Author Archives: jerrycowling

Heather’s Ghost Nanny

Heather was a very precocious little five-year-old girl. She knew how to smile and giggle and always get exactly what she wanted. She and her family, mom, dad and brother, recently moved into a nice house with a swimming pool in a new town. She heard how her parents were very excited about the good price they got for the house, much lower than they expected. Heather’s bedroom and her brother’s bedroom were across the house from the master bedroom, so she thought she was going to be able to get away with a lot of naughty things after her family had gone to sleep.
That was before the first night she slipped out of bed after midnight to turn on the television to watch the shows her mom and dad didn’t want her to see. After she punched the on button and turned to sit on her bean bag chair, the television promptly turned itself off. Hmph, she thought to herself. That never happened before. So she stood and went back to punch the on button again but it went off even faster than it did before.
Frowning, Heather decided that wasn’t any fun so she went back to bed. A few days later a nice lady from next door came to welcome the new family to the neighborhood.
“Of course, you know about the Andersons,” she said.
“The couple who lived here before us,” Heather’s mom said.
“Yes,” the neighbor lady said.
“All we know is that their children seemed eager to sell the house,” Heather’s dad said. “They lowered the price very fast.”
“That’s because they both died in the house.”
Heather wasn’t really paying attention. She really wanted to go out to play but she knew she had to make a good impression on the neighbor. She might be giving out freshly baked cookies one day and Heather wanted to get one.
“Oh,” her parents said in unison.
“He died in his sleep in the master bedroom,” the neighbor said. “His wife died a year earlier.” She paused. “In the swimming pool.”
“What?”
“Mrs. Anderson was a sweet lady but she had a drinking problem. Went to AA meetings but it didn’t seem to do much good. When she went on a bender her husband could not stand to be around her. One night she was particularly out of control, so Mr. Anderson left the house and just sat in the car, waiting for her to pass out on the floor so he could go to bed. An hour later he heard no more banging about inside so he figured it was safe to come back in. It was then he saw her floating face down in the swimming pool. Evidently she had staggered out to the patio and fallen into the pool and was too drunk to get out. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. For the next year he just sat in a lawn chair, staring at the pool and smoking a cigar, until he finally died.”
“So that’s why we got the house cheap,” Heather’s dad said.
Heather was only vaguely aware of what all that really meant to her. After all, she was only a five year old girl. That night she got up after midnight to turn on the television again, and again it promptly turned itself off.
“Mrs. Anderson, is that you?” she whispered.
She could swear she felt a dripping wet hand firmly but gently pushed her toward her bedroom. Heather never tried to watch television again after midnight. As she grew up, however, Heather seemed to forget about Mrs. Anderson from time to time, until the dripping wet ghost decided to become her nanny.
When her girl friends came for a sleep over, Heather was never able to get the refrigerator door open so they could sneak ice cream. No matter how hard the girls tried, the door was stuck, until morning, that is, when her mom easily opened it to get out milk for the girls.
By the time Heather turned thirteen, all the boys in the neighborhood knew the way to her house. She had parties all the time but when she and one of the boys wanted private time in her room, the door would never shut. Each time they tried to close it, the door would swing open and stay open.
By the time she was eighteen, Heather had started going steady with one boy after another. She was always the one to call it off and always had another boy willing to be her plaything for awhile. One night, on the front porch when Heather was saying good night to her latest boyfriend, he decided to get a little closer than she wanted.
Suddenly he felt a hard slap, right between his shoulder blades.
“How did you do that?” he asked, wincing in pain.
“Do what?” Heather asked.
“Slap me on the back,” he said.
Heather told him to turn around and, sure enough, there was a wet hand print on his shirt.
“Oh that’s my ghost, Mrs. Anderson. She thinks she’s my nanny.”
Needless to say, she never saw him again. A couple of years passed and finally Heather met a nice young man. One night he shyly started talking about marriage. He jumped and Heather asked what happened.
“I could swear I felt someone kiss me.” He felt his cheek. It was wet.
“My nanny ghost, Mrs. Anderson, must like you very much.”
By the next spring, Heather married her nice young man and had the wedding reception by the swimming pool. When the pictures were developed, there stood the beautiful bride and her groom, and standing behind them, very clear in the photograph, was an elderly woman, drenching wet and chugging on a bottle of gin.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Fifty

