Monthly Archives: March 2016

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly


I am the great-great-great grandson of David Crockett through his daughter Margaret from his first marriage to Polly Finley. Being a child in the 1950s I was caught up the mania created by Walt Disney with his Davy Crockett movies. However, as I grew up I researched the historical Crockett and sadly found him lacking in many of the qualities attributed to him in movie and song. The older I became and the more I read, I realized David Crockett was the best kind of hero, a man of many flaws who ultimately did the right thing.

Each chapter of my novel has three stories—one about young Davy who runs away from home, the second about 50-year-old David who struggles with his life after a final congressional defeat and the third about a modern descendant Dave who must face his troubled family past when he goes home for his brother’s funeral. Each is faced with the challenge that you can’t run away from yourself.

As a work of fiction, my novel does not represent the historical David Crockett but a replication to illustrate dramatic conflict. Any human flaws, such as alcoholism, that are portrayed by my character are not necessarily true of the historic Crockett. Also, the modern Dave is inspired by my own life but does not represent my life entirely. For instance, I have been happily married for forty-four years while the corresponding character in the novel is divorced.


Thirteen-year-old Davy Crockett scampered down a wooded hillside not going anywhere in particular, which was the way he liked it. He wanted to get as far away as he could from home. His family owned a log and stone tavern on the busy route between Knoxville and Abingdon. Davy was supposed to be going to school, but his heart was not into his lessons. Suddenly his large, fluid brown eyes caught sight of a royal walnut butterfly. He smiled at the bright yellow, gray, orange and red colors in the delicate wings. Davy noticed it was smaller than most but speedy and energetic. The butterfly flitted with uncertainty among the rhododendron bushes.
Before Davy realized it, he was more than a mile away and now intrigued by a different animal. He swore he detected a whole family of opossum. If he only had a rifle with him he could shoot a passel of possum for his mother to cook up with sweet potatoes. If the possum stew was exceptionally good perhaps no one would notice Davy had not attended Benjamin Kitchen’s class in four days.
The entire hullabaloo at school began when one of the older boys taunted him: you grin too much and agree with the teacher too much. Who do you think you are, the bully said as he pushed Davy around. What he did not know was that Davy had just returned from a cattle drive. His father had indentured him for thirty dollars. He walked four hundred miles to and from Rockbridge, Virginia. His thin arms were hard and his legs were steel.
Four days ago, Davy decided he had had enough. After the school bell rang, he ran out the door and hid behind bushes until the bully walked by. Davy jumped out and pounced on the boy. He pelted him with hard punches to his face and belly, stopping only when the older boy cried for mercy.
Davy felt triumphant on the trail to school the next morning. Then he considered what might be waiting for him. If the bully had brought his mother to tell old man Kitchens how her innocent little boy was beaten up Davy could be in trouble.
How dare you let that hooligan run roughshod over my little baby, Davy imagined the mother scolding Kitchens. He, after all, was the son of a drunken tavern owner who taught him to be far too proud for his own good. The teacher, Davy suspected, also thought he lied too much and could not be trusted. Which boy would the teacher believe? The bully would be believed, Davy decided. He knew Kitchens would beat him mercilessly in front of the class. And then his father would beat him for getting a beating. He did not want two whippings he did not deserve, so Davy skipped away down another path away from the school house.
He attended a school of his own making, studying wildlife of the surrounding forest. Davy recognized large hand-like hind tracks of opossum and its smaller duplicate fore paw. He could tell the size of the animal by the width of its hind paw. Smaller paw tracks behind them meant a whole family. Before he knew it Davy was crawling along limestone sinks and lichen-covered boulders. By the time he closed in on the opossum family, Davy looked up at the sky and figured it was time for school to be out, and he better be on his way home.
Davy stopped short when he entered the tavern’s heavy timber door and saw his father sitting on the edge of a large old trunk, hunched over and swigging corn liquor from an earthen jug and staring into a glowing open hearth fire.
“Hello, Pa.”
His father glared at him and tipped the jug again. Davy, with apprehension, glanced at the cudgel stick leaning against his parents’ large bed in the middle of the drafty room. Two of his brothers, Wilson and Joseph, scraped mud from their boots and kept their tousled heads down. Laughter rang from their kitchen on the other side of the stairwell. One set of steps went to the attic where travelers slept on straw mattresses. The other set of stairs went to the basement where Davy’s father repaired broken wagon parts for his customers.
Davy entered the kitchen where his three sisters were snapping beans. Four dirty men sat on benches at the end of a long roughhewn table, drinking ale, and grumbled impatiently for their dinner. His mother, stoop-shouldered and wide at the hip, pulled a pot from the hearth fire with an iron hook. When his sisters saw Davy, they stopped laughing.
“Oh.” Sally tried to smile. “Hello, Davy.”
Before he could reply, he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder, smelled liquor on his breath and heard him whisper, “Kitchens sent a note, says you ain’t been to school.”

Almost a lifetime later, David Crockett remembered the smell of liquor on his father’s breath. He still experienced his urge to wander without direction and purpose as long as it was away from what he really should be doing. He walked through a corn field between Rutherford Fork of the Obion River and his small farmhouse. His eyes, framed by deep tanned creases, focused on a monarch butterfly. Its large wings, silky and graceful, rested on a broad dark green leaf of an alder shrub, which, for some strange reason, made him feel sad, hollow and insignificant. Sharp, loud taps on a large dead elm caused David to glance up at a woodpecker’s digging into a gray tree trunk. Sighing, he decided he was as dead at his core as the elm tree. When he looked back at the alder bush the butterfly was gone, just like his chance to return to Congress.
He did not know for sure if he was going to see Washington again, but he did not sense victory in his bones. Turning, he trudged to his cabin. He had done everything he knew to win a fourth term as West Tennessee’s representative. His former friend President Andrew Jackson did everything in his power to defeat him. David opposed Jackson’s plan to remove Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw from their lands in Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas to unknown territory beyond the Mississippi River. He tried to stop Jackson’s abolition of the Bank of the United States. David pushed spending on internal improvements. Foremost, he spent most of his energies during three terms promoting sale of public lands in West Tennessee at low cost to squatters living on them.
Jackson defeated David on every issue and used those failures to label him as a do-nothing congressman. He endorsed Democrat Adam Huntsman, an Indian wars veteran with a peg leg, to challenge David. In addition to labeling him incompetent, Jackson and Huntsman accused him of not responding to letters from people in his district who did not agree with his policies. They accused him of plying voters with whiskey. David’s ultimate sin, Jackson and Huntsman claimed, was his betrayal of the Democratic Party by siding with Whigs on too many issues.
David went from town to town, mounting tree stumps to declare he was proud to defend the rights of common people against King Andrew. If he had not been able to pass his legislation it was because of opposition from the cruel Jackson and not that he had failed to do anything at all. He had no defense to the charge of snubbing people who did not support him. Kicking at clods under his feet, David grumbled at himself for being stubborn about that. He tried to remember when he had become peevish enough to ignore his foes, but at that moment he did not want to think back so far. He laughed out loud about buying votes with liquor, telling folks from the stump that he did not have enough money to sway that many voters. And, yes, he proclaimed before skeptical crowds, he had begun his political career as a stout follower of Jackson. He challenged the voters to question whether his loyalty to West Tennessee was more important than his loyalty to the President and the Democratic Party.
Results of the election, held weeks ago, had not been announced, even by the first week of August. Until the totals came in, David’s hopes and dreams dangled between his personal heaven and hell. Victory would vindicate his record. Another two years in Congress could keep David in the newspapers until the next presidential election. Along with the success of his recently published autobiography and plays written about him, he would surge to the top of the list of potential presidential candidates. President of the United States, David told himself, would be quite an improvement over being the son of a drunken tavern owner. He could take his family to Washington and install his wife Elizabeth as first lady of the land. Perhaps she would even learn to love him again.
But if he lost, David dreaded to consider, his hopes of escaping debt and poverty would end, because no matter how celebrated he was for his hunting prowess, how honored for his bravery during the Indian wars, or how respected he was for his political independence, he never had crawled out of the deep hole of destitution. He could dig a living from his farm here on the Obion River, go with hat in hand back to Lawrenceburg to ask Elizabeth and his three children if he could resume living with them and the Patton clan, or turn his head elsewhere to try once more to make his fortune.
Dusk was falling, and David had to squint to recognize the figure standing on his porch waving at him. He smiled when he saw Abner Burgin, Elizabeth’s brother-in-law who had moved with them when they came to West Tennessee. He had proved to be a good and faithful friend and hunting companion. As David reached the steps he stopped short, his legs incapable of moving. He saw the look on Abner’s usually pleasant round face. He sensed his old friend was pained to tell him news that could ruin his life.

Several generations later in 1980 and in another place far away, David Crockett’s descendant Dave Crockett awoke with a start, coming from the same dark nightmare he had suffered for years. He found himself in his large plush carpeted bedroom with a king-sized bed framed by dark cherry wood. It was on the second floor of his brick house with breath-taking views of Lake Waco. Dave lived a life his great-great-great grandfather could have only hoped to live, yet Dave yearned for something else, something that was just out of his grasp.
His slender young wife stirred a little when Dave touched the butterfly tattoo on her right shoulder. Pulling his hand away he smiled before placing his arm over his eyes and tried to rid his mind of images from his nightmares. His sleep disintegrated with memories of his childhood, with his older brother Allan in the foreground. Allen’s sallow face stared at Dave, lips curling up in a sneer and cigarette smoke slipping from his mouth and flowing up his cheeks and around his nostrils that clouded his dark, threatening eyes. Allan was mentally ill, yet their mother still put him in charge of taking care of his baby brother Dave. Most of his early childhood had retreated into his troubled dreams. Dave remembered Allan grabbing him. Was it by his two feet, a hand and a foot and or his two hands? He could feel Allan swinging him around fasting and faster, fearing he was going to smash into something very hard. Off in the distance, he could see his mother. If he could scream out for her she would save him. Dave opened his mouth but a rasping whisper came out, “Mother!” Was it just a dream or had it really happen? He would never know.
Sometimes Dave dreamed about his other brother Vince who was about six years older and an out-of-control alcoholic. In the dream Vince, with a bottle of beer in his hand and slumped in a worn easy chair, glared at him. His eyelids were heavy with intoxication, and his numbed lips hugged each syllable coming from his mouth.
“You tell people I’m a drunk,” Vince said. “Don’t you. Don’t lie to me, you little punk. I know what you been doin’. You think you’re smart, don’t you, tellin’ everybody I’m a drunk. What goes on inside this house is family business, not nobody else’s business. You think you’re goin’ to make those people like you? Those people ain’t your friends. They think you’re a stupid little punk. You don’t have no friends. Well, I don’t know just what I’m goin’ to do, but I’m goin’ to do just fine. You think you’re goin’ to college and make a lot of money. Well, you ain’t goin’ to make nothin’. Allan, he ain’t never goin’ to amount to nothin’, and you ain’t goin’ to amount to nothin’, but I’m going to do all right. And one of these days you’re goin’ to come knockin’ at my door with your hand out, and I’m goin’ to spit in it. That’s what I’m, goin’ to do, why you stick your hand out for money, I’m goin’ to spit in it.”
Sometimes Dave dreamed about his mother. She died in 1962, but he did not mind having a dead person visit him. Laughing she would pull her legs up under her skirt on the sofa and hug them. Everybody seemed to be having a good time. Most people had a good time around his mother because she always had a story to tell and could tell it with the relish of a seasoned professional actress. What a shame, people said, such a vibrant woman dying in her forties with three boys and one of them only—how old was he when she died, oh yes—only twelve.
At some point in the dream Dave would lean over to someone, he did not know who—it did not really matter after all—and whisper, “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“Of course she’s dead,” the person would reply. “But it would be rude to remind her she was dead. Besides, she’s having a good time. It’d be a shame to ruin everything with such a minor inconvenience as death.”
Not often did Dave dream of his father. He was a non-entity of sorts. Dave did not have animosity towards him. How could you hate a man who was never there? Long hours on the road in his Royal Crown Cola truck kept him out of family arguments. After Dave’s mother died, his father seemed to be asleep when Vince launched into one of his drunken tirades, like the time Dave paid a local artist to make an oil painting from a photograph of his mother. The Christmas eve Dave brought it home Vince exploded, saying the last thing their father wanted now that he was dating was to be remind of his dead wife. So Dave just hung it on the wall, not bothering to wake his snoring father in front of the television set to present it to him. His father also slept through the times when Allan—well, he did not want to dwell on what Allan did. His father was just dad. He could not help being who he was or, more particularly, who he was not.
Dave remembered when he came to accept his father. It was on a hot Texas summer day when he worked on the truck with his father, slinging wooden cases of Royal Crown Cola around and sweating through his shirt by eight o’clock in the morning. A butterfly flitted through the window and landed on the windshield. Dave grimaced as his father extended his large scarred hand toward the creature because he knew what was coming. His father would smash the butterfly against the windshield just as he smashed cockroaches on the kitchen counter and wiped the guts on his pants leg. But Dave was wrong. His father’s hand caught the butterfly, careful not to harm it, and let it go out the window. He was a man unavailable to his family, but he was a man who saved a butterfly.
“A butterfly,” Dave mumbled as he looked again at his wife’s shoulder. Glancing around the room at the solid oak furniture, the heavy satin drapes, think pile carpeting and designer-label clothing carelessly thrown on a leather lounge chair, he was satisfied that he had proved Vince wrong about making money. Whether he amounted to anything; well, that prophesy was yet fulfilled.
The telephone rang, shaking him from his thoughts. His wife reached out to pick up the receiver.
“Hello?” She paused. “Puppy? Oh. You mean Dave.” She held the phone out to him. “It’s for you.”
Only someone from Gainesville would call him by his childhood nickname. He stiffened as he took it.
“Puppy?” an old woman’s voice said.
“Hello, Mrs. Dody.”
“Allen’s dead.”

