Monthly Archives: September 2016


Clem lived all his life in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, and he didn’t know what to make of all this talk about a Depression. He, his wife and kids got along very well, thank you, in their two-room cabin up in the holler. He planted a patch of tobacco that paid off the damn banker every year, raised a passel of pigs that made good eating every fall, and cooked up the best moonshine for miles around. His wife tended garden so they always had taters, maters and squash, not to mention corn needed for the moonshine. The kids helped their ma with the garden and took care of the chickens. A good person right with the Lord shouldn’t want more than that.
One day he was down at the country store talking around the cracker barrel when the preacher’s wife piped up that she didn’t know if she liked the idea of this brand new theater in downtown Abingdon.
“Dadburned movie pictures ain’t worth talking about.” Clem spat some tobacco juice in a corner, which was shiny and black from years of being spit in.
“Well, Clem, I ain’t talking about no movie picture show,” the preacher’s wife replied in a huff. “It’s like real-life people standing on a stage and spouting lines prancing about, like they thought they was something fancy.”
“Oh, they’ve been doing that for years and years.” Clem spat again. “They’ve been doing that before there warn’t no motion picture shows. Don’t you know no better than that?”
“Of course, I do, Clem. But I don’t think it’s fitting for a man to stand in front of a bunch of women and children with sweat rolling off him, so close you can see it dripping off his nose. With all that pomade in his hair, glistening black.” The preacher’s wife fluttered her eyes and fanned herself. “Now what was it I was saying?”
“You was all upset by those men sweating on the stage.” Clem chuckled. “I don’t know why you’re getting so hot and bothered about it all. Nobody around here is fool enough to waste their money to go see it.”
“That’s just it, Clem,” the preacher’s wife said. “They ain’t charging no money at all. You bring in a chicken or a ham shank and you get in to see the show.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Clem spat a really big wad this time; in fact, he didn’t have any tobacco left in his mouth. He might as well go on home.
“But that’s the truth Clem,” the old storekeep Zeke interjected as he lumbered around the counter with his broom. “It’s these damnyankees from New York. They can’t get no work up there so they opened up this theater down here, and they do their playacting for food and might near everything else.”
“Is that so?” Clem took a snot rag out of his pocket and wiped his mouth. “They’re going to starve to death. Ain’t nobody with no common sense that’ll waste a perfectly good chicken on such foolishness.”
“They got a full house every night and two shows on Saturday and Sunday,” Zeke explained.
“Defaming the Lord’s day like that. Me and the ladies Bible league are planning to march with signs and scream Scripture at the sinners as they go in next Sunday,” the preacher’s wife announced.
“Maybe some menfolk should go on Friday night first so you ladies don’t make yourselves look silly,” Clem said, halfway to himself. “I got a leftover cured ham hanging in the barn.”
On Friday night, Clem showed up at the Barter Theater in downtown Abingdon with the cured ham tucked up under his arm. He didn’t think it would be right for the wife and kids be exposed to all this foohfrah until he saw it first. The theater people seemed right glad to see him and his ham and took him to a seat down front. They told him the name of the play was Hamlet. Now that might be right funny—a play about baby pigs.
When the curtain came up, Clem was disappointed. It wasn’t about no baby pigs at all. He could hardly make out what they were saying. It was English all right, but not decent English like they talked in the mountains, but that there fancy English spoke in England. The best he could make out it was about this here college boy who came home to find his daddy dead and his mama married his uncle, and he’s mad because they ate up all the food from the funeral at the wedding, and he didn’t get nothing to eat. Then this college boy sees his daddy’s ghost who tells him his uncle killed him so he could marry the mama.
By this time Clem was fidgeting in his chair something bad. He never had no use for college boys in the first place. If he wanted something to eat he should have gone out and shot a couple of squirrels and made himself a stew. Another thing this college boy did wrong was that he had this real pretty girl who wanted to marry him, but he went off and told her to become a nun. And that poor girl got so upset about being told to become a nun that she jumped in the creek and drowned herself.
Clem would have just gotten up and stormed out of that there theater, but they had set him down in the front row, and he didn’t think it was proper for him to stand up and keep everybody else from seeing the show. It didn’t make no sense at all. At the girl’s funeral, the college boy’s mama says “Sweets to the sweet.” That college boy jumped down in the grave thinking he was gonna get to eat the candy he thought his mama had thrown on the casket, but it turned out she threw in flowers instead. Clem decided the boy wouldn’t have been so moody if his mama just fed him proper.
The end of the show didn’t make any better sense. The college boy and the girl’s brother started a fight right there in front of everybody, and his mama got so upset they’re going to get blood on the good rug that she poisoned herself. When she dropped dead, the college boy decided to take it out on his uncle and ran him through with his sword. Then he dropped dead, probably because he never did get a decent meal through the whole play.
As he was walking out, Clem decided he was going to make a stink over this theater thing.
“Where’s my ham?” he bellowed out.
An older fellow came out of a little office and grabbed Clem by the elbow and took him through another door. Clem decided he got seen to real fast because this man didn’t want the other people to get the idea of asking for their stuff back too. Pretty soon Clem found himself behind the stage where they kept all the people who had put on the play.
“That was the worst dang thing I ever done see,” Clem announced. “I want my ham back.”
Those people looked awful worried, and they stepped away from this table with all the vittles that had been brought in that night. There Clem saw the college boy with a big chunk of his ham hanging out of his mouth.
“Oh forget it,” Clem said as he turned for the door. “He needs it more than I do.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-One

Boston Corbett stood before a congregation of Methodist Episcopalians in a rural church set among a stand of cottonwood trees outside of Camden, New Jersey. He was in fine voice and form, ready to give his testimony of a life lived as a “Glory to God” man.
“Brothers and sisters, I stand before you tonight not as a proud man, but a man who walked the streets of hell before seeing the light and moving into the sweet arms of Jesus.”
Corbett paused because he knew a chorus of “Amen!” and “Preach on, Brother!” was about to shake the rafters. And he was right.
“God blessed me with a righteous wife, valued more than pearls and rubies, and, in his own wisdom which we do not understand, he took her away from me as she gave birth to our precious daughter who only spent a moment on this Earth before going home to be with Jesus and all the saints and archangels.”
“Poor baby girl!” erupted among the womenfolk worshipers.
“Faced with such sorrow, I believed the false promise of Satan himself that I could find comfort in the demon liquors. My life sank. My soul shrank. And I drank and drank. All for naught. All in obedience to the devil himself.”
“No, no, no.” This was more of a mere whisper wafting through the pews.
“But God did not allow it!” Corbett bellowed. The crowd cowered in apprehension. “God grabbed me by my collar and said, “Boy, you will not waste this life I gave you! You will not dismay your wife and child who are by My side at this very moment! You will repent and spread the Gospel throughout this land on the verge of war, and I will prevail!”
The folks sprang from their seats, clapping and shouting hallelujah. Their usual pastor, a man of small stature and graying hair, motioned for them to sit and be quiet.
“And from that moment on, I became a soldier in the army of the Lord. Preaching on every street corner, singing in every choir and glorifying God in every church. When my country sent me to war to end the evil that was slavery, I continued to fight for Jehovah too. Even when I was captured at Culpepper Court House in Virginia and was sent to that horrible plot of land called Andersonville Prison in Georgia, I continued to shout, I continued to pray, I continued to praise until the devil’s legions themselves could not take it any longer. They traded me back north to home.”
Another round of hallelujahs and amens interrupted his preaching.
