Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Twelve

After the game room doors closed, Dracula returned his attention to Mina who stepped away nervously.
“Finally, we are alone.” Lust filled his eyes. “Let’s see. I believe we were talking about us.”
Her hand went to her pocket. “As I remember, I was going to show you something.”
“You don’t want to show me what you think you want to show me.” He waved his long slender fingers in her face.
“Why are you waving your fingers in my face?” Mina, as usual for her, looked confused.
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were.” She held up her own delicate little hand and wriggled her fingers. “Like you were trying to hypnotize me or something.”
“Well, when you do your fingers like that it makes my masterful gesture look silly,” the count replied with a pout.
“So you admit it!” She beamed. “I suspected as much, and I already know what showing you that something would confirm.”
“That made absolutely no sense at all.” He shook his head.
“You’re probably right,” Mina retorted, putting her hands on her hips. “I don’t make much sense when I’m scared senseless.” She ran for the stairs. “Oh, Dr. Van Helsing!”
Dracula pointed menacingly at her. “Stop!”
She froze on the bottom step. “But I don’t want to stop,” she whined. “I want to see Dr. Van Helsing.
“You will do as I say,” he ordered in a tone that would make anyone wet his pants.
“But I don’t want to,” she continued to whine.
“Obey!” To any casual observer, one could tell that Count Dracula was used to having his own way and this little twit from London was getting on his last nerve.
Mina turned and cringed. “Very well. “But I won’t like it.”
“Go to the front door and open it.”
Her face brightened. “You mean I can leave? Oh thank, thank you, thank you!” She ran to what she thought was her salvation. When she opened the door, the cold night air braced her face.
“Stop!” He said that word really impressively.
“Oh, drat.” Mina stopped. “I didn’t think you meant it.”
Dracula’s body shivered a moment at the thought of what he was about to say. “Take that thing you don’t want to show me out of your pocket and throw it out the door.” He turned away and lifted his cape to shield himself from looking at the crucifix.
“Do I have to?” Mina whined.
“Yes, yes. Hurry it up. Get it over with.” His cape shook as his arm spasmed. He could not stand the fact a holy relic was only a few feet away from him
Mina took the crucifix from her pocket and threw it out the front door and into the darkness of the wilds of Transylvania.
“Have you done it?”
“Yes,” she replied simply.
Dracula lowered his cape, turned and smiled in triumph. “Good. Now close the door so the children of the night won’t sneak in and track mud all over the place.”
“That’s the first thing you’ve said all evening that’s made sense.” Mina wrinkled her brow and closed the door. As it shut, the door made a loud echoing thump which caused her to jump and jolt her to her senses.
“Why, Miss Mina,” he said, sliding across the floor to her, “you sound disenchanted.”
“Don’t come near me,” she ordered.
“Very well.” He stopped and extended his arm, his wickedly thin fingers accosting her. “You will come to me.”
“No, I won’t.” Her chin shot up in defiance.
“Yes you will,” Dracula intoned with cold calculation. “Come here!”
Mina tried to open the door to escape but her body, slowly, particle by particle began to move back to the count, as though they were buck shot drawn with inevitability to a magnet.
“Why am I doing this?” she asked in awe of Dracula’s control over her body.
“Because you are a weak-willed twit.”
Her eyes widened in revelation. “Oh.” Once she realized the truth of her situation, Mina relaxed and floated as a leaf in a mountain stream into the arms of her fate.
“I just love weak-willed twits.” The count lead Mina to the tapestry which he lifted, opened the door, and guided her down the stairs to the basement.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Seventeen

Following a familiar route down the Shenandoah Valley, Davy enjoyed his journey back to Tennessee. He was almost fourteen now, and he felt he had in fact grown an inch or two and put on a couple of pounds. His father would hesitate to beat him now. Each night Davy joined a different group of men around their campfires and regaled them with stories of his adventures. Jefferson’s gratitude for his advice became deeper. His skills at shooting and his confidence under pressure grew. Adam Meyers became meaner and more violent. Captain Stasney became more evil and morally corrupt. Davy’s tales always warranted a free supper and a blanket near the fire. Sometimes he even garnered enough sympathy to have a few coins tossed his way. Davy did not have enough money, however, to take him all the way home. Just south of Roanoke in Montgomery County as he tromped up Big Stony Mountain, Davy heard a voice call out.
“Hey! Boy! Help me over here!
Davy looked over to see a slender man with a crow bar lodged under an immense boulder in the middle of a field half-way plowed. A chance to earn money, Davy thought, and he ran to throw his weight on the bar. After a few grunts and tugs they loosened the rock from its place and rolled it down the slope and out of the field.
“You’re a strong youngin’,” the man said, huffing a bit, “and smart too. I didn’t have to tell you what to do. You jest did it.”
“Thank you, sir.” He flashed his ready grin.
“Name’s James Caldwell.” He extended his sweaty palm. “My cabin is up the side of the hill. My wife usually helps me, but she’s havin’ our first baby any day now. I could use you to finish plowin’ the next few days.”
Davy threw himself into the plowing which he had mastered while living with John Gray in Gerardstown. He appreciatively gobbled Mrs. Caldwell’s cooking while asking if she wanted a boy or girl. With a big grin he assured her he could tell her husband would make a good father. Two weeks later the fields were plowed and the corn planted, and a baby boy was born. With five dollars in his pocket, Davy walked down the mountain, heading to the nearby town of Christiansburg.
In his mind he made a list of items he wanted to buy—a nice bedroll and a water bladder—to make the rest of his journey home easier. Strolling down the main street he looked in the shop windows, smiling with pride that he had money to spend. The smile disappeared, however, when he saw a blonde-haired girl sitting under a large pine on the edge of town. Tears rolled down her pink cheeks. She was about his age, Davy decided, and very pretty even though the crying turned her eyes red and made her nose run. He inched his way toward her.
“Excuse me,” he asked, “are you all right?”
She looked up, and the intense blue of her eyes made him hold his breath as she wiped the tears away. Licking her thin lips, she shook her head.
“I’m fine,” she replied in a whisper.
“You don’t look fine.” Davy sat beside her under the tree. “Did your pa beat you?”
“Oh no.” She glanced at him and shook her head. “He’s never laid a hand on me. I don’t think he’s ever laid a hand on anyone.”
“Don’t you have no money?”
“Yes.” She bit her lip. “You ask a caboodle of questions for a stranger.”
“My name’s Davy Crockett from Morristown, Tennessee.” He stuck his hand out. “My pa used to beat me all the time. And I don’t have no money. But I want to go home ‘cause I miss my ma.”
She studied his face before breaking out into a smile and shaking his hand. “My name’s Harriet Griffith, and my father is a hatter. His apprentice ran away last night.” She paused. “I miss my mother too. She died last year.”
“I’m sorry.” Davy decided Harriet Griffith was the prettiest girl he had ever seen or ever would want to see. “Why did the boy run away?”
“Father scared him,” she said. “Father is the sweetest man in the world but his only fault is that he expects everyone else to be as nice as he is. When they’re not, he yells at them.”
“He hasn’t always yelled.” Harriet wiped her eyes again. “Mostly since mother died. He’s scared off a bunch of apprentices. He feels so bad when it happens. I get sad for him and cry.”
Before he knew what he was doing or saying, Davy squeezed her hand, looked deep into her blue eyes and whispered, “Maybe I can help out, at least for a while.”


Early the next morning after breakfast with his family, David mounted his chestnut horse and rode to the Kimery store. Old man Kimery who built it about twenty years ago died last winter. David did not know the new owner, but he knew the man’s name, Thomas Tyson. The store owner was all Matilda could talk about at breakfast. David wondered how a young man could afford to buy a mercantile building. A real go-getter, she said, his modesty being most attractive. David’s mind tried to figure out what this man looked like.
David tied his horse to the hitching post in from of the split log building sitting in the middle of a small meadow along a gravel road. He breathed deeply and walked in the door which rattled when he shut it. Two neat rows of tables held bolts of cloth, tools, baking goods and other vital items to life in rough west Tennessee. David nodded in approval of Tyson’s business practice. Matilda would be well matched with the storekeeper, he decided. Before he left for Texas David wanted to see his little girl taken care of. As he looked over the selection of iron traps he heard a mellow baritone, a pitch lower than his own voice, behind him.
“May I help you?”
When he turned around David found himself at a loss for words. He saw a tall, thin man somewhere in his early thirties. His thin blond hair was fast receding. His beard was wispy with fingerprints-sized smooth gaps as though God touched his face and pronounced no hair shall grow there. His piercing blue eyes were covered with thick lens glasses perched on his nose’s boney ridge. A tight lipped smile stretched across his pale face.
“Oh.” At first that was all David could think to say. Because Matilda was fourteen years old he expected the man to catch her fancy would be someone may be as much as ten years older but not a man old enough to be her father. He extended his hand and smiled.
“Nice to meet you, Thomas. I’m—“
“I know who you are, Mr. Crockett,” Tyson said. His cold blue eyes went to the traps on which David’s fingers tapped with apprehension. “Are you interested in traps, sir?”
“Yes, the boy put one down by the creek last spring, and it got rusted up bad.”
“I know Robert well. I admire him very much for helping his mother run her farm.” Tyson looked down at the traps. “Sometimes they rust just from rain. We had a full spring of rain.”
“I suppose it did rain several weeks last spring. I guess you’re right. So I’ll take this one.” He handed it to Tyson and smiled. “My li’l girl thinks the world of you.”
“I think very highly of her, too.”
“If you don’t mind me askin’, how old are you?”
“Thirty-six.” He paused. “And that’ll be a quarter for the trap.”
“Never been married?” David held his breath.
“For twelve happy years,” Tyson replied. “Clarice died two years ago after getting malaria.” He handed the trap back to David. “And, no, we didn’t have any children. The Lord only knows why He didn’t bless us with any.”
His tone told David not to pursue the subject. With trap in hand, he left the store, mounted his horse and rode home. Coming over the ridge he saw Matilda walking toward the house from the orchard. She looked up and waved when he rode up and dismounted his chestnut.
“Oh, Papa, you’ve got to convince mama that it’s too late in the fall for apple picking. They’re all mushy and worms are comin’ out all over the place.” She pecked him on the cheek. “Where have you been all mornin’?”
“Bought a trap at Kimery store.”
“Oh.” Her eyes lit.
“Thomas Tyson said he felt very highly of you.”
“Oh, how sweet of him to say so.”
“Is there anythin’ you want to talk over with me?”
Matilda blinked, stepped back and put the bucket of apples on the ground. “Papa, I love him.”
“Does your ma know?”
“Why didn’t you tell me first, Matilda? You always tell me everythin’ first.”
“No, Papa.” Her eyes glanced away. “I never tell you anythin’ first.”