Cancer Chronicles Forty-One

Recently I went to a local community theatre by myself. This was the first time I had gone somewhere alone since Janet died. My son had accompanied me to many places, but he has a job and can’t go to everything.
I made a reservation for one and when I arrived I found myself in the middle of a full row except for one seat to my left. Janet usually sat to my left when we went to the theater.
As the play progressed I found myself patting the seat when something happened on stage that Janet would have found funny. Or when someone made a mistake, and that would amuse her too.
It was a sad play so I don’t think she would have liked it very much. The reason I wanted to see it was because I knew several people in the cast, and I like to show up and encourage my friends. So I’m sure Janet would have been a good sport and come along just to make me happy.
She’s still making me happy.
I’m sure there are people who sneer at little coincidences like this, saying it is nothing but a coincidence. Others might not see it as a coincidence but be troubled by it, possibly even leaving the theater because that empty chair made them too sad.
I don’t care if it is all in my head. What’s in my head is all I got anyway, and Janet’s always going to be in my head.
And that’s fine with me.

Sins of the Family


Sins of the Family began as two separate stories told to me by one of my brothers back in the early seventies. The first was about a Native American—he did not know which tribe—who lived in his Dallas apartment complex. The man would sit on the floor and sing unintelligible songs all night. Once, while in a drunken stupor, he told my brother he was Jesus. Soon thereafter he was arrested for stabbing another apartment resident who banged on his door and yelled at him to shut up. The other story was about a German couple who owned a successful business in our hometown. He suspected the old man had been a Nazi because of the way the wife reacted whenever the topics of Germany, Hitler or World War II came up.
Over the years those two little vignettes mixed in my mind until I came up with the story of a mentally ill Cherokee who thought he was Moses and escaped from his mental hospital to track down and kill Pharaoh to set his people free. But who were his people, the Cherokee, Hebrews of old, Jews or downtrodden people everywhere? And who was Pharaoh, his own father, his psychiatrist, a former Nazi, a television reporter or just anyone who gets in his way?
Sins of the Family is meant to as entertainment and fodder for intellectual debate on the responsibility of not only families but society as a whole for the behavior of troubled people who feel downtrodden. It is by no means an indictment of or judgment upon Native Americans but rather upon the way they have been treated.


Rhythmic drum pounding roused John Ross from his troubled dreams in which he led Cherokee people to the Promised Land and stood on a pinnacle, surveying green valleys and fertile pastures. As he rubbed sleep from his eyes, John realized he was on no summit but on the North Carolina reservation in a tiny bedroom with faded, stained wallpaper, part of his parents’ apartment above a trading post on the main street of town, where tourists gathered. He was not living in the Bible times of God-ordained heroes but a modern nineteen eighty, devoid of any heroes at all. Frowning, he rolled over and tried to return to the mountaintop in his dreams, but instead his mind drifted into other visions. First he was in the middle of the sparkling, shallow Ocunaluftee River, laughing and splashing on his father, a lean, happy man splashing water back on him. The throbbing in John’s head eased as he thought of his early childhood years, his only happy time in his forty years of life. His whole body shuddered as his dream changed to a sunny day when he was ten, surrounded by tourists. All he remembered was a flash of light on a large river stone attached to a thick stick with leather straps coming down on his forehead. The rest was darkness. Then John twitched as images flashed before his eyes of people laughing at him, all kinds of people and all ages. The drum pounding returned to his head, aching, creating unreasoned anger and calling him to warfare. At last his eyes opened, filled with a holy hatred.
He slipped from bed and walked naked, unashamed, into their living room to a window overlooking the street. Pulling wide open tattered, yellow lace curtains John watched his father, a stooped-shouldered paunchy old man dancing in bright Hollywood Indian regalia to a scratched vinyl recording of Indian war music and to clicking of cameras.
“John?” his mother called out from the kitchen. “You up?” She walked into the living room drying her hands on a worn dish towel and stopped abruptly. “Don’t you think it’s time to get some clothes on?”
“What?” John said without emotion.
“Please step away from the window, Johnny. White people will see you.”
“I don’t care,” he replied.
“You’ll care if the police pick you up again,” his mother said, pursing her lips, “and put you back in the mental hospital.”
John looked to stare at her. She sighed and touched her moist, wrinkled hand to her pale cheek.
“I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t mean that.”
“What?” John returned his attention to the street where his father danced. “Those people are laughing at him.”
Yes, they are,” his mother said. “They like to laugh at his dancing, but he’s made a good income letting people laugh at him.”
“And through him, they’re laughing at us. They’re laughing at me.”
“Please don’t hate him, Johnny.” She twisted her dish rag.
He turned to look at his mother, a fragile, thin woman with streaked gray hair and tears in her eyes.
“Why are you crying, old woman?”
“Don’t you know me, Johnny?” She lowered her voice. “I’m your mother.”
John stared at her until his eyes blinked in recognition.
“Oh, yes. Mother.”
“Don’t you think it’s time to put on your clothes?”
“I suppose,” he said, looking down at his nakedness.
“I got some clean boxer shorts, blue jeans and your favorite shirt in the laundry basket, all fresh and clean and smelling like a babbling brook.”
He reached out to wipe tears from her eyes which now had gained a slight sparkle.
“I’ll get them,” she said as she padded back into the kitchen.
“Too white, too white.” John looked at his pale, flat, hairless belly and rubbed it.
“What was that?” she called out.
“Nothing.” John peered through the curtains again. His eyes narrowed as he watched his father pat a white boy on the back as the parents took a picture.
“Why don’t you go sit down on the sofa while I’m getting these clothes ready?”
“Do you remember the first time father began dancing for white tourists?” He walked across the room to the old sofa, covered with a homemade quilt to hide holes made by cigarette burns.
“Oh, that was years ago. The World War was over. The highway had opened through the Smoky Mountains. Tourists started coming to town,” his mother said as she entered with boxer shorts, jeans and shirt. “Go ahead and sit on the sofa.”
“Where are my cigarettes?” His disturbed eyes searched the dark room. The cigarettes made him feel peaceful. He wanted to feel peaceful.
“After you put on your clothes.”
“I was in first grade, and my teacher was talking about the Trail of Tears.” John sat.
“Please, Johnny. Don’t get started on that again.” She sat next to him. “You know how it always upsets you. Yes, your father did something wrong, but we can’t change it now.” She extended the boxer shorts to him. “Put these on.”
“My teacher said the United States government ordered Cherokees to march out west.”
“You can’t have a cigarette until you put on your underwear.” When he did not take them from her, his mother placed the boxers across his lap.
“Leading the march was a Cherokee named John Ross.”
“Yes, I know, dear.”
“That’s my name.” He turned to look at his mother. “John Ross. I have the name of a hero.”
“Yes, I know. Your father didn’t care to know, about our Cherokee heroes.” She smiled. “The Gospel of John is your father’s favorite book in the Bible.”
“I was seven years old and was proud of my father. He helped build houses. He looked like a Cherokee warrior.” John stood, and his boxer shorts fell to their bare wooden floor. “Then I had something to be proud about me. Everything was wonderful.”
“Please put these on.” She bent down to pick up his underwear. “And everything wasn’t wonderful. Your father had hurt his back on a construction job and couldn’t be a carpenter anymore. We hadn’t told you because we didn’t want to upset you.”
“I ran home from school to tell father but stopped when I saw the crowd in front of the trading post. As I pushed my way through I saw my father, dressed in Hollywood feathers and dancing a dance no true Cherokee ever danced.” John dropped on the sofa, his shoulders sagging.
“We were lucky Mr. Cox downstairs allowed your father to dance in front of his store.” His mother held his boxer shorts out to him again.
“That white boy shot his toy pistol at father, and he dropped to the ground,” he said without emotion. “The boy put his foot on father’s chest and said, ‘The only good Injun is a dead Injun.’ All the stupid white people around him laughed and applauded.” John felt cold anger which he had pushed down into the pit of his stomach rising to his throat, making it constrict.
“Injun,” John said. “I hate that word. Injun.”
“Johnny, my arthritis is acting up. Please don’t make me stay down on my knees.” She laughed to lighten his mood. “Besides, that was in the forties. White folk don’t do things like that anymore. They know better now.”
“I hated that boy. I hated my father.” He lifted his right leg.
“Hate just eats up your insides. I know.” His mother pushed the shorts up. “Thank you.” She stood and sat by John as he pulled the boxer shorts to his waist. “Don’t think about the hatred.”
“In school, they said Cherokees don’t use feathers like that. They only used white feathers.”
“The folks like to see bright colors.” She handed him blue jeans. “They won’t pay to see just white.”
