Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty

Bob sat across from Harold, leaning forward, his brow knitted in concern. The doctor sat back, his hands together in front of his face and his eyes studying Bob with distrust.
“Yes, it’s definitely John Ross, and the two teen-agers who murdered an elderly woman in Boone. They’re FAS.”
“Fetal alcohol syndrome.”
“You can tell by their looks.” Opening the brothers’ files, Harold pulled out their pictures and showed them to Bob. “They’re high grade mental defectives.”
“Does that explain the violent behavior?”
“Partly.” Harold put the pictures away and pulled out a report. “In my talks with them I found little understanding of right and wrong. Also, they are alcohol intolerant.”
“They have blackouts.”
“Does John Ross know they’re alcoholics?” Bob sat back in the chair. “And does he know about they killed the widow?”
“He knows about her murder. I don’t know if he’s aware of their alcohol intolerance.”
“If he doesn’t, and he lets them have beer, for instance, he might be setting them up for another violent incident.”
“Even if he does know, he might give them beer to make them do whatever it is he has on his mind.”
“But what if once they’re drunk they decide they want to do something different than what John wants them to do?”
“That’s the problem, for both us and John Ross.”
“In other words, he’s got a ticking time bomb with him which he can use to blow up someone else or it may blow up in his own face.”
John turned off the interstate highway onto an old state road, winding through the lower Appalachians on his way back to the North Carolina State Mental Hospital. Jill tried to relax, but still peered into John’s eyes, trying to how decipher this man who had some unholy mission against her grandfather. Randy was rolled up in his fetal ball, while Mike hung over the seat staring like a vulture.
“We need gas,” John said.
“Good.” Mike smiled. “I want more beer.”
“Do you want anything?” John looked at Jill.
“No.” She folded her arms and looked straight ahead. She wanted to go home but knew he was not going to give her that.
“Hey.” Mike punched Randy. “Want some beer?”
“Yeah.” Randy raised his head, rubbed his eyes and smiled.
“We always want some beer.” Mike laughed and nuzzled Jill’s hair which caused her to shiver in revulsion.
Harold escorted Bob to the cafeteria. They passed several patients who stopped to say hello to the doctor and gossip about other patients who were not following the regulations, or to complain about unnamed attendants who were being callous by forcing them to adhere to the rules. The doctor nodded with forbearance and told them to remember to tell him again about their grievances during their next session. In between interruptions, Harold tried to fill in Bob on what happened immediately before their escape, including the incident with the broken television.
“I don’t understand.” Bob frowned as he paid for his coffee. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know.”
As they sat with their coffee in the cafeteria, they continued to figure out what incited John. George came in for his break, buying coffee and a honey bun. Harold waved him over to their table.
“George, you were in the day room that day,” Harold said. “Do you know what could have made John Ross break the television?”
“It was the show on the TV,” he replied, munching his snack. “It was news, but I don’t know what channel.”
“What time was it?” Bob asked.
“It was five-thirty.” George slurped his coffee.
“Why are you so sure?” Bob leaned toward the attendant.
“I was on my way to clock out.”
“That’s the time my news show is on,” Bob said.
“But aren’t all news shows on at the same time?” Harold asked.
“We’re on for an hour and a half beginning thirty minutes before other stations. It’s a marketing ploy.”
“Do you remember what would have been on that day that would have upset John so much? It was about two months ago.”
“A former Nazi.”
Dusk was coming as John pulled into a small convenience store sheltered by tall pine trees. Mike and Randy jumped from the car and ran to go to the rest room while John with careful force took Jill’s arm and guided her inside. The clerk, a handsome young man, stood behind the counter, looked up and smiled.
“Evening, folks.”
“Hello.” John smiled as he tightened his grip on Jill’s arm.
“How can I help you?”
“I need gasoline. Ten dollars.” He looked at Jill and tried to appear affectionate. “Think that’s about right, dear?”
“Fine.” Fear and apprehension crossed her face.
“Okay.” The clerk punched the amount into his cash register and then he assessed Jill’s condition. “Are you all right, ma’am? You don’t look good.”
John squeezed her arm even harder.
“No. I’m all right.” Her eyes darted from the attendant to John and back again.
The young clerk cocked his head with curiosity and was about to say something when Mike and Randy bounded from the rest room.
“I want some ice cream,” Mike said as he went to a refrigerated chest.
Whatever the clerk was going to say to Jill must have slipped his mind as he smiled at Mike.
“Just slide up the top.”
“I can’t get it up.” Mike tugged at it.
“I said slide it up, not pull it up.” The clerk came around the counter and went to Mike. “I said slide it up, not lift.”
Randy was circling around the clerk’s back, beginning to unbuckle his belt and pull it from his jeans. Jill saw what was happening and began to cry out, but John twisted her arm. A bell on top of the door rang as another customer entered. The clerk looked up and smiled, just as he slid the ice cream chest top up. Frowning, Randy returned his belt to his waist.
“How’s it going tonight, Pete?” The customer was about the clerk’s age but was somewhat overweight.
“Just fine, Bill,” Pete said. “Got a date for the dance tomorrow night?” He looked at Mike. “There you go.” He returned to the counter.
“Naw,” Bill said. “I don’t think I’ll go.” He looked around at the others and then whispered, “Got some cigarette papers?”
Pete gave his friend a disapproving glare and then turned to a shelf behind the counter and took out a pack of cigarette papers.
“You still use that stuff?”
Bill handed him a couple of bills.
“That stuff’s going to kill you.”
“Oh, stop preaching at me. See you later.”
Pete handed him his change and smiled.
“See you.”
John watched Bill as he opened his car door, entered and drove off. Pete caught John’s eye and nodded.
“Pump’s all set. You can pump your gas.”
Randy pulled the knife from the front of his jeans and threw it, hitting Pete in the middle of his chest. His eyes wide with shock, Pete moaned, staggered toward the end of the counter and fell, his hand grabbing a display of Mr. Peanut snacks which came crashing to the floor. Running over to Pete’s body, Randy pulled the knife out, stuffed his pockets with little bags of peanuts from the floor and then hurried to the cash register where he grabbed as many bills as he could. Mike walked over, gnawing on an ice cream bar and picked up some peanut bags.
“Be sure to get all the money,” John said. “We’ll need it.”
“And beer,” Mike added. “Let’s get some more beer.”
With her free hand, Jill slapped John, pulled away and ran for the door.
“Get her!” he screamed at Mike and Randy who were preoccupied at the cold beer section.
“Stupid woman,” Randy said, and he ran for her, followed by Mike guzzling a can of beer.
Jill was out the door and scrambled into the woods behind the convenience store, stopping several yards into the thick brush to catch her breath and peeked around to see if Mike and Randy were far behind. Her mind raced trying to figure out how to escape them. She jumped when she heard voices muttering nearby.
“Which way did she go?” Mike’s voice was charged with energy.
“That way,” John barked.
“I don’t like her,” Randy muttered.
Jill crawled under a rhododendron bush as she heard them hurrying toward her. They paused, said something incoherent then stalked away. She stood and turned to scamper in another direction but stopped when she heard herself step on a branch and crack it.
“What was that?” John’s head turned.
“I don’t hear nothing,” Mike replied.
“She went there.” With determined steps, John started back the other way.
Fear welled in Jill’s head, and she could not think rationally. All she could do was run, not remembering from which way she had come. Out of the shadows Mike tackled her, slamming her down on the soft, moist pine needles. The smell of the ice cream, peanuts and beer on Mike’s breath made Jill gag and heave.
“That was foolish,” John said as he sauntered up.
“Boy, she feels nice and soft.” Mike rolled Jill over and planted his beefy body on top of hers.
“I say we slit her throat.” Randy arrived and bent down to put his knife to her neck. “We don’t need her no more.” He pressed the sharp edge into her skin, almost to the point of puncture. “She told us where that guy is.”
“No,” John said. “She’s our means to force him to take us to Pharaoh.”
Randy spat into Jill’s hair as he stood and put the knife back into his jeans.
As John began to walk away, Randy pulled back his foot and kicked Mike hard in the side, sending him reeling off Jill.
“Get up!”
“Come,” John called over his shoulder, “we must go.” He looked at Randy. “Caleb, bring the woman.”
Jerking her up by the arm pit, Randy glared into Jill’s eyes and whispered, “I don’t like you.”
Harold and Bob sat in his office trying to piece together the puzzle of how John Ross escaped, why he was angry at Heinrich Schmidt and what he planned to accomplish. The building was quiet with the departure of the day staff.
“Where do you think they are?” Bob asked.
“I don’t know.”
“My report said Mr. Schmidt lived in Gatlinburg.”
“We can notify police there.” Harold picked up his phone, dialed nine one one but the line was dead. He sighed. “Well, there’s nothing else we can do tonight.”
“Was there anything in your sessions with John Ross to give you an indication he might do this?”
Again someone questioned his judgment. First there was his father, then George and now some young television reporter. Maybe Bob somehow recognized problems in the Rosses’ house. Maybe everyone was aware of his parents’ hysterical outbursts. Only Harold did not comprehend how they had affected their son. He held finger imagining the pang of the glass puncture, expecting to see a drop of blood there. He then stared into Bob’s eyes.
“Do you think I’m a bad doctor?”
“What?” Bob blinked.
“Sometimes I think I’m a bad doctor.”
“What could any other doctor at an overcrowded state mental hospital have done to prevent a patient from escaping?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t either.” Bob paused to smile. “Maybe more security around the building, but you can’t hire more guards, can you?”
“No, I can’t. It’s not in the hospital budget.” Harold sighed. “I think I need to go home.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bob said. “It’s been a long day. I just got married, and this is supposed to be our honeymoon. ”
Harold laughed as he opened the door, and they walked into the hall. One of the night attendants ran up.
“Doctor, all the phone lines are down.”
“Yes, I know. When I get home I’ll call the telephone company.”
“What do you think caused it, doctor?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He patted the attendant’s back. “It’ll be fixed in an hour or two.” The parking lot was empty and foggy, eerily lit by lampposts. Harold walked Bob to his car. “I’ll call Gatlinburg police when I get home to have the Schmidt residence put under surveillance.”
“I think not, Dr. Lippincott.” John stepped from the shadows holding Jill’s arm. Mike and Randy stood behind them, each sucking on a can of beer. “That’s why we cut the phone lines, so no one could contact police.”
Mike giggled and then belched.
“Oh no. Jill.” Bob focused on her face. He could tell she was afraid even though she was very good at hiding her emotions.
“John,” Harold said with fake bravado, “I’m glad to see you’ve returned. Let’s go inside.”
“I’m not back, doctor.” John smiled. “You know that.”
“What are you doing with my wife?” Bob asked.
“We went to Knoxville to find you,” John explained, dragging Jill further into the lamppost light. “To have you take us to Pharaoh.”
“Pharaoh?” Bob shook his head.
“Grandpa,” Jill interpreted.
“You are the granddaughter of Pharaoh?” John turned to her, his eyes lit with the power of new knowledge. “This is better than I thought.”
“You mean she’s like a princess or something?” Mike stepped closer to Jill and leered.
“Shut up.” Randy hit Mike hard on his shoulder.
“Ouch. Stop hitting me.”
“You must be hungry, Mike,” Harold said. “Why don’t you come in? We’ve got ice cream.”
“Oh, I’ve had lots of ice cream. And beer.”
Bob and Harold exchanged glances.
“Take us to Pharaoh,” John demanded.
“He lives too far away to get there tonight.” Bob looked down.
“You said he lives in Gatlinburg,” John countered.
“You lie.” Randy took a step toward Bob. “Just like all other bad people in the world. Lie.” He shot a hot glare at Harold. “You lie too.”
“I didn’t lie, Randy,” Harold said.
“I ain’t Randy no more. My name is…” He looked at John, his eyes blank.
“His name is Caleb.” He focused on Bob. “Take us to Pharaoh.”
“Not until you let go of my wife.”
“I’ll slit her throat.” Randy pulled out the knife and held it to Jill’s neck.
“I think we better do as they want,” Harold said.
They entered Jill’s car with John behind the wheel and Randy and Harold next to him in the front seat. Mike, Bob and Jill sat in the back. The brothers popped open two more beers and began drinking.
“I’m sorry I told them where you were.” Jill looked at Bob.
“That’s all right.” He stroked her cheek. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I wanna do that, but she won’t let me.” Mike leaned over, breathing beer and peanuts on them.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Eight