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. MI6 to test him to see if he can be both king and spy.
Wallis and Ernest sat across from each other at a table covered in white lace in the gardens at Buckingham Palace one humid afternoon in July 1936. David invited them to his first garden party as king in honor of the season’s debutantes. However, he preferred that the Simpsons sit in the back so as to not attract too much attention.
The couple sipped their tea and ate biscuits but did not speak to speak to each other. Wallis thought if she heard Ernest crunch into one more biscuit she would scream. She was about to issue an icy retort but then she noticed the merry glint in his eyes as young ladies passed by in their frilly dresses and flowery hats, and her heart melted. He was such a child at royal events like this. Rather sweet, Wallis conceded.
What a shame she was about to ask for a divorce. It might break his heart; on the other hand, Ernest was involved in a long-distance affair with their friend Mary Raffray in New York. David, who had been king for almost six months, issued an invitation to the both of them to join him on holiday in August along the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic Sea. Wallis had visited the western coast in Italy but had never seen the eastern side, which consisted of tiny fishing villages of Croatia. Ernest immediately informed her he could not go because of important business pending in New York. Wallis knew the only pending business he had in New York was to continue his affair with Mary. That thought convinced Wallis that she didn’t care if she broke his heart or not.
“I keep remembering how much fun we had last fall when Mary came back from New York with you,” she said. “It was great seeing her after all this time. She was the one who introduced us. You remember that, don’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Don’t you just love her?”
“Um, I suppose.” He crunched into his biscuit again.
“Ernest darling, we need to tell the truth.” Wallis smiled. “Well, you tell the truth. I’m incapable of telling the truth.” She paused. “I’ll make it easy for you. You just yes or no. Mary Raffray is a beautiful woman, isn’t she?”
“Yes.”
“You see her frequently when you’re in New York, which you are, frequently.”
“Yes.”
“You two have been copulating like rabbits, right?”
Ernest hesitated before replying, “Yes.”
“Well, do you love her?”
“Yes.”
“If you had your way, you’d marry her and live happily ever after.”
“Yes.”
“But you won’t stop being my friend, will you?”
“No.”
“Good.” She sipped her tea. “Now do something I can use as proof of adultery so we can start this divorce going.”
“Anything you say, darling.”
“Pass the biscuits, please.”
By the first week of August at the port of Calais, Wallis boarded the Orient Express train with David and a host of their most intimate friends—Herman and Katherine Rogers, Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Mrs. Joseph Gwynne, Archie Compston, John Aird, Godfrey Thomas and Tommy Lascelles. Some were old friends of Wallis, like the Rogers and Mrs. Gwynne. Others were friends of David, the Coopers and Compston who was his favorite golfing companion. Aird was David’s new equerry, and Thomas and Lascelles were his private secretaries. The boon companions began drinking as their private car on the Orient Express pulled out of the station so the all the picturesque scenery of Austria and Yugoslavia was a blur to them. They finally arrived at the port of Sibenik, Croatia, where Lady Cunard and Lord and Lady Brownlow joined the party. How the hell were they going to pull off even a minor spy mission baffled Wallis, but she put on a brave smile and played the perfect hostess.
They boarded the large sparkling yacht Nahlin to proceed down the Dalmatian Coast. Most of the time, David toured the Mediterranean on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert but he decided it was too moldy and cramped for this occasion. He chartered the Nahlin which was practically brand new and shinier than the family boat with large awnings, teak decks and wicker tables and chairs.
Local peasants, dressed in their finest native garb, gathered on the pier to wave good-bye. Everyone leaned against the railing to wave back.
“What if one of them was supposed to be our contact?” Wallis whispered to David.
“Too late now, isn’t it? Anyway, Sibenik isn’t officially part of the Dalmation Coast, is it? Frankly, I’m hoping to miss the connection altogether. Being king is beastly, all these people around.” David pointed out to the bay to the Adriatic Sea. “See those two navy ships? They’re the destroyers HMS Grafton and Glowworm, assigned to protect us all the way to Istanbul.”
“How dreadfully unromantic.”
Most of the cruise down the Dalmatian Coast was dreadfully unromantic to Wallis. At this point the rumor mill ground away, wondering if or when the royal lovers would ever announce to the world they planned to marry—to hell with the quaint customs of the English monarchy.
The first morning of the cruise, the Nahlin docked in one of the many sun-drenched coves in the Balkans, and everyone enjoyed breakfast on deck. As was her custom, Wallis never sat during a holiday meal like this. She was too busy making sure everyone was happy.
“Where is that dear sweet husband of yours, Mrs. Simpson?” Compston asked, a wicked smile lurking in the corners of his mouth.
“He’s off tending to his shipping line in New York.” Her tone was light and airy, and she didn’t break stride as she focused on her closest friends, Herman and Katherine Rogers. She slipped into a chair next to Katherine.
“Archie can be such an ass,” her friend whispered. “You know his wife has moved permanently to their seaside cottage in Brighton.”
“Yes. Well.” Wallis exhaled cigarette smoke. “At least he still has his balls to play with.” Across the table Mrs. Joseph Gwynne tittered. Wallis widened her eyes. “His golf balls. He loves to play golf with David. You know, he had to give up soccer because of his health. So his golf balls are the only balls he has left.”
Mrs. Gwynne snickered as Wallis left the table to inquire of Duff, Lady Diana Cooper and Lady Cunard if they were enjoying their breakfast. Before they could reply, David appeared on the deck wearing comfortable sandals, beige shorts and a hairless bronzed chest.
“I don’t think I shall ever become accustomed to seeing an English king sans shirt,” Lady Cunard announced before taking a sip of her Earl Grey tea.
“My dear, if you had seen King Edward or David’s father King George, stripped to the waist, you wouldn’t mind David so much,” Wallis replied and turned to hug David.
Each day began with the same ritual. The entire party strolled down the gangplank and waved to the natives who gathered to greet them. David always led the way, enveloping himself into the crowds, much to the chagrin of his equerry and private secretaries.
“The King must be mad, pressing flesh in such an aggressive manner,” Aird muttered to Wallis.
Wallis sucked in cigarette smoke and exhaled through her nose. “Well, I think he’s more like Hamlet than Richard II. There’s a method to his madness.”
“Huh?” Aird was befuddled.
Wallis walked away and caught up with David to shake as many hands also. Soon both of them disappeared into the crowd. To no avail, she decided, because no peasant-clad native shoved a note or anything else into their hands.
In the afternoons David and Wallis slipped off with Tommy Lascelles to secluded beaches where they could swim and fish without enduring the usual courtier chinwag. But they were never approached by a wandering peasant with a note.
When they reached their final stop on the Dalmatian Coast at the fishing village Cetinje in Croatia, they decided they had missed their contact which was fine with them. They found it inconvenient to be shadowed by two large naval destroyers. After supper with the whole gang, David and Wallis strolled down the plank one last time. They found the village mystical and ethereal after sunset.
“Please remind me never to travel with such an entourage on holiday again,” David announced with a sigh.
“Oh shut up.” She elbowed him. “You grew up around people like this. You enjoy it and don’t deny it.”
David laughed. Wallis surprisingly found herself pleased with his laughter, as though they actually did love each other.
“And what did you grow up around?”
Wallis flicked the cigarette into the dark waters of the Adriatic. “Drunks and hillbillies.”
David laughed again. The streets of Centinje lit up with hundreds of torches. The entourage walked down to the pier where they saw local citizens dressed in their finest attire approaching as they sang their favorite local folk songs. Wallis couldn’t help but put her head on David’s shoulder. It was the first time she had ever shown that much affection towards him, and she didn’t know why.
A peasant man ran toward them, waving a note. By his side was a Catholic cleric. David’s equerry and two secretaries appeared from behind the couple to thwart the oncoming strangers.
“No, no, that’s fine,” David ordered. He smiled and motioned him forward, thinking that this was the message they had been awaiting.
The humble minister spoke. “My parishioner speaks no English so he asked me to write the note for him. I hope you understand.”
David took it from the man who just stood there, as though anticipating a reply. David read it, looked at the man, shook his head and said, “Thank you, but no.”
The peasant walked away, slumped in disappointment against the minister who put his arm around him. David handed the note to Wallis. She read it in the lights from the yacht.
“Don’t marry the skinny old woman. My daughter is young and fully rounded. She can give you many children.”

