Author Archives: jerrycowling

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Six

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Lincoln impostor Duff must deliver the Gettysburg Address.
Cordie awoke early, went downstairs to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee and a muffin with Mrs. Edmonds. After that she solicited sewing jobs from other boarders, and asked if anyone wanted a nice, sturdy, plain quilt, cheap. Several young men gave her socks, and Cordie slowly climbed the steps. She had to finish her mending by noon, so she could volunteer at Armory Square Hospital. Every morning was similar: busy, hectic, and tense. She never knew when Mrs. Surratt would appear and demand information from the Executive Mansion. Her chest was beginning to hurt, but she decided it was just a bellyache and chose to ignore it. Settling in her chair by the window, she jumped when she heard a forceful knock at the door. Only Mrs. Surratt knocked that hard.
“Miss Cordie? Are you there?”
“Yes, Mrs. Surratt,” she replied. “Come in.”
The landlady entered, her hands cupped together, a smile cemented to her face and her eyes hardened with determination.
“Isn’t it a beautiful November morning, Miss Cordie?”
“Yes, ma’am, very nice.” She kept her eyes on her darning.
“May I sit on your bed?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Surratt sat primly on the edge of the mattress, her back stiff. “Have you heard from your brother lately, dear?”
“Yes. He’s doing quite well, thank you.”
“And the young man, the private. How is he?”
“Very well, too, ma’am.” Before she knew it, she was blathering. “He has a new spring to his step. Keeping himself groomed, clothes washed.”
“It’s very rude not to look at people when they talk to you, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” Cordie looked up, her eyes beginning to well with tears.
“You mustn’t sound so contrite,” Mrs. Surratt said. “After all, we are comrades in the good fight.” She looked into Cordie’s eyes. “And there’s no need to cry. You start to cry every time I visit you.”
“I—I don’t have anything to say,” Cordie whispered. “I don’t want to be put out in the street.”
“That young man is still being uncooperative? After all these months?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She fought the urge to return her eyes to her darning.
“That’s a Yankee for you. Never thinking of others.”
“He’s very considerate. He’s nice to me. And to his lady friend, Miss Home. But then we’re nice to him. I mean, I don’t mean you’re not nice, ma’am.”
“I swear, if you call me ma’am one more time…” she said lightly, then paused to laugh. “I shouldn’t say such things. You take them so seriously. So what are we going to do about this situation?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Surratt,” Cordie replied. “He doesn’t seem like he’s going to change. Maybe he doesn’t know anything to tell.”
“Hmm.” Mrs. Surratt opened her hands, revealing several gold coins. “I think I have another way the Confederacy can help you.”
Looking over, Cordie saw the coins, and her eyes widened.
“What do I have to do for that?” she asked, thinking she could never do anything wicked enough to earn that much money.
“Oh, dear me.” Mrs. Surratt laughed. “This isn’t for you. Your reward is staying here. These coins are for our gallant men in Virginia.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Downstairs I have two dresses, and you will sew the coins into the hems,” she explained. “Tightly, so no one can hear them as the ladies move around.”
“I’m busy with my darning.”
Mrs. Surratt took the torn socks.
“What do we have here? Oh. These can wait,” she said, tossing them to the floor.
“But the boy needs them…”
“I don’t care what the boy needs.” She stood and put the coins in Cordie’s lap. “I’ll bring the dresses right up.”
“This doesn’t sound right.”
“Some terribly sweet lady friends of mine wish to wear these skirts when they take a leisurely carriage ride through the Virginia countryside tomorrow morning. What is wrong with that?”
Cordie sighed deeply, causing Mrs. Surratt to put her hands on her hips.
“Now what?”
“It’s just that…” Cordie searched for the right words. “I feel guilty.”
“You feel guilty?” Mrs. Surratt took a deep breath. “It’s the damnyankees who should feel guilty!”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” Cordie said softly, looking down. “I’m a Yankee.”
“Haven’t I told you how they’ve burned whole towns?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Taken livestock, food, left our people to starve?”
“Yes, you’ve told me.”
“Do you think I’m lying?” Mrs. Surratt’s eyes narrowed. “Am I not a woman of honor? Am I not letting you stay in my boardinghouse?”
“You said I can stay in your boardinghouse only if I sew the coins in the dresses.”
“I didn’t put it that crudely,” Mrs. Surratt said with a sniff, “but it’s a reason for you not to feel guilty then, isn’t it?”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Three

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, in the middle of a crime wave in Soho. Chief Inspector Tent grills her but the Man in Red intervenes.
Malcolm Tent finally untangled himself from the cape. Taking a moment he looked under the fabric to find a stuffed turtle, which had created the illusion of a hump. How infantile. Tent stood and stomped around the chaise lounge, obviously furious that his dignity had been defiled. Cecelia was not intimidated.

“And now, Chief Inspector Malcontent—“

“That’s Malcolm Tent,” he corrected her with irritation. It was one thing to be pushed down on his rump and be covered by a cape with a fake hump, but quite another to have his name repeatedly mispronounced.

“I must request you leave my home immediately.”

“I will not! I’m expecting to receive—“ The inspector stopped. He stammered about a bit, leaving an unbiased observer to assume he was about to let the cat out of the bag about something either highly unethical or socially irredeemable or both. “I’m expecting to receive all the respect and hospitality due my office.”