Dave felt drained on the ride back home from the cemetery. Vince was stretched out on the sofa when he and Lonnie walked in. Putting his coat on the back of a dining chair Lonnie walked to the kitchen.
“You boys ready for lunch? You got to help me eat up all that food you bought.”
“I’ve got to go,” Dave announced.
“Why do you have to run off? This food’ll rot before I can eat it all.”
“I’ve got to get home.” The urge to escape made Dave fidget. “Tiffany’s expecting me.”
“Tympani?” Lonnie scrunched his face. “Who’s that?”
“His wife.” Vince sat up.
“Oh.” Lonnie’s lips pouted. “That li’l gal you married.”
“Yeah. I’ve got to get home.”
“But who’s going to pay my bills for me?”
“Let Vince do it.”
“Pop doesn’t want me.” Vince stood, his weight shifting from one foot to the other. “He wants you.”
“I’m not going to fight over it,” Dave said.
“No more fights,” Vince replied. “Last night I was hurt and jealous. Hell, I was drunk.”
“You drank in my house again?” Lonnie’s voice rose in anger. “I told you no more damn liquor in this house.”
“Yeah.” Vince sounded like a contrite child.
“See?” Lonnie looked at Dave and pointed at Vince. “He can’t be trusted even at his own brother’s funeral. You have to take care of my business, Puppy.”
“Don’t take it out on pop because you’re mad at me.” Vince said. “I mean, there ain’t nothing as important as family.”
“You didn’t think that when Allan was alive.”
“He wasn’t normal,” Vince replied sullenly.
“Hell, nobody’s normal,” Lonnie said. “I guess we’re all crazy one way or another. Just don’t think about it.”
“Okay, Pop. You’re right.” He looked at Dave. “Pop’s right, Puppy.”
“I don’t know.”
“At least help me get the Social Security,” Lonnie said, beginning to show impatience with Dave.
“You don’t get Social Security?” Vince looked surprised.
Dave quickly filled him in about how Lonnie had never filed for Social Security because he knew he could not find his birth certificate, and how the only way he could prove his age was through the family Bible which now was missing. And, he concluded, Allan probably stole it to finance his adventures in Dallas. Vince’s teeth bit down on his tongue, a sure sign he was trying to contain his temper.
“That damn bastard,” Vince said, muttering.
“It won’t help getting mad at him,” Dave replied calmly. “He’s dead. It won’t do any good to cuss him out now. We got to figure out what he did with the Bible.”
“Oh hell, how could you ever figure out what that boy did?” Lonnie sank into a dining room chair.
“Okay. It’s safe to say he wanted money.” Dave walked over to the table and sat next to his father.
“You got that right,” Vince said. “He was always slipping bills out of my wallet.”
“It’s worth a lot of money. It has Davy Crockett’s signature in it. The best place to sell it is at one of those antique shops on Turtle Creek Boulevard in Dallas.”
“You think so, Puppy?” Lonnie raised an eyebrow.
“He’s right, Pop.” Vince sat on the sofa. “It makes sense.”
“So what are you going to do?” Lonnie asked in exasperation. “Go to every store in Dallas?”
“If I have to, yes.”

Cancer Chronicles Fifty-Six

It has been six months and a few days since my wife Janet died of cancer. I think she would be proud of the way I have been managing.
I haven’t gone off any emotional deep-end or done anything really dumb out of the blue. I have continued all my activities and stayed in touch with friends. I have continued my writing projects and have even added a couple of new ones. They won’t make any money but hopefully they will make other people happy, an activity Janet and I shared throughout the years.
No doubt about it. I am in mourning and will be for quite a bit longer. All people heal in their own way in a manner that is good for them. For some time I have been in deep contemplation about the national dialogue over the expression “Black Lives Matter.” Because of her experience as a probation officer, Janet knew exactly what it meant and why there was no need for the counter-expression “All Lives Matter.”
I’ve come up with an explanation that I think Janet would approve of. Suppose I was talking to someone and I said, “I’m in mourning over the death of my wife,” and that person’s immediate response was “Well, I’m in mourning over the deaths of all people.”
While I don’t know for sure what my reaction would be, I do think I would be taken aback by the person’s apparent attempt to minimalize the impact of my grief as compared to the grief of everyone in the world as they go through the exact same process.
Yes, of course, every person should mourn the death of everyone. No one deserves more grief than anyone else. Except I think my wife deserves my grief because I shared my life with her and her existence was my reality for 45 years…Black lives matter to anyone who has felt a sense of community with a person killed in a violent situation. You don’t have to be black to share the ingrained experience of injustice or unfairness. Yes, police lives matter. Probation officer lives matter. Prison guard lives matter. They all matter in their own individual way. Not one group has more or less respect than another. I do think it is wrong to respond to any statement of grief with another statement which debases the feelings of the mourners.
We all must be allowed to mourn in our own way for as long—or short—as it may take us. Unqualified sympathy would be appreciated.

Sins of the Family Chapter Fifteen

Dr. Harold Lippincott drummed his fingers on his desk as he tried to listen with courtesy to an old woman who sat across from him pleading for her boyfriend’s son to be readmitted to the state mental hospital. His mind was on his own father, lingering from the effects of a stroke.
“I’m afraid he’s going to take a shotgun and blow Grady’s head off while he’s sleeping or he’s going to wander off to that Atlanta again. And who knows what will happen to him there.” She leaned in and whispered, “That place is like a magnet for every kind of scum of the earth there is, you know. There’s just something peculiar in that boy’s eyes. It’s always been there, ever since he was little. It ain’t normal. Ain’t you noticed it, doc?”
“I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Tulip…”
“That’s Twolips,” she said. “My husband, God rest his soul, was part Indian. I don’t remember which tribe, but I ain’t ashamed of it. It’s better than marrying some hippie. He was a hard-working and good-hearted man, and so is Grady. He don’t deserve this aggravation.”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Twolips. I appreciate our concern, but Mr. Hargraves’ son, Reginald, could not be held longer than three months without recommendation of his attending physician.”
“Who was fool enough to let him out?”
“Well,” he said, rubbing his hand over his shaved head, “I was his attending physician.”
“What kind of a doctor are you that you can’t see that young man…”
“That young man is fifty years old.”
“Exactly. He’s fifty years old and can’t hold a job. Has to stay home with his seventy-year-old daddy. That ain’t normal. I ain’t got no fancy college degree, but I got enough common sense to know that ain’t normal.”
“There are certain legal criteria…”
“If he ends up killing Grady or himself, it’ll be the same as if you done it yourself.”
Harold looked through the file.
“Mr. Hargraves—Reginald—thinks you believe his father will marry you if he—Reginald—were permanently committed.”
Mrs. Twolips’ mouth pinched shut.
“It’s my opinion that Reginald doesn’t belong at home with his father but could learn to be self-supporting in a halfway house.”
“He’d run off. He’s done it before.”
“We’ve all done things that we won’t do in the future.”
“I ain’t going to talk no more to no doctor who ain’t got no sense.” She stood and stalked to the door. “And I’m not out to get Reggie put away so I can marry Grady.”
“I didn’t say that. Reginald did.”
“Just remember,” Mrs. Twolips said as she stopped at the door and looked back at Harold, “It’s on your head.” She slammed the door behind her.
Harold put his head in his hands, tried not to think of when he’d heard those sentiments before, but he could not resist memories of that night in his father’s home when he announced he wanted to become a psychiatrist. Even now Harold could feel the sting of the shard of broken crystal in his finger. He could see the red-black drop of blood appear on his skin. He could sense the burning sensation on the back of his neck as his father looked down on him, contemptuous of his abilities and his dreams.
The telephone rang to bring him back to the present. Sighing, he picked up the receiver.
He smiled when he heard the voice of his wife, a perfect antidote for memories of his father. She was about ten years younger than he, beautiful and completely devoted. Whenever he doubted himself, Harold could always count on her to bring him out of it.
“What is it, Stephanie?”
“The doctor at your father’s hospital just called.” She paused. “Your father died last night.”
Again he was thrown back on the floor of the Long Island mansion looking up at his father’s cold blue eyes.
“Harold? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Yet he wondered why he felt neither grief nor any remorse for not feeling grief. At that moment all he felt was a strange numbness.
“At first I thought I’d wait to tell you when you came home, but then I thought you’d want to know now.”
He smiled, as he often did to hide his deeper moods from her, even though she could not see the smile through the receiver. Was he becoming a bit irrational?
“Don’t worry about it. See you tonight.”
As he hung up, he thought about going home to his wife. Harold visualized her kisses and hugs to comfort him over the death of his aged father, not knowing that the old man’s death meant nothing to him. No, that’s not right, he corrected himself. It was sort of a release, freeing Harold at last from his feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.
It was those feelings that ended his first marriage to the girl in the mansion next door. Dorothy was within a year of his age and almost his height. She was, in the words of Harold’s father, his equal in every way. In some aspects, she was Harold’s superior, his father added. Dorothy was a professor of medieval studies at Harvard University, while he had a private psychiatric practice in Boston, listening to problems of bored society matrons.
Then, one day, Dorothy announced she was bored with Harold and had accepted a position with the Sorbonne for the next fall. The logical step would be for them to separate legally since he could not speak French, and, therefore, could not open a practice in Paris. As a coincidence, Harold discovered, a fellow Harvard professor, an expert in the Romance languages, also accepted a position at the Sorbonne for that fall. A lanky, debonair man, he had a full head of silver hair and was a head taller than Dorothy.
When Harold called Dorothy one evening in Paris, the lanky, silver-haired master of Romance languages answered. He decided to change the status of their legal separation to divorce. Soon after that, he closed his office and accepted the position of head psychiatrist at North Carolina State Mental Hospital in Morganton, where he had hoped to find meaning in life by helping those with more problems than boredom.
In his first year in North Carolina, he met a beautiful young woman who owned a boutique of Appalachian folk art. Stephanie was generous, witty, an incisive art critic and comforting. His father’s indifference towards her when he visited in June only made Harold love her more. Awakened from his thoughts by a knock at the door he looked up and said come in. George entered and scratched his chin.
“Doc? You got a minute?”
“Sure, what do you want?”
He stopped halfway across the room.
“The guy’s here with a new television for the day room.”
“Good. All the patients have done nothing but complain about no television.”
“Even that crazy John Ross?”
“Please, George, don’t use the word crazy.”
“Even that John Ross?”
“Of course he wouldn’t complain. He broke it.”
“If he’s crazy enough to break it, he’s crazy enough to complain that it’s broken.”
“Not at all.” Harold sighed, wishing he could convince George not to use the word crazy, an old-fashioned expression with no relevance in today’s society. Mentally ill was a more appropriate term.
“You should give him more pills.”
“I don’t discuss patients’ files with the staff.” Harold straightened himself in a snit.
“Yeah,” George said, raising an eyebrow, “I’m just the guy who cleans toilets, but if it was up to me, I’d give him more pills.”
Once more Harold heard Mrs. Twolips’ reprimand and saw his father’s reproving blue eyes. Now even the man who cleaned toilets cast doubt on his judgment.
Jumping a little as he came out of his thoughts, Harold composed himself to stare at George.
“That’s not up to you.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Doc.” George’s mouth fell open, and he took a step back. “I was just—well, I guess I better get back to work. It’s about time for me to clock out.”
“Yes, you may leave.”
“By the way,” he said after taking a few steps away, Ross is getting pretty thick with those two brothers, Mike and Randy.”
“Yes, I know.” Harold looked down and pretended to be busy reading Reginald Hargraves’ file.
“Those boys are pretty squirrelly. Ross is pretty squirrelly.”
“Of course they’re squirrelly.” He closed the file with finality and gave George a resolute, toothy grin. “That’s why they’re here.”
George nodded and left the room. Harold put the Hargraves file aside and punched his intercom.
“Please bring me the folder on John Ross.”
While waiting, Harold looked at his calendar to see how he could take a few days off to go to the funeral in New York. A thought flickered across his mind to tell Stephanie he was too busy to go to the funeral, except he could imagine her response, “You should always have time for your own father.” She had wonderful, thoughtful, caring parents and could never understand how he hated his father. It would be easy to mourn someone who was tolerant, thoughtful and caring. None of those adjectives fit his father.
The nurse brought in the file and left. Flipping through it, Harold wondered if George might have had some insight to John Ross that he, a degreed gentleman from one of New York’s finer homes, had not discovered. These anxiety attacks and feelings of inadequacy had been a frequent part of his life, and today, of all days he should feel release and experience full empowerment of his manhood. Instead, he felt like a little boy looking to his glowering, all-knowing, all-judgmental father for approval and direction and receiving neither. He touched the intercom.
“Please leave a note for the night staff on the medication for John Ross.”
“Yes, doctor.” There was a pause, and he heard the nurse turn from the intercom and speak. “Good night, George.”
Harold heard the attendant’s gruff old voice say. “Hope they can run this place without me tonight.”
The nurse laughed.
“Yes, sir,” she said into the intercom. “I’ve a note pad ready. What’s your message?”
So that old fool thought he was in charge of this place. George was not going to instruct him on how to handle his patients.
“Nothing, nurse.”
“Nothing, sir?”
“Yes. I changed my mind.”
“Yes, sir.”
He sat back. Even the nurse believed he did not know what he was doing. Shaking his head, Harold stood and went to the window. He needed to get hold of himself. He sounded irrational; he needed to trust his own judgment. Looking out, Harold glimpsed John walking on the grounds with Mike and Randy. The boys laughed. Mike punched Randy and Randy punched him back. John in a comic way tried to break up the pretend scuffle. Harold scrutinized John’s face. Even he laughed. His eyes actually lit with an emotion other than hopelessness.
“I can’t be wrong,” Harold said.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Three

