Monthly Archives: October 2016

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-Four

Only one vision flashed into Heinrich’s mind, Hans Moeller’s cabin in the Bavarian forest. Once again he was in that room, but this time he was tied to a chair and Greta held the knife which came slashing down into his abdomen. For once in his life, Heinrich comprehended how it felt to be the object of brutality. But even at this point of understanding, he did not atone for his cruelty. Heinrich only pitied himself because Rudolph was the one who had made him feel small. That was why it was so easy for him to torture Hans. As tears streamed down Heinrich’s cheeks, his chest constricted. It was as though Greta, in addition to slapping and kicking him, also were sitting on him. And Rudolph was standing there, smirking at him. Quivering, his hand reached up to his flabby breast.
“Greta.” This time it was a call for help, for compassion. Her laughter reached all the way from their bedroom, and it was not laughter he was used to hearing. Her voice was hard-edged and triumphant like his own laugh when he stood over Hans Moeller’s limp, bleeding body.
“Greta. I’m hurting.” Again he heard the gusty laughter of the victor. No mere female joke on the television could evoke such a full, satisfied sound. Heinrich knew from personal experience. The pain in his chest intensified. His fingernails clawed into his sallow flesh, trying to tear out the offending member of his body. One last time he pleaded, but his voice was only just a whisper.
Randy stood, wiped the bloody knife on his pants and put it away. John ran to join him, stopping short when he saw Harold’s body on the pavement and his blood trickling down the road.
“You fool! I told you not to let him escape, not kill him.”
“He kicked me in the face.”
“He was fighting for his life. You would have done the same.”
“We didn’t need him.”
“He was a good man.” John tried to look away but was transfixed by the blood. “He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
“He was a liar, like all other bad people in the world.”
John slapped Randy full across his face. Randy’s eyes widened with surprise. John slapped him again, even harder. His face reddened in rage borne in frustration. Randy’s impudence and stupidity drove him mad. John could not take the boy’s insubordination any longer.
“I am Moses!” John was hysterical. Spittle flew from his mouth onto Randy’s cheeks. “I decide who lives and dies! You are a follower! I am Moses!”
Mike joined them. His mouth fell open when he saw the doctor’s body on the highway.
“Okay, okay.” Randy looked down and shuffled his feet. “Stop yelling at me.”
“Hey, you killed him,” Mike said, examining Harold’s body. He laughed. “He don’t look so smart now, does he?”
In the distance a car motor’s humming became louder, and headlights flickered across the hills. John turned in that direction.
“A car’s coming.”
“Hey, let’s hide in bushes and watch the car run over his body.” Mike nudged his brother. “I bet it’d make it jump real funny.”
“That would make the car stop,” John said. “We don’t need to involve any more people.”
“We gotta get rid of the body,” Randy said.
“That ain’t no problem at all.” Mike laughed as he bent down to throw Harold’s corpse over his shoulder. He headed for the stone terrace followed by John and his brother.
At the bottom of the embankment, hidden by underbrush, Bob and Jill stood and examined themselves for broken bones and scrapes.
“Are you all right?” Bob panted as he put his arm around Jill.
“I think so.” She leaned into him and trembled.
“It’ll be better if we separate.” Bob looked around.
Before Bob could reply, a thumping noise and soft tumbling drew their attention upward.
“What was that?” Jill said.
“I don’t know.” He directed his gaze back to her. “You can hide easier without me around.”
“I don’t want to lose you.” She hugged him around his waist.
Harold’s bloodied body crashed through underbrush and came to rest at their feet, his blank eyes staring at them and his throat open with blood coagulating and turning brown. Jill began to scream, but Bob laid his fingers over her lips. After they had a moment to compose their emotions, Bob pushed her away from the corpse.
“Find a crevice, a cave, anything and stay there until morning.”
“What are you going to do?”
“The same thing.”
“I don’t like it.” She shook her head.
“I don’t like the alternative,” he replied, nodding at Harold’s body.
“All right,” she conceded.
“And don’t come out until morning—no matter what you hear.”
“Don’t say that. It scares me.”
“Go,” Bob whispered. “Now. Quick.”
“I love you.” Running back for another hug, Jill grabbed him.
“I love you.” He kissed her with urgency. “Now go.”
Running a few feet, Jill turned to look back. Bob motioned her on, and she vanished in dark brush. With one last swift fleeting look around, he bolted into shadows of rhododendron and cedar trees. Musky stench of decomposed leaves and animal urine filled his nostrils. He tried not to think of smells from the hospital when his mother died. At least it was not quiet, as he listened to deafening song of crickets.
Peering into the darkness of the mountain trees, Mike laughed again.
“Did you see how funny he bounced down the hill?”
“Oh, shut up.” Randy shoved him.
“We’ve got to find the others,” John said.
“You shoulda never let them out of the car,” Randy groused.
“Shut up!” John demanded.
Randy glared at him.
“What are you gonna do, Moses?” Mike asked with eagerness.
“There are three of us and only two of them,” John replied in an even tone, regaining his composure. “They can’t have gone too far.”
“So we have to go down there?” Mike peered down the embankment.
The boys jumped off the asphalt pavement and easily kept their balance as they scampered down the steep ridge. John tentatively followed them. When he arrived at the bottom, John was greeted by a broad grin on Mike’s face and a look of contempt in Randy’s eyes. He did not care for the apparent degeneration of their deference for Moses.
“That way.” John took Mike by his broad shoulders and jerked him to one direction and pushed. When he turned he saw Randy already going in the opposite direction.
“You don’t have to push me around,” he muttered.
John sucked in air and plunged straight ahead. The couple must be caught and forced to lead them to Pharaoh. Once the boys saw how he conquered Pharaoh they would respect him again.
Leaves and twigs crackled, causing Bob to stop and lean in the direction of the noise. He understood every fiber of muscle in his body and every rational thought in his brain was required to survive. Sucking in his gut, Bob slid behind a large prickly bush. When he was a child, he knew his father would not have thought he could handle such an ordeal. Maybe he would have more confidence in him now. Bob shook his head, telling himself it made no difference whether his father thought he could survive. All that mattered was surviving.
John looked into shadows, listening for some rustling or snapping which his ears could not divine. He cursed his father under his breath for not taking him into forests and mountains when he was a child. He cursed him for not teaching him Cherokee ways, how to track, how to catch prey, how to survive. His father was too preoccupied with dancing for tourists, earning their paltry coins, to raise John to be a proper warrior. If his father had trained him instead of beating him, John now could find his quarry quickly and continue on his mission to find and kill Pharaoh. Pharaoh. He thought of what Harold had said to him about his father being Pharaoh and not some old German man. Maybe he was right. Maybe his father was Pharaoh. John squared his jaw. But that old German was terrible also. He must complete his mission to kill him and then return home to slit his father’s throat, the true Pharaoh.
Mike thrashed about in shadowy undergrowth, uncertainty etched on his forehead. Hunting down a mysterious bad guy was no longer exciting. Randy was furious with John or Moses or whatever his name was. Mike always became frightened when people around him squabbled. The sweet oblivion of his beer stupor wore thin, making him thirst for more. He did not want to kill anyone. That was too much work. People looked silly when they had spit running down their chins or blood spurting from their guts, but it was more fun to have another beer.

