Monthly Archives: May 2015

Remember Chapter Two

“Why, it’s time for your composition class, Miz Cambridge.”

“I haven’t taught since last December,” she replied in a bare whisper.

“Heck no. It was jest two days ago.” Vernon giggled in a non-malicious way.

“Are you real?” Her hand went to her bony chest where it made vague circles.

“Of course I’m real.” He took a step toward her, looking seriously at her face. “Miz Cambridge, you all right? You don’t look good.”

“I’ve had problems with my heart lately.” She valiantly tried to dismiss her unease and the feeling—not that an elephant was sitting on her chest—but that an elephant was in her chest trying to get out.

“Hope you’re goin’ to the doctor.” His eyes crinkled in concern.

“Yes, I have.”

“Well, that’s good.” Vernon tried to sit at one of the school desks but dropped all his books in the process. He slid out of the seat, went to the floor and started pulling the books toward him.

Lucinda always considered herself an intelligent person but could not figure out what was going on. Was she having a hallucination? She also considered herself too sophisticated to take spiritualism seriously, but now she doubted her previously held beliefs. “Are you a ghost?”

Vernon, with books securely tucked into his gangling arms, sat back in the desk chair and looked at Lucinda quizzically. “I don’t think so. I think I’m what they call a memory.”

“I’m sorry, Vernon.” She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I’ve tried very hard to forget you for the last ten years — quite successfully until today. So please, be a nice young gentleman and leave.

“Why, that’s silly, Miz Cambridge. I’m your memory. I wouldn’t be here unless you wanted me here. I always did what you wanted me to.”

“Then if it’s up to me, you must leave now.” She pointed to the door which her logical self knew wasn’t really there. “The way you came.”

Looking slightly hurt, Vernon stood and rather clumsily gathered his books. “Anything you say, Miz Cambridge.” He walked to the door but he stopped, as though something were holding him back.

“Vernon, I said go. Now!”

“Somethin’s holdin’ me back.” He stopped trying to go through the door and turned. “I think it’s you.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I think there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to think about me but another — more powerful — part that does. So I guess I’m stuck here for a while. He pause. “Can I sit down now?”

Lucinda forced herself to see the room as it actually was—a boarding house bedroom and not a classroom—and stood to go to the real door.

“Cassie! Cassie!”

“What are you doin’?” Vernon’s voice sounded hollow, as though an echo through a long tunnel.

“If I talk to someone, I won’t have to think about you,” she muttered. Then she yelled as loud as a woman of her age and health could. “Cassie! Cassie!”

“Cassie? You mean ol’ Cassie Lawrence?”

“Yeah, Miz Cambridge?” a voice emanated from down the real hall.

“Yep, that’s ol’ Cassie.” Vernon was sounding fainter and fainter.

“Be kind, Vernon,” Lucinda lectured.

“Whattaya want?” the voice from down the hall grew stronger.

“Please come to my room.”

“You mean you live in her mama’s boardin’ house?

“Yes, Vernon.” Lucinda became impatient. “Hurry, Cassie!”

“Hey! Nancy lives here!” His voice lightened. “I wonder which room?”

Cassie, a plain woman in her late thirties and with a club foot, finally appeared in the hall. “Whattaya want, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda put her arm around Cassie, guided her into the bedroom and walked right past Vernon. “Yes, Cassie. Thank you for coming.”

“I hope it don’t take long. Mama’s jest about got lunch ready.” Her dull blue eyes lit. “I think we’re havin’ chicken with stars soup!”

“I told you Cassie was a little funny,” Vernon said.

Lucinda looked distracted because Vernon’s voice was becoming strong again.

“Miz Cambridge?” Cassie asked.

“Um, yes.” Lucinda did her best to focus on Cassie. “What did you want?”

“You wanted me.” She shook her head in confusion.

“Am I makin’ you act funny?” Vernon frowned in concern.

Lucinda looked back and forth between Vernon and Cassie, who, of course, could not see Vernon.

“Miz Cambridge, You’re actin’ discombobulated.” Cassie’s tone went up an octave.

“Um, I suppose I am a bit distracted this morning.” She smiled nervously.

“No, you’re actin’ discombobulated.” Now her eyes were so wide they seemed ready to pop out of their sockets.

Lucinda needed a logical sounding excuse fast. “I need some more boxes for my books.”

“You gonna give them away?” Cassie asked.

“They make bookcases.” She smiled with phony confidence


“Thank you.”

“Okay,” Cassie repeated.

“Good bye.” Lucinda decided to capitulate to her demanding memory of Vernon.

“Okay.” Cassie walked to the door, looked back, shook her head and disappeared down the hall.

“Can I sit down now?” Vernon’s voice was a bit whiny.


“It’s time for class. Can I sit down now?”

In her mind’s eye, she had returned to her classroom, which she resigned herself to with a sigh. “If you wish.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Vernon plopped into the desk chair, again spilling his books. He bent over to gather them together as efficiently as possible.

“Don’t you remember what happened?” Lucinda reluctantly referred to an incident which had haunted her thoughts for ten years.

“No. I’m a memory. You remember me. I don’t remember.” Vernon laughed. “I guess you could say I’m transitive — or is that intransitive? Or somethin’ like that.”

“I think you mean an intransitive verb, but that’s not a very good metaphor.”

“Oh well, I never was any good at grammar anyhow.” He pulled a paper out and extended it to her. “Do you want to look at this now?”

“I wish there were some way I could make myself forget all this,” she muttered.

“Why, Miz Cambridge? Don’t you like me?” His hand dropped.

“I liked you very much, Vernon.” She allowed herself to smile. You were one of my favorite students. It’s just that—“

“Wow! You mean I was one of your best students?”

