Monthly Archives: June 2016

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Thirteen

Through night mists Davy ran, sure he could still hear Stasney’s stomping behind him. He turned one corner and then another to try to elude him, but he could still hear the captain’s muffled obscenities. Looking around, Davy sensed familiar surroundings. A brick row house with ivy around the door sparked a particular memory, especially the scent of gardenias.
“Well, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
Davy turned his head to see Lula, her rouged cheeks rounded into a smile. She wore the same crimson coat with a fur collar.
“He’s after me,” he said out of breath.
“Captain Stasney.”
“Oh,” Lula said with a knowing smile. “I knew you looked like a cabin boy he’d take to, but you didn’t seem to be that kind of cabin boy.” They both turned their heads toward an animal’s bellowing. Lula pushed Davy toward the door. “Get inside.”
Davy looked around, startled to see so much red in a room, carpeting, furniture and curtains. A large, older woman dressed only in a pink flowing nightgown came forward.
“Hide ‘em,” Lula said.
The older woman nodded and pushed him under a long sofa and sat in front of him. Stasney appeared in their doorway.
“That little hooligan cut me.”
“He cut me!” he said at the top of his voice and with difficulty.
“That boy!”
“What boy?” Lula turned to hang up her coat.
“You know!”
“Oh. Him.” She looked at Stasney with no expression. “Why did he do that?”
“None of your damn business!”
“Then why are you here?”
“’Cause he’s the type of jackass that would come back sniffin’ around a place like this!”
“I like you better when you don’t use so many words.”
“So?” Lula asked.
“If you see him,” he said, “tell ‘im he’s a dead man!”
“Why would I see ‘im?”
Davy liked Lula. She knew how to lie almost as good as he did.
“You already said that.”
Stasney stormed from the house, slamming the door behind him.
Sliding from under the sofa, Davy stood in apprehension.
“You better wait an hour before you go out,” Lula said, walking toward him.
His eyes widened, and his heart beat faster while he nodded.
“Don’t be afraid of me.” Lula touched his red handkerchief. “I better take this off you. The folks back home won’t understand.”
An hour later Lula kissed Davy’s cheek, and he quickly wiped her lipstick off and disappeared in the night, not knowing where to go. He reached one street which he recognized as the road to Jonesboro. Stopping, he considered the consequences of returning to Adam Myers and without any doubt another wallop up side his head. His gaze went toward to Fell’s Point, and Davy decided anything would be better than being Captain Stasney’s cabin boy. He headed down the black path to Jonesboro. Back at the boardinghouse, he walked up the steps, stopping every time he heard a creak. By the time he reached the top of the landing Davy heard stirring behind the door. His breath stuck in his throat as he heard Meyers call out, “Who’s there?”
Davy could not respond.
“Master Crockett?” Meyers said with hope in his voice.
“Yes, sir.”
Throwing open the door, Meyers, wearing a long night shirt, smiled as he focused on the boy.
“I heard you coming from afar,” he said in a mellifluous tone as he hugged Davy. “And I ran from my bed to kiss you about the neck.”
His hug was not scary like Stasney’s presence but was almost comforting and prompted tears from him. Meyers pulled away and looked at him from arms’ length, smiling. His arm around the boy’s shoulders he led him into the room and sat him down on the bed.
“Now, what happened?” He sat next to him. “I would never forgive myself if my actions drove you away.”
Davy’s vision shifted up to Meyers’ sanctimonious face, and he decided to feed into the man’s ego. “Sir, I have sinned.” He looked back at the floor. “I admit I didn’t want to follow your leadership, so I slipped out in the middle of the night and made my way to Baltimore harbor. This captain was lookin’ for a new cabin boy. So today I compete against other boys for the job.” He looked up. “You would’ve been proud of me. I ran fast. I climbed the master staff. I loaded baskets of oranges. All better than the other boys.”
“Very good.” Meyers nodded.
“He chose me by the end of the day. I was goin’ to sail the world with him, but tonight, the captain showed his true colors by takin’ me to this house.” He paused to gain the proper dramatic emphasis. “There was women with red cheeks.”
“So I ran away.” His eyes went down again. “I knew it was sinful. I remembered what you said. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Of course I can.”
Before he knew it, Davy felt Meyers’ open palm hard against his temple. Looking up he saw the man’s narrowing eyes.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”


David rode his horse down the hill following the butterfly as it flitted along the gently sloping hill. When it left the trodden path along a stretch of milkweed, David dismounted to watch the monarch. Butterflies always drew David; perhaps, they represented happiness to him, tantalizing, just out of reach. After he and Elizabeth moved to Lawrence County in east Tennessee, David bought land near Shoal Creek headspring and built a water-powered gristmill, gunpowder factory, distillery and iron-ore mine. He thought he was passing from a lower economic class to a higher one. He had won his first political post, justice of the peace, followed by election to the state legislature in Murfreesboro.
The floods destroyed the mill, factory and mine. Since the mill no longer ground corn, the distillery closed which effectively erased the Crockett fortune. They had to sell their land to pay their debts. They looked for cheaper land in West Tennessee around the Obion River valley. The New Madrid earthquake earlier in the century decimated trees and created other-worldly swamps, but David liked it. Turkey, elk, deer and black bear were abundant, which fed his urge to hunt. Maybe that was why he never seemed to be able to make money. The scents and sounds of wild animals drew his attention away every time he was on the verge of a profitable scheme. Once he tried to make Obion Lake navigable to the Mississippi so he could transport lumber, but the lure of black bear drew him away. While his hired men wallowed in muck David bagged more than a hundred bears. In the end he had enough bear meat, oil and pelts to sell to everyone along Rutherford Fork, but the navigation of Obion Lake was never completed.
When the Crocketts moved to upper west Tennessee Elizabeth chose to buy her own land and build her own house ten miles away from David’s cabin on the Rutherford Fork. He often spent time at her house with the children but she never spent more than a night or two at his place. She came to visit his parents and siblings who moved west to be near David. The Pattons also came west, but they tended to settle near Elizabeth, across the line in Weakly County.
Sometimes he did not mind they were not in the same house all the time. She tended to be harsh on his inability to concentrate on business. Instead of lunging into the wilderness during the winter to hunt he should have stayed to help with their farm, Elizabeth often told him. Instead of politicking, which she perceived as one drunken gathering after another, David should have made a second attempt at building and operating a mill.
But he did build another gristmill, David argued with Elizabeth. A shack, she replied, and powered by a single horse. How much money could that make, she asked. Next to none, she answered before he could reply. Anyway, she added, he sold it along with his farm to finance another congressional campaign. Now he had no land and no seat in Congress. The cabin he shared with his mother the last year of her life was leased, with an option to buy. Now David surrendered that option to move to Texas because he could never be elected any office again in Tennessee.
He stood immobile and like a ghost as he gazed at the monarch butterfly alighting on a milkweed stalk next to him. A knot tightened in his stomach as he became conscious of how much he was similar to the black and orange delicate creature. Imagine, he told himself, a man with only four days of schooling occupying the highest office in the land, able to lend a hand to people like him, without property or without the ability to control their own destiny. For three terms in the House of Representatives he failed to push into law his legislation to permit federal lands in western Tennessee to be sold at discount prices so common folks could afford to buy a few acres. All that was a dream which was so easily destroyed.
David’s hands engulfed the butterfly. He smiled with kindness at it. “I’ll be careful li’l fellow. I ain’t goin’ to hurt you.”
For some reason David was compelled to take the monarch down the road to show to Elizabeth and his children. Perhaps, he thought, if they saw the butterfly they would smile more kindly on him as he stopped to say good-bye before leaving for Texas. Perhaps, he hoped, they would hold him with gentleness before letting him fly away.


“All right, boys,” Lonnie’s voice boomed out. “Breakfast is about ready.”
Dave’s eyes twitched as he came out of a deep sleep. He dreamed about how Vince used to tell him he was a worthless scuzzy little worm. As he awoke he became aware that his knuckles ached. Looking down he saw the skin was red and the joints swollen. Then Dave remembered hitting Vince, something he had always wanted to do but now regretted. He had lowered himself to the level of a drunken animal. Quickly he slipped on his shirt and jeans and was about to open the door when he hear Vince moan.
“Gawd, I wish pop’d shut up,” he said as he rolled over.
“Boys, the eggs are going to get cold,” Lonnie yelled from the kitchen.
“He’s not going to let you sleep.”
“Damn.” Vince sat up.
Dave examined the bruises on his brother’s face. “Does that hurt?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Vince stood and slipped on a pair of jeans.
“I’m sorry.”
“I ain’t mad about it, okay? A lot of shit hit the fan, that’s all.”
“Yeah.” Dave opened the door.
“Puppy,” Vince whispered. “I never did thank you for bailing me out of jail that time.” He paused. “Thank you.”
Dave walked out. Vince followed him down the hall into the living room, and they sat at the dining table as Lonnie placed a platter of fried eggs, toast and bacon in front of them. He stopped short as he saw Vince’s face.
“What happened to you?”
“We had a fight.” Dave looked down.
“What for?”
“Nothing,” Vince mumbled.
“Looks like a whole lot of nothing to me.” Lonnie laughed deep from his belly.
“Drop it,” Vince said tersely.
“I can’t say nothing,” Lonnie muttered, turning back to the kitchen for the coffee. After bring two cups to the table he poured a third for himself and sat.
“Puppy told me you wanted him to take care of you.”
“Don’t get nervous about it,” Lonnie said, stuffing fried eggs in his mouth.
“Pop, why don’t you trust me?”
Dave could not eat. He felt the urge to leave the room. After all, he had to take a bath and dress for the funeral. He did not want to hear this conversation.
“Vince, you was the one I thought I’d always depend on. Allan was a sexomaniac. Puppy was always so nervous all the time. Then you started that drinking.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. They say drunks can’t help it.” He paused to swallow his food and drink his coffee. “I ain’t never had to depend on nobody.”
“I know, Pop, but—“
“I can’t trust you, son.” Lonnie looked across the table at Vince. “You can’t manage your life so how can you manage mine?”
“I can manage myself.” Vince’s voice intensified with anger.
“That’s why I didn’t want Puppy to tell you.” Lonnie pursed his lips. “You get madder faster than anybody I ever knew.”
“No, no, Pop,” Vince said. “That’s okay. I understand—I mean, I don’t really understand, but I’m trying to.”
Lonnie shook his head and stuffed a piece of bacon in his mouth. “I ain’t going to talk about it no more.”
Vince stood and walked around the room with a little hippity-hop which Dave recognized as Vince’s way of trying to control his anger. Vince stopped by the painting of their mother.
“This is good. Of course, the hair color is all wrong.”
“What?” Lonnie asked, looking up with a piece of toast to his lips.
“The hair color is all wrong.”
“Naw, it ain’t. That’s the color of your mother’s hair when we first got married.” Lonnie stood and walked to the painting, light touching his wife’s lips in the portrait. “There’s some nights when I get a Charlie horse and have to walk it out—well, I come out and jest stare at it. What it was like to be young and have a pretty thing like that on my arm.” He patted Vince on the back. “You done a good thing when you had that done.”
“But it wasn’t me.”
“I thought you spent your newspaper route money to get it.”
“It was Puppy when he was the church janitor.”
“Didn’t you have a paper route?”
“Yeah, but that was before mom died.”
“How did you know about the hair color?” Lonnie turned to Dave who was finishing his coffee.
“I told the painter it was my hair color.”
“You know, that’s right.” Lonnie looked back at the painting. “You do have her color. Well, what do you know about that?”
“You see, Puppy,” Vince said, “I was wrong.”
“Dad, you better get dressed,” Dave said.
“Yeah, we have to leave soon.” Lonnie looked at Vince. “You still ain’t going, right?”
“Right,” Vince replied.
“Good.” Lonnie walked down the hall to his bedroom. “Ain’t no need in it.”

