Herold about riding a woman’s horse, but it was his favorite and he was unconcerned about their joshing. Booth was relieved to see him, though he could tell Herold was nervous. He had an uncharacteristic twitch as he sat in the saddle.
“Davey, what took you so long?”
“I didn’t think that guard was going to let me through, Mr. Booth. Did you know it’s illegal to cross the bridge after 9:00? I didn’t know that. He asked me why I was out so late, and I had to make up something real fast. I don’t usually think that fast, but a story popped in my head that was sure to stop him cold in his tracks. I told him I couldn’t very well get there any sooner because I visited a Capitol Hill whorehouse and it took me a while before I could get off.” Herold paused to laugh. “Bet he never heard an excuse like that before, because he let me on through.”
“Did Paine kill Seward?” Booth interrupted. “Is the man dead?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“When Tommy came out he was all upset and screaming, ‘I’m mad!’ ‘I’m mad!’ It took me a while to calm him down. Tommy was covered in blood. He said he had to stab a lot of people to get to the old man. A leather brace was around his neck.”
“Who had something around his neck, Davey?” Booth could not abide by Herold’s babbling.
“Seward. He had something around his neck.”
“That’s right,” Booth muttered. “I read in the newspaper he had been in a carriage accident and injured his neck. Why didn’t Paine stab the chest?”
“Hell, I don’t know, Mr. Booth. I didn’t go inside with him. Tommy said he stabbed and stabbed but didn’t know if he killed the old man or not. He said there was a lot of blood everywhere.”
“Damn.”
“I couldn’t control him. He was pushing me away, trying to run down the street. He wouldn’t get on his horse. I had to let it go. Tommy ran off in the dark. I could still hear his voice. He really sounded crazy.”
By now, Booth began to feel throbbing pain in his leg. “Let’s move along. People will start looking for us soon.” He nudged his bay mare, which began a slow trot down the road.
“Looking for us? How will they know to look for us?” Herold asked as he followed.
“Everyone saw me leap to the stage, Davey. They know who I am.”
“But how will they know about me, Mr. Booth? I’m just a helper in a pharmacy. Nobody knows me.”
“They will know who all of us are by tomorrow morning.” Booth told Herold how he had written a note and handed it to an erstwhile friend John Matthews, another actor at Ford’s Theater.
“Why would you give him a note? I didn’t think you liked him.”
Booth did not like Matthews after he was unable to convince him to join their plot to kidnap Lincoln. He remembered that Matthews even had the gall to talk back to him one time when he was pontificating against equal rights for Negroes.
“If you pushed a darkey off the sidewalk and he pushed back, you could not shoot him,” Booth said, fuming.
“Then don’t push any darkeys,” Matthews replied.
After that incident, Booth decided Matthews was a coward and unfit to live. His opinion of the man sunk even lower when Matthews gave him a bottle of whiskey as a sign of reconciliation. Booth accepted the gift and even visited Matthews at his boardinghouse around the corner from Ford’s Theater. He stretched out on the actor’s bed and promised to come see his next performance. Then he handed him the note to turn in to the National Intelligencer, a city newspaper openly hostile to Lincoln.
“What was in the note?” Herold’s voice quaked.
“It’s a statement of our allegiance to the South. I said many will blame us but posterity, we are sure, will justify us. And I signed it, “Men who love their country better than gold or life.”
“We, you said?”
“Yes, I signed it John W. Booth, Paine, Herold and Atzerodt.”
“Oh my God, everyone will know.”
“And will bless us for it.”
“Mr. Booth, I just went to my house on the other side of the Navy Yard to say good-bye. My sisters hugged me, but Mama wouldn’t even look at me. My God, Mr. Booth, what have we done?”
Booth winced with each jog of the horse. “Once we get into the countryside you will feel differently. They will welcome us as heroes. Everyone in the South hates Lincoln. They will praise me for killing him.”
“I don’t know. Mama looked awful disappointed in me. She—she always said I was her favorite. I was the only boy out of a family of eight girls. I had two brothers but they died young. She and my sisters always protected me. Maybe I should go back home and beg Mama to forgive me. She’ll take care of me. Would it make you too angry if I went to Mama’s house, Mr. Booth?”
He pulled up on the bridle and looked back at Herold. “I picked every man for this special mission. Do you know why I chose you?”
“Because I know about medicine?”
“Yes, Davey, you know medicine. The time I had the knot on my neck and cut it out, you brought the medicine.” He patted his swollen leg. “I broke my leg in the leap to the stage tonight. I need you to get me the right medicine, Davey. I also chose you because you said you used to hunt in the woods of southern Maryland. You know the way to the Potomac so we can cross into Virginia. So why would I want my guide to leave me before we get to the river?”
“But I’m so scared, Mr. Booth. I need Mama.”
“Do you know why I gave that note to John Matthews, Davey? Out of all the people I know in Washington City, do you know why I chose him?”
“No, sir, Mr. Booth.”
“Because when he delivers that note to the newspaper, everyone will think he was in on our plot, and he will hang. Nobody refuses to do what I want them to do. Do you understand that, Davey?”
“Yes, sir.”
“My leg is killing me. Switch horses. That roan is gentler. Then get me to a doctor.”
“Mr. Booth, sir, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, sir, but didn’t you say we had to drop by Mrs. Surratt’s tavern first, to pick up some things?”
“Of course we have to go to the tavern first, Davey,” he replied, trying to sound impatient with Herold’s incompetency through the increasing pain. “I thought you would have known that. Also, I told you those things were two carbines, shells and my field glasses.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Get off that horse.”
Booth dismounted his bay mare with difficulty and slid onto the roan as smoothly as possible. He still grunted in agony. The bay mare reared as Herold got on him, and it took him a few minutes to get it under control.
