Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sins of the Family Chapter Eight

The sky was clear as Randy and Mike worked in the garden of the North Carolina State Mental Hospital in Morganton, hoeing and weeding, laughing and poking at each other in mindless prattle. They did not see a tall, gaunt, sallow-faced man little by little move closer to them with his garbage bag of cuttings and trash.
“Have you ever heard of Moses?”
The boys flashed their ready and infectious smiles, learned from years of panhandling and hitchhiking.
“No,” Mike replied, “we ain’t never heard of—what did you call him?”
“Have you heard of Jesus?”
Again they shook their heads.
“Have you heard of Yahweh?”
“Who are them?” Randy said. “Where do they come from? Do they live around here?”
“Have you heard of the Bible?”
“The widder, she had a big black book,” Mike offered. “Think she called it the Bible.”
“Lotta folks talk about it.” Randy nodded in recollection. “I remember it now. What was those names again?”
“Yahweh is one of the many names of God.” John smiled, looked around to see if attendants noticed that he was idling too long in the garden. “Another name is Jehovah.”
“What does God do?” Mike said.
“We’ll have lots of talks about God and the Bible.” Patting them on their backs he continued, “But we better get back to work right now or else we’ll get in trouble.”
“I don’t want to get into any more trouble,” Randy said. “We done got into enough trouble already.”
“Tonight, at supper, we’ll talk,” John told them.
In the cafeteria that evening John carried his tray, look around for the brothers. He smiled when he saw the boys stuffing potatoes into their mouths. The indoctrination began now. He settled into a chair, put down his tray and folded his hands in front of his mouth so no attendant could see what he said.
“Hello, my friends.”
“Huh?” Mike replied.
“What do you want?” Randy asked, suspicion tingeing his voice.
“Remember? I was going to tell you about God and the Bible.”
“Oh, yeah,” Mike said.
“Now, what do you want to know?”
“I don’t care.” Randy looked off.
“What does God do?” Mike choked on a mouthful of mashed potatoes as he began his questions.
“God created everything,” John began, as though preaching a sermon, “the earth, the moon, the stars, people, and animals.”
“Well,” Randy said, as his eyes lit up with as much intelligence as he could must, and he wagged a finger at John, “God gotta be mean if He makes rattlesnakes to bite us, mamas who run away and the hot sun to make us sweat.”
“But He also made the flowers, birds and friends,” he replied.
“Hey,” Mike said, hitting his brother on the arm, “everybody got a off day, even God.” He looked to John for approval of his joke. “Those other guys you talked about. Who was they?”
“Jesus is the son of God.”
“He’s lucky to know who His daddy was.” Randy stuffed a forkful of meat loaf down his throat.
“And that other guy?” Mike took a large gulp of milk which dribbled down his chin.
“Moses,” John said. “He led his people, held against their will…”
“Hey, like us,” Randy said.
“Yes, like we are. Moses led his people to the Promised Land, where they were never unhappy again.”
“Hey, great.” Mike wrinkled his brow. “What happened to this Moses?”
“He’s still alive.”
“Oh yeah,” Randy said, his eyes narrowing. “Where is he?”
John looked around the cafeteria and then whispered, “I am Moses.”
For several days as they did their chores, watched television and ate their meals, Mike and Randy listened to John’s marvelous stories.
“Pharaoh was afraid of all male children and ordered them killed. This was before you were born. You wouldn’t know anything about it.” He paused. “Did you go to school?”
“Oh yeah,” Mike said with a smile. “A lot.”
“We got kicked out a lot too,” Randy said in bitterness.
“But we still went to school a lot.” Mike frowned.
“I was wrapped in a blanket and placed me in a basket and sent me down the big river,” John said, continuing his story. “I was raised by a princess as her own child. But later when her father, who was Pharaoh, found out I was Cherokee, he banished me to the wilderness.”
John’s eyes wandered as he remembered the day he felt as though he had been banished. It was about the tree branch growing through the steps. That was why looking at the branch, now big and strong, made him so angry. John had just returned from the hospital, and his head still hurt. His father took a knife and was going to cut a supple small twig that was peeking through the wooden slats. He could not remember exactly why cutting the twig made tears come to his eyes…it was a living thing and deserved to live…his father wanted to cut it and everything his father did was wrong so cutting the twig was wrong…it was everything…it was nothing…it did not matter anymore. All John remembered was trying to hold back tears as his father berated him for crying over something so insignificant.
“You don’t have any sense anymore, boy,” his father lectured. “Ever since you got hit in the head you’re worthless.”
His mother wrapped her arms around him, John recalled, and spit at Mr. Ross.
“Don’t you dare talk to Johnny like that!” she said in a hiss, watching tourists walking down the street. She pushed John into their living room and grabbed her husband by his elbow and pulled him indoors. “Johnny has plenty of sense! It’s you that don’t have no sense! Why did you let that white boy get away with hitting Johnny?”
“What could I do?” His father dropped his head.
“You could be a man! You could be a Cherokee!” she yelled at him. “You let white people get away with everything!” She slapped him across his face and stooped to hug John. Taking in deep breaths Mrs. Ross composed herself. “Wait here while I get my purse, Johnny, and we’ll go have an ice cream.”
John felt unprotected when she left the room, and his father leaned into his face to glare at him.
“Mama’s boy,” his father said in a whisper. “I wish you’d died from that wallop. You ain’t nothing like you used to be.”
“I’m ready,” she said coming back into the room.
His father stood straight and forced a smile on his face.
“I guess you’re right, John. I guess we can let that limb grow a little. It won’t hurt anything to let it grow awhile.”
“You better leave it alone,” his mother admonished. She took John’s hand. “Come along, Johnny. Let’s get ice cream.”
As they went out the door John watched the glare on his father’s face and felt banished from his love and approval. No one should be banished from his father’s love and approval, John thought, tightening his jaw.
“What’s the matter, man?” Mike asked. “You look like you want to hit somebody.”
“I want to hit Pharaoh.” John glowered. “Pharaoh banished me.” He sighed. “And when I was old enough I went to Knoxville. There Yahweh appeared to me in a neon light and told me to return to lead my people to the Promised Land. So I have come back to tell Pharaoh, let my people go.”
“Is doc, the bald one, is he Pharaoh?” Randy’s face darkened.
“Oh, no, the white man doctor, he isn’t Pharaoh.”
“Then who is this Pharaoh?” Randy said. “I want to hit him too.”
John began to tell them his father was Pharaoh but stopped short. His father was too weak to be Pharaoh. Pharaoh would have never let his son be hit in the head and do nothing. His father did not deserve to die as Pharaoh. Besides, he had already tried to kill him. As far as John was concerned, he was already dead.
“Pharaoh’s dead. A new Pharaoh hasn’t appeared. When he does, I’ll tell you.” John laughed and shook his head. “But no, the white man doctor, he isn’t Pharaoh.”
“But he asks too many questions.” Randy pursed his lips in a pout. “And he don’t tell us what he’s thinking. We’re afraid he talked to the cops.”
“Why should that scare you?” John asked.
“Well,” Randy replied faltering, “they’re always saying we killed people, but I don’t remember doing nothing wrong.”
“Yeah,” Mike said in agreement. “All we do is drink a little beer, and cops come pick us up and say all these bad things about us.”
“Sometimes, killing is not a bad thing.” John’s eyes narrowed and his lips formed a small grin.
“Tell us more about the things you done, Moses,” Mike said.
“One day Pharaoh became very angry with me and chased me.”
John remembered sitting in his living room with his father while his mother worked washing dishes in a restaurant. He was a teen-ager now, and his father had come to a truce with him, no affection or respect, just a truce. Looking at his father, he could not help but ask a question.
“Do you ever think about early Cherokee?”
“Early Cherokee. How they lived. Yo He Wa, their god.”
“I told you not to talk about such foolishness,” his father said.
“It’s not foolishness. Other people talk about Yo He Wa, the seven clans, Sequoyah, Trail of Tears…”
“That’s the past!” he snapped.
“But it’s our past,” John said in earnest.
“John, the past means nothing. All that counts is getting along with people right now.”
“Mother doesn’t think the past means nothing.”
“Shut up.”
“Why do you get so mad at me?”
“Shut up.”
“Why don’t you love me?”
“If you say one more word I’m going to give you a walloping.”
“It’s not my fault I got hit in the head.”
“That’s it.” John’s father stood and charged toward him.
Scared, he ran for the door, tripping over the branch growing in the stairs, rising to his feet to scramble off their bottom stoop. John darted across the road clogged with tourist traffic toward the Ocunaluftee River. Mr. Ross followed him with determination. As John waded across the shallow mountain river, a car stopped, and a man stuck his head out his window.
“Mr. Ross,” he yelled.
John’s father stopped and turned to smile.
“I just wanted to thank you for teaching Sunday school,” he said. “My son says you know more about the Bible than anyone he knows.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Ross smiled. “I’m just doing the Lord’s will.”
The man glanced at John standing in the middle of the river.
“You and your son wading?”
“Yes. Sure,” he replied with embarrassment.
“Feels good on your feet, doesn’t it, John?” the man yelled at him.
“Yes, sir,” John replied. “Feels good.”
The man looked back at Mr. Ross.
“How’s the boy doing?”
“I know that was terrible,” the man said, his eyes darting to John. “My boy says he can tell he’s not the same, you know, since then.”
John felt humiliated the man was talking about him. His son was a school bully who liked to ridicule him because he made bad grades. He knew he could not remember his school work like he had but that was not his fault. He could not help it if he had been hit in his head.
“We all have our crosses to bear,” Mr. Ross said with a sigh. “My wife and I pray every night for strength to guide the boy the best way we can. He can be a handful. Of course, the boy can’t help it.”
John turned and ran the rest of the way across the Ocunaluftee, wanting to get as far away from his father as he could, just like Moses wanted to get as far away from Pharaoh as he could.
“So I split water and walked across dry land.”
“You split water and walked on dry land?” Mike gasped in awe.
“Hmm,” Randy said, still skeptical. “If you can do that, why don’t you just walk outta here?”
“I must bide my time. These are more years in the wilderness until Yo He Wa speaks to me again.”
“Yo He Wa?” Mike frowned. “Who’s Yo He Wa?”
“That’s another name of God.”
“Why can’t God just have one name?” Randy said, grousing.
“You wouldn’t understand,” John replied. “You have to trust Moses and not ask too many questions.”
“Who do I see next?” Harold asked the nurse standing by his desk.
“Mike and Randy.” She looked at her clipboard. “Do you want me to bring them in now?”
He nodded. After she left, Harold took out his folder on the brothers and read. They were in their late teens; no one knew their ages exactly, but by their own account Randy was older, though shorter by a head. They suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, which was evident from their appearance. Their eyes were small in proportion and appeared narrow. Their noses were smaller and turned up a little at the end with a flatter than usual bridge. Their ears were somewhat deformed, and their hands had abnormal creases in the palms. The brothers’ intelligence quotients were measured to be sixty-five, which made them high-grade mental defectives. Harold turned a page in the file. Mike and Randy were found on State Highway 336 four miles south of Boone, North Carolina, last month. Their clothing was soiled, their bodies caked with mud and blood, and their teeth discolored from lacking of brushing. When examined by a physician, the brothers did not know where they were from, why they were in such a condition or where they were going. They only knew their names, and that they were brothers. A local judge without delay declared them mentally incompetent and committed them to the state hospital.
“Mike and Randy are here to see you, Dr. Lippincott,” the nurse announced as the brothers loped through the door and plopped in the chairs opposite Harold’s desk. Randy hunched over and stared at the floor while Mike right away stuck a beefy finger up one nostril.
“How are you today, boys?”
Randy shrugged.
“Great,” Mike replied with his finger still entrenched up his nose.
“Hey,” Randy said as he glanced over at his brother and punched him hard in the arm, “don’t pick snot in front of doc, okay?”
Mike whined as he wiped his finger on his pants leg.
“I want to talk to you today about your mother.”
“She was bad,” Randy said.
“Hey, don’t say that.” Mike punched him in the arm.
“Well, she was.” Randy looked hurt as he rubbed his arm.
“I know.” Mike waved his hand and grinned. “But it ain’t nice to say it.”
“Did you love your mother, Randy?”
“I did.” Mike leaned forward and laughed. “She was pretty.”
“Why didn’t you love her?” Harold focused on Randy who was staring at the floor again.
“I don’t know.”
“Is it because she drank too much?”
“Yeah, she was good.” Mike nodded with a broad smile. “She gave us all the beer we wanted.”
“Did you like that, Randy, getting beer from your mother?”
“I guess.” Licking his lips, he stole a glance toward his brother.
“You can never have too much beer.” Mike leaned back and scratched his lean, flat belly.
“God says different,” Randy said.
“Do you believe in God, Randy?” Harold asked.
“I guess.”
“Where did you learn about God?” Harold smiled.
“The widder said.” Mike sat forward, grinning.
Randy swung around and slapped his brother on the arm.
“Ouch! What did you do that for?”
“Who’s the widow?” Harold frowned.
“The widder Scoggins,” Mike replied in innocence.
“Shut up.” Randy hit him again.
Harold took out his pen and began to make notes.
“What are you writing down?” Randy asked.
“I always write in patients’ folders as we talk,” Harold replied not looking up. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You gonna call the cops?” Randy began to tighten his fists.
“Randy, as long as you’re in this hospital, you’ll always be safe,” Harold said. Continuing to write, he asked without looking up, “Where did the widow live?”
“I don’t know,” Mike said. “Somewhere around here.”
“You talk too much.” Randy slapped his brother on the face this time.
“Doc, he’s picking on me.” Mike put his hand to his cheek and appeared ready to cry. “Make him stop.”
“Why are you hitting your brother?”
“He talks too much.” Randy stared at the floor.
“He does?”
“He needs to shut up.”
The telephone rang, and Harold answered it.
“It’s long distance from a Long Island hospital,” the secretary said. “I wouldn’t have interrupted your session, but I knew your father was from Long Island.”
“Tell the nurse to come in for the boys.” Harold squinted. “I’ll take the call.” He hung up and smiled at Mike and Randy. “You two sleeping all right at night?”
“I guess.” Randy looked away.
“I sleep good,” Mike said with a beam.
“Okay.” Harold wrote in their file. “Medications to remain the same.”
“But you didn’t tell him to stop picking on me,” Mike said.
“You tell him not to talk so much,” Randy answered with spite.
“Now, Randy, Mike has the right to say anything he wants.”
“Not when it’ll get us in trouble.”
“You won’t get into trouble” Harold assured him. He looked up to see the nurse enter. “It’s time to go. And, Randy, stop hitting your brother.”
Randy grumbled as he and Mike followed the nurse out. Harold closed their folders and waited for the phone. It rang, and he answered.
“This is Dr. Stephen Voss. Your father was admitted this morning with a stroke. According to our information, you’re his closest relative.”
“Yes,” Harold replied. “My mother died ten years ago.”
“I’m sorry to inform you that the stroke your father suffered was massive,” Dr. Voss continued. “The prognosis is not good, considering his advanced age.”
“I understand.” Harold paused. “Did he request that I join him at the hospital?”
“I asked him.” Dr. Voss hesitated. “He declined.”
“If that is his wish.” Harold sighed.
“There’s not much you could do here at this point,” Dr. Voss said, trying to sound sympathetic.
“Of course.”
“We’ll keep you updated.”
“Thank you. Good-bye.”
After he hung up, Harold thought back to the night at his father’s mansion on Long Island and again on his recent trip and his father’s insistence to remind him of his inadequacies. The prick of the crystal shard of the champagne glass still stung in his memory and kept him from mourning his father’s decline toward death. The phone rang again, and he picked it up.
“It’s Bob Meade,” the secretary said.
“Put him through.” Harold waited until he heard the click. “Hello, Mr. Meade.”
“Sorry to bother you, Dr. Lippincott,” Bob said, “but I wanted to thank you for your cooperation on the story about John Ross. We’ve received a good response on its airing.”
“I was pleased when I saw it,” Harold said. “John Ross watched it too. I was observing him during the broadcast, but I couldn’t detect much of a reaction.”
“Oh?” Apprehension colored Bob’s voice.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I have a session with John today. I’ll ask him what he thought about being on television.”
“No problem.”
“Thanks again for the help. Good-bye.”
After Bob hung up, Harold called the secretary.
“When do I see John Ross?”
“He’s next.”
The nurse escorted John into the doctor’s office and left. John sat across from Harold, stiffly erect and puffing on a cigarette.
“So.” Harold smiled. “How did you like being on television, John?”
“It was nice.” His face didn’t crack.
“You didn’t answer some of the questions. Didn’t you like the reporter?”
“The man was nice.” He hesitated. “He had sad eyes.”
“Then why didn’t you answer his questions?”
They stared at each other a long time. John unsettled Harold, who could figure out most patients on the first visit. John was different. Harold blinked.
“Tell me, John, how do you feel about your mother and father?”
“They’re my parents. I love them.” He smiled. “My mother is like a princess to me.”
The doctor did not blink this time.
“Isn’t that a good answer?” John asked.
“Oh yes, it’s a very good answer. It’s the answer of a man who doesn’t want to say anything that will keep him in the mental hospital any longer than he has to be here.”
“I’m a good person.”
“Yes, you are. I believe you really are. I believe you want to be good very much. But there’s something in you that keeps you from being as good as you want to be.” Harold looked down at John’s folder. “You have to take your medication to help you be good. The nurses tell me they have trouble with you about taking your pills.”
Again a long silence as Harold waited for a response from John, but none was coming.
“You’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Mike and Randy. That’s very nice of you.”
“They’re frightened children.” John smiled and relaxed, slipping back in the chair. “Their eyes yearn for a father.”
“So you decided to fill that need.” Harold took a calculated chance at nettling John to see his response.
“I thought it would help.” John lit another cigarette from the butt of the one he just finished. His eyes fluttered and he repeated, “I thought it would help.”
“And has it?”
“It’s not up to me to decide that, is it, doctor?” John smiled.
“And you, John, has it helped you?”
“What do you mean?” His smile faded.
“Being a father to them, does that fulfill a need in you? I never knew you missed that. You’ve never said anything about missing a relationship with a woman that would lead to being a father.”
“What does that mean?” John sat up, his eyes narrowing. “What does a relationship with a woman have to do with anything?”
“All I meant was that I didn’t realize you had feelings of caring—of parenting, if you will—for anyone.”
“Of course I care.” John rubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. “What’s the meaning of all this? I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Tell me what makes you so angry.”
“Oh, I’m not angry.” John laughed and shrugged. “Sometimes, well, you get on my nerves.”
“No, John, I don’t mean being angry at this very moment.” Harold leaned forward, hoping to induce more emotion from his patient. “I mean the anger that shows in the way you walk, sit, talk and eat. You can deny that it exists, but it does and it has separated you from society.”
“I’m sorry.” John shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean. I wish I did.”
“Is that why you don’t want to take your pills?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think you should be here?”
“My parents do, and the courts do.”
“The only person whose opinion really counts is you. Do you think you belong here? Not your parents, not the courts, not even me. Tell me what you really think.”
John paused, his eyes lit with defiance, and he was about to speak when he fell back, squinted a moment and then stared at the floor.
“Why what?”
“Why yes?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you say yes because you think that’s what I wanted you to say?”
“Why should I care what you want me to say?”
“You shouldn’t. So do you really think you should be here?”
“I’ve already answered that.”
“But you haven’t told me why.”
“Must I have a reason for every answer I give you?”
“You don’t have to have a reason for anything.” Harold decided not to push him any further and looked at the folder. “Are you sleeping well at night?”
“I suppose.”
“Are you having nightmares?”
“If I do I don’t remember them.”
“Are you tired when you awaken?”
“Very well. Do the other pills help you?”
“In what way?”
“Do they help you think more clearly, act more calmly?”
“I’m always calm.”
“Yes, I’m sure you are.” Harold smiled and looked at his folder again, deciding to provoke him one last time. “John, why do you think you’re Moses?”
“Who said that?” John turned away and pulled out another cigarette. Patting his pocket for a match, he frowned.
“You did.” Harold put on his glasses and peered at the file.
“Why can’t I keep matches for my cigarettes?”
“It’s a fire hazard. You don’t want to endanger the lives of the other patients here, do you?”
“I don’t like asking the attendants for a light.” He paused and then said with irritation, “Well, aren’t you going to give me a light?”
“Why not?”
“I don’t smoke. I don’t have any matches.” He paused, hoping he was on the verge of a breakthrough. “You haven’t told me why you think you’re Moses.”
“I said that in the past.” His hand tightened into a fist, crushing the cigarette. “I’m better now.”
“So you no longer think you’re Moses?”
“You’d think I was crazy if I said I was Moses.”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Eight