“And why should I do that?” Cecelia held both of her chins as high as possible.

“Because if you throw me out I’ll tell everyone you’re nothing but an old gossip!”

“Very well. You may remain.” She wagged a bejeweled finger in his face. “But don’t expect me to be very nice.”

Millicent entered from the ballroom with a tray of canapés. Cecelia immediately put her finger away and turned to smile innocently at her daughter.

“All the guests have arrived,” Millicent announced, looking down at the tray with a disdain that should be reserved for pigs in a blanket. “The canapés are rotten, as usual.”

Cecelia’s mixture of dismay, disappointment and frustration launched her into another soliloquy.

What can I say? I make some really lousy canapés.
The word around town, you can’t keep them down.
The recipe has anchovies and nice sharp cheddar
And chicken liver, just a sliver so thin. I make it to please.
No matter what I do, my guests still claim they taste like poo.
I must find ways to make much better trays of canapés.

Tent tried to escape back into the ballroom. “I swear you make me pull out my hair. I don’t care! I just care about the lair of the Man in the Red Underwear!”

Cecelia placed herself in front of the doorknob.

I still remember it made my day when Lily Langtry stopped by to say,
“Cecelia dear don’t be so sad. These canapés can’t be all bad.”
And she ate two right away but turned an awful shade of gray.
And then in a poof my friend went woof which through the roof.
She said just give the rest to me and off she flew in a hustle
To force feed them to that man trap slut, her enemy Lillian Russell.
Canapés, canapés, they won’t eat any of my canapés.
Come on and be a good sport. Eat one of my canapés.

“No, thank you.”

“No, I insist.” She took one of the canapés from the tray and crammed it into the inspector’s mouth before he could make another protest.

While Tent made a valiant effort to masticate the inedible glob, Millicent handed the tray to Cecelia.

“Here, Mother. No one in the ballroom wants one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Most of them were at Lily Langtry’s last week and –“

“Never mind.” Her ladyship sighed.

Bedelia Smart-Astin, the daughter of same Hardesty Astin, whom Cecelia had disdained only moments earlier, entered from the ballroom and took a jaunty stance, displaying her nifty riding outfit, the pants a flattering shade of mauve. “Millicent!” She waved her crop proudly over her tightly woven chestnut colored hair.

Millicent rushed to her and hugged her. “Bedelia, darling!”

Cecelia was clearly displeased to have a relative of one of her gossip victims invading her social event of the season. She marched over and stuck the tray of liver drops under Bedelia’s nose. “Canapé, my dear?”

“How sweet of you, Lady Snob-Johnson, but I’m watching my figure.”

“Too bad.” Cecelia receded to the chaise lounge where she considered for the briefest of moments eating one of her concoctions herself.

Millicent took Bedelia by the elbow to guide her to the chief inspector. “Bedelia, let me introduce you to—“

“Of course! Malcolm Tent! We’re old friends!” She thrust her hand toward him.

“We are?”

“Don’t you remember me?” she said and then, by the sheerest of coincidences, broke into rhymed iambic-pentameter also. There must have been something in the air.

Mom didn’t marry Dad and that’s okay with me.
She had the cause, whatever it was, but she still loved me.
She told me always to wear pants and never heed those who say can’t.
I’m better than boys so I treat them just like they’re toys.

“I don’t care, ma’am,” Tent muttered. “Give a damn, ma’am! Ticker’s dam, ma’am!”

His protestations did not deter her at all.
Now Daddy dear married last year a girl named Dumb.
I think Marie is not too bright but sweet as a plum.
My Mom decided from the start to keep the family name of Smart.
So Marie decided that she would do the same thing too.

Tent could see this coming a mile away. “So she’s called—“

Marie Dumb-Astin.
Marie’s hyphenated name won such acclaim that I
have done the same to show the world my family pride.
Which I know will be long lastin’ and I became Bedelia Smart-Astin!

Cecelia swept over to her daughter to whisper in her ear. “Why did you invite her to my party?”

“I invited Bedelia because Lord Andrew Taylor wanted to see her,” Millicent replied.

“Andy’s back in town?” Pleasure erupted across Cecelia’s face. Now she had a genuine social elite attending her party. “I approve of the Taylors. Andy was such a charming, athletic, handsome young man when his family moved to their estate in Wales.

“I must warn you,” Millicent cautioned her mother. “Andy has changed quite drastically.”

