Category Archives: Novels

Remember Chapter Seven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.

“Yes.”

She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”

“Great!”

Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Five

Previously: Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy. Adam meets John Booth.
Before Adam replied, he went to the door and closed it. He studied Booth’s eyes. Was he the interested party for whom I was searching?
“How were you assigned to the White House, Private Christy?”
“My father knows Edwin Stanton.”
“He’s another person with no morals.”
“Yes,” Adam replied. “I hate him.” He paused. “I hate them both.”
Adam could see Booth’s brain working through his etched, pallid brow. He hoped he had convinced the actor.
“And why do you hate Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Stanton?”
“I was supposed to get a commission,” he replied. “They lied.”
“I could have told you Republicans were liars.”
“I hate them all,” Adam lied again.
“I’d have fought for the South,” Booth confided, “but the reality of war is that it does eventually end, and life goes on, and my life is acting. I might have been scarred in battle, which would have ruined my career.”
“Oh.”
“I feel guilty,” Booth added. “I want to do something. Now. To redeem myself.”
“Why are you telling me this? We’re not friends.”
“I make friends easily.” Booth smiled. “I’ve many friends here. You should meet them.”
“Friends or conspirators?” Shivers roamed over Adam’s body, but he forced a smile on his face.
“If they be conspirators, they must be friends first,” Booth replied.
“Then if you consider me a friend you must want me as a conspirator.” Adam had a strange feeling this conversation was going the same way as those he had had with prostitutes on street corners at midnight. What kind of good time do you want to show me, he remembered saying to painted women in cold shadows. “And what kind of conspiracy are you talking about?”
Before Booth could answer, a brutish young giant of a man opened the door and stuck his large head in. This fellow was bigger and brawnier than he, and his facial features—chin, cheeks, nose—were more handsome than his; however, Adam felt superior because stupidity flowed through the giant’s eyes.
“Hey, Johnny,” the man said, “this guy pickin’ on ya?”
“No, Tommy,” Booth replied. “I think we’ve a new friend here.”
“Oh.”
“Now please leave and shut the door.”
“All right, Johnny.” The large, stupid man left.
After a moment loud, thumping footsteps faded away. Booth smiled at Adam, a smile which made him nervous.
“What kind of conspiracy do you think I’m talking about?”
“Kill the bastards. All of them.” Adam was tired of romancing about the subject. Stanton wanted it done by the end of the week, so he decided to be blunt.
“What do you bring to the table?” Booth asked.
“What?”
“What do you know that I don’t already know about assassination?”
“I know a man who thinks like us.” Adam narrowed his eyes. “Things like how to get close to the president.”
“When can you arrange a meeting?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tonight.”
“Too soon,” Adam lied.
“It must be tonight.”
“Very well. Tonight at midnight, under the Aqueduct Bridge.”
“Do you think the man will show up on such short notice?”
“I don’t know,” Adam lied again. “I’ll try.”
“We’ll be there.”
“All right.” Adam was more nervous knowing he was closer to killing Lincoln. Self-preservation made men do terrible things, he decided, and therefore extended his hand.
“To success,” Booth said as he shook it.
“To redemption,” he replied.
That afternoon he met Stanton at the turnstile gate between the grounds of the Executive Mansion and the War Department.
“I met someone,” Adam whispered. “He’ll be at the bridge with friends.”
“How many?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to ask too many questions.”
“Very well. Mr. Baker will be there. What did you say?”
“I said I knew a man who knew how to get close to Lincoln.”
“Good.”
When Adam took the supper tray to the basement, Mrs. Lincoln hugged him and Gabby was still grinning at the old photograph Adam had given him in the afternoon. Adam could not help keeping his eyes down in front of Lincoln.
“Anything wrong, Private Christy?”
“Nothing, sir.” He did not want to look the president in the face.
A traitor, a lowly coward that was all I am, all I’d ever be. In Steubenville, I could have lived into old age without realizing what a despicable person I am. I could have been content to think I have admirable, manly qualities, but my life in Washington has stripped away my pretensions, leaving me with a person I neither like nor want to be.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Six