They rode silently in the rain as Booth thought of what Herold had said about his family. He said he was his mother’s favorite. Booth was his mother’s favorite also among her ten children. Four of them died of cholera. When the attractive and winsome John came along, his mother Mary Ann protected him from the hard realities of life. Despite his mother’s adoration, Booth grew up to realize he would never be a great actor, like his father Junius or even as good as his brothers Junius Jr. and Edwin. Instead, he vowed to become the most beloved actor in the South, and he achieved his goal. All the belles giggled and fluttered their fans flirtatiously when he strode into the theater. They would appreciate him even more now, Booth smiled to himself through his pain.
Along the way, he took up the political views of the South, which did not set well with his brothers. His father, out of avowed principle, never owned slaves but still rented them from his neighbors.
Booth’s father died when the boy was fourteen, passing the family theatrical legacy to his children. The brothers often acted together, but Junius Junior and Edwin were ardent abolitionists, surpassing their father’s position. When the family gathered for dinner Booth kept his opinions to himself out of respect for his mother. Political fights always ruined conviviality around the table.
“What do you think your ma will think when she hears you shot the President?” Herold broke into Booth’s reverie.
“My mother will know I did what was necessary for my Country.” He did not care what his brothers, the misguided ideologues, thought. His sister Asia, however, was devoted to him. He knew she would defend him. His mother and sister always knew he was someone special. No matter what he did, he would be special in their eyes.

My First Date

Every so often I think of my first date when I was 14 years old. I don’ know why, but I felt some social obligation to start dating that early. Even today I can imagine someone reading this and thinking, “Fourteen? Why so late?”
It was around Christmas and my school’s National Junior Honor Society was having a party at this private club’s lodge across the Red River from my home in Gainesville, Texas. That meant we were going out of state into the woods of Oklahoma. Only God knew the exact location of this place.
To be honest, I thought it was the best way to get close to this girl who went to the same church as I did. You see, I thought we would be more likely to get home if God knew it was two good church kids under his guidance. More than that, I had an awful crush on her. She was a year ahead of me in school, had a sweet smile, was smart and never said anything bad about anyone. She was perfect. Freud would add that she looked like my mother, but I think that’s a creepy observation so I’m just going to move on from there with no further comment.
My mother couldn’t drive me to pick up the girl so she asked my uncle to do it. Big mistake. He laughed too loud and tended to spit out the car window and sometimes the spittle landed in the back seat.
He decided to walk to the girl’s front door and wait in her living room with me until my date emerged. Her father sat on the sofa watching television.
“And there’s her big ol’ fat daddy!” My uncle laughed, very much amused by his own humor.
He took us to the school where all the couples were put into the backseats of cars driven by chaperones and/or parents. We ended up in the backseat of a car driven by the banker’s wife. It was a tight fit because the banker’s son was the star of the football team. His date was also a high school freshman, like my date. The girls knew each other and chatted all the way from Texas to Oklahoma.
The private club’s lodge looked like an abandoned house in the woods. The main room was not much bigger than my living room. We sat with another couple—the girl also knew my date and the guy also played football. He wasn’t a star like the banker’s son but still did some fancy footwork on the field. He sat slouched in a chair staring at nothing and stood every so often when the girl wanted to dance.
Neither my date nor I danced because, after all, we were good church kids. I thought this would be my chance to show what a brilliant conversationalist I was.
From time to time she’d crinkle her cute little brow and ask, “Is that a joke? I never know when you’re not being serious.”
When all four of us were together I tried to make a joke about what the adults were saying in the other room.
“Why do you care?” the football player’s date pointedly asked.
After that I imitated the football player, slouched in my chair and stared straight ahead. At one point the adults told us to line up for refreshments. As a gentleman I asked my date if she would like for me to bring her something so she wouldn’t have to stand in line. She said yes.
It was only after that I noticed all the other girls were in line and there sat my date waiting to be served, with a sweet smile on her face.
The party eventually ended, proving that there was indeed a God. On the way home, however, my faith in the church and all things sacred was put to another test. The banker’s wife, once she crossed the Red River into Texas, took a turn off down a road I had never been on before. It was dark with lots of trees on each side of the road. Then I heard this murmuring which bordered on moaning. And slurping sounds. Out of the corner of my eyes I could see the other couple had merged into a squirming monolithic dark romantic mass.
I don’t think this was the banker’s son’s first date.
Somewhat emboldened by the example he was giving, I raised my right arm up and put it across the back of the seat. That was the extent of my courage, however, because I didn’t lower my arm around my date’s shoulder. After all, she was a good church girl and was perfect.
I glanced over at my date, and she still had that sweet smile on her face, pretending nothing unusual was going on. After all, she was perfect.
Within minutes my arm began to hurt, but the back seat was so tight I couldn’t return my arm to its original position. It was stuck on the back of the seat until the banker’s wife had given her son enough whoopee time with his date and returned to the main road where I saw the lights of civilization again. This detour through hell was almost over.
The banker’s wife first dropped my date off at her house. I said I hope she had a nice time, and she replied she did. At least she got to talk to two of her girlfriends part of the time.
I felt relief when the banker’s wife finally pulled into my driveway. I thanked her for the nice time and said good night to the football player and his date who giggled, “Bye.” He only grunted. Thank goodness that was over. I got ready for bed and slipped in only to find my mother there.
“Well, how did it go?” Her eyes twinkled.
I told her what my uncle had said. She replied it sounded just like something he would say. I told her we had a nice time listening to the music while the others danced. Honestly I can’t remember if I confided in her about the ride home. There are certain things you don’t share with your mother.
“And how did your date enjoy the evening?”
I put on a nice sweet smile.
“Oh, she was perfect.”
Perfect.
Perfect.
Perfect.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Ninety

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales and socialite Wallis Spencer. David becomes king then abdicates to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney becomes a mercenary. Sidney saves David in a riot. David hires him as his valet. Wallis kills Kiki, the girl with the silver syringe.