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty Five

“So you thought you could cut Captain Elmer Stasney and git away with it?”
All Davy could do now was to listen to his heart pound in his chest. When he opened his mouth nothing came out.
“What? I can’t understand you,” Stasney said, taunting him. “You used to have a bunch to say, but you ain’t got nothin’ to say now, do you?” He kicked at Davy’s legs. “You know how long it took me to find you? That Adam Meyers told me what kind of little scalawag you are and that you deserve anythin’ I did to you. That old farmer had to bleed before he remembered who you were.” He kicked at Davy again. “After a while it got easy to follow your tracks. Everybody remembered the boy with the big mouth. You talk too much. Your wild stories make you stick in people’s minds. That’s a bad habit, boy.” He bent down to whisper, “Maybe I should slit your tongue like you did me and see how you like it. I was goin’ to give you everythin’ I had. If you had done right, you could have had my Jezebel when I died, but you cut me.” His voice hardened. “You bit the hand that fed you.”
Whimpering, Davy started to inch his way up the hill away from Stasney.
“I’m goin’ to git you back to the Jezebel and take you down to my cabin and do what I should have done that night you cut me. This time you won’t git away.”
Davy recognized the scream. It was Griffith. As Stasney fell forward with Griffith on his back Davy scrambled to his feet. Instead of running away he stumbled backwards until he bumped into a tree.
“What the—“ Stasney blustered, looking over his shoulder at the slightly built blond-haired man who was grunting,, wild-eyed, grasping and clutching.
“This ain’t your fight, man! This boy’s broke his bond!”
“Shut up!” Griffith shouted as he pulled out his knife and started stabbing at Stasney’s back.
“Stop!” He twisted around and flailed his arms, trying to knock Griffith off. One swing caught the hand holding the knife which caused it to fly from Griffith and land at Davy’s feet.
Griffith leaped over Stasney’s head toward Davy who bent over to pick it up and stare at it without comprehension. The boy held it out to him, but Stasney grabbed Griffith’s feet and pulled him back.
“I’m goin’ to kill you, man!” Stasney said in a growl.
Wrenching a leg free Griffith stomped at Stasney’s face over and over again until his other leg escaped the captain’s clutches. He scrambled forward to snatch the knife from Davy’s hand, twisted around and shoved it into Stasney’s left eye. As the captain screamed in pain Griffith stabbed his right eye. Stasney lifted his head, and Griffith crammed the blade under his jowls and rotated it. Blood spurted from the captain’s mouth and muted gurgling sounds made their way around the flow. Stasney collapsed, his body going limp.
“Is he dead?” Davy asked.
“He will be.”
“They can’t call it murder. He said he was goin’ to kill you. Of course, you jumped ‘im, but he was coming’ after me. Self-defense, or somethin’. They can’t git you. Do you know the constable? I’ll tell ‘im. I’ll tell ‘em all. The captain deserved it.”
“There’s not going to be a trial,” Griffith said.
“You have to have a body to have a trial.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was just a stranger passing through town.” He looked at Davy. “He never saw you. You didn’t see him tonight. If Goodell asks you anything about him, say you never saw him.”
“You’re goin’ to bury him out here in the woods?”
Wolves howled in the darkness.
“No.” Griffith lifted his knife and looked down at Stasney’s bleeding body. “Go back to the house. Clean up. Get a good night’s sleep.”


When David rode back to the farm from the Kimery store with a new leather-bound Bible in his saddlebag he saw Elizabeth sweeping the dog trot. Dismounting his chestnut David walked with deliberation to the edge of the porch. To catch her attention he coughed a little. She continued to sweep, so he decided to jump right into the conversation.
“I appreciate what you done this mornin’,” he said.
“What did I do?” Elizabeth kept looking at the broom. “I don’t remember.”
“You told Robert to be good to me.”
“Oh yes. As well as he should. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother so that thy days upon the earth shall be increased. That’s what the Good Book says.”
“The Good Book says a bunch of things that folk don’t abide by. You do, and I want you to know I appreciate it.”
“Thank you.” She did not break her rhythm in sweeping.
“Last night, when I said I had to go to Texas,” he added, “I didn’t mean to say I didn’t know how good you are or how hard you work. I didn’t mean to say I didn’t love you.”
“I know.” Elizabeth stopped sweeping, turned and smiled. “Jest ‘cause I got mad don’t mean I don’t love you.”
“That’s good.” David grinned. “That’s good to know before I leave.”
“The children, Robert, Matilda and Sissy too, they love you. More than they want to say.” She furrowed her brow. “We’ve been hurt, that’s all, and it hurts more when you love the person doin’ the hurtin’. That’s why I told them to be good to you.”
Not believing what he heard, David swelled with happiness. Never had Elizabeth ever told him so outright how she felt about him. “Come to Texas with me!”
“What?” She smiled. “Do you want me to smack you with this broom?”
“I don’t care! Go ahead and smack me! Jest as long as you go to Texas with me!” He took her hand to bring her down the steps. “It’s a wonderful land!”
“How do you know?” Her eyes sparkled. “You’ve never been there. Anyway, I don’t care if it’s flowin’ with milk and honey—“
“But it is!”
“You and your ideas.”
“I’ve heard you don’t have to can food. Jest pick the fruit off the trees whenever you want!”
“There ain’t no place like that, except maybe heaven.”
“That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell you! Texas is heaven on earth!” He put his arms around her thick waist.
“No, that’s too far.”
He felt her body tense in his embrace, and he knew his brief flirtation of taking her with him was over. “Too far from what?” David asked as he pulled away.
“I don’t know.” Her smile faded. “Family, I guess.”
“From the Pattons?”
“Well, they are my family.”
“Like the ones who took you to court.” David felt his temper slip as he endured her rejection.
“Well, they meant you, when they went to court.” She paused, her eyes wandering about. “But it’s not jest the McWhorters and the Edmundsonses.”
“You afraid you’ll fergit James Patton if you move to Texas?” David had never given voice to his suspicions that she was still dedicated to her first husband who died in the Indian War. For years he used that thought as an excuse to leave on hunting trips and political campaigns. She did not need him, he reasoned, because she had her memories of James Patton to comfort her.
“And I suppose you don’t think you’ve made it quite clear you loved Polly more than you ever loved me?” She lifted her head in anger.
“If Polly hadn’t died, she’d be here, and she wouldn’t give me no argument. She’d say go, and I’ll follow.”
“That’s foolishness!” Elizabeth snapped. “How do you know for sure how she’d act after a lifetime of bein’ left alone like I have? Yes, you’d have left her jest like you left me and don’t deny it!”
“If you’d stop lovin’ a ghost and love me, you’d say my heart belongs to you, and it goes where you go!”
“And if you loved me, you wouldn’t talk like that!”
David and Elizabeth stared at each other in an emotional standoff.
“You never understood me,” he said. “You lived with me, and we’re nothin’ but strangers.”
“I ain’t goin’ to say another word, Mister Crockett,” she said, turning to walk up the steps. “If you got to go Texas, you go. If you die in some God forsaken land, you die.”
“That’s what you really want, ain’t it?” His anger overcame his common sense. “You want me to die so you can finally be alone with your memories.”
Elizabeth turned sharply on the top step, her eyes wide and glaring, and hissed, “Oh, go to hell!” She gasped, put her hand to her mouth and shook her head.
“No, I ain’t goin’ to hell, I’m goin’ to Texas.”


Sarah Beth invited Dave to spend the night in her guest room and leave the next morning. His original intention was to fly home without delay in hopes of making it to the Gainesville Social Security office as soon as possible, but her calm friendliness made him realize how tired he was. Mary dragged Myrtle, who was still asking questions about David Crockett’s love life, out the door. Sarah Beth pulled out a homemade stew from her refrigerator and put together simple sandwiches. Much to Dave’s relief, she changed the topic of conversation from his famous ancestor to discuss her own family. Her husband died of lung cancer after a long affair with cigarettes.
“He seemed so surprised to discover there actually was a link between smoking and cancer.” She shook her head. “After all those years of making fun of pointy-headed scientists who didn’t know what they were talking about, he found out too late they were right.”
She had two sons and a daughter. The elder boy was gay. Her husband on his death bed refused to speak to his alienated son one last time. Now her son visited Sarah Beth often with his close friend of many years whom she found to be warm, compassionate and funny. Her daughter was a middle school teacher who only just discovered her devoted husband was a cocaine addict. Their early stages of discussing divorce were complicated by the fact their two-year-old son adored his father. Her younger son, a computer technician, wanted to marry but was shy and did not make a good first impression. By the third or fourth time a woman talked to him, however, she would find a gentle and selfless human being. Alas, Sarah Beth said, most women did not want to try that hard to find out how wonderful her son was. After a pause, she smiled and patted Dave’s hand.
“Please don’t feel like you have to tell me about yourself.” She looked with awareness into his brown eyes. “In fact, it’d be best if you didn’t. I’d rather believe the children of Davy Crockett had nothing but love and happiness in their lives.”
The next morning Dave’s plane lifted from Roanoke, and the family Bible packed in a sturdy cardboard box, sat on his lap. Sarah Beth had a very nice family who loved David Crockett more than Lonnie’s brood ever did. He did not want to disappoint them by letting the Bible get away from him.
Dave personally was not very impressed with his ancestor, once he grew out of his childhood infatuation with the movies, songs and trademarked toys. The autobiography was hard to read, written in the old Tennessee vernacular and filled with silly claims of riding streaks of lightning, grinning down bears and things too inconsequential to remember. Also suspect was Crockett’s departure at age fifty for Texas leaving behind his wife and three teen-aged children. While he knew it was not fair to impose current values on someone who lived a hundred and fifty years ago, Dave still could not indulge in ancestor worship. Dave wished he could have told Myrtle that Polly had been the love of David’s life, mourning her early death until his demise at the Alamo, but he could not. Whether his second wife Elizabeth became the stable, enduring love of his life was also unknown. Myrtle would just have to draw her own romantic conclusions.
Back in Gainesville, Dave walked into his father’s house with the Bible in his hands. He had never seen Lonnie rise so fast from his easy chair.
“Did you get it?”
“Right here.”
Lonnie’s face exploded with a large grin. Vince appeared in the door to the hall wiping his face with a hand towel.
“Good,” his father murmured. “That’s good.”
“It’s not ours anymore,” Dave said. “The woman who bought it just let us borrow it long enough to show at the Social Security office and then I have to ship it back.”
“I don’t care about that,” Lonnie said, “jest as long as I can get my Social Security.” His hand went to his face stubble. “I better clean up before we go.” He paused to look at Dave. “You do want go to the Social Security office right now, don’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Good.” Lonnie turned for the hall.
“I got to get home tonight,” Dave said.
Lonnie disappeared without hearing him, and Vince went to Dave.
“You still not goin’ to be his guardian?”
“You can do it,” Dave replied.
“I ain’t never sold a house before.”
“Get an agent. Hope for the best.”
“That sounds like you’re still mad.”
“I’m not mad. I’m just tired.”
Lonnie reappeared freshly shaven and in his Sunday suit. They drove to the Social Security office downtown.
“This car drives good,” he said after a long silence.
“What is it? One of them fancy new Chevies?”
“It’s a Jaguar.”
“What’s that? A Oldsmobile?”
“It’s English.”
“What? One of them foreign cars? I don’t know nothin’ about those things. If it breaks down I can’t fix it for you.”
“Jaguars don’t break down that often.”
“Well.” Lonnie shrugged. “Can’t do nothin’ about it now.”
They did not have to wait long before they went into the Social Security clerk’s office. At first the man was impressed with the physical historical document. When he heard what they wanted, he went to a filing cabinet and pulled out the needed forms. After they filled out every blank he smiled at Lonnie.
“This shouldn’t take long, Mister Crockett,” he said. “You can go ahead and start filling out an application for the nursing home.”
The ride back was less tense, and Dave began to speak freely. “I’ll wrap up the Bible and send it back today.”
“That’s good.” Lonnie paused. “You done good.” He added, “You grew up into a good man.” As they pulled into the drive way he tapped his foot. “Was she a nice lady?”
“Very nice. She had an aunt and a cousin there too. They were nice.”
“That’s nice.” He paused to sigh in profound relief. “It’s all very nice.”