When spring arrived, Davy had saved enough money to buy himself new clothes. He could not contain his joy because he had never worn anything not sewn by his mother. The shirt was white linen and pulled over his head. Trousers and fringed jacket were soft buckskin. He showed them to Gray who nodded and smiled. When Meyers arrived in Gerardstown with news he had a new load of flour barrels for Baltimore, Davy’s eyes widened.
“Baltimore? That’s a seaport, ain’t it?”
“Yes, Master Crockett,” he replied with an air of superiority. “That’s where they keep the ships.”
“Ships,” Davy repeated in a whisper. “I ain’t never seen a big ship before. I bet those big sails are pretty.”
“The only true beauty comes from God,” Meyers intoned. After clearing his throat he added, “How much money do you have?”
“Seven dollars.”
“Too much.” Meyers shook his head. “That’s too much temptation for a young man in a large city.” He paused and stuck out his hand. “”Give it to me for safe keeping.”
He wanted to keep his master happy so Davy quickly obliged him by plopping several coins in Meyers’ palm. Within a few days Davy packed his new clothes in the back of the wagon. He walked with a light step along the Potomac River trail, wanting to talk about tall ships but was afraid of saying anything to elicit a sanctimonious reprimand. They ferried across the river at Washington and soon were south of Baltimore at Ellicott City. A group of laborers loaded wheelbarrows with rocks alongside the road to roll them down the hill where they were building a retaining wall.
“We’ll be in Baltimore by nightfall,” Meyers said.
Davy’s heart leapt as he heard the sounds of the big city in the distance, men shouting, horses neighing, wheels clattering and heavy thumping. No sounds of birds, except a strange wail of gulls, he noted. Wanting to look his best, he jumped up into the back of the wagon to change into his new clothes. Meyers’ head jerked when he heard the commotion behind him.
“What are you doing!” he shouted. “Get down from there!”
“What the–!” a wheelbarrow man grunted as he lost control of his load, pilling rocks in front of the horses. They whinnied and reared, starting a gallop down the road. Barrels shifted in the wagon, catching Davy with his pants around his ankles. His eyes popped and his mouth flew open as he jumped from side to side avoiding rolling heavy flour containers. After several close escapes from being bashed between loose barrels, Davy jumped over the back of the wagon, his feet dangling and his arms clinching the top, not caring his long johns were exposed.
Wheel barrow men ran to grab the reins and stop the runaway horses, eventually getting them under control. They laughed and patted the horses to calm them. Davy dropped from the back of the wagon and quickly bent over to pull up his trousers; then he felt a familiar whack upside his head.
“Hey! Hey!” a laborer bellowed as he walked toward them. “Don’t hit the boy! It wasn’t his fault!”
“I shall say this calmly and softly,” Meyers said, arching an eyebrow at the man. “The boy should not have jumped into the wagon. The noise caused the horses to bolt and run. He cost me valuable time and money.”
“No, I shouldn’t have done that,” Davy murmured. “I was wrong.”
“Barrels knocked a hole in the side of your wagon, another laborer said.
Meyers glowered at the cracked wood and raised his hand to hit Davy again when the first laborer grabbed his wrist.
“Enough of that.”
Meyers grumbled and turned away, stopping another wagoner passing by to make arrangements to have his barrels transported into the city and his wagon towed to a carpenters shop for repairs. That night Meyers settled into his bed at a small inn on the edge of Baltimore.
“You know I only discipline you to save your soul,” he said, eyeing Davy on a mattress on the floor by his bed. “And as the Good Book says, spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Davy said nothing but waited for his master to fall asleep. When he heard soft snoring he reached out for his new clothes and slipped from the room to explore Baltimore by night.


“Those folks don’t know you the way I do, David,” Abner said as he put his hand on his shoulder. “They don’t know you’re pullin’ their legs.”
David, still rubbing the grease stains on his shirt, looked up to stare into Abner’s eyes.
“Why don’t you play the fiddle for a while?” his brother-in-law asked.
A smile flashed across David’s face, and he waved to the crowd and hollered in merriment, “Or you all can go to Texas with me!”
The men roared as David waved his arms in triumph. William walked up with the bow and fiddle. David tucked it under his chin and played a happy jig followed by a reel and then a melancholy rendition of Greensleeves. Sensing his spirits were dipping again David swung into an upbeat tune. Dusk slid into darkness, and the fires in the pits began to fade. Men slapped David on the back and thanked him for the grub. Some of them ducked their heads and shuffled their feet, apologizing for laughing at him.
“I’m a politician, boys,” David said, grinning. “Nothin’ ever bothers me.”
“That’s good. We wanted to make sure,” one young man said.
“You was a purty good congressman, honest,” another added.
“Why don’t you boys join me in Texas?”
Their eyes widened, and they stepped back.
“Ain’t there a war about to break out there?”
“You boys ain’t scared of a li’l scrape, are you?” David enjoyed taking pleasure in their discomfort. He was mad at their disrespect. He remembered how he always showed respect for Adam Meyers, even when he did not deserve it. “I grew up fightin’ b’ars, bullies and bushwhackers.”
“Yes, sir, we know,” one of them mumbled.
“Don’t tell me you scared of gittin’ shot at?” David raised his voice, drawing the attention of the other men. “How ‘bout the rest of you? Y’all want to go to Texas with me?” He paused to look around. “Honest. No joke. Who wants to go to Texas?”
William stepped forward as the young men retreated into the darkness. “I’ll go.”
“That’s it!” David put his arm around William’s shoulder. “Who else?”
“I’m with you,” Abner announced.
“Me too!” several others yelled.
David felt tears welling in his eyes. Raising his head he emitted a whoop. The crowd joined him and applauded.
“Who else?” he asked in jubilation. “Who else for Texas?”
“I will!” a voice in the back boomed.
“Me too!” another joined.
“And me!”
Before long all of the men were shouting allegiance to David, vowing to follow him.
“We’ll all git rich!” he shouted. “Y’all have acres and acres of virgin land!”
They raised their fists and huzzahed.
“And we’ll lead Texas into the United States of America!” he screamed, his voice shrill and out of control.
The crowd went wild, and David’s heart beat faster, just like it did when he was on the campaign trail. He felt good again, forgetting why he was going to Texas in the first place. He lost his election. Many of the men gathered around him now probably voted against him. Tomorrow they probably would forget their promises to follow him to Texas. But David felt so good at this moment he did not care.


Oh yes. We know who is throwing up. Our big husky brother Vince. Remember when mother died?
“I don’t know what got into him,” Lonnie said. “You know he’s never been sick. You and Allan was always getting sick, but Vince never was, except when he was drunk.” He looked at Dave with suspicion. “Do you think he’s been drinking?”
“I don’t know,” Dave replied in a vacant tone.
I just love a good daiquiri.
“I can’t stand that drinking,” Lonnie muttered. Looking up, he waved Dave over. “Tell you the truth, Puppy, he’s getting worse. I don’t know how he holds on to his job.” He patted the divan next to his chair. “Pup, sit down here a minute.”
Dave sat near his father and sensed Allan hovering over them.
Oh, good. Gossip.
“Don’t tell Vince,” Lonnie said in a whisper, “but I don’t feel none too good.”
I hope he dies.
“I keep forgetting things. They turned the lights off on me a couple of months ago ‘cause I forgot to pay the bill. Then I got confused and paid twice the next month.”
“Things like that happen,” Dave said.
“Not to me. I’ve always been able to take care of myself. Now I’m scared I can’t do it no more.” He paused to compose himself. “No, I ain’t scared.” He squared his jaw. “Getting all nervous and scared don’t get things done.”
Catch that? He’s talking about me now. I couldn’t help it if I got nervous and scared about things. Always had to bad mouth me, the old devil.
“So what I want to do is sell the house and move into a nursing home. There’s a real nice one on the edge of town. Between what I got in my bank and money from this house I think I could handle it.”
“What about Social Security?”
“Oh, forget that.” Lonnie shrugged.
“Why, Dad? You paid into it all your life. You earned it.”
“Aw, I can’t find my birth certificate.” He breathed out in disgust. “I thought I was born in Collin County, but they don’t have it. Nobody has it.”
“The family Bible.”
“The old Crockett Bible. They accept births recorded in family Bibles.”
“Are you sure?” Lonnie’s eyes widened.
“Yes, I’m sure. We can take the Bible down to the Social Security office after the funeral tomorrow. Do you know where it is?”
“I sure do.” Lonnie stood. “It’s over in the china cabinet.” He started over to the hutch and then turned back to Dave. “This is what I’m talking about, son.” He paused and looked into Dave’s eyes. “I need you to take things over for me.”
“I want you to take care of things for me. Like getting my Social Security. Paying my bills. Talking with the nursing home and the doctors.”
“I live halfway across the state,” Dave replied, taken aback by his father’s request. “Vince lives right here in town. He’s the older brother.”
“But that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Vince is drinking way too much, and he won’t listen to nobody who tells him to stop.”
More vomiting sounds came from the down the dark hall. Lonnie shook his head sadly.
“At least I know I can’t handle it. Vince don’t even know that.”
“I don’t know, Dad.”
“You’re all I got, son. I can’t trust nobody else.”
Why couldn’t you trust me, you old devil? I’d take care of you and your money.
“Dad, it’ll really make Vince mad. He’ll feel like you passed him over.
Boy, what I could do with all that money.
“If Vince gets mad that’s his business. I need you to take care of my business.”
Dave shook his head; but in the end his gut told him this was the right thing to do. No one deserved to have his final days managed by someone he could not trust. “Okay, Dad. I’ll do it.”
“Good.” Lonnie sighed in relief and turned to the china cabinet.
Dave stood and walked over. He had to admit he enjoyed looking at the old Bible and all its births, marriages and deaths, beginning with the signature of his great-great-great grandfather David Crockett. He had the lineage memorized—David Crockett to his son Robert to his son Ashley to his son Lonnie to David Phillip Crockett. That’s how he came to be called Puppy. Allan could not pronounce Phillip and it came out Pup which was extended to Puppy. They said he always acted like a little puppy so the nickname stuck.
Lonnie opened the glass door and reached for the top shelf on the left. His hand frantically patted an empty shelf. Turning, he looked frightened. “It’s gone.”
Looking over his father’s shoulder Dave saw Allan, puffing on a cigarette.
The last time you were in town I told you to take the Bible. He blew smoke out of his mouth by slightly opening his lips and letting it escape over his cheeks and eyes. It’s not my fault.