“After I returned to the Army of Righteousness, I continued my crusade for my Heavenly Father. Then came that moment which has brought me to the attention of all you God-fearing American saints. That evil practitioner of the devil’s art of theater killed our Father Abraham.”
Corbett was thrown off his timing as he heard a man turn to the fellow next to him and say, “I don’t know if I don’t enjoy going to a good show, every now and again.”
“We trapped him at that barn in Virginia. I was ordered not to shoot and kill him but I obeyed a Higher Authority and did shoot!”
More amens and hallelujahs.
Staring at the congregation for a long moment, Corbett lowered his voice and continued, “But evil did not die that night. Evil never dies! Evil will lurk in our hearts forever! Be ever vigilant against evil!”
The general mood of the people was to jump up and applaud, but the hand of the good, gray-haired pastor kept them in their seats.
“For, you see, God came to me that night. He told me John Wilkes Booth must not die at that time. He came to me in the form of a powerfully built short man with red hair and divine inspiration in his eyes.”
A murmur rose among the people. Women fluttered their fans wildly in the August heat, and the men shifted uneasily in the pews.
“He offered a substitute sacrifice for the nation, the corpse of a young man who looked like Booth but who was not Booth. Perhaps he was Jesus Christ come down to atone for our sins once again—“
Almost in unison, a moan rolled through the room as each man, woman and child stood and without further hesitation left the church, returning to their homes.
Corbett had seen this before. For some reason, the sheep of this Earth were not ready for the kindly shepherd to herd them on the path of righteousness. He would not be discouraged though.
“Brother Corbett,” the elderly minister said to him in uncertain tones, “I don’t understand the meaning of your parable there at the end, and neither, evidently, did my parishioners. The saddest aspect of this, it seems, is that we had not taken the offering yet so I have nothing to pay you for your—for the most part—excellent testimony.”
Corbett smiled and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, brother, the Lord will pay me much more richly than you ever could.”
As he had learned in previous encounters with retreating admirers, it was best that he leave town that night and find lodgings a few miles down the road. The cool night air felt good against his warm face as he rode his handsome little horse, the very mount that took him to the Virginia farm three years ago. A small inn appeared on the road as he expected. Rapping at the door and rousing the keeper from his sleep, Corbett asked for lodging for the night, and the owner yawned, scratched his head and showed him to a small room in the back. The next morning at breakfast, he read the Camden newspaper.
On the front page was a story from Washington City. President Andrew Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, calling him a “fountain of mischief.” The president requested Stanton’s resignation and, when the letter was not forthcoming, dismissed him a week later. The story quoted Johnson as saying he conformed to the letter of the law as laid out in the new Tenure of Office Act. The newspaper also reported that the president had selected Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as the replacement. The article ended with the statement that Stanton had relented and left his job under protest.
As he sipped his coffee, Corbett looked out the inn’s dining room window to see dogs seek shade beneath a stand of oak trees. Something was awry, he told himself. God was on the verge of calling him again to save the soul of the United States of America. In his saddlebag, he had several letters from churches in faraway Kansas, beseeching him to share his testimony. Corbett shook his head. He must delay his trip out west because the Lord would be calling him to Washington City soon.
* * *
Dr. Leale shook the chill from his bones after removing his outer vestments and settled into a comfortable chair, which faced the fireplace in his parlor. He had just returned home from a day’s work at the military hospital. December of 1868 was particularly cold, and his omnibus ride did nothing to protect him from the sharp winds whipping in from the frozen Potomac River. Before mounting the steps of the omnibus, he had bought a newspaper to read on the way home, but instead he hunched over and closed his eyes, which he felt were about to freeze in their sockets. Now comfortable in his favorite chair and sipping a hot cup of coffee–which his wife presented to him as he entered the parlor–Dr. Leale was ready to read the news.
The House of Representatives, by a vote of 108 to 57, refused to impeach President Johnson because he fired Secretary of War Stanton and replaced him with Gen. Grant. Leale did not know what to think of the legislative maneuverings, but he did feel certain that once the newly elected Representatives were sworn into office after the New Year, a new attempt to impeach the president would surely come to pass.
Leale’s role in the larger drama of President Lincoln’s assassination, the trial and execution of the conspirators and now the political battle to remove President Johnson from office often seemed inconsequential to him. Because he had been the initial physician to attend the slain president, Leale had been part of many ceremonies surrounding the funeral. The assassination conspiracy trial in 1865 drew him to the courtroom, where he met Lincoln’s mysterious stepbrother. Then Rep. Benjamin Butler asked him in 1867 to write a report on the details about the damage done to the head of President Lincoln for the congressional report being prepared.
However, in the back of his mind, Leale could not shake the memory of watching Lincoln delivering a message from a window of the Executive Mansion shortly before the assassination. The president’s face looked odd to the doctor. Exactly why it was odd Leale could not figure out. Neither could he understand Secretary of War Stanton’s behavior that night at the boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theatre.
Leale’s wife Rebecca came to the parlor door to announce dinner was now on the table.
“In a moment, dear. As soon as I finish this story about the impeachment vote.” He searched for some clue about what tied the three events together. The newspaper article quoted Gen. Grant about the impeachment effort. On the one hand, he indicated he was pleased to oblige President Johnson and take on the interim position but on the other, he made overtures of reconciliation with Stanton. All of this puzzled Leale, making him more drawn to the political machinations. A few minutes later, Rebecca returned to the parlor, leaned over his chair to kiss him on the cheek, a gentle reminder his meal awaited him.
“Eating a cold dinner will not bring justice to this town,” she whispered.
He looked up from his newspaper, smiled then a cloud crossed his face. “If only you had seen Mr. Stanton that night. Something was wrong, terribly wrong.”
“Like the way President Lincoln acted that time. You wanted to go to the theater to see if he looked the same and what made him look that way.”
“Yes, dear. You do understand, don’t you?”
“Yes, I understand.”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty-Three

Davy walked slowly back to the cabin, his mind racing about what to do about Captain Stasney, Inside he saw Harriet was back, busy in the kitchen chopping vegetables for a stew, and Griffith laboring over the crown of a woman’s hat. He watched her look up, smile at him but then frown.
“What’s wrong, Davy?’ she asked.
He opened his mouth but no words came out. Davy first thought to lie and say there was nothing wrong, but decided even he was not a good enough liar to fool them.
“I’m in real bad trouble,” he whispered.
“Father, please stop and listen,” she said with urgency.
“Huh?” He looked up and scrunched his brow.
“Davy says he’s in trouble.”
“There’s this man in town,” he began tentatively. “He’s the sea captain I almost went to work for. In Baltimore. He’s telling Mr. Goodell I broke my bond and ran away. But I didn’t. My parents didn’t apprentice me to him. Honest. I know I lie but I’m not lyin’ about this.”
“I don’t understand,” Harriet said, her voice cracking. “Why would he track you down all the way here from Baltimore just because you owe him money?”
“Master Davy?” Griffith asked seriously.
“I cut him,” he said in an even voice. “I cut ‘im bad. I had to to git outta there.”
“Was he trying to hurt you?’ Harriet dried her eyes.
“Where did you cut him?” Griffith asked.
“He was lickin’ his knife and I grabbed it and cut his tongue. I cut it real bad. It’s forked, like a snake’s tongue now.”
“Why was he licking the knife?” Harriet wrinkled her brow.
“Hush, Harriet,” Griffith instructed her. He looked at Davy, his brow knitted. “Did that man do anything to you, boy?”