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera, but someone is trying to kill Wallis.
Early Christmas morning David, Wallis and their guests took a caravan of limousines to a country church of the Anglican denomination. The servants lined the driveway to wave them on to their Christian duty. Monsieur Valat stood at the gate and once the last car entered the road he closed it. Turning to the retinue of staff, he waved his hands, and off they all flew to the kitchen to prepare the Christmas feast for the returning supplicants.
The woman in dark clothes blended in with the authentic employees, pretending she had actual duties to perform. Her actual purpose was to find a more reliable weapon with which to kill Wallis. The poisoned wine had proven ineffective. Her first thought was a revolver. At close range it would prove impeccably efficient. It could then be thrown off the cliffs into the Mediterranean or, returned to the gun storage unit. But the woman did not know where the guns were stored.
Mon Dieu!” the sommelier blurted out in the middle of the kitchen. “I forgot to chill the champagne! Someone! Go to the basement and bring up a case!”
The woman in dark clothes tugged at his jacket sleeve. “I will go, monsieur,” she murmured so no one would detect her German accent.
Non, non, non. It is heavy. Find a man.”
“I am strong, monsieur.” Again she murmured.
She had no trouble finding the stairs to the basement. A stream of servants went up and down them fetching eggs, vegetables, fruit and bread. In the basement she found a hall with two doors on each side. A quick look informed her the open doors lead to the liquors, wine and other potables, another to fruits and vegetables and the third to bread and cheeses. The closed door was marked “Armory”. She had found the guns. However, when she tried to open it, she found it locked tight. She sighed with frustration. Monsieur Valat would be the only person with a key. One of many on a large key ring in his front trouser pocket. Her pickpocketing skills were minimal. Then she remembered her original purpose for being in the basement. Entering the wine vault she lifted a case of champagne with no effort at all.
After delivering the champagne the angel of death looked around the kitchen for another weapon. On a long table was a canvas bag unrolled, revealing a special pocket for each knife needed in food preparation. This would be perfect, she decided. The knives would not be counted until the end of the day. By that time she would have time to steal it, ram it up inside Wallis’s ribcage, wash it off and return it. Again her hopes were dashed when one particular cook go over to count the knives. A few minutes later the same cook came back to return a knife, and she took the time to count them all again before retrieving a larger one.
The assassin’s mind raced. How would she dispatch the duchess? The only weapon that came to her mind at the moment was the garrote. All she would need was a length of rope with a knot tied in the middle. She was strong. It would take no time nor effort to strangle the skinny little woman. She slipped back down the stairs and inspected the crates to see if any of them had been bound by rope. There were none.
As she rushed into the hall to make her way back to the kitchen she bumped into a gangly boy winding a clock.
Excuse moi, mademoiselle.”
The woman in dark clothes noticed the dull stare in his eyes. Such children should be exposed to the elements at birth, she told herself.
When she returned to the kitchen, she heard the buzzing of voices. The limousines were coming through the gate. The ladies would want to freshen up before partaking in Christmas dinner. Monsieur Valat noted in a loud voice time was running out.
Yes, time is running out. She disguised her face with a simple smile.
Monsieur Valat assigned her to stand behind and to the left of Aunt Bessie. She noticed the backward boy was behind the Duchess of Windsor who was seated next to her aunt. The boy’s attention wandered the room and every so often his shoulders twitched.
How would he know what the duchess wanted? He was useless.
“The table is beautifully set, Wallis.” Bessie patted her niece’s hand. “As always you did a wonderful job.”
“Thank you, Bessie, but I didn’t set the table. The servants did it while we were at church.”
“At church?” Bessie looked at Wallis. “Oh yes. Church. I was meaning to ask you why we went to a Catholic church.”
“It was Anglican.”
“Anglican? I go to the Episcopal church back in Baltimore.”
“Well, it’s basically the same church,” Wallis explained. “In England they call it—“
“Oh! I just caught a mistake you made! We must change the seating immediately!”
“What is that, my dear?”
“The seating should alternate lady, gentleman, and we’re seated side by side, and we’re both ladies.”
“I seated us next to each other on purpose so I could help if you needed it.”
The dark angel sniffed. They all deserve to die. The old woman has lived beyond her usefulness. The boy just makes me nervous, looking around, unaware of anything. And the Duchess of Windsor, well, she deserves to die for special reasons.
After dinner, all the guests dispersed to the sunny terrace overlooking the Mediterranean for coffee and cigars. The grim female reaper was quite efficient clearing the table. In fact Monsieur Valat pulled her aside to compliment her work. She giggled and curtsied, but inside she was furious with herself for standing out, in any way.
The idea flitted through her mind to hug Valat for his nice words and search for the key ring hanging somewhere in his trouser pocket, but in the end she decided that would be too risky. She still needed a weapon with which to kill Wallis. She was not too worried. She took pride in selecting just the right instrument of death. She had done it many times before.
After the last pot had been put away, the servants began to whisper in excitement. Word had spread that the duchess had purchased and personally wrapped Christmas presents for each of the servants.
Monsieur Valat clapped his hands to gain their attention. “To the grand hall. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor have a special surprise for each and every one of you.”
As they gathered at the bottom of the large Christmas tree, they saw Wallis sorting through different piles of presents wrapped in silver and white. The duke straightened his tie. Evidently he wanted to look his best as he handed out the presents. The servants created a line to the left so they could receive their gifts, unwrap them and exit to the right, which led back to the kitchen.
The process took a long time because the duke, upon handing out the present, shook hands heartily and took a moment to chat with each one. Wallis hugged and kissed each servant and had something appropriately festive to say.
What a bore. The woman in the dark clothes tapped her foot.
The gifts themselves ran from elegantly utilitarian, like silver cheese graters, to extravagantly personal, like alligator-skin wallets and handbags. Finally the woman reached the front of the line. By this time, she had decided on a giggle. A giggle could disarm the most suspicious person. When Wallis went in for the hug, the woman retreated slightly, which Wallis apparently took as shyness and quickly passed on to the next servant.
Death’s messenger was unenthusiastic in her tearing away of the paper which revealed a white box. Her eyes widened when she opened it because, lying on a puffy cloud of cotton, rested a silver knife.
Out of nowhere Jean bumped into the woman who dropped the box. The boy went to his knees to pick it up. His eyes were down as he returned it to her.
“Pardonnez-mois, mademoiselle.”
***
The sun was setting, and all the guests at La Croe were settling into comfy corners where they shared stories about this, that and the other things that reminded them of happy Christmases long ago. And most agreed this was one to be remembered for the rest of their lives. The Brownlow children played with their toys, and the adults nursed their cocktails while nibbling on little sandwiches made from Christmas dinner leftovers.
Wallis found herself feeling detached and somewhat depressed. Who was it who said every Christmas everyone got so excited about the presents and the food and in a few moments, the paper was on the floor and the food was eaten and it was all over. Ah yes. It was Uncle Sollie. No wonder I wanted to kill him.
She knew she could not fool herself about that little canard. No, it was Aunt Bessie. She had grown old in such a short time. Perhaps Wallis should have put more effort into visiting Baltimore to see how her dear aunt was doing. The last few years had been breathtakingly exciting, dangerous and entertaining. Wallis shook her head again. She was trying to lie to herself once more but her strong inner core would have none of it.
Wallis saw herself in Bessie. The image of dementia eating away at her mind and soul frightened her to death. If she were on better speaking terms with the vicar of Antibes she would seek out his counsel. She wished for one true friend whose shoulder she could cry on and be certain the story wouldn’t be the gossip of Europe the next day, she would do it.
Puffing on a cigarette, she looked around the grand lounge to see David down on his haunches talking to Caroline and Henry about their new playthings. She could trust him. They had saved each other’s lives. Surely they could share their inner most secrets. Wallis didn’t think much of him when first introduced as her MI6 partner. She laughed at the idea of their marriage and pretending to the world to be in love. But now she felt he was the only person she could confide in, to help her keep sanity.
She walked over to him. David looked up at her and smiled.
“Thank you, Caroline and Henry, for sharing your presents with me for a moment.” He stood. “But I think my wife has something she wants me to do for her.”
They walked to the expansive French doors leading out to the lawn overlooking the Mediterranean cliffs.
“Do you have a moment to walk outside with me?” she asked.
“You’re not worried about the assassin, are you?” His brow wrinkled. “I think he’s given up and slipped away in the night.”
“No, it’s about something else.” She opened one of the glass doors and flicked her cigarette out onto the lawn.
“I think I know.” His voice was soft and tender. “It’s Aunt Bessie, isn’t it?”
My God, I do think I’m falling in love with him.
Before she could speak, Jean ran up and tugged on David’s dinner jacket sleeve.
Monsieur, s’il vous plait.” He looked at Wallis. “Pardonnez-mois, madame. C’est tres importante. Tres importante.
David frowned, then smiled at her. “This won’t take long. I’ll join you down by the cliff in a few minutes. We’ll have more privacy there.”
“Of course.” Her lips split like a viper’s mouth, which she often did when she was trying to hide her aggravation. Wallis patted Jean’s slender shoulder. “What a sweet boy.”
She turned and walked down the lawn to the edge of the cliff. In the last rays of sunset she could make out the waves on the Mediterranean. Looking down at her arm, Wallis realized she had not brought her purse and therefore did not have any cigarettes. What a bother.
“Wallis! Wallis! Look out!”
What on earth could David be yelling about? She turned just in time to see the woman in the dark clothes rushing at her, with the silver knife uplifted, ready to thrust down into her chest. Her training in China surged from the back of her mind and adrenaline activated her body. Wallis punched the woman in the throat and did a round kick to the back of her knee. The woman collapsed at Wallis’s feet, dropping the knife on the lawn. Mounting the woman’s body, Wallis picked up the knife and held the tip of it at her throat.
“Who the hell are you?” she growled.
David ran up. “The boy tipped me off. He’d had his eyes on her from the day she arrived.” He put his hand on her back. “Are you all right?”
Wallis concentrated on the woman. “Who sent you here?”
“No one.”
“Tell me the truth or I’ll slit your throat right now!”
“I sent myself,” she blurted out.
“Sent yourself? What the hell does that mean?”
“I watched you at my master’s house,” she sputtered. “I saw how he looked at you. I hear how he talks about you still.”
“You master?” Each bit of information only made Wallis angrier. “Who the hell is your master?”
“The Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.”
“You mean Hitler’s behind all this?” David interjected.
“What does he know?” Wallis’s voice lowered ominously.
“Nothing. I swear. My mistress Eva Braun knows nothing. But I know. I know you are evil. You want to replace Eva in the Fuhrer’s heart and become the most powerful woman in the world!”
“You think I’m trying to seduce Adolf Hitler?”
Ja. I heard about how you were going to make love to him in the choo choo room but Herr Ribbentrop broke in.”
“I wasn’t trying to seduce him! I was trying to kill him!” Wallis’s mouth flew open. She knew she had said too much.
“Then my lady Eva Braun is safe?” The woman in dark clothes sounded relieved.
“Sure. Eva Braun is safe. But you’re not.” Wallis slit her throat, stood and handed the knife to David.
The Duke of Windsor rolled the body off the cliff and threw the silver knife far into the black waves of the Mediterranean.