Ward Hill Lamon decided after the hangings in the summer of 1865 that the best course he could take would be to continue in his duties as Marshal for the District of Columbia, going about his ordinary chores. He discreetly probed the dealings of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whom he considered the linchpin in the entire conspiracy. Weeks passed into months for Lamon without progress in his investigation. The deaths of Preston King in New York and James Lane in Kansas did not pass without notice. Local coroners declared both had been suicides, but Lamon had his doubts, remembering the roles they played in blocking the delivery of Mrs. Surratt’s reprieve on the day of the hangings. Lamon also learned that Louis Weichmann had left his government job to live in Indiana. Obtaining the young man’s new address, Lamon repeatedly sent letters, seeking permission to travel to Indiana to talk to Weichmann about his testimony in the conspirators’ trials. Weichmann never replied to any of the letters; in fact, the last one returned with “Refused” scrawled across it. The awkward cursive style of the message conveyed a deep underlying fear, Lamon decided.
The best means of continuing the investigation was a close reading of all the local newspapers for political developments. By late August of 1866, four different conventions were held to select candidates for the House of Representatives. Delegates at one convention urged Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton, while participants at other conventions called for the impeachment of the president. In fact, impeachment was the central issue in congressional district elections.
When Johnson announced plans to go on a speaking tour in the fall, Lamon’s first instinct was to offer his services as a personal bodyguard. His traveling companion was William Seward, who had sufficiently recovered from his knife wounds to continue his duties as Secretary of State. Eventually Lamon dissuaded himself from making the offer. As long as the Radical Republicans and Stanton were obsessed with the subject of impeachment, Lamon knew Johnson’s life was not in danger, only his reputation. Stanton’s faction carried enough elections in November to maintain its lead in the House.
Lamon spent the week before Christmas ensconced in one of his favorite taverns in Washington City reading newspapers. He sighed as he considered the ongoing battles between Congress and the president on one piece of legislation after another. The new session had hardly begun in December of 1866 when the House passed a bill giving black men in the District of Columbia the right to vote. Representatives then passed the Tenure of Office Bill, which Lamon sensed had darker implications than the surface meaning implied. He saw the hand of Thaddeus Stevens and the other Radical Republicans at work, creating a bill so odorous that Johnson would feel honor-bound to disobey it. The tenure bill stated the President could not fire a member of his cabinet without permission of Congress. Another bill introduced on the House floor anticipated Johnson’s actions by calling for his impeachment. Lamon feared the New Year could only bring presidential vetoes, congressional overrides and further legislation to keep the needless cycle going.
“Excuse me.” A soft voice of easy manner interrupted Lamon’s thoughts. “Are you not Marshal of the District of Columbia Ward Hill Lamon?”
“Yes, I am.” He wrinkled his brow trying to make out the figure of the man standing over him. He was older than Lamon, somewhat shorter and less stout, and his shoulders sloped in such a way to render his presence totally non-confrontational.
“I thought so.” The man smiled through his full gray beard. “I am Walt Whitman. You visited my home in Brooklyn last year. You spoke to my mother and my dear friend Gabby Zook.”
Lamon’s eyes widened, and he stood to shake Whitman’s hand. “An honor sir. I’ve been trying to make your acquaintance for some time. Every time I go to the Office of Indian Affairs I am told you are away for a few days.”
“Yes, I don’t make a rather good employee, it seems. But they have a good nature and overlook my shortcomings.”
“Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.”
“Would you like an ale?”
“Another hot tea would be pleasant,” Whitman said as he sat. I’ve witnessed in my family what alcohol can do to one’s constitution, but I do enjoy the company of men who revel in their liquor.”
Lamon ordered another tea for Whitman and a large pewter mug of ale for himself. After taking a deep gulp, he leaned back and smiled. “So, do you agree with your mother’s assessment that Gabby Zook is insane?”
“Insane is a complicated word.” Whitman furrowed his brow. “I have observed insanity on a personal level with my own family. I myself have been called insane. Mr. Gabby has an extremely high degree of anxiety. Such anxiety cannot be created merely from the wild imagination of an insane man but rather from harsh, stark reality.”
Lamon nodded. “I agree with you.” After another draught, he leaned forward so no one standing nearby in the noisy tavern might eavesdrop on their conversation. “I have proof—well, eyewitness testimony for whatever that is worth—that Gabby Zook, President Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement.”
“And a private Adam Christy attended to their needs. They thought they heard the murder of a butler in the middle of the night. That an intimidating short man with red hair may have killed the private and may try to kill Mr. Gabby.”
“So he told you the same stories. Do you think you could convince him to tell President Johnson what he knows?”
Whitman shook his head. “I am a gentle man, Mr. Lamon. Mr. Gabby feels secure around me and opens his heart to me. You and President Johnson, on the other hand, are rough, crude men. You scare him.” He put down his cup and rose. “Thank you so much for the refreshment.” Patting Lamon on the shoulder, he added, “I shall do all in my power to convince Mr. Gabby to trust you. Have patience. Our captain must be avenged.”
“Our captain?” Lamon was confused. “Who’s our captain?”
“Our captain,” Whitman repeated. “Mr. Lincoln, dear sir. We must avenge our captain.”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania

Mina’s slender porcelain hand slithered around the edges of the tapestry, her fingers deliciously touching the ridges and ripples of the embroidery. Eventually her full arm rolled out followed by her lithesome form filmily clad in translucent lingerie. Her bosom rose and fell as her body experienced tactile exhilarations she had denied herself from her earliest moments of awareness. Mina even tasted her own hair as she had just recently liberated the locks from their confines of combs and clips.
Jonathan, sans trousers, his shirt opened to his hairless bellybutton, emerged from the game room, his nostrils flaring from the scent of unrestrained femininity currently oozing from Mina’s pores. He sped to her as she turned sharply to meet him eye to eye, nose to nose, chest to chest.
“Greeetingssss, Meeena,” he hissed. “Ssso good to sssee you again.”
“Sssoo good to sssee you, Jonathan,” she hissed back.
They tried to take a nip out of each other’s supple necks but missed. They circled each other as though they wrestlers.
“You belong to me, Meeena.”
“I want in your blood.”
Running toward each other, they locked in an impassioned embrace. Mina pulled Jonathan’s hair, yanking his head back and causing the veins in his neck to bulge. He yelped in sexually charged aching. She lunged in for another attack to the jugular, but he grabbed her slender shoulders, hurling her to the floor.
“That’s where I want you, at my feet!”
“Burn in hell!”
“I love it when you talk dirty!”
Jonathan fells on top of Mina. They rolled around on the floor, grunting like pigs in heat. Dracula pulled back the tapestry, entered the great hall and immediately fell over the writhing couple which did not distract them at all from their business of making mad passionate love. The count stood, dusted himself off and tried to maintain his Transylvanian dignity as much as possible.
“Beginners!” he muttered. “They’re always so obvious.”
Susie Belle rushed in from the game room. “Sweet lips! Everything is working according to your plan!”
Before Dracula could reply, Jonathan and Mina rolled back his way and knocked him on his ass again. After he stood, he nudged them with the side of his shoe.
“Will you stop that!”
“Leave them alone, honey child,” Susie Belle drawled. “Looks like they’re having fun.”
“They can have all the fun they want,” he huffed. “I just want them to leave me alone!”
Mina snatched Jonathan’s hair again, rising to her knees and lugged him across the room, with him writing and howling the whole way.
“Ooh,” Susie Belle purred, “that looks like fun. We’ll have to try that sometime.”
“No, we won’t!” Dracula snapped.
Jonathan finally extricated himself from Mina’s domination and stood, his sweating chest heaving with lust.
“You little vixen! How would you like for me to pull you by the hair up those stairs and into the bedroom where I would attack you in wild sexual abandon?”
“I’d like to sssee you try it!” Mina giggled as she dashed up the stairs, stalked by a snarling Jonathan.
Wagging his head in disgust, Dracula waved at Susie Belle. “Come here. We’ve plans to make.”
“Sure enough, count baby.”
Dracula guided Susie Belle to the far side of the sofa as Mina eluded Jonathan on the balcony and ran back down the stairs, with Jonathan not far behind. They continued to cavort throughout the entry hall as the vampires confabbed.
“It is dangerously close to dawn,” Dracula whispered.
Susie Belle sighed. “Thank goodness. I’m dead tired.”
“But if the sunlight forces us into our coffins before we kill Van Helsing, he will surely find our resting places and drive a you-know what into our hearts.
Mina, hurtled herself between Dracula and his remaining wife, teetering dangerously off balance. When Jonathan immediately followed up with the vengeance of a rugby player, both vampires collapsed. Dracula creaked to his feet and extended a hand to Susie Belle to help her stand.
“I’ll be glad when those two calm down,” he groused.
“Give ‘em time, honey. Now back to business. I don’t know why you’re worried. There’s still three of us to one of him.
“Speaking of three, where is Claustrophobia?
“Oh, probably outside taking in the great outdoors,” she replied with great disdain. “The ninny. The great outdoors remind me too much of the cotton fields back home.”
Before Susie Belle could continue her harangue against Claustrophobia, Jonathan and Mina shoved their way between the vampires again.
“This is too much,” Dracula huffed. “Let’s go upstairs so we can continue our discussion in privacy.”
Jonathan finally caught Mina and threw her on the sofa sliding his lean body next to hers. They began kissing. Loudly. Very loudly.
“How vulgar!” the count commented with a harrumph.
Susie Belle stopped abruptly and grabbed Dracula’s arm. “Oh no. What if Van Helsing’s gotten to Claustrophobia?”
“You mean…?”
“Yes.” She pantomimed getting a stake in the heart and added the appropriate gurgling sounds.
Dracula reacted in shock and horror, recovering rapidly since he was, after all, the Prince of Darkness. “Then we must truly be careful.”
“Bite me! Bite me!” Jonathan screamed in more ecstasy than anger, which drew the attention of the resident blood-suckers.
Mina laughed as she sprang from the sofa. “No!” Even novice nosferatu coquettish.
Jonathan bounded from the sofa and began to chase her again. “Then I will bite you!”
Watching the young lovers prance about the room was tiresome, on the verge of irksome.
“Do you think if you bit him a third time, it’d calm him down?”
“I’d love to find out,” Susie Belle purred.
“Good,” the count replied with relief. “First you bite Mr. Harker again, and I’ll bite Miss Seward for the third time. That will then give four of us to overcome Dr. Van Helsing.
Mina ran toward the double doors.” I want to play in the game room! I haven’t gotten to play in the game room and you have!”
“Oh yessss! It’s very excccciting!”
Mina and Jonathan scampered through the double doors, laughing and giggling.
“After them!” Dracula was tired of tolerating amateurs. He spread his cape. Lightning and thunder filled the large drafty hall. Even the children of the night howled in righteous indignation. The count descended the staircase with a vengeance. Susie Belle trailed him, befitting a zealous disciple.
“Sure enough, sugar lump!”
They stopped before entering and stared through the door with surprise.
“My, but they are having fun,” Susie Belle gasped.
“Bringing Miss Seward under my control at this point in time may prove more problematic than I thought.”
Susie Belle’s mouth went agape and she pointed. “Honey, at this point in time. She’s completely out of control. Look at that girl swing!”
“Oh well,” Dracula announced with a sigh. “Here goes nothing.” He straightened his shoulders and marched into his well-equipped game room.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty-One

August appeared again, and the Griffiths celebrated Davy’s sixteenth birthday with another hickory nut cake from Harriet. She took pains to explain to Davy how difficult such a cake was to make because pignut hickories were very good but very hard to crack. Only special people deserved that much work, she said with a smile, presenting him with a large slice.
Davy thought more and more about staying where he was, becoming a hat maker and marrying Harriet. Surely he could find some way to escape the madness that was creeping over his boss. Thoughts of home became less frequent. Christiansburg was becoming his home.
One afternoon Griffith exploded when Harriet returned from Goodell’s general store without a bucket of shellac. How can I seal the inside of these hats without shellac, he screamed at her. Through tears she explained a teamster was late with his wagon of paints, shellac and turpentine. Her father was not capable of listening to reason. He promised three customers their hats would be ready by tomorrow morning, and now that would be impossible. How could he put food on the table if he could not get his supplies on time, he fumed. Finally, Harriet fled the house choking back sobs. Davy knew to keep his head down, and continue to boil water and soak pelts. A half hour passed in tense silence until Griffith looked up and smiled.
“Where’s Harriet?” he asked in innocence.
“I don’t know,” Davy replied in a measured tone.
“Why don’t you go find her?” Griffith winked at him. “We wouldn’t want to lose her, would we?”
Davy put aside the wet pelts, dried his hands and went out the door, first running to their special spot in the woods, but she was not there. More and more Harriet disappeared for longer periods, and Davy could not find her. This specific day Davy sensed an overwhelming disaster heading his way. Griffith could not continue much longer in his current condition without dying or becoming incapacitated. Harriet would have to find somewhere else to live. From the woods Davy walked down the dirt road past the town pound where stray horses and cattle were kept. He headed to the newly painted house of the town lawyer.
“Master Davy,” Mister Harp said. He was in his late twenties. “Come in. Do you have a story for me today?”
“No.” He stepped with undue shyness toward Harp’s desk.
“Sit down, boy.” The lawyer’s brow furrowed with concern.
Finding the edge of the cane-backed chair, Davy settled in, his head leaning forward. “Do you know, I mean, in case you happen to know someone, what happens if, and where would someone go if, and who would pay for it?”
His blue eyes, tinged with sadness, Harp replied, “Unfortunately, I think I know what you mean. Mister Griffith is not doing well, is he? He’s always been a perfect gentleman around me, but I’ve heard stories, and, of course, the mercury he works with is dangerous. Have you heard about that?”
“Yes, sir.”
“So it really isn’t his fault, is it? I mean, every man has to make a living some way, and when he first started making hats he had no idea how dangerous it was. Coal mining, everyone knows about cave-ins and such.” Harp paused to consider Davy’s expression. “This isn’t your problem, you know. You can move on. He’s never had an apprentice stay as long as you have. No one could fault you for leaving.”
Davy opened his mouth but could not express his feelings in words. Griffith, despite his slow slide into dementia, was a better father to him than his own father ever had been. Then there was Harriet, the first girl whose tears he had wiped away, the first girl he had kissed and the first girl who made him consider someone other than himself.
“Ah, um, what about, I mean, someone needs to think of, take care of Harriet,” he finally said.
“Does she have any relatives?”
“She ain’t never said nothin’ ‘bout none.” Davy paused. “What’s goin’ to happen to Mister Griffith?”
“There’s only one insane asylum in Virginia. Over at Williamsburg, but that’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
“Oh.” After blinking several times Davy stood. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry.”
Dazed, he turned to walk out onto the street. Looking across the way at the general store he saw Goodell leaning against his broom. Davy stopped when he saw the man talking to Goodell, a large fellow whose tongue was deeply split like a serpent, Captain Stasney.