Ward Lamon walked briskly down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Executive Mansion, determined to tell President Johnson the entire story of Abraham Lincoln being kidnapped and held captive in the White House basement. Throughout the conspirators’ trial, he wrestled with the decision to burst into the courtroom and tell the entire ugly story; but he restrained himself, knowing the prosecutors would not believe him. His last chance was to convince Johnson to accept the possibility of the conspiracy and therefore postpone the hangings.
As he mounted the steps, Lamon collided with a young woman rushing out the door. Holding her shoulders with his large rough hands, he recognized her to be Anna Surratt, the daughter of the boardinghouse owner who had been convicted of abetting in the plot to kill Lincoln and was sentenced to hang.
“Excuse me, Miss Surratt,” he mumbled. Looking closely at her face, Lamon observed tears streaking her soft cheeks. “So you’ve been to see President Johnson and he turned you down.”
“How do you know my name?” Her eyes widened in recognition. “Oh, you’re the gentleman who visited my mother in prison. I told her to trust you, but she doesn’t trust any Yankees anymore. Let’s see, you said your name was Lamon, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Ward Hill Lamon. I was on my way to convince Mr. Johnson to delay the executions.”
Anna looked away and sighed. “There’s no use in that. I told him about the man under the bridge, even told him his name, Lafayette Baker, but he said that wasn’t enough to save my mother.”
Lamon cocked his head. “Are you sure about that name, Lafayette Baker?”
“Yes, sir. Lafayette Baker. I would have told you in the prison that day you visited but Mother forbid me from saying anymore. Do you know him?”
“I know that he is Edwin Stanton’s henchman. When he came to your mother’s boardinghouse that night, did he say anything about Mr. Stanton?”
“No.” She paused. “He said he was from the War Department, but he didn’t mention Mr. Stanton by name.” Anna shook her head. “I don’t know how all this could make a difference.” She pointed to a horse and carriage in the driveway. “Mr. Johnson said he had that carriage ready to rush orders to stop the hangings if new evidence came to him this morning, but that my information was not enough.”
“I think I have news that will change his mind.” Lamon smiled, took Anna’s hand and guided her back into the Executive Mansion.
Once inside, Johnson’s secretary Reuben Massey blocked the staircase up to Johnson’s private office.
“I thought the President told you to go away.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked down on Anna.
Lamon pushed himself in front of the girl, placing him so close to Massey that the secretary nervously took a step back. “She’s with me. I have important information the President must hear.” He paused to stare into Massey’s eyes. “You do know who I am, don’t you?”
“Of course I know who you are, Mr. Lamon.” He took another step back and brushed the front of his dark blue coat. “You may have held sway with Mr. Lincoln, but this is Mr. Johnson’s house now.”
Clinching his teeth, Lamon extended his right arm to push Massey aside. Still holding Anna’s hand, he trotted up the stairs with Massey trailing behind, making unintelligible protests. Without knocking, he burst into the office. Johnson looked up from his desk.
“Lamon! What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m going to save you from making the worst mistake in your whole damn life!”
Massey shuffled to the President’s desk as quickly as he could. “Sir, do you wish I call for the guards?”
“I have a name for you,” Lamon announced. “Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.”
Johnson stopped, and his mouth fell open. After a moment, he looked at Massey. “Leave us alone. This is a private matter. If anyone asks, tell them I am alone and do not wish to be disturbed. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Massey bowed slightly and turned to glare at Lamon before going to the door and closing it gently.
Johnson walked around his desk. “And what does Secretary Stanton have to do with all this?”
Lamon breathed deeply before launching into the full story of the kidnapping of the Lincolns, their stay in the basement, the guard from Stanton’s hometown and the insertion of two imposters upstairs, ending with the assassination and the rush to judgment in the conviction of the conspirators.
“Did your mother know about this?” Johnson asked Anna.
“No. This is the first I’ve heard of Mr. Stanton’s involvement. If I didn’t know, Mother didn’t know.”
The President looked back at Lamon. “Are you sure about this?”
“Positive, but I can’t prove it in a court of law,” Lamon replied, “but even if I could prove it, I wouldn’t press it in court because the nation in its current fragile condition would collapse under the shock of the horrible truth.”
A sneer crossed Johnson’s lips. “How many times have I been urged to cover up a scandal because the people—bless their hearts—could not be trusted with reality. I am a man of the people that you don’t respect, dammit, and I’ve always believed they can handle anything if presented to them in a forthright manner.” He exhaled loudly. “But this—this is a different matter. I’ll be damned if I don’t agree with you.”
“Does that mean you’ll save my mother’s life?” Hope tinged Anna’s small voice.
The President returned to his desk, grabbed a sheet of paper and began to write. “My gut tells me this miserable mess sounds like something Stanton would do.” He lightly blew on the reprieve to hasten the drying of the ink. “I hate Stanton.” He looked up. “I should have known that man wasn’t the real Lincoln. They—Stanton, that is—kept me away from him as much as possible. Hell, I was in a drunken stupor most of the time anyway.” Johnson folded the document and put it in an envelope. “I can redeem myself now.” He extended it to Lamon. “There’s a carriage and driver waiting outside the door, just for a circumstance like this. Get to the Old Capitol Prison as quickly as possible!”
Lamon grabbed the reprieve and rushed out the door with Anna in tow. They scurried down the steps and out onto the porch. Waving the document at the driver, he yelled out, “To the prison!” as they jumped into the carriage.
Anna leaned into Lamon’s shoulder and cried. “Oh, thank you, thank you Mr. Lamon.”
“Don’t worry. It won’t be long now.”
As the carriage pulled up in front of the prison, Lamon frowned as he saw the large milling crowd. They lunged through the masses, Lamon waving the reprieve over his head. “Make way! Make way! The President has granted a stay of execution!”
Placing Anna behind him, Lamon elbowed and shoved his way through the human barricade. Just as he thought their cause was lost, he noticed a Union soldier step forward with his rifle. The screams were deafening but he thought he heard Anna gasped.
“You—it’s you!”
The soldier put a finger to his lips. “Shush, young lady. We have no time! We must save them!”
Furrowing his brow, Lamon wondered who this young man was. He had black unruly hair, muttonchops on his fair cheeks and an absurdly large handlebar mustache. The soldier immediately stepped in front of him and began violently swinging his rifle, causing all the mob members to melt away.
“Make way! Reprieves for the accused! By order of the President!”
The private’s commanding voice impressed Lamon with its deep, resounding authority. He also noticed the soldier walked with a limp, which did not stop him from making extraordinary progress to the prison yard gate. Stretching himself to his full height, Lamon could see over the heads of the witnesses. The prisoners were already standing on the scaffold. Guards placed hoods on their heads.
The soldier banged on the iron gate. “Let us in! On the orders of President Johnson!”
Nodding, the guard opened the entrance. However, they only took a few steps when two men, dressed dapperly as befitted members of Congress, linked their arms to bar Lamon and his companions from progressing further.
“Make way! We have the President’s mandate!” the soldier boomed.
“The President?” one of the men replied with a sneering tone. “I know Mr. Johnson personally, and he is a man of measured judgments.” He shook his head. “He would not take such a precipitant action.”
Lamon pushed the soldier aside to make eye contact with the men. He recognized them. One was Congressman Preston King of New York and the other Senator James Lane of Kansas. He knew them both to be of the radical wing of the Republican Party and men of a self-serving nature, quick to be bold when it was to their own benefit.
“What have you been paid?” he asked bluntly.
“I beg your pardon?” Lane was indignant.
“You know what I mean.” Lamon stepped closer so he was nose to nose with the senator. “Is it an appointment?” He jerked his head to stare at King. “An ambassadorship? Customs collector?”
King’s mouth flew open but only startled moans and grunts came out.
Lamon looked over King’s head, across the crowded yard to the top of the scaffold. He saw Gen. John Hartranft reading from a folder of documents. Lamon had to reach and deliver the reprieves to Hartranft. “The general is reading the order of execution! We have no time to argue!” His voice grew intense.
“Stand aside, gentlemen!” The soldier held his rifle at a diagonal position and pushed against the two men.
Lane pushed back. “Don’t you ever take such liberties with me again, young man!”
“Mama! Mama!” Anna tried to angle her way between the congressmen. “I’m here, Mama!”
Lamon watched Mrs. Surratt as she stood still as the soldiers placed the noose around her neck. She did not react to Anna’s voice. They were too far away to be heard by anyone standing on the platform. Lamon knew they had to move closer to stop the executions.
“Here, Mama! We have a reprieve!”
“Don’t tell her that!” King put his hand over Anna’s mouth. “Don’t give your mother false hope. I don’t care what you have on that piece of paper. She is going to die today!”
“You cannot make that decision yourself! Gen. Hartranft is in charge here. Let him read the document and make the final decision.” Lamon forced himself to speak in a calmer voice, realizing the forceful approach was not working.
“We are willing to take the responsibility.” Lane lifted his chin in defiance.
“Yes, we are,” King echoed in a voice tinged with uncertainty.
“Oh, really?” the soldier asked.
His tone captured Lamon’s attention, and he turned to stare at the private.
“And what are your names? Who are you to be so brave in taking a woman’s life?” the soldier asked.
“We—we don’t have to tell you anything,” King replied softly.
“They are Sen. James Lane of Kansas and Rep. Preston King of New York,” Lamon interceded. “Get accustomed to hearing your names repeated, gentlemen, as the brave men who refused to save the life of the first woman ever executed in the United States of America.”
Lamon looked up at the platform again. The tall one, Paine, stepped forward and Lamon could tell he was saying something but he could not make out what it was. They had to move closer. Lamon pushed against the congressman.
“Your time is up, gentlemen. Let us through now!” He resumed his militant approach.
“You can’t threaten us! Leave!” King pushed the soldier’s rifle down.
Immediately the private delivered a mighty uppercut to the congressman’s chin with the butt of his rifle, momentarily throwing King off balance.
“Guards!” Lane screamed in an uncharacteristically high pitch. “We’re being attacked!”
Lamon felt hands on his shoulders, pulling him back and down to the ground. Landing on top of him was Anna. He twisted his head about to see if the private, in the split second of chaos, had made it past the congressman and across the yard to Gen. Hartranft. Lamon watched as a guard grabbed the private’s rifle. The private disappeared in the crowd, but Lamon could not tell where he had gone.
“Oh my God, no!” Anna yelled.
Lamon looked up just in time to see soldiers pulling the lever, releasing the trap door door from beneath the feet of Mrs. Surratt, Herold, Paine and Atzerodt. As the bodies fell with a thump, Anna turned her head to cry into Lamon’s shoulder. He became aware of the envelope still in his grasp. A hand reached down to snatch it away.
“And I’ll take that, thank you,” Rep. King said in a clipped tone before he and Sen. Lane melted into the mob.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Sixteen