Remember Chapter Six

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley.
“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at him he came into sharper focus. She noticed his fair-skinned cheeks were rosy from the cold. And the prettiest eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“Of all the days of my life you had to remember, why did you have to pick this one?” Vernon kicked the desk knocking his books to the floor, scattering them everywhere.
“Please! Compose yourself!” Lucinda’s hand went to her mouth. She rubbed her left arm. “You’re making me very nervous.”

Vernon paused, looked at her and breathed deeply. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambridge. It was very rude of me to break into your conference period like this. I’ll gather my books and leave.”

“No, you don’t have to leave. Just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”

“Oh, it’s daddy again,” he replied as he picked up the last book and plopped into a chair.

“What did your father do?”

“It’s what he didn’t do.” Vernon held his head in his hands. “My grades from the first semester came in the mail, and I showed them to him. I made an A in algebra.”

“And all he noticed was the C in English composition,” she said, trying to anticipate his story.

“No. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

“He didn’t notice anything.” Lucinda had a bad problem with correcting the grammar of people trying to communicate with her. Since she did not see this characteristic a problem, she would probably never change it.

“No.” Vernon looked at her. “You wouldn’t notice anything. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

She could not help but smile. “I should have given you a B.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Good grief, he just doesn’t care about anything but the farm.”

“Exactly what did he say or do?”

“He looked at the grades for a moment, put the paper down and said I needed to mend the fence out back of the barn before the goats got out.”

She clasped her slender fingers in front of her face. “From what you’ve told me, that seems to be his way, isn’t it?”

“But it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make me feel like he appreciates what I’m doing. I mean, I put in a lot of work on the farm and pull a full load at school. Okay, I only had one A and a bunch of Cs but I didn’t flunk anything.

“I think I’m going to give you today’s assignment early, so you can start thinking about it.” She went to her blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk.

“What?” The comment caught Vernon off guard. “I thought we were talking about daddy.”

“I want you to write an essay on the person you most admire.” She wrote Most Admired at the top of the board.

“That’ll be easy. I’ll write about you.” He smiled broadly without a hint of the overly complimentary nature of his reply.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” On a line below the title she wrote My Father

Vernon slumped in the chair. “Aww, you gotta be kiddin’.”

“Please, don’t lose your diction along with your composure.” She looked over her shoulder to smile.

“Very well. You must be kidding.” His mouth twitched with aggravation.

“No, I’m not. Get out a piece of paper and pen.” Lucinda turned and leaned against her desk.

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want you to take notes.” She had set aside all her reservations and fears about remembering her time with Vernon, and she was enjoying it immensely.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using the assignment as an excuse to lecture me about daddy,” he grumbled.

“Nonsense. Now list all your father’s good qualities.” She turned back to the board and wrote the numeral one. “Put a number one and a period. At least it will be a start.”

Vernon wrote that, then looked up. “Now what?”

“Surely you can think of something admirable about your father.”

“No.” It was a flat statement, devoid of emotion.

“Try.”

“He hasn’t done much for me.” He put the pen down.

She went to his side to look over his shoulder at the paper. “You’re always talking about how strong you are.” Lucinda patted his back but quickly pulled her hand away. “You got your strength because he had you work on the farm with him. He helped you there. And how many sons get the opportunity to work side by side with their fathers?”

“Guys get muscles working on a chain gang too, but that’s no reason to thank the warden.” He looked up at her, dead serious.

“Oh Vernon, you’re so negative.” She walked back to the board and began her own list. “Your father is dependable. He has always been there for you and always will. He is steady, sturdy, a sound foundation on which you have built a pretty wonderful person.”

“In other words, he’s like a rock.”

“Yes!” She swung around and smiled. “Solid as a rock. Never crumbling. The rock of ages.”

“But a rock has no feelings. It’s cold. You can’t hug a rock. A rock can’t say I love you.”

Feeling defeated, she sat at her desk. “You learned metaphors too well.”

“Thank you.” His deadpan response was softly delivered.

“But,” she paused to reorganize her thoughts, “your father is not a stone. He indeed has a heart and a soul and feelings for you whether you can see it or not.”

“You don’t know him.” He nodded perceptively. “You’ve never even met him.”

“But I knew a man like that.”

“Who?”

“My late husband couldn’t express emotion. When I’d get home from a night class late he’d burst into a worst tirade. But I knew he was worried about me. He — he may not have hugged and kissed me much, but I knew he loved me.” In the back of her mind Lucinda wondered if she were trying to convince him or herself.

“My father doesn’t care if I come home late. As long as I milk the cows he doesn’t care.”

“Well then, that proves your father trusts your judgment.” She gestured to him, pleased she had finally made a cogent argument.

“Then your husband didn’t trust you?”

She shook her head. “You’re confusing me.”

“I guess I better go now.” He gathered his books.

“Yes, I think you should,” she sighed in defeat.

“Good bye.” He stood and walked to the door.

“Vernon?”

“Yes, ma’am?” He turned to look at her, his face now clear of the darkness that covered it just moments ago.

“If you can write a paper that fools me into believing you admire your father, I’ll give you an A.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vernon replied with a smile before melting away into her subconscious.