The Turtledove

Everything was looking up on our farm just outside Cumby, Texas, during the Great Depression. Pa, Ma, me and my brother Bill worked hard to keep the homestead going. Finally, that fall a big crop of cotton was about to pop open. On top of that, Ma had just had a baby, a little girl just like she always wanted.
For the first time in a couple of years Pa had to hire a family to help bring in the cotton bolls before they rotten in the fields. The Jones family had worked for us before. The father was a big strapping man, somebody you wouldn’t want to sass. The mother was short, kinda rolly polly with a big bosom and a big heart. And, boy, did she love to talk. She could practically talk the cotton bolls off the stalks. Which was good because it made the day go by faster under the hot Texas sun and it made you forget how much your back ached from dragging that long cotton bag all day.
The Joneses had two boys that we used to play with but they were almost grown up now and didn’t look like they’d care to bother with a couple of li’l ol’ boys like Bill and me.
Anyway, one day, halfway through the cotton fields Miz Jones finished one long story about the sickness her boys had been through but they were just fine now ‘cause they was big strong healthy boys and she worked hard to keep them that way. Fed them good food, made sure they got plenty of milk, meat and greens.
“And, of course,” she added in a low, secret-like voice, “you got to keep them away from the magic.”
“The magic?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s all kinds of magic in the world,” Miz Jones said. “And all of it is bad. Some folks says there’s good magic out there to protect the babies but I says all magic is bad. If it ain’t come from the Lord it’s bad.”
“Is that so?” Bill said. I could tell he was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud. “Like witches and such? Potions and voodoo?”
“Well, there’s bad folks out there. I don’t say that. They can do some mighty hurt with them poultice bags, but the worst magic comes from old Mother Nature herself. She’s done got tricks up her sleeve, ooh. You gotta be on your guard day and night.”
“Like what?” Bill hung his head low so she wouldn’t see his smile.
“There’s a lotta bad magic out there but I say just about the worst has to be from the turtledove.”
“The turtledove?” I asked.
“Now I tell you, if you ever have a turtledove get in the house, nestling in the rafters going, ‘Coo…coo,’ you done had it. There’s going to be a death in the family for sure. No doubt about it. Once you hear a turtledove cooing in the house, boy, it’s all over. Somebody’s gonna die.”
Bill and me, we thought we done real good in not guffawing at Miz Jones. Ma had always said it wasn’t nice to laugh at somebody to their face. Besides, those Jones boys looked like they could beat the tar out of us if we made fun of their ma.
The next day Pa pulled us aside. “You boys been working so hard in the fields that you deserved a day off to go hunting.”
So Ma packed us a lunch, we oiled and polished our .22 rifles, and off we went through the woods. We got us some squirrels and rabbits. Mostly we just lollygagged about, joking and laughing about anything and everything. The day was just about over when we heard it:
Coo…coo…
Bill and me looked at each other and smiled. The best joke of all. We stalked lightly through the brush until we spotted the nest. Mama turtledove had just flowed off, looking for food. There they were, three babies cooing their heads off. We gently stuck out our hands into the nest and scooped up one of the chicks. We hurried back home before the others came out of the cotton fields. We snuck into the field hands’ cabin and placed the baby turtledove up in the rafters.
We grinned during supper.
“Well, you boys must have had a good time hunting,” Ma said as she ladled out the squirrel and rabbit stew made from our catch.
“Yes, Ma,” we mumbled.
“That’s good.” She cuddled our baby sister on her lap as she settled in to eat. “Good times. We’re having good times right now.”
Just then there was a loud rapping at the door.
“Mr. Cowling! Mr. Cowling!” It was Mr. Jones. “Come quick! Miz Jones is terrible upset!”
“What on earth…” Pa muttered as he pushed away from the kitchen table.
“Can we come too, Pa?” Bill asked.
“I guess.” He looked at Ma. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. They done finished their supper.” She stood holding the baby close to her. “I’m putting the baby down to bed.”
So Bill and me scampered behind Pa to the Jones’ cabin. When we walked in Miz Jones was waving her arms, her eyes wide with fright.
“Oh, Mr. Cowling! Somebody’s going to die!”
We tried not to smile because those Jones boys was watching us mighty hard. Mr. Jones was trying to put his arms around his wife but she wouldn’t have none of it.
“There’s a turtledove in the rafters just cooing away. I swear somebody’s going to die, Mr. Cowling, I just know it.”
Pa stood tall and held up his hand. Miz Jones got quiet right away.
“If someone who is not a member of the family takes the turtledove out of the house, the curse is broken.” Pa then climbed up in the rafters and retrieved the little turtledove.
“Oh, praise the Lord!” Miz Jones said, her hands going to her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Cowling, thank you, sir. You done saved our lives.”
With much pomp and ceremony Pa held the turtledove, which was still cooing, in his hands high above his head.
“Hallelujah, Mr. Cowling. Thank you, Mr. Cowling,” we heard Miz Jones say we closed the door behind us.
When we got back to the house Pa placed the cooing baby turtledove in the kitchen sink. The bird began cooing again. He turned to stare hard at Bill and me.
“Are you boys behind all this?” he asked. His jaw was tied up in a knot.
“It was just a joke,” Bill mumbled.
“These are good, hard-working people,” Pa lectured us. “We’re lucky to have them working for us. They can’t help it if they’re superstitious. If you pull anything like this again I’ll—“
Ma came running into the kitchen from their bedroom. “Pa! Come quick! The baby’s not breathing!”
He ran into the room and leaned over the crib. As he put his mouth over the baby’s mouth trying to breathe life into her, Ma fell to her knees sobbing.
Then Bill and me, we heard something behind us.
Coo…coo…
We looked at each other.
Pa glared at us and shouted, “Get that turtledove out of this house right now!”
Bill and me grabbed the turtledove and just as we crossed the threshold of the front door, our baby sister sucked in a lot of air and started crying loud. Ma and Pa cried too, picking her up, kissing all over her little face. Bill and me didn’t say nothing, just stared at each other.
Coo…coo…
Maybe Miz Jones knew more than we did about the magic of Mother Nature.
The cooing of the turtledove.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Five