“No, sir. But I know he meant to.” He glanced at Harriet and dropped his head. “Mister Griffith, sir, he showed me a book. It was a book I wouldn’t want nobody to look at.”
“You don’t have to say anymore,” he said.
“I don’t understand, Father.”
“You don’t have to understand, dear. Just know this is a very sick, very evil man who is after our Master Davy. I’ve seen men like this before. Children aren’t safe around them.”
“Father, you’re scaring me,” she said, her voice trembling.
“Harriet, darling,” he whispered, hugging her, “go to Miss Dorcas’s house. Ask her if you may spend the night. If she asks why, tell her I’m having one of my fits. She’ll believe you. Whatever you do, don’t leave Miss Dorcas’s side until I call for you tomorrow morning.”


Stung by Elizabeth’s outburst, David kept quiet during the evening meal, sat out by the barn until all the lamps had gone out. The next morning, after a quiet breakfast with the family, he followed Robert to the barn. His son walked to the shelf where the farm tools lay. He paused when his gaze caught the glint of a new rifle’s metal barrel reflecting in the morning light. Picking it up Robert also saw the saddlebag, bedroll and other items for living on the trail. He looked at David.
“Who’s this for?”
“William,” he replied softly. “It’s part of his inheritance from his grandpa. He needed these things now instead of waitin’ for the will to be settled.”
“Oh.” Robert pinched his lips shut as he put the rifle down and grabbed an axe from the shelf.
“I need to talk to you about somethin’.”
Robert brushed past him, carrying the axe toward the barn door. “I’m too busy to talk to an old drunk.”
“What do you mean by that?” David grabbed him by the arm.
“I got firewood to chop.”
“What did you mean about an old drunk?”
“You’re an old drunk.”
“I’m gittin’ sick and tired of that chip on your shoulder. So you think you had it bad? Well, you don’t know what bad is. You should have been on your own as a boy in the big city. You’d know what bad was.” His eyes fluttered, and his feet shuffled. “If I ain’t been here it’s ‘cause I worked to—to provide for you and the family. That Congress salary came in purty handy, didn’t it?”
“I ain’t never seen any of it.”
“I know, boy.” David stepped back and looked down.
“Don’t call me boy.”
“I know you ain’t no boy no more. I mean, you’ll always be my boy.”
“You never acted like I was your boy.” Robert pinched his lips as his hands tightened around the axe.
“You know that ain’t so.”
“What did you want to tell me?”
“Well, your ma and I had a talk and we decided it might be better for everybody if I went ahead to Texas.”
“I don’t think ma had any part of that decision.”
“You callin’ me a liar?”
“Yes, I am.”
That made it just about unanimous, David thought. All members of his family thought he was a liar. They did not understand the intricacies of political expedience.
“Anyway, your cousin and uncle will be here in a few days. I promised to lead ‘em to Texas.”
“I always thought us young fellows got to go out West. William gits to go, but I don’t.” He exhaled with bitterness. “But you go ahead. I’ll stay here and do your job, tend to your wife and daughters.”
“You don’t have to tend to nothin’,” David replied in a huff. “I’ve always tended to my own.”
“The way a lie floats off your tongue, it’s like you actually believe it.”
“Don’t call me a liar!” David pushed Robert.
“Don’t touch me,” he replied in a soft sinister tone as he dropped the axe.
“I’ll do what I want!” David pushed him again.
Robert punched his father in the gut, knocking him to the ground. “Why don’t you go crawl into a whiskey bottle and stay there?”
“Stop it!” Elizabeth commanded in a loud impatient voice as she appeared in the barn door. “I won’t abide fightin’ on my farm!”
“He makes me so mad.” Robert stepped back, his face a bright red.
“I know he does, but I said no fightin’.” She looked down at David. “Well, don’t jest sit there, Mr. Crockett. Git up.”
“He called me a liar.” David realized he sounded like a child making excuses to his mother after being pulled up by the ear.
“It’s not like nobody never called you that before,” she said. “Now git up.”
As he stood David grumbled, “Polly’s children never talked to me like that.”
“Yes, they did,” she replied. “You don’t remember.” Elizabeth turned to Robert. “And you, young man, you have to git hold of yourself.”
“Why don’t you tell ‘im he can’t go?”
“You think it’d make any difference if I did?”
“No,” Robert said sourly.
“Remember what I said the other night?”
“I said be good to your father.”
David remembered her telling him that when he slid into bed the night he decided not to stay. She also told him to be good to them. Both of them failed.
“He ain’t never been good to me.” Robert pointed to the new rifle and gear on the ground near the tool shelf. “He got William a gun and saddlebag and stuff. He ain’t never given me nothin’ like that.”
“There’s too much pain in the world without hurtin’ your own blood.” She paused to soften her voice. “Now you don’t begrudge your cousin a few nice things, do you? He’s had so much grief in his life.”
“I guess not.” Robert looked down. “William’s all right. He’s always done right by me. I guess he can have those things.” He looked up with anger at his father. “But why can I git ‘em too? I’ve had grief. I worked hard. I deserve somethin’.”
“You deserve everythin’, and one day you’ll git it,” Elizabeth replied in quiet assurance.
“So he gits to do anythin’ he wants,” Robert said.
“Somebody has to do the right thing first.” Elizabeth stared at David. “Most times it’s the parent, but sometimes not.”


“This must look familiar,” Sarah Beth said, holding up the worn leather-bound Bible.
“Yes,” Dave replied. “This is it.” He remembered when he was a child his mother would carefully remove the Bible from a bottom drawer of the bedroom dresser, as though she were handling a holy relic. His father, even though the Bible was from his side of the family, never seemed to care about it much. The pages were yellowed and very thin, seeming to fall apart if someone breathed too harshly on them.
Dave turned a few pages, the large elaborate initial letters of chapters stirring pleasant memories. Allan and Vince seemed to be nicer when their mother brought the old book out so they could admire the pretty pictures of Moses, David, Jesus, Paul and all the other characters in between. In the middle of the Bible his finger touched David Crockett’s signature. A few pages over he saw his grandmother’s handwriting which inscribed the birth of Lonnie Crockett. He tapped it.
“This is what I need,” he said. “Dad needs to present this to Social Security so he can get into a nursing home.”
“You may borrow it, of course,” Sarah Beth said.
“Your father is so fortunate to have such a loving son to go to all this trouble for him,” Myrtle gushed.
“I was visiting my sister in Dallas in July,” Sarah Beth explained as she motioned for all of them to sit. “We decided to go antiquing one afternoon. In this one bookstore I was getting bored. My sister wanted a first edition Dickens, I think, which didn’t interest me. My eyes caught the dark leather of that book on a table of old Bibles. When I first picked it up I could see it must be over a hundred years old. Then I opened it to the title page and saw the date eighteen thirty-five.”
“Oh, let me tell the story about Harriet,” Myrtle interrupted.
“She’s not to that part of the story yet, Mother,” Mary said with a bit of amusement.
“I could not believe my eyes when I turned to the family pages in the middle,” Sarah Beth continued, smiling at her aunt. “When I saw Davy Crockett’s signature I had to buy it. Even my sister forgot all about Dickens when I showed it to her.” She looked back at Dave. “I could tell the woman in the shop was a bit pained when I brought it to the counter, but I had to have it. The price was reasonable.”
Dave could not help but like the women. Sarah Beth was gracious, Myrtle vivacious and Mary patient. They seemed sincere in their interest in his family, but he did not understand why.