“As I recall, he got an F on that paper,” she said to herself. “I suppose it was a tribute to his inherent honesty and integrity he couldn’t write anything he didn’t believe.”

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Ninety-Four

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Stanton forces Adam into a final conspiracy.
Adam climbed the stairs to the second-story door of the white boardinghouse at 541 H Street, his stomach tied in knots. He had always admired Lincoln, even as a youth in Steubenville, reading stories about the Illinois lawyer. In the last two years, even though he had had to keep Lincoln hostage, he had known the president was right. Adam did not want to be part of his assassination—but neither did he want to hang for killing Neal. He forced himself to knock.
“Yes?” A tall, dark-haired woman dressed in black opened the door and stared at Adam with blank eyes.
“Mr. Zook asked me to empty his sister’s room and bring the items to him.”
“She always talked of a brother.” She raised an eyebrow. “But I never saw him.”
“I assure you Gabby Zook exists,” he said. “We work together at the Executive Mansion.”
“And who are you?” Her mouth hardened at the mention of the Executive Mansion.
“I’m Private Adam Christy,” he replied. “And what’s your name?”
“I’m Mary Surratt, the owner of this boardinghouse, and as such have the right to deny entrance to anyone I consider suspicious.”
“Are you saying you’re going to deny Mr. Zook his rightful possessions?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she replied.
“Then what are you saying?”
“I just want to make sure Miss Zook’s possessions won’t be stolen.” She fluttered her eyes in frustration.
“Are you accusing me, an agent of the White House, of stealing a deceased woman’s property?”
“I did not say that.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam noticed a young man, perhaps a few years older than he, standing in the parlor door. He had a fair complexion and curly, black hair. On his face was a bemused expression which Adam could not decipher.
Covertly watching the man, Adam said, “Just because Abraham Lincoln has no morals doesn’t mean I’m a thief.”
The curly-haired man smiled.
“I did not call you a thief,” Mrs. Surratt said in irritation.
“Good,” Adam replied. “Where’s her room?”
“Upstairs.” She stepped aside to allow him in. “Follow me.”
Adam watched the young man move into the hallway as they went up the stairs.
“This is her room.” Mrs. Surratt opened the door.
“Thank you.” Adam walked in to see a clutter of tattered clothes, sources of Gabby quilts that would never be made. “You may leave the door open.”
“Of course I will.” Mrs. Surratt glared at him and left.
Looking into a chest of drawers, he noticed neat stacks of worn clothing. On top of the chest was a framed photograph of Cordie and Gabby when they were younger and not beaten down by life. Gabby would like to have that picture now, Adam thought as he reached for it.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your telling Mrs. Surratt you’re assigned to the Executive Mansion.”
Adam turned to see the young man who had been standing in the parlor door but now leaned against the wall in a nonchalant pose.
“Yes, I am,” he replied.
“She often talked of her brother who couldn’t leave the mansion.”
“I’m gathering her things to give him.”
“In my opinion,” the man said, stretching to his full height, “the Republicans killed her, keeping her from her brother.” His eyelids drooped but could not cover his intense emotion.
“I agree.” Adam paused to appraise him further. “Who are you?”
“John Booth. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
“No.”
“My family is well known in the theater.”
“I don’t go to the theater.”
“I’ve performed in several Shakespearean plays.”
“I don’t understand Shakespeare.”
Booth blinked his dark eyes and ran his fingers through his curly, black hair. Adam was pleased; he seemed to unsettle Booth.
“So you think Lincoln has no morals?”
“Yes,” Adam lied.
“Neither do I.” Booth smiled, revealing white, even teeth underneath his full black mustache. “I’m from Maryland and have no taste for Union bullies.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera.
The woman in dark clothes stood in the woods just beyond the tracks and watched the Blue Train disappear in the night. She hoped Wallis would soon be drinking the poisoned champagne and thereafter die. But she had to be sure. First, she had to be at the Antibes station in the morning as they made the sad announcement the Duchess of Windsor was dead. First she had to walk by the tracks to the next station, hoping to catch the last train to the coast. The cold night air didn’t bother her. She was used to winter weather and walking long distances in the frigid air if necessary. Unpleasantness could disappear if she only made her mind blank, one of the few talents the Maker had endowed her with.
As the woman saw a train pull away. She could tell it was not the legendary Blue Train. She prayed it was not the last train of the night. Hurrying to the ticket window, she asked for a ticket to the next train to Antibes.
“Antibes? Mais non, mademoiselle,” the ticket agent replied with graciousness. He told her the next train to Antibes would not leave until noon the next day.
Scheitze,” she muttered in her native tongue.
The clerk looked surprised and then smiled. He raised an open palm up to his shoulder. “Heil, Hitler.”
“Heil, Hitler.” She returned the Nazi salute.
He allowed her inside his office, offered her a seat and listened patiently to her story. She had to be in Antibes station in time to greet the Blue Train, though she failed to explain why. He nodded knowingly and offered to drive her there with no questions. By nine o’clock Christmas Eve morning she was milling with the crowd at the depot awaiting the arrival of the Blue Train.
Most of the conversation among the excited women centered on seeing the Duchess of Windsor and wondering what expensive traveling suit she would be wearing. The men mostly talked about how fortunate the community was to have such a wealthy couple own the La Croe estate. For their Christmas celebration, the Windsors had to hire several local servants to accommodate the long list of British celebrities arriving for the holiday, and all of them equally wealthy. What a boon to the local economy.
The woman in dark clothes smiled to herself, sure she easily blended in with the mass of fellow, faceless domestics scurrying about to serve their masters. She looked up when she heard the train whistle. When the Blue Train came to a stop at the boarding platform, she strained her neck to see who would exit first.
Already on the platform was a contingent from the local government, the mayor, councilmen and other dignitaries, who fairly hopped around with anticipation. The first to exit was Edward, Duke of Wales. He did not look happy, a good sign for the woman in dark clothes. The poison must have worked. The Duchess must be dead. Her hopes were quickly dashed as the Duchess stepped out on the platform wearing a fashionable gray suit with fur collar. She carried two docile, obedient cairn terriers.
Sighing, the woman turned and began her walk to La Croe on the Mediterranean coast.
***
After gracefully dismissing the official greeting contingency, David, Wallis and the two terriers disappeared in their limousine and began the ride to their seaside estate. Wallis leaned back.
“On the first day of Christmas, an assassin gave to me a poisoned bottle of very good champagne.” Her singing was nasal and tinny which detracted from the grim cleverness of her lyric.
David lit a cigarette. “You know he will try again.”
“The bastard. Trying to kill me on my very favorite holiday.”
Monsieur Valat telegrammed me in Versailles he had to take on several additional servants. Due to time restraints he was unable to check out all their resumes and character references. He truly groveled in print, which one would expect from an excellent concierge.”
“Well, I’m not going to let the bastard ruin my good time. I spent too much time buying presents for all the servants and wrapping them to not enjoy playing Mere Noel. I even bought extras for last-minute hirelings. I picked out the tree and ornaments which were shipped to La Croe yesterday.”
The line of servants waiting to greet the duke and duchess stretched halfway down the driveway at La Croe, every one of them, dressed in black, waved and wore hearty smiles. Once they disembarked their limousine, Wallis began to shake hands with as many servants as possible. David sought out the concierge Monsieur Valat to inform him of the situation concerning the duchess’s safety. Valat confirmed several servants had been added even as late as this morning
David looked away in thought, when he noticed the concierge’s son milling around in the crowd. He had a soft spot for the boy who reminded David of his youngest brother John who had epilepsy and died at age fourteen. David carried a deep guilt within himself. When he was a young man, he had no patience with John, at times calling him an animal. As David matured and saw more of the world he began to see his deceased brother as a hero and a person of great character and courage. Additionally, David felt John had this other-worldliness about him as he wandered around in his own world yet keenly aware of details about the people around him. Valat’s son was actually eighteen or so but deemed unemployable. When the concierge informed David his son’s name was Jean the duke’s heart was stolen. He created a job of official clock winder at a more than generous salary.
Waving Jean over, David asked the young man to watch the newly hired servants for any unusual behaviors that might indicate ulterior motives to harm anyone, particularly harm the duchess. Jean’s large brown eyes widened.
Oui, monsieur.”
“But don’t tell anyone about it, except your father and me. It will be our special secret, won’t it, Jean?”
Oui, monsieur.”
By late afternoon, their guests began to arrive. Most of them were British who remained friends with the Windsors during the abdication crisis, although David didn’t understand why anyone would truly like him unless there was something in it for themselves, a bad trait which lingered on from childhood. There were Lord and Lady Brownlow and their children, Caroline and Edward, Sir Charles and Lady Mendl and John McMullin. And, of course not to forget, the guest Wallis most anticipated, her Aunt Bessie. She had not seen her substitute mother and traveling companion for two years. Bessie’s limousine arrived last.
Aunt Bessie had trouble getting out of the car. Normally Wallis would wait until the attendants had helped the guest, but without thought she went to the old woman’s side putting her arm around Bessie’s waist. She finally got her aunt to her feet and guided her to the front door.
“It’s rather warm for Easter, isn’t it?” Bessie asked.
“It’s Christmas, dear,” Wallis whispered.
“Christmas? You must be kidding me! There’s no snow on the ground.”
“We’re in the south of France, darling. They do things differently here.”
Christmas Eve had always been Wallis’ favorite part of the holiday, which puzzled David. When he was growing up, the servants put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Then the family, decked out in regal finery, posed in front of the tree, unsmiling, as the royal photographer took a dozen pictures all looking the same. He could not think of anything more boring.
Wallis, on the other hand, spent days in Paris picking the absolutely perfect tree for the parlor at La Croe. She coordinated the creation of the ornaments, all of them white and silver, with interior designer John McMullin, who made sure each decoration was placed in the exact right place. And at great expense both the tree and the decorations were shipped by train to their Mediterranean villa to allow the guests the pleasure of decorating it themselves Christmas Eve night.
David noticed Wallis spent most of her time supervising Aunt Bessie.
“I thought you said this was Christmas?” her aunt asked.
“It is, darling,” Wallis purred.
“But Christmas trees are supposed to red and green balls,” Bessie protested.
“I thought it would be fun to have something different.”
“Why does everything have to be different?” her aunt replied.
Wallis wrapped her arms around Bessie. “Why, Aunt Bessie, you’re the one who taught me how much fun it was to be different.”
David sat back in one of the more comfortable parlor chairs and puffed on a cigarette.
Wallis must be breaking up on the inside. Though she would never let anyone know. I envy her. I’ve watched many family members grow old and senile and never felt any sorrow for them.
He felt uncomfortable. Putting out his cigarette, David stood, went to the Brownlow children Caroline and Edward and offered to lift them so they could place a silver bauble at the top of the tree. They giggled.
More than grief for Bessie, I know Wallis sees in her aunt what will happen to her one day, and the thought terrified her.
After he returned Caroline and Edward to their parents, David walked to Wallis and patted her shoulder.
But why in hell should I care about the feelings of a fellow MI6 agent? How many times had I lectured the old agent about becoming too personal? And now I was doing the same with Wallis.