The Beach

“I can’t believe I spent fifteen years on the subway looking at a picture of that damn palm tree thinking it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in the world.”
“George, did you bring the sunblock? You know I get splotchy if I don’t have my sunblock.”
“Freezing my ass on that subway going home every night, staring at that damn palm tree. Spring Hill, Florida, the poster said. Go retire to Spring Hill, Florida, and be happy, the poster said.”
“If you didn’t bring the sun block I’m going back to the car. I’m not going to get all splotchy just because you forgot the sunblock.”
“Fifteen years of thinking if I survive another New York winter and save my money, I can go live under that damn palm tree.”
“Oh. Never mind. It was at the bottom of my bag.”
“They didn’t tell me the houses were halfway across the county from the damn palm tree.”
“Do you want a Coke? I got diet and regular in the thingy here.”
“You drive an hour and when you get here, and it ain’t all that big, either.”
“Your belly’s getting too big. I’m giving you a diet.”
“Look at that beach. It’s nothing. Atlantic City has a bigger beach than that.”
“If we were in Atlantic City right now you’d be freezing your ass off. Now drink your Coke, for crying out loud.”
“Somebody ought to sue those bastards for false advertising. Making Spring Hill look like some damn South Beach or something.”
“We couldn’t afford an outhouse in South Beach. Drink your Coke.”
“I have to walk out a mile before I get my ass wet, the beach is so shallow.”
“If you want your ass wet, I’ll pour the Coke down your pants.”
“I mean, fifteen years of saving our money to move to Spring Hill, and the damn palm tree isn’t even pretty.”
“George, where the hell else do you want to go?”
“Aww, Louise, don’t start in on me.”
“You want to go back to New York, George? It’s snowing in New York, George. Do you want to spend another winter shoveling snow? You want to shovel snow until you drop dead of a heart attack?”
“Give me the damn Coke, Louise.”
“You want to live in South Beach, George? Why? You want to stare at all the young girls in bikinis? They wouldn’t give you a second look. You know why? Because you’re an old man, George.”
“Now you’re just getting nasty, Louise.”
“I know I’m just a wrinkled up old broad from New York, George, but you know what? I think you’re the best looking thing on this beach.”
“I know I’m the best looking thing on this beach. I’m the only thing on this beach except for that damn palm tree.”
“Look, George. The sun is setting. Not a cloud in the sky.”
“Well, maybe not the best looking thing on the beach. For a wrinkled up old broad from New York, you’re okay, Louise.”
“Drink your Coke, George.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-One

Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Ribbentrop aligns himself with both Hitler and the “organization.”
David knocked at the door of George’s suite at the Majestic hotel in Paris in the fall of 1933 when the heat had subsided and the trees had taken on shades of auburn and beige.
“Open up, George, it’s me.”
A light-hearted voice called out, “George Gershwin is down the hall!”
“This is not funny. Let me in,” David demanded.
George opened the door wearing a tuxedo and a goofy grin. “Make it fast. I have to be at the Ballet Russe in an hour.”
“No, you’re not.” David pushed him back into the suite and closed the door. Placing his palms on each side of George’s face, he peered into his brother’s eyes. They were clear, but not entirely intelligent by nature. “Thank God you’re not on the drugs again.”
“I take offense at that.” George pulled away, stepped to the closet and reached for his overcoat and top hat. “Now if you please I have a friend who has the starring role in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird.”
“He’s not your friend.” David grabbed George’s shoulder before he could take the coat from a hanger. “Buckingham Palace received a letter from him last week asking for a princely sum not to reveal he’s bedded you several times in the last few weeks. He says he has engraved cigarette cases and lighters to prove it.”
“I don’t believe it.” He looked at his brother and blinked. “Boris isn’t like that.”
“Yes, he is.” David paused. “How would I know about the gifts you gave him, if not from him. Who introduced you?”
George looked away. “Kiki.”
“I rest my case. Don’t dismay. I have a charming evening planned for you. Get your hat and coat. We’re going to the small but respectable apartment of the deposed king of Greece and his family,” David informed him.
“Good God, what have I done to deserve that?” He raised his eyebrow. “I withdraw the question.”
Growing impatient, David went to the closet and took the hat and coat out himself and handed them to George. “They have a lovely daughter, Marina—“
“That mousey thing?” his brother interrupted.
“She is not mousey,” David corrected him as he opened the door and pushed George through. “She just doesn’t have the proper funds to buy the right clothes and have her hair fixed.” They went to the elevator and pushed the down button. “Oh. And be nice about the food. I understand the queen cooks it herself.”
After the elevator door closed, George groused, “Boris still has the cigarette cases and lighters. What are you going to do about that?”
“Don’t worry about it.” David smiled. “They’ll be back in your possession by morning. And that dancer will never bother you again.”