“No, you were one of my worst students. But you were one — no, my all-time favorite. You were so fresh, open and sweet.” Her eyes strayed to the window. It was such a pretty day.

“But dumb,” he added glumly.

“Don’t dwell upon the negative, Vernon.”

“Gosh, I’d think you’d enjoy rememberin’ somebody as nice as me.” From anyone else, that would have sounded boastful, but not Vernon.

Lucinda gazed fondly at the gangling boy, reaching to stroke his hair, but pulled away at the last moment. “Yes, it would be a pleasure to recall the good times like these.”

“Good. Here, look at my homework. I tried real hard on it.”

He extended his hand again and Lucinda took it and began reading it carefully. “Hmm, English composition. So this is your freshman class at the junior college.” She looked up. “How far are we into the semester?”

“This is the first week. You spent the first class talkin’ about what it means to be a writer. About some folks got it and some folks don’t. Like Mr. Hemingway there, he had it when he was young and then he blew his brains out when he didn’t have it no more.”

“Anymore,” she corrected him. “And I hope I didn’t use such a vulgar expression as blow his brains out.”

“But you jest said blow his brains out. I heard you.”

“In the privacy of my own room. In the classroom—“

“Oh, in the classroom you said he died of shotgun wounds to the head,” he interjected.

“That’s better.” She looked at the paper again. “So this is your first assignment.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“It’s atrocious.” Lucinda was never good in editing her comments. “Now where did you say you went to high school?”

“Forestburg High School. Home of the fightin’ Tigers,” he replied with the fierce pride of a recent graduate.

“If you’d done more learning and less fighting you’d know more.” An eyebrow arched.

“Heck, what’s so bad is that I didn’t even do that much fightin’. The coaches all said they didn’t want me on none of the teams because I was too uncordinated. But that wasn’t it. I was clumsy.”

“The word is uncoordinated, and that’s what it means — clumsy.” Lucinda slipped back into her classroom style and it felt very comforting.

“See, I was right. I’m dumb.”

“No, Vernon, you’re not dumb at all.” She smiled slightly. “It’s just when you pick your college major, don’t choose physical education or English.”

“Hey, well, it’s not like I’m not strong. I’m strong as a bull.” He held up his arm and flexed his biceps. “I help daddy on the farm every day and liftin’ them bales of hay made me strong as a bull.”

“I’m sure you’re very strong.” Again her eyes glanced away.

“I could beat the –“ he stopped abruptly, apparently remembering his manners”– tar — out of them durn football players if we went out back and went at it, but those stupid footballs or basketballs or baseballs don’t fit right in my hands.” He held them up, and they were big and gnarly. “Know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. I was never good at sports when I was a girl either.”

“Aw heck, Miz Cambridge, girls ain’t supposed to be good at sports.” Vernon laughed good naturedly.

“Vernon, if you expect us to be friends you must change your attitudes about women.” She arched that eyebrow again. “Women — at least some women — can be very good athletes.” She paused and then added, “ And don’t say ain’t.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.” He hung his head like a whupped puppy.

“That’s another reason I liked you so very much. You were contrite so easily,” she whispered wistfully.

“That’s because my mama wanted me to be a good Baptist boy.” His boyish grin returned.

“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 sadly. “Coach Ruggers didn’t like the way 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?” Reprove 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.

Cancer Chronicles Four

Cancer is like a state—a state of confusion or the state of Florida, which sometimes can be a state of confusion. People move from state to state to find a state of bliss, but at a certain point they stop moving because the money runs out or their health runs out. Then they’re stuck with the state they’re in. It doesn’t do any good to complain because they’re stuck with it.
That doesn’t the person must like it, and he or she has a right to air an opinion without being accused of being ungracious or ungrateful.
Which brings up the topic of chemotherapy rooms in oncology centers. The staff is doing the best it can, considering the circumstances. However , if truth be told, the rooms are too noisy for patients to endure while having liquid pain drip into their bodies. Every time an IV bag empties a buzzer goes off. And then another. And another. Only one attendant to answer all of three. These buzzers are all off key and make lousy harmony.
The staffers, bless their hearts, thin if they tell loud jokes and guffaw, it will make the patient feel better. It doesn’t. On one particular day a male staffer (you may read into the gender identification anything you want) announced that it was National Beer Day and he couldn’t wait to leave work to celebrate. He got into a conversation with one man who was in the middle of being disconnected from his tubes. They argued good-naturedly about the best kinds of beer—lager, on tap, malted, etc.
My wife has never cared for beer in the first place. Making the situation worse was the fact the chemotherapy at that moment was making her nauseous.
“If you keep talking about beer I’m going to throw up!” she announced.
Unfortunately there were four or five buzzers going off at the time, and they didn’t hear her.

Introduction to Remember

On this eve of Memorial Day I want to begin my novella Remember, a reflection on how we treat our young people going to war and especially the ones who will never come back. They are human beings like the rest of us with hopes, loves and fears. Like my last novella, this story began as a play which never made it as a play. It deals with a retired college English teacher remembering her favorite student, how she loved him and eventually let him down. I particularly like the student Vernon Singleberry whose dreams come true only in the memories of others.

Please look under the Posts column for Remember Chapter One. Click there to begin reading the novella.

Remember, Chapter One

It was a spring morning in 1980. Lucinda Cambridge, a terribly thin and brittle woman in her early seventies, sat in a rocking chair in her sparsely appointed bedroom in a boarding house in a small Texas community, reading from two books at a small table. One was Homer’s Odyssey, and the other was Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. She did not know that by nightfall she would be dead.

“For two nights and two days he was lost in the heavy seas. Time and again he saw his end at hand,” she whispered in the same monotone voice she used as she recited selections of literature to her bored junior college students.