Several weeks passed before Sidney was able to make himself walk across the hills to the encampment where Jimbo lived. Guilt which had never been part of his personality made him ashamed of hurting his friend.
Did Jimbo know I was the one who kicked him? And if he did, would he hate me? Jimbo was a big foolish boy, and my father taught me to look down on foolish people.
Foolish or not, Jimbo had become a member of his family and Sidney had to fill the bellies of his family, even big, foolish bellies.
By the time Sidney walked over the hills, the sun shone down directly over his head. It was time for lunch so Sidney headed to the spot on the road where the old woman sold her soup. She was not there.
“She died,” a familiar voice behind Sidney mumbled. “Out of grief for the young men who died in the riot. Many of them ate her soup every day.”
It was Jimbo. Sidney tried not to smile too much when he turned to see his friend.
“That’s sad,” Sidney replied.
“I cried,” Jimbo confided, “and not just for the soup. She was a good old woman, and old people die sooner or later.” Tears welled in his eyes. “I cried for you.” He hugged Sidney. “You knew. You told me not to go but I ran ahead anyway. Stupid me. I’m so slow that one of the others practically ran over me, kicking me in the legs. Some old man got me home, but I didn’t see you, I thought they had killed you too.”
Relief washed over Sidney. Jimbo didn’t know the truth, and Sidney wasn’t going to tell him. Sometimes being honest can be foolish too. Sidney patted him on the back. “Let’s get out of here. It’s too dangerous for good boys like us.”
They walked back to Nassau and found good food on the docks. Sidney looked out on the water and saw Old Jinglepockets waiting for him on his fishing boat, just as he had promised he would in the morning. The boys walked to his boat.
“Jimbo, this is Jinglepockets. He taught me to fish.“ Sidney smiled at the old man. “Jinglepockets, this is my friend Jimbo. Do you think you can teach him to fish?”
Jinglepockets flashed a toothless grin. “I can teach anyone who wants to learn.”
“And I want to.” Jimbo smiled, showing he still had all his teeth.
On the boat ride to Eleuthera, Jinglepockets rambled on like an old storyteller.
“Old Joe taught me to fish, just as he taught Sidney’s father to fish. Someday, young man, you will teach a boy to fish. You’ll learn to love the sea. It’s a beautiful place. Beautiful for your soul. Don’t be afraid. Most fishermen grow old and die in their sleep.” He pointed to Sidney. “His grandfather got eaten by a shark but that’s mostly stuff of folk tales. What you really should be afraid of are men who are too quick to flash their money around. They’re much more likely to kill you than a shark.” He paused to test the wind and make adjustments in his sails. “Now what is your name?”
“Jimbo.”
The old man nodded. “Jinglepockets. Jimbo. They go together. That’s a good omen, ain’t it? Jimbo, you work hard and when I retire, you can buy my boat.”
Jimbo frowned. “Buy your boat?” He shook his head. ”I don’t think I’d ever have that much money.”
“Don’t worry.” Jinglepockets squinted as he saw Eleuthera appear on the horizon. “You’ll earn it.”
After tying up the boat, Sidney and Jimbo walked down the sandy lane. People along the way paused to wave.
“Your neighbors are awful friendly,” Jimbo observed.
“Yes, they are.” Sidney stopped at his wooden front gate to unlock it. “But they are not your friends. Don trust them.”
They entered the courtyard, and when Jimbo saw the two-story hacienda-style house his mouth fell open.
“This is where you live?”
“This is where we live.” He unlocked the front door. “I own it.”
Jimbo was speechless.
They entered the courtyard, and when Jimbo saw the two-story hacienda-style house his mouth fell open.
“This is where you live?”
“This is where we live.” He unlocked the front door. “I own it.”
Jimbo was speechless.
“I now work at the Governor’s Palace as the Duke’s valet, so I need you to take care of my house. I’ll keep up with my bank account and pay the bills and you will do repairs on the house as needed and make sure you keep the house the way it looks today. You are now a fisherman and a house manager. You’re a very successful young man, Jimbo.”
“There’s something I haven’t told you,” Jimbo mumbled as he shuffled his feet. “After the riot and I didn’t see you and thought you was dead, I cried a lot. Gertie—she’s this girl that I grew up with—said she thought if somebody didn’t take care of me I was goin’ to drop dead. So we jumped the broom.”
Sidney frowned. “Jumped the broom? That’s what our grandparents did. You got to have a preacher marry you.”
“Um, the only religion we know anything about is Obeah and the high priestess died not long ago.”
“Yes, Pooka. She was an idiot. And Obeah is foolishness.” Sidney’s voice was stern. “There’s an Anglican church for native Bahamians down the road. I’m a member of the church so you and Gertie can get married there.” He smiled. “I’ll give you away. I mean, I’ll give Gertie away. Hell, I’ll give both of you away.”
“Then you don’t mind?”
“It’s the best thing for you.” Sidney paused. “Do you love her?”
“I always thought of her as a good friend until she wiped the tears from my eyes, and then I knew what love was. And it was Gertie.”
“Good. Now I have a housekeeper.” He stared at Jimbo. “She does know how to clean house and cook, doesn’t she?”
“Look at me. You’ve never seen me in clean clothes before, have you? She won’t let me out of our tent until it’s all straight. And she was about to take over the old woman’s spot on the road selling her own soup.”
“Good. We’ll go back today to bring her to Eleuthera,” Sidney said like a boss making a business deal. “But first I want to take you upstairs.”
They walked up, and Sidney opened the first door. “This is where my parents slept. Now you and Gertie will sleep here. It will be your private domain. Never let me enter unless I knock first.”
“Yes sir.” The respect in Jimbo’s voice came naturally.
Sidney guided him down the hall to his door which he didn’t open.
“This is my bedroom. It is where I have slept since I was a baby.” He paused to let the importance of his statement sink in. “Never enter this room. Never knock at the door. Never call for me to come out. If you hear my door open in the middle of the night do not check to see who it is. If you happen to see someone leave in the morning, forget what you saw immediately.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Go downstairs and wait in the courtyard,” Sidney continued. “I have things I have to remove from my father’s closet and take to my room. Do not ask what these things are.”