“Aunt Myrtle,” Sarah Beth said, “You may now explain why we are so enamored with Davy Crockett.”
Myrtle’s face brightened. “Our great great grandmother Harriet Goodell loved her husband very much, but she always said her first love was Davy Crockett.
“Her maiden name was Griffith, and her father Elijah was a prominent hat maker in Christiansburg, Virginia, in early eighteen hundred. Harriet’s mother died when she was twelve, leaving her to be mistress of the house. Apprentices came and went. All that changed one day when this handsome boy with beautiful red cheeks wandered into town. Harriet convinced her father to take him on as an apprentice.” She paused for emphasis. “And that young man was Davy Crockett. Smart as a tack, he picked up on learning the trade quickly, but he could not read, write or do his numbers. Harriet took it upon herself to teach him everything a child should learn in school, for, evidently, Davy had not gone to a real school a day in his life. That boy, as you probably know, came from a family in the depths of poverty.
“He lived and worked with Harriet and her father for almost two years, and during that time he learned to read, write and do arithmetic as good as anyone. Harriet said she thought he was a genius to have overcome all those obstacles to do what he did. Of course, during that time Harriet and Davy fell in love. By all accounts she was beautiful with golden ringlets, and, of course, he was extremely handsome. There was talk of marriage and Davy’s taking over the family business, but history had to run its course. Davy Crockett could not stay in a small Virginia town married to a hatter’s daughter. He was destined for greatness, and Harriet married Charles Goodell, who owned the local general store.” Myrtle’s face saddened. “They did not live happily ever after, but very few of us do.”


What did she mean by that?
I couldn’t think of anything else driving home. This was stupid. I could have an accident. If I died it would be no big deal, but what a pain in the ass it would be to go through physical therapy to recover from my injuries. Damn car coming straight at me with its high beams on. By the time I figured out where my high beams were to flash at it, the car was gone. That was my problem. My reflexes were just too slow. Physical and otherwise. By the time I thought of a smart comeback it was the next morning. Way too late by then.
At the next traffic light I turned left, and home was two blocks away. Turning left across the dark other lane. With my luck some drunk would come out of the darkness and ram my car. I had physical therapy once before. Those people were paid to ridicule patients into recovering faster. The insurance company did that. I was sure of it. No one patted me on the back for all the hard work I had put into the therapy. They just told me if I had taken two days longer the insurance company wouldn’t pay any more.
Good. I made it through the light without getting hit. The evening wasn’t a complete disaster. Just a few more minutes I’d be in my apartment. After I pulled into the driveway and got out of my car, I took my time walking up the stairs. Nothing was waiting for me that would make me feel better. Even the key didn’t cooperate. It must have taken me five minutes to get the door open. After taking my shoes off I went to the refrigerator, opened the door and stared at the stuff inside. It had become my favorite thing to do. Sometimes I stood there staring at the bottles and jars for an hour and never took anything out. So I undressed, fell into my bed, nestling my head into the pillow. Who was I kidding? I was too upset to go to sleep.
Why did I go to that party? I didn’t even like those people. It was easier to accept the invitation than to invent a good reason to say no.
“You people are a bunch of pompous asses.” That was what I really wanted to tell them.
But I still had to go into work and deal with pompous asses who got their feelings hurt. After I considered fixing myself a rum and coke, I shook my head. All that would do was give me a headache and upset my stomach. I could watch television but at this hour of night the only thing on were talk shows. Smirky people who thought they were funny when they commented on current events that weren’t funny in the first place.
The telephone rang. I decided to let the answering machine take it. Just as well. It was her.
“Hello? Hello? Are you home? Hello? Hello?”
Finally she gave up. I enjoyed the silence. I rolled back in bed and stared at the ceiling.
Just what did she mean by that?
“Do you know what you are?” I remembered she paused to sip from her wine glass. “You are an illusion.”
An illusion? What was she alluding to? It’s time to look for another job, I decided. Suddenly a burden was lifted from my shoulders. I felt better already. Yes, that was what I needed to do. The phone rang again.
“Hello? Hello? Are you home yet? Hello? Hello?”

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Fifteen

Susie Belle was about to follow Dracula into the game room when Van Helsing swung open the front door and entered with confrontation on his mind. He had just had to bury a potential hot lover and he was in no mood for any more vampire foolishness.
“Stop right there, bimbo!” he shouted at her.
She turned and hissed, “The name’s Susie Belle, you old fart!”
“The name’s Van Helsing, you bimbo!”
Susie Belle, having grown up in the American South, was not afraid of anyone or anything. She marched toward the doctor, swinging her ample hips, ready for a fight. “Claustrophobia. What have you done with her?”
“I have given her proper last rites.” He lifted his chin haughtily.
“You mean you killed her!” she retorted in her best J’Acusse style.
“No,” he explained in nonchalance, “Dracula killed her. I gave her the last rites.”
“Just as well.” She shrugged. “I didn’t like the mealy mouthed little old thing anyway.”
Van Helsing’s German blood began to boil. “No, I wouldn’t think you would appreciate anyone as fine as she.”
“Fine?” Susie Belle was close enough to the professor to spit in his eye as she spoke. Vampires had that problem because of the over-sized fang impediment. “She was just a bar maid.”
Slowly taking a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe her saliva from his face, Van Helsing protested in most solemn terms. “Some of the finest ladies I have known have been bar maids.”
“So you had the hots for the silly cow, did you?” She began to circle around Van Helsing to block any attempt at a quick exit through the front door which he had left open.
“And she for me, I am proud to say.”
“Sounds like you two deserved each other.”
He turned to keep Susie Belle in his full range of vision. “Thank you, even though I’m sure you didn’t mean that as a compliment.”
“Sure as hell didn’t.” She smiled as she reached the door and closed it with confidence.
“My hunches are generally correct.” He put his handkerchief away and looked around the room for his valise. Unfortunately he had dropped it on the bottom step of the staircase right before he thrust a stake through Claustrophobia’s heart.
“And what’s your hunch about what’s going to happen next?” Her cat-like body coiled ready to attack the doctor as though he were a mouse about to become her supper.
He tried to inch his way to the staircase. “My hunch is that one of us will not be around to see tomorrow night’s full moon.”
“You got that right, pops.” She lunged for him, but Van Helsing jumped toward the valise and out of her reach.
“I’m pretty nimble for an old fart, aren’t I?”
“Give up! You’re doomed!” Susie Belle was feeling pretty cocky.
He opened the valise to search for another stake. “I seriously doubt that.”
Their intense confrontation was interrupted when Mina ran into the hall, giggling and glancing backwards at Jonathan who was only a few body lengths behind her. Dracula with his cape fully extended followed but he was not fooling anyone. The Prince of Darkness at this point in time was not intimidating anybody.
“Give me your body!” The hint of vampirism coursing through Jonathan’s veins gave his voice new excitement, dare we say, sexual gravitas?
Mina turned dramatically, totally ignoring the professor and Susie Belle. “Take it if you can!”
After throwing her head back and laughing maniacally, she began to run up the stairs, knocking the valise from Van Helsing hands before he had removed the stake. It fell at Jonathan’s feet. He kicked it out of his way as he also bumped the professor to trail his nubile prey.
“Uh oh.” Van Helsing’s confidence went down the toilet.
“Uh oh is right!” Susie Belle gloated. “I’m going to throw that thing a country mile out the door.”