A 10-year-old blonde with large eyes crawled through the window by Lucinda’s bed. The retired teacher jumped slightly at the noise and turned to see the little girl plop her feet on the old wooden floor.

“Shirley Meyers!” Lucinda did not know whether to startled or terribly pleased by the impromptu visit.

“Shh! The old women will hear you!” She wandered over to the bed and hopped up on it, dangling her legs in carefree abandon.

“Oh no! You haven’t skipped school again!” Lucinda decided upon the imperious, judgmental tone to defend the honorable institution of education to which she had dedicated her life.

“Today’s Good Friday. They let us out early. Before lunch. So they didn’t have to feed us.” Shirley’s eyes wandered around the room.

“Does your mother know you’re here?”

“No.” Shirley jumped from the bed and walked to the far wall which had stacks and stacks of books against it. “You sure do have a lot of books. If somebody read all of them they’d be the smartest person in the world.”

“Why didn’t you tell your mother?” Lucinda would not be diverted from her well-intentioned meddling.

Shirley went back to the window and leaned out, inhaling deeply. “You’re so lucky to have honeysuckle growing right outside your window. Doesn’t it smell sweet?”

“Shirley?” Lucinda risked sounding school-marmish, which, indeed, she was.

“Because I’d have to sit at the beauty parlor and listen to mama talk about Warren Beatty and hear the women giggle about how silly it all sounds,” she replied, her eyes moving from the honeysuckle to the sky. “The clouds look so fluffy.”

“So the boarding house has become your sanctuary?” Her tone melted into sympathy. Lucinda could not help herself.

“No. Only your room.” Shirley pulled in her head, turned and smiled.

“Why, thank you, Shirley.”

“Those old biddies at the beauty parlor– they look at me funny and murmur, “Love child, love child.”

“That’s why you visit me so often.” She felt like her heart was about to burst with happiness.

“You don’t make me feel different.”

Lucinda extended her arms, and Shirley came over to give her a hug.

“Ah, but you are different.” She closed her eyes to keep from crying. “You’re so fresh and open and sweet.”

“And that name, love child.” Shirley asked, “What does it mean?”

“Well, it means . . . .”

“I know what it means. My mama and daddy weren’t married.” She pulled away and sat on the bed again. “But what does it really means? If my daddy loved me why isn’t he here? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call me a sex child instead of a love child? I don’t feel loved.”

“I love you.”

“I know.” Shirley smiled. “That’s why I like talking to you.” She walked back over to the stacks of books. “And I like your books.”

Lucinda joined Shirley and picked up a college yearbook. “There’s one I want you to see.”

“What is it?”

“The Lion. The junior college yearbook from 1970. I want to show you someone in it.”

The bedroom door opened with an angry bang. Nancy, Shirley’s mother, stalked into the room. She was pretty, but in her short thirty years on earth had given her a hard-edge. Shirley nervously hid the yearbook behind her back.

“I thought I’d find you in here.” Nancy put her hands on her hips.

“Shirley’s not bothering anything, Mrs. Meyers.” Lucinda tried to use her best tutorial voice.

“You know very well it’s Miss Meyers.” She glared at her daughter. “What’s that?”

“A yearbook.” Shirley slowly brought it from behind her back.

Nancy grabbed it from her, looked at the yearbook and threw it on the floor next to the stacks of other books. “You don’t need to look at trash. Git out of here.”

“Yes, mama. Bye, Mrs. Cambridge.” Shirley went through the door, closed it but put her ear to it.

“I know what you’re up to, old woman.” Nancy pointed at Lucinda.

“Shirley deserves to know about Vernon Singleberry.”

“It’s none of your business.” She clinched her jaw tightly as though to end the conversation.


“I don’t want to hear it,” Nancy cut her off.


Nancy opened the door, and Shirley jumped back as her mother stormed into the hall and gripped her daughter’s arm. “What are you doing?”

Lucinda cocked her head to hear the rest of the conversation, but Nancy dragged Shirley down the stairs, muttering the entire time. The old woman stared at the door a moment, sighed deeply and returned to her reading. “But in the morning of the third day, which Dawn opened in all her beauty, the wind dropped, a breathless calm set in and Odysseus keeping a sharp lookout ahead as he was lifted by a mighty wave, could see the land close by.” She tapped the book with conviction, then opened her volume of Hemingway. “Now where is that passage? Ah, here it is. She read moving her lips. Similarities, similarities. Man against the sea. Man as one with the sea. Did Hemingway know what he was doing? Was he inspired by Homer? Oh, we shall never know! Why oh why did such a gifted writer have to blow his brains out?”

She unconsciously rubbed her right arm, then momentarily she felt dizzy. Shaking her head Lucinda looked up to see that she was mysteriously in her old classroom at the junior college, and saw Vernon Singleberry—a tall, blond young man, about nineteen, with large, soulful eyes—enter. He was dressed in blue jeans and a crisp plaid short-sleeved shirt and carrying too many books.

“He couldn’t write no more — I mean, anymore. Isn’t that what you told us, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda’s mouth flew open in shock. It was as though the last ten years were as a moment in time. She took a moment to recover. “Vernon Singleberry! What — what are you doing here!?”