“And that dance,” he continued as he slipped on his jeans. “That isn’t a Cherokee dance. My teachers, they said people don’t know what kind of dance our ancestors did.”
“White folks only pay when he does the dance.”
“They don’t do dances like that at The Living Village.” John’s mind raced with a desperate optimism as he thought of the educational center on the side of the mountain operated by the tribal government. Many Cherokee worked there practicing old skills such as basket weaving, pottery making, beading, boat making among other activities while others conducted the tours, telling tourists the true culture of their people.
“That’s true. Here’s your shirt.”
“Why don’t we work there?”
“Our names are on file.” Sadness tinged the corners of his mother’s smile. “It’s a popular place to work. Everybody wants to work there.”
“Then let’s leave. Let’s live in Knoxville. Let’s go to Atlanta. There are plenty of jobs there.”
“You tried that once before. It didn’t work out,” she said, patting his knees. “Besides this is our home. We belong here.”
John stood and went to the window. His mother followed him with his shirt.
“When he was young he had a flat belly, like a Cherokee warrior.” Looking out at his father, he remembered the happy times when he and his father played in the river. “Now that he’s dancing for tourists his belly’s all soft.”
“He’s getting old, Johnny,” she said. “Bellies can’t stay strong and flat forever.”
“Other people have jobs with dignity.” His eyes pleaded with his mother.
“We’re doing the best we can.” She held out his shirt. “We can’t do anymore than that.” She put John’s arms through the sleeves. “Remember what your father says, trust in the Lord.”
“The Lord,” he said, spitting in derision as he buttoned his shirt.
“Please, Johnny, don’t blaspheme God. You know how it upsets your father.” Her mouth tightened. “Things white people say don’t upset him, but blasphemy does.”
“I remember a Sunday school class with other young Cherokee men and an older Cherokee who had forgotten the ways of his people.” John frowned. His memories quickened. This particular Sunday was after the stone tomahawk down on his head and after the great darkness that followed.
“Your father still teaches that class,” she said. “You’d get along with your father so much better if you went back to church.”
“He was talking about the plagues on Egypt and how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” John looked out the window.
“Yes, he says God has a reason for everything He does.”
“I asked my father if he thought Cherokees needed another Moses. The other boys laughed at me.”
“It was unkind of them, I know,” she said.
“Father said, ‘Why no. We have Jesus Christ now. He leads us out of our bondage to sin.’ I told him what they said in school about early Cherokee.”
“Johnny, you know how confused you get when you think about things like that,” his mother said.
“Do you think it’s just a coincidence that Cherokee called their god Yo He Wa, which sounds a lot like Yahweh, an early form of Jehovah?” John asked, not expecting a reply. Cherokees believed in one god, just as in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, he remembered his teachers telling him.
“Now, Johnny…”
“Other boys laughed at me, long and loud, and he let them do it.” He squared his jaw, trying not to cry as he remembered that day. “Father had this smirk on his face as he ridiculed me. ‘You make fun of me for dancing for tourists to put food in your stomach yet you still believe in silly myths about Cherokee gods when you have evidence in the Bible to the contrary,’ he said. The other boys laughed, and he laughed too.” John made a fist and stuck it in his mouth, hoping to keep from crying.
“Oh, Johnny, I love you so much.” His mother went to him and hugged him. “We never meant to hurt you. Your father would rather die than hurt you.”
He bit down so hard he punctured his skin. Pulling his hand away, he looked at the drop of blood that appeared.
“No, Johnny, not again.”
John stuck out his tongue to touch the drop. It tasted salty. He looked up as he became aware of Hollywood Indian music’s pounding tom-tom beat and clinched his jaw.
“He hates me.”
“No, Johnny,” his mother said. “Your father doesn’t hate you. He’s just frustrated with your problem, that’s all.”
As he stood there, listening with hot emotion to the spectacle that took place every hour from nine to six, five days a week for more years than he wished to remember, John was drawn to the beat, which called him to war. He fought this war many times before, against white men, against red men, against all who humiliated proud people. His heartbeat matched the rhythm of the tom-toms. He felt sweat beading on his forehead. Grabbing the front of his shirt, he ripped it open and threw it on the floor.
“Oh, my goodness!” she said, her voice rising to a shriek. “No, Johnny, no! Don’t do this!”
“I must!” he replied with a bellow, turning toward their bathroom.
“You know what the judge said.” She grabbed at his arm to lecture him. “One more time, Johnny, one more time, and they were going to put you away for good!”
John unfastened his jeans and kicked them off and tore his boxer shorts off. Throwing back his shoulders he lifted his chin, proud to be a warrior once more.
“Johnny, please. Listen to me,” his mother said as she grabbed at his hands. “Look into my eyes. Sometimes the drum beat goes away if you look into my eyes. Please, look.”
Pulling away, he elbowed his mother, knocking her down where she huddled by the toilet. Between sobs, she pleaded with her son to consider what will happen to him if he made white men mad at him one more time, but he ignored her. Instead, John stared into the mirror at his face, now marked with the lines of more than forty winters. Without expression he took lipstick, a bright red, and marked the creases on his cheeks and forehead. He noticed a scar on his forehead but could not remember from where it came. He marked it with red. The warrior prepared for battle.
“Johnny, no,” she said, losing her strength to fight her son’s darker impulses.
He marched into their small kitchen where he found a large, sharp butcher’s knife and then walked with purpose to the front door and without hesitation stepped out onto a small landing leading down to the street where his father danced. There on the top stoop was a tree branch growing between the slats. Just looking at the branch made John mad, but he could not remember why. As he shut the door he heard his mother screaming.
“It’s all his fault!” she bellowed. “Johnny wouldn’t be this way if it wasn’t for him! He let the white devils laugh at him and he let them hit my boy! I hate him! I hate him!” His mother’s rage dissolved into bitter sobs, punctuated by cries of “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
“It’s his fault,” John muttered to himself, clenching the butcher’s knife. His father had to pay for making his mother cry. He had to pay for ruining his life, John vowed. Standing on the landing he could not help but think of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of stone given to him by Yo He Wa.
“I am Moses! I have come to set my people free!”
Laughter and happy chatter stopped abruptly as vacationers gaped at the naked man standing above them. Fathers and mothers grabbed their small children, holding them tight and turning their heads away.
“Thou shalt not have no other god than Yo He Wa.”
His father bowed his head in shame. John did not understand. His father should have been relieved that Moses had come to lead him from Pharaoh’s land, from concentration camps in Germany, from reservations on dry prairies. He should not be embarrassed. John’s persecuted people would not be free until they put down the yoke of old men. Leaning back, he screamed skyward, then bounded down the stairs and pounced on his father who fell quickly to the ground, covering his head. Tourists screamed and stood in shock as John raised his knife high in the air, holding it there like the serpent Moses held high in the wilderness. He plunged it into his father’s flesh. He lifted the bloody knife over his head, allowing red drops of blood to enter his mouth.
In the busy newsroom of television station WBAT-TV Channel Forty-three in Knoxville, Bob Meade read stories clicking in over a teletype machine.
“Rhodesia has officially changed its name to Zimbabwe and installed its first black government after eighty years of white rule,” he read aloud to himself.
“Pope John Paul the Second arrived in his native Poland,” he continued.
The telephone rang, and he answered it. Thirty years old, Bob was slight of build but had large, soulful brown eyes set in an expressive face topped by a shock of unruly dark hair. Picking up a pencil he steadied it over a notepad.
“Newsroom,” he said in a pleasant high baritone. “Yeah, Frank, what have you got?” Bob’s brow furrowed as he scratched some notes. “He was naked?” He continued to scribble. “Is his father dead?” He paused. “Which hospital?”
After a few more questions Bob hung up and took the pad to the news manager, a tall graying man with humorless eyes.
“Joe, we’ve got a stabbing in Cherokee.”
His boss looked up.
“This naked guy stabbed his father, who was a street dancer, and held the knife over his head and let blood drip into his mouth. He’s done this time of things before. I’ve an interview in Gatlinburg tonight so I thought we could leave now for Cherokee. Two jobs, one trip, thought you’d like that.”
“Transmit the stabbing story in time for the five-thirty news.”
Bob scouted his crew and had them on the way out the door when Betty Sargent, the news anchor, called to him, holding up a telephone.
“It’s your father.”
Frowning, he faltered at the door.
“Tell him I’ve left.”
“I’m a professional journalist,” she said. “I don’t lie.”
“You’re not my mother.” Bob’s eye twitched.
“Thank God I’m not that old,” Betty said with a sarcastic smile as she held out the receiver.
He turned and went through the door, hearing Betty sigh.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Meade, he just left.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Seven