The doctor and the vampires raced for the valise, jouncing against each other and tugging on the other’s arms to knock them off balance. It was almost as good as professional roller-skating, except that one was an out-of-shape old man and the second was a wispy living dead person. And, technically professional roller-skating as it currently is performed did not exist; therefore, nothing at that time could be compared to it. Dracula, meanwhile, tried to sound like he was still in control.
“Miss Seward! Listen to me! Come here!”
Of course, Mina was giggling and making horseplay on the balcony and paid no mind to his commands, which irritated him to no end. Susie Belle finally snatched the valise from Van Helsing’s clutches and waved it over her head.
“I’ve got it!”
The problem with taking a celebratory posture so early in the competition meant she did not have the bag securely in her possession. Van Helsing easily slapped it away.
“No, you don’t” the German scolded her.
The professor’s own moment of glory ended as he realized he had knocked the valise which had slid across the entry hall and became the object of a scramble once again. Dracula chose to ignore their competition and focus on regaining domination over Mina.
“I said come here!”
Mina raced down the stairs, with Jonathan closely behind.
“That’s more like it!” Dracula was triumphant, until the couple knocked him on his ass again as they appeared to be returning to the game room for another round of pinch-ee-poo and other naughty activities.
Susie Belle won round two of snatch the valise against a fumbling Van Helsing who was not used to such strenuous competition. “I have it again!”
Dracula stormed toward the double doors. “When I say come here, I mean come here!”
Carelessly he jostled his only remaining wife. She dropped the bag. As the vivacious English couple disappeared into the game room, Dracula marched in after them. Van Helsing tripped Susie Belle who landed gracelessly on the hard cold stone floor. Grabbing his valice, the professor pinned her shoulders with his knees
“Now I have you!”
She squirmed around, trying to escape. “Get off me, you old fart!
He pulled a stake out and swiftly plunged it into Susie Belle’s heart. She did not take this summary attack upon her person well. The vampire writhed, scream, spat and coughed before her eyes rolled back in her head. Van Helsing stood in triumph.
“Now that’s what I call a stake well done!”
He had but a moment to revel in his victory when he became aware of yet another success. Van Helsing heard Jonathan scream from the game room, not a primal animal scream which of late he had emitted in wanton vampire sexual exultation, but a proper English scream of disgust and shock.
The young man ran into the entry hall and looked back in moral abhorrence. “Mina! Why are you undressed?” Jonathan paused to squint back into the game room. “I didn’t know you had an insy.”
“Mr. Harker!” Van Helsing exclaimed as he rushed to his side, “Thank goodness you’re back to normal!”
Jonathan looked down to see his bare legs and shrieked, mortified at his own lack of suitable attire.
“I have your trousers. I took them away from Salacia when I drove a stake through her heart. I put them in my valise but we don’t have time for you to put them on right now. You must save Miss Mina!
“You mean all that vampire talk is true?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! No get back in there and save Miss Mina from Dracula!”
Jonathan turned toward the game room, lifted his heroic chin, pointed dramatically and ordered in his best melodious baritone, “Unhand that lady, you villain!”
He ran toward the game room but stopped short when Mina, followed closely by Dracula, danced out like a young gazelle.
“Miss Seward! I said come here!” Dracula shouted in uncertain authority.
“I just love playing chassssse!” she hissed with a hint of a giggle.
Jonathan turned sharply to chase them. “Un villain that hand, you lady!”
Mina, Van Helsing and Dracula stared at him. “What?” they asked in unison.
“I mean, unlady that villain, you hand! No, no. Unhand that villain, you lady! No, that’s not right. Un-vil—unhand….”
Van Helsing briskly walked over to slap Jonathan.
“Thank you.” He rubbed his bruised cheek. “Unhand that lady, you villain!”
“Mr. Harker,” the professor corrected him, “technically, Count Dracula doesn’t have his hands on her.”
Dracula leered at them. “Give me time. Miss Seward, come here!”
She turned and shook her firm, unrestrained bosom at him. “And how are you going to make me?”
Jonathan rushed to Mina, grabbed her hand and turned for the front door. “Good for you, Mina. Come, let us flee this unholy place.”
“Burn in hell, you stodgy fool!” She pulled her hand away.
“I’d take offense at that if I didn’t know you weren’t yourself at the moment.” He tried his best not to allow tears well in his awesome azure eyes.
“Mr. Harker, over here,” Van Helsing said in unusually measured tones. “I have a plan.”
As Jonathan joined the doctor, Dracula went to the stairs, turned dramatically and extended a hand to Mina.
“Miss Mina,” he offered in a silky voice, “let us explore the pleasures of my castle together.”
“Since you put it that way….” Mina purred like a kitten in heat and joined him.
Dracula extended his cape and enfolded her with Transylvanian seduction. As they began their ascent to the second floor, Van Helsing and Jonathan completed their secret consultation. The young man pulled away, his face etched in scandal.
“You want me to do what?”
The professor pulled him back into a confidential clutch. Dracula, having survived centuries as a vampire was not without excellent powers of observation. He knew something was being planned to end his control over Mina and perhaps even terminate his reign as the Prince of Darkness.
“This way, my dear. We must hurry. Our time is growing short.” Dracula gently tightened his embrace around Mina.
Jonathan looked up at them, shaking his head. “I don’t think I could do that, doctor.”
“What do you mean? You’ve been doing it most of the evening. Don’t you remember? Try! For Miss Mina’s sake!”
“For Mina,” he resolved. “I’ll try.”

Vidalia Onions and Chocolate Ice Cream

Like most old people, I found myself in a doctor’s office recently and listening to the other old men talk about nothing in particular as they waited for the nurse to call the next patient back to the examination room.
Oddly enough the topic came around to ice cream. Each one had his favorite. One guy said he wouldn’t go to bed at night without his bowl of chocolate ice cream. Then they proceeded to discuss which brand they liked best. I almost joined in when no one mentioned my favorite, Blue Belle. But Blue Belle had been off the market for several months because the company had to scrub down the creamery. Customers had come down with some dreadful stomach ailment. I decided it put me at too much of a disadvantage to extol the virtues of an ice cream that gave people the three-day bellyache.
However, the discussion did remind me I had not had frozen custard in years. On the way home from the doctor’s office I decided to stop at a little shop that advertised my favorite frozen treat from childhood. Back in the fifties, the only time anyone sold custard was in the summer. As I enjoyed the dessert and memories, I focused on the irony of the day’s conversation.
When I wasn’t old yet, I had to endure sitting in my mother-in-law’s house as she and her relatives rhapsodized about the taste celebration that was sliced Vidalia onions. Vidalia onions, like frozen custard in my childhood, were only sold during a certain season and only from the fertile fields of Georgia. When those gastronomic delights appeared in the grocery store, my mother-in-law and her relatives rushed to buy several bags before the Georgian bulbs were swooped up by fellow devotees.
By the time I finished my custard I realized how unfair I had been in sneering at my mother-in-law’s adoration of bitter vegetables. For what is the difference between ice cream and Vidalia onions? Ice cream tastes better, but I digress. Each generation, bless them, knows what it likes, and no one listening in should pass judgment.