A Dark and Stormy Halloween Night

It was a dark and stormy Halloween night, and the trick-or-treaters stopped their visits early because it was about to rain. At first I was pleased that I was going to have all those bite-sized Snickers and Three Musketeer bars to myself. Then, after a particularly loud clap of thunder, my eighty-pound Labrador retriever jumped into my lap, causing me to scream in agony. She jumped and spun around to stare at me which meant her huge paws dug down deeper into my crotch.
“Arghh! Get off me!”
Before the dog could move, another clap of thunder shook the house. Whimpering she shuffled her feet in the exact same place and spun around to gawk out the window.
“Get off!”
She whipped her head when I yelled at her again. Her large head crashed into my nose. Anytime I had ever been hit in the nose, my eyes filled with tears. This was especially embarrassing because the last thing a little boy wanted to do in front of the other guys was cry.
My dog forgot about the storm when she saw the tears roll down my cheeks and leaned forward to lick them away. Crack! Another thunder eruption made her lunge forward, bumping into my nose again.
She backed up, her paws unfortunately pushed down into my crotch another time. I did not know which hurt more—my nose or my crotch. I started whimpering which, I think, confused my dog because I sounded just like her. When she got confused she lifted her left paw to high five me. It was a trick I taught her when she was a puppy, and whenever she began to feel unloved she high fived me for reassurance. I was so obsessed with not crying that I did not see her big paw coming right at my nose.
The fourth round of thunder was too much. She lost control of her bladder and wet herself. Because she sat on my lap she wet me too. Blubbering, I tried to push her away but whimpering she pushed back and put her paw up for another high five. I hadn’t been this frustrated since I found out I couldn’t climb out of the crib. Or maybe I just dreamed I wasn’t able to get out of the crib; anyway, I knew I was frustrated and started stomping my feet. What I didn’t realize was that the movement of my legs under the dog scared her even more. She peed on me again. I thought she wouldn’t have had any more urine after the first gusher. I was wrong.
“Stop it!”
Neither of us needed a fifth clap of thunder, but it burst out on the scene nevertheless. I would have shrieked again when her paws dug in deeper, but I was distracted by the sudden warm droppings on my pants. Oh crap. When the dog started howling, I thought my eardrums were about to burst. Right at that moment my wife walked into the room.
“Will you please stop screaming? You’re scaring the dog!”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Three