Cancer Chronicles

Sometimes things are not as bad as the cancer patient thinks, but other times it’s worse.
The nausea brought on by the chemotherapy is not as bad as reports say. My wife’s doctor said he was giving her medicine through the IV and in pill form to prevent it. The pills must be taken at the right times or all bets were off. My wife did not get sick after the first week. She had a false alarm but nothing came up.
Having said that, I must stress even one time can ruin your day. The word nausea is derived from French I think, and French has a way of making everything sound romantic. Nausea is not romantic. It is blowing chunks, and it literally stinks.
We keep lots of towels nearby at any given time. The patient with not make it to the toilet in time, and the caregiver must clean it up immediately. Nausea does not care if the caregiver is in the middle of a meal or suffering from a headache or bellyache. The patient needs attention now.
My wife was prepared for hairlessness. She bought her wig—a nice salt-and-pepper collection of short curls. Friends have given her a variety of scarves and hats. She even had plans to sell advertising on her bald head—See Rock City or Burma Shave, something like that. She is into her third month of chemotherapy and she still has a wispy outline of what her hair style was used to be. It’s just as well. We’re lousy entrepreneurs anyway.
The one result that is as bad or worse as reported is the fatigue. That’s another one of those French words that sounds so pretty but is a real bastard. This is knocking-you-on-your-ass tired. Walking to the bathroom and back takes away as much energy as running a marathon. The caregiver learns to anticipate when pills are needed or when the water glass is empty so the patient can eliminate as many steps as possible.
For Christmas I bought tickets to see a national touring company of Beauty and the Beast for May. This was before the diagnosis. As the date approached she realized she would not be able to attend. Our son went with me instead. He liked it all right, but he prefers things with dragons and/or robots. We bought her a big bag of souvenirs. She liked the gifts, but it wasn’t the same as seeing the show herself.
Damn cancer.


I don’t remember how old I was, about ten or eleven. That would put my brother, who was six years older, at 16 or 17—a good age to talk back to mother.
It’s supposed to be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but that was what it was, a dark and stormy night. We listened to the radio, cracking with static, as we await the latest updates on the weather. We lived in Gainesville, Texas, along the Red River, which meant we were in tornado alley. It was the middle of spring, perfect time for a perfect storm. Then we heard it. A tornado roared down the state highway that changed into the street where we lived on the south side of town. Witnesses saw the funnel dipping out of the dark sky. With disaster on the way, I was ready to wet my pants. While I had never seen a twister, I had seen the results of a twister. They weren’t pretty. Little did I know the real storm was about to erupt right in the middle of our house.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?” my mother demanded of my brother who was opening every window.
“Equalizing the air pressure,” he replied with confidence.
“That’s just going to blow everything around! Close those windows!” Mother screamed.
I looked out the window at the landscape. The sky looked like it was seasick and was as quiet as the congregation when the town whore decided to come to church. It was time to head for the tornado shelter; that is, if you had a tornado shelter. I remembered when Mother tried to talk Dad into digging a storm cellar. He said they cost too much money. A twister hadn’t hit us yet so it probably never would, he explained to Mother. Her veins bulged from her neck. Dad had only one eye so I guess he didn’t notice she was about to explode. On this night when the tornado barreled toward our house, Dad was still out on his Royal Crown Cola truck. Neither rain nor sleet nor tornadoes kept Dad from his rounds of delivering soda pop.
“Everybody knows if you equalize the air pressure in a house, a tornado can’t destroy it,” my brother said in a calm voice.
“But all my good china will break!”
“Rather the good china break than lose our lives,” he responded.
“That’s just stupid! Close those windows!”
My other brother, who was twelve years older than I, paced from the front door to the back door, puffing on his cigarette.
“I just hate spring,” he muttered. “My allergies drive me crazy and then those tornadoes. I just hate spring.”
By this time I decided to go to bed and hide under the covers. If I were lucky I’d go to sleep. If I didn’t wake up, it would mean the tornado hit and we all died. If I did wake up, it meant the tornado skipped us and the open window argument would have been for nothing.

Like most of the crises in our house.

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter 10

Before Cecelia could finish her proposition, Tent, Bedelia, Millicent, Eddie and Andy enter from the ballroom, swinging and swaying to a ragtime beat. After Andy closed the door, the music faded away, and the gang settled into more sedentary forms of partying.

“Billy! Come here!”

Everyone jumped because the inspector forgot to use his inside voice.

“Just a minute, boss.” He gobbled down the last canapé. “You sure do know how to cook, Lady Chatalot.”

Cecelia smiled seductively. “Oh, that’s just one of my many talents.”

“Billy!” Tent was losing his patience, if he had any in the first place.

“You can cook some more for me later.” He licked his thick lips and then stood. “Comin’, boss.”

Tent led Billy over to the window to discuss their business matters away from prying eyes. Andy, Eddie and Millicent joined Cecelia at the chaise lounge to compare notes while Bedelia took a devil-may-care pose by the fireplace and tried to keep an eye on everyone.

“Did everything go according to plan?” Tent whispered.

“Aye, boss.” Billy nodded and handed Tent a packet.

“What’s this?” He opened the packet, expecting to find a wad of bills but came across a letter along with the payoff dough.

“A note from the merchant.”

Tent’s eyes widened as he read the letter. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

Billy was right on his heels as they made their escape. “Aye, boss.”

When Tent opened the door, a rousing rodeo hoedown blares through, knocking them back on their heels. Eddie jumped on the lounge and clapped his hands.

“Hey that’s my kind of music! I love that sound! Let’s go to town with the rodeo hoedown!”

Cecelia grabbed Billy, Millicent took Tent by the elbow, Andy put his arm around Bedelia, and they began to prance around the room, following Eddie’s every command.

We git real low down, go round and round! Do si do the rodeo hoedown!
Yell yee haw, like your ma and pa with all your might!
Stomp your feet, clap your hands and hoedown through the night!
Gals line up to one side ‘cause that’s what you do.
Gents line up facing gals, even Billy too.
We’ve had fun, but now it’s done. Tune out the racket.
I’ll tell you just when to try to grab that packet!
Go Milly, boo Billy, why don’t you get bent!
Go Andy, you’re dandy! Stop that Inspector Tent!
Milly’s mom, you’re the bomb! Stay by Billy’s hide!
The packet, we got the packet! Hooray for our side!