Sins of the Family Chapter Seven

Bob and Jill waited at Knoxville’s airport for the arrival of her relatives from Germany, their fingers intertwined for mutual support. Jeff Holt had sent for Greta’s sister and brother-in-law to speak as character witnesses at Heinrich’s deportation hearing set for federal court in Knoxville next week. From the window, Bob and Jill could see the plane taxiing up.
“Thanks for coming with me.” Jill looked at Bob and smiled. “Grandma had to stay to take care of grandpa. Dad had to work, and mom said she didn’t think she could handle an entire family of Gretas.”
“I’m here to help.” Bob chuckled and put his arm around her. “I want you turn to me for help.”
“Thank you,” she replied, squeezing his hand. “I want you to be the one I turn to for help.”
The arrival gate opened, and a line of travelers appeared. Around a corner came an older, shorter and heavier version of Greta, a very tall gray-haired gentleman and a younger man, a head shorter than the first, somewhat soft of physique with glasses and a pipe.
“That has to be Aunt Helga and her family,” Jill said. “She looks just like grandma.”
Jill went to them, introduced herself and Bob. Helga shook her with vigor for a very long time, beamed and nodded straight away to the man with a pipe.
“Peter?” she said with a thick German accent.
“Excuse me.” He smiled and shook hands with Jill. “I’m Peter Bitner, your cousin. Unfortunately, mother and father don’t speak English so I came with them to be their translator.”
After they went to the luggage claim and walked to the parking garage, Jill turned to Peter to translate for her.
“Grandma and grandpa’s place is pretty small so you’ll be staying at mom and dad’s house in Knoxville. Since it’s early in the day, we can go to Gatlinburg first for a nice long visit with grandma and grandpa.”
Peter translated, and Helga’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, Greta,” she said.
Bob turned right out of Knoxville’s airport onto the interstate and then left on a state highway through the small college town of Maryville along rolling hills to Gatlinburg and the national park. Everyone remained silent until the blue outline of the mountains appeared on the horizon, then Helga spoke with excitement. Peter nodded and lean forward to Bob and Jill in the front seat.
“These mountains remind mother of home.”
“Yes, grandma said that’s why they settled here.”
Soon their car made its way through heavy traffic in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, with billboards for Dollywood and other tourist attractions on each side of the road.
Helga frowned as her lips formed syllables and then turned to Peter to ask, “Dollywood. Was ist dieser Dollywood?”
Bob looked in the rear view mirror and replied, “It is an amusement park.” When he saw her blank look, he added, “Place for ha ha.”
“Ha ha? ” She bent her head to listen to Peter’s translations. “Ach,” she said in comprehension. “Ha ha.”
After passing through Pigeon Forge’s multitude of motels, shops and go-cart tracks, the car went around a curve and for a pleasant couple of miles there were just green mountain slopes and a cool mountain river. But just for a moment because once the car traveled through a tunnel of trees it was in the middle of Gatlinburg with even more shops, motels and restaurants crowded into an even smaller space than in Pigeon Forge. Helga frowned, shook her head and spoke again.
“This does not remind mother of home at all.” A smile flitted across Peter’s broad lips as he translated.
“You get used to it,” Jill said with good humor. “It can be fun.”
Bob turned left at the busiest intersection and in a few minutes took another left into the arts and crafts community where the homes and shops were spaced out along a leisurely winding country road. Helga smiled and nodded for a second time and spoke in a serene voice.
“Now this looks like home,” Peter translated.
The car pulled into the parking of the woodcarving shop with the water wheel.
“Ugh,” Helga said, making a face and following it with an expansive German phrase. “Es gibt windmuhlen in Oberbach.”
“Don’t say anything.” Before Peter could translate, Jill turned and grinned mischievously. “It was Greta’s idea.”
“Ah, Greta.” Helga nodded and winked, sharing a clandestine moment with her great-niece.
Greta flung open her front door, reached out with her arms and exclaimed, “Helga!”
Bob, Peter and Franz unloaded the bags from the car while Helga hurried to the front door, followed by Jill. Greta and Helga beamed with excitement as they grabbed each others’ hands and shook with heartiness forever, and then they both wept.
“It’s been many, many years since they’ve seen each other,” Peter whispered to Bob as they carried the bags toward the house. “They write every week and at Christmas, and on birthdays they call. But they were young women the last time they saw each other’s faces.”
Franz spoke in a subdued voice.
“What did he say?”
“He said it was sad.” Peter looked at Bob. “It’s like being faced with your own mortality.”
Inside they settled down on worn furniture as Greta and Helga chatted like little girls in the kitchen preparing drinks and small sandwiches. Heinrich was in his favorite chair and did not change his expression when his wife’s family entered. Franz sat on the far end of the sofa away from him.
“Heinrich,” Franz said in a noncommittal tone.
“That sounds like Franz Bitner.” Heinrich squinted. “But it looks like an old man.”
Sitting next to his father, Peter looked taken aback and tentative to translate. Franz patted his son’s knee and whispered comforting words.
Erzahlen sie mir nicht, sas Heinrich sagt.”
“What did he say?” Bob said, sitting next to Peter.
“He said not to bother to tell him anything Heinrich says.”
“And this chubby boy,” Heinrich said with spiteful relish. “Can this be Franz Bitner’s son?”
“Oh, Grandpa,” Jill said in exasperation as she sat in another easy chair across from him.
“Peter.” He extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
“You weigh too much.” Heinrich waved it aside. You need to work hard for a living.”
“He does work hard for a living, Grandpa,” Jill said with firmness. “He’s a hospital administrator.” When she saw no response from her grandfather she added, “He’s an important person in the community.”
“Oberbach has a hospital?” He feigned surprise.
Franz leaned over to whisper to his son, “Soh von einem weibschen.”
Peter, who suppressed a smile, glanced at Bob who shook his head.
“No translation needed,” he said. “I can guess.”
“Greta,” Heinrich called out.
“Yes?” she answered from their kitchen.
“It’s time for my nap.” With that Heinrich stood and waddled out to his bedroom just as Greta and Helga appeared with a tray of refreshments.
Bob could not decide if the look on Greta’s face was one of embarrassment, frustration or relief. But it made no difference because their mood straight away lightened as the sisters put the tray on the coffee table. Greta took Heinrich’s chair, and Jill jumped up to offer her chair to Helga.
“I’ll pull up another chair and sit next to Bob.”
In a minute, Greta and Helga were drinking, munching and chattering away in German. Franz sat serenely eating a small sandwich, his attention going from the women who were catching up on their lives and to Bob, Jill and Peter who were getting to know each other.
“Uncle Franz looks really healthy,” Jill said.
“Father cut trees in the forest until he retired.” Peter nodded. “The whole town talked about the old man doing a young man’s job.”
“You must be very proud of him,” Bob said.
“He cut wood because that was all there was for a young man. He didn’t have land to farm. He couldn’t afford to buy a shop. He should have gone to a university and become a professional, but again, he had no money.”
“Life can be cruel,” Bob said.
“Truly intelligent people adjust to their situation and that’s why father is so relaxed.” Peter touched his temple with his forehead. “He accepted what life dealt him but he saw to it that it dealt me a better hand, and I’m grateful.”
He paused to light his pipe, which caused Helga to wag her finger at him and spout, “Nein! Nein!”
Greta smiled, pushed her sister’s hand down and said, “Your boy can smoke in my house. “I love the smell of a pipe.”
As the sisters resumed their reunion, Peter puffed on his pipe and glanced with admiration at his father who seemed lost in thought.
“I say all this to let you know what kind of man my father is and why he has a good-natured dislike for his brother-in-law.”
“There are times I don’t like grandpa either,” Jill said in agreement.
“So is this going to be a conflict when he’s call to be a defense witness for Heinrich?” Bob said, furrowing his brow.
“He can only testify to what he knows,” Peter said. “He knows that all the men in the Schmidt family joined the Nazi party in the thirties. Papa did not. He just cut his trees, acquiesced on the guild issue and survived the war without physical or moral scars.”
“And what about Hans Moeller?” Bob said.
“Hans Moeller?” Franz turned to his son. “Sohn voneinem weibchen.” He then whispered to Peter who nodded and looked back at them.
“Father said Hans Moeller was a big, boisterous type of fellow. He didn’t take anything seriously. Everything was a big joke to him.”
Franz nudged Peter and said, “Erzahlen sie ihn um das milchdienstmacdche,” encouraging him to relate something which made Franz smile.
“Father wanted me to tell you this story. One time, Hans told Heinrich about a woman with a cabin on the other side of the forest. He told Heinrich she liked to entertain wood cutters. So Heinrich went up there by himself to be entertained. Well, this woman’s husband came in and thrashed Heinrich. Father says this was the first and only time Heinrich ever got beat up. When he came back he was mad at Hans, but he wouldn’t do anything. Hans was bigger than he was.”
“Will he tell that story in court?” Jill frowned.
“If they ask him. Father never lies.”
The afternoon passed fast, and the group at last left to return to the Knoxville suburb where Ed and Carol lived. Dinner was a pleasant, but Bob smelled a bit of gin on Carol’s breath. He tried to catch Jill’s eye, but she seemed distracted by her mother’s condition. When dishes had been put away Jeff Holt arrived to talk to Helga and Franz.
“I suppose you folks have been brought up to speed on what the situation is here,” Jeff said. “Now all we want here is to help your brother-in-law defend himself against these charges. You all know he couldn’t have done anything like what Mrs. Moeller is saying.”
Peter translated for his parents. His father sat arrow-straight with an enigmatic pleasant smile, while Helga flashed a toothy grin reminiscent of her sister’s smile. But they said nothing. Jeff shifted with discomfort in his chair and leaned forward. His eyes went from Helga to Peter and then to Hans. He frowned and nodded his head.
“You do think your brother-in-law is innocent, don’t you?”
Again, they remained silent and smiling.
“I’m fixing some coffee.” Carol stood. “Would anyone else care for some?” She left before anyone could reply.
Franz cleared his throat and spoke in an unassuming voice, “Fur das willen von der schwester meinem ehefrau…” and continued with thoughtfulness.
Peter nodded, turned to Jeff and translated, “For the sake of my wife’s sister, I wish I could say we were entertaining Heinrich Schmidt in our home that night, but we weren’t. This was before they married, and Heinrich never came to our home before marriage and only with Greta afterwards.”
“Although I love my father,” Ed said, leaning forward with his fingers to his lips as though trying to form the delicate thoughts he was about to express, “I have to admit he has never been an easy person to get to know. He doesn’t express his feelings easily.”
“Well, of course, we don’t want you to lie,” Jeff said in measured tones. “You can at least provide a character reference for him.”
Helga’s smile remained frozen as Peter translated.
Heinrich Schmidt war fleibig,” Franz said.
Peter turned back to Jeff and replied, “Heinrich Schmidt was hard-working.”
“And honest,” Jeff prompted.
Peter translated the word, and Franz repeated, “Heinrich Schmidt war fleibig.”
“At least you can testify he wasn’t a Nazi,” the lawyer said.
Helga laughed and waved her hand as she said, “Jeder war ein Nazi zuruck dann.”
Peter nodded, looked at Jeff and expounded, “Most people, if they wanted to advance in society, were Nazis. To belong to the Nazi party was just part of surviving in those days. To say you were a Nazi would be no different than saying you were a Social Democrat today.”
“I know my own father is a blatant racist,” Bob interjected, “but I also believe he would never do anything to physically hurt a black person. So to label a man a Nazi or a racist is not necessarily to imply guilt of a violent, criminal act.”
“That’s right,” Ed said, nodding in relief.
“So even you were a Nazi, Mr. Bitner?” Jeff asked.
When Peter translated the question Franz’ eyes widened. He shook his head and spit out a brief reply, “Nein!”
Bob glanced at Jill who gazed at him with affection.
“Thanks for trying to help,” she said in a whisper as she leaned into him.
“I’m not helping much.” He shook his head.
“Then what are you going to be able to say under oath to help your brother-in-law?” Jeff sighed and scratched his nose.
Heinrich Schmidt war fleibig,” Franz repeated.
Before Peter could translate Jeff held up his hand, sighed in resignation and said, “I know. He was hard-working.”
Carol came back with a tray of cups and placed it on their coffee table. Helga looked up and smiled with affection.
“Danka,” she said with warm appreciation.
Carol looked at her as though she did not know how to take her compliment, which created an awkward situation in the middle of an awkward situation. Bob did not like one awkward situation, let alone two.
“No, I think it tastes like Sanka,” he said with a coy innocence.
“What?” Carol said, not catching the play on words.
“It’s a joke, Mom.” Jill elbowed Bob and laughed. “You know, danka, Sanka.” She looked at Peter and shook her head. “And I pity you trying to translate that. Sanka is a brand of coffee. It sounds like the German word for thank you.”
“Oh.” Peter turned to speak to his parents.
Helga laughed with gusto and wagged a playful finger at Bob and said, “Danka, Sanka, ha ha.”
“She still doesn’t get it,” Bob said under his breath to Jill. “But she’s laughing anyway to be polite.”
“We needed a good joke about now.” Jeff forced a guffaw.
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t it,” Bob said in contrition.
After everyone laughed, Carol sat on the sofa next to Ed and began drinking her coffee with concentration. Jeff returned to the topic of Heinrich Schmidt, at Helga in earnest.
“Mrs. Bitner, is there anything constructive you feel you could say in a court of law that would benefit your sister’s husband?”
Helga took time to sip her coffee and then glanced at Carol before she began to respond to Jeff’s question, “Ich kann ehrlich sagen das Heinrich ein man ist der autoritat achtet…”
“I can honestly say Heinrich is a man who respects authority and—as my husband said—is hard-working,” Peter translated. “He is the man my sister loves and has spent her life with. He is the father of a man who is respected in his community and is a financial success. As far as I know Heinrich Schmidt never told a lie to me.”
Jeff leaned back and furrowed his brow in consternation.
“Thank you, Mrs. Bitner. That’ll be very helpful.”
Helga stood and circled the sofa until she stood behind Carol and continued, “Als fur den vorfall Hans Moeller verwickelnd…”
“As for the incident involving Hans Moeller,” Peter said, “Heinrich Schmidt never said anything to us to indicate that he did such a thing. And in the many years that have passed in our small community where this incident happened, Franz and I have never seen or heard conclusive evidence that Heinrich had anything to do with Hans’ death.”
“Your mother should have been a lawyer.” Jeff smiled at Peter after the translation.
With a regretful sigh, Helga added, “War das gestagt…”
“Having said that, I must say that Heinrich held views which Franz and I do not share,” Peter translated. “Unfortunately, he infected his wife with those views, but I am relieved to see his son and family did not inherit them.”
She put her hands on Carol’s shoulders and continued, “Heinrich Schmidt hat leute…”
“Heinrich Schmidt judged people according to their appearance, to their job, to their religion,” Peter said. “Franz and I don’t do that. We judge each person by their hearts.”
Helga patted Carol as Peter continued to translate. “We see that a person is good to her husband and has raised a fine daughter. Our hearts go out to a person who has pain in her eyes, and we love that person.”
Carol reached up and squeezed Helga’s hand as she listened to the last of Peter’s translation.
Franz und ich sorgen sich …”
“Franz and I don’t care what heritage a person comes from” Peter said in a whisper. “We only care if a person is good.”
“Mom’s about to cry,” Jill said in a whisper to Bob.
“I’m about to cry,” he replied.
“I take it from your last statement you could not say under oath that Heinrich is a good man.”
Helga smiled with regret, shook her head and said, “Nein.”
Carol stood and went to her made a circle with her fingers and asked, “Cookie?” She moved the circle to her mouth and bit down.
“Cookie.” Helga nodded.
They went toward the kitchen arm in arm. Helga stopped and put her hands on Carol’s shoulders.
Werden sie mich zu Dollywood nehmen?”
Carol frowned. “Dollywood?”
Ja. Ich will ha ha.”
“Ha ha?” She paused. “Oh, ha ha. Yes, I mean, ja.”
The two women laughed and went through the kitchen door.
Jeff shook his head and sighed.
“Maybe Rudolph Schmidt will be able to help more.”
“Uncle Rudy is coming?” Peter raised his eyebrows.
“Yes. I thought a brother would make a good character witness,” Jeff said.
Franz leaned over to ask Peter what was going on, and when Peter told him, he chuckled and said “Gehen ein charaketerzeuge fur Rudolph za sein?”
“What did he say?” Jeff frowned.
“Oh, nothing.” Peter waved his hand to dismiss the remark.
“No, tell me.”
“Father wanted to know who was going to be a character witness for Rudolph.” Peter looked at Jeff and Ed in embarrassment.
Bob and Jill stifled giggled as Franz smiled at them, lifting his coffee cup in a small salute.
Danka und Sanka.” His eyes twinkled as he sipped his drink.
“You’re going to make me earn my money on this one, aren’t you?” Jeff looked sad-faced at Ed. He glanced at Peter. “All right, what’s wrong him?”
“Heinrich’s brother and father were members of the Nazi party during the thirties and forties. Their father was mayor of Oberbach,” Peter said. “After the war most people tried to deny they were Nazi party members, but Rudolph and his father never did. They were proud of it. Rudolph still is.”
Franz turned to his son to offer more information and said, “Rudolph ist anstandig jetzt.”
“Oh no,” Jeff said with foreboding.
“Rudolph is quite respectable now,” Peter began to translate. “In fact, he’s mayor of Oberbach. Many of the former Nazi leaders have slipped back into power.”
“Well, that’s not so bad, his being mayor,” Jeff offered.
“I think what Jeff really wants to know is if there’s anyone in Oberbach with a story about Uncle Rudy that we wouldn’t want repeated in court,” Ed said.
“Exactly,” Jeff agreed.
Bob watched him ready himself for the worst as Peter translated to Franz who gave a brief answer, sardonic in tone.
Nict von irgendjemand still lelend.”
“I didn’t like the tone of that,” Jeff said with a frown. “What did he say?”
“Not from anyone still alive.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifteen

Lafayette Baker was becoming desperate. No one knew where Booth was hiding. If anyone apprehended him first, any chance of saving his life would be lost. And the plot would be disclosed. Baker cringed with shame when he thought of his role in the abduction of Lincoln and the subsequent murders. He did not want the nation or his family to know the evil of which he was capable. Each day he wandered the halls of the Department of War, listening for any snippets he might overhear about the location of Booth. If anyone seemed on the verge of breaking a lead in the investigation, Baker created an excuse to have the man arrested. He ordered two men to Montreal, Canada, to follow up on reports Booth had accomplices there.
Finally, on April 24, Baker read a telegram from General Grant’s cipher clerk Samuel Beckwith to Major Eckert on the sighting of two men crossing the Potomac to White Point, Virginia. Perhaps this was the break he was looking for. Before anyone else had a chance to read it, Baker grabbed the telegram and took it back to his investigation headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. When he walked in the door to his office, he saw his cousin Luther Baker sitting back in a chair smoking a cigar.
“Put that damn thing out,” Baker huffed as he stormed in. “We’ve got work to do!”
Luther looked up quizzically, his brow furrowed and tapped out the cigar. “What’s going on?”
Baker sat behind his heavy wooden desk and pushed the telegram across to his cousin. “We’ve got good proof Booth and his man are in Virginia.”
“Are you sure?” Luther picked up the paper to read it, moving his lips silently.
“Dammit, man, nobody’s sure about anything, but I know—I know in my gut this has to be Booth.” He paused to allow his cousin to finish taking in the contents of the telegram. “Luther, do you trust me?”
His cousin looked at him with a wicked, twisted grin. “Hell, no. I know you too well.”
“If I told you the whole damned country would go to hell if you didn’t do exactly as I said, would you do it?”
Luther sobered and looked into Baker’s eyes. “Lafe, are you going crazy again?”
Baker leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands together as though in prayer. “I may be, but I swear to you the future of the United States rests on your faith in me.”
“All right,” Luther replied after a long pause. “What is it?”
“John Wilkes Booth must escape. We must absolutely assure that he is not captured or killed. If he is brought to trial information will come out that will destroy the government. All that we have fought for in the last four years will be for naught. If he is killed, God’s justice will be subverted.”
“God’s justice—what the hell are you talking about?”
“This is where you have to trust me,” Baker said in a whisper. “Too many people have died. The killing must stop.” He stood and went to the door to make sure no one was lingering in the hall. When he was assured they were alone, he shut it firmly. Returning, he sat on the edge of the desk, looming over his seated cousin. “I want you to lead the search party into Virginia. Select your officers carefully. Choose men who will accept the fact that secrecy and fabrication are essential. The other men in the unit must be chosen for their unquestioning loyalty. Among them will be a soldier who will participate in the manufactured assassination of John Wilkes Booth. Is this possible? Remember, there is a generous reward for the assassins.”
“Of course, Lafe,” his cousin replied soberly. “Anything is possible.”
They spent the rest of the day assembling the entourage, Col. Everton Conger and lst Lt. Edward Doherty. They decided on the twenty-six men from the 16th New York Cavalry, battle-forged veterans. As for the person who would swear he shot Booth, Luther suggested a sergeant who was the topic of many drunken conversations in the barracks, a man named Boston Corbett.
“He’s older than most, thirty-four and recognized for bravery so you can be sure he won’t shirk from duty in any situation,” Luther said, “but he’s crazy as a loon. His wife died while carrying their first child and that seemed to drive him over the edge. He found religion, let his hair grow out so he’d look like Jesus and swore off ever being with a woman again. He even cut off his balls with scissors. Spent two weeks in the hospital recovering. Tough as nails. He survived Andersonville.”
“Good, very good,” Baker replied. He stared into his cousin’s face. “I have one other detail you must accept without question. I have a corpse I will bring to the scene. No one must know, but I will be shadowing your movements so that when you corner Booth, I will be there to substitute the body for him.”
“Dammit, Lafe. How the hell are you going to be able to plan this operation down to the last detail so you can even substitute a corpse that people will believe is John Wilkes Booth?”
Baker leaned back and smiled. “If you knew what I had contrived in the last two and a half years and succeeded in keeping secret, you would not ask that question.”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Four

Gracefully Salacia leapt through the hole in the cobwebs on her way to the second floor landing. However, Jonathan stepped and cringed.
“Yuck! Cobwebs!” His voice was unflatteringly feminine.
Mina shook her head in disapproval as she walked to the staircase. “I don’t know why men are terrified of cobwebs. It’s just a sign of poor housekeeping to me.”
“This word housekeeping….” Dracula’s voice trailed off.
Mina began knocking down the cobweb wall with her hands.
“What are you doing?” the count asked, all aghast.
Mina jumped a little to bring down the furthest corners. “These cobwebs are a disgrace. Susie Belle, being from a former British colony, should know better.”
“You’re pulling down my cobwebs!” Dracula’s hands went to his cheeks.
“You needn’t thank me.” Mina displayed her pertest smile. “This place will look much cheerier once we get it spruced up.” She looked at the long draperies hanging over a tall window and tutted. “And get rid of these draperies. They’re simply dreadful. Perhaps a nice pink taffeta—“
Dracula drowned her out in mid-sentence with a loud, wolf-like howl. “You work centuries getting cobwebs just the way you like them and in a few seconds some silly little twit comes along and ruins them all!” Dracula was on the verge of a genuine Transylvanian hissy fit as he bent over to pick up the remnants of his cobwebs.
“There, there, honey child.” Susie Belle patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t get so riled up.”
When the count lifted his eyes he realized he was the center of everyone’s shock and pity, which were not the emotions he wished to evoke. Mina’s lower lip was quivering, and Van Helsing’s eyes were no longer filled with cynicism, which was a major shift for him. Dracula let the cobwebs drop from his hands, which he then wiped clean on his cape.
Outside wolves began to h owl. Dracula used the diversion to transition back to the Prince of Darkness. He smiled at his guests as he gracefully motioned to the window.
“Children of the night! What music they make!”
Within moments the wolves’ howl took on a semblance of order in rhythm and tone, evolving into a recognizable tune.
“Very nice.” Van Helsing nodded knowingly.
“Catchy tune.” Mina furrowed her brow as she cocked her head. “But I can’t quite place it.”
“It’s Mozart,” Dracula informed her, well pleased with his range of cultural knowledge.
“It’s the Lacrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem, reputed to be the last arrangement he wrote before he died.” Van Helsing could not help but exchange in a brisk brief display of one-upmanship.
Susie Belle’s raucous laughter broke the spell of intellectual repartee. “Yeah, the wolf gang really loves Wolfgang!”
The others looked at her with the same disdain as the upper crust would have at high tea if a Cockney flower girl burst through the door singing a common music hall ditty, as their ilk is wont to do. Susie Belle’s laughter trailed off.
“Don’t you get it? A pack of wolves is a gang—a wolf gang. And Mozart’s first name was Wolfgang. Wolf gang, Wolfgang?”
After an awkward silence, Mina plastered a smile on her face and said, “Oh yes. Quite amusing. Ha ha. Don’t you think it was amusing, Professor?”
“To be perfectly German,” Van Helsing growled, “I thought it stunk.”
“Susie Belle, how many times must I remind you,” Dracula lectured her, “American wit is not highly regarded in Europe.”
She sniffed loudly and turned on her heels. “Bunch of foreigners. No sense of humor at all.”
Quite in a snit, Susie Belle stalked off toward the game room. Dracula followed her trying to make amends. “Oh, Susie Belle, my sweet, would you mind looking down in the basement for more cobwebs?”
She turned and winked at the count. “All right. Why don’t we go down there right now and look for them together?”
He glanced around at Van Helsing and Mina. “Too many prying eyes. Later.” He put his hand in the small of her back. “Why don’t we go play on the bouncy thing?”
They giggled as they went into the game room and shut the doors behind them. At the same time Jonathan came out of his bedroom, now properly dressed in his trousers, coat and tie. He bounded enthusiastically and innocently down the stairs
“Mina! My sweet!”
They joyfully met at the bottom of the staircase.
“Jonathan! My love!”
They appeared to be on the brink of embracing and kissing passionately but instead they lightly held hands, touched their cheeks and made smoochy sounds.
“I’ve missed you, dearest!” Jonathan cooed.
“I can hardly wait for our wedding, light of my life!” Mina exclaimed.
They pulled apart, held hands and glowed with the joys of anticipation.
“Were you able to secure our favorite chapel for the nuptials?” he asked.
“Oh yes!” Mina answered with pride. “Our Lady of the Perpetual Headache!”
“Jolly good!”
They touched cheeks again and made more smoochy sounds. Van Helsing, who h ad endured this exhibition of puritan rectitude for as long as he could, placed his hands gingerly on his slightly protruding paunch.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” he mumbled.
Jonathan looked up to offer commiseration. “I know what you mean. It is rather dusty here. My sinuses are killing me.”
“That’s not what I meant,” the professor responded bluntly.
“Oh?” Jonathan was caught off guard by Van Helsing’s statement.
“To be perfectly German—“
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Mina interrupted.
“Very well.” He turned away in a huff.
Jonathan took her hand again. “I still don’t understand why you’re here, Mina. Oh, please sit down.
“Thank you.” A note of concern entered her voice. “It was your letters, Jonathan.”
As they sat on the divan, a poof of dust arose which caused them to cough and hack. Eventually Mina recovered sufficiently to continue.
“They frightened me with your strange stories of bats and of Count Dracula crawling up the wall. And when you wrote the ladies here wore shrouds, well, you must admit that is rather bizarre apparel—for someone outside the theatre, that is.”
“What we write in haste, we regret in leisure,” he apologized.
Mina shook her head in incomprehension. “You mean you made all that up?”
Van Helsing could take no more. He rushed over to them. “Of course he did not make it up!”
“Not intentionally, doctor,” Jonathan replied. “It seems the wine here is very potent. And as a result I had some rather peculiar dreams.”
“That’s interesting,” the professor snapped back. “I had a glass of wine. It didn’t affect me that way.”
“And I had one,” Mina added. “I found it better but other than that….” Her voice trailed off when Jonathan stood abruptly and walked away.”
“I must admit I h ad more than a glass or two.”
“Exactly how much more, dearest?” she asked with an edge.
He closed his eyes in anticipation of an approaching feminine storm of disapproval. “Two bottles a night.”
He rushed to kneel at Mina’s feet in supplication. “I hated to see all those bottles to go to waste in the wine cellar.” He looked to the professor for support. “It seems the count and his wives never drink wine.”
“Yes,” Van Helsing concurred. “He told us.”
Jonathan returned his attention to his fiancée. “Do you forgive me, my divine vision?”
He stood and walked away, scuffing a shoe on the floor. “Oh gosh gee willickers, Mina. It was only wine, and I drank it all alone in my room. It’s not like I did anything so awful, awful terrible.”
Van Helsing walked briskly over, slapped Jonathan across the face and marched away. “I hate men who snivel.”
“Of course, mon amour,” Mina said, mostly to show the professor how properly to respond to a sniveling man. I forgive me.”
He ran back to her, fell to grovel at her feet and kissed her hands. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Van Helsing harrumphed loudly to draw their attention. Jonathan and Mina snapped their heads in his direction.
“Now that the hour of confession is over, may we continue?” he asked with that arrogance only attainable by men who hold the titles of both professor and doctor. “Our time is limited, and our safety is in peril!”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Seven