Davy traveled with Henry Meyers down the road from Gerardstown to Front Royal. Feeling comfortable with Henry, he told him the truth—he wanted to go home to Tennessee now, even if he had to go by himself, begging for money along the way. Patting the boy on the shoulder, Henry nodded and smiled with understanding.
“Davy, if I had a load going south, I’d take you home.” His powder blue eyes twinkled. “But I can help you scramble up some money.”
Dusk descended upon the cattle pens in the center of Front Royal as Henry walked with Davy to the campfires of teamsters settling in for the night. They went up to a group of men who were laughing and passing a jug of whiskey. Henry put his arm around Davy’s shoulders and cleared his throat
“Gentlemen, may I please have a few minutes of your time to tell you the tale of this poor little stragglin’ boy from Tennessee.”
Looking up, the teamsters stopped talking to glance from Henry to Davy and back. “Yeah, sure,” they muttered.
For the next few minutes he launched into a mostly true account of Davy’s association with the detestable Adam Meyers. When he came to the part about the trip to Baltimore, Henry turned and nodded toward the boy. “You better tell this part, Master Crockett.”
Davy stepped forward, looked down and tried to muster up some tears. “I’m so embarrassed.” He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes. “I should have been grateful Mr. Meyers gave me a chance to even go to a big city. I always wanted to see the big ships but he knew I was a weak boy so he said no. No goin’ to the harbor. So I snuck out one night and ran off. I knew it was wrong, runnin’ off and not sayin’ anythin’—“
“Aww, boys will be boys,” one of teamsters said.
“I guess sometimes a boy has to stray from the strait and narrow to learn the right road to travel.”
“Yeah, that’s right, that’s right,” another teamsters added, nodding in agreement.
“So I went right up to a ship and luck would have it that the captain was holding a contest to pick out his new cabin boy. I won every test and became the cabin boy for the ship Jezebel.” He paused to look knowingly around the campfire. “I should of known no good would come of it on a vessel with such a wicked name like Jezebel.”
All the men laughed and slapped each other on the shoulder.
“Then that night the captain took me to a house in town that had painted women in it.”
Oohs and ahs rippled through the group.
“It was then I realized the error of my ways,” Davy said, shaking a finger in the air. “I wasn’t goin’ to shame my mother no more so I ran away from the Jezebel and went back to Adam Meyers. Now I knew I wasn’t goin’ to be welcomed with no big hug, but, but—“ He stopped to hold back imaginary tears.
“That’s all right, boy,” a teamster said. “Take your time.”
“He beat me,” Davy said in a whisper. “He beat me bad.”
“The dirty son of a bitch.”
“Only a dirty coward would beat a boy like that.”
“Now what happened? Don’t be scared, boy. You’re among friends here.”
Davy glanced over at Henry who had put his large hand to his bearded face, perhaps hiding a smile.
“I couldn’t take it no more,” he continued. “So I told him I was leavin’ and I wanted my seven dollars back. He wouldn’t give it to me.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“And the Good Lord led me to this man,” Davy said, pointing to Henry. “As it turned out this man, Henry Meyers, is the cousin of the accursed villain Adam Meyers.”
Gasps rippled through the crowd. David glanced at Henry who only looked away and studied the darkness as though he had heard some distant coyote’s howl.
“He grabbed me, and we immediately went to his cousin, rousing him from his bed. Grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck, Mr. Henry Meyers demanded he pay me what he owed.” Davy paused, trying to compose himself and confided in a low voice, “He didn’t have it. He’d spent it all on liquor.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“Let’s tar and feather ‘im!”
“No, no,” Davy said, trying to calm down the group. “If he ain’t got my money, he ain’t got it.”
“Somethin’ should be done,” one of the teamsters said indignantly.
Coughing, Henry stepped forward and raised his hands. “This is why we’ve come to you good gentlemen. This poor stragglin’ boy needs money to git home to his mother in Tennessee.”
“All my brothers and sisters died of the plague,” Davy added.
“Well, hell,” a teamster said, standing, “I’ve got a few spare coins in my pocket.”
“Oh no, I can’t take charity,” he said, shaking his head. “Ma said never to take charity.”
Henry put his hand on his shoulder. “This is no time for pride, boy. You want to see your ma, don’t you?”
“I guess.” Davy shuffled his feet.
After collecting the loose change in a handkerchief, he profusely thanked them and walked with Henry back to his wagon.
“That should be enough to git you to Tennessee. Stay with me tonight and start out early tomorrow.” He patted Davy’s back. “Good story. Use it again if you need the money.”