At one point or another during the reel, every participant had hold of the incriminating packet. When Bedelia snatched it from Andy, Cecelia–like a bat out of hell—swooped in, grabbed it and handed it forthwith to Eddie on the lounge. Cecelia planted a huge wet kiss on Billy, distracting him from knocking Eddie from his perch and retrieving the everyone’s object of desire of the moment. Bedelia, in her misguided allegiance to the chief inspector, tried to go after the packet again as well, but Andy wrapped his arms around her and smothered her in smooches.

“Curses!” Tent thundered.

“Yes, I know!” Millicent retorted in triumph. “Foiled again!”

Eddie jumped down from the furniture and waved to Millicent and Cecelia. “Come on, Millie! You and yo’r maw help me figger this stuff out!”

Relectantly Cecelia pulled away from Billy, whose eyes had taken on a romantic glow which probably had never been there before. “I’m sorry, my dear. I’m needed elsewhere. I shall return.”

“Yes, me Lady Chatalot.” He attempted a deep bow which did not come across as suavely as he might have hoped.

Millicent stopped in her tracks and looked quizzically at her mother. “What did he call you?”

“Never mind.” She waved a hand at Eddie. “Look in the packet.”

In the meantime, Bedelia pulled away from Andy, an air of recognition engulfed her body. She was so filled with rhapsody that she broke out in verse right then and there.

I’d know that kiss anywhere! You’re the Man in the Red Underwear!
Those lips! Those hips! They say you care! You’re the Man in the Red Underwear!
How could I have been so blind?
You’re the man that’s completely kind!
It was really dumb of me, I have to say!
It’s clear to see you love me! You are not–

Andy was equally aroused by romantic compulsion and kissed her again which piqued Tent’s curiosity immensely. Billy was licking his lips remembering the hot kiss Cecelia had laid on him. Eddie opened the packet, but Millicent and her mother snatched it from his hands and began to read.

“Does it tell us everything we need to know?” Cecelia asked.

“More than enough,” Millicent replied. “Tent and his gang will be in prison a long time.”

Bedelia pulled away from again and regaled the group with the second verse of her revelation.

I’d know that kiss anywhere! You’re the Man in the Red Underwear!
Oh Andrew dear, please hold me near, tell me you forgive my frowns.
I thought you loved to sew those gowns!
But you’re the bravest man in town!
Only you can make me feel this way!
How on earth could I doubt you’re not–

Andy kissed her once more which would lead one to believe he was trying to stop Bedelia from revealing his scandalous persona.

Taking as imperious tone as he could muster, Eddie stepped forward and pointed at Tent, “Chief Inspector Malcontent—“

Andy and Bedelia stopped their amorous lip lock to look at Eddie and correct him in perfect unison, “That’s Malcolm Tent!”

“Whoever.” He cleared his throat and proceeded with a proper English accent, a miracle long prayed for by the royal family, “I, Prince Edward, by the authority of Granny Vicky—I mean, Queen Victoria of England—do hereby arrest you on charges of—of—“

Unfortunately the miracle was not permanent and soon he was floundering and looking around for help.

“Extortion,” Cecelia provided the correct judicial terminology.

“–of doin’ folks dirty. Here’s the evidence to prove it!” He pointed to the packet now in Millicent’s possession.

“Yes! We have the money and a note from the merchant!” Millicent’s eyes flamed in righteous indignation.

“Yup. Yo’re done for,” Eddie said.

“And besides that, you’re a terribly impolite guest at a gala,” Cecelia added a zinger which was intended to crush his sense of social decorum.

Bedelia’s face expressed supreme bewilderment. “You mean you were the villain all along?”


“Then you didn’t mean all those things you said to me?”


The situation finally dawned on her. “Then you didn’t really want to take me on a cruise?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that.” Tent’s smile was crooked and on the verge of vulgarity.

“But I don’t understand why I didn’t figure it out, since I am the illegitimate daughter of the recently retired chief inspector of Scotland Yard?” Bedelia shook her head.

“Because your father was stupid! He never solved a case in his life!”

“Oh. Maybe that’s why.” She walked slowly to the lounge and sat, her entire self-image in shambles.

Andy, dismayed by his true love’s mournful sighs, joined her on the lounge, putting his arm around her in consolation.

“You may have me, but as my last act as chief inspector of Scotland Yard I will arrest the Man in the Red Underwear!” Tent’s voice was filled with unbowed haughtiness.

Cecelia, Millicent and Eddie were shocked. “You will?”

“Yes!” He turned dramatically to point at the lounge. “I arrest you! Lord Andrew Taylor!”

The accusation broke momentarily his concentration on Bedelia and he reverted to his dressmaker affections. “Oh inspector! How quaint! How droll! How divine! You’re bringing the giggles out of me!”

“Do you dare drop your pants and let us see your underwear?”

“Here!?” Andy stood and swished over to Tent. “Oh inspector! I don’t know what to think! I mean, I hardly know you.”

“Cut the act, Taylor. I’m on to you.”

“Ooh! I don’t know what you mean!” Andy futilely feigned feyness one last time.

“Drop ‘em.” He sounded like a boot camp instructor ordering a recruit to do twenty push-ups.

Bedelia, Eddie, Cecelia and Millicent broke into poetry tinged with a sense of urgency.