His eyes wide and vacant, Baker stumbled through the basement billiards room one last time, looking for any telltale signs that three people had spent the last two and a half years in the room. He walked behind large wooden crates in the corner and saw a couple of rumpled blankets. This is where the crazy man must have slept, Baker told himself. No one should see the blankets on the floor. He picked them up and walked over to the middle of the room where the butler Cleotis knelt to scrub the bloodstains.
“These need to be laundered and put away.” Baker stuck the blankets in the butler’s face.
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Cleotis took them and laid them aside. “Don’t worry, sir. By morning, all will be back the way it should be.”
“No,” Baker replied, a numbness in his voice. “Nothing will be the way it should be ever again.” He flinched slightly as he saw Cleotis smiling. He wondered how the butler could find it within himself to smile at him, knowing what he really was deep in his dark, cankered heart.
“Now, you go do what you have to do with the soldier boy’s body, and then I recommend you get a good night’s sleep. A heap of sleep does the soul good.”
“Thank you, Cleotis.” Walking into the hall, he stopped to avoid bumping into the pregnant woman who was finishing wiping his puke from the floor.
“Thank you for cleaning up this,” Baker mumbled. “What was your name?”
Phebe stood and began to walk away. “Don’t thank me. It’s my job.”
“And your name?”
“And why would a fine white man like you want to know a nigger woman’s name?” Phebe asked in a tired voice.
“I—I just want to thank you,” he replied, his voice barely above a whisper. Baker realized he had never bothered to ask anyone’s name before so he could thank them personally, but this night he found doing so became important to him.
“I already told you,” she said as she walked into the kitchen. “You don’t have to thank me. It’s my job.”
As Baker walked outside, he put on his hat and turned up his collar as he headed for the carriage. Squinting, he thought he saw President Lincoln looking into the back of the carriage at the body. He took a few steps back. By now, the president ought to be dead, he told himself. The man in the long coat and top hat scurried down the driveway, disappearing in the dark rain. It was not Lincoln after all, Baker realized, but the crazy man from the basement. Why did he come back? Now he knew Adam Christy was dead. The crazy man was someone else Stanton would want him to kill, and he did not want to kill anyone again in his life. Too many people had died already.
Mounting the carriage, Baker took the reins and commanded the horses to move. His mind was blank as the carriage clacked down the street. He did not know if he was going to dump the body in the Potomac, as he had done with the two imposters, or bury it out in the countryside. Baker shook his head. That would be like burying himself. With all this blood on his hands, he was not ready for Judgment Day.
Death. How do people deal with death? Baker had never given it any thought at all throughout his life. Most of the time he just walked away and let someone else deal with the body. After silently riding through the rain another couple of blocks, Baker’s mind wandered to all the thousands of soldiers on the battlefields. Most of them disappeared into graves dug exactly at the spot where they had died, but a few somehow found their way into the back of wagons and then into trains where they made the long journey home for burial.
How could the families stand to see the decaying corpses in their wooden coffins? They were not decaying, Baker reminded himself. A new process kept the bodies from rotting. They called it embalming. President Lincoln’s personal guard Elmer Ellsworth underwent the new procedure after he was shot and killed in Alexandria, Virginia, earlier in 1862. Then Lincoln’s son Willie endured the same process. Rumors had it Lincoln went to the tomb often, had the coffin opened so he could run his fingers through Willie’s hair. Even the imposter, Baker heard gossips say, had gone to the tomb to look at the boy’s body. But that report was just gossip.
If those bodies could be preserved, then Adam Christy could be kept looking life-like, at least until Baker resolved his feelings about this tragic situation. What was the name of the doctor? Baker wrinkled his brow. He had to remember him. After all, he was the father of modern embalming. An etching of his face had been in the newspaper. He was from New York and became rich in the 1850s perfecting his techniques. The doctor came to Washington after the beginning of the war. The Lincolns requested his services for Ellsworth and Willie. His reputation was made.
“Holmes,” Baker muttered. “Dr. Thomas Holmes.” He clicked the reins, hastening the horses to turn on another street at the next corner. Memories began to flood back. Baker had actually been to his office before. Stanton wanted to make sure the son of an important Republican senator was properly preserved before the body went home. In a few minutes, Baker pulled the carriage up to the portico of Dr. Holmes’ office. Kerosene lamps still flickered in the windows.
A servant answered the door when Baker knocked.
“I need to see the doctor. It’s an emergency.”
“The doctor is terribly busy right now.”
A voice called out from the back. “Who is it, Jeffrey?”
“The man says it’s an emergency.”
“Then show him in.”
Baker followed Jeffrey into the doctor’s office. His eyes fixed on a table where a thin young man lay with a thick tube inserted in his chest. More death. His nostrils flared from the unpleasantly acrid odor of the embalming fluid. Dr. Holmes, wearing a white stained operating robe, walked toward him.
“It must be an emergency to come out in a storm like this.” He wiped his hands on a towel.
“It—it’s my son,” Baker lied. He became acutely aware of rain copiously dripping from his nose. He wiped his face with his coat sleeve.
“Where is he?”
Baker turned to point toward the door. “He’s in the back of my carriage. Out there.”
“My goodness, we can’t allow that,” Holmes replied. “Jeffrey, get some help and bring the boy in.” He reached for two tea towels on a washstand and handed them to Baker. “You look terrible, sir. Please take off your overcoat and dry yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“How long has your son been dead, Mr.—I’m sorry, what is your name?”
Baker blinked. He did not want the doctor to know who he really was. “Christy,” he blurted out.
He patted his hair with the towel over his face to give himself more time. “Abraham Christy. My son, Adam shot himself in the face less than an hour ago.” Baker shook his head. “I knew right off he was dead. No need to go to a hospital. And I don’t want the authorities involved. No damn government.”
“He’s—he was a soldier. A deserter.” Baker’s minds raced as his eyes wandered around the room. “He couldn’t take it anymore. He had seen too much. He killed too many other young men. He didn’t see any other way out.”
Jeffrey and another assistant carried the body in and placed it on a table next to the other corpse. They removed the cover. Baker winced again as he saw the gunshot wound to the mouth.
Holmes walked to the table to take a closer look, lightly touching Christy’s mouth. “I’ve seen worse.” He looked at Baker. “We don’t want his mother to see him like this, though, do we, Mr. Christy?”
“No, sir.” Baker shuffled his feet. “His mother is in California. That’s why I got him to you as fast as I could. I figure the sooner you can start on him the less—less bad he will look when he finally gets home.”
“He’ll look just like he’s sleeping.” Holmes bent over more closely. He left the table and came to Baker. “California, you said. That’s going to require quite a bit of the fluid. It’s my own concoction, part arsenic, mercury and zinc salts. Three dollars a gallon. Then there’s the evisceration of the organs. That has to be done tonight to keep the body from decaying. I’ve had a long day. This has to be worth my time.”
“Any price. I’ll pay it. I know you’re the best. Everyone knows you did a good job on the Lincolns’ little boy.” Baker stopped abruptly when he realized he mentioned the president’s name. Considering what was happening across town at Ford’s Theater, he did not want any connection between himself and President Lincoln.
Holmes squinted at him. “You look familiar, come to think of it. Have we met before? I remember. The senator’s son. I can’t recall who sent you. Was it the president?
“Yes, it was the president,” Baker replied in haste, moving toward the table. “That’s why I want this to be hush hush. I don’t think I could take the scandal. I don’t think his mother could take it. You must understand.”
“And your name wasn’t Christy either,” Holmes continued. “There have been so many during the war I can’t keep up with them all.”
Baker absently stared at his shows wondering where the conversation was going.
“Of course, you can call yourself anything you wish,” Holmes continued. “It makes no difference to me.”
That was the opening Baker sought. “I’ll pay cash. For God’s sake, can’t you see how terrible this is for me?”
Holmes patted his shoulder. “Of course. Don’t worry. I understand. I’ll start work right away.” He paused. “You will have the cash here first thing in the morning, however, won’t you? Bring $59. Nine for the fluids and fifty for the evisceration.”
“But you start tonight. Right now. You will have your money. I swear.”
“Calm down.” The doctor lightly touched his elbow to guide him to the door, nodding his head at Jeffrey. “My assistant will see you out. Go home and rest. All will be taken care of.”
Before Baker could say anything else Jeffrey handed him his overcoat and forced him out into the rain. He looked around in confusion. Baker decided going to his hotel bed was out of the question because his mind was racing and he could not sleep. His world was all a tumble. Maybe it was not too late to stop Booth, he thought as his hand went to his mouth, remembering the performance must still be going. Baker jumped into his carriage and turned the team towards Ford’s Theater. His heart sank as he saw the crowds milling around outside the building.
“It’s all Jeff Davis’s doing!” an angry male voice called out.
“That’s right! Hang the damned traitors! All of them!”
What would the crowd do if it knew that Edwin Stanton and not Jeff Davis were responsible? Would they want to hang the secretary of war? And the people standing next to his carriage, if they knew Baker had contacted the assassins and gave out the orders, would these good citizens drag him from his seat and beat him to death right there on the street? He clenched his jaw to control his emotions.
Leaning over, Baker tapped a man on the shoulder. “Where have they taken the president?”
“Over there.” He pointed to a three-story apartment house across the street.
Baker tethered his team to a hand railing, then pushed his way through the crowd and up the steps. Throwing open the door he entered the foyer where Major Eckert rushed him and grabbed his arm.
“Thank God you’re here,” Eckert said as he directed Baker down the crowded hallway to the back parlor across the way from the small bedroom with the president lay. “Mr. Stanton has been asking for you all night.”
“The president,” he blurted, “is he still alive?”
“Just barely. Mr. Lincoln won’t live through the night. It’s a bloody mess. Mr. Seward was stabbed at his residence. They expect him to recover, though…”
“Were there others?” Baker’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Yes. Mr. Johnson said someone came to shoot him but ran away.” Eckert opened the parlor door. “Mr. Stanton is in here.”
Baker watched Stanton scribbling notes and pass them off to soldiers waiting at his shoulder. One messenger entered as another left. Constant chattering throughout the house made Baker uneasy. He covered his ears with his hands; murmuring sounded like a drone of angry bees.
“Oh, so you finally arrived,” Stanton said. “How long have you been standing there? Never mind. We have to talk.” He stood and put on his coat. “Not here. Too many people.”
As they stepped out of the room, Eckert came up. “Mr. Secretary, they want to know what to do with all the actors.”
“What actors?”
“The ones across the street at Ford’s,” Eckert replied. “We can’t hold them there all night, can we?”
“The hell we can’t!” Stanton took the Major by the shoulders and turned him around. “Go back and tell them to keep asking questions until they give in! I want a confession by dawn!”
“But, sir—“
“I have to talk to Mr. Baker now,” he interrupted. “Leave us alone.”
Stanton took his arm and tried to guide him away. Baker stood staring into the small bedroom where he saw Lincoln lying naked on a short bed.
“We don’t have time for that now,” Stanton whispered as he pushed toward a door to a porch on the backside of the building. When they shut the door behind them, the rain dripping from the eaves muffled the voices inside. They both shivered as they avoided the spray from the storm.
“We’re in trouble,” he said, leaning into Baker. “Johnson is alive.”
“I know.”
“What kind of stupid bastards did you get? And Seward’s still alive too. They said the man who stabbed him was a stark raving lunatic. Why did you recruit bastards that stupid?”
“Only stupid bastards and stark raving lunatics would attempt to kill so many people in one night,” Baker replied. His voice was drained of energy. He had no strength left for niceties.
“Johnson was here. Right in my face, dammit. The bastard acted as if he thought I did it. What are they saying on the street? Who do they think did it?”
“Jeff Davis.”
“Good. That’s what I want the stupid bastards to think. It won’t make any difference what Johnson thinks.” Stanton paused. “Where does Johnson live?”
“The Kirkwood.”
“We told him to go back and get some sleep. He looked like he had been on a bender anyway. He’s probably passed out by now. If only he wouldn’t wake up. That would be good.” He looked at Baker. “Do you think you could get into the Kirkwood and suffocate the bastard? Make it look like he died in his sleep.”
Baker had never seen Stanton so out of control. The secretary was usually very cold and calculating, but not tonight. He was talking like a hooligan. The more Baker watched and listen to Stanton, the more he knew he was right to defy him.
“I’m sure the military has guards posted all around the hotel by now,” Baker countered. “No one could get close to him.”
“Dammit.” Stanton stroked his beard. “It doesn’t make any difference. He’s nothing more than an old drunk. He’ll discredit himself. Anything he says will be dismissed as the ravings of a drunken madman.”
“Adam Christy shot himself.”
“Who? Oh, the boy. That’s good. One less problem. The goal is to keep everything under control.”
“Lying there, in his own blood, he looked like me when I was his age.”
“What? What difference does that make? What about that janitor? I don’t care if he’s deranged. He must die too.” Stanton pounded his right fist into his palm for emphasis. “Everyone who knows anything about this must die.”
“No. No more killing.”
“Oh yes there will be. You will do what I say or I’ll produce documents saying you were in on the plot. Hell, I’ll say you planned the whole damn thing. You’ll hang!”
“Go ahead. I’m already dead. I’m more dead than that boy on the floor, staring at nothing.” He looked Stanton in the eyes. “We were both wrong. It isn’t about the power and it isn’t about the money. We’re both wrong, and we’re both going to burn in hell.”
Stanton slapped Baker. The open-handed strike was fast, hard and practiced. He had struck before. “You damn fool! Of course, we’re going to hell. But not right now. Not anytime soon.” His face turned red as he began coughing and gasping for breath.
“I’ll go first and prepare a place for you.” Baker did not recognize his own voice. He had never spoken in a tone so soft yet resolute before.
Baker thought he had won the battle by taking the higher ground until he watched Stanton’s eyes narrow in concentration. When Stanton brought a finger to his pursed lips, Baker took a step back. He knew his boss had one last frontal assault.
“You never talk about your wife—what is her name? Jenny.”
“She’s a good woman.” Baker found himself blinking and trying to control his dry mouth. “She doesn’t have to know about the things I do for my government.”
“I agree. No woman should know what her husband has to do for the good of the country. Women are to be protected from the dark realities of life. She lives in Philadelphia, doesn’t she?”
“No, we’re from California.” Baker’s eyes went toward the menacing thunderstorms.
“You may have been from California but your wife lives in Philadelphia now. I keep up with private information about my inferiors,” Stanton spat derisively.
“I’ll kill you right here, right now, before I’d let anything happen to Jenny,” Baker blurted with passion that surprised even himself.
“Come now, my friend,” Stanton hissed like the snake in the Garden of Eden to the gullible Eve. “You must know I always have a contingency plan, for I trust no one. Not even you, my old friend Baker. I know the exact location of your wife, and I have instructed an emissary to kill her if you harm me in anyway.”
Stanton’s cupid bow lips turned up into a slight weary smile. “You must concede that I have power of life and death over you and your family. So resign yourself to the fact you must pursue these assassins and make sure they are all arrested and killed. Then you can go to Hell.”