The whack upside Davy’s head was a distant memory when they arrived in Gerardstown in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He waited for Meyers to come out of the mercantile building where he bargained a good price for his barrels of flannel. Eventually the man came out the door with a satisfied smile on his face.
“God has favored us,” he said, holding out his hand to Davy. “You did good work, Master Crockett.”
Davy grinned as he felt coins fall into his palm. He quickly put them away in his pocket without counting them. Meyers might be insulted if he counted them in front of him.
“When can we start back home, sir?”
Meyers’ smile disappeared, and his eyes went off to the side. Davy knew bad news was coming.
“This is a tough business,” he started. “I need to transport cargo to make money. I can’t make money taking a boy home to his mama. Right now, somebody wants me to take a load of tobacco to Washington. No one wants anything moved to Tennessee right now so we can’t go there.”
Air escaped Davy’s lips, but he maintained his bright smile. “Well, I ain’t never been to Washington.”
“It’d be better if you stayed here. I know a farmer who can use help. He’s an old man. It’ll be a blessing to him.”
John Gray had gray hair that hung sparsely around his ears, framing a round, red face. His eyes were kind but sad and weary. Wrinkles surrounded his mouth that seemed too tired to turn up. His thick hand patted Davy gently on the back when Meyers rode off with a wagon filled with barrels of cured tobacco leaves.
“Well, boy, a new stack of hay needs to be spread in the barn,” Gray said before he turned to walk to his house where he took a nap.
Davy went to work in the barn. When Gray awoke in a couple of hours he told the boy to steal a bucket of honey from the bee-infest sourwood tree nestled under a growth of oaks and hickories on the far side of the field. Gray told Davy he was going to combine the honey with cider vinegar and water to make a batch of switchell. At the end of the day as they ate pinto beans and mustard greens from a wooden trencher and drank a tankard of the switchell, Gray scooted a quarter across the table toward Davy.
“Good work.”
He slept on the floor on a feather mattress near the fireplace as the old man took to his bed and snored through the night. When the sun peeked through his windows the next morning Gray fixed a breakfast of bacon and biscuits. Gray then told Davy to go out into the woods to pick yarrow leaves, walk into town and sell them to travelers. The leaves, after they had been put in shoes, relieved blisters on the travelers’ feet. That evening he returned with a pocket filled with coins—for he found he had a natural talent for convincing folks they needed something he had to sell. Gray nodded with approval as Davy handed him the coins, and he gave one back to the boy.
Weeks passed before Meyers’ return from Washington. Davy stood on Gray’s porch as Meyers came down the road.
“Hello, sir,” he said, smiling. “I missed you.”
“It was a profitable trip.”
“When are we leavin’ for home?”
“When I get a load to take home.”
However, like weeks earlier, Meyers did not find merchandise needed in Tennessee, but found barrels of pelts that had buyers waiting in Alexandria, so he left Davy again on the farm with Gray. Fall came and went as Meyers continued to find only loads for the East coast and not south to the mountains. One night in January as snow fell like ghost particles on rough cedar shingles Davy settled on his feather mattress by a crackling fire, listening to Gray moan as he slipped into his bed.
“Mr. Gray, sir?”
“Yes, boy?”
“Do most folks beat their boys?”
“Do most boys need a beatin’?”
“Don’t know. Depends, I guess.” Davy paused. “Suppose a boy should be whupped but his pa don’t ‘cause he’s so drunk he can’t rightly stand up. Then there’s this other boy who maybe should lose his supper but not git a whuppin’, and his pa is drunk as a skunk but can still stand good enough to whup his boy. It ain’t fair, the way some men beat good boys and some bad boys never git whupped.”
“Ah, there’s where you make your mistake,” Gray said. “Life ain’t fair. Forgit fair. It ain’t whether you beat a youngin’ or you git beat, it’s what you learn.”
“Is there anythin’ a boy can do to keep from gittin’ beat?”
“Jest grow up.”
“I don’t think I know what that means—grow up.”
“Git big. A pa never hit a boy who was bigger than him.”
“Thank you, sir.” Davy rolled over on his side. He decided he would wait until he was about sixteen to return to Morristown. Then he would be too big to hit.


Sam Houston’s words echoed in David’s mind as he rode back to his farm after the court hearing. Abner rode by his side.
“So what do you think, Abner? Was I wrong to tell Elizabeth I wasn’t thinkin’ about goin’ to Texas?”
“Don’t worry about it none.”
Texas meant another chance to be in politics, another chance to make a fortune. David had to admit there was not have much left in Tennessee. Relatives hated him. Neighbors rejected him. Elizabeth and the children left him long ago. David had no choice but to go to Texas.
“Abner, I’m sure I’m right. I’m goin’ ahead.”
“I know. Jest make sure you make your proper good-byes to everyone before you go.”
In the next few weeks David put out word he was hosting a big party at his place on Rutherford Fork before going to Texas. For days before the big event he dug a pit south of the house, lining it with large stones and laying in tree limbs cut from hickories. He hunted bear and deer and dressed them for cooking over an open fire. For games, he felled several poplars, stripped their branches and bark, readying them for oiling and rolling. It was great fun, keeping his mind occupied and away for the reason for the party. He filled barrels with ale, run and whiskey, and hired women to cook the meat roast ears of green corn and bake potatoes.
Men from Gibson County and as far away as Memphis and Nashville arrived the day of the cookout, all laughing and slapping each other on the backs. The younger men were the first to attach the greasy logs and roll them across the field. David guffawed as William came away from the game smeared with bear grease.
“Good job, William!” David roared, drinking from a gourd filled with whiskey.
“Why don’t you see if you can still roll a log?” a young voice called out.
David dipped his carved gourd into the whiskey barrel again. He did not have to put up with any defense about his age or his loss to Adam Huntsman to anyone now.
“I’m goin’ to Texas!” David almost did not recognize his own voice. It blared. It was coarse. It was angry.
“What’s in Texas?” A man in his twenties could only just hide his joy at prodding the defeated congressman.
“Land! Money! Power!” he bellowed.
Before he could continue the women rang a cowbell, and the men rushed the tables, grabbing trenchers and filled them with food. Abner walked up to David and put his arm around his shoulder.
“Don’t let ‘em bother you.”
“Nobody’s botherin’ me.” David took another sip from the gourd.
“Is John Wesley comin’?”
“No. He knew I was goin’ to have the barrels. He said he didn’t want to be around a bunch of drunks.” He slurped from the gourd. “Sometimes a man’s got to have a drink or he’ll bust.”
Eating and drinking continued through the afternoon and as the sun began to disappear behind the trees, voices for David to attempt to roll the greased pole across the field increased. Instead he talked about joining Sam Houston in Texas, exploring the hills, forests and plains and building a new political coalition among transplants from Tennessee, North Carolina and Alabama. Ultimately David could not ignore the swell of challenges for him to roll the log. He looked around and took one last swig from the gourd.
“I’ll do it,” he said at full volume and with determination.
“You don’t have to do this,” Abner whispered.
Pulling away and throwing down the gourd, he wiped his mouth on his buckskin sleeve and assaulted one of the greased poles to hoots and howls. Abner and William led a chorus of encouragement while drunken young voices shouted in derision. David started it moving easily across the field, inciting huzzahs. His heart raced; he was energized to show the young dogs he still could run with the best of them. Then a rut appeared, and the pole slid in. As David pushed, his hands slipped on the grease, hitting his chest against the log. He put his arms under it to try to boost the pole out of the run. The extended day took its toll on him, and he could not budge it, no matter how much he grunted.
“Whoa!” several of the young men yelled.
“Come on, Uncle David! You can do it!” William shouted.
Sounds of encouragement and taunts blurred in his ears as he concentrated on shoving the log, but the harder he pushed and lifted the more his strength ebbed away. For the first time since he grew up, David was not able to overcome a physical hurdle. He felt his anger burning in the pit of his stomach and rising from his chest to his head. He erupted when he realized the pole was intractable. Standing, David turned toward the crowd.
“Give up?” a man in his twenties shouted.
“I never give up!” he replied in a bellow. “That log ain’t nothin’!”
“That’s right!” Abner agreed in the loudest voice he could muster.
“I ain’t givin’ up on life! I’m goin’ to Texas! I’m goin’ to make a new life!” He heard laughter and shouts, not knowing if they were laughing at him and shouting for him, which made him even angrier. “I’m goin’ to Texas! You can go to hell! I’m goin’ to Texas!”
All shouts stopped. David could not make out their faces in the fading evening light, whether they were shocked by what he said, angry at him, or felt sorry for him. The thought that he had become an object of pity made him rage even more.
“You can go to hell! You can all go to hell!” He looked down and tried to rub the grease from his shirt. “I’m goin’ to Texas.” His voice softened and whimpered a bit. “I’m goin’ to Texas.”


“Uh? What?” Lonnie stirred from his slumber, looking around. His watery brown eyes focused on Dave. “Oh. It’s you, Puppy. Well, sit down.”
Dave sat on the edge of their worn faded green divan and looked at his father. He decided his father looked smaller than the last time he visited. Maybe it was just like with Davy Crockett. Dave finally got bigger, and that’s why he could come home.
“Sure, Dad.” Dave’s hand ran across the arm of the old divan. He could not remember when it was new. He did remember the day his father bought his now broken recliner. Lonnie bragged that he had gotten a good price for it from a neighborhood widow. Now it looked like trash, ripped and caked with disgusting filth.
“Do you know what inning it is? I fell asleep and lost track. It’s those Texas Rangers. They ain’t worth nothing, but I watch them anyway. I don’t think they’ve scored.”
“How have you been feeling, Dad?” Dave was surprised how thin and white his father’s hair was. Lonnie’s massive chest and shoulders sagged.
“Uh? Me?” Lonnie coughed. “Oh, I’m fine.”
“Have you stopped smoking? The doctor said it wasn’t good for your heart.”
“Aww, son, I don’t believe none of that.” He screwed up his face. “Anyway, I don’t think I could stop if I wanted to.”
“Mrs. Dody wrote me you’re still having angina attacks.”
Lonnie frowned and pursed his lips, a sign he was not happy with the turn of conversation. When he was a child Dave could expect an explosion of curse words, and even now he steeled himself for a violent reaction.
“You still married to that li’l gal?”
Dave sighed in relief that his father chose to change the subject. He knew Lonnie did not approve of his divorce and remarriage. “Tiffany? Yes. We’re very happy.”
“You still see the boys, don’t you?”
“Yeah, we’re real pals.”
“First divorce in the family,” Lonnie said with a sigh. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Dave could not believe it himself. Linda had been his girlfriend in college. Linda never said no to anything, never lost her temper and never let him down in any way. The only thing she could not do was make Dave like himself. Tiffany gave him self-esteem and passion. He never fell out of love with Linda; he just never had the passion and lust he wanted.
“Sometimes things just don’t work out,” he said.
If mother had lived she’d divorced him.
Dave turned his head sharply when he heard Allan’s voice again. He did not want to remember that voice, always tinged with sarcasm and madness.
When the kids are raised, I don’t see why people have to stay together. Allan puffed on a cigarette, his arm doing pirouettes. That’s what she always said.
If he could ignore his brother and focus on their father he could maintain his sanity. “What time is the funeral tomorrow?”
“Ten o’clock.” Lonnie looked at the television screen. “Well, if those Rangers ain’t ahead.”
Dave walked over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. “Didn’t the church send over any food?”
Good Baptist church members always arrived on the doorstep of homes of the bereaved. Dave remembered when his mother died women came in with bowls of vegetables and platters of fried chicken.
“Which church is that?”
Dave recognized the tone in his father’s voice—flat, tense and explosive.
“Our church. Mother’s church.”
I used to believe in God, but I don’t any more.
“As much food as mother fixed for other people, I’d think—“
“That was a long time ago, son. If you don’t go, they don’t think about you anymore.”
He would never go to church, the old devil. Allan stood over Lonnie’s chair and blew smoke through his lips down at his father. Then he clasped his hands in front of his face and contorted his features as though he were a heroine in an old melodrama. I used to pray oh please God, please let daddy go to church so we can be a happy family. His hands fell to his sides, and his voice shook as he spoke in despair. He didn’t, so I don’t believe in God anymore.
“But I thought you’d been going to church with Mrs. Dody.”
“I said they didn’t bring nothing.”
I wish they had so I could poison it, you old devil.
“Now, if you’re hungry I can fix you somethin’,” Lonnie said.
“No, that’s all right,” Dave said. “I was just wondering.”
“Triple play! Well, that blew it!”
I wish I had a baseball bat. I’d bop you on the head, you old devil.
“Is Vince coming over?”
Sounds of violent vomiting in the bathroom down the hall drew Dave’s attention.
“Oh,” Lonnie said, “he’s already here.”