Remember Chapter Five

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon. He needs help on his first college essay.
“Oh Vernon.” Lucinda sighed. “What a delightful young man.”

Shirley sneaked through the bedroom door, closing it carefully behind her. “Shh!”

“Shirley, your mother made it very clear she doesn’t want you to visit.” Lucinda was in no mood any further outbursts.

“Yeah right.” Shirley had a biting sarcasm unusual for a child of ten. “And she wants me to tell people Warren Beatty is my father.”

“Maybe you should be playing outside.” She smiled bravely. “It’s such a beautiful spring day.”

Shirley walked to the bed and sat on it. “That’s what mama said.” Making a face, she added, “I don’t want to play with those snotty girls.”

“Why?”

She fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. “They laugh at mama’s story. They laugh at my name.”

“Shirley is a lovely name.” Lucinda tried to sound encouraging.

“Shirley is an old lady’s name.” She sat up and rolled her eyes. “It’s Warren Beatty’s sister’s name. I feel silly.”

“What name would you like?”

“I don’t know.” She stood and went to Lucinda’s stack of books, picking up the yearbook she held earlier. “Maybe there’s a name in here I’d like.”

“Maybe.” Lucinda’s heart fluttered a bit.

“Who’s that person you wanted me to see?” She flipped through the pages, looking at everything yet nothing in particular.

“Your mother wouldn’t approve.” Her hand slowly went to her chest and moved in a circular fashion.

“Let’s be honest. I love mama, but I don’t think she’s all there — up here.” Shirley pointed to her head. “You know, like Cassie.”

“Please don’t be cruel to your mother and Cassie.” Lucinda sensed a moment of Deja vu. Then she recalled saying the same thing to Vernon just a few moments ago.

“But, really, who’d believe a big movie star like Warren Beatty would have sex with my mama?” Her eyes were wide with a worldly innocence.

“Shirley!”

“There she was, an extra in Bonnie and Clyde, one of a whole lot of girls, and Warren Beatty picks her?” She shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I agree. It doesn’t make sense. But she’s still your mother.” Lucinda’s second calling could have been a ma’arm at a finishing school.

“So I have to live a lie just because it makes mama happy?” the little girl cocked her head in a perplexing yet respectful manner.

“Well, no but . . . .” Lucinda’s voice trailed off as she realized she had no good answer for the child.