Don’t do it, Andy, it’s a trap to catch you with your trousers down.
So keep them up, don’t give the chief inspector cause to send you to jail!
He has no proof no way to say you are the Man in the Red Underwear.
It’s just his word against the word of everyone so don’t you dare
Reveal your underwear so he can cart you off to jail.
But if you do, don’t fret, don’t stew, we’ll pool our dough to make your bail!
Don’t drop your pants! You got no ants! So under no dire circumstance
Don’t drop your pants!
Don’t be naïve. It’s not the time to wear your heart upon your sleeve.
Remember Tent is the real crook; so don’t you let him off the hook.
He’s the one that’s criminal. We must be sure he’s off the street.
We’ve worked so hard, we’re almost there. He’s down and out. He’s almost beat.
We all love you, you’re our best friend. We’ll root for you right to the end.
So keep your trousers ‘round your waist. Please take your time, no need for haste!
Don’t drop your pants! You got no ants! So under no dire circumstance,
Don’t drop your pants!

Andy stared into Tent’s eyes, squared his jaw and dropped his pants, revealing red underwear.

“Come along, Lord Taylor. We have a date at headquarters.” Tent took Andy by his elbow.

Eddie stepped forward. “Excuse me, chief inspector.”

“Yes, what do you want?”

“Why do you think Andy is the Man in the Red Underwear?” One might supposed that Prince Eddie is, indeed, the dumbest person in the British Empire, but a rare intellectual glint in his eyes would make one pause.

“Because he’s wearing red underwear, you idiot!” Tent retorted.

“Is that yo’r only evidence?”

“Of course not!”

One not be in the middle of any conversation, Cecelia added, “What other evidence do you have?

“Miss Smart-Astin just announced, ‘I’d know that kiss anywhere!’ You are the Man in the Red Underwear!”

Millicent smiled broadly, a sign that she knew what Eddie was trying to present as Andy’s defense. “Bedelia, darling, do you remember saying that?”

“Me? Why I never said such a thing.”

“Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!” Tent paused, realizing he had lapsed into schoolyard behavior. “I still have him in red. That is evidence enough.”

“Wull, that ain’t no evidence at all.” Eddie nodded to the others indicating it was time for an all-out poetry performance, starting with Cecelia

It’s plain to see you have no fashion sense, you dummy Malcolm Tent!
No one in London doesn’t know
That all the best dressed jills and joes
Are wearing red from head to toe!

Everyone else—except Tent and Billy, of course—came forward.

If you’re not wearing something red you might as well be stone cold dead!
‘Cause red is taking center stage! It’s right for any age! Bright red is all the rage!

Cecelia got right into the chief inspector’s face to wag a finger.

You’re such a dud and not a stud because you always dress in black.
And you should know some other things, you clueless old sad sack.
Don’t pink! It stinks!

Millicent stepped forward to snap her fingers.

Don’t blue! It’s flu!

In the spirit of the emotional riot occurring in the library, Bedelia broke out of her prim and proper mold.

Yellow? Hell no!

Andy caught on to the general mood and made his own offering.

Don’t green! Obscene!

As usual Eddie tried his best but stumbled on the rhyme.

Don’t purple! It’s burple!

Cecelia added another for good effect.

Don’t orange! It’s—
Orange, orange, no rhyme for orange.

Eddie patted her on the shoulder.

Oh, that don’t matter. I rhymed purple!

She nodded, ignoring Eddie’s advice.

Actually, orange is a shade of red so I suppose orange is acceptable.
So if you don’t wear something red, you might as well be stone cold dead!
We hear the Queen might make the scene and wear the current fashion rage!
‘Cause red is taking center stage. It’s right for any age! Bright red is all the rage!
We said not beige, and, damn not white, it’s such a fright, it’s red that’s all the rage!

“What do you mean?” Tent narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“I got on red underwear too!” Eddie tried to unbutton his trousers but without success. At the palace he had his personal valet to perform such intricate duties. He began to stumble around the library in an attempt unbutton them.

“And I have red underwear!” Millicent lifted her dress to reveal bright red lacy leggings.

“And I!” Lifting her gown, Cecelia revealed tights of more a dark crimson nature.

Bedelia put a finger to her cheek and smiled naughtily. “Come to think of it, I’m wearing red underwear too.”

In anticipation of making the lingerie preference almost unanimous, the heroes turned to look at Billy.

“Don’t look at me.” He shrugged and winked at Cecelia. “I don’t wear no underwear at all.”

“Be still my heart!” Lady Snob-Johnson swooned.

Eddie ran to the ballroom door to swing it open. He hollered at all the other guests who were in the middle of a proper waltz by Strauss.

“And you folks out there! How many of y’all have on red underwear?” He pointed at a lady closest to him. “You there, ma’am. I bet you got on red underwear!”

“Eddie!” One must wonder why anything Eddie did still shocked Millicent.

“Hitch up yo’r dress and let us see red!”

Millicent resorted to corporal punishment by slapping his face. “Eddie! Stop it!”

“Oh. Sorry.” That was the first time that Millicent was ever physically abusive. He kind of liked it. “You can keep yo’r dress down, ma’am.” He then decided to try again to unbutton his own pants and show his red underwear.

“As you said, inspector,” Millicent said smugly, “you have a date at headquarters.”

“If he isn’t going,” Tent retorted while pointing at Andy, “I’m not going!

“Oh, yes you are!” Cecelia said as though demanding a recalcitrant child to come to the dinner table.

“Who’s going to make me?” His smirk was most arrogant. You and who else?”

“Oh Billy!” Cecelia swept over to her potential new lover.

“Yes, Lady Chatalot?” Billy’s eyes glowed with mischief.

Tent cast a wary eye toward his henchman and the licentious lady who was whispering in his ear. He looked at Millicent. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some secret code.”

“I think it’s dirty,” Eddie offered softly.

Billy then grabbed Tent’s arm and twisted it behind his back. “Come along, sir.”

“But Billy!” He sputtered frantically. “I thought you were on my side!”