When David awoke the next morning, he only had blurred memories of his late-night visit to the tavern where Abner and William had tried to talk him back into going to Texas. He looked around to see that Elizabeth already was busy with farm work. He was relieved. After dressing he grubbed around the kitchen for a cold breakfast. When he finished David decided to go to Kimery store for another bottle of whiskey. When he walked in the door he caught the harsh glare of Tyson’s icy blue eyes. Using his best bluff, David marched to the counter, smiled and asked for a bottle of Kimery store’s best whiskey.
Tyson stiffened and crossed his arms as he stared into David’s face. “Matilda told me what happened.”
“Oh. She told you I decided to stay on the farm?”
“No, she told me you hit her.”
“It was more of a tap on her cheek than a hit.” David laughed, trying to make light of the incident.
“I’ve heard stories of how your father beat you,” Tyson said. “I’m sorry for it, but that doesn’t mean you got the right to strike your daughter. I know I’m just a nobody who runs a store, and you’re a congressman, but I tell you, if you hit that girl again I swear—“
“I’m not goin’ to hit nobody.”
“Matilda has me to stand up for her now.”
“And I appreciate it,” David said. “Matilda’s a good girl.”
“She deserved better than she got.”
“Of course, she does.”
After a long pause Tyson breathed out and put his hands on the counter. “Now what did you want?”
David did not want to repeat that he wanted whiskey. That would prove to Tyson that he was just an old drunk who beat his children. “I promised my nephew William some things, as part of his inheritance from his grandpa. You see, Mister Patton’s will is tied up in court—“
“Yes, Matilda told me.”
After a few minutes of examining rifles and squinting down their sights David selected what he considered to be the best one. William was a good boy who had lost his father. He deserved the best rifle David could find. A bundle of goods covered the counter, and David was feeling expansive, hoping his spending spree had somewhat impressed the storekeeper.
“Is that all?”
Looking around, David spotted a table filled with leather-bound Bibles. He walked over and picked up the largest. He flipped through it. “This looks nice. Pretty pictures.”
“The words aren’t bad either,” Tyson said as he walked over. “These Bibles came from a Philadelphia publisher.” He took it from David and opened it to the middle and pointed. “See, here are pages for births, deaths and marriages.”
“Polly had one of these,” he said. “My daughter Margaret’s got it now. I think. She got married a couple of years ago. And Elizabeth has a Bible from her first marriage. We jest added our children to the records page.”
“Do you want to buy one?”
“Oh.” David’s eyes widened. “Not today. I got so much over there now I don’t know how I’m going to git it home. Maybe when one of the children gits married.”
“Very well.” Tyson walked back to the counter. “I’ll run up your bill.”
David paid for the rifle and gear and stalked out of the store, not knowing if he had made a better impression on Tyson or not. He had never had this problem before. Just beaming from ear to ear and cracking a joke had always been enough to win anyone over, but not Tyson. He knew too much.
Back at Elizabeth’s farm, he stored the rifle and gear in the barn and headed toward the cabin, stopping short when he saw Sissy sweeping the porch. He wondered how she would ever find a husband, dressed in black as though she were a widow.
“Sissy?” he said as he walked up.
“Yes, Pa?” She stopped sweeping to look at him.
“I’m sorry ma’s death hit you so hard. I don’t know if I ever said anythin’ about it to you but I should have. Of all her grandchildren I really think she liked you best. You were the most like her. I can say that for sure.”
“All right.”
“It’s jest I had to campaign, you know?”
“I know.” She resumed sweeping.
“You see, they had these debates set up for Adam Huntsman and me.”
“I understand, Pa.”
“Good.” He turned to leave.
“Poor child,” she said. “Poor child, your grandma’s dead.”
David stopped and turned. “Sissy, if I didn’t go campaignin’, ma would still be dead.”
“I know.”
“Sissy, I worry about you.”
“You don’t have to worry about me.” Her strokes became rougher against the wooden planks.
“Yes, I do. I’m your pa.”
“You didn’t worry about me when grandma died.”
“I told you.” He tried to control the exasperation in his voice. Perhaps if he patted her shoulder, he thought. A gentle touch always seemed to work before. David noticed Sissy stiffened as he put his hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t touch me.” She stepped away, sweeping faster, her eyes down. “You can’t always have things your way, Pa. If you want to run off and make—make folks say crazy things, then—then you gotta listen to ‘em.”
“I said I was stayin’ home,” David said. “We can be a family ag’in, but you gotta try too.”
Turning to look at him, Sissy replied, “You want the family ‘cause you lost the election.” Pausing, she clinched her jaw. “Nobody else wants you, so now you want us.”


Dave took the phone from Miriam and spoke in his best public relations voice. On the other end, Sara Beth was friendly but cautious. He explained why information in the Bible was so important to his father. When she hesitated, Dave continued with nervous speed.
“You don’t have to make a decision now. I can fly up tomorrow, and we can talk about it some more.” When she did not respond, he added, “I can meet you at a restaurant or some other public place. And bring family and friends if you wish. I don’t want you to be afraid or anything.”
“Oh no,” she said. “That’s not a problem. I just couldn’t take in all of this at once. It’s rather overwhelming. But you can come to my house.”
Sara Beth gave him directions, and after he hung up he thanked Miriam and left her shop to drive back to Gainesville. He thought of how he was going to explain another delay to Tiffany. Back home he called his Waco number, and when she answered the phone Tiffany sounded very happy which relieved him. Then he heard laughter in the background, the familiar laughter of his sons.
“Hi, Dave,” she said.
“Are Mark and Joe there?”
“Yes, and their mother.”
The back of Dave’s neck burned. For the past year he had kept his sons and their mother away from Tiffany. Linda knew all his family secrets. Even the boys had heard talk of Allan, and they were likely to say anything. Linda did a good job of teaching them to be honest and open.
“How did that happen?” Dave bit his lip as he stumbled over the words.
“I invited them. Do you want to say hello?”
Before he could say anything he heard the voice of his youngest, Mark. “Hi, Dad. When are you coming home?”
“A few more days. I have to fly to Virginia tomorrow.”
“Virginia? How come?”
“It’s a long story, Mark. It’s to help grandpa.”
“Okay.” He paused to grunt and jab at his brother. “No! I’m not done!” The receiver fumbled around. “Mom! Joe took the phone out of my hand again!”
“Hi, Dad!” the older boy said.
“Joe, you know what I’ve told you about waiting your turn for the phone.”
“Yeah, yeah, be nice to your brother because when I grow up I’ll want a friend, blah, blah, blah. When are we going camping?”
“Real soon. I promise.” He paused. “Only reason I broke it off this time was because of the funeral.”
“Yeah, mom told us uncle crazy got killed.”
“His name was Allan, son.”
“Can we take Tiffany camping with us?” Joe asked. “She’s neat. She’s not afraid of bugs like mom is.”
“Sure, if she wants.” Suddenly he heard a scream.
“Mom! Mark pulled my hair!”
The phone dropped with a thud.
“Well, you took the phone from me!” the younger boy yelled.
“Now that’s enough of that squabbling,” Linda lectured in the background.
“I’m back,” Tiffany said, picking up the receiver.
“I’m sorry the boys are fighting.”
“Why apologize? They’re brothers. Brothers do that.”
“Yeah, they do.” Dave paused. “I have to fly to Roanoke tomorrow.”
“Allan stole the family Bible and sold it in Dallas,” he explained. “A woman in Roanoke bought it. Dad needs the information in it to get Social Security.”
“I understand.”
“My dad hadn’t bothered with Social Security before because he hadn’t needed it.”
“Yes, Linda’s told me all about your dad.” Tiffany paused. “Linda is a very sweet person.”
“Yes, she is.”
“She filled in a lot of gaps for me,” she said. “In a good way.”
“In a good way?”
“In a good way.” In a measured voice, Tiffany added, “Dave, you should have known you didn’t have to hide all that stuff from me.”