“Yes, sir.”
“If I discover you or Gertie have entered my room, our friendship will end, and you will no longer be a member of my family. You will be my enemy. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Explain this to Gertie. My room is the only room she is not to clean. I will clean it myself. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. And Gertie is much better at following rules than me.”
Sidney smiled. “Good. Then we will be all members of the same family, and our bellies will always be full.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifteen

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Stanton’s henchman Lafayette Baker takes Christy’s body to an embalmer.
Holmes squinted at Lafayette Baker. “You look familiar, come to think of it. Have we met before? I remember. The senator’s son. I can’t recall who sent you. Was it the president?
“Yes, it was the president,” Baker replied in haste, moving toward the table. “That’s why I want this to be hush hush. I don’t think I could take the scandal. I don’t think his mother could take it. You must understand.”
“And your name wasn’t Christy either,” Holmes continued. “There have been so many during the war I can’t keep up with them all.”
Baker absently stared at his shoes wondering where the conversation was going.
“Of course, you can call yourself anything you wish,” Holmes continued. “It makes no difference to me.”
That was the opening Baker sought. “I’ll pay cash. For God’s sake, can’t you see how terrible this is for me?”
Holmes patted his shoulder. “Of course. Don’t worry. I understand. I’ll start work right away.” He paused. “You will have the cash here first thing in the morning, however, won’t you? Bring $59. Nine for the fluids and fifty for the evisceration.”
“But you start tonight. Right now. You will have your money. I swear.”
“Calm down.” The doctor lightly touched his elbow to guide him to the door, nodding his head at Jeffrey. “My assistant will see you out. Go home and rest. All will be taken care of.”
Before Baker could say anything else Jeffrey handed him his overcoat and forced him out into the rain. He looked around in confusion. Baker decided going to his hotel bed was out of the question because his mind was racing and he could not sleep. His world was all a tumble. Maybe it was not too late to stop Booth, he thought as his hand went to his mouth, remembering the performance must still be going. Baker jumped into his carriage and turned the team towards Ford’s Theater. His heart sank as he saw the crowds milling around outside the building.
“It’s all Jeff Davis’s doing!” an angry male voice called out.
“That’s right! Hang the damned traitors! All of them!”
What would the crowd do if it knew that Edwin Stanton and not Jeff Davis were responsible? Would they want to hang the secretary of war? And the people standing next to his carriage, if they knew Baker had contacted the assassins and gave out the orders, would these good citizens drag him from his seat and beat him to death right there on the street? He clenched his jaw to control his emotions.
Leaning over, Baker tapped a man on the shoulder. “Where have they taken the president?”
“Over there.” He pointed to a three-story apartment house across the street.
Baker tethered his team to a hand railing, then pushed his way through the crowd and up the steps. Throwing open the door he entered the foyer where Major Eckert rushed him and grabbed his arm.
“Thank God you’re here,” Eckert said as he directed Baker down the crowded hallway to the back parlor across the way from the small bedroom with the president lay. “Mr. Stanton has been asking for you all night.”
“The president,” he blurted, “is he still alive?”
“Just barely. Mr. Lincoln won’t live through the night. It’s a bloody mess. Mr. Seward was stabbed at his residence. They expect him to recover, though…”
“Were there others?” Baker’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Yes. Mr. Johnson said someone came to shoot him but ran away.” Eckert opened the parlor door. “Mr. Stanton is in here.”
Baker watched Stanton scribble notes and pass them off to soldiers waiting at his shoulder. One messenger entered as another left. Constant chattering throughout the house made Baker uneasy. He covered his ears with his hands; murmuring sounded like a drone of angry bees.
“Oh, so you finally arrived,” Stanton said. “How long have you been standing there? Never mind. We have to talk.” He stood and put on his coat. “Not here. Too many people.”
As they stepped out of the room, Eckert came up. “Mr. Secretary, they want to know what to do with all the actors.”
“What actors?”
“The ones across the street at Ford’s,” Eckert replied. “We can’t hold them there all night, can we?”
“The hell we can’t!” Stanton took the major by the shoulders and turned him around. “Go back and tell them to keep asking questions until the damned traitors give in! I want a confession by dawn!”
“But, sir—“
“I have to talk to Mr. Baker now,” he interrupted. “Leave us alone.”
Stanton took his arm and tried to guide him away. Baker stood staring into the small bedroom where he saw Lincoln lying naked diagonally on a short bed.
“We don’t have time for that now,” Stanton whispered as he pushed toward a door to a porch on the backside of the building. When they shut the door behind them, the rain dripping from the eaves muffled the voices inside. They both shivered as they avoided the spray from the storm.
“We’re in trouble,” he said, leaning into Baker. “Johnson is alive.”
“I know.”
“What kind of stupid bastards did you get? And Seward’s still alive too. They said the man who stabbed him was a stark raving lunatic. Why did you recruit bastards that stupid?”
“Only stupid bastards and stark raving lunatics would attempt to kill so many people in one night,” Baker replied. His voice was drained of energy. He had no strength left for niceties.
“Johnson was here. Right in my face, dammit. The bastard acted as if he thought I did it. What are they saying on the street? Who do they think did it?”
“Jeff Davis.”
“Good. That’s what I want the stupid bastards to think. It won’t make any difference what Johnson thinks.” Stanton paused. “Where does Johnson live?”
“The Kirkwood.”
“We told him to go back and get some sleep. He looked like he had been on a bender anyway. He’s probably passed out by now. If only he wouldn’t wake up. That would be good.” He looked at Baker. “Do you think you could get into the Kirkwood and suffocate the bastard? Make it look like he died in his sleep.”