Cancer Chronicles Fifty-Three

(Author’s note: Songs of my heart comfort me every day. Truth often disguises itself in song and story. This story is mostly kinda factual except our daughter’s name is Heather. It’s a lovely name but doesn’t pop up in songs often.)
I’ve had a never-ending love for my wife Janet ever since I saw her face as she stood on a bridge in the Japanese gardens in Fort Worth, Texas. (I don’t know if there are Japanese gardens in Fort Worth. Go with it. Love doesn’t make sense.)
Actually, we’d already been married several years. When I looked through the viewfinder of my camera at Janet holding our baby daughter I realized how deeply I loved her and it would be for ten thousand years. The tiny girl helped bring about that epiphany.
We named her Grace, but I always called her Amazing. The first time she cried I thought how sweet a sound it was. By the time she entered kindergarten we shortened it to Mazie. After all, we were from Texas and we could not wrap our lips around any word more than two syllables.
Mazie was a remarkable child–smart, beautiful and adventurous. Janet handled the escapades better than I did. She knew how to pat my hand and say let it be. Like the time Mazie climbed out her bedroom window at midnight to rendezvous with her boyfriend. She was only thirteen years old. Luckily the police brought her home after they picked her up with her boyfriend. They were walking down the street where we lived holding hands. Janet waited a few weeks before telling me about that. I supposed she was trying to think of the right words to make it sound not so bad. Mazie taught my heart to fear.
Then there was the time I was cleaning the living room and found a note from the private Christian school in which we had enrolled Mazie. She and her boyfriend were given an in-school suspension for saying dirty words between classes. Those Christian school kids can be such tattle tales. Mazie explained they watched too much MTV, and it was a bad influence on them.
Eventually Mazie bored of her first boyfriend and went on to another boy who was the epitome of moral rectitude. Mazie quit cussing for him, just as Janet said she would. Shortly thereafter, she dumped the student saint because he thought he had the right to choose what career she should pursue. From then on, Mazie only cussed just a little and was very responsible about everything else she did. And Mazie my fears relieved.
The years went by fast after Mazie grew up, went to work, got married and had a baby of her own. Janet held my hand, and, ooh, our lives were filled with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere. We hardly noticed the wrinkles and gray hairs that were popping up all over, all over both our faces and our heads.
And then Janet went away, as I knew she would. I appreciated how precious Grace appeared. She hugged me and promised to comfort me until the day when I would join Janet. It will be as if we had only just begun. Because I have a never-ending song of love for her.

Sins of the Family Chapter Twelve

Saturday morning Bob and Jill drove north out of Knoxville on U.S. 25 toward the little tobacco town of Clinton. With a fine mist hovering around his windshield, he contemplated about what to say to his father once they arrived. No conversation with his father ever came without discomfort, and this one, for some reason, seemed as though it might be very complicated.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Jill said, breaking their silence. “It’s just you’ve met all of my family, warts exposed and all, and I haven’t met your father yet.”
The winding highway turned and dipped into a small valley where Clinton laid, a town of about five thousand people, most of whom grew, cured, sold or hauled tobacco for a living. Away from warehouses, stores and offices in downtown, the residential streets were tree-lined with boughs stretching from one side to another, almost entwining in the middle, creating perpetual shade.
“How beautiful,” Jill murmured.
“My favorite time is winter when the limbs are filled with ice and snow.” Pulling into the driveway of a small wood-frame house with a large verandah, Bob stopped the engine of his car and sighed in resignation. Jill looked at him and knitted her brow.
“We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
“No,” Bob replied. “I really want to, really.”
“Really?” Jill smiled, half in seriousness and half teasing.
“Really.” Bob winked at her and got out of the car. As they walked across the grass, for there was not sidewalk, Bob paused to survey the house in which he had spent his childhood. Bushes his mother had pruned and kept in perfect shape were overgrown and touched the eaves of the house. They had just been cut back enough to allow visitors to mount steps to the verandah.
“I take it we go through here,” she said, going in front through the bushes and up the steps.
“Watch it.”
“Thank you.” She held up her foot and looked down to see a rotted plank with a hole in it.
“I discovered the weak spot the last time I came,” he said, ushering her cautiously to the front door. He knocked hard several times before opening it.
“He doesn’t lock it?”
“Not in little old safe Clinton.”
“That’s what they all say until someone gets hacked to death,” Jill said with irony as they entered the living room.
Again Bob paused, his heart sinking as he remembered how his mother had scoured hours on end to keep their furniture spotless and shining. Now it sagged and was covered with dust.
“The sight of this room would kill my mother if she wasn’t already dead,” he said. Bob looked to a door to the right. “That’s his bedroom. He’s probably still asleep.”
Opening the door, he saw that he was right. Mr. Meade, now fat and bald, snored on his soiled sheets with a shotgun precariously perched on the headboard.
“Dad,” he said in a loud voice, “it’s me, Bob.”
“That you, son?” With a snort Mr. Meade jerked awake and focused his sleep-filled eyes.
“Yeah. Sorry I didn’t call first. Thought I’d come for a visit.”
“You didn’t lose your job and coming back home to live, are you?” he asked, sitting up and fumbling for his coveralls and brown khaki shirt on the floor.
“No, Dad. Everything’s just fine with my job,” Bob replied with patience. “I’m just here to say hello.”
“That’s good because I don’t think I could afford to take care of you.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
“That’s good.” Mr. Meade bent over to lace up his work boots. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. That confounded answering machine of yours ain’t no good. I don’t think it’s taking my messages.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have to get a new one, I think.”
“I think half of the new-fangled machines they’ve come up with are no good, anyway.” Mr. Meade stood and looked at his son. “Looks like you’ve been doing good.”
“Thanks, Dad.”
“Let’s sit in the living room.” He headed for the door. “The TV room is a mess.” Going through the door, he stopped short when he saw Jill and smiled, revealing yellowed teeth with gaps between them. “Why, ain’t you a pretty little thing?”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Meade.” Jill returned his smile and extended her hand.
“She’s got a good grip on her.” As he shook her hand, he turned to look at Bob. “I always liked a woman with a strong handshake.”
“This is Jill Smith,” he said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of each other lately.”
“Now you settle down next to me, you hear?” Mr. Meade sat on the sofa and patted the cushion. Dust rose and little by little settled back down. “Where did my boy find you?”
“Bob’s been very helpful to my family,” she said, ignoring the dust and sitting. “As you may have seen on the news, my grandfather may be deported.”
“Never watch it.” He waved his hand. “Never knew why the boy wanted to go into that business.” He looked at Bob. “But he’s done good at it, I’m told. Neighbors say they see him on TV every night.”
“Yes, he’s very good at his job.”
“I just watch sports myself,” Mr. Meade said. “Football, baseball. Of course, wrestling’s my favorite but it only comes on once a week.”
“Jill wanted to meet you.” Bob sat in a faded flower-patterned arm chair.
“And I’m glad you did.” Mr. Meade winked at her. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes, I’d love some.”
“Would you mind making it?” Glancing at Bob and then back at Jill, Mr. Meade cleared his throat.
“Dad, I don’t think…”
“It’s instant in a jar. My percolator broke, and a new one just cost so much I switched to the powered stuff.”
“I think I can handle that.” Jill smiled as she stood.
“It’s through that door,” he said, pointing.
After Jill left, Mr. Meade focused his attention on his son. He scratched his chin. Bob recognized it as the gesture Milborn Stone used when he played Doc on “Gunsmoke.” To be so proud of not watching television, Mr. Meade religiously watched reruns of old shows and subconsciously picked up on mannerisms of his favorite characters, Bob noticed through the years. Milborn Stone’s scratch and Walter Brennan’s limp from “The Real McCoys” became part of his personality tic, especially when he was nervous.
“That’s a nice young lady you have there.”
“Thanks, Dad.”
“Try to hang on to her. Good ones are hard to find.”
“I know.”
Mr. Meade looked down and did his Milborn Stone scratch on the cheek once more.
“I’ve been doing some thinking the last few months about a lot of things. You know, I don’t have much longer to live.”
“Your doctor said something?” Bob furrowed his brow.
“Oh, no. I’m strong as a horse. Always have been. But I was down at the senior citizens center a few months ago for my free hot lunch—you know that’s a good thing government does, those free lunches for us old folks. Now some of that other stuff government sticks its nose into…”
“What happened at lunch, Dad?”
“Oh. Yeah. Anyway, Frank Manchester dropped dead, right there before dessert. You remember Frank, don’t you? He used to work at the warehouse with me.”
“I think so.”
“Anyway, it turns out he’s two years younger than me and didn’t have a thing wrong with him, or so folks thought. And he just fell over dead like that.”
“When it comes your time…”
“Well, that’s the way I feel about it, and I don’t worry about the dying at all.” He paused to look at Bob with sincerity. “It’s the living I got to do before I drop dead that’s got me to thinking.”
Bob never heard his father have a discussion like this before. On previous visits Mr. Meade asked how his job was going. When Bob said fine, he said good, because he could not afford to take his son back in. Then they talked about University of Tennessee’s latest football game, or baseball game, depending on which season it was. Mr. Meade brought him up to date who died and reminded him of what part they played in his childhood. Mr. Meade concluded with the weather. All of this took perhaps an hour. After an embarrassingly silent fifteen minutes, Bob found an excuse to leave.
“There ain’t nothing wrong with your answering machine, is there?” he asked quietly.
Bob was speechless. He only shook his head.
“I can’t blame you much. I wasn’t a very good daddy. My daddy wasn’t very good, and I thought that was what you was supposed to do.”
“Dad, you don’t have to say this.”
“I did the best I knew how. But now I know that wasn’t near good enough.”
His old brown eyes searched for forgiveness from Bob, and in that moment Bob thought he saw straight through to his father’s soul.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Bob said, choosing his words with care. “We all do the best we can with what we got and go on from there.”
“If I could do it over again…”
“Dad, the machine’s going to work a lot better from now on, promise.”
Jill came from Mr. Meade’s kitchen with a rusty old tin tray on which sat three chipped cups filled with coffee.
“Now there’s that pretty girl with coffee.”
Putting the rusty tray on a dust covered coffee table, Jill handed cups to Bob and his father. More than a few minutes were spent discussing with relish the consistency of instant coffee’s quality compared to that of fresh brewed, and how coffee brought out finer memories of life.
“Now I got to fix you kids some lunch.” Slurping the last of his coffee he put his cup down with flair.
“How nice of you,” Jill said.
Bob shook his head and rubbed his stomach.
“On the other hand, we don’t want to put you out.”
“Yeah, Dad, why don’t we treat you by going to Miss Adair’s Diner downtown?”
“If that’s what you want,” he said, standing and heading toward his bedroom. “Let me change clothes first.” He turned and looked at them with genuineness. “But you’re visiting me. I’ll pay.”
“That’s all right, Dad…”
“I got my Social Security check in yesterday’s mail,” he said. “I can pay.”
“Is Miss Adair’s okay?”
“If you ignore the cockroaches crawling in the corner.”
After lunch, they returned to Bob’s old home and sat in the living room talking about latest baseball game scores and how the Atlanta Braves had a good chance of winning a pennant again, about who died last week and if Bob remembered them, and, in conclusion, the quality of East Tennessee’s summer with its lack of rain and how that would affect tomato crops.
“There’s nothing better than a fresh cut sliced tomato from the garden,” Mr. Meade said with a sigh. “Why, I could make a meal out of them, along with those Vidalia onions from Georgia. Nothing’s better than a Vidalia onion.”
And then something out of the ordinary came to pass. There was no awkward moment of silence followed by forced excuses to leave. First Mr. Meade asked Jill about her family and a discussion of the hearing ensued with Mr. Meade being sympathetic. Jill mentioned her relatives would be flying back to Germany after the judge announced his decision.
“That’s something you’ve never done, is it, Dad?”
“What’s that?”
“Fly,” Bob said.
“Why, of course, I have.” He stretched back on the sofa and described a time in the twenties when a fellow with an old biplane came through town and offered rides for five dollars each. He was the only one in town to take the man up on his deal. Bob was taken aback not so much by the fact his father actually flew but that he would separate from five dollars to do it.
“Of course, that was when I was young and didn’t know any better.”
One story after another seemed to flow, from his teen-aged years when he hit a home run for the high school team, winning the big championship, to encountering Al Capone when he motored from Chicago to Miami and stopped off at Clinton to have a flat tire fixed. Those were anecdotes that Bob had never heard before. When he at last glanced at his watch it was five o’clock.
“It’s almost supper time. I guess Jill and I ought to get back to Knoxville.”
“Yep, you don’t want to be on the road when those drunks get out,” Mr. Meade said, standing and heading for his front door.
“Thank you again for lunch, Mr. Meade,” Jill said.
“Any time.” He patted Bob on the back. “You be sure to bring this cute little girl with you next time you come to visit.”
“I’ll do that, Dad.” He became aware of his father’s hand lingering on his shoulders, giving it a soft, gentle massage. Never before had he ever shown any kind of physical affection to Bob, who fought an inclination to tear up.
“That’s good.”
As they drove away, Bob looked back to see his father finish waving, scratch his cheek and limp a little as he went back into his house. Without thinking about it much, he started humming.
“What’s that tune? I don’t recognize it.”
“Grandpappy Amos and the girls and boys of the family known as the real McCoys.”
Sunday morning Bob and Jill drove to Gatlinburg where they had an unhurried breakfast at a pancake house on the main street. Few tourists were out yet, and traffic was sparse. Jill took her last bite and looked at Bob who was staring out the window at a candy kitchen next door where, even on a Sunday, workers were pouring taffy.
“That was a nice visit with your father yesterday,” she said.
“Not like any other I’ve ever had.” He looked at her and felt himself on the verge of tears again at the memory of his father’s hand on his shoulders. Bob put on his television smile. “Which trail do you want to tackle?”
“Nothing too strenuous.”
“How about Grotto Falls?”
“I haven’t been there in years.” Her face brightened.
Bob drove past an enormous Holiday Inn on the right and a tall cylindrical hotel on the left which overlooked Gatlinburg and entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They slowed down for a group of backpackers and stopped a few moments to investigate old Ogle farm, abandoned early in the century. Up the road they parked and began their walk. Bob took Jill’s hand, and she leaned into his side as they made their way along the gently sloping trail spotted with bumpy exposed tree roots.
“Think we’ll see any rhododendron in bloom?”
“Not at this elevation,” he replied. “You have to go higher to see rhododendron this time of year.”
“Thank you again for all the help you’ve been with the hearing and all.” As they walked beside noise Roaring Fork Creek, she squeezed his hand. “Life would be hard for me to tolerate without you.”
“I was glad to be there. But I didn’t do anything your parents couldn’t have done for you.”
“Mom was working too hard trying to stay away from alcohol.” Jill shook her head. “Dad seemed to be in a daze.”
“I just wanted to be with you, whether we were in a court room or in a movie theater or walking along a path that’s killing my feet.”
Jill laughed.
“These stumpy roots are digging into my heels like crazy,” Bob said.
They heard the falls before they saw them. As they turned a final corner they spotted Grotto Falls, not known for being particularly high or having great volumes of water cascade over its boulders, but for its small cave directly behind, where falling water sprayed hikers.
“It’s nice coming here on Sunday morning,” she said. “We don’t have to share it with anyone.”
As they stepped with caution on wet stones to reach the grotto, Bob spoke, choosing his words with care.
“We’ve spent more time with your family, going to the airport, dropping people off here and there, meeting with lawyers, sitting through court than doing things most people in love are supposed to do.”
Jill looked at him and smiled when he mentioned the word love. At last they stood behind the falls and looked through a prism of falling water at boulders, trees and bushes before them.
“It’s not really working for me, though.”
“Oh?” She stiffened a bit.
“I think we should get married,” Bob said. “That way we can be around each other without lawyers or relatives.”
“Oh.” Jill stuck her hand out to feel the falls’ cold water.
“I love the Smoky Mountains.”
Bob appeared apprehensive.
“And I love you.” She hugged him. “I think a late September wedding. On Clingman’s Dome where we can have a good view of fall colors. What do you think?”
He answered with a long, moist kiss. Parting, Bob and Jill jumped a little as they noticed an elderly couple standing just outside of Grotto Falls watching them. The white-haired gentleman put his arm around his wife and smiled.
“It’s good when you’re old too.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Nineteen