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Christy kisses the cook Phebe.
Neal was not big; Adam was taller than him by a head, and Adam was only average size. Neal’s face was very pale for a Negro and covered with light brown freckles. Her mother had told her if one of the light-skinned servants in the big house wanted to marry her, she should let him; but when Phebe looked at Neal, who, by her mother’s standards, measured up to be the perfect husband, all she saw was a feisty, friendly, constantly yapping dog.
“What happened?” he repeated.
“It was my fault.” She concentrated on the last of the dishes, wanting to finish her chores, disappear into her room and forget what had happened.
“Who touched you, girl?” Neal took her arm and turned her toward him. He looked into her eyes.
“No one.” Phebe pulled away from him. “Forget it. I’ve got to finish the dishes. It’s late.”
“No.” Neal positioned himself between her and the sink. “It was the soldier boy, wasn’t it?”
“I handled it. I hit him upside the head with a plate.”
“What did he do?”
“He kissed me.”
“I’m gonna whip his ass!” Spinning around, Neal rushed to the door.
“No, you’re not,” she said, following him. “You’re a Negro. He’s white. You’re a butler. He’s a soldier.” Phebe now stood between him and the door. “Whose side do you think the law is gonna come down on?”
“Damn the law!”
“No! The law will damn you!” She sighed in guilt, having yelled at Neal. “Please,” she said, “we’re Negroes in a white man’s town. There are things going on in this house. Evil things.” Phebe stepped closer. “He told me something’s bad’s going on. He said if word got out, Tad could die. He said he could die. He even said I could die.”
“Did he threaten you?”
“He didn’t threaten me. He warned me. Neal, if I could die, you could die.”
He was quiet a long time. Then, staring at her intently, he asked, “Did you like it?”
“Like what?”
“Did you like the kiss?”
“No. If I had, I wouldn’t have broken a perfectly good plate.”
“Have you ever had a good kiss?” Neal stepped closer.
“Yes.” It was a lie. She did not want him to kiss her.
“I know how to kiss.” He pulled in his lips, moistening them so they shined in the whale oil light.
“So find somebody who cares,” Phebe said as she pushed past him to return to the sink. Washing the last glass, she dropped her head. “I’m sorry, Neal. I like you. But I don’t want to kiss you any more than I want to kiss Private Christy.”
“Why?”
“Because I hope for a better life.” She turned to look at him, drying her hands on a ragged cloth and twisting in fear. “If I kiss you—or any man—I might relent and allow you to have me. Then, alone with a baby, I’d have no chance for a better life.”
“I wouldn’t do that. If you let me kiss you, I know you’d love me. I want to marry you.” He paused. “I’m not a common dog.”
“I know, Neal.” What an unfortunate choice of words. Phebe restrained herself, not wanting to hurt him anymore.
“I love you, Phebe, but you’ll never love me, will you?”
“I’m sorry.”
A long sigh escaped Neal’s lips as he turned to leave, softly adding, “I lied about kissing. No girl ever let me kiss her.”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Twelve

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Bedelia vows to capture the Man in the Red Underwear.
“Oh good. The orchestra has arrived,” Cecelia announced to her guests in the ballroom.
“Do you have anything decent to eat around here?” a lone voice echoed through the crowd. I’m starving.”
Cecelia decided to ignore it. “It’s a wonderful new group. It can play any music in the world.” She entered the library beaming. “Come, everyone, the orchestra has arrived. To the ballroom.”
She circled the room herding Andy, Millicent and Eddie out to the ballroom. Tent, however, closed the door and turned to focus on Cecelia.
“Lady Snob-Johnson,” he announced menacingly.
“Yes?”
“I wish to talk to your daughter.”
“What about?” She arched her brows which, by the way, sported perfectly applied eye liner.
“You ask too many questions,” he growled.
“And you will ask my daughter none at all,” she snapped back.
“You seem to forget I have ways to bend you to my will.” Tent took a couple of steps toward her.
Cecelia turned away, going nowhere in particular. “You can’t intimidate me with my canapés. My guests have already refused to eat them.”
“I have other, even more powerful, ways to persuade you.”
This threat intrigued her. She looked over her shoulder. “You do?”
“You seem to have taken a special indecorous interest in Mr. Billy Doggerel.”
“I don’t care if you tell the world I think I love that sexual animal. I don’t care.”
“Ah, you miss my meaning.” He walked near enough to whisper in her ear. “I don’t intend to blackmail you. I intend to bribe you.”
“I’m listening.”
“Simply this. If you send your daughter in here, alone, to be interrogated about her knowledge of the Man in the Red Underwear, I will order Billy Doggerel to spend the evening with you, to do anything you wish.”
Cecelia stepped away again. “Do you think I’d sacrifice the safety of my daughter for the chance of only one night of animal passion with that glorious male creature? Never!”
“Very well. The whole weekend.” Tent displayed a snide, crooked smile.
“Beginning Friday night at dusk?”
“If that is your wish.” He nodded in agreement.
Cecelia tried to hold her labored breathing in check. “And he won’t bathe until I have a chance to cleanse him?”
“It goes without saying,” he replied smugly.
Cecelia went to the door, opened it and whistled. “Millicent! Get in here!” She smiled and curtsied. “Chief inspector.”
Millicent passed her mother, giving her a quizzical look. When no explanation was forthcoming she entered the library, very miffed because the orchestra was playing a new music from America which involved a crystal globe twirling above the dancers.
“Did you want to see me, chief inspector?”
“Yes, I did. Close the door.”
She did not think much of the inspector’s request because the music was rather loud, and she imagined the twinkling from the mirrored ball was probably giving the old geezer a headache. “What about?”
“The Man in the Red Underwear.”
“The Man in the Red Underwear!” Her hand went impulsively to her lips. Slowly she let it drop as she stared straight ahead. “I never even heard the name before.”
“I think otherwise. And I will make you tell me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I have the means.” Tent pulled a letter from his pocket.
“How could you be so mean?”
“It’s quite easy, actually.” He smiled and shrugged.
Pointing at the letter, Millicent asked, “How did you get a hold of that?”
“When you hand Prince Edward a love letter on the streets of Soho and tell him to put it in his shirt pocket so he can read it later, you must remember he forgets to wear a shirt. The letter then drops to the street where it can be picked up by anyone.”
“Billy Doggerel!”
“Yes, Billy Doggerel.” Tent slapped his trousers with the letter. “My associate has many duties, one of them is to watch the streets of Soho for any unusual occurrences.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the contents of that letter.” She tried valiantly to dismiss the significance of her correspondence with Prince Eddie.
“Oh, you think not? Let me read a bit of it to you.” He opened the letter with a flourish, cleared his voice and began to quote. “See Millicent. See, see, see. See Millicent take her clothes off. Strip. Strip. Strip. See Millicent—“
“All right. All right. It isn’t Shakespeare, but I had to make it simple enough for Eddie to get the idea!” She paused to compose herself. “What do you plan to do with it?”
Tent took three steps forward. “Why, nothing at all—if you tell me who the Man in the Red Underwear is!”
Millicent took three steps backwards. “I know nothing!”
“We’ll discover how much you know when Queen Victoria reads this letter.” There. He placed all the details of his blackmail scheme on the table. Figuratively, of course, because there was no table in the library.
“The Queen won’t mind. She approves of me.” Again she tried to bluff her way out of a sticky wicket.
Tent laughed in derision. “I disagree. They don’t call this the Victorian Age for nothing!”