Cancer Chronicles Forty-Eight

I’ve been packing up Janet’s clothes lately to give away. It’s been five months since she died of cancer, so I guess it’s about time.
One thing I’ve noticed in particular is that she had a lot of old clothes. Janet had only one requirement for clothing—it must be comfortable. I’ve found a few nice things, like the pantsuit she wore to our daughter’s wedding. It was black with a wide white collar. She put on her strand of pearls, and she was ready to go. Even our daughter approved.
Most of all, I am reminded why she dressed the way she did. Generally, she did not dress for other people. She couldn’t care less what anybody thought. There was an exception, and it was one of the reasons I loved her so much.
As a long-time probation officer she dressed in old clothing because she wanted the felons who were on her caseload to relax around her because she was one of them. And in some ways she was. She grew up in the mountains of Appalachia and knew how hard life could be. Her father was a coal mine owner so Janet was not in want of anything. After being in coal dust all day, her father liked to put on nice clothes when he went out. He reminded me of the Duke of Windsor (the guy who gave up being King of England for the woman he loved. Now he knew how to select nice clothes.) My mother-in-law was the business side of the family enterprise, and she liked to wear good duds too. They earned the pleasure of looking good.
Janet knew, on the other hand, if she showed up at a probationer’s house, dressing like her parents dressed, walls would go up and her people would regard her as snooty outsider sticking her nose into their business. But when she arrived wearing decade-old clothes, they relaxed and accepted her as a friend who knew how tough times were. Times are always tough for people without jobs or those who have to stitch together a life with several part-time jobs.
She had empathy, sympathy and a genuine desire to help her probationers to earn a better life. Janet was a realist too. She was all too aware some of these probationers would stay in trouble with the law all their lives, and she accepted the sad fact she would also have to help their children and grandchildren through the judicial system.
No matter what happened, they knew they had a friend who did not look down on them, who did not try to make them feel like they were beneath anyone and who would look them straight in the eyes to tell them what they had to do to make life better for themselves.

Sins of the Family Chapter Six

The Channel Forty-three news van rolled into the parking lot of the Tribal Council Building on U.S. 440, the main street of Cherokee, North Carolina. Bob and Ernie entered the building where they were greeted by William Guess, chief of the tribal council government, a broad-faced older man with serenity in his eyes. With him was George Bigmeat, a younger, gaunt-faced man.
“Mr. Guess, I’m pleased to meet you.” Bob stuck out his hand and smiled. “I’m Bob Meade from Channel Forty-three and this is our cameraman Ernie.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Meade.” Guess turned to the other man. “This is my assistant, George Bigmeat.”
“Your phone call bothered me.” Bigmeat furrowed his brow. “I know William agreed to the interview, but I must say I have my concerns.”
“Of course. I’m sure I can help you with any questions you may have.”
“George is anxious about image.” Guess put his hand on Bigmeat’s back. “You can’t blame him. He’s head of our tourism bureau.”
“You said you got the idea for a story about Cherokee after this unfortunate incident with the Rosses,” Bigmeat said.
“There’s been quite a bit of attention to the stabbing and John Ross’s subsequent hospitalization,” Bob replied.
“You do understand not all Cherokee run around naked and stab their parents,” Bigmeat said without the sarcasm implied in his words.
“George, there’s no need…”
“If all Cherokee did run around naked and stab their parents then it wouldn’t be news, would it?” Bob paused to smile and added, “You’re absolutely right to be afraid, Mr. Bigmeat. Television news and newspapers sometimes find it easier to latch onto a stereotype, for example, a pitiful drunken Indian who has no purpose in life. The problem is they don’t want to do the research. I know that stereotype is the furthest thing from the truth. From my many visits here I’ve seen friendly, happy people working hard to make an honest living.”
“See, George,” Guess said, “we’ve nothing to worry about.”
“I own a few Cherokee pottery items with the name Bigmeat on the bottom. I don’t have many because they’re rather expensive. Is that potter in your family?”
“It’s my aunt.” Bigmeat smiled. “And I’ve always told her she charges too much.”
“Could we get on with this?” Guess looked at his watch. “I have a tribal council luncheon in an hour.”
“Of course,” Bob said. “Could we tape in front of the Museum of Cherokee History down the street? I like the large chieftain sculpture in front.”
A few minutes late, Guess sat in a chair in front of the statue while Bob faced Ernie with the camera. Bigmeat stood behind with a benign look on his face.
“Good evening,” Bob said in his best on-air voice, “this is Bob Meade reporting from Cherokee, North Carolina, for Channel Forty-three. He stepped aside to show Guess and walked to him. “With us tonight is Chief William Guess of the Cherokee Tribal Council Government to discuss the incident earlier this month when a Cherokee man stabbed his father who was dancing in front of one of the town’s trading posts.” He turned to smile at Guess. “Thank you for joining us.”
“My pleasure.”
“Mr. Guess, I’d surmise that the reaction of many viewers to this incident would be one of generalizing about Cherokee people as a whole, which would not only be unfair but also inaccurate.”
“That is absolutely correct.” Guess nodded but did not smile. “I’ve known the Rosses all my life, and they are good hard-working people. Mrs. Ross is the sweetest person I have ever met. I don’t think there’s a person in Cherokee who has ever heard an unkind word from her mouth. And Mr. Ross is the finest Christian gentleman I have ever known. He lives his religion. Turn the other cheek, and that’s what he did when his son was attacked with a stone tomahawk by the son of tourists. He didn’t file charges or sue anyone. ”
“The family of the boy never made an offer to help with John’s medical expenses?”
“Why do you think they didn’t?”
“Not everyone can be as good as Mr. Ross.”
“A good reflection on Cherokee people,” Bob said.
“I hope so.” Guess smiled.
“Effects of head trauma followed John throughout his life, hasn’t it?” he asked, “and has that been a problem for the tribe to fight negative images?”
“Frankly, I’ve come to realize that if some white people want to think the worst of any minority, be they Cherokee, black or Hispanic, they will hang on to any bad image, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Thank you for sharing the Rosses’ story.” Bob shook his hand and looked back into the camera. “To learn how childhood head trauma can affect a person’s entire life, let’s go to the North Carolina State Mental Hospital in Morganton.”
A couple of hours later Bob and Ernie were in Harold’s office.
“To give you an idea of what I’m doing, I want to show you my interview with the chief of the Cherokee council,” Bob said.
Ernie turned on a small monitor he had brought with him, and Harold watched the tape with one hand over his mouth and his eyes almost blank, making it hard for Bob to determine if the interview would continue. After the tape, Harold nodded.
“Good, I think we can proceed.”
“Fine.” Bob smiled. “If it’s all right with you we’ll tape our segment this afternoon.”
In a few minutes Ernie had the camera running.
“Tell me, Dr. Lippincott,” Bob said, “what are effects of childhood head trauma?”
“Pediatric head trauma can lead to memory loss and lowered intelligence,” Harold explained. “John Ross certainly suffers from memory loss. From time to time he does not recognize his parents, remember being in the mental hospital or even the incident in which he was injured. His intelligence, other than memory, however has not been apparently affected. Each case, of course, is unique.”
“How about his violent behavior?”
“As a rule, pediatric head trauma in itself would not cause violent behavior.”
“So what causes Mr. Ross’s predisposition to violence?”
“I don’t know. Why does anyone become violent? The stress of modern society.”
“How can we control stress?”
“Rationalization.” Harold held up one finger. “Such as telling yourself you didn’t get chosen for the school team because the coach didn’t like you or some one paid him off or whatever.”
“And this is good?”
“Good or not, that’s what we do, and it does keep us going.”
“Fair enough,” Bob said. “What’s another one?”
“Aggression.” Harold held up a second finger. “Such as picking a fight with someone that’s angered you.” He raised a third finger. “And regression, such as acting childishly and wanting to be pampered when you’ve had a hard day.”
“That last one sounds good,” Bob said with a laugh. “I’d like to be pampered.”
“In moderate amounts. They all work in moderation. Abnormality occurs when a person selects one or more of these traits and takes them to an extreme. When this happens the patient usually has a chemical imbalance in the brain. The medical community is still studying these physical aspects of mental illness, and many are not receptive. They prefer to rely on cognitive awareness therapy, which basically says the individual can by will power stop any mental illness.”
“Like the old joke. ‘Doc, it hurts when I do this.’ ‘Then don’t do that.’”
“Right. I don’t believe that. I think the best way to address them is with medications, which are improving all the time.”
Ernie, on a cue from Bob, turned off the camera.
“Thanks, doctor, that’s great,” he said. “Do you think it’d be possible to talk with John Ross now? I’d be as respectful and non-intrusive as possible.”
Harold pursed his lips, put a finger to them and looked at Bob for a long time before answering. Bob shifted his weight from one side to the other in his seat, sensing apprehension from the doctor.
“He’s one of them with a chemical imbalance and, unfortunately, medication hasn’t helped much yet, perhaps because of the head trauma. It’s a matter of finding right drugs for his body and regulating dosage. I’m confident eventually I’ll find the right match of medications for him.”
“I’d want to talk to John first to see how he would react.”
“We’ve a release form also,” Bob added. “Although, since he’s at the hospital you might be the one legally to sign it.”
“John’s in the yard now.” Harold stood. “Let me talk to him. If it appears he’s calm and cogent, you can tape today.”
“That’ll be great.”
John Ross sat in a lawn chair smoking in the shade of a large tree as he watched two muscular young men pour gasoline into a riding law mower and a lawn edger. If he were to escape his bondage and find Pharaoh he would need followers, young, strong men who would obey his every word.
“John?” Harold walked up.
“Yes?” Looking up and leaving his thoughts of escape, John surveyed Harold with indifferent.
“There’s a young man who wishes to talk to you.”
“A young man?” Perhaps this could be another follower. “Is he strong?”
“I hadn’t really noticed.” Harold’s eyes widened with surprise. “He’s a television reporter who has taken an interest in your case. He’s sympathetic to your situation.”
“He wants to help me leave here?”
“He wants to help people understand your problem.”
“Yes, I will speak with him.” John nodded. This could pave the way for the return of Moses, to have a herald.
A few minutes later Bob and Ernie were setting up on the lawn. Bob smiled warmly and stuck out his hand to John who studied it before extending his own. Bob thought his grip was rather limp for someone who fancied himself to be a warrior leader of his people.
“If you wish, we could film you from behind so your identity would be hidden.”
“And why would I be ashamed of being seen?” John looked at him with a smile.
“No reason. It’s just your choice.”
“I choose to be seen.” He raised his chin.
Bob turned to the camera.
“To help us with some insight into this problem, Dr. Lippincott has allowed us to…”
Lawn mower and edger engines started and interrupted his introduction. Ernie looked around with disgust.
“This ain’t going to work,” he said.
“Just a minute,” Harold said.
“Sure,” Bob replied as the doctor trotted over to the two boys.
From the shade of the oak tree Bob could just about make out that Harold was explaining to them that they could not run their machines right at that moment. One of the boys, larger and more muscular, whined a bit and kicked at the grass; the other, shorter and leaner, hunched his back, turned away from the doctor and spat on the ground.
“I admire their spirit,” John said.
“Spirit,” he repeated, arching an eyebrow. “They won’t take orders from the doctor without protest.”
“Oh.” Bob furrowed his brow in curiosity as he watched John smile with intent at the boys. What an odd observation. Returning his attention to Harold and the boys, Bob saw him take some coins from his pocket and hand them to the boys.
“I like ice cream,” Bob heard the larger boy boom. The other seemed to mumble something before following the first one away.
“Yet they are able to listen to reason,” John added.
“Sure.” Bob did not know what else to say.
“That’s all settled.” Harold came back smiling.
Bob repeated his opening statement and turned to John.
“How are you today, Mr. Ross?”
“You’re of Cherokee heritage, aren’t you?”
“That must make you very proud.” Bob became nervous, fearing he was not going to get anything but one-word answers.
“Why?” John cocked his head and smiled, blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth. “I couldn’t control what I was born to be.”
“So being Cherokee isn’t important to you?” He sighed, glad John was opening up.
“I didn’t say that.” He shook his head. “Don’t put words in my mouth.” He blew smoke through his nostrils and smiled. “Being Cherokee is everything to me.”
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“My parents had me sent here.”
“Did they do the right thing?”
“They think they did.” John looked over Bob’s shoulder at Harold and squinted before returning his attention to the camera. “The judge who committed me thought it was the right thing to do.”
“But do you think it was the right thing for them to do?”
John only puffed on his cigarette.
“Do you remember receiving a head injury when you were a child?”
“My scar reminds me.” He pointed to a faded mark on the left side of his forehead.
“Have you forgiven the boy who hit you?”
“He did not ask for my forgiveness.”
“If he had, would you have forgiven him?”
Again John just puffed his cigarette.
“Do you remember the day you were taken into custody?”
“Do you know why you were taken into custody?”
“Do you regret stabbing your father?”
“Do you regret hurts you have inflicted on your father?”
“Why, I suppose.” Startled, Bob paused, not expecting such a question. “We all regret many things in our lives. It’s how we deal with regret that makes a difference.” He blinked his eyes, trying to regain control of the interview. “What do you think?”
John just puffed on his cigarette.
Not wanting to continue the interview, Bob turned to look into the camera.
“John Ross left many questions unanswered perhaps obscured in cigarette smoke that swirls around his head. Pride, injury, forgiveness and acceptance become enigmas. Until smoke and mystery clears, society will continue to seek solutions to problems caused by pediatric head trauma.”
Bob nodded to Ernie who turned off the camera. Harold came up to him and shook hands.
“Very nice. Thank you for coming today. Drop by my office and I’ll sign the release form.”
“I’ve got it right here, doc,” Ernie said.
“Good, come with me.”
After Harold and Ernie left, Bob turned to shake hands with John.
“Thank you, Mr. Ross, for a very informative interview. I’m sure you’ll help many people who watch it on television.”
John’s limp handshake became a vise as Bob tried to pull away. Bob looked down at his hand in surprise mixed with apprehension. John stood and peered into Bob’s eyes.
“What is your name?”
“Bob Meade.”
“When I asked you about your father I perceived pain in your eyes.”
“Not really.” Bob blinked. “I’ve got to go. Perhaps we could talk some other time.”
“I can help you lose your pain.” John pulled him closer.
They stared at each other for what seemed an eternity to Bob before he shook his head and yanked his hand from John’s grip. He could smell John’s breath and body odor, and he shuddered in revulsion.
“I have no pain,” he said forcing a firmness into the tone of his voice.
“You lie.” John smiled.
Bob’s face reddened as he opened his mouth for a reply, but nothing came out. After an awkward moment of being transfixed in John’s gaze, he turned and bolted across the lawn to the hospital door, down the corridor to Harold’s office where he gathered Ernie and headed for the exit and their van.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said in a whisper.
“You look scared to death.” Ernie chuckled. “Did that weirdo pull a knife on you?” When Bob only glanced at him without expression, he sobered and agreed, “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”
Bob felt the back of his neck burn as their van sped down the highway toward the interstate which would take them back to Knoxville. Ernie and the driver turned the radio onto a country music station as Bob tried to remember the last time he felt this frightened and embarrassed. Memories little by little came to him. It was also a hospital, Clinton Memorial Hospital where his mother lay dying of cancer.
Bright lights of the hospital corridor blinded Bob’s sleepy eyes. A slender built fourteen year old, he sat in an uncomfortable metal folding chair with his bulky, lumbering father waiting to hear the inevitable bad news. His eyes wandered to a calendar. It was June thirtieth. July fourth was the next week. For the first time in his life, Bob did not care whether it was Independence Day or not. Who could care about firecrackers when his mother was about to die?
A door opened, and a doctor appeared. He approached Bob and his father.
“I’m sorry, but the end is near. You better go in now.”
Bob remembered his father’s standing, his eyes red and his chin rough with stubble.
“Thanks.” He looked down at Bob. “The boy better stay out here. He gets upset real easy.”
“I understand.” The doctor escorted Mr. Meade into his wife’s dark, silent room.
Bob remembered looking around at the nurses’ station and imagining the women were snickering at him. His neck burned red when he heard them giggling, even though as he listened, he discovered they were discussing the quality of meat loaf in the hospital cafeteria. The doctor came back from his mother’s room, paused to pat him on the shoulder and went to the station to write in his notepad. Bob stole glances at the doctor, and their eyes made an embarrassing connection. He wondered what the doctor thought about him. He must have thought Bob was a coward, and the boy wanted to prove him wrong.
A moment later Mr. Meade came from his wife’s room, leaned against a wall, and tried with all his masculine skills not to cry, but he failed as tears trickled down his cheeks. He moaned in misery as his big hand went to his face to cover his mouth. The doctor went to another room, and nurses seemed intent on deciphering a chart. Bob looked with intent at the door to his mother’s room and sucking in his stomach trying to summon courage to prove everyone wrong. He was not a coward. Unobserved, Bob slipped into his mother’s room.
Bob’s nostrils flared, taking in an oppressive smell, a combination of an assortment of medications and minor incontinence from his mother, but he in particular remembered being convinced he was surrounded by the stench of death.
“Hello, baby,” she said, struggling to lift her head and focus her eyes on him. “Come closer.”
He forced his eyes on the bed, lit by a small lamp in an otherwise black room. There lay the remains of his mother after cancer ravaged her body and took all the vibrancy from it. Bob almost did not recognize the woman in the bed even though he knew it was had to be his mother because of the voice, though weak, was hers.
“Come here, Bob baby.” She smiled as she lifted her shriveled arm which was connected to an intravenous needle feeding her morphine.
The familiar smile girded Bob for a moment, and he took a few steps toward her until he looked at the arm extended, beckoning him. Her hospital gown lay open, revealing her withered bosom. Finally her arm slumped from exhaustion, and no more pleas for him to move closer escaped her lips. Fear and shock welled up inside his chest, making Bob feel as though he would burst if he did not escape. Turning for the door, he ran into the intravenous line, tearing the needle from his mother’s arm.
“Oh, Bob.” His mother groaned and whimpered in pain.
He froze, staring at the blood dripping from her arm. Even now, many years later, in the news van, his mind dwelt on his last memory of the pain his mother experienced so close to death, caused by his craven cowardice. All these years Bob avoided his father because he feared his father knew what happened that night even though Mr. Meade was still dissolved in tears when Bob came out of the hospital room. No one else knew he failed his mother in her dying moments, Bob knew what he did was wrong and compounded his sin by punishing his father for it. What a spineless coward he was, Bob repeated to himself. And now John Ross knew. Somehow this mentally ill man peered into his soul and sensed his shame.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fourteen