Baker had never seen Stanton so out of control. The secretary was usually very cold and calculating, but not tonight. He was talking like a hooligan. The more Baker watched and listened to Stanton, the more he knew he was right to defy him.
“I’m sure the military has guards posted all around the hotel by now,” Baker countered. “No one could get close to him.”
“Dammit.” Stanton stroked his beard. “It doesn’t make any difference. He’s nothing more than an old drunk. He’ll discredit himself. Anything he says will be dismissed as the ravings of a drunken madman.”
“Adam Christy shot himself.”
“Who? Oh, the boy. That’s good. One less problem. The goal is to keep everything under control.”
“Lying there, in his own blood, he looked like me when I was his age.”
“What? What difference does that make? What about that janitor? I don’t care if he’s deranged. He must die too.” Stanton pounded his right fist into his palm for emphasis. “Everyone who knows anything about this must die.”
“No. No more killing.”
“Oh yes there will be. You will do what I say or I’ll produce documents saying you were in on the plot. Hell, I’ll say you planned the whole damn thing. You’ll hang!”
“Go ahead. I’m already dead. I’m deader than that boy on the floor, staring at nothing.” He looked Stanton in the eyes. “We were both wrong. It isn’t about the power and it isn’t about the money. We’re both wrong, and we’re both going to burn in hell.”
Stanton slapped Baker. The open-handed strike was fast, hard and practiced. He had struck before. “You damn fool! Of course, we’re going to hell. But not right now. Not anytime soon.” His face turned red as he began coughing and gasping for breath.
“I’ll go first and prepare a place for you.” Baker did not recognize his own voice. He had never spoken in a tone so soft yet resolute before.
Baker thought he had won the battle by taking the higher ground until he watched Stanton’s eyes narrow in concentration. When Stanton brought a finger to his pursed lips, Baker took a step back. He knew his boss had one last frontal assault.
“You never talk about your wife—what is her name? Jenny.”
“She’s a good woman.” Baker found himself blinking and trying to control his dry mouth. “She doesn’t have to know about the things I do for my government.”
“I agree. No woman should know what her husband has to do for the good of the country. Women must be protected from the dark realities of life. She lives in Philadelphia, doesn’t she?”
“No, we’re from California.” Baker’s eyes went toward the menacing thunderstorms.
“You may have been from California but your wife lives in Philadelphia now. I keep up with private information about my inferiors,” Stanton spat derisively.
“I’ll kill you right here, right now, before I’d let anything happen to Jenny,” Baker blurted with passion that surprised even himself.
“Come now, my friend,” Stanton hissed like the snake in the Garden of Eden to the gullible Eve. “You must know I always have a contingency plan, for I trust no one. Not even you, my old friend Baker. I know the exact location of your wife, and I have instructed an emissary to kill her if you harm me in anyway.”
Stanton’s cupid bow lips turned up into a slight weary smile. “You must concede that I have power of life and death over you and your family. So resign yourself to the fact you must pursue these assassins and make sure they are all arrested and killed. Then you can go to hell.”

Angels in My Eyes

Children see and feel more than we realize. Sometimes they say things that are so fantastic we decide they have to be lying. They only lie out of fear, the most threatening feeling of all. It takes years for a human being to lie for profit and self-aggrandizement. So when children make statements that appear to be lies, they are actually trying to express complex situations.
For example, when children complain their stomachs hurt, they’re trying to say they are scared, anxious, upset because someone has hurt their feelings. Even the idea that they didn’t want a parent to tell them to stop acting like a baby would be enough to bring on a nasty bellyache.
I know because I remember going through a similar experience, except I didn’t have a stomach ache.
I saw angels floating down from heaven.
I wasn’t hesitant to grab any adult available and point to the sky.
“Don’t you see them? Angels are coming down from heaven.”
Most neighbors were nice and merely said, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t see anything.”
I was not so lucky with my own family. My father scared the hell out of me. Remember I couldn’t have been more than four or five when I saw the angels, so I was very short. My father was six-foot two, two hundred fifty pounds and always looked like he was about to explode into a spate of dirty words—which he often did. I don’t think I said hello to him I was eight and then I only whispered it so he didn’t hear me.
When I told my mother, she demanded I should get those foolish ideas out of my head right now. I was taking up valuable time of people who had really important things to do.
My brother, who would eventually become an alcoholic, warned me never to say that to anyone else ever again. “People will think you’re crazy, and they’ll lock you up in the state mental hospital and keep you there until you die. I didn’t completely understand what all that meant but it sounded awful.
My older brother, who would spend much of his adult life in the aforementioned state mental hospital, pooh-poohed my observation. “Oh, you just want attention.” I didn’t think there was anything wrong with wanting attention. Everyone wanted attention at one time or another, but I decided not to continue the discussion because I didn’t want to be accused of wanting attention again.
Eventually I forgot that I could see angels floating in the sky. Surviving childhood took up all my time. I think it was after I was married and had children I discovered something quite enlightening. Humans have secretions to keep the eyeballs moist. Dry eyes are not comfortable. That’s why we have to put drops in our eyes sometimes.
When putting drops in my eyes once, I noticed rivulets going down my eyeballs. They looked just the angels coming down from heaven.
So it wasn’t foolishness, it wasn’t insanity and it was a cry for attention. I really saw something and only described it the best way I knew how as a small child.
They weren’t angels in the sky. They were angels in my eyes. I think it’s better that way.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Eighty-Nine

Previously: Mercenary Leon meets MI6 spies David, the Prince of Wales and socialite Wallis Spencer. David becomes king then abdicates to marry Wallis. He becomes Bahamas governor. Leon dies and his son Sidney becomes a mercenary. Sidney saves David in a riot. David hires him as his valet.
As Wallis descended the ramp of the ocean liner at the port of Baltimore, cameras clicked. She ran her tongue across her teeth to make sure they were free of lipstick before smiling and striking a pose. Reporters shouted questions. Before moving on, she answered a few of them.