The House of Representatives voted in the late afternoon of Feb. 24, 1868 to impeach President Andrew Johnson, and late that night a collection of Republican leaders gathered in Stanton’s office in the War Department to discuss their strategy for removing Johnson. They knew the impeachment laws required a two-thirds majority, thirty-six votes, to convict him of violating the Tenure of Office Act. Stanton felt an overwhelming fatigue and could not rise from his chair to greet his visitors. During most of the conversation, he stared into his fireplace.
Massachusetts Sen. Benjamin Wade seated himself on a long sofa close to Stanton. He had positioned himself as presiding officer of the current Senate; therefore, if the senators removed Johnson, Wade would become President.
“Representative Stevens sends his regrets that he could not attend this meeting,” Wade said, “but his health is failing and he wants to improve his strength so he could attend the Johnson trial.”
“I’m sure he did not use that exact language,” Charles Sumner replied with irony. He was the other senator from Massachusetts. He did not have the personal ambitions of Wade, Stanton observed as he studied the faces of the two men in the flickering flames. Sumner seemed to have a personal vendetta against anything or anyone with even the slightest affiliation with the Southern cause.
Another gentleman in the room from Massachusetts, Rep. George Boutwell, went to Stanton’s side and patted his shoulder. “Are you feeling well, dear friend?”
Stanton appraised the young man and wondered if his concern for the secretary’s health was real or contrived, also trying to position himself for political gain in the event of Johnson’s removal. Sighing deeply, he found himself weary of viewing every action and every word of every man in the most cynical and political terms. He shook his head. “I shall be fine.” He waved at the sofa where Wade sat. “That piece of furniture may seem comfortable for a short repose, but it is lacking in ease for a good night’s sleep.”
All the men chuckled at his attempt at humor, but none as forceful as Pennsylvanian Rep. John Bingham, who seemed full of his new political prowess, having just won election to Congress. “Well, it won’t be much longer, sir. I’m sure the trial will end quickly and in our favor.”
“I’m not so sure of that, Bingham,” Sumner interrupted. “This will be as cunning an endeavor as we have launched in the past eight years. We cannot allow ourselves to become overconfident.”
“You must agree, Sen. Sumner,” Rep. Boutwell said, “we only have to convince five or six senators to vote with us. The majority is assured.”
Sumner held up his index finger. “It all comes down to one vote, which is much more precarious than you can ever imagine.”
A light knock on the door drew the politicians’ attention to the interruption. A young man with red hair dressed in a private’s uniform came in carrying a glisteningly clean chamber pan.
“Sorry to disturb you, gentleman, but I wanted Secretary Stanton to have his pot available the next time he requires it.” He laughed. “It seems embarrassing, I know, but I don’t want Mr. Stanton to be discommoded.”
The others in the room joined in the laughter, which caused Stanton to look up out of curiosity. This did not sound like the same young man who had taken his pot out earlier in the day, nor like the one who had brought him his meals. When he looked up, Stanton tensed in his chair and his right hand went to his face to cover his gaping mouth. The soldier looked strikingly similar to Private Adam Christy, but he knew it could not be him because Christy shot himself in the head the night Abraham Lincoln died.
After depositing the porcelain vessel in the corner of the office, he bowed awkwardly as he backed away. “Sorry to have interrupted you gentlemen in your discussions, whatever they may be.”
Stanton refrained from blurting out a question to the private. Yet he wanted to know who he was and what had happened to the soldier who had attended him earlier in the day. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He was tired. His mind was playing tricks on him. God, he wished this entire ordeal were done. The last couple of years had worn him down to a nub.
“Don’t worry about it, young man,” Boutwell said, smiling broadly. We all have unpleasant assignments from time to time. Isn’t that right, gentlemen?”
The others around the room chortled in agreement. An uncomfortable pause followed which prompted Stanton to look up and glance around at his compatriots. “Yes, yes, of course.”
“So any time you have to go about your duties, don’t let us get in your way, Private—what was your name?” Boutwell asked.
“Christy, sir. Adam Christy.”
Stanton sat up and stared intently into the soldier’s face. The hair color was correct. The height, the weight. He narrowed his eyes to inspect the complexion. He remembered the boy’s face was riddled with pockmarks. From the flickering light of the fireplace, Stanton could not quite make out how smooth the private’s skin was. Certainly mottled, the Secretary could ascertain from this distance.
“Well, Private Christy, I think you will have a fine career as a military man if you so desire it.” Boutwell smiled broadly.
“Yes, yes, but we need to continue our discussion,” Sumner said, trying to cut the distraction short and return to the conversation that brought them together.
The young man bowed again as he opened the door and slipped out, exposing a light but distinctive limp. “Sorry to have inconvenienced you, gentlemen.”
Wade cleared his throat. “Now, as Sen. Sumner said, we only need one vote. Now just who is this man and how much and what kind of pressure need we apply to achieve our stated objective?”
“Edmund Ross, the new senator from Kansas,” Sumner replied. “He replaced Jim Lane after the suicide.”
“Well, that was the initial determination,” Bingham piped up, “but it seemed a bit odd to me that a man with the military background as Jim Lane would ever take his own life. And shooting himself as he jumped from his carriage. And the driver just disappeared. It’s more than just a bit odd. I happen to know that Edmund Ross was in Leavenworth the very day Lane died. Witnesses said they had had several arguments in the week leading up to the shooting. What do you think, Mr. Stanton?”
Stanton wanted to tell Bingham that he thought the representative only brought up the topic of James Lane’s death to give himself a chance to speak. The Secretary prided himself on sizing up the character of a man quickly, and he pegged the Pennsylvanian as being full of his own importance. Stanton coughed. His asthma was rearing its ugly head during the last throes of a particularly wet and cold winter.
“I don’t think we should waste time talking about a dead man,” Stanton intoned. “The only man we should be discussing is Edmund Ross. And I don’t comprehend why he would even be placed in the undecided column. I’ve heard the man speak. He absolutely loathes Andrew Johnson.”
“Evidently you have not heard that Sen. Sprague of Rhodes Island—you know, he’s the fellow who married Chase’s daughter—alleged that Ross put himself on the shaky side with a comment about how even though he personally did not like the President he did think the man deserved a fair trial.”
“Fair trial?” Benjamin Wade bellowed from his corner. “How much will we have to pay that scoundrel to forget the idea of a fair trial?”
“It always has to come down to a matter of filthy money with you, doesn’t it, Wade?” Boutwell returned a full volley.
“Hear now, hear now, gentlemen!” Sumner called out both sides. “We needn’t make enemies among ourselves. There’s enough of Johnson’s despicable Southern hide to go around to satisfy every man in this room.”
Stanton erupted in a seizure of coughing, quite spontaneous, yet still well timed for the War Secretary, who never liked feeling as though he had lost control over a committee of any sort.
“Dear me, gentlemen,” Wade offered in a softer, conciliatory tone, “it seems we have discomfited our host.”
Wiping his mouth with a handkerchief, Stanton shook his head. “My apologies, colleagues. It’s just another flare-up of that damnable asthma which has plagued me all my life.”
“Perhaps you would be better cared for in the comfort of your own home,” Wade said with a small smile.
“That is the sentiment of my wife who does not understand the complexities of national politics. I will not give any of my opponents the least excuse of stripping me of my power—of my position. My country needs me too much for that to happen.”
Boutwell stood. “Well, I think we have taken enough of Secretary Stanton’s time. And I agree with him that he will be well attended here in his office by Private Adam Christy.”
Stanton’s head shot up and appraised each man in the room. “Yes,” he said barely above a whisper. “Private Christy will tend to me very well.”
The congressional faction had only been gone a few moments when the private returned with a tidy, clean stack of handkerchiefs in his hand. “I heard you coughing from the hall, sir, and I thought you might need these.” He held them uncomfortably close to Stanton’s mouth and nose.
“Now see here,” he snarled as he grabbed the handkerchiefs, “just who the hell are you?”
“I’ve told you, sir. I am Private Adam Christy.” Innocence and apprehension filled the soldier’s inflection.
“That’s a lie!” Stanton realized his voice was out of control. He looked at the door to see if any concerned passerby might check in on him. The Secretary returned his attention to the person standing in front of him. Dangerously close. This stranger could lean forward and throttle him within seconds. Stanton dismissed the thought from his head as paranoia. “I know that is a lie because I know Adam Christy is dead.”
The soldier stepped back out of the glow of the fireplace and smiled. “And how do you know that Adam Christy is dead?”

The Halloween Tree

Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree and then asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, “Pa, George Washington’s pappy did spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-Three

I gotta go.” Mike shifted with discomfort in the back seat, pressing against Bob and Jill. He belched.
“Me too.” Randy’s dull eyes glanced away from the yellow line down the middle of the highway through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Harold watched John’s shoulders tense. Stopping at the request of the brothers must be a frustration. Perhaps he would be able to use this wedge to tear them apart before something else terrible happened.
“Later. We must find Pharaoh,” John said.
“If we don’t stop I’m gonna go all over myself.” Mike’s face twisted into a childish pout.
Hunching his shoulders and pulling his legs up, Randy glared at John.
“It’s mean not letting us go.”
As the car rounded a corner, its headlights shone on the empty parking lot of the New Found Gap overlook which straddled the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
“I gotta go,” Mike said again.
“Very well.” Sighing in resignation, John pulled into the parking lot. “Rest rooms are in a building down that path on the left.”
“Oh boy.” Mike laughed as he tumbled out of the car, followed by Randy. In a few moments they returned. “The door’s locked.”
“Go behind the building,” John said, leaning his head out the window.
Harold eyed John, wondering what he could say to make him return to the hospital.
“You look tired.”
“Why did you say that?”
“Because I care about you.”
“No one cares about Moses but his own people.” He gazed at a large stone terrace overlook with a plaque commemorating its dedication by Franklin D. Roosevelt back in the nineteen forties.
“And God?”
“Of course. Yo He Wa.”
“But Yo He Wa is god of Cherokee. Yahweh is God of Moses.”
“You can’t fool me by playing word games.” He shook his head.
“You really want your father to care about you.”
John ignored him.
“If you let me take you back to the hospital, I can help you with your feelings about your father.” After an extended silence, Harold glanced in the back seat at Bob and Jill, deciding it was time to stop reasoning with John and instead concentrate on escape. He never lost hope with a patient before, but John transcended his role of pitiful victim of childhood head trauma and of unstable parents to a new identity of crazed messiah, bent on destroying anyone who crossed his path. In this hour of darkness and isolation, escape was his only answer.
“May we stretch our legs?” he asked.
“Wait until Joshua and Caleb return,” John replied, still not turning his head to look at Harold.
A few minutes later Mike and Randy, laughing and punching each other, ran up the asphalt path toward the parking lot.
“You want to stretch your legs too, don’t you?” Harold looked into the back seat, peering into Bob’s eyes.
“Yeah. Sure.” Bob looked at Jill. “You want to stretch your legs?”
She squinted in bemusement and then nodded.
“Yes, I need to walk.”
Harold opened the door and slid out as the brothers, still trying to zip their pants, bounced up.
“You gotta go, too?” Mike said with his usual open, smiling face.
“No.” John leaned over to look out the door. “The doctor wanted to stretch his legs.”
“Oh yeah?” Randy stared at Harold.
“Yes,” Jill added, stepping from the back seat. “We’ve been on the road a long time.”
Harold surveyed the group before him, an innocent couple and three escaped mental patients, all thrown together because of his incompetence. He could not shake the words from his father’s lips that night many years ago in his Long Island home.
“Do as you wish. You always have. But mind you, one day you’ll make a fatal mistake in a diagnosis, and you’ll remember what I told you this night.”
His memory was as sharp as that crystal shard which pierced his finger. The red of the blood drop glistening in the fireplace blaze and the ice blue of his father’s disapproving disdainful eyes crowded rational thought from his mind. His thoughts compelled Harold to throw himself against Randy, who fell into Mike, crashing them into the car’s fender.
“Get out of here!” he ordered Bob and Jill.
They stood there frozen in shock, as though they had become inured to the violence they had witnessed in the last few hours.
Bob grabbed Jill’s hand and ran down the asphalt path to the restrooms and threw her down the gentle slope down into trees and underbrush, following her as she tumbled through the shadows. John scooted across the seat and out the passenger door.
“After them!”
Harold stumbled to his feet and turned to shove Randy, who sprang like a young panther, back into the larger, leonine Mike. Harold sprinted out of the parking lot and spotted flickering headlights rounding the knoll from the North Carolina side of the mountain and scurried for the highway.
“I hate him,” Randy muttered as he tried to untangle himself from his brother’s flailing arms and legs.
“Get up!” John kicked both teen-agers. “Don’t let him escape!”
Wildly waving his arms, Harold situated himself in the middle of the New Found Gap road, but the approaching automobile veered off around him and plunged into the darkness of the twists of the mountain highway, winding its way to Gatlinburg. Before he could move again, he sensed his legs being pulled out from under him, his face smashing the cold hard asphalt tasting the briny blood gushing from his ruptured lip.
“Gotcha,” Randy said.
“It’s useless to fight us, doctor.” John huffed as he caught up with them.
Rolling over, Harold thrust his foot into Randy’s head, bloodying his nose. As the boy squealed in pain and grabbed his face, Harold jumped up, pushed John back into Mike, who had at last arrived, and turned to dash in desperation after the vanishing red taillights. Perhaps, Harold told himself, if he ran fast enough he could lose himself in the mountain’s shadows.
Randy struggled to his feet, wiping blood on his shirt, and made another flying leap at Harold, this time landing on his shoulders, dragging him down. His boney tailbone jabbing into the doctor’s lower back, Randy reached over the smooth top of Harold’s shaved head, stuck two fingers into his nostrils and violently yanked backwards, exposing his neck. With his free hand, Randy pulled out the hunting knife and with a swift motion slashed Harold’s throat.
Struggling against Randy’s grip, Harold could only burble before his body wilted, his consciousness going blank, no longer haunted by the visions of his father’s ice cold, disapproving eyes.