Bessie’s Boys Chapter Twenty

Like a tiny bird escaping a hungry cat, Alice ran through a heavy wooden door on the lowest level of the Alhambra, only to find herself in the kitchen. Scullery maids mopped the rough stone floor, and frumpy old women were busy chopping vegetables and peeling fruit for the evening royal dinner. She stopped abruptly, not quite sure where to turn next. She did know she had to exit quickly because the aroma of soapy water mixed with freshly sliced orange made her nauseous. At first Alice decided to exit through the same door she entered, but a pair of brutish guards burst into the kitchen. She could have uttered an obscenity involved fecal material but instead scrammed in the opposite direction, not knowing where it would lead. Along the way she knocked a large wooden bowl filled with oranges onto the floor. Phillip’s thugs, trained to be inflict physical pain but lacking grace and agility, tripped on the bruised fruit and sprawled across the floor. One of the cooks walloped them on their heads.
“How can we prepare the King’s supper with you dolts stumbling through the kitchen?”
Although quite aerobically fit, Clarence was running out of breath trying to elude the King’s guards. He slipped in a side chamber in order to catch his second wind. He became aware other huffing and gasping other than his own. It was deeper and faster. Looking around, Clarence found himself face to face with Lord Boniface. Because of his youth and great military training, he recovered quickly and dashed back through the door and down another corridor.
Deciding the quickest way to go from the second floor down to the courtyard would be to slide down the granite staircase bannister, Maria whipped one leg over the railing and let out a whoop as she slid downwards. The speed at which she was moving caused Maria to worry she might crack her hip if she landed too hard on the courtyard. Luckily for her, Senior Vacacabeza happened to be standing in just the right spot to break her fall. Without even a la-ti-da, she stood and ran off who knows where. By the time Vacacabeza could stand, two more guards ran down the steps and knocked him on his ass again.
Rodney found himself cornered in the royal dining room by several guards coming from all directions. Looking up, he spied the chandelier, jumped on one of the tables and leapt onto the chandelier, swinging back and forth until he could fly through a tall window. Unfortunately, by doing so, Rodney landed on King Phillip, still sitting on the edge of the fountain. The impact knocked both him and the King into the fountain. It also put Rodney dangerously close to being captured. He quickly pulled himself out of the fountain pool, shake a bit like a dog retrieving a water fowl on a hunt. Then he ran through the yard, still not knowing how to get the hell out of that damned palace. Phillip struggled out of the pool, only to be knocked back into it by two guards barreling through after Rodney.
Quite by happenstance, Clarence and Alice encounter each other down another one of those confounded hallways. After a quick embrace and kiss, Clarence beamed at her.
“My darling! I’m so glad we’re together again!” He grabbed her hand. “I won’t let go of you ever again. We’ll escape this madhouse together!”
Clarence tried to move, but Alice would not budge. “Clarence, tell me honestly. Is there another woman?”
“No time for chitchat, Alice dear.” He tugged hard on her arm to dislodge her. “We have to return to England!”
As they resumed their sprint, Alice added, “Very well. But when we’re in London, you’re gonna catch hell!
Vacacabeza followed Maria back into the banquet hall. (Author’s note: Yes, I know. They’ve gone back up the stairs somehow. Just remember these young people live in the fifteenth century and did not have the benefit of an education in twenty-first century America.) Maria slid under one of the banquet table. Her guardian tried to follow her but his aching knees gave out and he landed face first on the floor. Rodney ran in from another door. He stopped sharply.
“Oh damn! Why am I back in here?”
Before he could answer himself, Rodney heard guards clanking down the hall and about to enter the hall. He had to hide under one of the long oaken tables. He kept crawling along until he bumped into Maria’s backside. She turned to see him.
The lovers cocked their heads as they heard the guards bang into Vacacabeza. They could tell they all fall down and go boom. While Vacacabeza and the guards grumble loudly, Rodney and Maria shuffle in the opposite direction on their knees.
“Why are you dripping wet?” Shaking her head, she said, “More importantly, I think I should be mad at you.” Her French jealousy was showing again.
“No time for anger, love. We have to get back to England!”
“And why should I go to England with you?”
“Why, to marry me, of course.”
“Oh goody! I accept!” She paused. “Kiss me!”
“Escape first, kissing later!”
And then they vamoosed. Meanwhile in the throne room Phillip sat, slumped over and looking dejected as he pondered if he had the energy to retire to his bedchambers to change out of his wet royal duds. Boniface, still huffing like the old gray mare, ran in and bowed awkwardly.
“Your Majesty! I haven’t been able to catch Flippertigibbit or Broadshoulders!”
The King sighed. “You and my elite guard.”
Clarence and Alice rushed through another door and stopped long enough to gape and moan over their unfortunate turn. Boniface drew his sword.
“Stop, you spy!”
Being especially spry and agile, Clarence rushed Boniface and grabbed the sword out of the old man’s hand.
“You traitor!”
Boniface hopped backwards, trying to place the throne between him and his young opponent. “I prefer opportunist!”
Clarence took a fencing position. “So it comes to this.”
“Not really.” By now Boniface was fully ensconced behind Phillip. “You took my sword!” Sticking his tongue out, he added, “Thief!”
By coincidence, a troop of guards entered from another door.
“Oh!” Alice gasped. “I think I’m going to faint!”
Grabbing her tiny waist, Clarence set her aright and slapped her face gently. “Sorry, darling! We don’t have time for that!”
Phillip held his head in his thin fingers. “Throw your sword to the idiot.”
One of the guards tossed his epee to Clarence.
“Not that idiot. The one standing behind me.” The King was ready for his afternoon nap.
Being an Englishman of the highest moral rectitude, Clarence lobbed back to Boniface his sword. Thus equipped, Elizabeth’s courtier quickly moved in front of the guards, creating a phalanx of sorts.
“En garde!”
“En garde!” Clarence returned to his fencing pose.
Alice ran for the door. “To England!”
Boniface lunged toward Clarence who was quick to counter. The old courtier looked behind him at the guards. “Aren’t you going to help me?”
They looked at the King who shrugged and said, “I say let them kill each other.”
Clarence and Boniface began fencing out the door following Alice’s path. They had barely gone before Lord Steppingstone bounded in from another door. (Author’s note: Steppingstone was a few years younger than Boniface and therefore had a tad more stamina. Steppingstone’s family attributed their enhanced athletic conditioning to a steady diet of goat livers sautéed in ewe’s milk.)
“Your Majesty! I haven’t been able to find them! I’ve looked high and low! Over things! Under things!”
“Obviously not under the right things,” Phillip replied with a sad sigh.
Before Steppingstone could say a word, Rodney and Maria dashed in from yet another direction.
“All these corridors look the same,” Rodney muttered.
Maria stopped and gasped in English tones, “Uh oh! There’s King Phillip!”
“Didn’t you know,” his Majesty said with a smirk, “all corridors lead to me.”
“And Lord Steppingstone!” Rodney pointed at him. “You’re the traitor!”
Phillip looked over at his guards. “You know what I said about the last group that came through here?”
The head guard frowned. “I think so, my Lord.”
“Same principle applies here. Toss them both swords and let them fight it out.”
Before they realized what was going on, Rodney and Steppingstone found epees being thrown at them. However, neither missed a beat and took a fencing stance.
“This farce has gone on long enough.” Steppingstone growled.
“I agree,” Rodney replied grimly.
Maria was unimpressed by the display of gallantry and ran to the nearest door. “We don’t have time for chivalry, darling. To England!”
Rodney retreated, following his beloved, yet he still maintained an outstanding show of fencing repartee. Steppingstone followed them out into the corridor. Entering from the same door, Vacacabeza looked behind him, waving a shaking hand.
“Stop! Halt. It’s …futile…to…run….” He would have said more but he collapsed in a faint on the marble floor.
Phillip shook his head. “On days like this, I seriously consider retiring and leaving the kingdom to my crazy son.”

Cancer Chronicles Forty

Sometimes I feel overcome with absolute rage over things that happened 50 years, even 60 years ago. It isn’t always at night when the lights are out and I’m lying in bed with just my thoughts. Some incident way in the past came pop up in the middle of the day and around friends. Maybe it’s a stray comment from someone that sparks the bad memory. It doesn’t make it any difference: I’m mad as hell.
Whatever it is, the anger does not have anything to do with my wife Janet; well, sometimes it does but most of the time it’s not.
I calm down by reminding myself that I’m tired and probably have a lingering headache or stuffy sinus cavities. Dwelling on past slights will just make the headache worse. I try to divert myself to some happy projects. Sometimes I think about a new story I want to write. There are a lot of festivals and fun times coming up in the spring and I have to come up with some new stories to tell folks. I don’t want them to get bored.
Sometimes those old wounds end up as a pretty good story. I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction making mean people seem ridiculous in a story. And I don’t have to worry about them getting even. Most of them are dead anyway, and the living ones feel they are too important to bother with an old man’s silly stories. Getting a little snarky on paper makes me feel better.
A good analyst could make the point that I am using misdirected anger at other people to deflect my actual indignation that my wife suffered through months of damned chemical therapy, had her hopes raised that the breast cancer was all gone, then endured even worse pain and mental anguish with brain cancer. I was the one with the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep disorder which will eventually kill me through stroke or heart attack. I was supposed to go first. She had worked so hard to take care of me. And what was her reward? Damn cancer.
Now is a good time to get mad at those kids who ruined my recesses in elementary school. I think I’d rather be mad at them right now than at cancer.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Six