Most Precious Possession

Joey enjoyed spending afternoons with his Grandpa Grady who allowed him to search through every drawer and closet in his house.
Old people usually are quite particular about who handles their most personal memorabilia. It’s their stuff, and who wants his stuff damaged and thereby somehow ruin his memories?
On each trip across town to grandpa’s house, Joey found one item, and Grady told him the story behind it. Most of the time, the story wasn’t interesting. Joey didn’t mind because grandpa could make even boring stories sound fun. He also had the sneaking suspicion Grandpa Grady was trying to teach him a lesson. But that was okay too.
Joey pulled out books, a set of plastic Indian warriors and a stained tee shirt with East Texas State University printed on it. The books grandpa’s mother had read to him, the plastic Indians were the only toys she let Grady keep after he turned twelve, and the tee shirt was from his freshman year in college.
One day Joey pulled an old pocket watch from a box underneath grandpa’s bed. The watch’s face was smashed beyond repair. He took it to the old man and climbed into his lap; then Grandpa Grady told Joey the story:
When I left home for college my grandfather Ben gave me this watch.
Ben’s grandfather JimBob had given it to him when he had gone to college,
and JimBob’s father Walter had carried the very same watch with him
during all four years of the Civil War. That watch had been my grandfather’s
most precious possession.
Well, after final exams of my freshman year, my friends and I bought some beer,
drank it, and decided to see who the best wrestler was. When it came time for
my match, I fell down and felt something crack in my pocket. It was grandfather’s
When I came home in June, grandfather Ben invited me to his house and asked
me how my freshman year had gone. I said I pledged a fraternity, made the dean’s
list and met a girl whom I hoped to see again in the fall. He nodded approvingly, and
then asked to see his grandfather JimBob’s watch. I slowly took it from my pocket.
When he saw how damaged it was, he demanded to know what happened. I told
him I had gotten drunk with the other boys, and we were wrestling around when I
fell and broke the watch. For the next hour Ben repeated how great-grandfather
Walter had protected that watch all through the Civil War. Walter had been a
war hero, and that watch had been a prized family possession for generations and
now it was junk.
Joey’s Grandpa Grady paused. When Joey looked up into Grady’s wrinkled face, he thought he saw tear drops clinging to the old man’s eyelashes.
“Grandfather Ben said he had never been insulted so much in his entire life,” Grady continued, “and he didn’t ever want to see me again. My parents told me I was not to attend family gatherings when grandfather would be there. After I graduated from college I moved away, and when I came home I only visited my parents. Nobody told me when grandfather’s funeral was, and I didn’t care.”
Joey stared at the old damaged pocket watch a long time before looking up. “Are you trying to teach me something, Grandpa?”
Grady hugged him tightly. “Now why would I want to do that? I just want you to know my most precious possession is you.”

Sins of the Family Chapter Nineteen

“I gotta go,” Mike said as he sat up the car’s back seat next to Randy who snored. John arose from the front seat, rubbing his eyes. After their encounter at the camp ground, he had pulled off the road to allow them to sleep a few hours. Driving again he noticed a convenience store in the distance and glanced at the gas gauge.
“We’ll stop here.”
A clerk, tall, rangy and with too many pimples, mopped the floor as John, Mike and Randy walked in. He looked up and smiled.
“Hello,” John replied without a smile.
“Can I help you?”
“I need gas.”
“I gotta go,” Mike said.
“I can set you up for pump one, sir, and the rest room is through that door and to the right,” he said.
Mike disappeared through the door, and John went out to pump his gasoline. Randy wandered around, looking at displays of candies, chips and beer.
“You guys on the road all night?” He smiled with good nature and resumed his mopping.
“What do you want to know for?” Randy asked suspiciously.
“No reason.” He ducked his head and concentrated on his scrubbing.
Soon John returned from pumping gasoline and went to the counter to pay. Mike appeared from the restroom zipping his denim jeans. He noticed an ice cream case.
“Hey! I wanna get some ice cream!”
The clerk looked over at Mike, his mouth agape at the wide selection of brightly wrapped frozen confections before him.
“Just slide the cover up,” he said.
“I can’t get it up.”
The boy with pimples sighed and propped his mop against the wall. Randy circled around him, unbuckling his belt. By the time the tall, clerk was at the ice cream case, Randy had his belt off and looped, ready to lob it over the guy’s head.
“No, no,” he said. “I said slide, not lift.”
Randy slid his belt around the clerk’s neck and tightened it, causing the young man to gag, spit, and kick violently against the ice cream case. As Randy wrestled him to the rough wooden floor, squeezing his belt and making the clerk’s face turn purplish red, Mike slid open the top of the case and took out an ice cream bar, opened it and began to eat.
“Yeah, I know,” he said with a laugh. “Slide, not lift.”
The clerk’s kicks became less and less violent until they stopped, his last gasp left his lips, and his body went limp. Randy released the dead man’s head, turned to a magazine rack and picked up a girlie magazine to flip through.
“I want some of these books,” he muttered. “And some beer.”
“Yeah, me too.” Mike wiped dripping ice cream from his chin as he headed for a beer display.
John walked around the counter to open the cash register, pulling as many bills out as he could.
“Get anything you want, but hurry.” As an afterthought, he selected a carton of cigarettes from a rack behind the counter.
Each brother grabbed a six-pack of beer and turned for the door. Mike paused long enough to stare at the dead clerk’s bulging, glazed eyes.
“He don’t have as much spit as the other one did.”
As John drove along Interstate 40 near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, he smoked a pack of cigarettes as he pondered his mission, and wondered if he had chosen his compatriots with prudence. They did not seem to understand the difference between killing because they had to and murdering just because they could get away with it. And they did drink more beer than anyone could ever enjoy. He looked over his shoulder to see them asleep, almost childlike in their slumber. Concentrating on the road again, John dismissed his doubts as he remembered the first Moses. His own brother Aaron built a golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Like the first Moses he would overcome any setbacks brought about by the failings of his followers.
Eventually, Knoxville’s skyline appeared on the horizon. John became aware of an ache encompassing his skull after the long cold drive. He noticed a man getting out of a large sedan at a deserted bowling alley parking lot. John pulled in next to him and got out of his car.
“Excuse me, sir.”
The fleshy man, in his late thirties, wearing lime green polyester slacks and a pullover knit plaid shirt that had trouble hiding his hairy navel, turned to smile. Even in the autumn chill, perspiration beaded his brow. “Yes?”
“Will you tell me the location of the television station that broadcasts news hosted by Bob Meade?”
“Sure.” The man turned to point down the street. “You take this road and turn left ten blocks from here and go another four blocks. You know, I was a journalism major in college. I could do a better job than Meade, but my uncle, Pinky Pinkney, the famous bowler, wanted me—“
“Do you have any aspirin?” John said.
Mike and Randy roused from their sleep, rubbed their eyes and leaned out the window, focusing their wide-spaced eyes on the talkative man.
“Great, fantastic.” He motioned for John to follow him. “I was just about to open the bowling alley, Pinky Pinkney Lanes. He’s my uncle, you know, and a very famous bowler. I run it. Up until recently I edited Pinky Pinkney’s World of Bowling magazine. Maybe you’ve heard of me. I’m Joe—“
“The aspirin?” John repeated, losing his patience.
Mike and Randy started laughing. Joe looked at them.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. The aspirin?”
“Great. Fantastic.” Joe began walking toward the bowling alley. “Come on in.”
As John, Mike and Randy followed Joe past the lanes, he waved his arm.
“Thirty-five lanes. The most in the state of Tennessee.” Leading them into a small office, Joe bent over to go through his desk. The knit shirt rode up, revealing the hair on the small of his back. “Oh yes. I’ve done quite well in the bowling industry.” He paused to catch his breath and to shuffle papers around in a drawer. “Now where is that aspirin?”
Randy moved close to John. “Is that Pharaoh?”
“No,” John replied in a whisper, shaking his head. “He’s just someone who talks too much.”
Randy moaned, and John noticed his dull little brown eyes narrowed in anger as he stepped up to Joe.
“Caleb,” John said, hissing, “don’t.”
“Ah, here it is.” Joe picked up the aspirin and turned, smiling. “I’d still be running the magazine if it hadn’t folded. Incompetent staff—“
Joe’s eyes widened as Randy rammed the hunting knife into his gut. He looked at John, uncomprehending. Randy jerked his knife up under the rib cage, and Joe groaned before falling on the floor.
“Like a stuffed pig, eh?” Mike patted his brother on the back and laughed.
Randy wiped blood from his blade on Joe’s lime green polyester pants, and then looked with apprehension at John.
“He was awake, so it was okay to kill him, right?”
“No, it wasn’t okay. All I wanted was aspirin.” John leaned down to pick up the aspirin bottle. “We weren’t going to rob him.”
“I didn’t like him, anyway,” Randy said.
“We can’t kill everyone we don’t like,” John said in suppressed anger. “Caleb, don’t kill anyone unless I tell you, understand?”
“Okay,” Randy replied, mumbling.
“Not okay,” John said, correcting him. “Say yes, Moses.”
“Yes, who?”
“Yes, Moses.” Randy’s eyes narrowed again.
Within an hour, John found the television station, parked and walked through a double glass door, followed by Mike and Randy who had just finished the last beer in their six-packs. Looking around, John focused on a desk where a middle-aged woman with flaming red-dyed hair sat. A sign hanging from the ceiling read “Information.” He walked to her with efficient determination.
“I want to talk to Bob Meade.”
“He’s not in right now.” The receptionist smiled.
“When will he be in?”
“I really couldn’t say.” She batted her eyes.
“You mean you won’t say.” He stepped closer.
“I really don’t know what you mean.”
“I demand to see Bob Meade.” John slammed his hand down on her desk.
“I told you he’s not in the building.” The smiled faded from her face. “Now if you don’t leave, I’ll call security.”
“Very well.” John stared hard, deciding he should avoid a confrontation with the police. When he tried to fight the police he always lost and ended up back at the mental hospital. Then he would never find Pharaoh. “Good day.” He nodded before turning to leave.
“I gotta go.” Mike rubbed his crotch and looked around.
“Me too.” Randy frowned.
John scanned the doors in the foyer until he saw the sign to the men’s room.
“There it is.”
They ambled over and went in while John waited outside the door, continuing to stare at the receptionist who was punching buttons on her intercom.
“Hurry,” she muttered. “Hello, security? This is the front desk. Get up here fast. Those escaped mental patients are here.” She frowned. “Of course, I’m sure. I’d recognize the scar on his forehead anywhere.”
John touched his head and turned away, wishing the boys would hurry in the restroom. They needed to leave, but he still wanted to find Bob Meade. Maybe the red-haired woman would talk under pressure. At that moment John saw two women enter, one very young and attractive. The other was the older woman from the television news.
“Come up stairs with me, Jill,” Joan said laughing, “and I’ll give you this picture of Bob I have in my drawer.”
John’s head snapped to attention when he heard the name Bob.
“It’s a candid shot. He was looking up from his desk with the sweetest, most innocent expression on his face.” She led Jill to the elevator. “I know I give him a hard time, but between you and me I always had this Mrs. Robinson fantasy about him.”
Jill laughed as they entered the elevator.
“I’ll have to keep an eye on you now, knowing you have a thing for my husband.”
John’s eyes narrowed as the elevator closed. Her husband, he repeated to himself. This must be the wife of Bob Meade, the man who could take them to Pharaoh. She would be a valuable asset in persuading him to do John’s will. They could not approach her here because the red-haired woman had already alerted security guards. They must leave and watch for her outside. John opened the rest room door to hear Mike and Randy laughing and splashing water at each other.
“Quick! We’ve got to go!”
“We was having fun,” Mike said.
“Joshua and Caleb. Now,” John ordered.
The boys came out of the rest room and followed John outside. Dodging traffic, they crossed the street and trotted down the block. Looking back, John spied Jill emerging from the station. He pushed the brothers down behind the car they had stolen.
“Is she gonna take us to Pharaoh?” Mike asked, peeking up.
A security guard and the red-haired receptionist ran out door and stopped Jill as she was about to step from the curb. They both looked around. John edged closer so he could hear the conversation.
“Where did they go?” the guard questioned.
“Where did who go?” Jill said with a smile.
“The escaped mental patients,” the receptionist replied, fear tinging the tone of her voice. “You know, John Ross and the two boys.”
“He was here?” Jill asked. “Bob’s out looking for him right now.”
“I saw the scar.” The receptionist’s lips quivered.
Subconsciously, John touched his forehead. He became angry that they talked about him as though he were a monster with a scar, a scar inflicted by a monster. He was the monster killer. He was going to kill Pharaoh and free his people from their oppression, and free him from his oppression. Bob Meade’s wife would lead him to her husband, and he would take him to Pharaoh. Then all this misery would be over. What would his life be like without the misery; he wondered but could not even imagine it. No matter, he dismissed the thought and concentrated on the people across the street.
“I think you should come back inside,” the guard advised Jill.
“Don’t worry. John Ross doesn’t even know I’m alive,” she said. “Besides, what would he want with Bob?”
“Ross was very angry when I told him Bob wasn’t here,” the receptionist told her with conviction. “He actually hit my desk with his fist. I thought he was going to do something to me.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be all right,” she said, turning to walk away. “I think Ross would go back to Cherokee. His parents should be notified. They’re in more danger than I am.”
“I’m calling the police,” the guard said. “I’ll ask them to contact the Rosses and put an officer at your apartment.”
“Thank you, but I really don’t think it will be necessary,” Jill said, as she continued walking away.
“Be careful,” the receptionist called out.
John watched as the woman and the guard went back in the building and Jill went to her car. He nodded at the boys, and they ran across the street, catching up with her as she unlocked her door. John pushed Jill into the car and across the seat as he took the wheel. Reaching behind him, he unlocked the back door to let Mike and Randy into the back seat. They sat there, leaning forward, laughing, exposing their brown, rotting teeth and smelling of beer, candy, peanuts and sweat.
“What do you want?” Jill said.
“We wanna slit Pharaoh’s gut.” Randy pulled the hunting knife from his jeans and brandished it in her face.
“Pharaoh?” She shook her head.
“Where is your husband?” John grabbed the key from her hand and stuck it in the ignition.
“Why do you want him?”
“He’ll lead us to Pharaoh.” Gunning the engine, John raced away from downtown Knoxville.
“Who’s Pharaoh?” Jill’s voice was filled more with confusion than fear.
“She wants to know too much.” Randy placed the tip of his knife to her soft chin.
Jumping at his touch, Jill looked at Mike who was pulling her top open. She jerked away and clasped the buttons on her blouse.
“She’s pretty.” Mike laughed as he wiped his runny nose.
“Shut up!” Randy hit his brother with his free hand. “Let Moses talk.”
“Moses?” Jill peered into John’s eyes.
“Your husband talked to Pharaoh on his news program.” He paused. “He was in trouble with the government, but he won. Pharaoh bragged he always won. We will make sure he never wins again.”
“Oh.” Suddenly Jill’s mouth fell open. “Him.”
“Where is Bob Meade?”
“I don’t know.” She looked away, out the window.
“You lie.” Randy grabbed her hair, pulling her head back and exposing her neck to his sharp blade.
“You better tell us, Mrs. Meade.” John smiled with evil knowledge. “Caleb has a temper.”
When she paused Randy pulled her hair again, causing her to gasp.
“He’s in North Carolina, at the mental hospital.”
“There?” Mike spat in disgust. “I don’t want to go back there.”
“Shut up,” Randy said.
“Very good, Mrs. Meade. You may let go of her now, Caleb.”
Randy obeyed, put his knife away, and rolled into his fetal ball in the back seat. Mike continued to lean forward breathing on Jill’s neck.
“Why are you doing this?” She pulled forward to get away from Mike. “The old man hasn’t done anything to you.”
“You sound like a follower of Pharaoh.” John glared at her.
“No.” Jill forced a smile. “I just asked a question.”
The back of John’s neck burned with anger and remembered how sweet vengeance tasted, his triumph over his father, crumpled at his feet, and the acrid sting of blood as it dripped from the knife to his tongue.
“Take care, Mrs. Meade. We may have to sacrifice you to Yo He Wa.”
“All this is making me thirsty,” Mike said. “I want some more beer.”
“Me too.” Randy peeked out of his cocoon with a hopeful eye. “It’s been a long time since I had a beer.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Seven