David turned without a word and bolted for the door. He passed his daughters and walked to the shallow creek among the trees. He ambled along, breathing in the crisp autumn air. His foot stumbled over something that rattled. Kneeling, he picked up a rusted trap. He remembered buying them last spring before he went on the campaign trail after Elizabeth fussed that rabbits were getting into her garden. Hearing limbs crack under a heavy step, David looked up to see Robert lumbering toward him with his rifle slung over his broad hammy shoulders.
“Shoot nothin’?” David asked, standing.
“I could of told you that.”
Robert stopped on the creek bank, tensed and looked at his father. “Oh?”
“I mean, it ain’t the right time of day.” David knew he should shut up, but his mouth was off and running. “The wind’s all wrong. Light ain’t good. Aww, they’re jest things you pick up the more you hunt.”
“I don’t git to hunt as much as I’d like to. I have to work the farm.”
“Yeah, I know. You done good.”
“Thank you.”
“The corn crop brought a good price. You didn’t git took, that’s for sure.”
Robert turned to walk to the cabin. David wanted him to stay, but he could not think of anything else to say. He glanced down at the rusty trap in his hand. “By the way, I found this trap down by the creek. It’s all rusted up.”
“I won’t do that again.” He clinched his jaw and began to walk again.
“If you feel bad about not baggin’ anythin’ I could go back with you and shoot you somethin’.”
“If it’s a bad time of day,” Robert said slowly as he turned to look at his father, “what makes you think you could hit anythin’?”
“Well,” David replied with a sly smile, “years of huntin’ ought to count for somethin’.”
The waves of emotions flooding Robert’s face scared David because he saw hatred, anger, resentment, frustration and aggravation roiling in his eyes.
“All right. Show me how good a shot you are.” Robert walked toward his father thrusting the rifle into his hands.
“Son, I don’t want to—“
“Load.” Robert gave him the pouch and powder horn, grabbing the rusted trap and throwing it to the ground.
David hesitantly loaded. “I don’t know what this is goin’ to prove.”
“After you shoot I’m goin’ to shoot.” Robert pointed to a tree across the creek. “See the old oak over there? There’s two leaves on that long branch. You take the one on the right.” He glared as David just stood there, blinking his eyes. “All right, I’ll go first.” He grabbed the rifle from his father’s hands.
“Now if you git all upset you ain’t goin’ to shoot good at all.”
Robert swung up the rifle, took quick aim and fired. The golden oak leaf on the left side disappeared, which brought a satisfied smile to his face.
“Oh.” David paused. “I didn’t know you was that good.”
Robert took the pouch and horn to load the rifle. “You don’t know a bunch about me.” He finished and handed it back. “Now it’s your time to shoot. Only one leaf left.”
Lifting the rifle slowly, David took long, careful aim and shot. The faded leaf did not even quiver in the breeze. He lowered the rifle listlessly, feeling as empty as he did the day he learned he lost the election. He stepped closer to the creek in hopes his eyes deceived him and the leaf was actually gone. It was still there.
“Like I said, the light’s bad this time of day.”
“Anythin’ you say.”
David did not like his son’s tone of voice. He heard that tone too often in Washington and in Obion valley taverns and did not want to hear it from one of the children.
“I’ll have to buy another trap at Kimery store tomorrow to replace the rusted one.”
“Anything you say,” Robert replied and walked away, leaving his father feeling empty and cold.


I hate to bother you, but I have an idea.
Dave could not believe Allan was speaking to him again. He saw the coffin, heard the eulogy and looked down into the six-foot deep pit that would engulf his brother forever. Why was not Allan gone?
“What?” he replied vacantly.
I can’t stand living with that old devil anymore.
“You’re not going to live with me.”
Waco has Baylor University. I always wanted to go to a really good university.
And I know exactly what I want to study.
“No.” This conversation had actually happened sometime in the past, and Allan did not want to live with him in Waco, but wanted to move in with him at his college in Commerce. Dave remembered feeling empty and cold from the fear of carrying his brother like his father had carried him, and he refused to lose his life to try to breathe life into Allan.
Psychology. After all the time I’ve spent with psychiatrists I’ve learned all the tricks of the trade.
“Allan, I said no.”
And all I’d need would be a master’s degree to be a counselor in a mental health clinic.
“I said no!” he shouted.
You’re just being selfish. That’s all.
“I said no!” Dave repeated. He remembered he had been desperately afraid he would fail as Allan and Vince had failed. He remembered how he shoved his brother, the first time he had ever touched him in anger.
Now his memories and his current emotions blended creating an intolerable situation in his mind. “You’re dead! Don’t you know that?”
Dave thought if he could grab Allan by the shoulders and shove him into the lid of the coffin covered by carnations he could convince his brother he was dead and did not belong in this world anymore.
“It was in the Dallas Morning News! In thirty-six point type! ‘Transient found dead in warehouse fire’!”
“You stupid bastard! We put you in a halfway house, but you wouldn’t stay, you stupid bastard!”
They were too bossy.
“You damn stupid bastard! We tried to help you, and all you could do was go off and get yourself killed!”
I’m dead…dead….
“Yes! You’re dead! So go to heaven! Go to hell! Go wherever you—you crazy people go after you kill yourselves!
Allan stepped back and seemed to fade before Dave’s eyes. He was gone, Dave told himself he was finally gone. Now Dave did not have to be afraid anymore. He did not have to be angry anymore. He did not have to feel guilty anymore. The relief caused him to fall on the top of the coffin and sob loudly.
“Let him go, son.”
Dave looked up to see Lonnie behind him and felt his hand patting his back. Lonnie’s touch was gentle, which reminded Dave of the time he watched his father tenderly trap a butterfly in his hand off the truck windshield and release it out the window.
“Let him go.”

Cancer Chronicles Forty-Five

My wife Janet and I had gone to the same general practitioner for 20 years.
He was the one who referred me to a sleep specialist who diagnosed me with REM sleep disorder. A few months later the general practitioner said there was nothing wrong with me which would keep me from working. When I told my sleep doctor that diagnosis, he sent a message to my gp that REM indeed restricted me from working a full time job. At my next appointment the gp acknowledged I had a sleep disorder and wrote me out a prescription for the breathing apparatus needed for someone with apnea. I do not have apnea; I threw the prescription out.
He was the one who came into my hospital room after I had been admitted for a heart attack and said, “Well, you finally had that heart attack,” as though chiding a child hit by a car after being repeatedly warned not to play in the street.
He was the one who referred Janet to a dermatologist for the skin condition on her breast. He was the one who told her she had cancer and referred her to an oncologist. And when the cancer had spread to Janet’s brain he was the one to recommend putting her in Hospice where she would probably die in three days. He was right. She was dead in three days.
Recently I had my first general checkup since Janet died in January. He looked at the blood test results and told me all levels were good except testosterone which was very low.
He then looked me in the eye and asked me if I was planning to be sexually active. He knew my wife had been dead barely six months, but the look in his eyes was as though he were talking to a complete stranger. He forgot that we had a son, a daughter and 44 years of marriage.
When I said no, he said it was just as well because a man my age and with my heart problems would not respond well to testosterone enhancement treatment.
Believe it or not, I made another appointment with him sometime in November or December, knowing full well he will enter the examination room with that blank look in his eyes, extending his hand while concentrating on the clipboard.
At my age, I have met precious few doctors who ever tried to connect on a personal level and the vast majority of them have been specialists. Looking for a new general practitioner at this time would cause me to expend negative energy that would just make things worse.
Right now I need all the positive energy I can find. I’ve realized I’m not going to find it in a doctor’s office so I shouldn’t even try.
My advice is to get your positive energy from friends and family.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Two