Wallis sat in the front row of the Ballet Russe yawning with boredom as she waited for the curtain to rise on The Firebird. She had never liked that ballet much. She preferred movies. And she didn’t care for the way she was dressed. Wallis wore a platinum blond wig, bobbed. Her eye shadow was blue and her lipstick black. Her hands, decorated with a bluish black fingernail polish, held a red patent leather clutch. The filmy magenta dress barely covered her skinny little bottom. She fit in with the style of les annees folles or the crazy years. It was all right for Josephine Baker but not for her. She preferred a more lady-like fashion. Of course, she was not a lady, but she was trying to be. The seat next to her was empty. She was waiting for Kiki Preston to arrive. Minutes before curtain, Kiki, also dressed in a dramatically short dress, plopped into the seat.
“Kiki, darling! I’m so please to see you!” Wallis lowered her voice and tried to hide her Maryland twang.
Kiki frowned. “Do I know you?”
“Of course, you do!” She grabbed Kiki’s little hand in a tight grip which made the girl wince. “I’ve always wondered. Do you pronounce it Keekee or Kickee?” Wallis kicked her calf, which caused the surprised woman to wince again.
“Why did you do that?” Kiki asked as she tried to pull her hand away.
Wallis dug her nails into Kiki’s palm. Leaning in, she whispered, “Take my advice. Leave right now, and never see George or the Russian dancer again.”
“But Boris and I have a date tonight.”
Wallis tightened her grip. “No, you don‘t.”
Kiki bit her bottom lip to keep from crying.
“If you stay in that chair, you will die in that chair. The custodians will find your lovely body intact except for a nasty needle mark behind your right ear.” Wallis slapped Kiki’s ear with Kiki’s own hand. “Do you understand me?”
Without another word, Kiki stood. Wallis grabbed her wrist.
“Oh, and by the way, tell Princess Stephanie to mind her own damned business.”
Kiki raced from the auditorium as the lights lowered and the orchestra began the overture. The curtain raised, and soon the corps de ballet entered. Boris made an impressive entrance as he bounded, as though free of gravity, across the stage.
“My God,” Wallis muttered, “why do all those dancers have to be so damn skinny?”
After the performance, Wallis made her way backstage and found Boris’ dressing room. Without knocking, she opened the door to find him naked, his skinny body glistening in sweat.
“Oh. I hoped to find you this way,” she announced as she stepped in and closed the door behind her. “Kiki sends her regrets. She had a crushing engagement and couldn’t make it.” Before Boris could say anything she embraced him and planted a kiss on his shocked lips. She pulled away and smiled. “No dinner. Let’s go straight to your apartment.”
Boris fumbled as he put on his street clothes, he asked, “Excuse me, who are you?”
“The best night you’ve ever had.”
He quickly finished, putting on his overcoat, throwing a scarf around his neck and putting a smart fedora on his head. Wallis snatched it away and put it on her own bewigged head.
“I’ll wear that.”
After they arrived at his small apartment near the Moulin Rouge, Wallis pushed him on the bed. “Make yourself comfortable.” She looked around. “Where do you keep your booze?”
His mouth agape, Boris pointed to the dresser. Wallis poured a splash of bourbon in two small glasses, adding a white powder to the one intended for her dancer friend. After he drank it, he passed out. When he awoke an hour later, Wallis had stripped him naked and tied his hands and feet to the bedframe. She straddled him.
“My, this brings back memories of Uncle Sollie.”
“Who?” Boris twisted his wrists in the bindings. “What are you doing?” he yelled.
“Shut up and listen. While you’ve been napping, I’ve been a busy girl. First I got you trussed up like a turkey, then I went through all your drawers and found these little trinkets.” She held up the cases and lighters. “With love from George.” She paused. “Are there any more?”
When he didn’t reply, she slapped his face.
Boris’ eyes widened. “No! No, that’s all.”
“Are you sure, Boris? I don’t like liars.” She slapped him again.
“Please believe me.” He began to cry. “That’s all.”
“I don’t like babies either.” She opened her red patent leather clutch and pulled out a long hat pin. Wallis leaned over and grabbed between his legs, inserting the hat pin.
He wailed in a high pitched yelp.
“You sound like a little girl.”
“I am a little girl,” he whimpered.
“At least you’re honest.” She withdrew the pin. “Stay away from George, or else you’ll get more than the pin next time. Do you understand?’
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Tell your agent you want to go on a world tour. For a long time. Skip London.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