The Halloween Tree

“Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
“How?”
“Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree. Then I asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, ‘Pa, George Washington’s pappy didn’t spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Forty-Nine

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on his first mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the spy world is socialite Wallis Spencer, who dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. Old King George finally dies.
By the next morning David had been hustled by courtiers to St. James Palace which was in the heart of London next to the Green Park for the meeting of the King’s Accession Council. After a few customary comments privy councilors broached the topic of Mrs. Simpson, which David fully expected. General Trotter, however, instructed him to act apprehensive and queasy. They finished and voted their approval of the proclamation of accession at noon. David went to his apartment in York House, a wing of St. James overlooking Friary Court where the proclamation would be read to the public amidst much pomp and circumstance.
General Trotter instructed David to call Wallis to join him in the window above the court to observe the ceremony. This would serve two purposes, he said. The world would be shocked to see him at ceremony. No British king had ever watched his own proclamation before. Proper society would shudder when his mistress sat by his side when he did.
Wallis, dressed in a subdued black outfit with a fur collar and modest hat, arrived by way of a side street through the Colour Court and made her way upstairs to the prince’s quarters. Just as four state trumpeters in gold-lace draped tunics marched onto the low balcony over the courtyard, Wallis stepped into the light of the window and sat in chair, followed by David who stood with his arm around her shoulders. Everyone gathered in Friary Court. The crowd flowed out onto Marlborough Road. The observers immediately turned their heads to the window and pointed. News photographers shot pictures at window. Newsreel cameras also focused on the couple instead of the balcony where the proclamation was taking place.
“Good, good, exactly what we wanted,” General Trotter muttered, standing apart from them in the shadows.
“Should we wave?” Wallis asked.
“Heavens no,” Trotter replied. “Just sit back and enjoy the show.”
Sergeants at arms hoisted their royal maces high. The trumpet blasted. Garter King Sir Gerald Wollaston, accompanied by equally garishly dressed attendants, appeared and pulled out the proclamation to read in a loud official voice.
“By the way, Wallis,” Trotter continued, ignoring the royal pageantry, “I must inform you that I am leaving my post as equerry out of protest of your close companionship with the king. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I have nothing but the highest admiration for the way you conduct your espionage missions. But the new crush of attendants around David will make my private role more difficult. Out of the official inner circle, I can be more efficient in passing on MI6 orders.”
“That’s nice to know,” she said in a tone that conveyed she didn’t really care what was being said.
“And you, David, I don’t know if you will be able to stay on the throne,” Trotter informed him.
“God, I hope not,” the prince replied in derision, even though he kept smiling as the proclamation reading. “Bertie would be much better at this kinging business than I ever would.”
“He doesn’t think so, nor does his wife. But your mother and the prime minister would be pleased if he were king.”
“I suppose we couldn’t let him in on our little secret,” David offered.
“Of course not,” Trotter snapped. “You knew from the very beginning your family could never know.”
“So when can I stop being king?”
The long-winded King of the Garter Sir Wollaston finished the proclamation, and the regimental band in the courtyard blared “God Save the King.” Wallis couldn’t help herself and burbled a full throated laugh.
“Sorry,” she said, pulling a handkerchief from her purse to cover her mouth. “The timing of the anthem right after your question was quite ironic.”
Trotter raised an eyebrow then ignored Wallis. “Next summer when you take your holiday you’ll visit several countries by train and by yacht. The itinerary will be a bit of gobbledygook. You have to skip Italy because Mussolini invaded Ethiopia.”
“Well, we all knew that was coming,” David said. “Anyplace else we can’t go?”
“Cannes,” Trotter replied. “The election of a leftist government might provoke radicals to try to assassinate you.”
“Oh great,” Wallis said with great disgust. “Where can we go?”
“The Dalmatian Coast,” Trotter answered.
“How exciting,” she announced with a sarcastic wit. After a pause she asked, “May I have a cigarette now?”
“Not as long as there’s a crowd lingering in the courtyard,” the general said.
“Why don’t they leave?” David asked.
“Because you are still in the window,” Trotter explained. “This is one of the problems MI6 faces.”
Wallis stood. “Let’s move into another room so I can have my damn cigarette.”
Once they settled into an inner parlor, the general explained the test mission. “You will spend most of your time on the Dalmatian Coast in secluded coves sunbathing and in tiny towns letting the local peasants gawk at you. While all this is going on, someone in the crowd—one of our agents—will pass a note to you. It will say, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.” If you are able to complete the mission without undue attention being drawn to you, we might continue with you as king; otherwise you will have to abdicate.”
“That sounds simple-minded. Who came up with that childish idea?” Wallis asked.
David smiled. “Remember the poem. Ours is not to reason why….”
“By the way,” Trotter added, “I have a couple who requested to see you today. I’m sure you remember them, David. They’ve been quite useful on a few of your missions. They’re retiring and wanted to say good-bye.”
Glancing at the door he saw the old couple who had passed on parts of messages throughout the years. The last time he had seen them they were working in the background at Ribbentrop’s apartment. They were holding hands which made David smile. He turned to Wallis.
“This couple has been invaluable to many operations passing on information. You may have noticed them at dinner parties with the Ribbentrops.”
Wallis stood, crossed to them and extended her hand. “Of course I remember you. Mrs. Ribbentrop raved about how she couldn’t host a party without you getting things done.”
They shook her hand and the woman curtsied.
“They’re responsible for securing the information on the Hitler conference in ’35 and Ribbentrop’s recent visit to Paris,” Trotter explained.
“My, you are valuable, aren’t you?” Wallis responded. “So why are you retiring?”
“Who wants to work for a king the likes of him?” The woman pointed at David.
“You’ll have to excuse me old lady,” the man said. “She has a Cockney sense of humor.”
“Excuse her? I want to hug her!” Wallis reached out and took the woman in her arms.
“You’re a bit of a bag of bones, but you’re a sweet one for sure,” the woman muttered, her voice cracking a bit.
“Oh, my dear, you don’t know the half of it.” Wallis winked.
“No sir,” the old man continued. “We decided it was time to call it quits. The German mission was the most important thing we ever did, so we’re leaving while we’re at the top of our game, so to speak. When you get old, you make mistakes, and we’ll have none of that.”
“So where are you going?” Wallis asked the woman.
“New York,” she replied. “Love the Coney Island hot dogs.”
Wallis patted her hand. “Trust me. Baltimore has better hot dogs.”
Everyone laughed, except David who pondered the man’s comment about age. He was forty-two now. How many years did he have left before making a fatal mistake?