“She kisses better than you do, sir,” he informed his former boss.

“But, Billy.” Tent was getting really desperate by this point. “You don’t know how I kiss!”

The very thought caused Billy to grimace. “Sorry, sir. I don’t care to find out.”

“I’m sorry, Billy, but you may have to go to jail too.” Cecelia went to him and tenderly stroked his filthy jacket sleeve. “However, your good deed in bringing Tent to justice may weigh with the judge.”

“That’s all right, Lady Chatalot. It won’t be the first time I’ve been in the slammer.”

Cecelia blew him a kiss to Billy as he manhandled Tent out the door. “I’ll be waiting, with canapés.” She followed them to the front door and graciously opened it for them.

Millicent grabbed Eddie by the elbow. “Come on, Eddie. The party’s almost over. Let me walk you home.”

. “No wait. I almost got it.” Eddie was hunched over in a most unseemly manner, still trying to unbutton his pants.

Millicent slapped his hands to make him stop as they walked out the door. “It doesn’t make any difference now.”

“No, really, I almost got it. I swear I got on red underwear. Just like you told me.”

By the time they made their way through the ballroom, Eddie finally unbuttoned his pants and dropped them, only to reveal forest green tights. Very Robin Hood.

A voice in the crowd called out, “Is that guy wearing green underwear? I’ve never seen anything like that before! This is the weirdest party I’ve ever been at! I like it! Let’s be sure to come again next year!”

Back in the library, Bedelia snuggled close to Andy as he pulled up his pants. “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Never!” A rakish grin spread across his face. “You will have to spend the rest of your life begging me.” He paused to kiss her. “And begging.” Another kiss. “And begging.” Yet another kiss.

Informed, not Scared

My wife didn’t get scared when diagnosed with breast cancer; she got informed. Right after her first visit with the oncologist she bought an e-book online for her reader. She learned about this kind of breast cancer which turned out to be somewhat rare.
She learned about chemotherapy and exactly what was in that stuff. What did it feel like as it dripped into her body, and why did it have to be a slow drip? Other fluids entered her body to ease the discomfort of the moment and to try to prevent the nausea. A port would be inserted into her chest so her body would not be stuck in a different place each time.
She learned there would be a delayed reaction to the treatment. The first day wasn’t so bad, but then the chemical effects came on like gang busters. Her hair first would itch, then hurt and then fall out between the fourth and sixth week. The book included interviews with patients about their reactions to the therapy. We talked about it and what she wanted to do about it. We went wig shopping. She had a pre-emptive haircut. Back in the sixties it was called a pixie.
The mastectomy will come after the chemotherapy has reduced the cancer so there would be a better chance to get it all. She said she would prefer to have both breasts removed when the time came so she wouldn’t be lopsided. The insurance might not pay for both. She decided she can put up with being lopsided.
She can live with that. Literally. She can live with that.

Unus Spatus Terribulus

Unus femaleus species teen-agerum brattus ambulatum outum porticus at decius o’clockus, et pater oratum, “Wherus tu thinkus tu goest thisus timus of nightus?”
“Oh daddicus, tu est fuddicus-duddicus. Est goingus tous particus toga.”
“Tu meanest unus fuckus-ruckus?”
Mater rushum intoum solarium. “Whatus going onus herem?”
“Mommicus, daddicus hast mouthus potticus!”
“Yourus femaleus species teen-agerum brattus est goingum to a particus toga!”
“So whattus?” Mater respondum.
“Thatus toga est wayum too shortus!” Pater screamus.
“Est stylus,” Mater saidum.
“Est vulgar,” Pater saidum.
“Allus girlus wearam togas shortum.”
“Tu est non allus girlus.”
“Oh, daddicus!”
“Who est meetingum at particus toga?”
“Brutus Juniorum.”
“Senatorum Brutus maleus species teen-agerum brattus?”
“Veritatus, Daddicus.”
“Non est trustus hisus daddicus.”
“Why notus?”
“Brutus est stabbus tu in the backus ifus he hadus the chanceus.”
“Oh, Daddicus!”
“Giveus a breakus,” Mater saidum.
“Be homus beforeus the roosterus crowum.”
“Oh, Daddicus, tu est so schoolus oldus.”
“Et comest straightest homus ifus Cleopatra showsus upus atus particus toga.”
“Whatus is wrongus with Cleopatra?”
“Non likus herus aspus.”
“Herus whatus?” Mater screamum.
“Aspus! Aspus!”
“Oh,” mater saidum. “Neverum mindum.”
“Onum lastest thingum,” pater saidum to femaleum species teen-agerum brattus.”
“Whatus nowum?” femaleum saidum with a sighum.
“Don’tus rideus in chariotus of that maleum species teen-agerum brattus!”
“Oh, Daddicus!”

Man in the Red Underwear Chapter Nine

Inspector Tent and Bedelia entered from the ballroom, breaking up the conspiratorial atmosphere in the library. The fearless foursome huddled around the chase lounge.

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

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

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

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

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

The quartet exchanged knowing glances.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You wanted a drink with grenadine?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Marriage, sort of.”

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

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

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

A part of Bedelia was pleased to have aroused such a high level of jealousy in Andy, although she was dismayed with the way he articulated it. She was sure she had never heard the word “oodles” escape his lips before today. Brushing her concerns aside, Bedelia decided to press on with the jealousy ploy. “There’s more to marriage than mere physical attraction.”

“Of course. Like friendship. Friendships formed when nothing else mattered except being friends.” He paused to stare into her lovely eyes, but quickly giggled and looked away. “But I really don’t remember things like that.” Unable to resist temptation he turned back to her and whispered, “But if I were in love, I would want to be in love with you.” Andy was going in for a kiss when he heard the unmistakable clip-clop of Inspector Tent’s boots. “Wouldn’t it be peachy if we could go shopping together? I’d just love to pick out some material to make you a dress. H scrutinized her. “I don’t think pastels.”