Andrew Johnson shifted uncomfortably in his bed. He had been ill for almost a week during the closing arguments and deliberations in the assassination conspiracy trial. Rumors on the street had it that the newly installed president had drifted into old, bad habits of alcohol abuse and suffered from an extreme case of delirium tremens. His hair stuck to his forehead from perspiration while his face contorted in emotional pain. He was back in the pigsty in Greeneville, Tenn., slowly sinking into the muck as toothless old men and sassy young ladies dressed in their Sunday finest pointed at him and laughed.
“President of the United States? Why he wouldn’t even make a good town drunk!”
“Poor as snot! What Eliza McCardle ever saw in him I’ll never know!”
Johnson flailed about, trying to avoid being sucked under the muck and mire of the pigsty. Screaming, he sat up in bed, opened his eyes and looked about the room, panting nervously. Seeing his wife Eliza in her wheelchair by his side calmed him, and Johnson fell back against the pillow. She and their daughter Martha arrived from Tennessee by the end of May. Smiling weakly, he reached out to pat her pale cheek.
Eliza suffered from tuberculosis, which sapped her energy and relegated her to a wheelchair. Johnson knew the trip from Tennessee and her subsequent activities at the Executive Mansion weakened her further, even though Martha had assumed the duties of running the house. Her husband David Patterson would be joining them soon because the Tennessee legislature had just elected him senator. Johnson longed to have the rest of his family around him. They had always sustained him in times of anxiety. His oldest son Robert was a colonel during the war, and his presence soothed Johnson more as a trusted longtime friend than as an obedient son, such as Andrew Junior, who was only thirteen. His other daughter Mary married a man named Stover. Between the two daughters, the Johnsons had five grandchildren whose laughter and play helped distract their grandfather. But they all were still in Tennessee, and Johnson had to rely on his infirmed wife for comfort.
“What day is it? Has the commission made its decision?” he asked.
“It’s Wednesday, July 5,” she replied in a soft voice, the corners of her thin mouth turned up in a patient smile. “They made their decision June 30 and sealed it. They were waiting for you to recover before sending it over to you.”
Johnson clinched his jaw. “They all think I’ve been out on a drunk. I can just hear those damned Republicans spreading lies about me.” He glanced at his wife. “You know I ain’t been drinking. It’s a three-day bellyache gone bad, that’s all.”
“Of course it is, dear. All you’ve needed is bed rest and quiet. That’s what the doctor said. I can tell you are feeling better.” She smiled again. “You’re complaining again. Up to now you’ve been too sick to complain about anything.”
“It’s the damned trial.” His watery eyes stared at the ceiling. “It’s a huge damned mess and I can’t do anything about it.”
“You fret too much. You’ve always been like that. You fret yourself into a three-day bellyache, and I can’t keep you from it. You just have to work it out yourself, like you always do.”
“How about you?” Johnson turned his head and furrowed his brow. “How do you feel? Breathing all right?”
She chuckled and looked away. “I’m as well as I’m supposed to, considering the circumstances.” She looked at him and straightened her fragile jaw. “Are you up to a visit from the commission? You have to read the verdicts and approve the sentences. They said the review could take several hours. Think you can handle it?”
“Oh, hell. Tell them to come on over. I want this damn thing finished.”
By afternoon, commission chairman Joseph Holt arrived with the documents and by nightfall Johnson agreed to death by hanging for Mrs. Surratt, Herold, Atzerodt and Paine. All the others, including Dr. Mudd, were given prison sentences on the Dry Tortugas of the Florida Keys. They scheduled the hangings for 1 p.m. Friday, July 7. As Holt left, Johnson felt a sense of relief that the national nightmare was almost over, and his tortured stomach began to heal. On the other hand, doubts crept into his mind as he joined his wife, daughter and her two children in the small dining room on the first floor. He joked with Mary Belle and little Andy but he could not help but wonder how a callow, vain actor such as Booth could organize a group of obtuse misfits into a murderous cabal attempting to bring down the government of the United States.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Edwin Stanton ambled through the open air market down by the iron bridge which crossed the Mall slough over to Smithsonian Museum and the veterans hospital. Shopping for apples and onions was about the only pleasure he took from life any more. Dining out was too much trouble, and strangers were always approaching him with little requests about family members. Usually they were matters that were beyond his authority to grant, or matters he cared not to consider. The theater was a silly waste of time, and dinner parties at the homes of congressmen went beyond of the pall of tedium.
However on this particular afternoon, his purpose went beyond the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Stanton waited for Preston King and James Lane. He had never cared for either man, finding them mundane and egocentric, but they presented themselves to him on the night of the assassination as eager players in the Washington political games. First, he asked them to go to Andrew Johnson’s room in the Kirkwood Hotel the morning Lincoln died. Ostensibly they were to help prepare the vice-president to assume the executive duties. In actuality King and Lane were to observe his behavior and report back to Stanton. If possible they were to encourage him to succumb to alcohol so that his swearing-in would be a repeat of the inauguration debacle. Now Stanton had another assignment for them.
“Mr. Secretary, what a surprise to find you here!” King bellowed as he slapped Stanton on the back.
“Dammit, you’re too loud,” Lane hissed as he maneuvered himself to the other side of Stanton.
The war secretary kept his eyes on the basket of onions. “The verdict has been rendered. The President is expected to sschedule the executions for Friday, July 7, in the yard of the Old Capitol Prison. I want you there as my witnesses.”
“Yes, sir. Glad to be of service, sir.” With great difficulty King subdued his enthusiasm.
The president thought he had successfully driven away those suspicions until late morning the day of the hangings. It was his first time back at his desk in his personal second floor office when his secretary Reuben Massey tapped on the door and entered.
“Sir, a distressed young lady is here to see you—“
Before Massey could finish and before Johnson could reply, Anna Surratt burst into the room, running toward the President, her eyes red with tears.
“Mr. President, sir, please save my mother’s life!”
“What the hell is going on here, Massey?”
The secretary came up behind Anna, putting his hands on her shaking shoulders, trying to pull her away. “This is Mrs. Surratt’s daughter, sir. She’s been waiting all morning for an appointment. I told her you were busy but she was unequivocal about seeing you.”
“Yes, she was a Southern sympathizer and is a devout Roman Catholic,” Anna blurted. “She knew something was going on in the boarding house, but as God is my witness she did not participate in anything to kill Mr. Lincoln!”
“What about the testimony that she took firearms to her place in the country?” Johnson mellowed his tone. His own daughters were not much older than Anna, and he could not stay indignant with her. “Please sit.” He glanced at his secretary. “Massey, get her a chair.”
As she sat, Anna took a deep breath. “All I know is that Wilkes asked her to take the guns to our inn. She was just doing a favor for a friend of our family. He was very good friends with my brother John.”
“And where is your brother now?” Johnson cradled his chin in his right hand.
“We don’t know. All John told us was that he had to get out of town.”
“Didn’t that seem suspicious to your mother?” the president asked.
“I don’t know.” She looked down.
“And you want me to intervene on behalf of your mother even though you’ve answered all my questions with ‘I don’t know’?”
“Mother wouldn’t want me to tell you this.” Her words were soft, desperate.
“Massey, pour this young lady a glass of water.” Johnson waved at a side table which held a pitcher, several small glasses and a plate of cookies.
“Thank you, sir.” She took a short sip before continuing. “Wilkes was more than merely my brother’s friend. My mother and I liked him very much. He was a gentleman. He was very complimentary of my mother’s cooking. Any woman would appreciate a handsome gentleman of the stage smiling at her, being tender. One night, right before the—the terrible incident—Wilkes sat in our kitchen eating a slice of Mother’s pound cake when he began speaking of a strange man he had met earlier in the evening.”
Massey stepped forward. “So you’re admitting your mother knew—“
“Don’t you have to attend to other duties?” Johnson glared at his secretary.
“Oh. Yes, sir. My apologies, sir.” He backed his way to the door and left.
“Mr. President, I swear Wilkes shared no details of what—“
“Please, Miss Surratt, continue.” He smiled. “I am not a prosecuting attorney. I assure you.”
“Wilkes and a group of his friends met a man under the Aqueduct Bridge. He did not tell us what they discuss and we did not inquire, as it was none of our business.”
“Yes, I know. Please continue.”
“He was distressed that the man was not a gentleman in his conduct. Above all else, Wilkes prided himself on being a gentleman. If a man had not manners what good was he? Wilkes could talk for hours about how a man’s true character was revealed by his courtesy toward others.”
“Did he say what the man’s name was?” Johnson could not determine where this narration was going nor what its importance might be, but he tried to hide his impatience.
“No, he said the man did not identify himself. In fact, he kept his face in the shadows so Wilkes could not see him. He did say the man was rather short and tapped his foot impatiently in the lapping waters of the Potomac. We dismissed the conversation as another example of Wilkes’ obsession with the art of being a gentleman until the night Mother was arrested. The man who was in charge of the contingent was a short man who nervously tapped his foot on the floor, just like the man under the bridge.”
Johnson leaned forward. “And who was this man?”
“Col. Lafayette Baker.” A brief quiver shot through her slender body. “He threatened my mother. He said she must never tell anyone about the meeting under the bridge if she wished for any chance of surviving. She did not tell a soul, yet she is to hang today. Please, Mr. President, for the love of mercy, save my mother.”
Johnson paused a moment to collect his thoughts. “My dear young lady, we make our decisions from two places—from here,” he said pointing to his head, “And from here.” His hand slapped across his belly. “My gut tells me everything you’ve said is not beyond belief. I wouldn’t put anything passed Stanton and his hatchet man Baker. My brain says your story is too incredible to be true. No one would believe it. More importantly no court of law would allow my gut feelings to rule the day.”
Gently putting his arm around Anna’s shoulders, he guided her to a window and nodded to a horse and carriage waiting outside. “This morning I ordered that transportation to be placed in front of the Executive Mansion so that if any legally reliable evidence were presented to me, I could send posthaste a messenger to Old Capitol Prison to delay the executions.” He sadly shook his head. “What you have told me does not satisfy the requirements of legal recourse. I cannot send that carriage. I am so dreadfully sorry.”
Anna collapsed into his chest, weeping uncontrollably. Johnson clenched his jaw when he sensed he also was on the verge of tears. The backwoodsman in him wanted to drive the carriage himself to the prison, carry Mrs. Surratt out in his arms, and take her and Anna to a train station sending them far away so no one could ever hurt them. But his political side knew any chance he had to ease the reprisals against the South would be destroyed if he flouted the law and the will of the Radical Republicans in Congress.
“All I can do is pray for you and your mother.”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Eleven