Ward Lamon tapped the window of the train car as the engine chugged its way from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Rain streamed down the pane blurring the passing dark landscape, Lamon did not notice. He was anxious to see his friend Abraham Lincoln after an absence of two and a half years.
They had been friends in Springfield, Il., for years. Part of that time Lamon was Lincoln’s law partner. When Lincoln was elected president, he asked Lamon to be his bodyguard on the trip to the capital. Later Lamon served officially as Federal District Marshal and unofficially as the president’s protector. Many nights he slept on the floor outside Lincoln’s bedroom door to ward off assassins. Then one day in September of 1862, Lamon rode to a meeting on Capitol Hill in the carriage of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Stanton told him the president had gone into hiding because of threats on his life. Doubles replaced both Lincoln and his wife. To insure the protection of the president, Stanton told him, he was to pretend Lincoln was still living in the Executive Mansion.
Lamon never trusted Stanton, nor his personal bodyguard Lafayette Baker. Both of them were short men who bullied people to make themselves feel bigger. Since he himself was well over six feet in stature and burly in appearance, he had no need to bully people for respect.
Stanton told him that night to mind his own business and leave well enough alone. Baker smirked, which irritated Lamon to no end. He hated the man. Rumors circulated throughout Washington City about Baker’s nefarious history in California. The little man worked for companies that paid him to beat men to death who did not fall in line and accept low wages and stinking living conditions. Lamon believed every story.
He had pressed the Lincoln impersonator to tell him the truth during those two and a half years, but the impersonator had revealed little. Sitting in the railroad car staring out at the dark, Lamon remembered another train trip. He and the imposter were coming back from Gettysburg after the cemetery dedication. They looked out of the window as the train pulled into Washington City station.
Placing his hand over the double’s fist he whispered, “Say nothing but continue to wave. I’ll ask you questions, and you’ll respond by making a fist under my palm for yes. If the answer is no, flatten it. Is this plan really the plan of Mr. Stanton?”
The hand shook but did not change configuration.
“Is Mr. Stanton acting on the orders of Mr. Lincoln?”
He again made a quick fist, but his hand trembled.
“So Mr. Lincoln is not being held against his will?”
The hand went flat.
“Are you afraid?”
The hand stayed flat, but Lamon could sense beads of sweat popping up on the knuckles. Lamon wanted to jerk the man up by his shoulders and shake him. Be a man and tell the truth, he wanted to scream at him. You are not worthy even to pretend you are Abraham Lincoln, he wanted to yell. But, Lamon reminded himself, they were surrounded by people who did not need to know this man was not their commander-in-chief. Instead he patted the man’s hand. “Wave to the people, Mr. President.”
Cowardice was another personality trait the federal marshal did not understand. Lamon had never been afraid of anything, at least until this day as he rode the train to Baltimore. Now he feared he would not find President Lincoln in time to save his life. Shifting uncomfortably in the wooden bench seat on the train, he thought back to going to the Executive Mansion earlier that day. It was Good Friday morning, and he had implored the double to tell him where the real Lincoln was being held.
“Mr. Lincoln is going to die despite what I can do. I’m already dead.” After a pause the imposter added, “But we all don’t have to die.”
“That’s right,” Lamon told him. “Nobody has to die. Where is Mr. Lincoln?”
“Baltimore. Fort McHenry.”
“I’ll leave right now.”
The man grabbed Lamon’s arm. “Take the woman with you. I want her out of here tonight. I don’t trust Mr. Stanton.” Lamon offered to take him, but the man replied, “No, I have meetings to attend. People still have need to see their president.”
Lamon frowned as he recalled walking into Mrs. Lincoln’s bedroom where the woman sat by the window. “I’m leaving for Baltimore tonight. There’s no reason for you to stay.”
“I don’t want Tad to be alone. He’s been through so much, and he’s come to depend on me. I can’t let him down.”
As Lincoln’s friend continued to stare out of the rain-stained window, he decided he had been wrong about the imposters. At first, he thought they were despicable for participating in such a deception, but now he realized they were in the final analysis ordinary people forced into a terrible situation. And when the end was near, only thought of the good of others. Lamon hoped he would return from Baltimore with the president in time to save the couple; he realized their lives were in danger also. If Stanton were capable of kidnapping, he was capable of murder. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Lamon decided he would feel better once he had rescued Lincoln from Fort McHenry. The world would be set aright once he could look into the president’s eyes.
But what about looking into the eyes of his own wife back in Springfield? Lamon felt the back of his neck burn with guilt as he acknowledged he had set aside the needs of his own family when Lincoln became president. His first wife Angeline died in 1859. Two daughters, Kate and Julia, died in 1853 and 1854 respectively. Lamon asked his sister to raise his surviving daughter Dorothy. Right at the same time as the election in 1860, he married Sally Logan and immediately left his daughter and new wife to serve Lincoln in Washington City.
Sally and Dorothy saw him only occasionally in the first two years. After all, the nation and the president needed him. When Fort Sumter was under siege, the president sent him to Charleston as his special representative. Republicans criticized him for his failure to save the fort from falling. His wife and daughter never mentioned the war in their letters. They only said they wanted to see him again.
After September of 1862 when Lincoln allegedly went into hiding and an imposter took his place in the Executive Mansion, however, Lamon rarely made the train trip home to see his wife and daughter. He had to be in the White House constantly, looking for clues about the location of the real Lincoln and pushing the imposter for information. He even cancelled plans for his wedding anniversary with his wife to go with the imposter to Gettysburg. Her letters did not speak of her disappointment, but he could tell by her stiff penmanship she was in emotional pain.
Once the president was safe, Lamon told himself, once the crisis was officially over, he would return to his law practice in Springfield and be the proper husband to his wife and father to his dutiful daughters.
Finally, the train pulled into the Baltimore station, and Lamon dashed to a carriage, shouting the driver-for-hire, “To Fort McHenry! Fast!” He shoved a fistful of bills into the driver’s hand and took his seat inside. The horses lunged forward down the street to Point Whetstone, the peninsula sticking out into harbor. Lamon braced himself as the wheels bounced along the rough, deep trenches, splashing mud everywhere.
How ironic that Stanton would have chosen Fort McHenry for the place to enslave Lincoln, Lamon thought. American soldiers had repulsed the British in 1814 from this historic fort. The military converted it into a prison at the start of the Civil War. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, paving the way for the arrest of the mayor, the police marshal, a former Maryland governor, a congressman and even the grandson of Francis Scott Key for being Confederate sympathizers. They never had trials. The government just locked them away. Like Stanton locked away the president. But tonight was the last night, Lamon vowed.
He hoped Stanton instructed the prison officials to give Lincoln better treatment than most prisoners received. Reports said the prison denied inmates bedding, chairs, stools, washbasins and eating utensils. The food was usually rancid. Even Stanton would have made sure Lincoln spent the last two and a half years in quarters suitable for the president of the United States.
Lamon’s carriage pulled up to the Fort McHenry compound gate. A soldier in a raincoat stepped through the puddles to stick his head under the canopy.
“Who goes there?” he said.
“Ward Lamon, personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln and the Federal Marshal of the District of Columbia!”
“What is your business, sir?”
“Just let me in, dammit!”
The sentry blinked a couple of times and stepped back, allowing the carriage to pass onto a wide gravel road. Lamon tapped the driver’s shoulder and pointed to the right at a two-story building which had a wide covered verandah on three sides.
“Over there!”
The driver pulled the carriage as close to the verandah as possible before Lamon leapt out and stormed across the porch. Several guards were huddled against the wall trying to stay out of the rain. He barged through the door into a small reception area. A second lieutenant sat at desk writing in a large ledger.
“I want to see the president of the United States of America!”
The officer looked up, nonplussed, and returned his attention to his work. “I believe he resides in Washington City, sir.”
“You know that’s a lie!”
The second lieutenant turned toward the door behind him. “Captain, I think this is a matter for you to handle.”
As a portly, graying man entered the room putting on his captain’s jacket and asked, “Lt. Mayfield, what is going on here?”
Lamon stopped himself and realized he must have sounded like a madman. A Federal Marshal must behave as a gentleman at all times, he lectured himself. Looking down at the desk, he forced himself to smile at the younger officer.
“I’m sorry, Lt. Mayfield. I should not have spoken to you like that. I hope you can accept my apologies.”
“I am a junior officer,” Mayfield said without emotion. “No apologies are necessary.”
“What is this—I believe you said your name was Ward Lamon?” the captain said as he finished buttoning his jacket.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he backtracked into civility. “And I have the honor of addressing…?”
“Captain Thomas Dunne, assistant commandant of Fort McHenry,” the officer replied. “And I know who you are, sir. You are the great friend of our president. Your loyalty to Mr. Lincoln has been reported by the newspapers.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Commandant General Walker is not here at this time. Perhaps I may be able to assist you. Did I understand you correctly? You think Mr. Lincoln is here at Fort McHenry?”
“If you know who I am then you must understand,” Lamon said, trying to speak in a softer tone. “You do not have to lie—“he stopped abruptly, correcting himself again. “You do not have to continue the subterfuge. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton personally told me President Lincoln had been put under secret military protection after threats had been made on his life. I only found out today that he was here at Fort McHenry.”
“And when did Secretary Stanton tell you this?” Dunne asked in a calm voice.
“It was September of 1862.”
Mayfield put his quill pen on the table and stood.
“And he has been here ever since?” the captain said.
“You know very well—“again Lamon stopped himself in mid-sentence. “Yes, sir. That is correct, sir. Perhaps the Commandant did not share this information with you. Perhaps he felt the fewer people who knew of Mr. Lincoln’s presence here the better.”
“I have the complete confidence of General Walker, sir,” the colonel replied. “Nothing goes on here at Fort McHenry without my knowledge, sir.”
“The war is over, sir. There is no need to protect the president. That is my job. I am here to return the president to Washington City.” Lamon felt his hands trembling. “Please, sir, tell me which building Mr. Lincoln is in.”
“Captain Dunne,” Mayfield interjected, “should I—“
Dunne put his hand up in front of the second lieutenant. The Federal Marshal took this as a sign to silence the junior officer, and tantamount to acknowledging they knew Lincoln was on the premises.
Lamon lunged toward the younger officer. “You know!” Lamon grabbed his collar. “Tell me, dammit! Tell me where the president is!”
“Guards! Guards!” Mayfield yelled.
“Mr. Lamon! Control yourself!” Dunne said in a firm voice as the guards ran through the door. Lamon turned and threw a couple of wild punches at them before escaping outside into the rain. Looking around, he spotted a row of barracks across the wide gravel path. Splattering through puddles, he ran into the first barracks and past the guards.
“Mr. President! Mr. President! Where are you?” Something was terribly wrong, he told himself. Wiping raindrops from his face, Lamon ran down a long hall, looking through the bars at the inmates whose dull eyes stared vacantly back at him.
“Sir, you must come with us,” one of the two guard said who came up behind him, unnoticed.
Swinging around he shoved the first guard into the second as he ran back down the hall. “No! I must find the president!”
Just as Lamon opened the door to the courtyard, the guards from the other building barged through and knocked him to the floor. He looked up to see their rifles pointed at him. Dunne and Mayfield knelt beside him.
“Your penchant for hard liquor is as well-known as your loyalty to the president,” Dunne whispered into his ear. “I shall dismiss your behavior as the result of too much whiskey. Leave calmly, and we shall consider this incident at an end.”
Exhausted but out of options Lamon cried, “I cannot have failed the president so completely.”
“You have not failed the president,” Dunne said. “You may have failed yourself, but you have not failed the president. Do you understand?”
Lamon stared at the captain and then swallowed hard. “Yes, I must control my drinking.”
The officers stood.
“Guards, will you be so kind as to escort Mr. Lamon to his carriage?” Dunne said. As they wrenched him up roughly and shoved him through the door, the assistant commandant added, “And please make sure he makes it safely out the front gate.”
Lamon did not resist as the guards pushed him into the carriage. As the driver turned the team around, the Federal Marshal looked at the five-pointed star building in the distance, the site of the 1815 battle that saved the nation. How could he have been so wrong? How could he have been so gullible to believe all the lies?
“Where do you wish to go, sir?” the driver said, bending over to the inside of the carriage. “The train depot?”
“No,” Lamon replied. “To the nearest tavern.”
At the dimly lit bar a block from the train station, Lamon sipped on a glass of whiskey and considered what had happened. Obviously, the Lincoln imposter had lied to him. Lincoln was not in Baltimore. The only reason to send the president’s friend to Baltimore was to get the woman impersonating Mary Todd Lincoln back to her home. Of course, Stanton would have never shared the location of the president with a mere imposter. Lamon berated himself for not thinking clearly.
But if Lincoln were not at Fort McHenry, then where was he? Taking another sip of whiskey, he considered the possibilities. Perhaps the president did not leave Washington City at all. Perhaps he did not even leave the Executive Mansion. What if Lincoln and his wife had been somewhere in the building the entire time? Lamon felt his arm being jostled.
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” a man said excitedly.
The marshal noticed the crowd milling. “What’s going on?”
“The word just came in from the telegraph office. The president has been shot.”
“The president?” Lamon stood and threw some coins at the barkeeper. Pushing his way through the tavern door, he ran down the street to the telegraph office where men and women gathered in the rain.
“Let me through! I’m the president’s friend!” he shouted as he shoved his way to the front of the mob. He stopped short as he saw a clerk hold up a hand-lettered sign scrawled with a charcoal stick on a piece of paper, which was quickly disintegrating in the rain.
“President shot at Ford’s Theater.”
Another clerk came out the door with another sign and held it up.
“President near death.”
“No! No!” rumbled from the depths of the soaked crowd.
“No! Hurrah! Hurrah! The tyrant is dead!” other voices screeched.
“The South is avenged!”
From the back came a loud cry, “Damned rebels! Hang ‘em all!”
“Damn all you rebels!”
Men began attacking each other, falling down and rolling in the mud. Women hit at them with their umbrellas.
A clerk thrust a third sign into the air.
“Attempt made on life of Vice-President.”
A knot formed in Lamon’s stomach. All this was his fault. He should have never submitted meekly to the orders of Stanton. He should have known Stanton was lying to him from the very beginning. If he had only stayed vigilant, Stanton and Baker would have never gotten their hands on Lincoln in the first place.
Another clerk lifted a sign.
“Secretary of State almost stabbed to death.”
Lamon could take no more. He turned and made his way back through the crowd and down the street to the train station. Inside the depot, he stamped his feet and shook his shoulders, trying to toss the raindrops from his body. Lamon walked slowly to the window where he bought a ticket on the next train back to the Capital. He felt exhausted, hopeless. He wanted a drink. He wanted to sleep. He wanted things to be different. But all he could do was wait for the train to come, and after an eternity it did come, finally. He found his seat in the passenger car, and he stared out the window, not even having the energy to tap on it as he had done on the trip to Baltimore.
He was defeated. Lamon sacrificed everything in his life he held dear, his wife and daughter, for the President and now the President—his long-time friend– was dead. He had failed all of them. Failed.
Wrinkling his brow and narrowing his eyes, he paused. Was Abraham Lincoln dead? He gasped at the audacity of the thought. The signs at the telegraph office said the President was shot. Perhaps it had been the imposter who was shot. After all, the imposter said he had to stay so the people could see their president.
If the Lincoln look-alike had gone to Ford’s Theater to be seen by the people then the assassin could have shot him instead. But if that were so, then where was Abraham Lincoln? What had Edwin Stanton done with him?
Reinvigorated, Lamon lightly pounded his fist against the glass pane. He still had a chance to redeem himself. If he could not save the president, he could at least bring Edwin Stanton to justice.