Jonathan and Mina in Romantic Transylvania Chapter Sixteen

Jonathan paused to collect his thoughts. It was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. Finally, after delving into the deepest levels of his subconscious, he began to breathe deeply. His shoulders and pelvis danced in a sensual revelry he had only experienced under the influence of the vampire lifestyle. His eyes lit with licentious intent as he slithered over to Mina.
“Oh, Meeena! Wouldn’t you rather kissss me?” He hissed as he rubbed his body up against Mina.
“Mmmm,” she moaned in desire. “Yesss! Oh, yesss!” Mina jumped into his arms and kissed him with verve and a lot of slurping.
“Miss Seward!” Dracula was totally miffed. “Do you mean you choose this lower being over the Prince of Darkness?”
“You betcha! He’s hundreds of years younger than you!” Her head fell back and she licked her lips as Jonathan kissed her neck. “Besides, he has a much better tan than you do!”
Jonathan carried her toward the double doors. “To the game room for more fun on the trapeeze!”
“I’m tired of being Mr. Nice Guy!” Dracula was really pissed off now. “This is my castle!” He raised his arms, spreading out his cape as though it were bat wings. “This is Transylvania!”
Thunder and lightning exploded throughout the neighborhood. The nearby peasants probably covered their heads with blankets and shuddered in their beds. Even Dr. Helsing trembled a bit. Jonathan completely lost his composure and put Mina down.
“Uh oh.” Jonathan barely concealed the whimper in his voice.
The professor found his courage sufficiently to stride to the bottom of the staircase, jutting out his old German chin.
“Your special effects don’t frighten me, Count Dracula! The day of the vampire is coming to an end.”
“Don’t you mean the night of the vampire?” Jonathan was incurably dense.
“Shut up,” Van Helsing retorted before he returned his attention to staring down the imperious vampire.
Slowly Dracula descended the steps. “You a mere mortal who has not lived even one lifetime intend to end my reign of terror which has spanned the centuries?”
“Yes, that was general idea.”
“And how were you planning to accomplish that?” The count sneered. Any semblance to romantic charm disappeared from his extremely pale face.
Van Helsing jabbed the air with his index finger. “With the contents of my trusty valise!”
“Oh.” Dracula continued his descent. “You mean the valise way on the other side of the room?”
After an awkward double take to spot the valise on the floor by the sofa, the doctor muttered, “Um, just a minute.”
He began to run as fast as an old man could under the circumstances. The prince extended his arm, his fingers pointed to execute a most intricate hypnotic spell.
Oddly enough, Van Helsing obeyed, his face going blank and subservient.
“Look into my eyes!”
His mouth went agape, and his eyes were profoundly empty.
“My will is stronger than yours, Van Helsing! You shall do as I command!”
“Doctor, please!” Jonathan called out. “You can’t do this! Come on, be your old irascible bossy self!”
“Shut up, you twit!” Dracula barked.
“Yes, sir.” Jonathan whined.
“So, the great Dr. Van Helsing is helpless against my superior willpower.” The count was enjoying this moment entirely too much. He pointed again at the professor. “Dance!”
Van Helsing broke into a respectable old soft shoe. Who knew anyone with a stick up his ass could be that nimble? Dracula threw back his head and laughed.
“We’re doomed!” Jonathan could not have been any more forsaken.
“Now that I have thoroughly humiliated you by forcing you to dance, Van Helsing, come here!”
He abruptly stopped, which was unfortunate because he was about to shuffle off to Buffalo. “You didn’t force me to do anything.” Van Helsing smiled triumphantly. “I love to dance. I won the Dusseldorf dance championship three years in a row!” He turned his attention back to the valise by the sofa. “Now please excuse me as I get a stake out of my valise and drive it through your stinking, dried up black heart!”
“Miss Seward!” He snapped his head to the young couple. “Stop him!”
“Yes, master!”
Mina turned to attack Van Helsing but Jonathan grabbed her arm and desperately tried to regain his vampire vim and vigor.
“Mina, no! Don’t you want to go to the game room?” He nodded toward the double doors, winked and emitted a rather pitiable hiss.
“You can’t fool me again.” She sneered as she jerked away. “You’re not one of us.” She ran to the valise, bumping the professor out of the way, and seized it.
“Miss Mina, no!” Even the doctor was aghast by her proficiency in pilfering.
“Mina! Give it to me!” Even Jonathan’s actions showed an urgency heretofore unseen and with a brusqueness exceptional for a British gentleman.
“Van Helsing!” Dracula was not messing around. He felt like a little fang action—right now. “Your time has come to die!”
While Jonathan was successful in wresting the valise from Mina, his aim in throwing it to the doctor left something to be desired.
It landed right at Dracula’s feet. “What an unfortunate toss, Mr. Harker.”
“I was never very good at school boy games,” he admitted.
“Admit it, Van Helsing, you’re defeated.” Triumph licked every syllable that came from the vampire’s wan lips.
Dr. Van Helsing took a moment to observe his opponent before pulling out his pocket watch, reading the time and looking up in satisfaction.
“If I compute my continental time zones correctly, it’s you, Count Dracula—not I—who is defeated.
This statement caught him off guard. “Time? What has time to do with anything?”
The count lunged for the professor, but Van Helsing dodged the assault to dart up the stairs to the dust-ridden, moth eaten curtain hanging over the vaulted windows.
“Time has everything to do with it. Especially when that time is dawn!” The doctor reached up and yanked on the drapery which collapsed, allowing shafts of light to flood the entry hall.
“Oh guano!” Dracula began convulsions, making awful grating sounds. Finally he dropped to his knees.
“Master!” Mina reached for the melting vampire, but Jonathan swooped her up into his arms.
Quivering in exquisite agony Dracula rolled over onto his back, his eyes bulging and his tongue flickering out in a most unpleasant manner.
“Hurry it up, will you?” The old German had no compassion at all. I’ve had a long night, and I’d like to get some sleep.
The Prince of Darkness emitted his final, nauseating gasp and went limp. Mina, coincidentally at the same moment, was going through similar, though less severe, spasms. When she eventually calmed, Jonathan gently put her down. Mina, returning to her normal ditzy self, looked around in amazement.
“Jonathan! Where are we? What are we doing?”
He looked into her eyes and stroked her cheek softly. “Don’t you remember, dearest? Count Dracula had us under his spell and almost transformed us into vampires.”
“Yes, yes. It’s slowly coming to me.” Mina noticed Count Dracula’s moldering corpse on the cold stone floor. It was dissolving into dust. She walked closer to examine it. “He was right. The sun does absolutely nothing for his complexion.” She looked over at Van Helsing and smiled. “And you saved us.
“To be frankly German, yes.” The professor shrugged.
Mina went to him and gave the old man a hug. “I’ll always be grateful, Dr. Van Helsing. Friend.”
“Yes, thank you, doctor.” Jonathan joined them and shook his hand. “I know Mina and I weren’t always completely helpful during this ordeal.”
The German was on the verge of blushing. “Yes, I know. But I understand.”
The young lovers stared into each other’s faces.
“I’ve never seen you with your hair down before,” Jonathan said softly. “Nor have I seen you in your, well um, undergarments.”
“And I have never seen your bare legs.”
“Might I say you look gorgeous?” He nuzzled her neck.
“Certainly, if I may be so bold as to say your legs are gorgeous.”
Van Helsing cleared his throat. “Yes, yes, well this mutual admiration society is very commendable, but we have two bodies to bury here.” He pointed to Dracula and Susie Belle.
“As horrid as this episode has been,” Jonathan said slowly, “it has brought me to one realization.”
“What is it, dearest?”
“I never want to step foot inside Our Lady of the Perpetual Headache again,” he declared with conviction.
Mina giggled. “Neither do I.”
“Any volunteers for burial duty?” Van Helsing raised his voice in hopes of getting their attention. “Not everyone need speak up at once.”
“In fact,” the young man continued with more assertive lust in his voice, “I don’t think I can wait another day to make you my bride.”
Her eyes lit. “”I’m sure a cleric or magistrate in the village below would be glad to administer the vows.”
“You’re right.” The professor flapped his arms in surrender. “Why not pay a local peasant to do the dirty work? Why should I risk a hernia over the likes of Dracula?”
“Shall we go now?”
“The sooner the better.”
Jonathan lifted Mina in his arms and headed for the front door.
“Stop.” Van Helsing sounded a bit alarmed. “Don’t tell me you’re going down to the village dressed like that?”
“Why not?”
“Dr. Van Helsing,” she replied impishly, “don’t be such a prude.”
They kissed with tongues and then hissed at each other. And out the door Jonathan carried her, anticipating a new life of spontaneity and pleasure. Van Helsing wagged a finger at this, dismissing them as new members of the conflagrate younger generation, and turned for the staircase.
“I don’t care if they make a public spectacle of themselves. I’m going upstairs and get some sleep. There should be a nice soft bed somewhere in this castle, in this God-forsaken, creepy castle.” He paused to consider his situation. Two dead vampires on the floor. Enough dust and cobwebs to choke a man to death. The subtle but breathtaking stench of guano. An nuance of death and foreboding. He scampered back down the stairs and out the door.
“Oh, Mr. Harker! Miss Mina! Wait! You need a best man!”