When the sun crept over the horizon on Saturday morning, Booth awoke to searing pain; nonetheless, his spirits soared. He shot the tyrant, and he was destined to be the hero of the South. Flinching, he reached down his leg to feel the brace Dr. Mudd placed on his fracture. If his good fortune continued, Booth would walk with perhaps only the slightest limp, nothing to impair him from returning to the theater in the South, Mexico or any other world stage he chose.
The Mudds had moved him to their finest room to recuperate after the doctor finished attending to his injury. It was not perhaps as grand a room as Booth, a great act and political hero, deserved, but it was the best this country doctor could provide. It would do for the moment; better would come once his adoring public knew what marvelous things he had done. He was satisfied.
A knock at the bedroom door interrupted his thoughts. A black servant girl opened the door and entered with a tray of breakfast foods.
“Take it away. I am not hungry.” He stared out of the window, noticing the storm of last night had given way to sunshine. He waved his hand dismissively at the girl. “You may leave.”
“The missus said you needed to get some food in your belly, sir.”
Booth’s cold silence shooed her away with her tray of food. His gaze still fixed on the view of rural Maryland. Most of the time Booth felt obliged to treat inferiors with a modicum of congeniality, but the throbbing ache in his leg made the effort beyond his immediate interest. Close to noon, Herold came into the room, a big grin on his face. He plopped on the bed causing Booth to wince.
“Careful, Davey.”
“They don’t want to lend us their carriage because tomorrow is Easter. They want to ride to church in it. The doc, though, he said he’d ride with me into Bairdstown to see if we could find one there.”
“I need a razor, soap and a small bowl of warm water. I cannot be seen like this.”
Herold laughed. “If you get seen, it won’t make no difference if you got whiskers or not.” Booth glared at him. “I’m sure the doc has a spare razor around here someplace.”
“And crutches. I must have crutches. It’s going to be a long journey.”
“Oh, the doc’s already taken care of that. He’s got his man in the shed making you a pair right now.”
“Making them?” Booth’s eyebrows arched. “Surely, he has a finer pair in his office.”
“All I know is that he’s gonna get you some.” Herold stood, causing the bed to bounce again. “The doc is waiting for me to go into town.”
Booth wanted to impress on him the importance of keeping his identity a secret, but Herold was already out of the door.
Closing his eyes, he tried to sleep because he did not know when he would have the luxury of sleeping in a bed again.
Just as he was about to drift off another knock startled him awake, causing his leg to jerk. His face twisted into a grimace; he called for the intruder to enter. If it were the black girl again, he would unleash his greatest fury upon her. Booth fell back on the pillow when he saw that it was Mrs. Mudd with another tray of food.
“You must be famished by now,” she said with a gracious smile on her slightly wrinkled face.
“I’m sorry, dear lady, but my pain has taken away my appetite.” He paused. “You wouldn’t happen to have some bourbon, would you?”
“I don’t think my husband has any bourbon, but I am sure he has some whiskey.”
After she left, Booth closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Only a few minutes, as he supposed, had passed when he heard the front door slam downstairs and then feet stomping up the steps. Herold burst into the room, moving around with a nervous gait as he gathered Booth’s clothing, boots and saddlebag together.
“We gotta get out of here right now,” he mumbled. “The soldiers are all over town. Who knows when they’ll come riding up. I couldn’t get a carriage. Damn Easter.”
“Dr. Mudd told them?” Booth swung his legs off the bed.
“No. Least ways, not in front of me. Maybe he don’t even realize it’s us.” Herold brought his boots to him. “I don’t know if we can get the split boot on you.”
“Is Dr. Mudd with you?”
Herold shook his head. “He stayed in town. I couldn’t tell if he was mad or scared or anything. You know those proper Southern gentlemen. You never can figure out what they’re thinking.”
“What time is it?” Booth clinched his teeth as the boots came on.
“A little after three.”
“We can’t leave until dark. Nobody must see us.”
“They’ll see us all right, if those soldiers come marching down that road anytime soon.”
Booth limped over to the window to peer out. “I want to talk to Dr. Mudd before we leave. I must know if he will inform on us.”
After he dressed, he waited in the room with Herold, continuing to look through the curtains for any sign of someone coming down the road. Herold left him briefly to get the crutches from the man in the shed, returning with a serviceable, if roughly hewn, semblance of crutches. They would have to do. He could get better later, once he made it to the South.
Just after the sun set Booth saw a figure riding toward the house. When the man dismounted and hitched his horse to the post, the actor saw that it was Dr. Mudd. Within minutes, he heard a door slam, excited voices and then the heavy tromp of boots up the stairs. The door flew open.
“Why are you still here?” the doctor demanded.
Booth saw anger in his eyes. “We had to wait until darkness.”
“Of course you thought that. You didn’t want the federal troops to find you!”
“I’m glad you understand.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you had assassinated the President? Do you realize what peril you have placed my family in? I have been seen in your company at church and in Washington City. I cannot deny that I know you!”
“Then the tyrant is dead?” Booth stepped forward, thrusting his fist into the air.
“Of course he’s dead. You put a bullet in his brain!” Mudd went to the window, squinting as the shadows grew across the countryside. “Your presence here is untenable. Leave my house immediately. Never tell anyone who attended to your leg. Do you understand me?”
“You betcha, doc,” Herold replied amiably as he gathered their possessions and pulled on Booth’s arm toward the door, fumbling with the homemade crutches.
As they went down the stairs, Mudd whispered into Booth’s ear, “You have to circle around Bairdstown and then ride south to the Zekiah Swamp. A farmer Samuel Cox is sympathetic to the cause. His place is called Rich Hill. He has a large sign over the gate to his property. You can make it there before the night is over. Now mount your horses and go!”
Outside, Mudd’s man had the two horses ready for them.
“The best I can do for you now is to promise to stay home and silent until the federal troops arrive. I will tell them I treated the broken leg of a stranger.”
“I appreciate your help, dear friend.” Booth leaned down and extended his hand.
“I am not your dear friend.” Mudd turned abruptly and went into his house.
Booth and Herold kept riding through the night, around the outskirts of Bairdstown where they heard muffled voices shouting out orders and the neighing of excited horses and continued south until they came upon a sign for Rich Hill. Dawn was breaking as they entered the gate, carefully latching it behind them. As they had done at Surrattsville and at Doctor Mudd’s house, Booth stayed mounted on his horse as Herold went to the door and knocked.
“Who the hell is it?” a harsh male voice rang out.
“Soldiers loyal to the South,” Herold replied.
“What the hell do you want?”
“My brother fell off his horse and needs to rest.”
The door slightly cracked, and a heavyset man with a bushy mustache peered out. “What the hell is that to me?”
“Doctor Mudd said you would be sympathetic.” Herold grinned and motioned to Booth. “Please, sir, my brother here is in an awful lot of pain. Can’t you give us shelter for a day or two?”
“Why didn’t Mudd take care of him?”
“He did. It’s just we’re hankering to get across the river back home to Virginia. Ma must be missing us something terrible.”
“So you figger you can talk about your ma and I’ll feel sorry for you and that fella you call your brother? As soon as I let you in my house you beat me up and take what you want.”
“Gosh, Mr. Cox,” Herold said as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Do I look like somebody who’d do a thing like that?”
“Hell yes. Never knew a baby-faced man who wasn’t a damned son of a bitch.”
Herold turned to look back at Booth and shook his head, his eyes pleading. Booth cursed under his breath. He did not want to swing down off his horse to keep Cox from slamming the door shut in their faces. He could feel the pain screaming up his leg already. Booth slid off the horse anyway.
“Sir,” he said, wincing as he limped toward the porch. “You must believe us. Have you no compassion for fellow sons of the south? We fought four long, hard years for your rights. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Booth placed his right hand across his heart as though to swear to his sincerity.
Cox ambled closer to squint at him. He pointed to the tattoos on Booth’s fingers. “JWB. Those your initials?”
“Yes sir,” Booth replied. “How perceptive of you, sir.”
“I was in town today,” Cox said slowly, a smile verging on his lips. “I heard somebody killed the damn Yankee president.”
“Aww, gawd,” Herold moaned.
Booth shushed him and battered his eyes. “We heard the same thing, sir. God’s providence, I’d say.”
“It was an actor, they said. John Wilkes Booth.” Cox turned to spit off the porch. “You ain’t no soldier. And neither is that half-wit.” He nodded toward Herold.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Booth remonstrated.
“John Wilkes Booth. JWB. For God’s sake, man. You could at least wear some damn gloves.”
Booth grasped at the possibility hidden around Cox’s words. “Then you will help us, sir?”
“If you’re expecting me to let you in my house to rest a spell, hell no. But if what you really want is a ride across the Potomac to Virginia, then maybe I can do something. I know a man with a boat, a good boat. A river ghost. Ferried men and letters across the Potomac and never lost anything. Yankees caught him once, though. Ruined him. Took his land, money. He’ll do anything to get back at the damn Yankees.”
“God bless you, Mr. Cox,” Booth gushed.
“Better be asking God to protect you instead of bless me. The damn Yankees will shoot you on sight, and if they ask me anything about it, I’ll say I never saw you.” Cox walked to the end of his porch and waved toward the thickening underbrush of Zekiah Swamp to the west. “About a mile off there is a clearing. I was going to plant some tobacco there but never got around to it. Go there and wait.”
“So your man can take us to Virginia tomorrow night?” Booth asked.
“Hell, no. This is going to be tricky. It may take a few days. If I go running to Thomas Jones’ place and he disappears with his boat like that,” Cox explained, snapping his fingers, “the damn Yankees are sure to notice. Gotta take it slow.” He sniffed. “We’ll get food to you, somehow.” He paused and then whistled three times, one high and two low notes. “You hear that and you know somebody friendly is coming up. Can’t have you shooting the man bringing your supplies.”
“Newspapers,” Booth added. “I want to see newspapers and read what they have to say about me.”
“You are a damn actor, ain’t you?” Cox smirked. “Want to see your name in the headlines. Big man.”
By the time Booth and Herold rode their horses to the clearing, the sun was over the pine treetops. They tried to rest the best they could during the day. That lumpy bed back at Dr. Mudd’s home was luxurious by comparison.
Herold began a few conversations about what kinds of birds would make the noises they heard, but Booth ignored him. Booth had more important things to think about. Like his place in history. Or the pain in his leg. Or the gnawing emptiness in his stomach.
In the late afternoon, they heard whistling—one high and two low. Someone was coming.
“Sounds like a sick bluebird,” Herold whispered.
“Go see who it is.” Booth pulled up on his elbow and reached for his revolver.
Herold grabbed his rifle and walked slowly toward the sound. A large, burly man emerged from the thicket with a canvass haversack. Herold took aim. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Thomas Jones. Cox sent me.”
“That’s all right. Come on here, real slow like.” Herold kept his rifle aimed at him.
“You can lower your rifle, Davey,” Booth assured his nervous companion. Booth put aside his own pistol and smiled at Jones who cautiously approached him. He remembered meeting him outside Mudd’s church before Christmas, and how the man made no secret of his dealing in contraband. “This is a good man. Dr. Mudd introduced us once. What do you have in your bag, sir?”
“Vittles and newspapers.” Jones put the haversack down by Booth and took a step back. “Mr. Cox said you wanted to see the newspapers.”
Herold loped over to peer into the bag. “Whatcha got? I’m hungry.”
“When do we leave for Virginia?” asked Booth, more anxious to get to the South than fill his empty stomach with food.
“I don’t know,” Jones replied. “Can’t look suspicious. Yankees know my sympathies. They’ll be keeping an eye on me. Might take a few days. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you in vittles. I’ll show your man here where a spring is. Not far from here. Just a few hundred yards.”
Herold looked up. “Water? I could go for some water.”
“Yes, Mr. Jones, show Davey the spring. I’ll look at the newspapers.” After Herold grabbed his canteen from his saddlebags, he disappeared with Jones into the thicket; Booth rummaged through the haversack and found the bundle of newspapers. He hungrily grabbed them and began reading the headlines on the front pages. What he read stunned him. His eyes wide with bewilderment and his lips trembling, Booth fumbled with each newspaper, each one with the same message.
Somehow, the loathsome tyrant had transformed into the savior of his nation, and Booth had become the cowardly murderer, cringing in the shadows of the theater box, daring only to shoot the newly anointed saint in the back of the head.
The Washington newspapers reported that the Southern press also scorned the assassination. The South held higher ideals, the stories said, than to shoot a man from behind. Booth, according to the land he so loved, sullied the honor of true heroes who sacrificed all on the battlefield.
Clinching his jaw, Booth reached into his own saddlebag to find a datebook he had purchased in 1864. Flipping through it, he found he had left several pages blank. Booth took out a pencil and began scribbling his defense. He was not a weakling. He had paced forward with manly fervor across the theater box, knowing Union officers and supporters filled the house. He even faced down a major in the President’s box, slashing his arm and leaving him crumpled on the floor whimpering. And Booth insisted he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis” before he shot, not afterwards as the newspaper accounts claimed. Saying the Virginia motto before the shot proved he was a hero and not a coward. He rode hours in pain from his broken leg. Were these the actions of a coward? Booth put aside his datebook when he heard Herold and Jones returning from the springs. For now, he would keep his thoughts private.
“That spring water tasted mighty good,” Herold said with a smile. He extended his canteen. “Want some?”
“Yes, thank you,” Booth replied, reaching for the canteen. He tried not to slurp or dribble too much. He didn’t want Jones to think he was a barbarian.
“I better be moving on,” Jones announced as he walked back to the thicket. “Don’t want nobody to get suspicious. Be back tomorrow with more vittles and newspapers.” He turned to smile. “Now, don’t start making any commotions, you hear?”
Booth and Herold heard him chuckling as Jones disappeared among the trees.
“Anything good in the newspapers?” Herold asked as he plopped on the ground and began munching on a load of bread from the haversack.
“Anything good?” Booth answered in reproof. “All of the North is looking for us. Does that sound good to you?”
“Oh.” He stopped in mid-chew. “Well, the papers from the South must be on our side.”
“No, they are not,” Booth said slowly. He picked up another newspaper and scanned it. “I see Secretary of State Seward survived Paine’s attack. Most unfortunate.”
“Well, it wasn’t on account of lack of effort by Paine’s part. He had blood all over him,” he interrupted.
“And Vice-President Johnson lives. I would have suspected as much from Atzerodt. Cretin!
“Secretary of War Stanton is still alive. The man with the cigar under the bridge said he would kill Stanton.”
Herold shrugged. “Maybe he chickened out like Atzerodt.”
“No, that man was no coward. He was no gentleman, either, but he was no coward.” Booth paused. “I wonder if he never had an intention of killing Stanton.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. All I do know is that man seemed to have a master plan that included us in the execution but excluded us from the ultimate goal.”
“What goal was that?”
Booth exhaled in exasperation. “Davey, please. I have suspicions. I have no facts, yet. Just my suspicions.”
The next day Booth filled eighteen pages with his suspicions about the shadowy short man with the cigar under the Aqueduct Bridge who had been brought into the conspiracy by a military attaché assigned to the Executive Mansion by the name of Adam Christy. He defended his own actions as arising from deep-seated passions for the South and against the man who had destroyed the South’s efforts to be free. He made the decision without outside encouragement to assassinate the president. Case closed. Still lingering, however, were niggling doubts that the mysterious man was trying to guide him and his men into the same action but for different reasons.
In late afternoon, they once again heard whistling, one high and two low. Jones had returned. This time he entered the clearing boldly and tossed the haversack of food to Herold and the newspapers to Booth. Looking over at the horses, he nodded.
“You don’t expect to take those horses across the Potomac to Virginia with you? My boat ain’t that big.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Herold replied, his eyes widening. “I guess we could just turn them loose.”
“Oh, the damn Yankees would like that,” Jones said with a smirk. “That’s just the kind of present they’d really like, just like it was Christmas morning.”
Booth did not glance up from reading the headlines. “And what would you suggest, sir?”
“I’d shoot them and sink them in the swamp.”
Herold’s mouth dropped open. “Couldn’t you take them with you?”
“And when it got around town that I had two extra horses, don’t you think the damn Yankees would be on my doorstep asking questions? I’ll help you boys escape, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to die for you.”
“Thank you for your advice, Mr. Jones. We appreciate the food and newspapers, and anticipate with great joy the day we may cross the river in your boat,” Booth said.
Jones turned to leave and spoke again over his shoulder. “You better make up your mind about what to do with the horses real soon.”
Herold went over to his roan and petted it, causing the horse to whinny and jostle about.
Jones laughed. “Yeah, the damn Yankees are all around here. They’re going to hear that horse.” He disappeared in the underbrush.
Herold stumbled toward Booth who was looking through the second newspaper.
“My letter hasn’t been printed in any of the papers,” he said with exasperation.
“You don’t think he was serious about shooting the horses, was he?”
“Matthews didn’t keep his word and deliver the letter.” Booth threw the newspapers aside. “I always knew he was a coward.”
“We ain’t really going to have to shoot the horses, are we?”
“Of course, we are. Right now. Get the rifle.”
Herold backed up. “No, no. Not the roan. I don’t mind shooting the bay mare. It’s kinda mean, but the roan is so gentle. Maybe we could just let the roan go. One horse by itself won’t draw no attention.”
Booth struggled to his feet on his crutches. “I said get the rifle,” he ordered.
“All right. I’ll shoot the bay mare.” The rifle was propped up against the tree. Herold picked it up and straight away led the mare a few hundred yards to the swamp, sloshed into the middle and shot the bay, which slowly began to sink into the mire. The roan whinnied and reared. Herold hurried back to the clearing and went toward the horse and waving his hands. “Shoo. Shoo now. Get out of here.”
The horse came toward him and nuzzled his shoulder.
“You see,” Booth said as he hobbled toward him. “That horse will not wander off on its own. If you did scare it momentarily, it would return. And the federals would be following it. Shoot it now.”
Herold began sobbing, laying his head against the horse. “But it’s such a sweet horse. All the times I rode it, it never gave me any trouble at all.”
Booth now stood next to him, leaning in to yell. “Kill the damn horse! You damned coward! Just like John Matthews! He was too big a coward to take my letter to the papers and you’re too big a coward to shoot the horse!”
“No, no, it’ll be good and go away and make no trouble.” Herold pushed at the horse. “Shoo, shoo.”
“Shoot the damn horse!” Booth balanced on one crutch, using the other one to hit Herold, until he finally started to lead the roan toward the swamp where the bay was almost beneath the muddy water. Booth stopped at the edge and screamed at Herold. “Now shoot the damn horse!”
Herold’s shoulders trembled as he finally raised the rifle, took aim and pulled the trigger. He fell on top of the roan, crying and caressing its coat as it began to sink as the bay mare did.
“Get up before you get all muddy,” Booth ordered as he turned to hobble back to the tree where he collapsed, closing his eyes to shut out the sound of Herold’s simpering as he splashed out of the swamp.
Neither of the men spoke to each other except for the most essential communications for the next few days as they waited for Jones to announce it was safe for them to cross the Potomac. After five long days, the night finally arrived for their departure. Jones allowed Booth to ride his horse and he and Herold walked the three miles from their camp to the riverbank. There they saw the small boat, which was all but invisible in the heavy fog.
“That’s not big enough for three men,” Booth said as he dismounted.
“That’s because only two men are going to be in it,” Jones replied. “Here’s a compass and a candle. The oars are in the boat along with a canvas. You can hide under the canvas and read the compass by candle light. Your man can paddle.”
“I thought you were going to take us across,” Booth said.
“No, I agreed to see that you got across,” Jones corrected him brusquely. “The river is filled with gunboats and all sorts of craft filled with men out to capture you. If I was in the boat when they caught you I’d be strung up right alongside you, and that that’s the God’s honest truth. Now get going.”
“What if we get lost?” Herold asked in a weak voice.
“Then that’s your problem.” Jones turned, mounted his horse and disappeared into the misty darkness.
Herold helped Booth into the boat and pushed off. From under the canvas, Booth lit the candle and peered at the compass. “Due west,” he whispered. “Straight ahead, toward Virginia. By morning we shall be safe among friends.”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Three