Seance in Black

Halloween of 1890 surprised Arthur Conan Doyle with a mixture of happiness and mysticism.
He was the guest of honor at a party hosted by Ward Locke, the publisher of his first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlett. Ladies, all of them in black evening gowns highlighted with orange flowers or brooches and necklaces, were particularly attentive, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on Doyle’s dinner jacket.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Doyle,” Ward Locke’s wife cooed, “when you become the most famous writer in London? You won’t have a moment’s peace.” Her eyes, an uneventful shade of brown, fluttered without producing their intended purpose of luring the single gentlemen with her non-existent wiles.
“I am certain I shall find a suitable safe harbor in the storm of public attention.”
Mrs. Locke practically swooned over the more sensual meanings of Doyles’ metaphor.
“Among my many new-found friends and acquaintances, such as your husband and yourself, indeed all the fine people who are here tonight.”
“Oh. Of course.” She stood erect in the middle of her collapse into the romance of her thoughts. Recovering, she smiled with due temperance. “And I’m sure your friends from the hospital will be a great comfort to you.”
A woman wearing too much rouge made good use of her ample hips to force Mrs. Locke from the inner sphere of Doyle’s immediate company. “You mustn’t ignore your other guests, dear. I shall entertain our wonderful young gentlemen for now. I am Mrs. Wickham, a dear friend of the Lockes. They tell me you are a doctor.” She paused a moment to admire his physical appearance. “My, you must have an impressive bedside manner.”
At that moment Doyle caught the gaze of his publisher and turned the corners of his lips into a smile that expressed mild desperation. Locke smiled in return, lifted his glass and clinked it with a dessert spoon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the man of the hour, Arthur Conan Doyle!” Locke announced. After an appropriate pause for all the guests to murmur their approval, he continued, “We wish him continued success so suddenly found at the young age of thirty-one.” Everyone took turns commenting upon his promising career unfolding in front of him, remarkable for a young man of thirty-one years.”
“Oh, yes. I remember being thirty-one,” a voice boomed from the shadows. “Great expectations can wither on the vine as time passes, leaving you with sad dreams of what might have been.”
Holiday chatter died as all heads turned to watch a tall, swarthy man step toward Doyle, who suspected the man to be in his middle forties and under the influence of liquid spirits. A shrill giggle shattered the silence.
“You must forgive my friend, Mr. Doyle,” Mrs. Wickham said with forced cheer as she left his side to join the handsome stranger and grab the man’s arm, pulling him back. “His attempts at humor are an acquired taste. He’s Nathan Ladderly, my neighbor at the Nickleby Arms Hotels. The dear man has no family so I thought I would invite him to our soiree–“
“Mrs. Wickham finds me attractive and creates excuses to be in my company,” Ladderly interjected.
“Oh, Nathan, you’re so wicked,” Mrs. Wickham said with a laugh.
A second giggle erupted, this time from Mrs. Locke. “Ward, darling, what is a Halloween party without parlor games appropriate for this evening of ghouls and goblins?” She pushed her way through the crowd holding a small square table on which sat a mysterious wooden board. “This game has just been invented. They call it a Ouija board. It’s a way to communicate with the dead,” Mrs. Locke chirped. “Mr. Ladderly, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Wickham, please pull up chairs, and we shall see what spirits we may conjure.”
“This will be droll,” Ladderly muttered as he sat at the table.
“I am open to spiritualism, though I am not completely convinced,” Doyle announced with a tight smile. He sat opposite Ladderly.
Tittering, the two women filled in the gaps and Mrs. Locke placed a wooden disk on three small balls in the middle of the board. On one side was a pointer and in the middle a hole.
“Ward, darling, lower the gas lamps,” she said. “We must have the proper atmosphere. Now, everyone place your fingertips lightly on this little wooden pointer. It’s called a planchette.”
As the lights dimmed, Ladderly leaned his head, almost touching his cheek to the board. “Ouija, Ouija, Ouija, is anyone there?”
All the guests gathered around the table gasped as the planchette moved suddenly to Yes.
Ladderly pulled his hands away. “This is ridiculous. I want nothing to do with this.”
The planchette jerked over to No.
“Please, Nathan, dear,” Mrs. Wickham pleaded. “Open your mind. Participate. For my sake.”
“Why should I do anything for your sake?” Ladderly’s tone boarded on insolence.
Doyle leaned forward. “You seem nervous, Mr. Ladderly. Do you have anything to fear?”
“Of course not,” he replied in a huff. He placed his fingers back on the wooden pointer.
“I’m so flustered,” Mrs. Lock admitted. “I don’t know what to ask.”
“Are you trying to communicate with a specific person?” Doyle asked.
The planchette moved to Yes.
“Is it me?”
Again Yes.
“Why?” Doyle continued.
The wooden disk quickly moved around the board stopping to reveal specific letters in the hole. It spelled murder.
“Oh, Mr. Doyle,” Ladderly sneered. “How obvious. I insult you, and you accuse me of murder.”
“My fingers are barely on this device. Those standing over my shoulder can attest that. And why do you assume the board is speaking specifically about you out of all the people in this room?”
The pointer again moved to Yes.
“Oh, this is impossible!” Ladderly said with a hiss. “I refuse to continue with this charade.”
“No, I think we should continue,” Locke announced as many of his male guests moved to stand around Ladderly’s chair.
Again the planchette floated over the letters. I am Dickens.
Gasps and twitters spread through the room.
Someone murdered Drood.
“How foolish,” Ladderly said. “That was a work of fiction.”
Real.
“Then who did kill Edwin Drood?” Doyle asked.