As Booth rode down the dusty lane toward Bowling Green, his mind blazed with thoughts about the short, stocky officer who just saved his life, the very same man who had been part of his conspiracy to assassinate the president, vice-president and two cabinet officers. Why had the man not kept his promise to kill Stanton? And who was the body he dragged into the barn? The light was so dim Booth was not able to make to see much, but his curiosity was aflame.
Night’s silence broke when he approached the main street of Bowling Green, illuminated by scores of torches. A throng of Union soldiers gathered in front of the hotel. On the porch stood a middle-aged couple and a teen-aged girl.
“Who goes there!” a voice called out.
Without a hesitation, he replied in a New England accent, “One of Father Abraham’s loyal sons.” Booth prided himself on his ability to mimic every dialect used on the Eastern Seaboard, a useful talent for an actor.
A federal officer strode into the middle of the road, raising his lantern. Booth slowed his horse to a trot and then to a halt, leaned down into the officer’s light and offered a snappy salute.
“Who are you, son?” the officer asked, his tone becoming softer.
“I’m with the unit that was after the assassin, sir,” he lied.
“So you’re one of Lt. Baker’s men?”
“Yes, sir, that’s right.”
Tossing a glance toward the hotel porch, the officer lowered his voice to inform Booth, “The owners of this here hotel say they don’t know where Baker’s group went. They say Baker roused them out of a good sleep about 11 p.m. and forced them to tell where a Willie Jett was.”
“Willie Jett?” Booth blurted out the name of the boy who had deposited them at Garrett’s farm two days earlier. Biting his lip, he shook his head. “Never heard of a Willie Jett before.”
“Well, he’s the one who knew where the assassin was.”
“I knew Lt. Baker and the others came out of the hotel with this lad but I never did catch his name. So his name is Willie Jett.” In his mind, Booth cursed Jett for betraying him, vowing to take his revenge against the double-dealing informant one day.
“So did you men capture Booth and Herold?”
“We got Herold in custody, but one of the fellows shot Booth in the back of the neck.”
“Is he dead?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Are you sure?”
“He’s dead, all right. I’ve seen enough of them to know what a corpse looks like.”
“Damn! Now why the hell did the fool do that?”
“I suppose he was following orders,” Booth replied.
“Orders were to bring both of them in for trial. Didn’t Baker tell you that?”
“No, sir. All I was told we were out after the assassins.”
The thought dawned on Booth that this man truly believed he was a Union soldier. His hand went up to scratch the thick stubble on his face as he realized as long as he was dressed like a soldier, talked like a soldier and looked like a disheveled soldier that the world would quickly accept the fact he was a soldier. He tried to hide a sly grin, thinking he must be a better actor than his father and brothers thought him to be. Yawning, he nodded toward the hotel.
“I ain’t got no sleep in a long time. You figure they got an empty bed?”
The officer glared at him. “You mean you deserted your post just to get some shut-eye?”
“No, sir. Lt. Baker send two of us out as couriers. My buddy went off to Washington, and I’m on the way to Richmond to inform the general there to call off the manhunt.” The lies flowed from years of acting experience. “I just thought I could wait until morning.”
“Absolutely not!” the officer barked. “You get on your way now! Only after you’ve reported do you request leave. And you may not get it even then!” He narrowed his eyes. “What is your name, private?”
“Adam Christy, sir.”
“Hmph, on your way, Private Christy. And take care not to neglect your duties again, or you will be written up!”
Booth gave another snappy salute and rode south on the road to Richmond, pleased his escape had been ordered by one of the despicable, pin-headed damn Yankee officers. Hah. As the night air chilled his face, he mulled why Christy’s name came to him so easily. Then he realized the identity of the corpse, which was dragged into the barn to be his body substitute. It was Adam Christy, the young man who only two weeks ago had been his ally in the assassination conspiracy. Who had killed him?
Only one answer came to Booth’s mind—the short stocky man who dragged the body into the barn. This evil man must die, Booth resolved. And if he chose to kill the private instead of Secretary of War Stanton, then Stanton must be in on this terrible plot. Not only a part of the plot but also most certainly the ringleader. Booth felt the back of his neck burn with resentment that his pure patriotic motives to assassinate a despot had been twisted into a diabolical attempt to stage a coup. As the western sky began to glow with morning’s light, his head began to droop and his eyes involuntarily closed in sleep. Realizing he was about to succumb to slumber Booth stopped his horse and led it into a secluded clearing off the road. There he tied up his mount and collapsed onto the ground and surrendered to sleep. Even the throbbing pain in his leg could not deter fatigue from overwhelming him
In his dreams, he again was on the stage. This time Booth was alone. Each time he turned to speak to another actor, that person faded into the darkness and refused to say his line. The unseen audience grumbled and shifted uneasily in their seats. Booth limped off the stage, but an elderly stage manager whispered in his ear, “Now is the time for you to play all the parts. No one else can complete this passion play but you.”
When he awoke, Booth felt his leg and sighed in relief when he noticed the pain was easing. No heat emanated from the injured area, which meant infection had not set in. Even though he sensed healing was underway, Booth knew he needed a doctor to examine it again, but what doctor in Richmond would tend to a wounded Yankee soldier? Even though the uniform had saved his life last night, it could spell his doom today. Looking around, he noticed the sun was leaning toward the west once more. In the cover of the oncoming darkness he would make his way through the familiar streets of Richmond to find a safe harbor.
A few hours later, after twilight, Booth rode into town, shocked by the devastation inflicted by the damned Yankee soldiers. Wondering if anyone were left alive, a familiar building caught his eye—the Marshall Theater where he had performed many times to thunderous applause. Riding his horse to the stage door in a dimly lit alley, Booth looked to see if any of the staff were still there. He pulled his mount up abruptly as he saw a giant hole in the side of the building, inflicted by Union cannon fire. Peering through the hole, he saw no one was inside. Who would be desperate enough to stay in a bombed-out theater? He would, Booth told himself.
Tying up his horse, Booth limped inside the door and felt his way around the wall to the men’s dressing room. Inside the dark room, he walked toward the make-up table. On the corner of it, he found an oil lamp. Next to it, his fingers fumbled over a box of matches. Taking one, he lit the lamp and smiled as he looked about the room, still filled with costumes, props and wigs. In the corner, Booth saw an abandoned actor’s trunk. As he opened it, he smiled again because in it were white face powder, India ink, several jars of pigment base powders, spirit gum and wool crepe, all the tools he needed to disguise himself as he walked among the common people once again.
Going to the clothes rack, he found several military suits, which would prove useful at some point and came across clothes for the common working man and a gentleman of leisure. To the side was a hat tree with several kinds of headwear including wigs, brown hair, gray hair, and even red hair. He took the red-haired wig and fondled it, thinking of the Union private he had so easily impersonated the previous night. Booth decided it might be useful to him to become Adam Christy again sometime in the future.
Taking the lamp with him, he ventured out of the men’s dressing room to the ladies’ next door. He would need all the makeup he could find to carry on his mission of—what? He paused to consider—his mission of survival, most certainly, but above all revenge. However, survival was his first goal. If he did not survive the next few weeks, then revenge did not matter.
Looking around the room he spotted a chaise lounge covered by an old quilt, better sleeping accommodations than he had been offered in the last two weeks. The next morning, Booth awoke with an unexpected freshness and excitement about how he would proceed. His leg ached less, but he knew he had to find another doctor to examine it to make sure it was healing properly. Feeling his uniform, Booth realized he had to change clothes immediately. A Union soldier would not be welcomed into Confederate homes, to be fed and pampered. While the three hundred dollars the dark short man gave him was a generous amount, he knew it would not last long if he spent it on biscuits and eggs.
Back in the men’s dressing room, Booth pawed through the rack with the military costumes. He considered making himself into a colonel but shook his head as he put it back. If he wanted to arouse sympathy from the lonely women in the city, he had to become a frightened wounded private who only longed to be in the loving arms of his mother. Booth hid the wallet filled with cash in the bottom of the makeup trunk. As he hobbled out on his crutch into the street, he became aware of his growling stomach. In front of the theater, he looked up the dusty road toward downtown Richmond that was nothing more than heaps of rumble and singular walls, quavering in the wind. His head turned to the opposite direction, which lead out of town where still stood wooden homes, neglected but still inhabited.
Walking in that direction Booth observed the residents as they left their front doors open to catch the refreshingly cool air and piddled around their yards. Older men with thinning gray hair sat on their steps sipping from liquor bottles. He had better avoid them, Booth decided. He also ruled out the homes where running, screaming children filled the yards. They would be too much of a distraction for the housewives if he were to draw their sympathies. Then he saw young women hanging clothes on the line. No, they could prove too much temptation for romance, and where would he find himself if the man of the house returned to discover a man in his wife’s embrace?
Finally, he smiled when he saw an older woman, approximately the age of his mother, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, one hand to her cheek as she stared into nothingness. Booth had found his prey. He limped a few more feet until he was directly in her line of vision before swooning and falling to the ground. His eyes closed, Booth could hear the old woman gasp, walk down the wooden steps and rustling her crinolines as she rushed to him.
“My dear boy, what have those damn Yankees done to you?” She sat on the dirt road and gently lifted his head to her lap.
Booth’s eyes fluttered open. “Mother?” he asked weakly in an accent associated with the Tidewater region of Virginia. A small moan slipped from his lips before he closed his eyes again.
“Dear Lord, this is just terrible!” Carefully moving his head back to the ground, she whispered, “I’ll be right back with a nice cup of well water.”
A few minutes later Booth was feigning resuscitation as he sipped from the cup. “Please forgive me for passing out like I did. It’s been a long walk from Appomattox Courthouse. Forgive me for calling you Mother.” He took another sip. “I should have known better. Mother died of small pox right before the battle of Gettysburg.”
“You poor, poor boy,” she said, holding his head close to her small bosom. “Don’t you have nobody waitin’ for you back home?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. I ain’t got no letters since Mother died. Of course, Father wasn’t much for words on paper. But he was mighty puny looking when I marched off to war in ’61.” He paused to cough. “If you wouldn’t mind helpin’ me to my feet, I think I feel strong enough to fetch my horse. I left it tied up at that old bombed out theater down the road.”
“You will do no such thing!” She lifted him with a grunt, put his arm around her thin shoulder and began shuffling toward her porch. “You’re in no condition to be ridin’! You need a good meal, a bath, a clean bed and a good doctor to tend to that broken leg of yours.”
“I can’t take advantage of your hospitality, Miz—what is your name?”
“Jenkins, Mary Beth Jenkins. And you are not takin’ advantage of me. What kind of Confederate widda would I be to turn away one of our brave young men?”
“Mighty obliged, Miz Jenkins. My name is Adam Christy, from Port Royal.”
Shaking her head she replied, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Port Royal. Never you mind. Now take it easy with the steps.”
“But my horse, I can’t leave it tied up like that.”
“Don’t fret about the horse. I’ll go get it.”
Mrs. Jenkins was good to her word. She took his horse to a livery stable where she paid for it to be fed and cared for. Booth ate heartily during the coming days as his leg continued to heal. He told her how he broke it in a final, desperate defense against the marauding Union soldiers. She related him how both her husband and son died at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. Mrs. Jenkins allowed him to soak in her copper tub as long as he wished while she fetched Dr. Lawrence who examined him as he sat swathed in soft fuzzy towels.
“Whoever set your leg did a mighty fine job,” Dr. Lawrence mumbled. “You need to stay off it for a good piece of time, and, Mary Beth, keep the bandages clean. I’ll be back in a couple of days to check in on the boy.”
After the doctor left, Mrs. Jenkins helped him into bed. “Now don’t you worry a bit, Adam,” she said. “Adam, a good Bible name. Is there anything you got a cravin’ for?”
“Whatever you have in the house will be all right with me. I know the damn Yankees must have cleaned out your larder.”
She smiled. “We all pull together, and somehow find enough.”
“I would like to see a newspaper, to keep up with what is going on,” Booth added hesitantly. “What am I talkin’ about. I suspect all the papers in Richmond were burn out.”
“Oh no. The damned Yankees didn’t destroy all of them, praise the Lord.”
“Well, if it ain’t too much of an inconvenience….”
“Not another word,” she interrupted him with a smile. “The newsstand is just down the street, and I can be back in an instant.” Mrs. Jenkins paused and leaned in to whisper, “I suppose you heard about what happened to that devil Lincoln.”
Booth’s eyes widened in innocence. “There was talk on the road, but I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.”
“Oh, it’s true all right. They killed the old heathen.” She put her finger to her lips. “It’s not safe to say too much around here. The damn Yankees have spies everywhere.”
Over the next couple of weeks Booth laid back to relax and heal his battered body. He hungrily read each newspaper Mrs. Jenkins brought to him.
Mrs. Surratt had been arrested. Booth fumed over the injustice of a woman languishing in prison. He felt no compassion for Herold, Atzerodt and Paine. They were all stupid and deserved what they got. On the other hand, he did feel a minor dissipating remorse for Dr. Mudd and his former childhood friends Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold, who had also been caught in the dragnet looking for conspirators.
He followed with interest stories about Lincoln’s funeral train which was to retrace his route when he came to Washington City four years ago for his inauguration—Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, and many to come. The trial of the conspirators would be held and executions carried out before the traitor was buried in Illinois. One day Booth sat up in his bed as he read a story about Louis Weichmann being called to testify. To testify! That was another travesty! Booth fumed. Why was he not charged along with all the others?
More questions crowded into his mind. Exactly how did Adam Christy and the short stocky man figure into all this? And why was Edwin Stanton still alive, still making decisions about who will live and die?
The trial would begin the middle of May in the Old Capitol Prison. He reached down and felt his leg. No more pain. He tried walking around the room on it and found he could maneuver quite well, at least for short periods of time. When he decided to move on, to make his way to Washington City to observe the trial first hand, he would need a wagon.
“Miz Jenkins, I appreciate all that you have done for me, but I must be on my way to Port Royal,” Booth lied using his full skills as an actor, relaying his feigned humility and desperation. “I have to find out if Father is still alive.”
“You are in no condition to ride,” she insisted.
“Maybe if I had a wagon….” His voice trailed off.
“I have a wagon in the back. My husband used it in his work. He delivered goods from the mercantile store he ran. He ain’t got no use for it now, bless his soul.”
Early the next morning, Booth hitched his horse to the wagon and gave Mrs. Jenkins a hug, thanking her for all the kindness. Before leaving Richmond, however, he went by the bombed out theater and loaded the actor’s trunk which held his purse of three hundred dollars and threw in the many costumes and props he would need for the coming months. Booth had blood to avenge.