“Shirley! Shirley!” Nancy’s voice boomed from down the hall.

“Uh oh.” The yearbook slipped from her hands, landing at her feet. Shirley stooped to pick it up when her mother stormed through the door.”

“I told you to go outside and play!”

Shirley slowly straightened. “I was on my out when—“

“The hell you were!” Nancy glanced down and picked up the yearbook. “What the hell is this?”

“Well, I—“

“Damn it! I told you not to look at that!” Nancy threw down the book and whacked her daughter on the bottom.

Lucinda rose from her rocking chair. “There’s no reason to strike the poor child!”

“Stay out of this!” She shoved Shirley toward the door. “Get out of here!”

The little girl scampered down the hall to the bed she shared with her mother, entered and slammed the door shut.

“I know it’s none of my business—“

“You got that damn right.”

“. . . but Shirley deserves to know the truth,” Lucinda persisted.

“Don’t you dare preach at me—“

“I’ve been remembering a very special young man today, Vernon Singleberry,” she said as softly and gently as she could.

Nancy took a menacing step toward the old teacher. “If you ever mention that name in front of Shirley I’ll knock the crap out of you. I don’t care how old you are!” She turned and stormed out of the room, practically knocking over Bertha Godwin, Mrs. Lawrence’s sister.

“Miz Cambridge, may I come in?” Bertha held her hands as her fingers twitched.

“Of course, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda sank into her rocking chair.

Bertha entered as though she were approaching a judge’s bench.

“I’m so glad. I know we ain’t talked much, but I’ve always thought you was one of the smartest people I ever met so—“

“Have you ever met anyone who was like a breath of fresh air?” Lucinda had almost retreated back to her classroom, hoping to see Vernon pass through the hall.

“Well, no.” Bertha’s forehead wrinkled. “What I really need is help in makin’ a decision.”

The spell was broken. Bertha had brought her back to the present, and Lucinda decided she must make the best of it. “Of course. What is it?” she asked with a smile.

Bertha looked at the bed. “Do you mind if I take a seat?” Without waiting for a reply Bertha sat and leaned forward to whisper, “The fire marshal came by and told Emma to make some changes.”

Lucinda feared Bertha wanted to place her in the middle of another family argument, and she knew her heart could not stand it. Closing her eyes, she forced herself back ten years to her classroom. She sensed the cold. It was now winter. What encounter would her memory bring forth? Vernon, wearing a heavy winter coat, tromped into the room and dropped his books on a school desk, which caused Lucinda to jump.

“Anything wrong, Miz Cambridge?” Bertha asked.

“That old man! I wish I could kill him!” Vernon growled.

Lucinda looked back and forth between the two and finally focused on Bertha. “Nothing, dear. Go on.

“Well, you’re just about the most perfect person I’ve ever met,” Bertha gushed.

“Daddy did it again! Boy, he thinks I’m so stupid!” Vernon continued his tirade.

“No, Mrs. Godwin, I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes — sometimes people like to think they’re perfect, but then things happen to let them know they’re not perfect.” A weight pressed down on her frail shoulders.

“What?” Bertha shook her head.

“Bertha! I told you to clean all the commodes!” Emma screamed from down the hall.

“Oh no. It’s Emma.” She stood and headed for the door.

“If you’re gonna stay under my roof, you’re gonna earn your keep!” Emma’s voice sounded even louder and angrier.

“Oh dear, Mrs. Lawrence is upset,” Lucinda said with apprehension.

“Bertha!” Emma bellowed again.

“I’ve got to go.” When Bertha was at the door she turned back and smiled. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Of course.”

“Bertha!” The last call sounded the scariest.

“Comin’, Emma!”

Lucinda focused her attention back to Vernon and the cold classroom from ten years ago.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter 93

Previously: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns and janitor Gabby Zook captive in the White House basement. Private Adam Christy takes guard duties. Duff and Alethia become Lincoln impostors. After two years of deceit, love and death, the war is over. Adam makes amends with hostages in the basement.
Adam smiled at Mrs. Lincoln, nodded, and turned to Gabby’s cubicle behind the crates and barrels. He watched Gabby on his pallet, stirring restlessly and mumbling.
“Cord—cord—cordiecordiecordie,” Gabby muttered. After twisting and moaning a few more moments, he suddenly sat up, shouting clearly, “Cordie!” His eyes were wide and blank; after batting them several times, he focused on Adam.
“I’m sorry to wake you up, Mr. Gabby,” Adam said, setting the plate on a chair which had dirty trousers and shirts strewn across the back of it.
“Cordie is dead, isn’t she?” he whispered, staring at the plate.
“Yes. Last night.” Love really did connect people, Adam decided, realizing Gabby already sensed his sister’s death. He envied the old man’s grief.
“I’m not hungry anymore.” He looked at the plate of fried eggs and toast and then glanced away indifferently. “They say we’ll be out of here by the end of the week.”
“Yes, sir. We can all go Friday night.”
“It doesn’t seem to matter anymore, does it? The rats are gone. Wish we hadn’t killed all of them so fast; it gave me something to worry about. I mean, something of no account to worry about. I’ve enough honest-to-God worries as it is.”
“You really don’t have anything to worry about now.” Adam tried to sound hopeful.
“Cordie’s dead. There’s plenty to worry about. Uncle Sammy’s dead. Mama’s dead. Papa’s dead. Joe’s dead. Everybody’s dead except me.”
“No, you don’t have to worry. Cordie had a friend at the hospital. She was with her right to the last moment. Her name’s Jessie Home.”
“Is she a young woman?”
“Yes.”
“Then I’ll scare her away. Young women have always been scared of me. Well, not always, but that was a long time ago when I was someone else. I don’t remember him very well, but I do remember young women were rather fond of him.”
“Jessie’s different than most young women,” Adam said. “She doesn’t care about what people seem like but what they are like.”
“You love this girl, don’t you?” Gabby looked at Adam. “I can tell by the way you talk about her. And your eyes. Say her name again.”
“Jessie Home.”
“See. When you say her name, your cheeks turn red. And you can’t help but smile when you talk about her. If you can trust her, then I can trust her; after all, you can’t love somebody you can’t trust.”
Adam darkened when he thought about how much he loved and trusted Jessie, and how little she must love and trust him now.
“And don’t worry. I forgive you.”
“I hurt you the night you jumped me,” Adam said quietly. “If Mr. Lincoln hadn’t pulled me off, I might have hurt you real bad.”
“You couldn’t help it,” Gabby said. “You just fought back like anyone would have. You know, it was all her fault.” He nodded beyond the crates and barrels to Mrs. Lincoln. Leaning into Adam, he added in a whisper, “I don’t think she’s quite right in the head. When people are like that, there’s nothing you can do but forgive them.”
“Are you sure about breakfast?” Adam asked.
“Maybe I’ll be hungry again sometime, but right now I don’t think so.”
Adam smiled and took the plate away. He stacked the dishes on the tray and left for the kitchen. Phebe kept her head down when he came in, and he did not say anything. Back in the hallway, Adam felt a tug at his elbow. It was Stanton, who pulled him into the stairwell.
“I’ve a new assignment for you.”
“No.” Adam moved away. “When the Lincolns are back upstairs, when the others leave, I want to go. I want to return to Steubenville. Forget the commission.”
“I have,” Stanton said. “You’re guilty of kidnapping and holding hostage the president and his wife. I was aghast when I learned of your plot.”
“Do you think people will believe that?”
“Do you think they will believe you?”
“Lincoln,” Adam said with confidence. “Lincoln knows the truth.” He paused and softened his voice. “Lincoln won’t judge me. He won’t judge you. He knows you did what you did to help the nation. The war’s over.”
“The war’s never over. We now have to make the rebels suffer. They must obey the law.”
“That war Mr. Lincoln can win. He won’t punish us. He’s a man of justice.”
“It is exactly because he is a man of justice that we will be punished.”
“I’ve already been punished.” Adam turned somber.
“You don’t know what punishment is.” Stanton’s beady eyes narrowed. “Do what I say. You murdered the butler. We hang murderers. If you cooperate, you can go home to Steubenville.”
“What is it?” Adam asked, hanging his head in defeat.
“The old woman, the sister of the janitor, the one who died this week. Did she ever say anything of interest?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“She’s dead,” Stanton said. “It makes no sense to protect her when your life’s in danger.”
“Oh.” He looked off. “One time she asked about troop movements.”
“Troop movements?” Stanton pursed his Cupid’s bow lips.
“She said her landlady might turn her out if she couldn’t get any information from her brother who worked in the White House.”
“Do you know the name of the landlady?”
“No.”
“Do you know where the boardinghouse is?”
“I escorted her home several times.”
“Very good.” Stanton paused to think. “Go to the boardinghouse to say you’re collecting her personal effects to give to her brother. Then keep your ears open.”
“What am I listening for?”
“Conspiracies, plots, assassins.”
“Assassins?” Adam’s eyes widened.
“What do you think we’re talking about?” Stanton snapped. “Lincoln must die.”
“But he’s forgiven me.”
“He’s never mentioned forgiving me, and if I go to prison, you hang.”
“I don’t think I can help kill President Lincoln.” Adam swallowed hard.
“You can, and you will.” Stanton paused. “If you find anyone interested, tell them to meet you under Aqueduct Bridge at midnight.”
“But I don’t know—”
“Just tell them to be under the bridge at midnight.”