Susie’s Story

I always looked forward to hurricanes that were headed our way.
Usually my best girlfriend Louise would come over to spend the night. Her parents thought our house was better built than theirs, and they wanted their little girl to be in the safest place possible. On the other hand, they always stayed at their house because if a hurricane did hit they wanted to be there to protect their personal property.
We spent the whole night in front of the television set watching the weather updates. I sat on Daddy’s lap as the weatherman told us that the storm had made landfall south of Miami and was turning northwest, right toward our town.
A few times I got scared, but Daddy just put his arms around me and told me everything was going to be all right. “And if it does hit our house, all that means is that we’ll have to move to another house, and we’ve done that many times. You’re used to that. And if we do get killed in the hurricane, well, we won’t have to be worried about them anymore, will we?”
By the time the hurricane reached out town it was a tropical storm, and just rained a lot, which made Louise and me very sleepy and we went on to bed. When we thought Daddy and Mommy were good and asleep we’d sneak out of my bedroom and get the ice cream out of the freezer, grab two spoons and go back to bed, eating ice cream. In the morning Louise’s mom picked her up. We could tell she had been crying all night, worrying that she would never see her little girl again. She was certain they would lose everything they owned and they’d never have anything ever again for the rest of their lives.
For a moment, I thought I should tell Louise’s mom what Daddy told me, but decided she didn’t really want any advice from an eleven-year-old girl. I never told my parents how I felt about hurricanes, but I suspected they knew, the same way they knew we had raided the freezer and ate ice cream.
One day when I was planning the next adventure for Louise and me, Daddy said in a casual way, “You know, I had a best friend when I was your age. He was about two years older than me, just like Louise is two years older than you. So he became a teen-ager before I did and things changed. It’s not like we weren’t friends any more, but we were becoming different people.”
Sure enough, in a couple of years Louise became a teen-ager and our friendship was never the same as it was when she would come over and watch the hurricane news on television.
We’re both grown-up now, and I miss the late night weather watches. Not so much about Louise but—I miss sitting on Daddy’s lap, having his arms around me, hearing him whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Mrs. Surratt confronts Gabby’s sister Cordie at the boardinghouse about spying for the South. Adam and girlfriend Jessie enjoy the parade celebrating the Gettysburg victory.
Duff’s mouth went dry when Stanton informed him he had to deliver an address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Four months after the battle, the war dead were being memorialized. Duff Read, private citizen, had never spoken in public; as Abraham Lincoln, he must speak as a seasoned orator.
“Do I have to do this?”
“Yes,” Stanton replied. “Don’t blame me. I don’t want you talking in front of reporters.”
“Then why do I have to go?”
“Because David Wells of the Gettysburg Cemetery Association asked. Ward Lamon suggested it and managed to have himself named procession grand marshal.”
“What will I say?”
“Lincoln will write the speech.”
The day arrived, and Duff was on the train to Gettysburg along with Hay, Nicolay, Lamon, and Cabinet members Seward, Blair, and Usher. The new treasurer, Francis E. Spinner, refused to attend, saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Stanton also declined to go. Reading the speech as he sat in the rail car, Duff noticed it was short. He smiled in relief. When the train arrived at Gettysburg station, Seward spoke to the crowd. The next morning Lamon lead the procession to the new cemetery, exuberantly waving to the people on the roadside. Duff shifted uneasily in his chair, as he listened to Edward Everett’s two-hour oration. When time came for Duff to speak, he stood on wobbly legs and tried to find his voice as he stared out on the assembly. A photographer set up his camera.
The words were good, sturdy, Anglo-Saxon words with depth and meaning, yet when he tried to give them voice, Duff choked. Taking a sip of water, he began Lincoln’s speech, though softly and without much projection. When he finished, half the crowd did not know he had begun. A photographer’s flash caught him just as he returned to his seat.
Afterwards, most of the reporters seemed interested in getting a copy of Edward Everett’s speech; however, a few did request Lincoln’s address, which Duff obliged by handing out copies Stanton had provided. Stanton insisted he tell them the original had been composed on the back of an envelope. If this were true, Duff did not know; but Stanton swore the shred of information was the stuff that history was of.
On the train back the next morning, Duff sat alone watching Seward, Blair, and Usher dictating letters to their secretaries. His secretaries were laughing at Lamon, who was singing and dancing.
“All the grand ladies who live in big cities…”
Hay laughed out loud at the rhyming end of the next line, while Nicolay smiled and shook his head.
“Mr. Lincoln did well on his speech, didn’t he, John?” Lamon asked, huffing after his dance.
Ja,” Nicolay said. “The president did quite well.”
With that reply, Lamon laughed and danced a few more irregular steps before concentrating on Hay.
“Johnny, how would you compare today’s speech to those Mr. Lincoln made on the campaign stump back in Illinois?”
“I haven’t noticed.” Hay looked up, wide-eyed.
Again Lamon laughed and jigged his way to sit next to Duff. Lamon slapped him on the knee.
“Well, Mr. Lincoln,” Lamon exclaimed, “you did yourself proud, sir.”
“I don’t know,” Duff replied in a mumble. “No one seemed much impressed.”
“They will.” Lamon leaned into him to whisper, “Modesty is a good touch. My friend would have been reticent, too.”
Duff’s eyes roamed out the train window to see crowds gathered by the tracks.
“You should let the people see you,” Lamon said so all the others in the car could hear. “Wave to them. They love you.”
Standing, Duff leaned out the window to gesture with his right hand, while resting his left hand on the sill. Soon he was aware Lamon’s hand was on top his.
“Say nothing,” Lamon advised under his breath, “and continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it.”
Duff quaked inside: one of his terrible secrets was that he was innately a coward.
“Is this plan really the idea of Mr. Stanton?”
He could not make his hand move. Lamon lifted his weight from it, making it easy for Duff to make a fist if he wanted to.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
His fingers quickly went to a fist. If Duff were going to lie, he had to do it without hesitation.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
Duff’s hand went flat, and he hated himself for lying the second time.
“Are you afraid?”
His hand stayed flat, but it shook. Lamon patted it.
“Wave to the people, Mr. President.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Two

Previously in the novella: The Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with absolutely no purpose except to make the ready break out in giggles. There are hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores, but not enough to get in the way of a good time. Lady Cecelia Snob-Johnson throws her annual society ball.
The inspector shook his head in amazement that he had been drawn into the world of iambic pentameter. He hated poetry. It was his worst subject in school. Before he knew it Cecelia stood between him and his escape.

I love gossip! Steamy gossip! Dirty gossip!
Gimme gossip! Live for gossip! I truly crave gossip!
Old Hardesty Astin was such a bastion of the law,
Was chief inspector of Scotland Yard, retired without a flaw.
He’s dumb as a stump and lives in a dump. They say he’s a chump.
Fatima his mom knew all the right johns so he got raised to the top
Fat Astin and her baby boy, first family of all the cops!

Hardesty Astin was a touchy subject with Malcolm Tent. He turned away, looking for another door out of the library. Cecelia, however, diligently tailed him.

“Gimme gossip!” She grabbed his lapels and wouldn’t let go.

“I don’t care, ma’am!” Tent tried to shove her away, but she was a strong old broad.