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Eight

Dracula deftly slid between Mina and the door, closed it and guided her back to the sofa. “Let us leave them alone to their own divertissements.”
Mina seemed adrift in her own thoughts. “If Jonathan had such an interest in acrobatics, I wonder why he went into law instead of the circus?”
The count gently placed Mina on the sofa. As the dust rose and settled back down, Dracula leaned into Mina seductively. “Let’s forget about Mr. Harker.”
“I could never forget Jonathan. He’s my betrothed.”
Dracula took her into his arms and kissed her passionately.
“On the other hand,” she said breathlessly as they separated, “he does seem to be fooling around with your three wives.”
“Exactly. Forget him.” The count kissed her again, longer, harder, deeper.
“The way you kiss. It leaves me gasping for air.”
“And sometimes more than that.” He leaned in for another kiss.
“You know, you’re a terribly attractive man.”
He smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Miss Seward.”
“So aristocratic.”
“Yes, I’ve been told.” Dracula ran his slender pale fingers through his hair.
“If only you could get out in the sun and get a tan. You’d look so much better.”
Abruptly the count stood and stalked away, looking a bit sick at the thought of exposure to the sun’s rays. “No, I don’t think you’d like the way I’d look after being out in the sun.”
“Nonsense!” Mina chirped. “Jonathan looks wonderful. He tans as brown as a berry.”
Desperate to change the subject, Dracula asked, “Would you care to see the rest of my humble home?”
“Thank you, count.” Mina beamed as she stood. “I’d love to.”
He offered his arm, and Mina accepted it as they walked to the staircase. “Perhaps, if it pleases you, you’d consider extending your visit.” A dangerous glint entered his eyes.
“I’d hate to seem rude, but I’d stay only if you allowed me to give your castle a good cleaning.”
Dracula allowed Mina to walk up the steps in front of him, successfully hiding his hand behind him with his fingers crossed. “Of course, anything you say.”
“Oh goody.” Mina clapped her hands. “We can scrub down the walls and floors.” Mina looked down and spied little mounds of dried grayish brown material on the banister. “Just exactly how did this dirt here get in these little clumps?”
“Well,” Dracula replied with great difficulty, “it’s not dirt, Miss Seward.”
Mina bent over to touch it. “What is it?”
The count quickly grabbed her hand to pull her away. “Don’t touch that.”
“Because it’s…well…”he fumbled around for the right word. “It’s…guano.”
“Guano? What’s guano?”
“Um, guano is bat…” Dracula whispered the last word in her ear.
“Ooh, poopy caca.”
If Dracula could blush, he would be definitely blushing at his moment. “How embarrassing,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be,” Mina twittered. “Let’s see, we were talking about sprucing this place up. We can paint and put up wallpaper. I just love prints of little yellow daisies.”
“Of course,” Dracula replied in an insincere tone which Mina should have noticed if she had not been so wrapped up in herself. “And I know just the room where they would look best.”
“Really?” She batted her empty eyes. “Where?”
They reached the landing of the second floor. He extended his arm invitingly down the hall. “Come this way.”
Passing an open door, Mina looked in to see Van Helsing collapsed on top of her trunk in pure exhaustion. “Oh dear,” she said. “Dr. Van Helsing looks just dead.”
“If only he were,” Dracula mumbled.
“Never mind.” The count reached the door at the end of the hall and opened the door. “This way to the room I was telling you about.”
“Oh yes. The little yellow daisies.” She looked inside. “Why, Count Dracula, it’s a bedroom.”
“So it is,” he replied as he guided her into the room and closed the door with more of an impact than he intended.
The slam awoke Van Helsing who emitted a loud moan and stood. “I feel terrible. If it weren’t for my rugged German constitution I’d fall over.” He fell over. Groaning, he struggled to his feet. “Where is everyone? I hate talking to myself. Oh well, better make the best of it. I’ll check downstairs.” He began to go down the downs but stopped as he remembered something. “Ah, but not without my valise.”
He returned to the bedroom to retrieve the valise and then descended the steps. As he reached the bottom step, Salacia ran through the game room doors, waving Jonathan’s trousers over her head and giggling. When she saw Van Helsing she hid the trousers behind her back.”
“And what are you trying to hide?” the professor asked.
Salacia hissed like a cat.
Van Helsing cupped an ear and leaned forward. “Pardon. I didn’t catch that.”
“None of your businesses.”
“It most certainly is my business, you brazen hussy.”
“My name is Ssssalacia.”
“Whatever.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “What is behind your back?”
“They’re mine!”
Van Helsing jumped from side to side trying to see behind Salacia’s back, but she jumped around with more athletic skill than the old man. However, the professor feinted to the right but actually went left to see what she was withholding.
“Aha! Just as I thought! Mr. Harker’s trousers!”
“He gave them to me!”
Salacia hissed again like a cat and leapt toward Van Helsing who quickly opened his valise and pulled out a crucifix. Salacia hissed and cringed as she crept up the stairs. “Get away!”
“I have something else in my valise you’ll just love to see.” He rummaged through his bag. “Hmm, where is it?”
Dracula and Mina left the bedroom and he conducted her across the hallway. He waved his hand across the open expanse of the entry hall. “All this can be yours, Miss Seward. Your slightest whim would be carried out as law. For I am prince here.”
“Prince?” Mina was confused again. “I thought you were a count?”
“Count on it,” he shot back. “I’m a prince.”
At that moment the game room doors flung open. Susie Belle and Claustrophobia pulled Jonathan out.
“Come on, Jonny,” Susie Belle encouraged him.
“Yesss,” Claustrophobia hissed. “We want you with us.”
“No, no,” he resisted. “I’m already spoken for.”
“We don’t care,” Susie Belle cooed. “We want you.”
“You’re sssooo handsssome,” Claustrophobia crooned. “We can’t resist you.”
“Please try,” he begged.
Van Helsing continued to delve into his valise. “Now where did I put that thing?”
Salacia tried to sneak passed him, but he professor stuck his crucifix in her face, causing her to freeze in fear.
“Stay put, bimbo.”
“That’s Sssalacia.”
Dracula leaned into Mina. “Become my bride, Miss Seward.”
“That doesn’t seem quite proper.” Her Calvinist values clicked in. “You have three wives already.”
“Let Transylvania engulf you.” He stared intensely into Mina’s eyes. “Let me engulf you.” Dracula brought his cape up and around Mina.
“You can’t get away, Jonny.” Susie Belle pushed him to the floor.
“We have you now.” Claustrophobia sat on his chest as Susie Belle Lowered herself around his head. He was completely enshrouded.
Van Helsing pulled a stake from his valise and held it high. “Found it!”
Salacia sank down, hissing. The professor faced her straight on and plunged the stake into her heart.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twelve