The Ghost and the Skunk Ape

I didn’t realize this until recently but ghosts of Native Americans really have a peculiar sense of humor. Throw in what a skunk ape thinks is funny, and what you end up with is absolutely bizarre.
My wife and I live in the woods about a mile—as the crow flies—from the ground where all the tribes up and down the Florida peninsula met in the early 1800s and decided it would be better for all concerned if they united as one tribe with one name—Seminole, which means “let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
A couple of miles in another direction is the location of a tribal war village. It was on a swamp. One can only assume the peace village was at a much more pleasant location. The name of the war village was Chocachatti. We have been solemnly schooled that the name does not translate to Choke a Chicken.
I have credible evidence that this long-held legend is true because of what happened right outside my patio door a couple of months ago. My wife and I were watching some nonsense or other on television one night when the dog barked at the patio door. Evidently he wanted outdoors to do his business.
When I got to the door and was about to open it, I looked through the glass to see a fully materialized Seminole all dressed up to go to war. His craggy face looked none too happy.
“Honey,” I whispered to my wife, “you need to look at the patio door right now.”
“Huh?” Not only was she watching a television documentary about Vikings in America, she was also looking at a genealogy website to figure out how she was related to both Pocahontas and Attila the Hun.
“Look at the patio door,” I repeated as firmly as possible.
The dog barked again.
“For God’s sake, let he damn dog out,” she said.
When I opened the door, the dog let out a yelp and ran back to the sofa, where he whimpered until my wife leaned over to pick him up.
“Damn dog,” my wife growled. “Doesn’t know what he wants.”
“Please,” I said as softly and as calmly as possible.
The Seminole warrior was looking menacing as each moment passed.
“Oh, all right.”
Just as she sighed in exasperation and looked up the Seminole disappeared into the darkness of the night.
“Okay. I looked out the door. I saw black nothingness. Are you satisfied?” she muttered before returning her attention to the television and the computer.
Of course there was no appropriate answer to that question so I kept my mouth shut.
The next night while the television beamed a show about has-been celebrities trying to keep up with professional ballroom dancers on the floor, I intermittently glanced out the patio door to see if the Seminole reappeared. Just as they announced which two-left-footed famous person was going home, the Seminole appeared, this time with a chicken in his hands. I gasped as he began to choke the poor feathered thing.
“Honey! Look out the patio door!”
“No,” she replied, staring intently at her computer screen. “I just figured out I’m related to Vlad the Impaler.”
“But there’s a Seminole about to choke a chicken on our patio!”
“Tell him to leave it, and we’ll have fried chicken tomorrow night.”
Then the Seminole smiled, petted the chicken and kissed it on the head.
“Now he’s kissing it,” I said in amazement.
“A Seminole kissing a chicken? Now this I gotta see.” By the time she turned around to look, both the Seminole and the chicken disappeared. “I’m beginning to worry about you,” she said before returning her attention to the computer.
I dreaded sunset at our little house in the woods. Sure enough, as darkness enveloped the neighborhood, an image materialized at my patio door. I was so astonished at what I saw that my mouth flew open.
My wife looked up to see my expression.
“Don’t tell me you see the Seminole with the chicken again.”
“No.” I could hardly find my voice. “It’s a skunk ape this time.”
You see, about five miles—as the crow flies—in the other direction from our house is the Green Swamp which supposedly is inhabited by the Florida version of big foot called the skunk ape, thus named because he never bathes and stinks to high heaven.
“Oh really?” my wife said, her eyes never lifting from the computer screen.
Right then the skunk ape pulled a chicken out from behind its back and hugged it and kissed it and presumably called its name George.
“It’s—it’s hugging and kissing a chicken.”
“So the skunk ape scared the Seminole and took his chicken away.” My wife can be so sarcastic when she wants to be.
I was about to agree with her when the Seminole jumped from the shadows to wrestle the chicken from the grasp of the skunk ape. A moan escaped my trembling lips.
“Now what’s happening? She asked wearily.
“You’re lying. I can tell by your eyes.”
I sighed. The skunk ape and the Seminole are fighting over the chicken. They both want to cuddle with it.”
“I’m going to look out that patio door, and if I don’t see anything I’m going to box your ears.”
All three of them—the Seminole, the skunk ape and the chicken—disappeared into the darkness. Of course, my wife didn’t see them and marched toward me, her hands in fists ready to box my ears.
She would have done it too, if I hadn’t pulled out my best weapon of self-defense. I began crying. My tears aggravated my wife so much she retreated to the bedroom and slammed the door. When I looked back out the patio door, the Seminole and the skunk ape had returned, and they were tossing that chicken back and forth like a ball. And the chicken acted like he enjoyed it.
I marched right over to that patio door, threw it open and wagged my finger at the Seminole and the skunk ape.
“Now listen here,” I began, “I don’t know if you think you’re being funny, but I want you to cut it out!”
My outburst must have caught them by surprise because they stopped in mid toss. With great dexterity the Seminole caught the chicken before it hit the ground. They looked so sad that I thought they were going to cry.
My first reaction was to tell them everything was okay and they could come and play on my patio any time they wanted to. But I reminded myself that, after all, they were a ghost and a big foot, and my wife didn’t approve of such things. After forty-four years of marriage I had learned she made all the rules.
The Seminole and the skunk ape shrugged and, with chicken in tow, turned to disappear into the night, never to return. At that very moment, my wife came back from the bedroom.
”Look, if you want to pretend you see ghosts and yetis, that’s all right with—“She stopped in mid-sentence and her mouth flew open. “Oh my God! There are a Seminole and a skunk ape on the patio! And they have a chicken!”
The ghost and the big foot also stopped in their tracks and looked back. Evidently her yelling scared them.
My wife walked to the door, slid it open and extended her arms to hug them. They immediately vanished.
“They are shy, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are.”
“I hope they come back.”
“They always do.”
She kissed me. “Forgive me. I love you, even if you do have weird friends.”
Weird. Yes, and she’s the best weird friend of all.
(Author’s Note: I wrote this last year with the wife demanding the husband quit making up stories about ghosts and skunk apes. My wife Janet didn’t like it very much because she thought the wife was based on her and it made her sound like a bitch. She died of cancer last January. I’ve been thinking about it and decided to make the wife character as nice as Janet was.)