“I’m visiting my Aunt Bessie. She has been in declining health for some time, and she contacted me to drop in on her. I will not accept any social invitations during my visit.”
Bessie beamed when she walked in the door but her eyes went blank as she asked who her visitor was.
“I’m Wallis, remember? Your favorite niece.”
“Of course you are.” Bessie shook her head as though to brush away the cobwebs. “I’ve just gotten up from a nap and my mind is all fuzzy.” She paused as her eyes lit. “We must have a party while you’re here. We’ll invite your old friends from school—“
“But I wanted to spend my time with you alone.” Wallis patted her cheek.
“That might be boring for you, my dear,” Bessie replied. “I spend my time sleeping.”
Wallis laughed. “Well, I feel like a nap myself. The trip was quite fatiguing.”
“You go right ahead.” Bessie yawned. “I feel like resting my eyes too.”
When Wallis left the room, she whispered to the live-in nurse, “I really have business in Warrenton while here but I don’t want the newspapers to know if you understand what I mean.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
Wallis slipped her a few bills. “I’m sure Aunt Bessie won’t miss me.”
The Duchess took the midnight train to New York City. She wore her drabbest traveling attire and her overnight bag was so small it looked like a purse. Not a single reporter noticed she left Baltimore or arrived in New York. From the station Wallis hailed a taxi to take her to a seedy hotel. The next morning she went to a second-hand shop where she bought an old dress which could pass as a maid’s uniform. Then she bought a gray-haired wig and stage makeup at a theatrical supply store.
After she changed her attire and made herself look a decade older, Wallis sneaked into the servants’ entrance at the elegant Stanhope Hotel. She stood close to the room service phone answering it and responding the best she could to the clients’ requests. By sunset she sighed This mission she had assigned herself might take several days. The next call was from Lillian Turner, companion to Kiki Preston.
“Miss Preston would like a glass of milk before retiring.”
“But of course.” Wallis faked a French accent. “And what suite is that?” After Lillian replied, Wallis said, “I shall bring it right up.”
Wallis retrieved a glass of milk from the kitchen and called Kiki’s suite again, this time using an Appalachian twang.
“Miz Turner, this is the front desk and there is a delivery man who insists you come down personally right now to sign for a package.”
Lillian paused. “But I have a glass of milk coming up from the kitchen for Miss Preston right now.”
“Jest leave the door unlocked,” Wallis suggested in her twang. “This delivery man is being absolutely rude.”
“I suppose it won’t hurt.” Then Lillian hung up.
Wallis dashed for the service elevator and went up to Kiki’s suite. She slipped in the door and knocked at the bedroom.
“I have your milk, ma’am.” Wallis used her French accent. She stopped after entering and seeing Kiki in her pajamas. The former playgirl had gained weight over the years, and her face was puffy. Wallis put the glass on a table and strode toward her. “You look like hell.”
Kiki frowned. “Who are you?”
“Do you still have your silver syringe?”
Kiki clinched her jaw. “You are extremely vulgar.” She looked toward the sitting room. “Lillian?”
“Your friend isn’t here. No one to bail you out this time.”
“Leave my room immediately.” Kiki marched toward Wallis with her hand lifted to strike her.
Wallis knocked it away, like swatting a fly, then smirked. “Is that the best you can do?” Her face went blank. “You know George died.”
“Yes.”
“You have anything to do with it?”
Kiki tried to brush past her. “You must be insane.”
“Yes, I think I am. You have to be a bit insane to get along in this world.” Wallis pushed Kiki down on the bed. “We met once in a theater years ago. I told you to leave George alone.”
“I haven’t seen George since he married.”
Wallis saw fear enter Kiki’s eyes. “I don’t care.” She grabbed Kiki and pushed her toward the window. “You made his life hell. You have to pay.”
Wallis pushed her out the window and watched Kiki’s body hit the concrete. Blood flowed from her head.
“Bye, bye, Kiki.”
Going to the closet, Wallis pulled out a long plush coat and put it over her uniform. She took off the wig and brushed out her hair. In a few seconds she changed her makeup. Pushing the wig in a coat pocket, Wallis walked out of the suite. She saw an old woman leave the elevator, and Wallis turned the other way.
Back at the seedy hotel, Wallis left the coat, dress and wig under the bed. Wearing her drab traveling suit, she went to the station and caught a train to Warrenton. She spent the morning wandering through the Blue Ridge foothills gathering her favorite lethal herbs in case she might need them for some unforeseen situation. She stashed them in her overnight bag. By night she was back in Baltimore visiting Aunt Bessie again. After a long warm relaxing bath, of course.
Wallis stayed a few more days, patiently listening to Aunt Bessie ramble on about happier days. Over breakfast she read in the Baltimore newspaper about the suicide of Kiki Preston, socialite daughter of American industrialist Edwin Gwyn. She was related to the Vanderbilts. Wallis raised an eyebrow. She didn’t know that. Continuing her reading, Wallis did know what was written next. Kiki was addicted to several drugs which may have led to her suicide, police reports said.
Wallis smiled. Her plan had worked.
Another story did not make her smile. The newspaper reported the Duchess of Windsor was in Baltimore allegedly to visit her ailing aunt but experts on the British Royal family speculated the Duchess used her aunt as a subterfuge to buy the latest fashions.
Hmph. Baltimore doesn’t sell the latest fashions. Damn reporters. At least they don’t have any idea of why I really came to the States.
When Wallis arrived in Nassau, David was in conference with the Bay Street Boys, so she decided to spend the afternoon sitting in the private garden behind the Governor’s Palace. She was alone only a few minutes when Wallis heard footsteps behind her. Clicking heels.
“Duchess, I hope you don’t mind my intruding upon your meditations.”
Wallis looked up to see the blonde who came to David’s office with Harry Oakes. She smiled. The woman’s head seemed to be circled by a corona. Most of the time the other part of Wallis stayed submerged. Only a few women in her life had awakened it in her.