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-One

Heinrich had not felt well all day. If only he could belch once, really good, he would feel better. He hated these days when he ordered his legs to move, and they would not. He wanted his mouth to say words that a master of the house would say and it could not. His hands tried to point and make a fist, but they would not. Worst of all, when he took his shower he beheld an old, fat body in the mirror, a balding head with its wispy white hairs going where they wanted and not where he wanted. His bulging eyes looked like they belonged in the head of a rabbit which had just been bitten in its neck by a dog. His nose was bulbous with red spreading veins. His breasts sagged as though he were an old woman. His potbelly was taut like a balloon about to pop. Blue lines streaked his spindly, boney legs.
In mourning he was, for his long ago life of strength and virility vigorous days in the forest cutting trees, and wanton nights in cabins of full-bosomed milk maids. They stroked his hard muscular torso and his Aryan ego. Heinrich lusted for times when he strode down a street in his black Gestapo uniform and observed apprehension in the eyes of Bavarian peasants. He yearned for the pleasure of committing murder and never enduring recrimination. Now even the pasty-faced young man who married his granddaughter did not fear him. Most of all, he yearned for the total adulation of his wife, a mindless cow who had worshipped him as a god.
Now she looked upon him with repugnance. How could she worship a man she had to carry over her shoulder from bed to chair? A man was supposed to carry the woman, not a woman carrying the man. Since he had suffered his stroke, he had become a woman with sagging breasts and a whining helpless voice. Greta, of all people, had become man of the house, breadwinner, ruler of all she surveyed, and Heinrich hated her for it. From his bed he could hear her laughing at some silly television program, not some masculine program about warfare, but something with weak females making insulting remarks that were supposed to be witty and smart.
“Greta.” In his mind he in fact said, “Greta, you stupid cow! Stop that stupid laughing and come attend to your master.”
“What Heinrich?”
He heard her exhale deeply
“Greta, come here.” What he meant to say was, “Never call out to me. You come running when I summon you.”
“Very well, Heinrich.”
He heard her chair creak as she stood. The minute she took to walk from their living room to his bed lasted entirely too long. He fumed because she made him wait. At last Greta appeared in the door, wearing a dowdy print dress, her hair pulled back in the same bun she wore when they left Germany, and her eyes filled with the same contempt she held for him since his stroke.
“What do you want, Heinrich?”
“I want to watch television,” he said with as much authority as possible. “You laugh so much I can’t sleep.”
“Well, watch television,” Greta said as she turned to leave the room. “I don’t care.”
“Carry me.” Heinrich pursed his lips into a pout.
“I don’t feel like it.”
Heinrich stared into her back, as though trying to compel her to turn around.
“If you don’t feel like walking,” she said continuing to leave, “then you don’t feel good enough to watch television.”
“Stop.” Heinrich screamed as loud as he could, although it came out as a weak whine.
“Heinrich, stop yelling at me.” Greta was already out the door and down the hall.
“I will watch television.” Heinrich brought his fist down on the bed, wishing it were on Greta’s head. “You will carry me.” Bringing his once strong arm down again, he imagined Greta falling to her knees from the awful blow, causing her to plead for mercy.
“Why? So you can wet on me again?” she called out with a laugh from the living room. “No.”
Harold looked at John who was concentrating on the yellow line down the middle of the mountain highway, lit by headlights. Randy finished a beer and tossed his can out the window. It clickety-clacked down the road. At once a highway patrol car was behind them with its overhead lights flashing.
“So you’re going to find Pharaoh?” Harold tried to think of a way to stop whatever terrible mission John was on.
“Yes.” John kept his eyes straight ahead, not noticing the lights in his rear view mirror.
“And what are you going to do when you find him?”
“We’re gonna slit his gut.” Randy leaned over, grinned and patted the hunting knife in his pants.
“Is that so, John?” Harold looked over at him.
“I don’t know.”
The highway patrol car’s siren began, causing Mike to twist around in the back seat to look out the window.
“The cops.” He plopped back down and twisted his face into a frown. “I don’t like cops. They take you to jail. TV ain’t good in jail.”
“You better pull over,” Harold said, relieved that the ordeal may be over. John was be mad but he would not be foolish enough to do anything to a law enforcement officer.
“Don’t do what the doc says,” Randy said. “He lies.”
“You can’t outrun him,” Harold said. Maybe he could make John realize his plan was all over. “He has a radio in his car. He can get help immediately.”
“Very well.” He pulled over to the side of the road.
The patrol car stopped behind him, and the officer, a young man with a fleshy shape, approached the car. He pointed a flashlight in and smiled.
“May I see your registration, please?”
“I’ll get it.” Harold leaned over to the glove compartment.
As he was rummaging through it, Randy looked at the officer and grinned in innocence.
“Can I get out and stretch my legs?”
Harold had never heard Randy’s voice sound so carefree and innocent.
The officer appraised Randy, dismissed him with a blink of his eyes and nodded. Afraid the officer underestimated the situation, Harold leaned forward to speak, but John put his hand on his knee, squeezing with the force of a madman.
“Sure. Go ahead,” the patrolman said.
Randy jumped out, wriggled a little and ambled around the back of the car. Harold found the registration and handed it to the officer who read it and frowned. He tried to catch the officer’s attention, but he concluded the man considered the stop routine and therefore was oblivious to his grim fate.
“This is made out to a Jill Smith.” He looked at John, wanting an explanation. Still, his voice did not seem to reveal excessive interest.
“That’s the lady in the back seat,” John replied without emotion. “She’s tired so she asked me to drive.”
“That right, ma’am?”
“Yeah.” Jill looked around with apprehension. “That’s right.”
Before the officer could ask another question, Randy came up and stabbed him in his back. The officer’s face exploded with shock, and his knees buckled, allowing Randy to pull him back and slash his throat. As he quivered on the ground, gurgling for help, Randy kicked him and ran to jump in the car.
“I hate cops,” he said.
“So you did kill Mrs. Scoggins,” Harold muttered in revelation.
“Who’s that?”
“The lady who was nice to you and Mike.”
“Nobody’s never been nice to me,” he said. “And his name’s Joshua. Not Mike. Not no more.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to stab someone like that?” Harold asked, trying to control his own fears while thinking of ways to get through to Randy.
“I’m just getting back for all the stuff people done to me.”
“Like Pharaoh?” Harold knew he must convince them Pharaoh was just a character John invented.
“Pharaoh’s the worst of all,” Randy replied, staring off into the night.
“The real Moses didn’t kill Pharaoh. He asked him to let his people go.” Harold looked back at John, who did not seem upset by the fact they had just left a human being bleeding to death on a highway behind them.
“Hey, he’s Moses, ain’t you, Moses?” Randy glanced at John while elbowing Harold hard.
“Sorry,” he said, “I meant the first Moses.” Harold looked at Randy. “There was another Moses, you know.”
“What?” Randy wrinkled his brow.
“Didn’t he tell you?”
“No.” Randy hunched his shoulders.
“The first Moses didn’t slit Pharaoh’s gut,” Harold repeated, trying to make an impression on the boy. “He told him to let his people go. And Pharaoh let his people go. John, are you going to tell your Pharaoh to let your people go or are you just going to slit his gut?”
“I don’t know.” John blinked.
“We’re gonna slit his gut,” Randy insisted.
“Caleb, be quiet.”
Randy gave John a hard look and then turned to Mike. Harold was glad he looked to his brother for sympathy. Maybe there was a chance to use the schism to win the boys to his side. Without their youthful strength John would not be able to complete his mission to kill Jill’s grandfather.
“Hey, throw me another one of those beers.”
Mike tossed a can to him, and Randy opened it and took a long swallow as he continued to glower at John. Harold would not be able to win them over if they continued to drink beer. No one would be able to control them. He returned to his efforts to dissuade John.