Davy’s experience on the Baltimore docks was exhilarating, each cart’s wares more fascinating, each individual more provocative, and each present from Captain Stasney more extravagant. As they walked up the gangplank in the late afternoon Stasney pointed to each cluster of deckhands, busy working on the Jezebel, and explained what each was doing.
“See that fellow on the rope ladder above us? He’s an able seaman. He’s in charge of riggin’.” Waving higher to another fellow on the mast he added, “And he’s foretop man.” He pointed up. “See that? They’re bare foot. Know why?”
“If they wore shoes they’d slip and fall and break their necks.”
“That’s a long ways up there.”
“Scared of heights?”
“No,” Davy replied, lying a bit. “I clumb trees taller than that back home.”
“That’s good.” Stasney slapped him on the back. “Can’t have nobody yellow on board.” He pointed again. “That man at the helm. He’s second in command.” He looked at Davy and smiled. “Do well and someday you’ll be first mate.”
A smile broke out on his face; no one had ever talked about his future like that. His father made him believe he had no future. Stasney promised a better life including trips to foreign lands with new vistas and intriguing people.
“Those clothes won’t work,” he said, appraising Davy’s shirt and trousers. “Too nice. Below we got the slop chest. You can get work clothes there.”
Davy watched as supplies arrived, and the steward took them below. He at once volunteered to carry the produce, and the steward thanked him. Within a few minutes Davy informed him he hailed from the Appalachian Mountains and was a skilled hunter and teamster. After the sun set, the crew left he schooner for one last night on the town. Stasney took Davy to the same tavern. Davy enjoyed the food, deep-battered fried flanks of fish, more oysters, slivered cabbage in a spicy sauce and large pones of cornbread.
“Tell ‘em some stories, boy,” Stasney said with a hearty laugh. “You like to tell stories.”
“Anything you want, sir.” He paused to clear his throat. “Last spring I was a part of a wagon team goin’ from Tennessee to Front Royal…” And Davy was off, with just only a hesitation, the words flowing like clear mountain water cascading over rocks in a stream. With each roar of laughter the bear became larger and the fear of the men around the campfire more palpable.
Through the evening Stasney slipped tankards of ale in from of Davy and nudged him to drink. At first he ignored it. When the captain kept scooting them closer to him he finally took a sip and made a face. A few swallows later, he found it not so bad and seemed to make his stories better.
Hours later the tavern closed, and all the customers went their separate ways, including Davy, the captain and the crew who headed back to the Jezebel. After they mounted the gangplank Davy moved toward the rowboat under which he had slept last night. The captain grabbed his shoulder.
“No need in that,” he said. “You’re my cabin boy now.”
Below deck Stasney led Davy to his quarters. Coming out the door was a dark-haired man with dull eyes.
“Lamps are lit, sir,” he said.
“Thank you, Parsons,” the captain replied. He looked at Davy. “That’s his job, to take care of all the lamps on board.” He guided the boy into the room and carefully shut the door. “Everyone has their jobs and they do ‘em without complaint. You understand that, don’t you, Davy?”
“Yes, sir.” He smiled with innocence while looking around the small room and wondering where he would sleep.
“Very good.” The captain unbuttoned the top of his shirt and sat on his bed. “You won’t regret it. I’ll teach you ciphers and letters. Before long you’ll be able to read whole books.” He reached over to pull something from behind his pillow. “Like this. Sit next to me and look at this.”
Davy plopped on the bed, his head still a little light from the ale. He noticed Stasney scooted closer as he opened the book.
“This is a brand new book, but the book itself is centuries old. Going back to Aristotle. Know who Aristotle was?”
Davy shook his head as Stasney flipped through the pages in reverence as though it were the Bible. “I’ll teach you to read from this book.” He paused. “Look at the pictures.”
Looking over Davy saw woodcuts of exposed men and women, and his mouth opened. Stasney turned a page. Davy’s eyes widened in nervousness as he slowly comprehended what he saw, a naked man lying on top of a naked woman, her legs wrapped around his waist.
“What do you think ‘bout that?”
“I don’t know.” He had never thought about such things before. He, his brothers and sisters knew to stay still and silent when their parents rustled the feather mattress late at night. From his gut he knew this was a subject best not discussed. “I want to sleep on deck.”
“No.” Stasney put the book down and put his arm around Davy’s shoulders. “You’re sleeping here.”
“I don’t want to.” His stomach tightened. His mind raced to figure out how to escape, but fear overcame his senses.
“What did you think? I was givin’ you things just to be nice? What did you think a cabin boy did?”
“I want to go.” Davy could not keep his tears from rolling down his checks.
“Sure, cry like a baby,” the captain whispered into his ear.
“Please let me go.”
“You think it’s that easy?” Stasney pulled out his knife and stuck it to Davy’s throat, causing him to stiffen and gasp. “You’re mine. Think ma and pa are goin’ to bust through that door?”
“No, please.”
“Do you understand I could slit your throat from ear to ear and throw you out on the dock? Tomorrow the Jezebel disappears over the horizon. Nobody knows this boy awallowin’ in his own blood. Nobody’ll care. They’ll throw your sorry carcass in the harbor along with the rest of the garbage.”
“No, no.” That was all Davy could think to say.
Stasney removed the knife from Davy’s throat and licked both sides of the blade, emitting guttural sounds. Seeing his opportunity for escape, Davy snatched the knife and jerked down, slicing Stasney’ tongue. As the captain howled in pain, Davy hurdled from the bed, bolted through the door, scampered up to the deck, passed mates sleeping in their bed rolls and stumbled down the gangplank. Running as fast as he could through the dark Baltimore streets he heard behind him the captain’s stomping and shouts of unintelligible obscenities.


James Patton had been a good man. David was acquainted with him when they served in the United States army during the Indian war. Patton was large and not on the whole striking in appearance. Most of the time he hardly spoke above a whisper. He tended to lag behind in the march from Fort Williams on the Coosa River, but was in the forefront in chopping tall thick trees in the Mississippi territory. He was the last to settle in at night, always making sure all duties were completed.
Tennessee volunteers sat around the campfire talking about how the Upper Creek Indians, whom they called Red Sticks, massacred everyone at Fort Mims in eighteen-thirteen. They vowed to avenge the deaths. James Patton remained silent. Once in a while he would mutter how much he missed his wife Elizabeth and their children George and Margaret.
On the morning of March twenty-seven, eighteen fourteen, as the volunteers gathered their powder, rifles and knives, Patton looked up and nodded at David.
“You don’t believe all that talk, do you, Crockett? All that about all Injuns bein’ bad?”
“Why, no, I guess not.”
“I know what happened at Fort Mims was terrible, but not all Injuns did that. The Lower Creek and Cherokee are peaceable. I grew up around Cherokee. They’re good people.”
“Yep, they’re very good.”
“What I know is family,” Patton continued. “When it all comes down to it, it ain’t whether you’re white or Injun, it’s family that matters, don’t you think?”
David did not respond at once, reflecting on his own children and how easy it was for him to leave his wife and children to go hunting. He loved them, in his own detached way, but he did not know if he agreed family always came first.
“Of course,” he replied, giving into an easy lie. “Family’s important.”
A bugle blew, ending their conversation. They were on the path to the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River in Alabama. American militiamen and Lower Creek warriors attacked the Upper Creek encampment. David tried to stay close to Patton, feeling this was a man who had to survive to return to his family. Musket fire, smoke and oncoming hordes separated them. David worried that after two hours of hand-to-hand combat Patton’s energy would wane.
Cherokee waded across the Tallapoosa to attack Upper Creek from behind, turning the tide of the battle. Soon the last of the enemy dispersed, which allowed David to ask Tennesseans around him if they had seen James Patton. He stopped short when he saw the large man lying near the river bank, his shirt soaked in blood. David knelt, putting his head down to Patton’s quivering lips.
“Take my watch,” he whispered, fumbling with his pocket. After a moment he gave up searching and let his head fall back. “You git it later. And my knapsack back at the camp.” He grabbed David’s arm with the last of his strength. “And tell Elizabeth, tell her I did my best to git home.”
The Pattons did not live far from the Crocketts near Winchester, Tennessee, so on his way back after the Creek War David stopped at their farmstead. He did not find Elizabeth particularly attractive. She was much larger and less pleasing to the eye than his wife Polly. He did admire her fortitude when she heard her husband died in battle. She took the watch and knapsack, nodded and thanked him, holding her children close to her side.
Within weeks, however, David lost his wife Polly to influenza. His brother Joseph and his wife did the best they could with the children, but David was not impressed. Joseph had not changed all that much since childhood and lacked a serious interest in being helpful. David’s thoughts turned to the widow Patton as a new wife. She had a proven farm, eight hundred dollars in cash and the support of the extensive Patton family. Elizabeth was not only James Patton’s wife but also his cousin.
Riding his chestnut along the worn road into Gibson County, David grunted to himself. What he thought had been a smart marriage turned into a mixed blessing. Elizabeth was of good comfort, providing him with three more children, was generous with her private funds and was industrious and perceptive in running the farm. On the other hand, David lived under the shadow of benefiting from a wife’s fortune and in the shadow of a man even David judged to be too good, too kind, too gentle to live in this terrible world.
As he climbed a knoll he saw his family’s farm in the valley, divided by a meandering stream. The house itself was simple, split log packed with sod to keep out the wind. Smoke rose from an outside fire, perhaps from a pot of applesauce being stewed by Elizabeth. Unexpectedly a cream, orange, brown and white butterfly flitted by, grabbing David’s attention away from his family reunion.


Screaming, Dave scrambled from the bed, threw open the door to run down the hall. Vince, in baggy boxers and loose T-shirt, chased him into the living room, wrapping his arms around him.
“Puppy! Wake up!”
Dave stopped struggling, his eyes slowly focusing on his surroundings. “Oh. Yeah.” He slipped over to the sofa. “It was awful.”
“I didn’t know you still had those nightmares,” Vince said, turning on a lamp.
“I don’t. Sometimes.”
“It was Allan, wasn’t it?”
“That’s what you get for going to look at his corpse. That’d give anybody nightmares.”
“I can’t believe he’s dead.”
“I can’t believe he lived as long as he did.” Vince sat in his father’s broken lounger. After fidgeting a moment, he looked over at Dave. “You used to be real butterbutt.”
“Shut up.”
“I mean, you’re in real good shape now.” Vince stood. “You’re still sensitive as hell, though. He looked to the hall and then went to the kitchen. “You need something to calm you down.”
“I’m calm.”
Vince opened a cabinet, reached to a top shelf to retrieve a bottle of whiskey, took two glasses from the sink and washed them off. “A little of this’ll make you feel better.” He poured a jigger or so into each and took them to the sofa, offering one to Dave.
“Take it.”
Despite his better judgment, Dave took the glass, not wanting his brother to know he had developed a taste for liquor over the years, a taste not a craving, he noted to himself. He sipped it and grimaced. He liked a better grade of whiskey than Vince could afford.
“You know it really makes dad angry when you bring liquor in the house.”
“So why didn’t you bring your wife?” Vince sat in the chair again and gulped his drink.
“None of your business,” Dave replied.
“You’re ashamed of me and the old man.”
“No,” he spat back. Whiskey opened a dark cellar of anger in his gut.
“You’re ashamed of Allan.”
Is that right, Puppy?
Dave heard the familiar voice behind him which caused him to sip from the glass again.
“She don’t even know you had a crazy queer brother,” Vince said as an accusation.
“No.” That was all Dave could think to say.
You’re lying, Puppy. I could always tell when you’re lying. Oh, Puppy, I never thought you’d be ashamed of me.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Puppy, how could you hurt me like this?
“Where’s Wanda?” Dave looked with narrowed eyes at Vince.
“She took the kids to California.”
“Why isn’t Tiffany here?” Vince stared at him. “Come on, tell me.”
“I didn’t want her to know about Allan.” Dave decided to tell the unvarnished truth. Vince could not hurt him if he told the truth.
After all I did for you.
“So why did Wanda leave?”
“One of the boys fell one night and cut his head bad. I was too drunk to take him to the hospital.”
The jerk hit him.
“You hit him.”
“No. What kind of a father do you think I am?”
Just like our father. A jerk.
“If I did hit him, I don’t remember,” Vince mumbled, drinking from the glass.
“But Wanda knew,” Dave said.
“That broad. She’d say anything.” Vince stopped, pinching his lips together. “I don’t remember. To me, that’s the truth.” He stood to go back to the kitchen.
“Don’t drink anymore.” Dave put his empty glass on the floor and stood. “I got to tell you something.”
If he tries anything, I’ll bop him over the head with that bottle.
“Oh crap, what is it?”
“Dad wants to move into a nursing home.”
“Shoot, what’s wrong with that?”
“He wants me to be his legal guardian.”
Dave watched Vince’s face as he realized his father had passed him over to take care of him. First his eyes widened, and his mouth opened. Next his eyes glared, and his jaw jutted out in anger.
“It’s the money! You little jerk! You’re after pop’s money!”
“He has no money.”
“Pop’s a fool. You may have book learning but you ain’t got no common sense!”
Feeling his anger growing out of control, Dave walked to the hallway. Vince had told him he had no common sense many times during his drunken rants when Dave was a teen-ager. He did not want to hear it anymore.
“We’ll talk about this tomorrow when you’re not drunk.”
Vince grabbed his arm and swung him around. “We’ll talk about it now!”
Looking down at Vince’s hand, Dave said in a soft, firm voice, “Let go of me.”
Beat him up, Puppy. He’s shit.
“You’re a worthless piece of shit,” Vince said in a hiss.
He’s right, Puppy. You are a worthless piece of shit.
With a primal scream Dave knocked Vince down and pinned his shoulders to the floor with his knees, pummeling Vince’s face.
I’m shit. Mother was shit. That old son of a bitch in there is definitely shit.
“I am not shit!” Dave stopped his fist at Vince’s nose. This was how human shit acts, he told himself. He decided he was not going to act that way. He stood and stepped away, watching as Vince wiped blood from his mouth and sat up.
“You always wanted to do that.”
“Yes, I did.”

Cancer Chronicles Fifty-Two

I cannot emphasize enough that grief is a physical ailment. It is not a mere sadness to be endured. It weighs a person down, sucking life’s energy out of a body.
Five months have passed since my wife Janet’s death from cancer. I have not secluded myself, nor have I kept my feelings to myself. Intellectually, I am fighting grief on every front. But no matter how much I smile and say, “Great” when someone asks me how I’m doing, I am not great. No matter how busy I keep myself the grief still drags me down.
Here in the last two weeks of June, I have decided to go on an emotional vacation. I don’t have any major activities until after July 1st, and so I’m just not going to try to get out—unless good friends and food are involved—and the laundry will just have to stay in the basket a while. I’m writing a bit, binging on television shows and taking as many naps as I want to. I will survive the nightmares that generally accompany that all-encompassing fatigue. I have a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder which is exacerbated by stress.
Hopefully by Independence Day I will be liberated by this lethargy that fogs my mind and slows my body down as though it were slogging through waist-high molasses. I know I am not alone. Both my children have been wonderful. I have a load full of friends to make sure I get distracted by bright shiny objects.
On Father’s Day my son took me to a nice restaurant to celebrate. As I looked down at the pavement when I got out of the car I saw a penny directly under the door. I’ve been told to look for pennies from heaven. So I know Janet is with me too.
It will take time and patience, but the stress, grief and fatigue will ebb away. That’s okay. Right now I don’t have anything else to do.