“Steamy gossip!”

The inspector pivoted, making an end run for the door to the ballroom. “Don’t give a damn, ma’am!”

“I love gossip!” Cecelia grabbed him around the waist and refused to let go.

“Very well! I’ll tell you everything if you promised never to put your arms around me again!”

“As you wish.” She released him and went to the chaise lounge and sat. “So, what are the shopkeepers saying?”

“The shopkeepers are saying….” Tent’s voice trailed off as he organized his thoughts. “They’re saying…good citizens—that’s right, good citizens doing their civic duty– are thwarting this man in red underwear before he actually takes any money.”

“Perhaps I could help.” Cecelia stood, taking a step toward the inspector.

“You could?” Tent took a step back.

“Of course, as I just revealed to you, I know all the best gossip.”

“Lady Snob-Johnson, if you know the identity of this villain, it is your duty to reveal it.” Tent sounded extremely menacing, even though he did keep his distance.

“I made it sound like I know but I don’t,” she demurred.

“I think you are lying.” Tent walked to the fireplace and touched the photograph frame. “I suspect your most valued possession is this picture of Lily Langtry. You wouldn’t want to lose it, would you?”

“You wouldn’t take my picture of Lily, would you?”

“Oh no, not I. But my assistant would.” Tent dramatically pulled out a police whistle and blew it.

The door to the ballroom opened and a bent-over man in a long, flowing black hooded robe entered and dashed to the inspector’s side. “Yes, master?”

“Oh, you must be kidding,” Cecelia exclaimed in disbelief. “How did he get past the doorman? My guest list was a bit dodgy, but this is ridiculous.”

“You’re right.” Tent eyed the man with suspicion. “You’re not my usual henchman. Thug-R-Us usually send Igor. You’re not Igor. Why didn’t they send Igor?”

“He has a special out-of-town assignment, master. A Dr. Frankenstein asked for him.”

“That quack?” The inspector curled his lips in disdain. “Why didn’t he dig someone else up?”

“I think he’s planning to, master.”

“Please don’t take my picture of Lily!” Cecelia reached out in supplication to the creepy guy. She could usually get creepy guys to do anything she wanted.

“Your only chance to save your treasured picture of Lily Langtry is to tell me who the man in the red underwear is!” Tent demanded.

“Master?”

“Yes, what is it?” he asked impatiently.
“I can tell you who the man in the red underwear is.”

“Oh you can, can you?” Tent had that icky tone of contempt to his voice.

The man stood at his full height, flung the cape over Tent and pushed him over the chaise lounge. It was the Man in the Red Underwear, all arrayed in red attire, a blousy shirt opened to his bellybutton, outrageously tight pants and a mask covering precious little of his chiseled good looks. He took the picture of Lily Langtry from the mantle.

“Oh please, I know you’re a thief—an incredibly gorgeous thief—but don’t take my picture of Lily!” Cecelia implored.

“Don’t fear, dear lady. I take this treasured item only to save it from the hands of Malcolm Tent. When all danger has passed, I will return it to you. On my honor as a gentleman.”

“And you are a gentleman,” she responded coyly. “I can tell by the cut of your tights.”

“Until later.” He took her hand and kissed it.

“How gallant!”

“I know!” The Man in the Red Underwear swept across the library, raised a window and disappeared into the night.