Neville Landless.
“He was the young man from India who was enthralled with Drood’s fiancé Rosa Bud,” Doyle clarified. “Dickens was writing the novel and publishing each chapter in the newspaper as he finished it. Before he could complete his work, he died. Literary circles still discuss who the murderer might have been.”
“Everyone knows Drood’s uncle did it,” Ladderly added nervously.
The pointer moved to No.
“Is Neville Landless in this room?” Doyle asked, staring at Ladderly.
Yes.
“N.L. Neville Landless. N.L. Nathan Ladderly,” Mrs. Wickham said as though the entire plot had been revealed to her.
“These parlor games have gone too far!” Ladderly tried to stand, but several hands pushed him back down.
“Put your fingers back on the planchette, Mr. Ladderly,” Mrs. Locke said in a flat tone. “Perhaps you can handle your destiny.”
“Is Nathan Ladderly actually Neville Landless?” Doyle asked.
Yes.
“So he killed Edwin Drood?”
Yes. The disk’s hole highlighted other letters. Me too.
“No!” Ladderly screamed.
“Mr. Dickens, did Mr. Ladderly know you were about to incriminate him?” Doyle said.
Yes.
“Nonsense! Why didn’t he go directly to Scotland Yard?” Ladderly demanded. “Why write it as a novel?”
“Obviously he had no evidence that would hold up in court. Once he published his novel, the public outcry would be deafening. Of course, he had to change names,” Doyle explained. “Nathan Ladderly became Neville Landless. Edwin Drood… Anyone remember the disappearance of a man with the initials E.D. around the time of Dickens’ death? No matter. Scotland Yard will know.”
Yes, the Ouija board responded.
“Elementary.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Seventy-Four

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive under guard in the White House basement.Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Alethia is plucked from prison to play Mary Lincoln. Lincoln substitute Duff confesses his sins to Alethia.
Phebe washed and dried the last of the pots and pans, rubbing hard as she thought about the past two years and Adam’s lies. The door opened and he entered with the evening tray. She had not lit the whale oil lamp yet, so deep shadows fell across his face.
“I’m sorry the dishes are so late.”
He was on his way out the door when Phebe said, “I hope Mr. Gabby enjoyed his meal.”
Adam stopped and turned. Wiping his red locks off his forehead, he opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Mr. Gabby’s in there, ain’t he? When those people moved into the billiards room, Mr. Gabby disappeared. Nobody would fire him. From what he said, he got his job because his uncle was a general.”
“General Zook died at Gettysburg. Then he could be fired.” Adam looked down. “Mr. Stanton didn’t like him.”
“Mr. Gabby disappeared almost a full year before Gettysburg.”
“Your memory isn’t that good.”
“My memory is just fine.”
“I’m tired tonight,” he said. “I could explain all this real good, but my mind’s fuzzy.”
“What about Master Tad?”
“What about him?”
“You carried him down here.”
“I don’t even remember that.”
“Don’t remember?” Phebe grunted. “You’re too big of a coward to tell the truth.”
“I’m not a coward.” Adam stepped toward her. “Don’t call me that.” He sank into a chair. “Don’t press me on this. You don’t understand. If I say too much,” he said, choosing each word carefully, “Tad could die. I could die.” He looked up. “You could die.”
“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip, fearing she had been too hard on him; after all, she did not dislike him. If anything, she liked him more than she wanted to admit. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You don’t know how hard this is.” Adam put his head in his hands. “I’d never been out of Steubenville until I came here.”
Phebe had never been off the plantation until she was sold, so she knew those feelings of isolation and fear.
“My mother is dead—she died when I was young,” he said. “She was the one who always solved problems for me.”
Her mother had been sold before her eyes. She had been Phebe’s protector, her hope, her salvation, and her key to all knowledge—language, arithmetic, religion.
“I’ve said too much.” Adam sniffed and looked at Phebe. “I’m sorry I’ve been mean. From the first time I saw you, I liked you very much.” He paused as she looked away. “I like the way you smell like soap.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to smile. “It’s late. I have to wash those dishes.” Phebe went to the sink.
“Let me help you.” Adam came up behind her. “To make up for me being such a fumble-mouth.”
“That’s all right—” Phebe turned and was startled by his closeness. She looked into his open, naïve blue eyes, and could not complete her sentence.
“I…” Adam could not finish his sentence either.
Slowly they came closer, until he impulsively kissed her. Phebe’s eyes widened, startled. Her hand frantically reached for the sink; she grabbed a plate and shattered it against his head.
“I’m sorry.” Adam staggered back, fingering his temple to find blood.
Phebe wanted to lash out indignantly, but the words were not there; perhaps she felt sorry for him, and maybe she was angry at herself for hitting him.
“Pardon me.” Adam stumbled toward the door. “I should have never…” Then he was gone.
Phebe knelt to pick up the shards of plate from the floor, berating herself. Mama would be wagging her finger if she were here. There was no excuse. After putting the bits of broken plate in the trash barrel, she returned to the sink and vigorously scrubbed the rest of the dishes.
Walking into the room and removing his butler’s jacket, Neal asked, “Do you want me to dry?” After she nodded, he joined her at the sink and started wiping. “Those white folks get later and later finishing their supper, don’t they?”
“Will you please stop it about the white folks?” Phebe said, tensing her back.
“All right,” he replied, glancing over at her. After a few moments, he asked, “What’s wrong, Phebe?”
“Nothing.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You’re a good man, Neal.” Looking at him, she smiled.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Eleven

Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Cecelia falls for henchman Billy Doggerel.
Millicent returned to Andy and Eddie at the chaise lounge to continue their plans to snatch the packet from the chief inspector. Tent and Billy looked out the window as though they were entranced by the gas street lights.

“Is everything arranged for tonight?” Tent asked.

“Aye, boss,” Billy replied, nodding his head. “I pick up the packet in ‘alf an ‘our.”

“Good, then bring it back to me.”

Bedelia returned to library, wiping tears from her eyes and then cracking her crop against her pants, which, for some odd reason, which can only occur in a bunch of silliness like this, caused everyone else to freeze. This allowed her to go right into a full blown soliloquy.

I’ve had my cry. Now is the time to act. I must in fact
Discover the identity of that red under-wearing rat.
That will impress our properly dressed Lady Cecelia.
A deed the whole town will likely cheer, hip hip hoorah.
Let’s see who can this villain be, could he be in this room?
The suspects are before me now, it’s easy to assume.
The illegitimate daughter of the recently retired chief inspector of Scotland Yard
I’m on the job, I’m more than smart, I’ll never rest until that man’s behind jail bars.

Now who can I suspect? Old Malcolm Tent, oh no, not he.
He was so loyal to my dad, a villain he could never be.
I don’t know who this person is—
He’s so filthy I don’t even want to think about him.
And our dear host, what can I say—
Lady Cecelia loves to gossip and bray.
She would tell all that she’s the one in bright red underwear.
Of course I’m not the one I’m looking for, I know my underwear!
And Millicent wants Eddie’s body—
Too busy for red underwear.
Dear Eddie’s much too dumb—oh dear, he lost his shirt!
Which leaves the dandy, my sweet Andy—
He can’t be the man in red. He’s much too randy.
But never fear I know he’s near, that man in underweer—wear!

Bedelia turned to leave, paused to look back and then cracked her crop against her pants again which caused everyone to unfreeze. (Don’t try to figure it out. Go with the flow, so to speak.) She closed the door with an unexpected bang which caused Cecelia to lose her balance and stumble into Billy.

‘Ey, watch it, ducks,” Billy warned her.

Cecelia rubbed her hands up and down his thick arms. “You are a solid beast, aren’t you?”

I ain’t no cream puff, if that’s what ya thought.”

“If I fancied any notions that your bulk was anything but hard muscle I was mistaken.” A school-girl grin danced across her face.

Tent tried to wedge himself between Cecelia and Billy. “Lady Snob-Johnson, my associate and I are trying to carry on a private conversation.”

“Oh. Well. Carry on.” She broke out in giggles. “I wouldn’t mind carrying on with your associate myself.”

“Thanks. Yer kinda cute too, ducks.” Billy winked.

“You think so? I mean, I do have a grown daughter, you know.” Her hands went to her cheeks, as though trying to smooth away the wrinkles.

“Lady Snob-Johnson, given your propensity for gossip, I must ask you something.” Tent finally nudged Billy out of the way. “Did you just overhear anything?

“You mean you were talking? All I saw was that beautiful chest heaving up and down, up and—“

“Billy, get out of here before she starts to hyperventilate!” Tent ordered.

Before he took his leave, Billy clucked Cecelia under her chin. “Anything you say, boss. ‘Ey, ducks. I likes the ones that’s been around the block a few times. You know what I mean.”

Impulsively, she followed him as he walked to the door. “Will I see you again, soon?”

“If yer lucky.”

Before he could open the door, Billy found Andy blocking the way.

“Yoo hoo. Excuse, me, sir.” Andy tried fluttering his eyes, but his coquette skills were not up to par with those honed by Cecelia.

“Yeah, what do ya want?”

Andy tapped at the lapel of Billy’s coat. “I was just curious how you managed that divine shade of brown on your jacket.”

“It’s dirt.” Billy shoved Andy out of his way and left.

“How original.” Andy took out a lace hanky to wipe his hands.

Cecelia rushed up and spun Andy around. “Lay off of him. You hear me. He’s mine!”

“Anything you say, dearie.” Andy looked over at Millicent and Eddie to point at the retreating bulk of Billy Doggerel. He nodded at them and Millicent nodded back in agreement. Eddie was too busy picking his nose to notice anything important going on.

Cecelia rushed to the front door to wave at Billy as he went down the stairs. “Until later, mon amour.”

The orchestra members began tuning their instruments which brought Cecelia back to reality.