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Four

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. Ribbentrop still loves Wallis
A short dark-haired woman was the last to board the Blue Train at Calais. A quibble about her passport had delayed her crossing the border with Belgium. Such times troubled with omens of war often inconvenienced Europeans, but this particular incident troubled the woman for some reason. However, it was doubtful anyone would even have noticed her. Her clothing was dark, non-descript. Put a white apron on her, and one would assume she were a maid. She was neither too heavy nor too thin. Nothing particular about her face would draw a passerby’s attention. She had no luggage except for a small valise she hugged tight to her bosom.
***
In his last communique General Trotter instructed David and Wallis to have a carefree Christmas holiday close to home because MI6 reported the political climate most certainly forecasted war in the coming year. On the early evening of the Dec. 23, 1938, David and Wallis boarded the Blue Train at Versailles for Antibes with their two cairn terriers. For the sake of privacy they booked six compartments even though they planned only to use only the one in middle. That way they could discuss coming strategies without anyone overhearing a thing. Once they had settled into their compartment and the porter had put away their luggage, David and Wallis burst into giggles which was unusual for them.
“Why are we laughing?” Wallis daubed happiness tear drops from her heavily-mascaraed eyelashes.
“I suppose because we can.” David made an extra effort to contain himself because ever since his childhood he had been instructed such behavior was unbecoming.
“It’s Christmas, and for the first time in a long time, we are allowed to be children.” Even though such profound words were coming out of her mouth, she couldn’t help but smile. Wallis soon came back to serious social considerations. Looking at her watch, she said, “dinner is about to be served in the main dining car. I think we should go now, have a tray of cakes and biscuits with a bottle of champagne before retiring. I’m really dreadfully tired.”
David smiled and leaned in. “We could always be served in our compartment.”
“Now you know all the other passengers will be quite miffed if we don’t dine with them and shake all their little hands. We have a reputation to maintain.”
“But first the little ones must be attended to,” David added. He put on his overcoat and hat then lifted the terriers.
Wallis leaned back and pulled out a cigarette to light. David bussed her cheek. He knew she loved their pets as much as he did, although he suspected she resented the impression they seemed to come on a higher pecking order than she. In the corridor, David motioned to an attendant that he wanted to stretch his legs—a polite way of saying the dogs were ready to do their business.
“The train should stop every half hour or so to avoid accidents, shall we say?” he added.
Within minutes, he was walking his dogs on leashes on a grassy area beside the train. His intuition was correct: both dogs relieved themselves quickly and started back to the train. Once the duke was on board the train continued its journey southeast through the country. When David came back to the compartment he saw Wallis had changed into a sleeker dress than her traveling clothes; after all, she had her audience to consider. They left the terriers in the compartment and entered the dining car to polite applause. As was his nature, David shook hands with his left hand even though he was right handed. He took one side of the car and Wallis the other. Soon they were seated and eating their meal.
Wallis bit into a leaf of lettuce as though she were trying to kill it. “Did you see the cheek of that bitch?”
“Hmm?”
“I stuck my hand in the face of this—this woman, at least I thought it was a woman, and she ignored it. In fact she more than ignored it. She turned her head away to look out the window, like there was anything to see. Pitch black.”
“Poor little Wallis. Everyone else looked up with adoring smiles and extended their hands like they were going to touch the hem of the Pope. But one person didn’t seem interested—“
“It was more than merely non-interest.” She cut into a medium rare filet mignon with hostility. “She had a hidden agenda. Probably thinks Bertie and Elizabeth are wonderful and I’m the devil.”
David gave Wallis his rakish smile. “I shall have her arrested immediately. What color was her hair?”
“She wore a dreadful dark woolen cap.”
“What did her clothes look like?”
“Rumpled.”
“Her face? Fair? Wrinkled?”
“You’re not paying attention. She turned her head away. She could have been Attila the Hun for all I know.”
“Don’t you suppose she’s just a mousey little woman returning home to her husband children after visiting her mummy, and she’s terribly shy?”
Wallis paused. “And how could such a wretchedly poor person afford to ride the Blue Train?”
“Perhaps mummy has all the money in the family and that’s why she has to visit so often, to pick up another allowance check.”
“You are such a louse.”
***
After the Windsors left the dining car, the other guests began to gather their things to return to their compartments. No one noticed the short woman put on her overcoat and clutch her valise as she exited to the kitchen car. She immediately put her cap, coat and valise in the servants’ closet. Before closing the door she took an apron from her coat pocket and put it on. She was now ready to disappear among the mass of servants. Amazingly, she was capable of looking busy while doing nothing. She overheard the head chef instruct one waiter to prepare a dessert cart for the royal couple to be delivered exactly at eleven o’clock.
“And it must have a chilled bottle of our finest champagne.”
Upon hearing the request, she unconsciously rubbed her hands together.
At 10:45 p.m. from a frosty window the woman watched David take his two terriers on leash for a short walk. She went to the servants’ closet to retrieve her valise and from it pulled out a filled syringe. She looked through the kitchen until she found the cart with cakes, biscuits and the bottle of champagne. She checked the note on the tray saying it was for the Windsors, looked around to make sure no one was paying attention and stuck the syringe into the cork. She threw the syringe into a kitchen garbage can, retrieved her cap, coat and valise and went back to the frosty window where she saw the duck climb back on the train with his dogs. She scurried down the stairs and disappeared in the cold night.
***
Feeling quite relaxed, David returned from his late night walk with the terriers just as the attendant rolled the cart into the compartment. By this time Wallis had changed into a silken night gown and robe and had arranged comfy pillows on the seat. David placed the terriers on Wallis’s lap and put away his coat and hat. The attendant pulled the cork from the champagne bottle and poured a sample into one flute and offered it to David for his approval. The duke swirled the champagne in its glass, held it to the light, sniffed it and was about to sip when he frowned and sniffed again. He extended the flute to Wallis.
“Smell this.”
She took one whiff and poured the contents into the ice bucket. The attendant’s eyes widened.
“Madame, monsieur, what is wrong?”
David reached over to retrieve the cork from the cart to examine the top of it. He motioned for the attendant to lean over.
“Do you see that?” The duke pointed to a small puncture next to the hole the corkscrew had made. “Do you know what that might be?”
“No, monsieur. I saw nothing. The cart was prepared when I brought it to your compartment.”
“Do have any idea what that might be?”
The befuddled servant shrugged. “Some kind of bug?”
“Mon dieu, I do believe he’s that stupid.” Wallis sighed in exasperation.
David continued his interrogation. “Do you know what cyanide is?”
“It’s something to kill bugs with, is it not?”
“Have you used it before?”
“Many times, monsieur.”
David lifted the champagne bottle. “Smell this.”
The attendant sniffed and dropped the bottle into the bucket. “Mon dieu, and that was our best bottle of champagne!”
Wallis lifted her bare leg and pushed the cart into the server. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