German POW, Tokyo Olympics and Lake Texoma

I love to tell stories and I never let the truth get in the way of a good one. But if you want the truth, just ask a veteran for a story. My friend Ken Leach of Gainesville, Texas, has a doozy about a German prisoner of war (POW), the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Lake Texoma.
Ken was in the Navy in 1964 and happened to be stationed in Japan at the time of the Olympic Games. He was enjoying his view from the stands when someone tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around he saw a middle-aged man grinning at him.
“So you are from America?” the man asked in a German accent.
When Ken replied that he was, the German then asked where. After Ken told him Texas, he beamed even bigger and said, “I was a prisoner of war in Texas!”
Ken offered his new acquaintance the location of his home, Gainesville, the gentleman exclaimed, “That’s where my camp was!”
Many small towns around the United States had military installations during World War II. The town where I’m living now, Brooksville, FL, had an Army air field where B-17 bomber pilots were trained. Gainesville’s Camp Howze had training facilities and a POW camp. When I was a child my mother would drive me out to the site of Camp Howze. By then there was nothing left except concrete block foundations and an occasional set of steps leading to nowhere.
My father operated an ice cream truck at Camp Howze. As a boy on the farm my dad caught a splinter in the eye because he was too close to his brother who was chopping wood. Dad didn’t pass the physical for the Army because he was blind in one eye. Not being able to serve his country in time of war bothered Dad the rest of his life, so he always bought a red plastic poppy on Memorial Day. Now you may think that wasn’t much but my father was tight with his money. One year he asked me what was the least amount of money he could give me to make me happy for Christmas. So for Dad to go out of his way and voluntarily donate to veterans was a big deal.
Every camp had work details to keep the prisoners busy during their stay here in the United States. At Camp Howze, the POWs were trucked every morning to the construction site of Lake Texoma on the Red River. Truth be told it didn’t look as pretty as it did in the John Wayne movie of the 1940s, so I think a California river played the title role. The POWs cut underbrush and hauled out debris so that after the dam was completed and the lake filled up, anyone who fell off their water skis would not be poked by an errant tree branch. When Lake Texoma was officially open, it was the fifth largest man-made reservoir in the country for about two and a half minutes. Another reservoir was built somewhere out west and passed it by.
The camp had a regular routine for their guests from Germany. First thing in the morning they were fed a large warm breakfast. Around noon, they were given a sack lunch and after the closing whistle in the afternoon, they were trucked back to camp where a large hot meal awaited them. This was a better schedule than they followed when they were taking orders from that crazy SOB Hitler.
One afternoon, however, Ken’s affable acquaintance from the Tokyo Olympics did not hear the whistle which told them to run for the truck. After chopping away at the brush a little while longer, he began to wonder when they were going to blow that whistle. When he walked to the usual loading area, he realized no one was there. He was stuck there on the banks of the Red River without a way to get back to camp and his dinner. His only alternative was to hike down to the country road which would lead back to Camp Howze. Who knew when he would be fed because the camp was more than thirty miles away. His heart raced when he heard a truck engine behind him as he trudged down the narrow highway.
Looking behind him, the POW saw an old pickup truck coming towards him driven by an old Texas farmer. Two things made the upcoming encounter a bit chancy—the German wore the striped uniform which easily identified him as a POW and this was a farmer in his pickup and he probably had a shotgun on a rack on the back of the cab. One more thing—the POW spoke very little English and you know darned well that a Texas farmer in the 1940s didn’t speak German.
Luckily, he was able to communicate to the farmer his situation and the Texan said—I’m paraphrasing here—“Why shore, hop on in, boy. I’m goin’ that way.”
The German completed his story to my friend Ken in the Tokyo Olympic stadium and grinned. “I like Gainesville, Texas.”
Like any good story, this has a moral to it, in addition to a lot more truth than I’m used to telling. We all know the United States joined together in military strength to defeat our foes in World War II. But when it came to how we treated the German prisoners of war, we joined together in heart and soul to make them friends.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty

Previously in the novel: Mercenary Leon fails in a kidnapping because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachin Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David asks Ernest’s permission to have an affair with Wallis.
Joachim Von Ribbentrop was full of himself in spring of 1933. His own dining room had been the scene of a historical event in January. He was responsible for bringing German State Secretary Otto Meissner and German Chancellor Hindenburg’s son to his home in the exclusive Dahlen district of Berlin to dine with Adolph Hitler and Hermann Goering. Somewhere between the entrée and dessert they persuaded the government officials it would be best for the country if Hindenburg stepped aside to allow Hitler to become chancellor. To reward Ribbentrop, Hitler appointed him chief advisor of foreign affairs. His primary job was to sway wealthy, influential Englishmen to exert their influence in Parliament to craft a sense of rapprochement with the new Nazi government.
To fulfill his obligation of persuasion of the English upper crust toward the rising Nazi régime, Ribbentrop returned to his posh suite at the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly across from Green Park and down the street from Buckingham Palace. On one particular evening, he sipped on his wine and surveyed his elegant parlor filled with impressive guests—Lord and Lady Londonderry, Duke of Westminster, Lady Oxford, Lady Emerald Cunard, all drawn in by his secret weapon, Princess Stephanie of Austria. She had been unsuccessful in reeling in the Prince of Wales but more effective in convincing major members of the nobility to support Hitler. As usual, a group of sophisticated young gentlemen surrounded her at the party.
A tap on the shoulder brought Ribbentrop out of his thoughts. When he turned he saw a respectable looking man in his forties properly dressed for the occasion with flawless posture and manner. He had sandy hair, undistinguished facial features yet not unpleasant. This was a person he could meet on the street the next day and not recognize. He must be from the organization.
“I am so pleased you invited me to your party.” The voice was in the baritone range, not too high to contrast with his appearance, nor too deep which might impress too many people as commanding. Perfectly pleasant but not memorable.
“No, it is I who is pleased you could attend.” Ribbentrop bowed and clicked his heels.
“Might I have a word with you in private?”
“Of course.” He looked around the crowded parlor. “Perhaps in my bedroom upstairs.”
The man smiled but shook his head. “No, it would be obvious to your guests we were missing. I have always found the best place to discuss secrets is in the middle of chaos.”
“I beg your pardon?”
He took Ribbentrop’s elbow to guide him across the room. In a voice loud enough to be heard by the closest guests but still not enough to draw attention, he said, “You know my family is quite well known as international restaurateurs. I’ve always been fascinated by a well-run kitchen. May I inspect yours?”
They were half-way through the dining room door when Ribbentrop replied, “Oh yes. Of course.”
Anna Ribbentrop stopped in the middle of fussing about the table to stare at them.
“My dear,” her husband said with a grin, “you know our beloved friend. You remember him. His family owns half of the best restaurants in the world.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course. How are you? I don’t mean to be rude but I must finished with the details of dinner. Our guests must be absolutely famished.”
“Of course, madame. I simply wanted to see your kitchen. It must be state of the art.” He pushed Ribbentrop to the kitchen door. When they entered, the noise of the cooks and assistants was deafening. They edged their way through. “I’m particularly fascinated by a well-stocked pantry.”
Ribbentrop glanced around the kitchen like it was his first time there, which it was. He stopped a short, plump balding man carrying a stack of dishes. “Where’s the pantry?”
“I’m just part-time help, guv’ner. How the hell am I supposed to know?”
Flustered, Ribbentrop momentarily slipped into a German accent. “Unt how can you call yourself a proper servant unt not know vhere ze pantry is?”
The old man set the dishes down on the sink counter and waved his hand behind him. “Down that hall.” He rushed away.
With a shrug of his shoulders Ribbentrop resumed his proper British accent he had spent years perfecting. A few steps away was the open door to the pantry. “Here it is, my dear friend.”
Inside they stood in the furthest corner. The man smiled.
“I want to congratulate on your rise in the German government.”
He bowed and clicked his heels again. “Thank you.”
“Our mutual friends think this arrangement can work to everyone’s advantage. To have the ear of the most powerful dictator in the world is a desirable asset, don’t you think?” He did not wait for Ribbentrop’s reply. “My friends think we can share information, carry out certain missions the Third Reich would not necessarily want emblazoned with its imprimatur, if you know what I mean.”
“I think I do.”
“And, of course, the Third Reich has the financial resources to make anything happen. We can make sure they do happen.”
“Gangway, gents,” a charwoman barged between them. “I’ve got to find me mop. Her ladyship just spilt some wine and don’t want her guests to see it.”
“Well, you know Herr Hitler and I share the friendship of Princess Stephanie, and she is very persuasive.”
The charwoman bumped Ribbentrop with her bucket as she left, which made him remember why he hated the common rabble of London so much.
“And she is not receiving funds as regularly from the Austrians as she once was,” the man added.
“Who?” Ribbentrop had lost his train of thought because of the rude interruption of the charwoman.
“Princess Stephanie.”
“Oh, yes. Proceed.”
The short balding man stepped inside the door. “Sorry. Need a fag.” He pulled out a cigarette and began to light it.
“Well, take your fag somewhere else!” Ribbentrop hissed.
“I hate hoity-toity types,” the old man muttered as he walked down the hall.
“We can also get the services of Kiki Preston if we need her,” Ribbentrop offered.
The sandy-haired man shook his head. “Too unreliable. We could probably have Stephanie use her indirectly to incite a scandal of some sort, but Kiki can never know anything about our mutual friends.”
The charwoman appeared in the door. “The missus wants you in the dinin’ room, fellas. Time to eat.”
As they followed her through the kitchen, Ribbentrop whispered to his companion, “Such people. Stupid. Uncomprehending. Inconvenient.”
Anna stopped her husband before they entered the dining room to murmur, “Aren’t they wonderful?”
“Who’s wonderful?”
“The old couple I hired to help with the dinner tonight.”
“The Cockneys? They’re terrible!”
“No! They took charge! Solved every problem before it became a problem! I want to hire them full time!”
“What?” Ribbentrop was horrified. “No! I will not have those low class rabble serving my guests!”
“They won’t serve the meal. They will keep the kitchen and the household organized.” Anna was more subdued now but intensely resolved. “You have always told me I am in charge of the household. And I insist on hiring these people.”