By the summer of 1866, the political climate was stultifying as Johnson and Congress continued to battle over the shape of the post-war government. Such intense, hate-filled language only deepened the dark mood in Washington City among its working citizens, including Louis Weichmann. He had immediately returned to his job as a War Department clerk after testifying against Mrs. Surratt and the other conspirators. Rarely a day went by without some rude accusation that his words had killed an innocent widow. Faceless members of the crowd pushed and shoved him along busy streets. Weichmann received letters containing death threats, which, though he tried to laugh off, made his natural affectations of nervousness even worse.
Walking to his boardinghouse from the War Department one day, he saw standing on the building stoop a woman who lived in an adjoining room. She waved at him. Assuming it to be a friendly greeting, Weichmann waved back.
“No! No! Run!” she screamed pointing to the other side of the street.
He turned to see a man, wearing a large hat that shaded his face, aim a revolver at him. Just as he crossed the threshold of the building, Weichmann heard a bang. Looking at the doorframe, he noticed a bullet hole.
“They almost got you that time, Mr. Weichmann,” the neighbor lady said.
“This is driving me mad,” he whispered.
“Get out, get out while you can.” Her voice was firm. “Go to your family. Family has to take you in during times like this.”
The next day Weichmann left his desk at the War Department and walked upstairs to Secretary Stanton’s office. He rapped lightly at the door but did not wait for an invitation to enter.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Stanton looked up with a scowl. “Well, come in and shut the door before anybody sees you.”
He did as ordered and sat nervously on the edge of a wooden chair in front of Stanton’s desk. “You’ve got to get me another job, out of town. Someone shot at me last evening.”
“I can’t do anything right now. All the job openings I have are still in this building.” He paused, and then wagged a thick short finger in the young man’s face. “Don’t be so nervous. That’s been your problem all along. You’re too nervous.”
“If I’m shot at again, I’m going to the newspapers. I’ll tell them you personally put a noose around my neck and threatened to hang me if I didn’t say Mrs. Surratt told me things. Things about the plot. I knew she never had a part in it, but you made me lie. Get me a job in Philadelphia. My father and mother live there. I could live with them.” He thought a moment then shook his head. “No, everyone knows I’m from Philadelphia. They’ll just follow me up there.” He put his head in his hands. “God, I’m so scared I can’t think straight.”
“Do you have any place to go for just a month or so until I can find a good job for you?” Stanton spoke in soft, conspiratorial tones. “Customs office. They always have clerk openings up and down the coast. Even out West.” He leaned over the desk. “And the customs office pays a good wage. Maybe the money will make you braver.”
Weichmann looked up to see a cynical smile on Stanton’s thin lips. “My brother is a priest. He recently took a post in Anderson, Indiana, a small town in the middle of cornfields. No one would suspect me living there.”
Stanton leaned back. “Then go visit the virtuous Father Weichmann for a while. It will be good for your soul.”
And for his first week in Anderson, Weichmann indeed felt a burden lift from his shoulders. He made countless visits to the confessional where his brother leant a sympathetic ear. Most townspeople acted as though they did not even make the connection between their beloved padre Weichmann and the man in the nation’s capital who testified about a woman involved with the recent unpleasantness. Then on Sunday night of the second week, all that changed.
As he lay in bed in the spare room of the parsonage, Weichmann heard a voice from outside the open window.
“Run for your life!”
His eyes opened wide, and he looked around. It was a moonless night so he had trouble defining shadows in the inky blackness. A slight breeze blew the curtains. He rose from his bed and went to the window, pausing a moment before sticking his head out. Just as he studied the yard’s gloom, a rock struck the pane above his head. Shards of glass pricked the back of his neck.
“Run!” the disembodied voice repeated.
All reason escaped his mind as he rolled out of the window onto the ground, not remembering that all he wore were ill-fitting long johns. Another rock hit the small of his back.
Looking around him wildly, Weichmann could not decide which way to go. To the left was downtown Anderson, completely deserted by that hour of night. Straight ahead of him was the town’s livery stable, probably locked up. To the right were the countryside and a farmer’s full field of cornstalks. Another stone flew at him. This time it hit his arm, causing him to wince in pain.
“I said run!” The voice became angrier.
His lips trembling in fear, Weichmann ran toward the cornfield, hoping to find some measure of protection among the stalks. No matter how fast he ran, the voice seemed to stay close, now laughing maniacally. Taking an abrupt left into the cornfield, Weichmann hoped he had eluded his pursuer. He slowed to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he felt a body throwing itself against his back, knocking him to the ground.
A hand grabbed locks of his curly hair and repeatedly slammed his face into the loosened soil of the field. All he could do was wait to be strangled, to feel his neck snap from a twist administered by strong hands or to feel a knife plunge beneath his ribcage.
“You deserve to die,” the voice whispered into his ear. Many people deserve to die for what they did to Mrs. Surratt.”
Weichmann felt spittle on his cheek as the man spoke. The voice sounded familiar. If his wits had not left him, surely he could identify it. Its tone had a certain melodious quality. Shuddering as the name came to him, Weichmann could not believe that a dead man was back from the grave and lying on top of him hissing threats.
“I should kill you tonight, you craven, lily-livered coward. How should I accomplish the good deed? Perhaps I should twist your head until your neck snaps. Or push your face down into the ground, forcing you to inhale dirt until you choke to death. I have a knife. I could slit your throat from ear to ear. No, I think I shall save that execution for a person far more evil than you. I know. I could impale you on a spiked wooden pole, and let the good citizens of Anderson find you in the morning, hanging among the cornstalks like a human scarecrow.”
Weichmann began to cry. “Please, please, don’t kill me. They made me lie about Mrs. Surratt. They were going to hang me right then and there if I didn’t agree to lie.”
“Who were they?” the voice demanded.
“Stanton. Secretary Stanton.”
“I’m not surprised.” The man lessened the pressure on Weichmann’s back, allowing him to breathe more easily. “I don’t think I’ll kill you now after all. Watch the newspapers for mysterious deaths of some famous people. Do you know who James Lane and Preston King are?” He slapped the back of Weichmann’s head. “Answer me!”
“Uh, uh, they’re congressmen, aren’t they?” he mumbled.
“Something like that. But now they are nothing at all. They are dead. So will Lafayette Baker be dead.”
“Him? He scares me. He’s mean.”
“Well, you won’t have to be scared of him very much longer. He’s going to die eventually.” He paused to lean down to Weichmann’s ear again. “And Edwin Stanton.”
“Good.” His voice was small and scared. “I hate him too.”
“Don’t think you have nothing to worry about. I have merely postponed your execution. One day, perhaps when you are an old man and no one really cares whether you live or die, I will return to put you out of your misery. Or maybe not.” He slapped Weichmann in the head again. “Can you count to one hundred?” He paused, but there was no response. “Can you count to a hundred?”
“Yes. Yes, sir.”
“Do it. Then you may go back to your bed. Pleasant dreams.”
Weichmann did not want to take any chances so he counted slowly—very slowly—to two hundred. When he finished, he carefully stood to look around the cornfield. Gingerly he stepped into the narrow lane leading into Anderson. No one was there.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty

Over long months Davy gained Griffith’s confidence. First time a hunter set up a temporary stand in the Christiansburg town square Davy accompanied his boss to buy pelts. Davy, eager to show off his knowledge, pointed out flaws in the hides.
“This one here must have gotten into a fight with a ‘coon hound. He jest barely got away, by the look of those scabs.”
“Those scabs ain’t nothin’,” the hunter said. “They come off once you put ‘em in solution.”
Griffith smiled and moved on. Davy picked up an otter skin and sniffed. His nose crinkled. “I don’t think this one was very healthy. His piss don’t smell right.”
“Boy,” the hunter said with a contemptuous grunt, “you got a bundle to learn about pelts.”
Holding the skin up to the sunlight, Griffith blew on its nape and shook his head, saying, “Sheen isn’t quite right.”
“What difference does it make?” the hunter groused. “You’re gonna shave that off anyways.”
“Hmm.” Griffith put the otter down and paid for a couple of raccoon pelts. Walking away, he patted the boy’s back. “Very good, Master Davy.”
After that Griffith introduced him to the intricacies of shaving pelts and shaping crowns with steam. Harriet hugged Davy each time he mastered a new skill.
“I’m so proud of you, Davy,” she said.
He craved her compliments, as a sponge soaking up all the water it could, especially when she discreetly included a little squeeze of his hand.
“Father, I have to go to the store to see if your new shipment of mercurous nitrate has arrived,” Harriet said and opened the door to leave, winking at Davy.
A few minutes later the boy cleared his throat. “My mouth’s dreadful dry.” Walking to their oaken bucket he scraped the gourd ladle against the side of the half-full vessel. “Dry as a bone. I better go fill it up at the well.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Griffith said with a small smile. “Well, don’t dally too long.”
Running out the door, Davy dropped the bucket by the side of the well and headed to the woods behind the hat maker’s cabin. Harriet peeked from behind a large mulberry bush, giggling, as he arrived with a toothy grin on his face.
“What took you so long?” she asked coquettishly.
“I got out as fast as I could.” He leaned against a cottonwood and looked off and smiled. His heart raced, and his mind was light with happiness.
“So.” She sighed as she walked over to him. “Master Davy, what are your plans today?”
“Same as every day,” he replied with a smile. “Kiss you three times without gittin’ caught.” Looking around to see if anyone was coming, Davy planted a light kiss on Harriet’s lips. “That’s one.”
Harriet ran away to hide behind a nearby oak and looked around at him. “And not another one until this afternoon.”
He stood straight and scampered toward the tree. “I’ll kiss you again now if I take a mind to.”
Both of them chuckled as they scuttled from pine to poplar until Davy ensnared her against an old, substantial elm. With tender affection, he bore his chest down against her as he planted his hands on the tree trunk on each side of her blushing face. Harriet touched his cheeks with her fingertips.
“My, you have the reddest cheeks I think I’ve ever seen on a man.” She smiled with mischief in her eyes. “I do say, my cheeks aren’t as red as yours.”
“That’s a fact,” he said with half-seriousness. “Girls all up and down the Shenandoah Valley have commented on how impressive my red cheeks are.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, slapping his shoulder, “you scamp! How dare you say such a thing in front of me?”
Davy ran from her further into the woods. “You’re a brutish girl, for sure, and I’m gittin’ away from you right now!”
“Brutish!” She chased after him. “I’ll show you how brutish I can be!”
They ran through around the undergrowth until Davy tripped over an exposed gnarled tree root on purpose, falling on his back. Harriet stumbled over his feet, landing squarely on his chest. She tickled his ribs, and he squirmed as though he did not appreciate it. After they giggled a moment, she kissed his lips and bounced to her feet.
“And that’s your second kiss.”
“I swear it ain’t.” He jumped up and went to her. “You kissed me. That don’t count.”
“If you say so, Master Davy.” Her eyelids fluttered.
“I think I want my second kiss now,” he said, leaning in.
“No.” She pulled away, this time with serious determination. “We’ve taken too long as it is. Father will notice.” Harriet scurried out of the woods and down the path to the general store.
Smiling, Davy watched her disappear down the road. He then went to the well, picked up the bucket, filled it and returned to the hatter’s cabin.
“Master Davy!” Griffith barked as the boy placed the bucket by their fireplace. “Why are you so sloppy in your shaving?”
He walked to the workbench. “What, sir?”
Pushing the fox hide under the boy’s nose, the hatter chided him, “You sliced the hide when you shaved it. See that? Now it’s useless!”
“Sir,” he replied softly, “it’s an old scar. This fox probably got into a bad scrape when it was a kid. I didn’t see it until I shaved the pelt.”
“Ruined!” Griffith threw it against the wall. “All that money wasted!”
“Yes, sir, I’m sorry, sir.”
Davy watched the hatter’s eyes twitch as he withdrew into himself and singled out another pelt to agonize over. He returned to the hearth to stoke the fire. Silence descended over the room until Harriet entered and stopped abruptly when she sensed the dense mood.
“Is anything wrong?”
Her father ignored her as his shoulders hunched, but Davy looked up and smiled. “Why, no, everythin’s fine.”