Remember Chapter Four

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon. He needs help on his first college essay.
“Well, let’s return to this paper. ‘What I Hope to Accomplish in Life.’”

“I don’t know,” he announced confidently, which Lucinda considered ironic in context of his statement.

She considered a different approach. “What do you want to do more than anything else in the world?”

“Git away from the farm.” His assertion of the negative intent was very positive.

“Not git, get,” she corrected. “Anyway, that’s terribly vague. Now think of something definite.”

“Make a whole lot of money?” With each reply he became less confident.

She nodded. “Earn a large income. But how do you expect to go about earning this large income?”

“Somethin’ — something — legal and honest, of course. Mama will want to talk about it at church.”

“You’re not focusing your mind on the problem, Vernon. You’re concerned with the auxiliary points, income, respectability. But the main problem is that you apparently don’t know what you’re good at.” In her mind she was mortified that she just verbalized a dangling participle, but since she was sure Vernon didn’t know what a dangling participle was she dismissed the thought immediately.

Vernon took a long time thinking about her challenge, his face scrounging up. Finally he looked up and said, “I’m good at math.”

“You are?”

“I get a big kick out of algebra and geometry. I’m goin’ — going — to take trigonometry and physics before I move on to the university.”

“Oh, Vernon, that’s it. The way your eyes lit up when you were talking about mathematics.” She reveled in the breakthrough. “That’s your field. I’m surprised your high school math teacher didn’t encourage you to major in some field of mathematics.”

“Oh. We didn’t get along,” he said in a sad confidential way. “Coach Ruggers didn’t like it when I found mistakes in the problems he did on the board.”

“I see.”

“He kept telling me I wasn’t as smart as I thought about figgers — I mean, figures.” He sounded a bit deflated.

“I hate to disillusion you, but teachers aren’t always right,” she informed him, thinking of all the coaches she had observed in classrooms through the years.

“But you are, Miz Cambridge.” He looked at her and smiled. “You’re always right.”

Lucinda diverted her eyes to look out the window. “No. I wish I were.”

“Well, get on with my paper — please, ma’am.” A surprisingly serious tone entered his voice.

“Yes.” She read the next sentence aloud. “I’m going to college so I won’t have to go into the Army.” Lucinda paused to appraise him. “Oh dear, Vernon, don’t tell me you’re a draft dodger.”

“Heck no, Miz Cambridge,” he replied. “I’d be going to college even if there wasn’t a war going on. But it’s kinda useful, isn’t it? As long as I take a twelve-hour semester load I don’t have to go to war.”

“But don’t you want to serve your country?” Reproach shadowed her face.

He paused a moment before admitting, “I just don’t want to die. I — I’d rather serve my country some other way, by living.”

“Vernon, just because you’re drafted doesn’t mean you’d be sent to Vietnam.” A knowing smile crossed her lips. “And just because you went to Vietnam doesn’t mean you’d be killed.”

“Oh no, I’d be killed. I’ve always felt that way.” He shook his head.

“Well, it’s silly to feel that way.” Her head tilted up in assurance.

“It ain’t — isn’t silly. It makes good sense. The way I look at it, war is like playing football, it’s sorta a game of strategy and running and — well, athletic things. And I’m not at all athletic — at least not when it comes to sports and things. So, I figure just like I’m the first to get struck out in baseball I’d be the first to die in a war.”

“No, I guess it’s not silly.” She realized she was not entirely forthcoming in compassion, a quality she always thought she had in abundance. “It may not be right, but it’s not silly.”

Vernon looked up and around the room. “Oh, there’s the bell.” He stood awkwardly and gathered his books together.

“I didn’t hear a bell.” Lucinda started doubting her senses again.

“Sure there was a bell. I only get to spend an hour every other day with you.”

As Vernon walked away, the room slowly faded into her boardinghouse room.

“But I’m enjoying my memories of our times together now. Why must you go away?”

“I don’t know. It’s your memory, not mine.”

“Very well.”

Vernon paused to look back. “Oh. What did I get on that first paper?”

“An F.”

“Oh.” He sounded very disappointed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll improve.”

“That’s good. See you next time.” With that Vernon disappeared into the past, leaving Lucinda alone in the present.