Sins of the Family Chapter Eleven

After the evening broadcast, Joe called Bob over to his desk. His moribund look was even more stern than usual. He looked up over his glasses at Bob and nodded at the chair next to him.
Bob settled uneasily into a metal folding chair, sensing disapproval in Joe’s attitude. While his boss did not smile much, Bob could always tell that everything was in general acceptable. A pleasant grunt meant he acknowledged Bob’s interviews were professional. Today, however, he knew something had not met Joe’s standards of broadcast journalism.
“If I had seen that report first,” Joe said, “it wouldn’t have gone on the air.”
“Why not?”
“It was absolutely nothing. That’s why not.” Joe sighed. “To ask him about Jews when he’s alleged to have killed a union leader is like interviewing Richard Nixon about playing poker.”
“If I had asked him about the actual charges, his lawyer wouldn’t have allowed him to speak.”
“A lawyer, whom I understand, you got for him.” He nodded. “Yeah, I heard about that.”
“Everybody has a right to a lawyer.”
“Listen, this whole thing stinks. You’re cozy with the granddaughter of a guy accused of killing somebody, and you’re out there reporting on it.”
“Other than this interview, can you fault my reports on the Schmidt case?”
“No, but…”
“And about that interview, at least we had it. Nobody else had an interview, no matter what the topic.”
“Nobody else has a reporter playing around with the granddaughter.”
“This is my private life you’re talking about.” Bob stiffened. “I’ve given you years of good service, and I think I deserve to be treated with respect.”
“All right, don’t get your back up.” Joe slouched back in his chair and eyed Bob. “I think someone else should cover the hearing tomorrow.”
“Fine.” Bob stood. “Then two weeks from tomorrow, I’ll find employment elsewhere. I’ve stayed at Forty-three longer than most reporters. Maybe it’s time I looked around for an anchor position somewhere.”
“Sit down, you can cover the hearing.” Joe almost smiled. “If you’re going to take it that way, then forget it.”
Bob sat, not quite knowing if he had won the confrontation as he continued to glare at his boss.
“You know the surveys as well as anybody. You’re Knoxville’s most popular broadcast reporter. You’ve got across-the-board demographics. Old ladies want to mother you. Men want to go fishing with you. Teen-aged girls think you’re cute. If word got out you were available, every station in town would make you an offer by noon.”
Bob nodded, realizing now he had, indeed, won.
“In the future I’ll check with you before interviews of this kind are aired.” He paused, taking time finally to consider the ethics of the situation, and shrugged. “And you’re right. I shouldn’t cover the hearing. Let me do the morning report and explain why I’m turning it over to Betty.”
“Thanks. That’s the Bob Meade I know.”
“If that’s all…” Bob stood to leave.
“One last concern.” Joe raised his hand and wrinkled his brow. “I hope you aren’t holding back anything you know about this story.”
“Of course I am.”
“What?” Joe’s eyes widened.
“My journalism professor always said if you’re reporting everything you know you don’t know enough.” Bob leaned over the desk. “Listen, I met Jill before her grandfather ever became the hot story of the summer. I’ll not betray her trust in me to air information that’ll give you a few extra overnight points but in the long run won’t make a bit of difference in the outcome of this case.”
“Having a girlfriend has given you a backbone.” Joe released one of his rare smiles.
The next morning Bob stood in front of the federal court building in Knoxville facing the camera.
“Federal Judge Marvin Copland begins hearing arguments today in the controversial Heinrich Schmidt deportation case. Among the witnesses today will be Mrs. Eva Moeller who alleges Mr. Schmidt, long-time Gatlinburg businessman, murdered her husband, a union leader in the early nineteen forties in Nazi Germany.” Bob smiled. “This will be my last report on this story. Because of personal connections I have with the Schmidt family, Channel Forty-three has decided to bring in anchorperson Betty Sargent to report further developments to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest on my part. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.”
In a conference room inside the court building, Bob met with members of the family and Jeff Holt, who pulled out a notepad and studied it for a short time before speaking.
Jill looked at Bob, smiled and leaned into his shoulder.
“I heard your report this morning,” she whispered. “I’m sorry. I hope it doesn’t hurt your career.”
“It would have hurt it more if I hadn’t stepped aside.”
“I’ve done a lot of thinking on how we should proceed with this case, and I’ve come to certain decisions,” Jeff said. “I want to share them with you now.”
“Go ahead.” Ed took Carol’s hand and squeezed.
“First thing, Peter, you won’t be translating for your parents,” Jeff said. “This is no reflection on you. The court has appointed an interpreter for both sides. This way we know everything is on the up and up. Second, Mr. Schmidt will not take the stand. I’ll tell the judge he’s had a stroke and his ability to communicate varies from day to day and, well, we don’t know how much he’ll be able to understand at any given time.”
“Good.” Greta nodded.
“Third, we have some serious side allegations that I don’t want to get tripped up on.” Jeff looked straight at Rudolph. “Now you already told me that your brother Heinrich was a member of the Nazi party, correct?”
Peter translated the question, and Rudolph raised his eyebrows and said, “Ich erinnere mich…”
“He says he doesn’t remember saying that…”
“Tell him to cut the crap,” Jeff snapped. “Yes or no?”
When Rudolph received the translation, he smiled, looked at Jeff and nodded.
“Nazi and Gestapo?” Jeff asked straight to him.
Again Rudolph nodded.
“Good.” He looked around the room. “We’ll bring this up first. Lay it on the table. Don’t let the other side spring it on us. Sure, he was a Nazi, a Gestapo agent, but hat doesn’t prove he’s a murderer.” He inhaled. “As far as testimony goes, it’s her word against his about what happened that night, right?”
When no one concurred, Jeff repeated, “Right?”
“As far as we know,” Peter said.
“I don’t like that phrase.” Jeff shook his head. “Interpret this question to everyone so they clearly understand. I don’t want any surprises. Do they know of any stories, any information at all that could pop out and bite us?”
Peter translated to his parent and Rudolph. Franz looked at Jeff and raised his hand.
He told the story about Heinrich being beaten by the milk maid’s husband. Heinrich sat up.
“I don’t want that told,” Heinrich said. “I am a strong man. Never anything happen to me like that except one time. No one has to know that story.”
“If we don’t tell it, the prosecutor will, Mr. Schmidt,” Jeff said with professional authority.
“I don’t want people to know that,” Heinrich said in a huff.
“Don’t worry, Dad.” Ed put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “It’s going to be all right.”
Peter proceeded with the story and after hearing the translation, Jeff frowned.
“That might give motivation.” He paused to shrug and added, “but it also reflects poorly on the character of Hans Moeller.”
“And don’t forget Hans was a drunk,” Greta offered with eagerness. “Everyone in this room from Oberbach has seen Hans Moeller drunk. We can say so to the judge. I can tell the judge all sorts of stories about what Hans did when he was drunk.”
“If you testify about Hans Moeller, then you have to testify about your husband, and I don’t think you want to do that,” Jeff said. He looked at Helga, Franz and Rudolph. “Can you testify to Hans Moeller’s public drunkenness?”
Peter interpreted the question, and all three nodded yes.
“Very good.” Jeff stood. “There’s no such thing as bad information in a trial, as long as you bring it up, take responsibility for it and, you say, so what? But if you’re hiding something from me and the judge, the prosecution brings it out and proves it, you might as well buy your ticket for Germany right now. Understand?”
After Jeff left the room, Greta turned to Bob and Jill and shook her head.
“He isn’t as nice as he was in my living room.”
“You don’t win cases by being nice,” Jill said, hugging her.
“You win them by being tough in court,” Bob added.
The hearing began. After opening statements, the prosecutor called Eva to the stand. The court-appointed interpreter stood by the box with his hands folded in front of him.
“Now, Mrs. Moeller,” the prosecutor spoke in a measured cadence for the interpreter’s benefit. “Please tell us what happened the night of August twelfth, nineteen forty, at your home outside Oberbach, Germany.”
Eva nodded curtly as the interpreter told her what the prosecutor requested. Her voice was high and shrill. Her hard eyes pierced the audience.
“I’ve never seen so much hatred in someone’s eyes before,” Jill said, leaning into Bob’s ear.
He looked over at Greta and watched her pull a worn lace handkerchief from her purse.
“Jenner mann und…”
“That man and two of his men came to my house.” The interpreter began Eva’s story. “They pushed their way in…”
“Objection,” Jeff interrupted. “It’s been forty years since this incident, and I seriously doubt the witness can definitely say my client is the same person who entered her home so many years ago.”
As the interpreter translated Jeff’s words to Eva, her lips pinched in resentment. Language spewed fast from her mouth, “Ich wurde kie…” Waving in contempt at Greta, Eva added, “Uns ich wurde jene…” She ended with a spitting noise. The interpreter’s mouth dropped as she looked at the judge with antagonism.
“Go ahead,” Judge Copland urged him.
Clearing his throat, the interpreter proceeded with caution.
“I’d recognize those horrible eyes anywhere. It’s been forty years, and he’s a fat bald old man, yes, but he can’t hide that hate in his eyes and the smirk on his lips.” Sebastian paused as his face reddened. “And I’d know that stupid cow of a wife of his anywhere.”
Greta put her hand to her cheek as Bob and Jill put their arms around her. Wiping tears from her eyes, she shook her head.
“Why would this woman say such terrible things about us?”
“She’s been hurt, Grandma,” Jill said.
“She’ll be finished soon,” Bob added, “and it’ll all be over.”
“Objection overruled,” Judge Copland said. “Let the record show that Mrs. Moeller identified to the best of her recollection the defendant as the man who entered her home on August twelfth, nineteen forty. Continue.”
After the prosecutor nodded to her, Eva told more of her story, “Sie haben Hans…”
“They took my husband Hans into our bedroom and slammed the door shut,” the interpreter translated. “They said they were from the government. They said Hans and the woodcutters’ guild were bad Germans because they didn’t follow the Fuhrer’s commands.”
“Did they identify themselves as members of the Gestapo?” the prosecutor said.
Eva nodded with vigor as she listened to the interpreter’s words and replied, “Ja haben sie Gestape…”
“Yes, they said they were Gestapo.” Tears filled her eyes as he continued. “They beat up my husband. I heard him screaming. I banged on the door, but they wouldn’t let me in. Then they cut him and made him bleed and then my Hans, my beautiful Hans, died.”
“Objection.” Jeff stood and pointed at the witness stand. “By her own testimony, Mrs. Moeller says she wasn’t in the room so she is only speculating what actions were taken out of her presence.”
Eva screamed at Jeff when she was told what he declared.
“Den nachten morgen…”
“The next morning when they finally let me in the room, there was blood on the floor!”
Beginning his cross-examination, Jeff approached the witness box and matched Eva’s icy glare with his own cool stare.
“Mrs. Moeller, why was it the next morning and not later that night you went into the room?”
“Sie haben mich aus…”
“They threw me out of my own home,” the interpreter translated.
“Is it possible, because of your highly emotional condition, they thought it would be best for your own well-being to spend the night with loved ones?”
Eva spat an expletive, “Ich werde sie ficken!” which the interpreter refused to translate.
“Mrs. Moeller,” Jeff said, leaning in on her, “have you always had problems with bouts of hysteria?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
Jeff turned to the judge and raised his arms, rolling his eyes.
“Your honor, it’s obvious by Mrs. Moeller’s outbursts that she easily loses control of her emotions to her own detriment.”
Looking at Eva again, Jeff expanded his earlier question.
“Is it not possible that your husband had been confrontational when the man you described as Mr. Schmidt tried to question his activities?”
“Nein,” she replied.
“Didn’t that man, whoever he may have been, and his associates find it necessary to use force against your husband for their own protection?” Jeff said, his voice becoming firmer.
“Your husband was much taller and larger than the man you described as Mr. Schmidt, wasn’t he?”
“So therefore, the man you described as Mr. Schmidt might have had to exert such force to account for the trace of blood you described on the floor?”
Eva’s head shuddered as she wept.
“And is it not true that your husband was a known alcoholic in the town of Oberbach?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
“Your honor,” Jeff said, walking toward Helga, Franz and Rudolph and gesticulating their way, “I plan to bring witnesses who will testify to the fact that, indeed, Mr. Moeller’s own inability to overcome his addiction to alcohol drove him repeatedly to engage in socially unacceptable behavior, actions which very well could have resulted in the accident that led to his unfortunate demise.”
Jeff turned back to Eva.
“Can you deny that after the man you described as Mr. Schmidt and his associates left the house your husband may very well have gone out of the home to seek alcohol and, as he had done many times before, become intoxicated and fell down an embankment, knocking himself unconscious, whereby bears could maul him to death?” He wagged a finger at her. “Remember, you testified you were out of the house the rest of that night and could not possibly know what occurred. Don’t you believe each man is responsible for his own behavior? Don’t you know your husband was responsible for his own death?”
After the interpreter translated Jeff’s question, Eva bounded to her feet and tried to clamber over the witness stand, her arms flailing at Jeff. Guards subdued her and forced her from the courtroom.
“I will call a ten-minute recess to allow Mrs. Moeller to compose herself,” Judge Copland said.
Bob surveyed those around him. Ed put his arm on Carol’s shoulder. She was trembling with her eyes closed. Greta stared off into space, emotionless. Heinrich, Bob could swear, was smiling smugly. In the hallway, Jill leaned against the wall and sighed. After a few moments she focused on Bob and wrinkled her brow.
“It just struck me. Shouldn’t you be at work? I mean, if you’re not covering the hearing for the station…”
“I took the day off. I had some hours coming, and I thought you’d like someone to talk to.”
“You’re so sweet.” She reached out to squeeze his hand.
“Don’t say that,” Bob said, his eyes teasing her. “That’s the kiss of death. Every time a girl tells me that I’m sweet I never see her again.”
“You don’t have to worry about that.” Jill looked down.
When the hearing resumed, Jeff deferred any more questions for Eva and put Rudolph on the stand with Peter acting as his interpreter, though he was not needed.
“Mr. Schmidt, was your brother a member of the Nazi party?”
He nodded without emotion.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt indicated the affirmative,” the judge said.
“Was he employed by the Gestapo?”
He nodded again.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative.”
“Did your brother ever discuss the death of Hans Moeller with you?”
Rudolph shook his head.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the negative.”
“Did you know Hans Moeller?”
He nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative.”
“Had you ever been in Mr. Moeller’s presence when he was clearly out of control of his behavior because of drinking too much alcohol?”
Rudolph smirked as he nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Schmidt replied in the affirmative,” the judge said, a dullness entering his voice.
“No further questions.”
After the prosecution passed on cross-examination, Jeff called Helga to the stand. Jeff smiled and winked at her.
“How would you characterize your brother-in-law Heinrich Schmidt?”
After the interpreter translated, Helga said a sentence in German which she had used many times in talking to Jeff.
“Heinrich Schmidt was hard-working.”
“Was he held in the same esteem by the rest of his community?”
She nodded after hearing the translation.
“Let the record show Mrs. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Did you know Hans Moeller?”
“Did you ever observe him in an extreme state of intoxication?”
“No more questions.”
The prosecutor stood to cross-examine.
“Is that the best you can say about your brother-in-law, that he was hard-working?”
“Objection,” Jeff said.
“Mr. Holt brought up questions of character of the defendant.” The prosecutor turned to the judge. “It is only fair to hear testimony about all facets of his character, Your Honor.”
Helga looked at her sister, then at Jeff and squared her jaw.
“You could not swear under oath that you thought your brother-in-law was an honest man? A decent man?”
After the translation, Helga looked the prosecutor straight in the eyes.
“Could you describe Hans Moeller as a hard-working man?”
Hearing the question translated, Helga looked a bit surprised and shrugged her shoulders.
“Was Hans Moeller an honest, decent man?”
Helga giggled and shook her head.
“Let the record show Mrs. Bitner replied in the negative.”
“No further questions.”
Jeff next called Franz who maintained his serene countenance. Turning to look at Eva, Jeff asked his next question loud and clear, so Sebastian would be sure to translate it for her.
“Did you work cutting trees with Hans Moeller?”
After the interpreter spoke to him, Franz nodded.
“Let the record show Mr. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Did Hans Moeller miss many days of work?”
He nodded again.
“Let the record show Mr. Bitner replied in the affirmative.”
“Why did he miss those days of work?”
Franz spoke in a soft voice, and the interpreter translated, “He was drunk.”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said. “This is hearsay evidence.”
“Your Honor, allow me to ask the witness the source of his information.”
“Very well.”
Jeff turned back to Franz. “Who told you Hans Moeller was too drunk to work?”
“Hans did,” the interpreter translated his reply. “He liked to talk about how much he drank. He thought it was funny.”
“He liked to talk about other things, too, didn’t he?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor said.
“Oh, I think you’ll like this one.” Jeff turned to look grimly at him.
“Withdrawn,” he said, wrinkling his brow.
“Proceed,” the judge said.
When Jeff returned his attention to Franz, he asked him to relate the milk maid story, which he did. Eva smiled with smug satisfaction, Bob noticed, while Greta and Heinrich turned red in embarrassment.
“Grandma insists that incident happened before they got married,” Jill whispered to Bob.
When the interpreter finished translating Franz’ story, the prosecutor stood, looking as though he were at a loss for words.
“No cross-examination.”
After the lunch break, the lawyers began their summations. The prosecutor stood to face Judge Copland.
“Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, before you today is a valiant lady who has spent most of her life tracking down the man responsible for the death of her husband forty years ago.”
As he pointed to Eva, Greta shook her head.
“Don’t worry, Grandma.” Jill patted her hand. “It’ll be over soon.”
“Will it?” Greta looked at Jill with sad eyes.
“Mrs. Eva Moeller is to be commended for her efforts in searching mailing lists, telephone books in every country of the world,” the prosecutor continued as he walked over to stand by Eva. “She did not give up until she found Heinrich Schmidt who has been hiding out in our very own Smoky Mountains.”
Bob watched Ed frown as he leaned over to whisper in Carol’s ear. “I don’t call running a shop with a lighted water wheel hiding out.”
Carol nodded, but Bob could not tell if she were entirely sympathetic to Heinrich’s situation.
“This man, who was a Gestapo agent of Nazi Germany, is an undesirable and must be deported,” the prosecutor said. “Unfortunately, we cannot try him for the crime of murder. But we can make sure he does not stay in this country which took him in and gave him a living for many years.”
After the prosecutor took his seat, Jeff stood and slowly walked to Eva.
“Like the prosecutor,” he began, “I have many feelings for Mrs. Eva Moeller. But my feelings are sympathy for losing one’s mate early in life and sorrow that she has misspent the rest of her life blaming an innocent man for the unfortunate accident that took her husband’s life.”
Eva stiffened as Sebastian translated what Jeff said.
“Was Heinrich Schmidt a Nazi? His brother said he was,” Jeff said. “Many Germans were members of the Nazi party. But not all Nazis even knew of the excesses of the Third Reich. Just being a Nazi does not make them undesirable.”
Bob studied Heinrich’s face. He thought he detected a smile on his old pursed lips.
“Was Heinrich Schmidt a Gestapo officer? His brother said he was,” Jeff continued. “Many men served their country as members of the Gestapo. But not all of them committed the heinous crimes documented as work of a precious few. Being merely a Gestapo officer does not make Heinrich Schmidt an undesirable alien in this country.”
Bob’s gaze went between Heinrich and Eva, each of them being eaten alive by their dark emotions, making him feel sorry for both of them and doubt his part in the defense.
“Did Heinrich Schmidt kill Hans Moeller? We were not there so we don’t know. Mrs. Moeller was there, forty years ago when she and, yes, Heinrich Schmidt were young people in the prime of life. I dare say neither of them bears even a faint resemblance to their former selves.”
Feeling Jill’s hand touch his, Bob glanced at her as she smiled with affection at him. Whatever he did, he decided, it was not for Heinrich’s sake but because of his love for Jill who was an entirely different person. However, Bob thought, giving into his qualms, the final effect of his actions was to side with this old man with the wicked turn to his mouth and he wondered what would happen to him because of it.
“In the light of lack of evidence, we could never find Heinrich Schmidt guilty of murder; therefore, there is no way we could hold him undesirable because of some man’s unfortunate accidental death forty years ago.”
Judge Copland took the case file in his hands and looked out at the participants of the hearing.
“This is a thick folder of evidence, and the testimony presented here was weighty. I refuse to rush to judgment.” He looked over at his calendar and squinted. “Considering this is Friday, I will adjourn until 10 a.m. Monday which will give me, I feel, sufficient time to come to a decision.” He rapped his gavel. “Hearing adjourned.”
As the court room cleared, Heinrich smiled with contentment. All was going the way he had anticipated. That was because he always won, he told himself. Then Heinrich became aware of his brother Rudolph sitting next to him, one hand around his shoulder comforting him with a gentle pat while his other hand found its way to Heinrich’s crotch.
Rudolph lean in and whispered with spite, “Do you know the real reason I came here? To help you? No, I don’t care about you. But I do care about the name of Schmidt. I didn’t want you coming back to Oberbach in chains for trial to make a laughingstock out of me.”
Heinrich winced as Rudolph punched him hard in the crotch while still patting his shoulder.
“I don’t know if you killed Hans or not, and I don’t care. Hans deserved to die, but if you did kill him you should have killed Eva too that night. You should have known she would have come looking for you.” Rudolph punched him again. “You’re stupid, sloppy and lazy.” A third punch was even stronger as the hand on Heinrich’s shoulder stroked him with affection. “You think you are smart. You think you are a winner. But you are disgusting. He never told you, but papa thought you were the most worthless human being he ever met.”
Helga leaned over to give Carol a hug. Carol smiled affectionately and returned her embrace. Jill turned to Bob, appearing contented in particular.
“I’m so glad Aunt Helga has been kind to mom,” she said. “You know, since they’ve been in the house, mom hasn’t had a single drink. And look.” She pointed to the Schmidt brothers sitting next to each other. “Even grandpa and Uncle Rudolph are getting along. Maybe all this is worth the pain if it brings the family together.”
Greta approached to her sister and tugged on her arm, muttering some command in German. Helga nodded but did not leave without giving Carol one last kiss on the cheek. Greta and Helga fussed back and forth in German every step out of the court.
“Thank you again for spending the day with me,” Jill said. “It seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately.”
“Maybe it’s time we had some time to ourselves. What would you like to do tomorrow? We could take a hike in the Smokies.”
“That sounds good, but first thing tomorrow morning I want to do something else.” Taking Bob’s hand, she headed for the door.
“Go to Clinton.”
“Clinton?” Bob stopped.
“That’s where you keep your father, isn’t it?”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Eighteen