“No, not at all. Sit next to me on the bench.”
“My name is Aline.” She took her time positioning herself, crossing her legs just so. “I am Harry Oates’ assistant, but this visit is of a personal nature.”
“Oh?” Wallis held her breath. She acknowledged her depression over watching Aunt Bessie disappear even as she still lived. She also knew she had taken on David’s depression over the loss of his brother. This melancholia allowed her repressed feelings to emerge.
“While you were gone I accidentally ran into your husband. Once at the Rialto. He was having a solitary moment over his drink. I think he was missing you. A few days later we had a drink after a meeting of the Bay Street Boys. There were other encounters, I don’t remember where. The point is they were completely innocent.” She cocked her head and smiled in a shrewd manner. “People love to gossip, you know.”
Wallis laughed. “My dear, I’ve been married three times. I know all about gossip.”
“I think we spoke so often because we discovered we are distantly related.”
“Of course, because Victoria had so many children, almost everybody in Europe is related.”
Wallis’s eyes crinkled.
“Except I’m from Montana,” Aline added.
Wallis cackled. “You are so unpredictable! I just love you!”
Now why did I say that?”
“You see, my mother was a cousin of the Romanovs. She married a member of the Ribbentrop family, and they moved to Eleuthera.”
Ribbentrops. This is getting too personal by the minute.
“I thought only fishermen lived there,” Wallis mumbled, half stammering.
“That’s what they thought too. The Bolsheviks caught up with them and killed her husband. A local boy saved her, and she went to Montana. That’s where I was born.”
“Then how did you get to the Bahamas?” Wallis lit a cigarette.
“My mother died and I had to live with my father.” Aline paused. “I might as well tell you. My father is Harry Oakes.”
“You poor child,” Wallis whispered.
“He’s a crook.” Tears filled Aline’s eyes. “I know things…” Her voice trailed off. She stared at Wallis. “I’ve only met you, but I feel I can trust you.”
Wallis turned to Aline but refrained from hugging her. “Of course you can trust me.”
“I want Nassau to be honest, and it can’t be honest with my father in charge—yes, he’s in charge.” She paused. “I can tell you things I couldn’t tell the Duke.”
“Come to me with anything. I’ll protect you.”
“Thank you.” Aline put her hand on Wallis leg and smiled. “Silk. I’m not surprised.”
Wallis tried to speak, but words wouldn’t come.
Aline smiled. “I have a lovely secluded apartment not far from here. And the neighbors are discreet.”
“How interesting.” Wallis could not think of anything else to say.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fourteen

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain. Lincoln friend Ward Lamon tries to find him.

His eyes wide and vacant, Lafayette Baker stumbled through the basement billiards room one last time, looking for any telltale signs that three people had spent the last two and a half years in the room. He walked behind large wooden crates in the corner and saw a couple of rumpled blankets. This is where the crazy man must have slept, Baker told himself. No one should see the blankets on the floor. He picked them up and walked over to the middle of the room where the butler Cleotis knelt to scrub the bloodstains.
“These need to be laundered and put away.” Baker stuck the blankets in the butler’s face.
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Cleotis took them and laid them aside. “Don’t worry, sir. By morning, all will be back the way it should be.”
“No,” Baker replied, a numbness in his voice. “Nothing will be the way it should be ever again.” He flinched as he saw Cleotis smiling. He wondered how the butler could find it within himself to smile at him, knowing what he really was deep in his dark, cankered heart.
“Now, you go do what you have to do with the soldier boy’s body, and then I recommend you get a good night’s sleep. A heap of sleep does the soul good.”
“Thank you, Cleotis.” Walking into the hall, he stopped to avoid bumping into the pregnant woman who was wiping his puke from the floor.
“Thank you for cleaning up this,” Baker mumbled. “What was your name?”
Phebe stood and began to walk away. “Don’t thank me. It’s my job.”
“And your name?”
“And why would a fine white man like you want to know my name?” Phebe asked in a tired voice.
“I—I just want to thank you,” he replied, his voice barely above a whisper. Baker realized he had never bothered to ask anyone’s name before so he could thank them personally, but this night he found thanking people important.
“I already told you,” she said as she walked into the kitchen. “You don’t have to thank me. It’s my job.”
As Baker walked outside, he put on his hat and turned up his collar as he headed for the carriage. Squinting, he thought he saw President Lincoln looking into the back of the carriage at the body. He retreated a few steps. By now, the president ought to be dead, he told himself. The man in the long coat and top hat scurried down the driveway, disappearing in the dark rain. It was not Lincoln after all, Baker realized, but the crazy man from the basement. Why did he come back? Now he knew Adam Christy was dead. The crazy man was someone else Stanton would want him to kill, and he did not want to kill anyone again in his life. Too many people had died already.
Mounting the carriage, Baker took the reins and commanded the horses to move. His mind was blank as the carriage clacked down the street. He did not know if he was going to dump the body in the Potomac, as he had done with the two imposters, or bury it out in the countryside. Baker shook his head. That would be like burying himself. With all this blood on his hands, he was not ready for Judgment Day.
Death. How do people deal with death? Baker had never given it any thought at all throughout his life. Most of the time he just walked away and let someone else deal with the body. After riding through the rain another couple of blocks, Baker’s mind wandered to all the thousands of soldiers on the battlefields. Most of them disappeared into graves dug exactly at the spot where they had died, but a few somehow found their way into wagons and then onto trains where they made the long journey home for burial.
How could the families stand to see the decaying corpses in their wooden coffins? They were not decaying, Baker reminded himself. A new process kept the bodies from rotting. They called it embalming. President Lincoln’s personal guard Elmer Ellsworth underwent the new procedure after he was shot and killed in Alexandria, Virginia, earlier in 1862. Then Lincoln’s son Willie endured the same process. Rumors had it Lincoln went to the tomb often, had the coffin opened so he could run his fingers through Willie’s hair. Even the imposter, Baker heard gossips say, had gone to the tomb to look at the boy’s body. But that report was just gossip.