“Would you care for another dance, Miss Smart-Astin?” Tent asked in a tone quite unsuited for the content of his proposition.

“Yes, inspector, that would be— “Her voice trailed off in unrequited longing.

Tent opened the door just as a male voice rang out, “Not another bloody tango!”

Both Bedelia and Tent beamed as they go into verse.

Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go girl go! Oh go man go! Let’s do the Russian tango!

They slinked out of the library in a sultry embrace. Andy glanced at the others and shrugged before engaging Cecelia in a dance clutch and followed them. Eddie and Millicent grabbed each other to join the crowd. The community spirit of ballroom dance did not last long, however, as Cecelia noticed Billy entering the front door. She quickly greeted him and led him into the library, shutting the door behind her, breathing deeply from the exertion of the sensual frolic.

“Where’s me boss, ducks?” Billy asked.

“You didn’t see him in the ballroom?” Cecelia approached him, like a cougar entrapping its prey. “He was dancing with Miss Smart-Astin.”

“Naw. I didn’t see nobody.”

“May I offer you a—“she hesitated provocatively “–glass of wine, Mr. Canine-erel?

“Naw,I don’t want no sissy wine.” He stood his ground, however, even stepping closer. “And stop callin’ me that stupid name. Me name’s Billy Doggerel, and I’m proud of it. If you can’t call me Billy then go—“he offered his own pregnant pause “–fly a kite.”

“All right, Billy.” She smiled seductively. “I just love it when a man is forceful. My late husband Sampson Elias Johnson could be quite forceful.” Cecelia nearly swooned from the aroma of his breath. “Would you care for some beer? I’m sure the servants have some in the kitchen, somewhere.”

“Not now, ducks. I’m on business.” He stepped toward the door. “Maybe later, if yer lucky. Now where’s me boss?”

“Yes, your business.” Cecelia sat on the lounge and patted the cushion next to her. “Please, Billy, come sit with me. I’d like to talk to you about your business.”

Billy rolled his massive shoulders forward with indifference and smiled. “Well, if me boss ain’t around, I wouldn’t mind takin’ a load off me feet.” He sat next to her on the lounge.

“You know, Billy, it’s never too late to turn from a life of crime.” Cecelia leaned in to inhale the full luxuriance of street rabble stench, which almost made her swoon.

“Who says I lead a life of crime?” He winked and smiled, revealing a mouth filled with yellowed teeth.

“Of course, you don’t.” Cecelia hit at his bulk playfully. “But if you did, you might prefer working for me instead.”

“That sounds like fun.” He paused to give her once over. “Maybe I could call you Lady Chatalot, ‘cause you do like to chat a lot, doncha ducks?”

“You know me all too well, Billy.”

“So what would you have me doin’, Lady Chatalot?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe taking care of my chess board, my checkers and mah jong tiles.” Her hands made a pass across her ample bosom. “You know, all the things people like to play with.”

“You mean I’d be Lady Chatalot’s gameskeeper?”

“Yes, lover, what a novel idea.” Curiously enough, Cecelia caught the reference to this novel which hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps she connected telepathically better with Billy than Inspector Tent. “Of course, I’d have to bathe you first.”

“This is a big body, Lady Chatalot.” He puffed out his chest. “There’s a lot of dirt on it.”

“Oh, Billy!” The sexual badinage overwhelmed her, and she grabbed Billy and thrust her tongue into his mouth.

He aggressively leaned into her as though they were going for two-out-of-three falls when his foot wandered under the lounge and bumped into the previously hidden tray of liver-tinged delights.

“Me foot’s stuck on somethin’.” He leaned down to pull out the damaged goods.

“The canapés!” Cecelia gasped. Of all times to be reminded of her horrible culinary skills.

Billy shoved one into his mouth and started chewing. “Not bad. Did you make these, Lady Chatalot?”

“Yes I did.” She looked at tray.” But it looks like someone stepped on them.”

“Didn’t hurt ‘em none.” He stuffed in another one.

“You really like my canapés?” Cecelia’s face lit.

“Do I detect a ‘int of marjoram?”

“Why, yes.” Her hand impulsively went to his face to stroke his stubbly chin. “My, my, you do have a sophisticated palate, Billy!”

“Me ol’ mum used marjoram in everythin’ she cooked.” He swallowed hard as his eyes filled with tears. “I miss ‘er.”

“Oh, did your mother pass away recently?” She then stroked his cheek.

“Yeah, me ol’ man shot ‘er.”

Cecelia sat up in surprise. “How dreadful!”

“She tried slippin’ arsenic into ‘is meat pie. ‘E tasted it and blew ‘er brains out. I got me delicate palate from me ol’ man. Now ‘e’s in prison and I’m all alone.” Billy dissolved into sobs, hiding his head into her bosom.

Cecelia rocked back and forth as though she were comforting a baby. She whispered a spontaneously composed lullaby.

Billy dirty Billy, now don’t you dare cry.
Your own lady will make your eyes dry.

Even though she were romantically aroused, she had not forgotten her purpose and her allegiance to Lillie Langtry. “Um, Billy dear—you don’t mind if I call you dear, do you?”

He pulled a stained handkerchief from his back pocket to blow his nose. When he finished he looked soulfully into her eyes. “Me Lady Chatalot can call me anythin’ she wants.”

“Billy, dear, I have a business proposition for you.”

He looked around conspiratorially. “I’m all ears.”

“Frankly, I know that you have a packet to give to Chief Inspector Tent tonight. Now, if you give it to me instead—“