Many years later, when David sat with his family around the dinner table, silence overwhelmed the room, and the mood was dense. The only sound was the scraping of knives on trenchers and drinking from wooden tankards. David noticed that Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled in the fireplace glow. She looked as though she were about to burst, he thought, concealing her happy secret.
“Children,” she said, folding her hands in her lap, “I have somethin’ to tell you. Mister Crockett—your father—he told me this afternoon he was stayin’ here with us. The lease on his farm is up and so he’s livin’ here from now on.”
“Really?” A smiled flickered across Sissy’s face. “Forever?”
“Nothin’s forever, Sissy.” Matilda frowned.
“Is it true?” Sissy looked at him. “Is what ma said is true? You’re goin’ to stay here forever?”
“Yes, Sissy,” he said, looking down, “forever.”
“See, Matilda.” Her head snapped toward her sister. “You don’t know everythin’.”
“I know men,” Matilda replied. “And I know forever has a different meanin’ for men.”
“I know men, too,” Sissy said.
“Not as well as I do.”
“Vulgar little tramp.”
“I’m a red-blooded woman,” Matilda retorted, “not somethin’ with cold water in her veins.”
“You don’t have blood, Matilda, jest toilet water, cheap, vulgar toilet water.”
“Girls! Stop this!” Elizabeth’s voice lowered in anger. “I won’t let you spoil this moment for me!”
“You don’t think I’m vulgar, do you, Mama?”
“You’ll grow out of it, dear.” Elizabeth paused to smile. “No, Matilda, you ain’t vulgar at all. You’re jest full of life, like your pa. That’s why I love you. And Sissy’s quiet and lovin’, like her grandma Crockett. That’s why I love her.”
“Matilda’s right, you know,” Robert said as he stuffed spoon bread into his mouth and continued talking. “I don’t give ‘im a month before he lights out again.”
“That’s not true,” his mother replied. She looked earnestly at David.
“No, Elizabeth, it’s not true.” He looked around their table and into the faces of his children. “Like I always say. Be always sure you’re right and then go ahead. I’m sure I’m right and I’m goin’ ahead and stayin’ here.”
Robert stared at his father for an eternity with his jaw set solemnly in disbelief.
“I’m goin’ to sit outside for a while,” David mumbled as he left the room.
Instead of sitting down on the porch he went to the barn where he saddled his horse and rode into town. Stepping into the tavern he spotted Abner and William. He got a tankard of ale at the bar and joined them.
“What are you doin’ out this late?” Abner asked.
“Aww,” David said, pausing to take a swig, “the whole durn family is mad at me. I don’t know why. I even said I ain’t goin’ to Texas. They don’t believe me. The youngin’s, they jest won’t give me a chance.”
“Robert don’t know how good he has it,” William said. “At least he got a father.”
“I don’t know why you don’t go ahead and do what Sam Houston said,” Abner said. “You got my mouth all set for a taste of Texas, but I don’t know if I want to go if you don’t.”
“Well,” David said, lifting his chin, “I gave my word to the family.”
“You shouldn’t care what Robert thinks,” William said. “He don’t give a hoot about you.”
When the group broke up, David rode home, deciding his word to the family had never been worth much, and they all knew it. His buddies knew him. They knew what his soul needed. If only his family knew him that well. Arriving at the cabin he saw all the lamps were out. Elizabeth would understand, he decided. The children would never understand.
Struggling off his horse, David tried not to stagger too much on his way back to the house. His lean frame slipped between the covers of the bed, and just as he was about to drift off to sleep, Elizabeth’s hand patted his shoulder.
“After you left I told the children to be kind to you,” she whispered. “I said you’re givin’ up more than they’d ever know.” She gave him a slight hug. “And you be kind to them.”


Dave’s heart sank when Miriam explained how she knew as soon as she saw the yellowed Bible with a cracked leather cover that it was a historic document. When she opened to its family page and saw David Crockett’s signature she had no doubt it was authentic.
“He rambled on about how he was all alone in the world,” Miriam said. “He said his mother died when he was twelve.”
“I was twelve when she died,” Dave told her. “Allan was twenty-two.”
“He said he had a younger brother who died of some mysterious disease at age seven. Just as his mother came into the room, he said your eyes lit up, you whispered, ‘Jesus!’ and died.” Miriam smiled. “Tears came into his eyes as he described how he comforted his mother as she sobbed at your funeral.”
“How did he say my other brother die?”
“Let’s see. His name was Vince, right? It’s funny how I remember. Allan could have been a successful actor, the way he said things made an impression so I remember all this. Anyway, he said Vince was crushed when the car he was working on slipped from the jack and fell on him.”
“And my father?”
“He said he died of a massive heart attack while loading his soft drink truck on a hot July afternoon. Tears welled up again as he described how his father gave up his life to provide a future for his child.” She shook her head. “I knew he was lying, but he seemed so sincere in his lies I could not help but like him.”
Dave nodded and smiled.
“I knew he was bound and determined to sell that Bible—he said it was to pay for his college tuition,” Miriam continued. “He was only a semester away from a bachelor’s degree. I knew he wasn’t a semester away from graduation, but he needed money badly for something.”
“Just to live,” Dave said. “He had a hard time keeping a job.”
Frowning, Miriam looked out the front window. “I didn’t pay him what it was worth. He didn’t seem to mind.”
“It doesn’t make any difference.”
“I was hoping a family member would come in and I’ll sell it back for what I paid. Honestly.”
“I know.”
“Then this lady came in,” she continued. “Just a few weeks ago. I couldn’t believe how her eyes lit up when she saw the Crockett signature. She was a dear thing. There’s a legend in her mother’s family about a sixteen-year-old Davy Crockett bestowing his first puppy love kiss upon one of their great grandmothers.”
“So she bought the Bible?”
“I set a high price on it hoping to discourage her. She said she didn’t care what the price was. She simply had to have that Bible. I am, after all, in business to buy and sell books. Besides, she looked respectable, and I knew she’d give the Bible a good home.”
“Did you get her address?” When Miriam hesitated, Dave added, “I really need to get in contact with her.”
“I suppose I could call her and ask if she would talk to you.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
Dave watched her go to her office, flip through a card file and punch a number into the phone. Her face brightened.
“Hello, Sarah Beth?” Miriam turned away and lowered her voice. In a minute she looked back, smiled and extended the receiver. She wants to say hello.”

Cancer Chronicles Fifty-Eight

This week a friend mentioned to me how much he enjoyed reading my Cancer Chronicles and asked if I had considered opening it up to the experiences of other people who have dealt with the many aspects of cancer. I think this is a great idea. I’ve had my say. Now I want everyone else to have a say too.
He wanted to write about his sister’s struggle with cancer. I think I’d like to invite anyone who has faced any life threatening crisis with family members or good friends. Many physical ailments confront us to make us consider our frailties and those of our loved ones.
If you want a forum in which to share your story, please send your message to, and I will post it on my blog on Wednesdays under the label Cancer Chronicles. Please keep your story to four or five paragraphs. Also do not slip into negative commentary on quality of care, medical costs or political philosophy. If you want to remain anonymous to the reading public that is fine. There is no deadline. Anything that arrives after the Wednesday posting will be used the next week.
If I miss posting one Wednesday and your message is delayed, please have patience. I’m an old man and sometimes stuff doesn’t get done in a timely manner.
We make it through the nonsense of life by leaning on each other. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need all the help I can get. And I’m here for you.

Cancer Chronicles Fifty-Eight

This week a friend mentioned to me how much he enjoyed reading my Cancer Chronicles and asked if I had considered opening it up to the experiences of other people who have dealt with the many aspects of cancer. I think this is a great idea. I’ve had my say. Now I want everyone else to have a say too.
He wanted to write about his sister’s struggle with cancer. I think I’d like to invite anyone who has faced any life threatening crisis with family members or good friends. Many physical ailments confront us to make us consider our frailties and those of our loved ones.
If you want a forum in which to share your story, please send your message to, and I will post it on my blog on Wednesdays under the label Cancer Chronicles. Please keep your story to four or five paragraphs. Also do not slip into negative commentary on quality of care, medical costs or political philosophy. If you want to remain anonymous to the reading public that is fine. There is no deadline. Anything that arrives after the Wednesday posting will be used the next week.
If I miss posting one Wednesday and your message is delayed, please have patience. I’m an old man and sometimes stuff doesn’t get done in a timely manner.
We make it through the nonsense of life by leaning on each other. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need all the help I can get. And I’m here for you.