Bessie’s Boys Chapter Nineteen

Senor Vacacabeza was completely befuddled with his order to catch the young spies, being on the Last Rites side of seventy years old, so he felt he wasn’t up to fulfilling the King’s wishes. As he rounded one corner Vacacabeza had to jump back to keep from being run over by Clarence clomping by on his hands and knees with Maria on his back, slapping his rear as though whipping a race horse.
“Tally ho!” the young lady hollered in a perfect English accent.
The old Spaniard took a deep breath and began to trot after them.
“Come back! It’s useless to resist!
In another corridor not so far away, Rodney and Alice stopped at another intersection. They looked both ways.
“Which way should we go?” Rodney asked nervously.
“How would I know? All these hallways look the same!
“Let’s try this way,” he said, taking her hand and tentatively easing down a narrower corridor.
Within a few feet they found themselves face to face with King Phillip himself. Alice screamed and began to swoon, but Rodney pushed her back to her feet.
“Aha.” Phillip pointed at them. “There you are, my little enchilada!”
Again Rodney twisted his face in confusion. “What’s an enchilada?”
Alice took control by grabbing Rodney’s hand and running in the opposite direction. “I don’t have time to explain!”
Phillip stomped his foot in indignation. “I am the king of Spain! You’re supposed to obey me!” After he controlled his pique, Phillip began to run as fast as he could. When he came to a staircase, he saw Rodney and Alice alight the bottom step and separate, running in different directions.
“Guards! Guards! After them!” the King screamed as he descended the steps.
Unfortunately, two large guards appeared behind him and knocked him as they went after the English desperadoes.
At the same time Clarence and Maria ran through the courtyard. Following them at a distance, Vacacabeza stumbled into courtyard.
“It’s only a matter of time before I catch you!”
Clarence turned, hopped from foot to foot, and laughed. “It’s only a matter of time before you run out of breath!” With that exercise of bravado, he grabbed Maria’s hand and disappeared down another corridor.
Rodney leaned over the balcony, looking across the courtyard. “Now where did Alice go?” he muttered.
Vacacabeza looked up to see Rodney on the balcony. “Maybe I’ll have better luck chasing that one!” He made his way to the nearest stairs, waving his fist. “Stop there! It’s useless to try to escape!”
“Uh, oh.” Rodney turned away and beat a more than hasty retreat.
“Drat.” He stopped to put his hand to his mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
In another nearby hallway, Maria and Alice almost bumped into each other.
“Oh,” Maria announced in an English accent dripping with disdain. “So we meet again. Now delightful.”
“Yes.” Alice meet her disdain and matched it with acid sarcasm. “It’s certainly made my day.”
“By the way, I’ve spoken to my lover, and he says I’m the only woman for him.”
“Well, I’ve spoken to my fiancé, and he says he says he loves only me.”
“So it’s impossible we’re talking about the same man.”
“Of course.” Alice raised her haughty little chin.
“I’m so pleased for you,” Maria replied with an edge sharpened by snideness which did not go undetected by the fair Alice.
“And why, may I ask, are you pleased for me?”
Maria extended her statuesque magnificence to its fullest height. “Because if we were talking about the same man, he’d surely choose me over you?”
“And makes your feeble mind think that?” Alice placed her hands on her petite hips.
“Well, I don’t want to upset you.”
“And I don’t want to upset you by saying you wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell with my fiancé.”
Maria’s eyes fluttered and her lips pursed. “And you name is Wrenn, isn’t it?”
“Yes. What of it?”
“It’s just that it’s so appropriate.” She stepped closer. “Wrenn. A little bird. A little twit—I mean tweet.”
Alice’s nostril’s flared. ”And your name is de Horenhausen?”
Alice put her slender index finger to her lips. “I was wondering….”
“Yes?” Maria become defensive.
“The origin….”
“Yes?” Her face flushed.
“Does it refer to the family profession?”
Maria raised her right hand, now in a tight fist. “Why you—“
The confrontation surely would have ended in fisticuffs but King Phillip entered the courtyard followed by two guards.
“After them!”
“We’ll settle this later, my little bird.” A Teutonic crispness entered her voice.
“Anytime, my big—“
“Don’t you dare say it!”
Phillip stopped flummoxed as he stopped in the middle of the courtyard and watched the young ladies disappear among the labyrinthine corridors. Before he could reprimand his guards for moving too slow to catch the maidens, he saw Rodney scamper down a set of steps following by a huffing Vacacabeza. When the clip clopping in the opposite direction descending the other staircase drew his attention, Phillip saw Clarence.
“Stop! Stop!” the monarch bellowed. “Aha! We’ve got them trapped! We’ve got them trapped!”
Rodney immediately reverses his course and goes up the steps, knocking Vacacabeza down, causing him to roll down until the ambassador ended his tumble at the feet of the King.
Clarence, on the other hand, being lighter and therefore more fleet of foot, had made it to the bottom of his staircase before realizing he had come face to face with the royal guards. He wasted no time in backtracking up the steps with the two guards in pursuit. Three-fourths of the way up he jumped to the bannister and leaped to the balustrade. Clarence flung himself over it and disappeared down another hallway. By the time the guards lumbered to the second landing, Clarence was nowhere to be seen.
Vacacabeza doddered across the courtyard and accidently knocked the King on his ass. Phillip stood as quickly as an old man in similar circumstances could recover from a fall.
“You fool! Watch out where you’re going!”
“I’m sorry, your Majesty!” The ambassador bowed deeply. He looked about at the four corners of the Alhambra. “Which one do you want me to chase?”
Phillip sat on the edge of the central fountain. “Neither. I’m getting too old for this.”
Maria, clearly confused by the conflagration of corridors ran back into the courtyard but stopped abruptly when she saw the King and her guardian.
“Mon dieu!” she sputtered in a French accent.
King Phillip pointed at her with great authority. “Stop right there!”
Vacacabeza placed his boney hands on his ward’s shoulders. “That’s right! We’ve got you now!”
“And if my hunch is correct, we also have one of your confederates!” An evil look of satisfaction crossed his wrinkled, bewhiskered face.
“What—what do you mean?” A Spanish fear clouded her voice.
“You know what we mean,” the King replied, motioning to his ambassador to go behind Maria. Each old man went on his knees, lifted her skirt and reached under. “Now we shall see who you are hiding.”
“What are you doing?”
(Author’s note: Actually, it was quite clear to Maria what they were doing. What Maria probably meant was how could they be so crass to be doing it. We can forgive her momentary lapse of cogency because of the extreme awkwardness of her situation.)
“We’re looking for spies!” Phillip replied.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Vacacabeza ordered in a sing-song voice. His hand went between her legs and grabbed Phillip’s nose. “Aha! I think I’ve found him! I’ve got you now! You won’t get away! You’re doomed! “
The King bit the ambassador’s fingers. Vacacabeza quickly pulled his arm away.
“Ouch! That scoundrel bit me!”
Phillip withdrew his arm also and clambered to his feet. “That was no scoundrel! That was me!”
Maria reverted to righteous English indignation. “I agree with him. You are a scoundrel!” Recovering her senses tiptoed between the two old men and scurried out of the courtyard.
“How could Spain become a world power with such incompetent people running it?”
The ambassador stood, dusting off his coat. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, your Majesty—“
“I’m talking about you, you idiot!”
Rodney, who must have had a terrible sense of direction, ran back into the courtyard. “Uh oh. Wrong way!” He disappeared before the King and his minion could react.
“Do you want to chase him, or should I?”
Phillip sank on the fountain’s edge again. “Oh, you go after him. I’m worn out.”
“As you wish, Sire.” He bowed deeply before running after Rodney. “Come back here, you spy! Escape is impossible!
Phillip watched as Vacacabeza went into the wrong corridor. After huffing a bit, he muttered, “I hope the invasion goes better than this.”

Cancer Chronicles Thirty-Nine

I have not grieved for anyone in my sixty-eight years as I have grieved for my wife Janet.
My mother died of pancreatic cancer when I was fourteen. Doctors found it in March, and she was dead by the end of June. I did cry at the end of the funeral day, but I think that was because I had to be around my mother’s sisters and their families. Tennessee Williams could have written a hell of a play about them. Maybe I repressed my actual grief because young men were supposed to suck it up and not let anyone know how they felt back in the nineteen-sixties. Maybe, even though I did love her, I had only been around her fourteen years instead of the forty-four years I had with Janet.
My father died when he was eighty-three. He had a bad heart and had suffered a stroke. It’s not that he was mean to me; I just had the feeling I didn’t mean anything to him. The last time I saw him before he died we sat in the day room of his nursing home and watched Gunsmoke on television. He put his hand on my knee for a few minutes. That was the only sign of affection he ever showed to me. And the sad part was that by the time he put his hand on my knee I didn’t care anymore. I still didn’t cry.
I had two brothers who died, but there were no tears there either. The least said the better.
Janet and I were both in our early twenties when we married and so we kind of grew up together. We always said please and thank you to each other. In the later years our communication sometimes was reduced to grunts, but we still knew what we meant. No matter what happened, we knew everything would be fine because we had each other. We were never jealous; well, except for that one woman who always insisted on smoothing my jacket out for me. Janet never blamed me for it, but she did say if the woman did it one more time she was going to sock her.
I still have not cried. Maybe I will when I start sorting through all of our things, deciding what to get rid of. But there’s more to grief than tears. I am losing weight because it’s not fun to eat when Janet’s not around. The physical aches are slowly going away. The void alone is almost unbearable.
Then I consider what the last forty-four years would have been like without Janet, and it’s impossible to comprehend. The hugs and kisses. The laughs. The thrill of making plans together. It didn’t make any difference what the plans were for. We were doing it together.
Grief is the terrible price one pays for forty-four years of genuine, soul-satisfying love, and it is unquestionably worth it.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Five

The short man with the red beard scared Gabby Zook.  Gabby was on his way out of the White House basement wearing a long coat and black stovepipe hat with a bullet hole in it.  The young soldier gave him the hat and coat because it was raining, and it was going to be a long walk from the White House to the Armory Square Hospital.  He said the coat and hat belonged to the President of the United States, so Gabby decided he must be the President of the United States.  He did not know for sure.  The last two and a half years had been very confusing.

“Who the hell are you?” the short man bellowed at him as they met in the basement door.

“I’m the president, aren’t I?” Gabby remembered telling the man.

“Get the hell out of here,” the man barked.

More than half an hour had passed since he left the grounds of the White House, but the rough words still haunted him.  That man sounded mean enough to kill someone, Gabby told himself as he put his head down to protect his face from the rain.  He gathered the overcoat around him.

“If I am the president,” Gabby mumbled to himself, “then why was that man talking mean to me?”  He concentrated on his shoes splashing in the mud.  “Maybe he was mean to me because I’m not really the president.  I’m just wearing his hat and coat.”

If only he could remember.  Cordie would tell him what he needed to know.  His sister always took good care of him.  That was right.  He could not be President because he was Cordie’s brother, and not anyone related to Cordie could be President.   Gabby began to recall that he worked at the White House as a janitor.  Cordie had gotten him the job because their uncle Samuel Zook was a general, and she felt the government owed the family something because Uncle Sammy was doing such a fine job.  One day Gabby was setting out rattraps in the basement when this man and the young soldier brought down a very tall man and short woman to the billiards room.  He was behind some boxes setting the traps when the man and soldier caught him.  Because “he knew,” the man with the soldier said, Gabby had to stay in the basement.  Gabby did not know what it was “he knew,” but it must have been something bad.

They kept saying the president was being held captive in the basement.  Gabby was not certain if they were talking about him or the tall man.  The tall man seemed very nice and smart enough to be the President.  At times Gabby was sure this man was the President and the woman was his wife.  Other times Gabby was sure he was president, and the woman was his wife.  He shook his head.  That could not be right.  He would have never married a woman like that.  She was crazy.

Gabby looked up at the street sign.  It was Fifteenth Street.  Sighing, he wished he had paid more attention when Cordie took him places.  He had to find Cordie.  What was it that the young soldier had told him right before he left the basement?  Go to Armory Square Hospital.  But where was Armory Square Hospital?  He must have been walking in the right direction or why else would he have been walking in that direction, Gabby told himself.  Most of the time Gabby listened to his own advice because down deep in his heart Gabby knew he was smart.

He went to West Point, and only the smartest of boys went to school there.  Yes, he remembered his best friend Joe VanderPyle was his classmate.  They were going to be Army officers.  They would have been good Army officers, and then something bad happened.  A colonel told them to drive him in a carriage into town.  Gabby tried to tell the colonel he had never handled a team of horses before, but the colonel insisted his orders be obeyed.  Gabby lost control, and the carriage overturned.  Joe died.  The colonel said it was his fault.  After that, Gabby did not know what was right or wrong or up or down.  The Army confused him, and he wanted to go home to Brooklyn to his sister Cordie.