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Two

Walt Whitman and Gabby Zook, wearing heavy coats, hunched over as they made their way down windy Portland Street in Brooklyn on the coldest day yet of the New Year 1868. They paused only briefly as Whitman bought a newspaper from a waif on the corner before crossing to their favorite little café for a warm and stout breakfast. As they hung up the coats on the rack by the door and found an empty table, Whitman said in good humor, “I’m sorry my brother disrupted your sleep this morning. Jesse is fine most of the time, but when he’s experiencing a flare-up of his syphilis, well you never know what he will do.” Whitman smiled and patted Gabby’s hand. “I don’t think he would have thrown that hot grease on you. He’s really quite fond of you. He told me so himself.”
“As long as I get my eggs. I like the middle nice and runny.” He paused as he looked out the window to see snow flurries begin. “Jesse’s just like the rest of us, isn’t he, Mr. Walt. No one is totally normal, but we all try hard to get along. At least I know I do.”
A young woman dressed in a drab brown dress with a soiled apron tied around her waist brought two mugs of hot coffee to them. Gabby smiled brightly at her. They ate there many times, and she was often their waitress. He sat there placidly as Whitman placed the breakfast order, stressing how Gabby liked his egg yolks runny. After the girl walked away, Gabby looked at his friend seriously.
“Private Christy was a really nice person too. I could tell it. Of course, he tried to kill me once.”
Whitman leaned forward, sipped his coffee and smiled. “And how did that happen?”
“Oh, I don’t think he would have tried to kill me if I hadn’t jumped on his back.” He paused to sip from his cup. “This is really good coffee.”
“And why did you jump on his back?”
“Mrs. Lincoln told me to. She said if we could get the key away from him, we could get out of there. I usually don’t like to be mean to people, but I was missing Cordie something terrible. You know to be a skinny fellow, Private Christy was pretty strong. He threw me off and was about to kill me when Mr. Lincoln came up out of his bed and picked Private Christy up by his arm pits and threw him against the wall. Now Mr. Lincoln was strongest of us all, and he could have killed Private Christy if he had had a mind to.” He looked at Whitman and wrinkled his brow. “I wonder why he didn’t?”
“You know that as well as I do. He was a man of honor.” Whitman glanced over Gabby’s shoulder to see the waitress approaching with their breakfast. “Ah, and here are your eggs, nice and runny, just the way you like them.” He watched Gabby closely as he devoured the eggs. “You don’t know how to lie, do you, Mr. Gabby?”
“No sir, I don’t.” He tried to talk while chewing the eggs. A bit of the yolk dribbled down his chin. As he wiped it with his napkin, he added, “I know I get confused real easily sometimes, so everything coming out of my mouth aren’t facts, but I don’t make things up on purpose.”
Whitman buttered his toast and munched on it as he read the newspaper headlines. He was amazed that Stanton had talked General Grant into resigning as Secretary of War. The Republican Senate reinstated Stanton over Johnson’s objections. He did not bother with explaining all this to Gabby right at this moment, because he didn’t want to interrupt his enjoyment of the eggs. This was not an unkind judgement on Gabby, Whitman decided, because he felt most of the nation could not understand the rapid changes at the War Department. When Gabby finished, he pushed his plate away and smiled.
“Mr. Stanton is in the newspaper again,” Whitman announced simply. “You don’t really care for Mr. Stanton, do you, Mr. Gabby?”
Gabby’s eyes wandered out the restaurant window. “He’s the man that put us in the basement all that time.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me that.”
“He tore a Gabby quilt right in front of me once.”
“And what is a Gabby quilt?”
“Cordie made them just for me, to keep me warm at night. That’s why she called them Gabby quilts. Somehow she got Private Christy to bring one to me, and Mr. Stanton was sure there was a message hidden in it somewhere so he ripped it up. Didn’t find anything but stuffing.”
“That was a mean thing to do.”
“Mrs. Lincoln fixed it for me the best she could. She was kind of mean and crazy sometimes, but sometimes she could be almost as sweet as Cordie.”
“The newspaper also says General Grant resigned as secretary of war so Mr. Stanton could have the job again. What do you think about that, Mr. Gabby?”
“I thought General Grant was stronger than that. I thought he could stand up to Mr. Stanton. Maybe Mr. Stanton is meaner that I thought.” He looked around, as though he were afraid someone might have heard him talk bad about Stanton.
“Well, I know you’re not mean, Mr. Gabby.” Smiling, Whitman looked intently into Gabby’s eyes. “Why, right now, I think you’re stronger than Mr. Grant ever could be. It takes a brave man to face his fears—risk his life even—to defend the very fabric of his country. Are you that brave, Mr. Gabby?”
He paused as his finger wiped around the plate, picking up the last of the eggs. “Yes, I think I am strong now. My friend Joe would be proud of me.”
To anyone passing by on this particular Philadelphia street on Valentine’s Day in 1868, would have seen an elderly Roman Catholic priest standing on the steps of the elegant home of comic actor John Sleeper Clarke. If that person continued to look in that direction, he would have seen the actor’s wife Asia open the door and smile in an obligatory way. Nothing unusual about the situation because it was common knowledge that Mrs. Clarke, the sister of John Wilkes Booth, had been raised in the Catholic church, even though she now attended her husband’s Episcopal church. The passerby would have continued on his way.
“May I help you, Father?” Asia inquired politely.
“A very close friend of mine told me you were in need of spiritual counseling.” The voice seemed to be a bit strained, a high pitch with a force vibrato.
She smiled and shook her head. “I have no needs that my own Episcopal minister cannot resolve. Nevertheless, thank you for dropping by and forgive me for not inviting you in. My family is in the middle of packing. We move to London, England, in about a month.”
The priest spoke again, this time in a softer, deeper, more natural tone. “Asia.”
Her eyes widened, and his lips quivered. “Wilkes?” She looked deeply into the man’s face, now discerning heavy grayish stage makeup. “Oh my God, Wilkes, is that really you?”
He smiled, raising a finger to his lips.
“Please come in, quickly.” She grabbed his elbow and dragged him into the foyer. First she turned to her parlor, which was cluttered with open storage boxes. “No, not here. John is due back from running errands for me. He would surely recognize you immediately, and that would not do.” She turned to go down a dark hallway, which disappeared behind the large oaken staircase. “We have a pantry room in the back. If John comes in the front door, you’ll be able to escape out back without being seen.” She opened the pantry door and pushed him in. As she lit a kerosene lantern, her brother chuckled.
“So it is confirmed,” Booth said. “I always thought John resented me. He never got over the fact he gave me my first job on the stage and I quickly overshadowed his star.”
“That’s nonsense,” she replied in a clipped tone. “He hates you because he was arrested in those first days after the assassination. He thought he would have the same fate as Dr. Mudd and the others, merely for being the assassin’s brother-in-law.”
Booth sobered a moment. “Do you hate me too, Asia?”
She choked back tears as she threw her arms around his shoulders. “Of course not. I’ve always loved you above all my brothers and sisters. The two worst moments of my life were when they said you killed the President and when they said they killed you.”
She pulled back so she could see his chiseled features in the flickering light. Her fingers lightly touched his cheek. “You are as handsome as ever.” The tender moment did not last as Asia’s eyes clouded with curiosity and more than a bit of irritation. “What are you doing here? If anyone recognized you on the street and reported it to the authorities, my husband would surely be taken into custody again and this time they might hang him.”
“I don’t know why I came here,” he confessed, “except that I did want to see you once more and inquire about Mother.”
“How do you expect her to be? Mortified that her favorite son killed the president and mournful because she thinks he’s dead.”
He shook his head. “She cannot think otherwise. Mother can never know I still live. No one must know.” Booth smiled cynically. “Now I doubt I that I told you.”
“How did you escape the barn? They were so positive when they identified your body.”
“If I told you the truth you would not believe me. Just have faith in me. There were many important men behind the assassination of Lincoln, a conspiracy that continues today with the efforts to impeach and remove Andrew Johnson.”
Her eyes filled with hope. “Then you didn’t kill the president?”
“No, I did it. I planned it. I wanted him dead. Only later that I learned other, darker forces were at work. You see, I truly loved the Confederacy. These men only love themselves, and they will pay for their sins.”
“Wilkes, you’re scaring me. What does all this mean?”
“I will only say this. Have you been keeping up with the news from Washington City about the attempts by President Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton?”
“Why, of course. Everyone has.”
“All I will say is that I find it highly ironic that Mr. Stanton has now locked himself into his office to keep from being officially removed.”
“But I thought General Grant was Secretary of War,” Asia interrupted her brother. “Why is Stanton back in office?”
“I think it is part of their strategy. If they can keep the public guessing about who Secretary of War is and who isn’t, they can keep the public from learning the deeper, darker secrets.”
“Who are they?” she asked. “And what secrets?”
Booth shook his head and smiled. “I can’t take time to explain everything. Just let me say that I expect an impeachment vote by the House any day now to get rid of Johnson.”
“So you’re telling me that Mr. Stanton somehow was involved in the assassination of Mr. Lincoln?”
“I cannot say. I will not say.”
A noise at the front door drew their attention.
“It’s John. You must go now.”
Booth lightly kissed her cheek. “Never forget that I love you, but I can never see you again.”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty-Four