Ward Lamon read the plans for the long route of the funeral train back to Springfield, Illinois, and realized it was a perfect cover for him to investigate the conspiracy against Lincoln which ended in his death. From Washington, to New York City, through the Midwest and finally to Illinois, surely he could find some clues. The body was now lying in state, and the train would soon be leaving. Lamon had to talk to Mrs. Lincoln again. His first attempt had ended in disaster, as she accused him as being part of Stanton’s cabal. Pendel met him at the door of the Executive Mansion and took him to her sitting room.
“How is Mrs. Lincoln today?” Lamon asked.
“Oh, she’s feeling much better,” Pendel replied. “I think she should be able to leave for home in a few weeks. Master Tad’s become a different person. He knows he has to be the man of the house now.”
“The last time I was here she thought I was in collaboration with—“
“You weren’t here before, Mr. Lamon,” Pendel interrupted him with a gentle smile. “Her memory of those first hours after the tragedy has mercifully faded.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
They stopped outside her door, and Pendel rapped lightly. “Mrs. Lincoln, Mr. Lamon is here to see you, ma’am.”
Opening the door, Mrs. Lincoln smiled. “Mr. Lamon, I’m so glad to see you. Where have you been?”
She took him by the hand and led him to a davenport as Pendel closed the door behind them. After they sat, Mrs. Lincoln leaned in. “You do know you were a great friend to my husband. And now you must be my friend.”
“Of course, ma’am. And I want to apologize for not being here. Mr. Stanton ordered me out of town. I think he knew if I had been here, the president would not have been shot.” Lamon knew what he said was a lie, but he also knew he had to gain her trust if he were ever to learn what really happened. “I know you and Mr. Lincoln were held captive in the basement for two years.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh thank God. Then you know I am not insane. No one believes me. Even Mr. Johnson.”
“Mr. Johnson is a good man. As soon as we can present him facts, he will take action against Mr. Stanton. Stanton lied to me when he said you and the President were being held for your own protection against death threats.”
“It was no such thing. He wanted to take over.” She paused. “Don’t tell anyone I said that. They’ll put me away.”
Lamon patted her hands. “You’re right. The nation must never know the truth. The country’s morale is so weak at this point, if the people learned that Mr. Stanton usurped power in the middle of the war they would give up and never believe in the republic again. We have to give Mr. Johnson the information to remove Mr. Stanton from power permanently.”
“I want him to suffer,” she whispered.
“Who else do you suppose knew? Someone I can persuade to talk?” Lamon asked.
“A private named Adam Christy took care of us. Fed us. Emptied our chamber pots.” Shaking her head, she added, “He looked so sad. I cried many nights for him. I don’t think he knew what he was getting into when this whole thing began. By the end he knew, though.”
“I met him a couple of times, but I couldn’t convince him into trusting me with the truth.”
“He was from Steubenville, Ohio, he said. Oh, Lord, I hope he made it home safely to his father. His mother died. That weighed heavily on his heart.”
“I haven’t seen him since the assassination.” He paused before adding, “But there was a puddle of blood on the basement floor. I saw it the next day—I mean, the butler just told me he saw it the next day.”
Nodding, she said, “They killed him, the poor soul.”
“Then there’s no witnesses left alive who might help us.”
“But there is,” she insisted. “Mr. Gabby. Gabby Zook. He was the addled janitor that spent the entire time with us in the basement. He was setting rattraps the day Mr. Stanton brought us down here. Mr. Stanton said he knew too much and had to stay with us.”
“Do you know where he might be now?”
“He should still be in the basement. I told him that night he could stay.”
“I was just in the basement,” Lamon said. “He’s not there.”
“He said he was from New York.” Mrs. Lincoln paused to look away and crinkled her forehead. “He had a sister named Cordie who worked at one of the hospitals. I don’t remember the name of it. But he did mention Miss Dorothea Dix was there. The sister died. Find Miss Dix and you’ll find Mr. Gabby.”
Lamon stood. “I’m on my way.”
She reached out to grab his arm. “Please, I know you can be blunt and rough, Mr. Lamon. That’s just your way, but you have to be gentle with Mr. Gabby. He’s awful nervous, like me.”
As Lamon trotted down the stairs he strained his memory for the name of the hospital where Dorothea Dix supervised the nurses. He had read about her many times in the newspapers which reported her courage, diligence and, yes, sometimes obstinacy in her efforts to mend the wounded soldiers. By the time he reached the first floor the name flashed across his mind—Armory Square Hospital, across the iron bridge and adjacent to the Smithsonian Museum. Before he reached the door, he heard a young voice behind him.
“Mr. Lamon, are you going to catch the man who killed Papa?”
When he turned he saw Tad standing in the hallway, very still and straight, his face devoid of the impishness Lamon saw in him when they last talked, when the imposters lived upstairs. He walked to the boy and patted him on his shoulder.
“I’ll do the best I can, Tad,” he said with a soothing smile. “Do you remember the last time we spoke? You talked about a secret.”
“Somebody told. That’s why Papa got shot.”
“Who do you think told? Private Christy?”
“Oh no, he was nice to me. He took me to the basement one night when I was sick and I wanted to see my real mama and papa. I haven’t seen him since Papa died. I think whoever killed Papa killed him too.”
“The people who pretended to be your parents, did you ever learn their real names?” Lamon crouched to be on Tad’s level so he could look in his eyes.
“No, it was part of the secret.” Tad looked around them and then leaned into Lamon’s ear. “I don’t think Papa’s life was ever in danger, I mean, from anyone out there. I think Mr. Stanton made that part up. I think he was the danger. I think he had Papa killed.”
Reaching out, Lamon hugged Tad. “I think you’re right,” he whispered, “but don’t tell anyone else that. I don’t want anything to happen to you and your mama.”
“I know. So it’s all up to you, Mr. Lamon.”
Tad’s words echoed in his head as he walked away from the Executive Mansion and down the street to the iron bridge across the slough and to Armory Square Hospital. It was up to him, and he could not let Tad or the nation down. When he entered the hospital door, he looked around for Miss Dix, and he spotted her in a far corner, wagging her finger at a nurse whose head hung in reproof. He waited until she finished with the woman and approached her with an introduction.
“I know who you are, Mr. Lamon,” Miss Dix interrupted. “What do you want? I have soldiers needing attention.”
“Do you know a Gabby Zook?”
“Of course, I do,” she replied. “The poor man has very serious mental problems. I couldn’t help him here so I sent him to Brooklyn, New York, with a friend of mine.”
“Who is your friend?”
“Mr. Lamon! That is private information.” She raised an eyebrow. “You have no right to inquire about matters that don’t concern you.”
Lamon stepped forward, hoping his height and bulk would intimidate Miss Dix who was quite short and thin. His maneuver did not work.
“And you take two steps back right this instant! You will not use your size to force information out of me, Mr. Lamon!”
Retreating, Lamon decided to use a different tactic and smiled sheepishly. “I apologize for my brusque manner, Miss Dix, but I am very upset by the death of my dear friend, the president.”
“As we all are.” She continued to eye him with suspicion.
“I am trying to find the man responsible.”
“The newspapers said that actor did it—what was his name? Booth.”
“He may have been the man who pulled the trigger, but I am looking for the man who was responsible. That’s why I’m looking for Mr. Zook. I understand he might have some information about the conspiracy.”
“I told you, Mr. Lamon, Mr. Zook is insane. He came into the hospital the night of the assassination dripping wet from the rain, ranting about being held captive in the Executive Mansion basement.”
“Did he mention a Private Adam Christy?”
Again her eyebrow arched. “And what of it? I knew Private Christy. He was enamored of one of our nurses but she died of pneumonia, as did Mr. Zook’s sister Cordie. What does any of this have to do with the assassination of Mr. Lincoln?”
Realizing he was not going to convince her of any plot he did not bother to mention the role Secretary of War Stanton may have played. He tried smiling again. “You’re probably right.” Sighing, he added, “I hope Mr. Zook will be all right. In his mental state, being all alone in a large city like Brooklyn, why anything could happen to him.”
“I told you Mr. Whitman would take care of him.” Miss Dix gasped as she put her hand to her mouth.
“Thank you. You should know, Miss Dix, you mustn’t believe the reports you have read about me in the newspapers. I am not as terrible as you might surmise from the reports. As I mustn’t make rash judgments about you from the newspaper stories.”
Her hand slowly dropped from her face, which began to soften. “As a matter of fact, I do remembering reading how you often slept on the floor outside the President’s bedroom to protect him.” A smile crept across her thin lips. “Do you really believe Mr. Zook’s crazy stories?”
“I won’t know for sure until I talk to him myself.” Lamon held his breath, hoping she would begin to trust him.
“You might have heard of Mr. Whitman. He’s a poet, though personally I don’t care for his verse. He is a good and kind man. Walt Whitman. You will find him at his family’s home on North Portland Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Seven