Cordie did a good job taking care of him through the years until their money ran out, and they had to sell the old house.  She made sure the government gave him a good job.  She volunteered at the hospital and took in sewing at the boarding house where they lived.  Life was good until he got locked into the basement.  The boardinghouse, Gabby repeated.  Maybe that was where Cordie was.  He took a few steps back the other way before stopping abruptly.  No, Cordie was not at the boardinghouse.  Cordie was dead.

The private told him so, just a day or two ago.  But Gabby already knew.  He dreamed it.  He knew he would never see his sister again.  The soldier had brought him a plate of fried eggs for breakfast.  They were Gabby’s favorite.  Now he was not hungry anymore.

“We’re going home on Friday,” the soldier told him.  “You don’t have to worry about anything anymore.”

“Cordie’s dead.  There’s plenty to worry about,” Gabby remembered telling the soldier.  “Uncle Sammy is dead.  Mama is dead.  Papa’s dead.  Joe is dead.  Everybody’s dead except me.”  Then he said to the soldier, “Don’t worry.  I forgive you.”

Gabby thought the soldier appreciated hearing that.  He did not want the young man to feel guilty for keeping him and the couple in the basement for so long.  It was someone else’s fault.  He had not quite figured out whose fault it was, but he was pretty sure it was the man with the private the day he was locked in the basement.  The soldier thought he had been doing the right thing.  Gabby could tell he was a good young man.  Maybe he could help Gabby figure all this out.

Turning back up Fifteenth Street, Gabby began walking to the White House.  He knew it was the young man who told him to go to Armory Square Hospital, but he could not remember why.  Gabby was sure the soldier would not mind explaining everything to him again.  Finally, he reached the White House grounds and trudged up the path to the basement door.  He stopped short.  The mean short man with the red beard was carrying a big bundle out the door.  He dumped it in the back of an open carriage and went back inside.  Gabby edged closer, afraid the man would see him and yell at him again.  Looking in the carriage, he saw it was a body.  As he leaned in, Gabby lifted a corner of the blanket covering the body.  He gasped.  It was the private.

The soldier’s eyes were wide open and blank.  Blood covered his mouth.  Gabby carefully put his hand under the private’s head.  When he pulled it out he saw more blood.  He held his hand out and let the rain wash it clean.

“My God,” he mumbled.  “That mean man killed him.”  His lip quivered.  “Now I really am alone.  Even the soldier is dead.”  Gabby looked at the door.  “And if I stay here I’ll be dead.  That mean man will shoot me too.”

Gabby scurried down the muddy path to Fifteenth Street and then broke out in a full run through the rain.  Not even a full block away he tripped over his own feet and fell face first into a muddy puddle, his hat flying off.  He stood and without pausing to wipe his face, Gabby started running again, his arms flailing against the raindrops as he reached for the hat.  He could not help but moan in terror as he scrambled along.  Nothing looked familiar to him.  His feet slipped on a wet rock and he fell into another quagmire.  He tried to lift himself up but fell again.

“You would think the police would do something about the drunks on the streets.”

Gabby looked up to see two men walk by, glaring at him from under their wide umbrellas.  His hands reached toward them.

“Help me!”  He stood and stumbled in the direction of the two men who quickened their pace.

“I will send a telegram tomorrow!” one of the men said in a growl.  “This is totally unacceptable!”

“No, please.  I need help.”  Gabby heard the tone of his voice.  He sounded crazy.  The two men disappeared in the darkness.  Realizing his hat was missing again, he went back for it.  Bending over, Gabby gasped for air.  He had to calm himself down.  Cordie was not here anymore to take care of him.  He had to take care of himself.  Before he put the hat on his head, Gabby turned his face to the dark angry sky.  As the rain washed his face clean, Gabby told himself to keep thinking about Cordie and surely something would come to him.  Cordie never let him down.  Yes, Cordie worked at the hospital.  Armory Square Hospital, the private had told him.  All he had to do was find Armory Square Hospital.

Walking down Fifteenth Street again, Gabby realized he had to act as if he were in control of himself.  People would not talk to anyone on the street they thought was crazy.  He straightened the stovepipe hat on his head and brushed the overcoat to make it look presentable.  Gabby approached an older man walking by himself.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said in as possessed a voice as he could muster, “could you please point me in the direction of the hospital?”

“What hospital?” the man asked, raising an eyebrow.

Gabby’s mouth gaped as he forgot the name of the hospital.  “Ahh….”

“There are plenty of hospitals around here.”

“The one with the soldiers,” Gabby replied weakly.

“They all have soldiers,” the man said with an aggravated grunt and walked away.

Gabby scampered after him with his arm outstretched, “No, please, I need help.”  He stopped and after a moment began to cry.

A man and woman walked past, but Gabby did not try to hide his tears.  He heard the woman stop and turn.

“That poor man is crying,” she said softly.

“Can’t you tell he’s mad,” the man replied with a hiss.  “He’s obviously stark raving mad.  Stark raving madmen on the street in the rain can be very dangerous.”

“I knew you were a coward when you paid to avoid the draft,” she said sharply.  “This poor man needs help.”

“No,” the man insisted, pulling on the woman’s arm.  “He’s dangerous, I tell you.”

“I won’t hurt anybody,” Gabby said, wiping the tears from his eyes.  “I just want to know where the hospital with the soldiers is.”

“All the hospitals have soldiers,” the man retorted.

“John, please.”  The woman pulled away and walked to Gabby.  “Now, calm down so I can help you.”

“Thank you, ma’am.  My sister Cordie used to work at one of the hospitals.  She’s dead now, but she said the woman there was real nice and would help us if we ever needed it.”

“Do you remember the woman’s name?” the woman asked gently.

“No…” Gabby’s voice trailed off.

“I am wet and I am hungry.”  The man patted his foot in a puddle.

“Dick Livermore,” the woman mumbled, “that’s who I should have married.  He is a real man.  Fought in the war.  Decorated for bravery.  No, I had to choose you—“

“Dick, that’s the name,” Gabby interrupted impulsively.  “I remember now.  Dick somebody.  No, not Dick, Dicks, or something like that.”

The woman focused on Gabby.  “Dorothea Dix?”

“Yes, that’s it.”  Gabby jumped a little with joy.  “Miss Dix.  That’s what Cordie called her.  Do you know her?”

“Everybody knows about Dorothea Dix,” she said with a smile.

“What hospital is she at?”

“Armory Square Hospital.”

“That’s right.  That’s what the private said.  Armory Square Hospital.  Sometimes I get so upset I forget things.”

“For God’s sake can we go now?” the man growled.

“But I don’t know where Armory Square Hospital is,” Gabby said nervously.

“This is Fifteenth Street,” the woman said slowly.  “See the sign?  Fifteenth Street.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Keep going down Fifteenth Street.  You’ll cross a big iron bridge across the slough at the Mall.  Then turn left on Independence Avenue and go past the Smithsonian Museum.  It’s the big red stone building.  Keep going until you see the hospital.  There are signs outside of it.  Do you understand?”

“I think so.”

“Tell me back what I said to you,” she said sweetly.

“Oh for God’s sake,” the man hissed.  “If you don’t come with me right now I’m going without you.”

“You better go, ma’am,” Gabby said.  “I don’t want you to miss your dinner.”

“Are you sure?”


“He sounds mad.  You better go.”

She patted his shoulder and hurried away with her husband.  Gabby kept repeating the instructions in his head.  He did not want to forget them.  He had to find Miss Dix.  She would know what to do.  He ducked his head down and walked toward the Mall.  Go across the iron bridge….

Suddenly Gabby was aware of the street filling with people running the other way on Fifteenth Street.  The low buzzing of the crowd became louder until it was a roar.  He stopped a man by the arm.

“Excuse me, sir, but what’s going on?”

“The President has been shot at Ford’s Theater.”  He pulled away and continued running back up the street.

Gabby felt the soaked coat he was wearing.  The private said it was the president’s coat.  He was wearing the coat, but he knew he had not been shot.  Maybe they were talking about the other man, the one who had been in the basement with Gabby for two and a half years.  That man had been held captive for two and a half years and within hours of walking free, he was shot.  That was not fair, Gabby told himself.  Life could not be that unfair.  His heart pounded in his chest.  Gabby gave in to his emotions and started running with the crowd to Ford’s Theater.

After only about a block Gabby stopped.  He remembered he needed to find Dorothea Dix.  She would know what to do to help him.  That poor man who was shot did not need his help now.  Turning again down the street Gabby focused on the street signs to make sure he was going in the right direction.  Out of the darkness loomed the large iron footbridge across the Mall slough.  He knew he was on the right track.  Next find Independence Avenue and turn left.  No matter what those people in the Army Gabby knew he was smart.  He could follow orders.  The Smithsonian Institution was on his right.  Gabby kept going.  Finally he saw the sign:  Armory Square Hospital.

After he walked inside, Gabby felt awkward.  The walls were whitewashed and pristine.  The wooden floors were swept and mopped.  He, on the other hand, dripped rainwater and mud.  The nurses bending over the beds were in crisp clean dresses.  Even the wounded soldiers looked freshly bathed.  He did not belong there, Gabby told himself.  He would make the soldiers sick.  Gabby meekly stepped back, about ready to leave the hospital, when a nurse looked over to see him.  Even though she smiled, Gabby wanted to leave.

“Sir?  May I help you?  Please don’t leave.”  She was a tall woman with broad shoulders and big hands.  “Are you here to see someone?  Are you ill?”

She had a sweet face so Gabby stopped, his hand on the doorknob.  Behind the first nurse came a second, this one almost as old as Cordie with pepper gray hair pulled back in a bun.  He stepped toward them and tried to brush the raindrops from his coat.

“Oh, my dear man, you are soaked to the bone,” the first nurse said with concern and took the stovepipe hat from his head, pulling the drenched coat from his back.  She turned to put them in a closet.

The second nurse put her hand to his forehead and muttered, “No fever.  You must get out of those clothes.  We have a nightgown for you.  There’s a changing room in the back.”

“I—I need to see Miss Dix, Dorothea Dix,” Gabby said, as loudly as he could without sounding ungrateful for all the attention he was receiving.  “The private told me Dorothea Dix could help me.”

“Of course, of course,” the second nurse murmured as she ran her fingered over his head, straightening his hair.  “All in due time.  But first you must get out of these wet clothes and into a nice warm bed.”

“Cordie, she said Miss Dix was a good person….”

“And what is going on here?”

Gabby looked up when he heard the shrill, high-pitched voice.  He flinched as his eyes beheld a short, thin woman dressed in black with her hair pulled back in such a severe bun that Gabby was sure it gave her a headache.

“This poor soul says he wants to see you, Miss Dix,” the first nurse said.

Miss Dix, Gabby thought.  This woman looked too scary to help anyone.  He felt the urge to run out the door into the rain, even without his overcoat.  The women firmly held his arms so he could not escape.

“What do you want?  Who are you?” Miss Dix asked impatiently.

“Cordie said you were a good person.  She said you could help me.  But you don’t have to.  I think I’m in the way here, so I’ll just leave—“

“Cordie?” Miss Dix interrupted him.  “Do you mean Cordie Zook?”

“Yes, ma’am.  She was my sister, but she’s dead now.”

“Yes, I know.  She was a dear soul.  You must be Gabby.  She talked about you all the time,” Miss Dix said, her voice softening.

“Cordie always took care of me.  Now she’s dead, and I’m all alone.  I don’t have anybody to take care of me anymore.”

A gentle smile crossed her thin little face.  “Poor man.  Don’t worry a bit.  We will to take care of you now.”  She extended her arms and enveloped him.  “You won’t be alone again.  I promise.”

Dorothea Dix was bony, unlike Cordie who was soft and plump.  Gabby decided she would suffice, and gave her a hug.  “Thank you, ma’am.”

He burst into tears.