With a final kiss on Harriet’s forehead, Griffith turned her toward the door and watched out the window until she disappeared down the road. He walked back to his work bench where he picked up various knives to examine them for length, strength and sharpness.
“I know all this is very scary, Master Davy, but I assure you no harm will come to you.”
“What are we goin’ to do, sir?” he asked with apprehension.
“Go outside, sit on the step until Captain Stasney arrives.”
“What?” Davy did not understand.
As Griffith held one short knife up to his eyes, “Wait for him to arrive, and when he does, run as fast as you can into the woods and up the hill. Don’t stop. Don’t look back.” He put the knife aside and picked up another, testing it for sharpness. “Don’t worry. He won’t catch you.”
“Maybe Mister Goodell won’t tell him where I am,” he said. “Maybe he decided I was tellin’ the truth.”
“Oh no. Goodell will tell him, probably already has.” He paused as he took a whetstone to his knife. “I never really liked Goodell. He likes to look down his nose at people.” He turned to Davy. “Now go to it. Or would you like something to eat first? No, I suppose you’re too nervous for food, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir.”
Before Davy could say anything else Griffith marched out the door. He took a moment to recover from his master’s abrupt departure. Davy decided he had no alternative but to wait for Stasney. Going outside he could not see where Griffith had gone. Breathing deeply, he did as he was told and sat on the stoop. How his life had been turned upside down in the last few hours, Davy mused as he stared down the road and listened to distant call of wolves. Rough clumping through gravel caught his attention. Davy focused on the dark approaching hulking figure. Shivers echoed up his back as he recognized that gait. Stasney was coming.
“Boy!” he bellowed.
Straight away Davy jumped to his feet and ran up the hill into the woods.
“Come here!”
He could not withstand temptation to look back at the captain who rampaged toward him. Griffith was correct. He should not have glanced. But he kept running through the woods. Even though he had stamina and speed on his side, Davy also was aware Stasney had fanatical determination to kill him. One mistake on his part and Davy could be dead. Why had Griffith abandoned him, Davy wondered as his breath became labored. His foot caught on an errant tree root, landing him face down in the dirt and leaves. As he rolled over he saw Stasney towering over him, his forked tongue slithering in and out through his thick dark lips.


“I can do the right thing first,” David said, looking from Elizabeth to Robert. “You don’t have to tell me. And the right thing for me to do is to go. Nobody’s been happy since I came back. The only answer is for me to leave.”
“Don’t that make it good for you, to do what you wanted to do in the first place?”
“Robert, hush,” Elizabeth said.
“But I can leave with things better than they are.”
With a grunt Robert picked up his axe and barged out the barn door.
“I mean, it, Elizabeth,” he said, looking at her with sincerity. “I’m goin’ to make everythin’ right.”
“Of course you are, Mister Crockett.” Her face was stony, and her eyes fixed.
David turned to saddle his horse, and she left. Before he rode away to Texas he was going to prove to his family that he could tell the truth. His first step was to go to the old Kimery store to talk to Thomas Tyson. October air was crisp. The summer heat had passed. Harvest time was upon them. David wanted his last Tennessee crop to be a good one. Walking into the general store David girded his inner strength, bravely smiled and approached the storekeeper.
“Mister Tyson, I owe you an apology and an explanation.”
Tyson’s eyes widened.
“I shouldn’t have left the way I did yesterday,” David continued. “It was stupid. It was cowardly.” He paused. “I may be a liar, but I’m no coward. And I apologize for hittin’ Matilda.”
“You tell Matilda you’re sorry?”
“Not yet.”
“You should tell her before talking to me.”
“You’re right. But I wanted you to know ’cause you’re important to her. You want to marry her one day, don’t you?”
“Yes.” His blue eyes blinked through his thick glasses. “I don’t think it would be fitting before she was sixteen.”
“I appreciate your respect for her. If it means anythin’, you have my blessin’.”
“It means something.”
“I’m leavin’ for Texas in a few days. So for what it’s worth, I’ll never hit her again.”
“And I swear I’ll never hit her.”
“I know that. I’m not worried about Matilda, but I got some fences to mend with Robert.”
“I don’t think I got that kind of mending materials.”
“I ain’t never bought one of these before.” David walked over to the table of Bibles.
“Don’t you believe what’s in it?”
From his childhood David had been told of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, but he had never taken time to think about them. He loved and respected his mother who lived by the Bible and would have read it if she could read. David would never have heard of Creation, the Flood, Exodus, Virgin Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection if not for his mother. On the other hand his father believed in the parts of the Bible that allowed beating children, vengeance, wrath, abominations and Armageddon. David found his route through life somewhere in the middle, not quite as holy as his mother but not as evil as his father.
“Of course I believe in the Bible,” David told Tyson.
“I want you to know I’ll bring up your grandchildren in the church and follow the teachings of the Bible,” the storekeeper said.
David continued flipping through the pages and nodded. “Matilda’ll be in good hands. And she knows I love her.” He looked at Tyson. “She does know that, don’t she?”
“Yes,” he replied, “and she loves you. That’s why your slap hurt so much.”
“But she forgives me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive in her eyes.”
“That’s good.” David shut the Bible and turned to Tyson. “I want to buy this.”


“Mother doesn’t like to think of sad things,” Mary said, smiling at Myrtle. “Unfortunately, Harriet’s marriage was not a happy one.”
“I’m afraid few people have happy marriages,” Dave replied.
“Sadly, that’s true,” Sarah Beth confirmed, “but Harriet and her husband had three robust children who produced many grandchildren which made Harriet’s long old age very pleasant and comfortable.”
“Her husband Charles was much older than she and preceded her in death by many years,” Mary added.
“That was not the first tragic death in Harriet’s life,” Myrtle interjected. “Harriet’s father died not long after Davy went back home to Tennessee. It was a hunting accident.”
“Well,” Mary said, “rumors had it he shot himself, having succumbed to mercury poisoning, common to hat makers of the day.”
“Mary, I don’t like those stories. Taking one’s own life, well, it just isn’t done in proper families. Besides, why would he kill himself? He hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“Mother, if a person has gone mad from mercury poisoning, he doesn’t need a reason for suicide.”
“Anyway, Harriet went to live with the seamstress in town, Miss Dorcas Hinton. Within a few months storekeeper Charles Goodell began courting her and they were married soon thereafter.”
“They didn’t really love each other?” Dave asked.
“According to family tradition,” Mary replied, “it was more a marriage of convenience. While there was no talk of any actual strife they had no great romantic feelings either.”
“Most marriages back in those days were for convenience,” Myrtle muttered with a sigh, “the convenience of the man.”
“As you mentioned, Dave,” Sarah Beth said, “very few marriages are great love affairs.”
“One reason we know Charles was not the love of her life,” Mary added, “was that as Harriet grew older the more she talked about her lost love Davy Crockett.”
“Oh.” Dave began to see why the Bible was important to them.
“Each son brought his fiancée to meet his mother,” Mary continued, “and Harriet told her the story of the love she almost shared with the famous Tennessee hero. It was a cautionary tale not to let love slip away. Her sons had sons who grew up and presented their new wives to Grandmother Harriet who told them she had loved the martyr of the Alamo. Even on her deathbed her last words were about Davy Crockett.”
“The story always brings tears.” Myrtle pulled out a lace handkerchief to daub her eyes. She laughed. “Menfolk in our family don’t seem to understand how wonderfully sad this story is.” She glanced at Dave. “You’re probably just like them and think we’re just silly women crying over a silly old love story.”
“No, I understand,” he replied, thinking of Tiffany and Linda.
“Then you know why I was so excited when I saw the Bible in that Dallas bookstore,” Sarah Beth said. She looked at Myrtle. “My aunt would have never forgiven me if I hadn’t brought it home.”
“No, I wouldn’t have.”
“I hope you can trust me to take the Bible back to Texas,” he said. “I promise to return it as soon as possible.”
“Actually,” Mary offered, “we should let you buy the Bible back for the price Sarah Beth paid. After all, it is your family’s Bible.”
Dave saw Sarah Beth and Myrtle hold their breath. He would not even think of returning such a valuable document to the house of Lonnie Crockett who possibly could throw it out next week as part of the garbage. These people cared for it, as his mother had, sheltering it and placing it on display only on special occasions, a perfect artifact to illustrate their sad family story of unrequited love.
“No, the Bible belongs here.”
Exhaling, Myrtle stood and smiled. “Well, whatever you think best.”
“I’ll get the box I packed it in.” Sarah Beth stood to go to another room.
“Thank you.” Dave got to his feet, relieved his errand was accomplished.
Myrtle caught him off guard by grabbing both his hands and holding them to her bosom. “So, tell me, dear boy, does your family have any wonderful stories of Davy Crockett? Did he ever find another true love?”