Jonathan ran for the front door but Susie Belle blocked his way.
“Goin’ somewhere, tall, dark and handsome?”
“I want my mommy!” He had totally lost the last vestiges of his British stiff upper lip. As he turned to run away Susie Belle grabbed his legs, knocking him over and mounting his back. Never one to give up the retreat, Jonathan rose to his knees and elbows and proceeded to crawl away. Susie Belle slapped his hindquarters.
“I’ll be your mommy, your nanny, your sister, your cousin. Your kissin’ cousin.”
“Mina!” Jonathan called out.
“But I won’t be Mina. She’s too much of a pasty-faced good-two-shoes.”
“Get off me!”
“If you wish.” Susie Belle rolled over and pulled Jonathan on top of her. “Ooh yesss, I like this much better.”
“But I don’t!” He crawled off Susie Belle and tried to get away, but she grabbed his trousers. “Let go!” Jonathan looked up to see Salacia coming straight at him, and he let out a howl.
“There, there,” Salacia purred. “No need to scream.”
“Yes, there is,” he whimpered. His head jerked down when he felt hands at his waist. Claustrophobia was unbuckling his belt. “What are you doing?”
“Just helping you loosen up,” she replied sweetly.
“I don’t want to—“he stopped to giggle as she slid the belt free. “Stop that! I’m ticklish there!”
“I’ll be sure to remember that,” Claustrophobia said. “Later, when the fun really begins.”
“Let me take your hands.” Salacia grabbed his wrists and pulled just as Susie Belle held on to the cuffs of his trousers.
“All of a sudden I feel like a turkey on Christmas Day!”
“Mmm, let’s make a wish.” Salacia murmured, licking her lips.
Susie Belle successfully removed the trousers exposing Jonathan’s legs. Claustrophobia ran her fingers over them.
“Ah, drumsticks!”
Jonathan pulled his legs and arms close to his body, ending in a fetal position. “Leave my drumsticks—my legs—alone!”
Susie Belle mounted his shoulders and waved the trousers over her head. ‘Wahoo! Ride ‘em, cowgirl!”
Our uptight British barrister had finally taken all the humiliation he could. Reaching octaves previously unreachable by any human voice, Jonathan pierced the cold night air swirling through the rafters of Dracula’s castle; in other words, he reverted to a frustrated four-year-old brat pitching an awe-inspiring hissy fit. His face turned red, his cheeks puffed out as he flailed his arms and legs until Susie Belle lost her balance and fell on the stone floor. Jonathan leapt to his feet and stomped them with extreme vigor.
“I’m getting out of here!” he announced when he realized his tantrum was having absolutely no effect on Dracula’s three wives. Straightening his shoulders and lifting his chin he marched to the front door.
Susie Belle waved his pants over her head. “Without these?”
Stopping abruptly, he turned around with his fingers to his mouth. “Oh, that’s right. Gentlemen of breeding don’t expose their legs to the night air.” He walked to Susie Belle, politely bowed and asked in a most gracious tone, “Would you mind returning my trousers, please?”
“It would be a great pleasure and honor to return your trousers.” Susie Belle tossed them to Salacia. “But Salacia would not approve.”
Jonathan turned his attention to the leader of the wife pack. “My dear Miss Salacia—“
Before he could say another word, she flung the pants over to Claustrophobia.
“Over here, Jonathan,” the Viennese vampire teased.
“Oh no! Not keepaway again! I always hated keepaway.”
He changed direction to confront Claustrophobia, but she immediately threw them to Susie Belle.
“Come and get them!” the American wife taunted him.
The vampires three roamed about the vaulted entry hall tossing the trousers among themselves as Jonathan tried in vain to retrieve them and restore some of his shattered ego.
“Ooh, this is fun!” Salacia laughed.
Finally he leapt high in the air to intercept the pants passing. “At last!” He grasped them in victory.
Susie Belle smoothly transitioned herself from a vivacious woman into a slumped-over and doddering old crone. “Excuse me, young man,” she said in a quavering voice.
Jonathan turned to smile at her. “Yes?”
“My husband is very ill and has no trousers. He’s about your size. Could we please have yours? He may not live out the winter without them.”
Tears welled in Jonathan’s shockingly blue eyes. He bowed humbly and extended the pants to her. “But of course, dear lady.”
Susie Belle snatched them from his hands, resumed the countenance of a hot vampire chick and ran around the room with the trousers flying over her head. “I can’t believe he bought that act!” she sang.
“I can’t believe I can be such a dumb-bunny.” Jonathan hung his head in shame.
Giggling, the girls went back to the game room with Jonathan in hot pursuit. Mina and Count Dracula emerged from behind the tapestry just in time to see her betrothed run into the game room, slamming the door behind him.
“Is that Jonathan running about without his trousers again?”
“You can never tell about young men,” Dracula said. “They are filled with red, hot blood.”
“Not Jonathan.” Mina shook her head.
The count looked incredulous. “He has no hot blood?”
“Oh. Well. Of course, but it’s not red and hot,” she explained, “figuratively speaking.”
“Ah, I think I understand.”
“Thank you for showing me your paintings.” Mina crinkled her nose, and her eyes twinkled. “And what an unusual décor. I’ve never seen coffins used as settees before.”
“Don’t mention it.”
She slapped at his shoulder. “You’re so modest about your interior decorating talent.”
“I mean,” he clarified in a serious tone, “don’t mention the coffins.”
“Oh, not even to Dr. Van Helsing?”
Dracula’s eyes winded in apprehension. “Especially to Dr. Van Helsing.”
“Anyway, I liked the portrait of your mother.”
He shrugged in modesty. “Some say she was an old bat, but I loved her.”
“I’m sure you did,” she agreed. “Is she still alive?”
“No.” Dracula winced. “She died of a bad stake.”
Mina wagged a finger in agreement. “I choked on some pork tenderloin once. You have to be careful to chew your food properly.”
“I always watch the way I bite into mine.” Irony tinged his voice.
“Good for you.”
Dracula led Mina to the sofa where they sat, and a great poof of dust arose upon impact. “I have a confession, Miss Seward.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“I have found myself attracted to you.”
“Oh?” She could not help but smile.
The count scooted closer to her. “You are so full of life.”
“Why, Count Dracula!” she exclaimed, resisting the impulse to swoon. “What would your wives say?”
He was close enough to whisper in her ear. “I would say they have other things on their minds.”
Giggling emanated from behind the double doors drew Mina’s attention. “What exactly is behind those doors?”
“You might say it is our game room,” Dracula explained with a wry smile.
The mention of games lit up her face, and she stood in anticipation of a rousing round of—well, whatever. “Games? I just love mah jong and pinochle.”
“We have more exotic games in Transylvania,” he declared as he stood.
Turning to face him full on, she asked, “Really? Like what?”
“See for yourself.” He motioned to the game room door.
She went to the door, opened it and peered in. “Oh, those kind of games. I didn’t know Jonathan could hang by a trapeze.” Mina squinted to get a better view. “Funny, I didn’t realize he had an insy.”