Upon hearing Van Helsing’s dire prediction for Jonathan’s future, Mina rushed to her fiancé, putting her hands to his face.
“Jonathan dearest! Facing certain death! Doctor, what can I do to help?” She looked deeply into his wild animal eyes. “I love you more than words can express.”
Mina and Jonathan gazed into each other’s eyes for an endearing moment until Jonathan blinked and changed his demeanor into that of a proper English gentleman instead of a vampire animal. Van Helsing smiled knowingly and pointed at Mina.
“You have already done it.”
Jonathan smiled naively. “Why Mina, darling, what are you doing here?”
“We’ve come to bring you home. But you don’t remember greeting me earlier?”
“No. I did? I don’t remember.” He paused to shiver. “Excuse me. This castle is so drafty.”
“I’m afraid it isn’t the castle that’s drafty,” she replied. “It’s you.”
“What do you mean, dearest?”
Mina’s cheeks turned pink. “Look down.”
When Jonathan turned his attention to the floor, he noticed he had no trousers on. Going knock kneed, he screamed like a proper English schoolgirl and ran through the double doors. Dracula went to Mina’s side.
“It is Transylvania,” he explained. It is a land of mystery and romance. Once you cross her borders, you find yourself giving in to your innermost desires and cravings.”
“It almost sounds frightening.” Her voice trembled.
“You shouldn’t be frightened.” Dracula extended his arm around her shoulders. “You should welcome it.”
Van Helsing quickly intercepted Dracula’s advances on Mina by grabbing her arm and pulling her away. “You will not be frightened. I will protect you. And you will not welcome the allures of Transylvania. I will prevent it.”
The three unholy wives ran through the double doors, with Salacia leading the way, waving Jonathan’s trousers over her head. Jonathan scrambled in, chasing them with the fervor of a rugby player.
“Give me my trousers!”
“You have to catch me first!” Salacia shouted.
Jonathan tripped over the sofa. Mina’s instinct was to go to him but Van Helsing pulled her back. Claustrophobia, on the hand, did stopping prancing about to check on the former rugby bench warmer.
“Be careful,” Claustrophobia warned. “We don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“Yesss!” Susie Belle hissed as she passed by and tried to scratch Jonathan. “We want that pleasure for ourselves!”
Jonathan stood and rushed toward Salacia, pleading, “Give them here! Please!”
“How polite!” Claustrophobia marveled.
“How limp wristed,” Salacia sneered. “I hate weak men!”
He put his hands on his hips. “I make it a practice not to manhandle ladies, but in your case I’ll make an exception!”
Resuming his attack, Jonathan went after Salacia, who threw the trousers to Susie Belle who tossed them to Claustrophobia who successfully lateraled them back to Salacia.
“It looks like they’re playing keep away,” Mina observed. “What an annoying game.”
Waving the pants over her head, Salacia ran back into the game room with Jonathan on her heels. Dracula blocked Susie Belle and Claustrophobia before they could join them.
“Pardon me,” Count Dracula said, “I haven’t introduced my wives.”
Mina glanced at Count Dracula, still curious about his enigmatic background. “Are you sure you’re not a—“
“No, I’m not,” he interrupted, a hint of impatience in his voice. After a deep sigh he resumed his composure. “Remember? This is romantic Transylvania.”
“I assure you,” Van Helsing said, raising a bushy eyebrow. “I won’t forget where we are.”
In an effort to change the subject, Dracula pointed to his wife with the high frilly collar. “This is my newest wife Claustrophobia. We met when I visited Vienna.”
She stepped forward, acting a bit timid, and curtsied. “I was undergoing treatment from Dr. Sigmund Freud. I had a fear of being in enclosed places.” She glanced nervously at Count Dracula.
“I know of Dr. Freud.” Van Helsing nodded with sympathy. “He is a good man. Does he know of your marriage to Count Dracula?”
Nein.” Claustrophobia cleared her throat. “I had my usual 9 a.m. appointment. But the evening before I was to go to his office, as I walked home from work, the count stepped out of the shadows. He looked at me with such piercing eyes, full of fire. I must have blacked out. When I awoke I was on the midnight train to Transylvania, and Count Dracula informed me we had fallen in love and married within a few hours.”
“And once we were home in Transylvania there was no need for doctors,” the count explained.
“I would assume Dr. Freud was disappointed your appointment,” Van Helsing said.
“I’ll say,” she replied quickly. “I hadn’t paid my bill.”
Once again, Dracula saw the need to change the subject. “And this attractive lady is Susie Belle.”
“Susie Belle?” Mina was confused.
“Wanna make somethin’ of it, Meeena?” Susie Belle growled.
“You’ll have to excuse Susie Belle’s manners,” the count interceded. “She is from the American South. I met her on a trip to New Orleans a few years ago.”
Mina turned to wag a finger at Van Helsing. “I knew he had to have visited the colonies. The people there are such a corrupting influence.”
“You say anythin’ bad about Dixie, honey, and I’ll scratch your eyes out.” She lunged toward Mina, her arms extended and her high-glossed fingernails arched for attack.
However, before she could inflict any damage to Mina’s fair complexion, Dracula pulled her away. “Now, now, Susie Belle. These people are our guests.”
Salacia appeared through the double doors, giggling and holding Jonathan’s trousers over her head. Jonathan raced through the game room door pursuing Salacia. They circled the room before heading for the stairs.
“And this swift minx is my first wife Salacia. What an impish sense of humor she has.”