If those bodies could be preserved, then Adam Christy could be kept looking life-like, at least until Baker resolved his feelings about this tragic situation. What was the name of the doctor? Baker wrinkled his brow. He had to remember him. After all, he was the father of modern embalming. An etching of his face had been in the newspaper. He was from New York and became rich in the 1850s perfecting his techniques. The doctor came to Washington after the beginning of the war. The Lincolns requested his services for Ellsworth and Willie. His reputation was made.
“Holmes,” Baker muttered. “Dr. Thomas Holmes.” He clicked the reins, hastening the horses to turn on another street at the next corner. Memories began to flood back. Baker had actually been to his office before. Stanton wanted to make sure the son of an important Republican senator was properly preserved before the body went home. In a few minutes, Baker pulled the carriage up to the portico of Dr. Holmes’ office. Kerosene lamps still flickered in the windows.
A servant answered the door when Baker knocked.
“I need to see the doctor. It’s an emergency.”
“The doctor is terribly busy right now.”
A voice called out from the back. “Who is it, Jeffrey?”
“The man says it’s an emergency.”
“Then show him in.”
Baker followed Jeffrey into the doctor’s office. His eyes fixed on a table where a thin young man lay with a thick tube inserted in his chest. More death. His nostrils flared from the unpleasantly acrid odor of the embalming fluid. Dr. Holmes, wearing a white stained operating robe, walked toward him.
“It must be an emergency to come out in a storm like this.” He wiped his hands on a towel.
“It—it’s my son,” Baker lied. He became acutely aware of rain copiously dripping from his nose. He wiped his face with his coat sleeve.
“Where is he?”
Baker turned to point toward the door. “He’s in the back of my carriage. Out there.”
“My goodness, we can’t allow that,” Holmes replied. “Jeffrey, get some help and bring the boy in.” He reached for two tea towels on a washstand and handed them to Baker. “You look terrible, sir. Please take off your overcoat and dry yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“How long has your son been dead, Mr.—I’m sorry, what is your name?”
Baker blinked. He did not want the doctor to know who he really was. “Christy,” he blurted out.
He patted his hair with the towel over his face to give himself more time. “Abraham Christy. My son, Adam shot himself in the face less than an hour ago.” Baker shook his head. “I knew right off he was dead. No need to go to a hospital. And I don’t want the authorities involved. No damn government.”
“Sir?”
“He’s—he was a soldier. A deserter.” Baker’s minds raced as his eyes wandered around the room. “He couldn’t take it anymore. He had seen too much. He killed too many other young men. He didn’t see any other way out.”
Jeffrey and another assistant carried the body in and placed it on a table next to the other corpse. They removed the cover. Baker winced again as he saw the gunshot wound to the mouth.
Holmes walked to the table to take a closer look, lightly touching Christy’s lips. “I’ve seen worse.” He looked at Baker. “We don’t want his mother to see him like this, though, do we, Mr. Christy?”
“No, sir.” Baker shuffled his feet. “His mother is in California. That’s why I got him to you as fast as I could. I figure the sooner you can start on him the less—less bad he will look when he finally gets home.”
“He’ll look just like he’s sleeping.” Holmes bent over more closely. He left the table and came to Baker. “California, you said. That’s going to require quite a bit of the fluid. It’s my own concoction, part arsenic, mercury and zinc salts. Three dollars a gallon. Then there’s the evisceration of the organs. That has to be done tonight to keep the body from decaying. I’ve had a long day. This has to be worth my time.”
“Any price. I’ll pay it. I know you’re the best. Everyone knows you did a good job on the Lincolns’ little boy.” Baker stopped abruptly when he realized he mentioned the president’s name. Considering what was happening across town at Ford’s Theater, he did not want any connection between himself and President Lincoln.

The Answer Is Yes; Next Question

I recently ran into a friend I had not seen in a year or so. This person is very kind and supportive, so I assumed this question was asked without malice:
“Are you still writing?”
I smiled and said yes. I write and post stories on my blog three times a week.
To be quite honest, I don’t receive this question kindly every time it has been asked, and it has been asked more often than I like. I don’t reply in a snippy way. I usually plaster on a smile and say as cheerfully as possible, “Oh, yes.”
The tone of this question implies, “You mean you haven’t accepted the fact that you’re a failure and will never be a professional writer?”
Of course, this is a battle I have fought within myself for years. I’ve had more rejection slips than I can count. Once I submitted the first three chapters of one novel to a top publisher and received word from one of its editors he wanted to see the rest of it. By the time I got it to him he had retired and the person who took his place didn’t like it.
I’ve had other close-but-no-prize experiences on other projects. My wife assured me not to worry until I turned fifty years old. Well, fifty years came and went and I still was not a full-fledged professional creative writer. I’m older than Johnny Cash was when he died, and he wrote hit songs right to the end. I’ve considered quitting but I couldn’t think of anything else to do with my time.
I decided to try self-publishing a novel about Abraham Lincoln being stuck in the White House basement and lost money on it. When I sold my book at street fairs, Civil War re-enactments and book festivals, people told me if the book was as half as good as I made it sound they’d buy it.
So I concentrated on storytelling. I enjoyed writing stories that could be told in five-to-six minutes. Just me talking to three or four people at a time. Hopefully one of them would throw a dollar or two into my tip basket. I wasn’t going to get rich, but I liked doing it anyway.
Then I discovered the internet. For a nominal monthly fee I could blog everything I’ve ever written. I don’t make any money but I get nice comments from time to time so it seemed worth it to me. And I still write original stories and novels, which I serialize one chapter a week. It’s come to me if I quit writing I would die.
So to the people who ask, “Are you STILL writing?” I reply:
“Am I above dirt? Then, yes, I’m still writing.”