“If you slit his gut, will it set your people free?” He examined John’s face to see any change in his thinking. Harold recalled the day John admitted he should be in the hospital, so a remote possibility existed he knew this was madness.
“You bet,” Randy said.
“Maybe,” John whispered.
“And what people are you talking about?” Harold leaned into him, hopeful the uncertain reply meant John was on the brink of clear thought. “Hebrew people? Cherokee? Poor people? People kept in mental hospitals against their will?”
“I don’t know.” Again John blinked.
“If you keep talking,” Randy said, spitting at Harold, “I’ll slit your gut.”
On unsteady, frail legs, Heinrich doddered to his living room, his face red with anger and frustration. Commands, demands, obscenities and vulgarities swirled in his head, all fighting to find their way out of his white, parched lips.
“Greta,” he said. “Don’t talk to me like that.” He wanted to speak more than that; he sought to make his words reverberate as they did when he towered over Hans tied in his chair.
“Heinrich, I’ve talked to Edward.” She sighed, stood and turned to look with resignation at her husband. “He agrees with me.”
“Talked to Edward?” He took a few steps. “What are you talking about?”
“Heinrich.” Greta paused, her eyes first reflecting some kindness and then candor. “You’re too much work for me.”
“Work for you?” Heinrich’s bloodshot eyes widened with indignation. “I’m not work for you.”
“Heinrich, I can’t pick you up anymore,” Greta said, regret tingeing her words. “I can’t clean up your messes anymore.”
“I don’t make messes.” Heinrich slammed down his fist on the back of Greta’s chair. He was even more disappointed when Greta did not jump at his anger.
“I am old,” she said.
“I don’t make messes.” He slammed his fist down another time, to no purpose. Greta did not even bat an eyelid.
“Heinrich,” she said in even tones, “Edward has found a nice nursing home for you.” She smiled and nodded. “It will be better.”
“You don’t kick me out of my house.” He stumbled toward her. “I kick you out!” He tried to think of an insult that would injure Greta the most. “You stupid cow!”
He tried to hit her, but she knocked his hand away and then slapped Heinrich whose jaw plunged open in shock.


I have a confession to make. I didn’t really like most of my relatives when I was growing up. There was this one uncle who talked babytalk to me until he died. His daughter still talks babytalk, and she’s seventy-four years old. His wife had a way of turning a positive conversation into an insult without cracking her fake smile.
The one I liked best lived in California and only came back to Texas for family reunions and occasionally for Christmas or Easter. When he did visit he always stayed with us. That’s because he was from my father’s side of the family. Dad could hardly tolerate him, but mother loved him as much as I did.
He was Uncle Eli’s boy. Uncle Eli was a train conductor in Colorado, and he expected his son Bruce to follow in his footsteps. Bruce had other ideas. He was a good looking guy and wanted to be a movie actor. One thing about my father’s side of the family—if your daddy told you he wanted you to be a train conductor, then, goshdurnit, you were going to be a train conductor. Bruce, I was told, wasn’t happy about it but started his training as a—well, whatever an entry level job was on a train.
One day Uncle Eli’s foot slipped as he was boarding the train while it picked up steam. When it pulled out of the station Uncle Eli was left on the tracks, pretty much cut in two, and, of course, dead. Right after the funeral, Bruce packed up and headed for Hollywood where he earned a respectable living for the next fifty years as an extra.
Everybody called Bruce Uncle Eli’s boy. He didn’t seem to mind it. Uncle Eli’s boy was a mouthful for me when I was three or four, so it came out “UncaBoy.” After that, the family called him UncaBoy even when I could actually say Uncle Eli’s boy.
“You can keep calling me UncaBoy,” he whispered to me one Thanksgiving when Dad was carving the turkey. “It would confuse the others if you didn’t.”
Every time Bruce showed up for a family dinner my uncle asked, in babytalk, why he never became a movie star.
“I was cast into a speaking role a few times,” UncaBoy patiently explained, “but once the cameras started rolling, I couldn’t remember my lines.” He smiled bashfully. “Being an extra was not quite the career I had wanted but I’m happy with it.”
My earliest memories of him were watching the late movies on television . He would point out himself walking behind Clark Gable in Boomtown.
“There I am. I liked being in westerns,” he told me. “It was like growing up in Colorado.” He was also one of the few extras who could ride a horse.
One time while watching The Philadelphia Story he said, “There I am, serving Katharine Hepburn a coffee at a diner. She insisted it be a cup of hot coffee too. She never drank it but she liked the warm cup in her hands.” He winked at me. “I didn’t think she was all that good looking either. Not anywhere as pretty as your mother.”
Occasionally Mother would stay up late with us and pop some corn. She always liked the movies. Dad never did. He called them durned foolishness.
“There he is.” Mother beat UncaBoy at pointing him out.
Sometimes I recognized him and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes we’d only see his shoulder or the back of his head. Mother explained that Uncle Eli’s boy was better looking than Clark Gable and the director didn’t want moviegoers to know that anyone was better looking than Clark Gable.
The thing about Hollywood was that it needed extras of all ages so UncaBoy kept working even after the stars got too old to be seen anymore. I suppose he was in his seventies when he came for Christmas my senior year in high school. After the last of the pumpkin pie was eaten and the last of the baby-talking relatives left, he and I sat in the living room, turned on the Christmas tree lights and then tuned in the late movie. It was It’s a Wonderful Life. Mother didn’t join us. She said that movie always made her cry.
“There I am,” he said, pointing to himself during the run on the bank scene. “I actually got to say, ‘Give me my money.’ Of course, everyone else was yelling at the same time.’”
They also showed his face. I was about to ask him about Jimmy Stewart when I heard him gasp. I looked at him, and his face was pale and his lips blue. When our eyes met, I knew he was having a heart attack. I tried to stand up to get Mother, but he pulled me back down to his side. He smiled, patted my face and pointed at me.
“There I am.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Twenty-Nine

His conversation with Walt Whitman gave Lamon a measure of hope to sustain him into the New Year when Johnson vetoed the black suffrage act. How could Lamon help the man and through him bring justice to those that inflicted such suffering on his dear friend Abraham Lincoln? Johnson, on the one hand, was a man of strong personal integrity who defied his own state to remain loyal to the union. On the other, however, he was an unrepentant racist, intent on restricting the freedoms of the people he fought to liberate. Lamon always considered himself a simple, straightforward man. Lincoln was complicated yet understandable; Johnson was complicated and frustrating. Lamon’s instinct was to go over to the Executive Mansion and lecture the President about compromising on some issues to win the important battle.
Johnson followed his veto of the black suffrage bill with another veto, this time the infamous Tenure of Office bill. Within days, Missouri Rep. Benjamin Logan called for Johnson’s impeachment on the floor of Congress. By March Congress had slightly reworded the tenure act to elaborate on who exactly could not be removed from officer. If President Lincoln had appointed the secretary, then Johnson could not remove the appointee without approval from the Senate until after the expiration of Lincoln’s second term. Johnson could fire without impunity anyone he had personally hired. The changes did not impress the president, and he vetoed it again. The House immediately overrode it.
By this time, Lamon was sick at heart of the conflicts on Capitol Hill and unable to see any appropriate resolution. More and more, his mind wandered back to his home in Danville, Illinois, and to his family who waited for his return. He acknowledged how fine a woman his second wife Sally was. She did not hesitate to open her arms to his daughter Dorothy and loved her as her own. His first wife Angelina died of natural causes only a few years earlier. He remembered the letter from Sally that described her joy when his ten-year-old child without any prompting hugged her and called her mommy. How many more warm family moments would he miss because of his vaunted conviction that the nation needed him to save it from those who seemed determined to destroy the American way of life.