“That and much more. Will you now consider that what I am saying is true?” he asked in earnestness.
“Yes, doctor.” She took on an air of seriousness and deliberation. “I’ll try to view your opinions without prejudice.”
Van Helsing clicked his heels and bowed. “Thank you.” He pulled the crucifix from his inner coat pocket. “Please take this crucifix. I have plenty in my valise. And the next time Count Dracula approaches you, show it to him. If he recoils in horror, it would be sufficient evidence he is a vampire, for vampires are real fraidy cats when it comes to crucifixes.”
They were so involved in their conversation, Mina and Van Helsing did not notice that Dracula had slipped from behind the tapestry and stealthily crept up to Mina with his mouth open and ready to bite.
“I’m sorry, doctor,” she said, shaking her head. “If you had given me some scientific proof, some rational explanation, I might have been willing to consider your theories. But are you really expecting me to believe that a grown man like Count Dracula is afraid of a little crucifix like this?”
She waved the crucifix around in the air just at the precise moment Dracula was ready to sink his fangs into her neck. Crinkling his face in repulsion, he shrunk back to the tapestry and disappeared through the door to the basement. (Author’s note: Yes, I know Van Helsing should have seen Dracula’s approach but his German instincts caused him to concentrate so hard on Mina’s face that he completely overlooked the attack. Perhaps this is why Germany lost so many wars.)
“Yes,” Van Helsing replied vigorously. “I’m expecting you to believe exactly that.”
With a toss of her pretty head, she laughed. “The next thing you’re going to tell me is that there isn’t a St. Nicholas?”
“Who? The professor wasn’t quite sure to whom she was referring, with a hint of doubt that she didn’t know what she talking about.
“Never mind.” Mina waved her hand to dismiss the irrelevant conversation altogether. “The solution to this conundrum is to get Jonathan over this terrific drunk, put his pants on him and guide him back to England and Our Lady of the Perpetual Headache.”
Van Helsing slapped his brow. “And you’re giving me a perpetual headache!” He felt the urge to slap Mina rising from his gut so he clomped up the stairs.
“There’s no need to storm away in a snit,” she said, amazed by his sudden explosion.
“Bah!” was the only reply the doctor could muster. He went in the bedroom where Jonathan had slithered. “Get out of here, you twit!”
Jonathan emerged from the room, snapped his head back and hissed. “May your fat old carcassss burn in hell!”
Mina had never heard such language from his lips before, and she was shocked. “Oh, Jonathan dearest!”
He leaned over the balcony rail. “Yessss?”
“Remind me not to let you have any wine when the vicar comes to dinner after we’re married.” Her eyes fluttered. “You seem to have picked up the most offensive language while in Transylvania.”
Hissing again, Jonathan disappeared into the darkness of the upstairs corridor. Mina had not a moment to regain her equilibrium when Count Dracula materialized from behind the tapestry.
“Good evening, Miss Mina.”
She jumped, her attention drawn away from the balcony. “Oh! Count, you startled me!”
“My apologies.” He gave her his deepest, most impeccable bow.
“You seem to pop up out of nowhere.” Her voice seemed to leap an octave.
A knowing smile flitted across his thin wan lips. “I have been told I have that propensity.”
“But I am glad to see you.” She took a step toward him. “Quite frankly, Dr. Van Helsing has been saying some rather nasty things about you.”
“Small thoughts from small minds,” he countered lightly, as though to paint Van Helsing as a person of low character, a rather shameless act in itself.
“What a clever retort.” Mina smiled brightly. “I’ll have to remember it and embroider it on a throw pillow for my mother.”
“Exactly what did Dr. Van Helsing say about me?”
“It’s really too ridiculous to mention,” she said hesitantly.
“Very well.” Dracula extended his arm to Mina. “Why don’t we go back upstairs to discuss redecorating that bedroom? I don’t think we finished.”
Resisting his advances, Mina stood her ground. “He said you were a—oh, I’m too embarrassed to mention it.”
“Then don’t.” He attempted to take her hand. “Right up these stairs.”
She stopped again. “Count, I’m rather fatigued. Why don’t we continue this conversation tomorrow, when we can view the room in the morning sunlight?”
“I—I don’t think that would be possible,” Dracula stammered.
“Why not?” Mina’s voice took on a more serious, mature tone than it had ever possessed before.
“I’m a late riser,” he replied drily.
“How late?” She narrowed her eyes.
Mina turned and walked away. “That’s all right. I’m sure Susie Belle could discuss the redecorating after a nice lunch.” Looking over her shoulder she smiled. “Just us girls.”
“She also sleeps rather late.”
“Well, then I’ll talk to—“
“Claustrophobia also,” he brusquely interrupted.
“I see,” she whispered as she pulled the crucifix from her pocket. “I have something here I would like to show you.”
“Good.” Dracula went to Mina and reached for her arm. “You can show me in the bedroom.”
“No, I’d rather show it to you here,” she said slowly, stepping away.
“Well, what is it?”
“It’s some Dr. Van Helsing gave me.”
He drew back in apprehension. “How droll.”
Jonathan appeared from the shadows on the balcony, slithering over to the railing. “Leave the bimbo alone! She’s mine!”
“What an unflattering characterization.” She blinked in agitation.
“Mr. Harker, your presence is not welcome at this moment,” the count bellowed.
“May you burn in hell!” Jonathan snarled.
“Yes, I probably will,” Dracula replied nonchalantly. “But right now this is my castle and I order you to go away!”
Jonathan hissed at Dracula who hissed right back at him.
“Why, count, I’ve never seen you behave like that before!” Mina exclaimed. She looked down at her hand and decided this was not the right time to flash the crucifix in front of the boys, so she put it back in her pocket.
Dracula regained his composure and looked embarrassed. “Sometimes you have to sink to the other person’s level to make them understand you.”
Jonathan hissed again, and Dracula returned in kind.
“Is all this hissing necessary?” Mina asked.
“Yessss!” Jonathan retorted.
“No!” the count shot back. “Really, Mr. Harker, you are beginning to embarrass me.”
“Then leave my woman alone!” He slinked down the staircase and approached his girlfriend. “Come, Meena, let me show you around the castle.”
Jonathan grabbed Mina’s hand to lead her upstairs but Dracula took her other one and pulled back.
“No, you don’t!”
“She’s mine!”
“No, she’s not!”
Jonathan and Dracula tugged on Mina back and forth until she screamed.
“Please! I’m beginning to feel like a batch of taffy!”
Abruptly stopping, Dracula wrinkled his brow. “This word taffy. I don’t understand.”
“Taffy is a kind of candy that you—“
Jonathan interrupted Mina in the middle of her dissertation on confectionary delights by dragging her away. “You’ll love the game room.”
“Oops, excuse me, count,” she said, “I’ll finish telling you about taffy later. Jonathan wants to show me his trapeze now, I think.”
When Jonathan opened the game room doors, he came face to face with Susie Belle and Claustrophobia.
“Where are taking her, Jonny?” Susie Belle asked.
“To the game room.”
Claustrophobia shook her head. “You don’t want to take her in there.”
“Yeah,” Susie Belle agreed. “She’s too much of a fuddy duddy. She wouldn’t have any fun in there.” She slinked over to paw at Jonathan’s chest.
“Yes, we’re so much more fun in the game room,” Claustrophobia added as she deftly removed Jonathan’s hand from Mina’s.
Dracula put his arm around Mina’s shoulders, leading her toward the staircase.
“Yeah, Jonny, we just love the way you swing,” Susie Belle cooed.
Jonathan leered at her. “I like the way you swing too, Susie Belle.”
“And me,” Claustrophobia giggled as she caught up with them, “you like me too, don’t you, Jonny?”
“Of course, Claustrophobia.”
The vampire brides push Jonathan through the game room double doors. Before she shut them, Susie Belle leaned back in to give the A-OK hand signal.
“Thank you, my sweet,” Dracula purred.
“Anytime, toots,” she said as she shut the door.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Fifteen

“I got to git out of here tonight,” Davy said to Gray as the old man ushered him into the house and away from Meyers who stood in the yard glaring at them.
“Stay the night,” Gray said. “Git a good night’s sleep. I’ll feed you a good breakfast. I know you want to go but don’t go off half cocked.”
Gray was a good gentleman, comforting as a grandfather should be. Davy knew the old man was right. The countryside at night could be dangerous, and he felt his stomach already feeling empty, but his obsession to escape overrode his rationality.
“Yes, sir. I’ll wait,” he lied.
Settling on the floor Davy pretended to fall asleep although he kept an eye on Gray’s taking off his trousers and shoes, slipping under the covers. Davy listened for his breath to soften. He looked out the window to see Meyers disappear into his wagon for the evening. Davy was proficient at determining how long different men took to fall asleep. Some men, like Meyers, took up to an hour before they stopped tossing and turning and settled into a low snore. Others, like Gray, went limp at once. When he decided enough time had passed, Davy gathered his few belongings together in a bundle. Without a sound he opened the door and tiptoed down the steps, across the clearing toward the narrow road to Gerardstown. The further he was from Gray’s farm the faster he walked until he trotted. Soon faint lights of town appeared on the horizon which caused him to break out in a full run. When a campfire by a covered wagon caught his eye, Davy slowed. Still breathing deeply, he walked toward it. His mind was already formulating a story to tell the men hunched over by the fire.
“Ain’t it late for a lad to be walkin’ down the road?” a voice boomed out.
“Yes, sir, it is,” Davy replied. “It ain’t my idea, I tell you for sure.”
A man stood, and his bulk, caused him to pause—in many ways he had the same ominous physical power of Stasney, but as Davy came closer into the campfire light he saw gentle innocence in the man’s powder blue eyes.
“Somebody beatin’ up on you, boy?”
Davy’s eyes blinked several times, and his lips crinkled in emotional distress. “Yes, sir.”
“What damned fool would take a hand to a pitiful li’l creature like you?”
“I guess I deserved it, sir.” His head ducked, and he burst into tears.
“Now, none of that, boy,” the large man said, putting his arm around Davy, guiding him to the campfire and seating him on a log. He took a kettle from a spit and poured tea into a wooden tankard. “Take a sip of this and tell me all about it.”
After drinking some tea, Davy stopped crying and composed himself. “Thank you, sir. You’re a kind man, sir.” He flashed his infectious smile. “My name is Crockett. I’m from Morristown, Tennessee.”
“I’m not kind at all. I jest don’t like to see children in pain.” He extended his hand. “Henry Meyers.”
Davy’s eyes widened, and his mouth flew open.
“What’s wrong, Master Crockett?”
“The man I’m runnin’ from,” he replied with apprehension, “his name is Meyers, Adam Meyers.”
“No relation.” Henry shook his head. “Least ways, no relation I never heard of.”
Sighing in relief, Davy began his story, telling how he had labored for long months walking many miles, loading and unloading heavy barrels of goods, everything from flour to molasses. Lost in the narrative were the times he spent working for Gray, being paid on a regular basis, receiving decent room and board and being nurtured by a gentle grandfather figure. Instead he emphasized Meyers’ tendency to whack him upside the head for no good reason. As Henry grunted and his face scrunched in anger, the whippings became harder and more frequent. Davy choked back more tears as he continued, leaving out Adam Meyers’ piety and his own misadventures on the docks of Baltimore. He concluded with his face, contorted in pain, hidden in his hands.
“Worst of all,” he blurted, “he didn’t give me back my seven dollars. I spent all that time workin’ for ‘im and I don’t have a dime!” He did not mention the fifty cents he had from Gray, not wanting to complicate the story with unnecessary bits of truth.
“Don’t you worry about it none,” Henry said. “I’ll git your money for you.”
Early the next morning after a hearty breakfast they rode his wagon back to Gray’s farm, and Davy hoped the old man would still be asleep. Henry banged on the side of Adam Meyers’ wagon.
“You git out here!” he bellowed.
Stumbling and falling from the back of the wagon, Adam Meyers, barefoot and his eyes wide with fear, fumbled with pulling up his trousers.
“How dare you steal this pitiful boy’s seven dollars!”
“He’s lying.” His pants at last buttoned, Adam Meyers stood as straight as he could and stuck out his chin. “He’s a bad boy.”
“No boy deserves the beatin’s he got!”
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
“I’ll take a rod to you!”
Adam Meyers stepped back for a moment, pursed his lips and then pointed at Davy. “He didn’t tell you he ran off in the middle of the night to Baltimore to join a ship crew, did he?”
Henry paused and looked back at Davy, narrowing his eyes and in due course shook his head. He turned to Adam Meyers. “It don’t make no difference. He probably ran off ‘cause you were beatin’ ‘im so much.” He thrust his beefy fist in the man’s face. “You took his money!”
“I didn’t want him to waste it when we went to Baltimore.” His eyes went down. “Then I spent it.” He paused. “Times are hard.”
“Hell,” Henry said with a cynical laugh, “times are always hard. That’s no sense for stealin’ a boy’s money.”
The cabin door creaked opened, and Gray came out on the porch, buttoning his trousers. Davy turned red when he realized the old man was looking at him.
“I don’t have it now. I was going to pay him when we got to Tennessee.”
“And when was that goin’ to be?” Henry demanded.
Davy could not help but look over at Gray, who was not angry but had a sad hurt expression on his face, and the sight of it made Davy feel small.
“I don’t know. Cargo just isn’t going south.”
“I’ll whip it out of you!”
Again Davy had this overwhelming urge to run away from farmer Gray’s look of disappointment. “Never mind,” he said, tugging on Henry’s sleeve. “It ain’t worth it. I jest want to git out of here.”