Dream

This guy shot his gun in the air and demanded all my money. This was very inconvenient because I was in the middle of an expensive meal at a fancy restaurant which was filled with people enjoying their dinner.
“Take all your cash and tape it to your head,” he ordered. “I will stand at the entrance and as you file out I will take the money. You may then walk away and proceed with your peaceful lives.”
My first thought was that I didn’t have any tape. Looking around I observed the other patrons took out rolls of tape and attached their bills to their heads, stood and headed for the door. They seemed relaxed about the entire situation as though they had been through this sort of thing before. I didn’t eat in fancy restaurants often so I didn’t know if this happened all the time or not.
My second thought was that I didn’t have enough money to pay for both my meal and my ransom. If I was going to be killed, I might as well go to my Maker with a full stomach, I decided, and continued to eat my food. Also, I wondered that if I hunched over and was quiet perhaps the armed bandit would not notice me. That didn’t work out because when everyone else left, it was obvious I was indeed still there. However, one other man, sitting at an adjacent table, had stayed to finish his plate, too. I leaned over to whisper to him.
“Excuse me,” I asked him, “but doesn’t this seem like an odd predicament?”
“It probably is an odd predicament but not too terribly alarming,” he replied as he took his last bite of food and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin. “After all, I’m a young healthy man and capable of earning back in a relatively short period of time any money I lose tonight.”
It was at that point I realized he was quite a few years younger than me and in the prime of life. On the other hand, I was 70 years old and my prospects of earning more money were considerably diminished. If the guy with the gun showed up at very many more establishments where I was eating, I wouldn’t have any money left at all.
“Pardon me,” the young man said as he stood. “I have to give that gentleman my cash. Have a nice day.”
Looking around I hoped to find another exit so I could slip out the back way without the gunman spotting me. As was my luck, the restaurant ignored the fire codes and only had the one door. So now I was down to it. My choices were laid out—stiff the restaurant and pay the gunman or pay the bill and let him blow my brains out.
I didn’t know what I did because I woke up and remembered I had a doctor’s appointment. I taped my money to my head and drove to the office.