So when summer arrived in Washington City and the Congress and the President continued to butt heads over reconstruction legislation, Lamon decided to leave the battle to the politicians. A sense of relief overcame him as he boarded the train to Danville in early June. Sally and Dorothy welcomed him with hugs and kisses. He immediately reopened his law practice and focused on civil suits over property disputes and contract negotiations.
Barely a week had passed when he received a letter from Lincoln’s former law partner William Herndon who requested permission to visit his office as soon as was convenient. Herndon had always appeared to be an affable man, though not possessed of the highest intellect, so Lamon agreed to the appointment. When the Springfield attorney arrived, his appearance troubled Lamon. He had gained quite a bit of weight. Coffee and food stained his wrinkled clothing.
After a few moments of recollecting memories of Abraham Lincoln, they both paused to lean forward in their chairs, their eyes turning serious with ominous intent.
“Well, Billy, what can I do for you?”
“It’s more like what I can do for you.” Herndon’s pinched lips almost formed a smile but not quite. His voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m planning to write a biography of our dear departed friend that will shock the world.”
Lamon’s mouth fell open. Could Herndon, during his many visits to Washington City, have determined that the man in the Executive Mansion was not Abraham Lincoln? Could Herndon have been more astute than Lamon first imagined? “So you knew?”
“Of course, I knew.” Herndon raised his chin with pride. “Abe never loved Mary. He knew her family’s money and political connections would thrust him into contention for election to the presidency. And he paid dearly for his ambition. She made his life miserable with her insane outbursts and her wild spending habits.”
Leaning back, Lamon sighed with relief. This was the Billy Herndon he knew and tolerated. He acknowledged that at times Mary Lincoln was vain, hysterical and unreasonable, but she was a good person, and Lincoln loved her very much. “What an interesting premise. I’m sure your book will be very successful. Women across America will want to read it.”
Herndon emitted what Lamon considered a harrumph. “I expect it to be more than a romance story, Hill. This is where you come in.”
Lamon only allowed his inner circle of friends, which included Lincoln, to address him by his middle name of Hill, but he decided not to be make an issue of it. Herndon might well have possession of valuable information to prove Lamon’s own theories. He still wanted to present all the facts to President Johnson so that Edwin Stanton and Lafayette Baker be punished for their attempts to subvert the Constitution and the future of the United States. “How intriguing. And how could I help you out?”
“The war, dammit.” Herndon shifted uneasily in his seat. “You were privy to much of his decision-making about the war. You must have heard a certain amount of information that has not been disclosed to the public.”
“What would you say if I told you there was a conspiracy involving our friend that went beyond a mere actor and his band of fools?”
“I knew it.” His voice fulminated with self-righteous indignation. “That devil Jefferson Davis was behind it all, wasn’t he?”
“You might be on the right track,” Lamon lied. “Did you visit the President much in the last two years of the war?”
“Yes, a few times. Not as often as I wanted. The war made travel risky business.”
“How did he seem to you? Was he unusually nervous, distracted?”
Herndon shrugged. “Hell, he was always socially awkward. I don’t think anyone, including you, actually knew what was going in his skull. He was my best friend, but he was always the little engine that could, if you know what I mean. He was always pushing, pushing–a quality to be admired in a president overseeing a war. But on a personal level, he made everyone feel like a true friend until that person was no longer useful to him and then they were strangers.”
Lamon suppressed a desire to throw the fat little weasel out of his office. One day even Herndon might supply a missing link in the chain of conspiracy that surrounded Lincoln’s captivity in the Executive Mansion basement. “Nothing would please me more than to participate in your project, but right at this moment I want to reconnect with my wife and child. I was gone so much during the war that I’m afraid I’m guilty of neglecting them.”
Herndon stood and extended his hand. “If any recollection percolates to the top of your memory, please let me know. What may seem insignificant to you may be of great importance to me.”
“I’m sure.” Lamon shook his hand and escorted him to the door.
When he arrived home that evening, he told Sally about Herndon’s strange visit. She was setting the table in the dining area of their parlor. On the other end of the room was a sofa, two padded chairs facing the fireplace. She took her dishtowel tucked in her apron to wipe smudges from a sturdy thick crystal vase.
“I, for one, never liked that man.” She carefully returned the vase to the table and put away her dishtowel. “Please make yourself comfortable on the sofa, dear, and I’ll have supper ready soon. As for Mr. Herndon’s book, I would never read his gossip.”
Dorothy ran through the front screen door holding a small bouquet of flowers from their garden. “See what I picked, papa? Aren’t they pretty?”
“Almost as pretty as you, my child.” He pulled her close and hugged her. Leaning over he sniffed the bouquet. “And they smell so sweet.”
“They shall be the centerpiece of our table tonight,” Sally announced with glowing pride in the little girl and in the results of her garden. “Now scurry to the kitchen, Dorothy, to make sure nothing is burning on the stove. I’ll put the flowers in the vase.”
Lamon lounged back on the sofa and began to read the Springfield newspaper when there was a knock at the front door. When he looked up to see who it was, Lamon’s face flushed with anger. Lafayette Baker stood on his porch. This was Gabby’s mean man with the red hair. Lamon stood and marched to the door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” He hissed in low tones so his wife and child could not hear.
“May I come in?” Baker asked, his hat in his hands.
“Hell no,” Lamon spat as he opened the screen door, stepped out on the porch and immediately threw a punch which landed on Baker’s jaw.
Baker tumbled backwards down the front porch steps. He made no effort to defend himself as Lamon threw his large body onto him and continued to pummel his face, neck and chest. Finally, he tried to roll away from the assault. “No, stop, please. I have to tell you something. Please, don’t kill me yet.”
His roll picked up speed as they both tumbled down a slight grade toward Sally’s flower garden. Lamon did not notice they were hurling themselves downhill. All he knew was that the man who had been responsible for misery in the last two years of Abraham Lincoln’s life was under his control and he was exacting revenge.
“No, please! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Baker screamed.
Lamon bellowed like an enraged bull. The noise drew Sally and Dorothy out on the porch. Even neighbors peeked out of their window to see what the commotion was about.
“Don’t you dare ruin my flower bed! Stop it! Stop it right this moment!” Sally thundered louder than either of the two men.
Lamon stopped his fist in mid-air, looked toward the porch and saw Sally still holding the crystal vase, now filled with pansies and daisies. He returned his gaze to Baker, who had pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket and was wiping blood from his swollen nose.
“Please give me a chance to explain what happened,” Baker whispered. “Yes, I have been a monster. I have done terrible things because Edwin Stanton told me to. But I repent of all that. Help a sinner repent.”
Lamon still could not comprehend what was happening. Was it possible all the pieces of the conspiracy puzzle were coming together right there in his front yard? Could it be that the man whom he had always held in the highest contempt was about to become his most trusted ally? His eyes fluttered in bewilderment.
Sally smiled in bemusement. “I presume this gentleman will not be joining us for supper.”
Lamon stood and helped Baker to his feet. “I don’t see why not. Do you have other plans for this evening?”
Baker somehow had lost his voice and only shook his head.
“Good.” A smile finally crept across Lamon’s lips. “You will need to wash up first.”