Sissy, dressed in black, came out of the cabin and stood in the dog trot. “Ma sent me to pour applesauce ‘cause you didn’t do your job, Matilda.”
“Hello, Sissy,” David said.
Her eyes stayed focused on Matilda. “You made me snap the beans ‘cause you had to do the spoon bread. You didn’t do that, so ma has to do it, and now I have to pour the applesauce.”
“Papa, if I stuck my hand in those beans and a worm crawled out, I’d scream.”
Sissy stepped down from the porch and went to the cauldron, picking up the ladle. “A worm won’t hurt you, Matilda, and neither would a li’l work. Now help me pour this applesauce.”
“You better do what your sister says,” Davy told her, patting her shoulder.
“Very well, start ladlin’.” Matilda walked to the table and fidgeted with the jars on the tray. “It’s goin’ to be dark ‘fore you know it.” She paused as Sissy poured applesauce into the first jar. “And you never said hello to papa. Honestly, Sissy, you can be so rude.”
“Pa knows I wasn’t ignorin’ ‘im. He knows I have to do my chores.” She glanced over at him. “You know that, don’t you, Pa?”
“People can always take time to say hello,” Matilda replied in a pout.
“I better see if I can help your ma out,” David said, feeling uncomfortable around Sissy. He did not understand why she was so angry at him.
“All right, Papa,” Matilda said, looking up and smiling. She nudged her sister. “Say somethin’, Sissy.”
“Pa knows I’m busy doin’ my chores,” she replied in an even tone. “Some things don’t have to be said when it’s jest family around.”
After entering, David paused to look intently at Elizabeth as she stooped over the pot on the iron arm swung away from the crackling hearth. He rummaged through his brain on how to breach the damage that had grown over years of absence and silence. Leaving for Texas without making atonement seemed too familiar, a pattern developed early and repeated often. A smile graced his ruddy face as he stepped forward.
“Supper smells good,” he said at the top of his voice, causing her to stand aright. “Of course, supper always smells good in your house.”
“Thank you, Mr. Crockett.” Swinging the pot back over the fire, Elizabeth smiled.
“You know, one of the main things that bothered me about losin’ the election was I wanted somethin’ better for you and the youngin’s.”
“And how was you goin’ to do that?”
“After one more term in Congress I was goin’ to run for president.”
“And I’m sure you would have won.”
“You really think so?”
“I don’t say things I don’t mean.” Elizabeth looked at him and cocked her head.
“Of course you don’t. I know that.” David stepped forward in excitement, turning her away from the fireplace. “The girls could have found themselves some rich, important husbands, and Robert could have got himself a good job.”
“Oh go on.” She waved her hand in a playful manner. “I’d hate to clean the president’s house, that drafty old barn.”
Encouraged by her lightheartedness he swept her up in his arms and twirled her around the rough wooden floor. “You’d have servants to clean and cook and things like that.”
“You think so? Why, of course. Them fancy ladies don’t scrub floors.
He tried to lift her off her feet but could not. Elizabeth was not fat by any estimation but solid and thick. David was grateful that she pretended not to notice that he could not raise her. Instead, he began a simple dance step, and she easily followed his lead.
“You’d have put all them fancy ladies to shame.” He hugged her and swung her around the table. “Why, they’d fergit Dolley Madison ever sashayed around that town.”
“Me? Make folks fergit Dolley?” Her eyes twinkled. “Now I know you’re pullin’ my leg.”
“You dance purty good. That’d come in handy when the king of France came to call.”
“Why there ain’t no king of France no more.” Elizabeth giggled. “Don’t you know that? How could you be president if you don’t know that?”
“That’s what I’d have all of them generals around for, to tell me who’s got a king and who’s got a president.”
“But you’re not goin’ to have those generals, ain’t you?” she said. “All this talk is foolishness.”
David stopped dancing and stepped away, stung by her comment. In a split second he knew he could decide to laugh it off but his pride incited a more churlish reaction.
“I know. It was jest a dream, but don’t call a man’s dreams foolishness.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened for a moment and then narrowed as she turned back to the hearth. Her shoulders stiffened as she pulled the pot away from the fire so she could stir the contents.
“Some folks never git to have dreams.”


Dave and Lonnie rode in silence in the back seat of the funeral home limousine out a country road to the farm community of Era where the family had its plot in a hillside cemetery. When the car pulled through a rusty iron gate, he saw a green canopy over the open grave. Several white-haired women daubed tears from their eyes. Allan always had a way with his lady teachers who sympathized with his stories of abuse at their father’s hands, which Dave knew never happened. They also sensed a glint of creativity and intelligence which was dissipated by Allan’s manic depression. Dave and Lonnie sat on the covered folding chairs as Pastor Red Osborn began the service.
Dave did not know Red well, but appreciated what he had done for his family. Red tried to save Allan’s life by guiding him to a halfway house but to no avail—Allan continued to run away until he killed himself all alone on a cold concrete warehouse floor. To save Lonnie the trauma of identifying his son, Red went to the Dallas morgue to view the burned remains.
“Lord,” Red, a large man with piercing blue eyes, began, “we cannot begin to understand the mysteries of Your ways. We do not know why this man had to endure the troubled life he had.”
Instead of listening to the minister’s eulogy Dave wrestled with his memories of Allan.
“We know You do not want your children to suffer,” Red continued. “But this man suffered. He was like Job in his tribulations but in Your wisdom you did not reveal Your plan to him as You did to Job.”
In a haze Dave heard words from the book of Job, but he was too busy wondering which emotion was stronger, his love for his brother or his fear of him.
“All we know is that it was Your divine will. Allan now knows what Your plan was.” Red’s voice swelled with passion. “And some day when we all are called before the throne of glory we will know. And we will know His plan for us. Let us bow our heads in prayer.”
Before Dave knew it, the minister had prayed, said amen and begun shaking hands. He nodded, smiled and then felt the urge to run back to the limousine and leave. First he had to face the old ladies coming toward him.
Mrs. Dody was just about five feet tall but had the steely eyes of an Amazon warrior. She hugged Dave. He never objected to his father dating her because he found her to be sweet and amusing but admitted she could be devastatingly blunt in her opinions.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered into his ear.
“I know. Thank you.”
“I’m so mad at the mental hospital I could spit nails. They killed him by lettin’ him out jest like they had put a bullet in his head.” She looked over at his father and stiffened. “Hello, Lonnie.”
“Martha.” He kept his eyes forward.
“Where’s Vince?” she asked.
“He’s ill and couldn’t make it,” Dave replied.
“Humph.” Her eyebrows raised. “Drunk again.” Mrs. Dody turned away.
“It’s a shame Vince couldn’t be here,” Mrs. Burch said. “I know your father always relies on him in times of hardship.”
Dave nodded and shook her hand.
“This is just devastating,” another old woman said.
He was taken aback when he recognized his junior college English instructor. Dave remembered her reaction to a satirical essay he wrote about his magnetic romantic personality. “Of course, what makes this funny,” he recalled her saying in front of the class, “is knowing you. It’s not that your appearance hurts the eye but, how shall I put it, you’re not exactly Doug McClure.” McClure was her idea of a Greek god. But now he was a balding overweight out-of-work actor. The aging junior college instructor appraised him a moment. “You look good, Dave,” she said, backing away.
“The world has lost a brilliant mind,” Miss Bonnett, an eightyish stout woman, intoned in a nicotine-licked voice. “If only the fates had favored him, Allan would have been an excellent teacher.”
“Thank you,” Dave said with a smile. “He always said you were his favorite teacher in high school.” God, when would this end, Dave prayed as he gritted his teeth behind his tight smile.
“Mr. Crockett, I’m sorry for your grief,” another woman said, gripping Lonnie’s hand.
“Hmm.” He looked over her head.
“I know it must have been comforting to have a son like Allan forgo his own career in education to stay home and take care of you.” She glanced at Dave. “Especially after your youngest child ran away from home.”
“I didn’t run away,” he said. “I went to college.”
After she walked to her car, Dave leaned into his father and whispered, “Who the hell was that?”
“I don’t know.” Lonnie shrugged. “I don’t keep up with all of Allan’s dumb ass old lady friends.”
A woman in her late forties with a huge grin hugged Dave. “I can tell you’re a Crockett. You look like all the pictures of Davy.” She then grabbed Lonnie about the shoulders. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Papa died last year, and I just know how you must feel.”
Lonnie turned to Dave and explained as she left that she was his cousin’s half-sister from a second marriage. She lived in McKinney, he thought, and with devotion attended all family funerals, even if she had not known the deceased personally.
Finally the last car pulled away, leaving only Dave, Lonnie and the funeral home staff.
“Let’s go, son.”
“Give me a minute, please,” Dave said, looking back at the casket with a single spray of white carnations draped across it. Now that he was alone, he still was unsure whether he felt sorrow or relief.