Monthly Archives: November 2016

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-Seven

Their car pulled back on the highway and started down the Tennessee side of the mountain toward Gatlinburg. Bob and Jill were in the front seat next to John who was driving. In the back, Randy sat close behind them with his knife drawn and alternately tickling their necks. Mike licked his lips, reached down for another can but found the bag empty.
“We ain’t got no beer.”
“Not now.” John clinched the steering wheel. “We’re almost to Pharaoh.”
Randy’s eyes darted from his brother to John. He hated Moses. John did not care about him and his brother. They did a lot of mean things for him, and he did not care if they wanted a beer or not. Randy did not really want more beer, but his brother did. Or maybe he did crave a beer. Beer helped him forget, and right now Randy wanted to forget how mad he was at Moses.
“I want a beer too.”
“I said no. Now be quiet. We’re entering Gatlinburg, and traffic makes me nervous.”
Pulling his legs up into his chest, Randy looked out the window as the car pulled through a green light, out of the park’s darkness and into the brightness of the tourist town’s busy main street, lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. He saw people on the street, laughing and having fun. He saw fathers holding their sons’ hands. No one ever held his hand, laughed or had fun with him, which made Randy even madder.
“Stop for beer, or I’ll cut her.” Randy grabbed Jill around her neck and flashed his knife across her face, causing her to gasp.
“Don’t be foolish,” John said in contempt.
“Yeah,” Mike added. “If he kills her, you won’t know how to get to Pharaoh, and you wouldn’t like that, would you, Moses?”
“Very well.” Looking for a convenience store, he spotted one on the left side of the street. Several minutes passed before traffic cleared so he could turn into a well-lit parking lot. Mike and Randy opened the door. “How are you going to pay for it?”
“What?” Mike looked back at John with a quizzical smile.
“With this,” Randy said, pumping his knife into the air.
“There are at least twenty people in that store. Were you planning to kill them all? Do you think all twenty would stand by and let you rob the store? Don’t you think someone would call police and give them your descriptions and the license number from this car?”
Randy stared at him, not understanding all John’s words which made him hate him even more.
“The Joshua and Caleb of old would have never made such stupid blunders,” John said with a sneer.
“Stop calling us those stupid names,” Randy muttered as he put his knife away. He did not like to be called stupid, even though deep in his heart he knew he was stupid, or else his mother would have never left him alone on the side of a road.
“Just give us money,” Mike said with cheer.
“I don’t have any money,” John replied.
Randy’s eyes darted to Bob. This man had money and was too much of a coward to fight back. He grabbed Bob’s hair, pulling his head back with all his strength. Jill suppressed a cry.
“You got money.”
“Give him your wallet, Bob,” Jill said.
“Yeah.” Randy yanked his hair again. “Do what she says or I’ll cut you bad.”
Reaching down to his pocket, Bob pulled out his wallet and held it up. Mike grabbed it and lunged from the car.
“Great. Now we can get some beer,” he said.
“Scaredy cat.” Randy threw Bob’s head forward. “Don’t move.” He brandished the knife in his face. “If you and her try to run I’ll cut your guts out. I don’t care how many people are standing around.”
After Randy left, Bob looked over at John who was staring out of his window. Harold failed to convince him to stop his mission, but Bob felt he had to make an effort or else they too would be murdered. He cleared his throat.
“Dr. Lippincott told me about their drinking problem.”
“That doesn’t concern you,” John said.
“He said once they start drinking they’re dangerous.”
“All the more reason for you and your wife to cooperate.”
“They’ll be dangerous for you too.” Bob paused. “It’s obvious you already don’t have power over them. They killed Dr. Lippincott when you wanted him alive. They’ve forced you to stop for beer when you wanted to keep driving. Don’t you think it’s time to end all this? Let’s stop at the police station, and then we’ll be safe. We pass right by it on our way to Jill’s grandparents’ house. You’ll be safe too. You’ll be safe from the boys.”
“I can control them.”
“Are you sure?” Jill asked.
“You, of all people, should do everything in your power to make sure I can control them.” He looked at her with an ominous glare.
Soon Mike and Randy were back in the car, giggling and slurping down cans of beer. After John pulled onto the street he glanced at Jill.
“Now where is Pharaoh?”
“He lives in the arts and crafts community on the other side of Gatlinburg, on the road to Cosby,” she replied.
Bob looked out his window at the contented vacationers with small sleepy children on their shoulders. They clung to stuffed black bears, wooden rifles and cones of cotton candy. Bob observed that as they waited at a red light he could call out to passersby if he rolled down his window.
“Don’t try to involve those people out there.”
Bob jumped, a bit startled that John in fact had read his mind, and turned towards him.
“Remember, Caleb has a knife and will use it on your wife at my command.”
“My name’s Randy.” He slid down in the seat to drink his beer.
“Yeah, Randy, Randy, candy, dandy, Randy, Randy,” Mike said.
“Shut up!” He jabbed his brother with his bony elbow.
“That hurt.” Mike turned toward a window and swallowed. “That girl there, walking down the street, she’s pretty.”
The passengers remained silent for the rest of the car’s stop-and-go trip through lit downtown. At last, the car picked up speed onto a darker stretch of highway.
“Turn left at the stop light near the supermarket,” Jill said in a blank tone.
“Thank you.”
An even dimmer street emerged. Old homes converted into antique and craft shops were shuttered because they closed earlier than the downtown T-shirt and souvenir stores. A startling exception was the multicolored lights on the rotating waterwheel on the side of the Schmidt house.
“That’s it,” Jill said.

Cancer Chronicles

Well, I made it through the first Thanksgiving without Janet but not without her help.
At this time last year she was finishing radiation treatment and was beginning to feel somewhat better. We spent Thanksgiving with our son and a couple who have an extremely pleasant disposition. No one could spend a few hours with them without going away feeling the world was a better place than anyone ever thought. We went to a Southern cooking establishment that always has turkey and dressing on the menu.
This year my son had to work and my friends had family visiting, so I went to the home of a church friend who was hosting a big gathering. I sat next to a gentleman who had lost his long-time lady friend year. We had more than that in common. We had both grown up in small Texas towns in the segregation era and we shared stories of how we survived to have a broader view of human beings on this planet. The next day my son had off, so we went to the Southern cooking place for our holiday dinner, but we both agreed it wasn’t the same without Mom. Saturday I went to another large gathering with writer friends. I sat across from my couple with the lovely dispositions. Next to me was a poet who has altogether too much appreciation of his gifts to the world.
My friend across the table, with his usual twinkle in his eye, asked of the three of us gentlemen sitting there, who was the oldest and the smartest.
I replied quickly, “I’ll concede I’m the youngest and the dumbest.”
The poet look at me seriously. “I think I agree with you.”
That, of course, put me off my mashed potatoes and gravy immediately. Then I heard Janet’s gentle, wise voice remind me:
“I don’t know why you’re letting that bother you. You know that he’s an idiot.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Seven

The morning of the final vote began early with crowds pushing forward on the Capitol steps. Men in elegant suits elbowed common workers out of the way. They all shouted they had a right to witness the climax of this terrible legal conflagration. No, they did not have tickets, they conceded, but they were citizens of the United States of America. Lamon and his small group of friends waited patiently until they had advanced through the jostling crowd to hand over their tickets. By the time they seated themselves, they saw Dr. Leale and the elderly Mr. Johnston approaching them. Leale smiled but the old man kept his head down, watching his shuffling feet and his cane.
“I’m so glad that we found you.” Leale smiled as they sat. “For some reason, Mr. Johnston and I always happen to meet on the steps. So how do you think the vote will go?”
Lamon considered his words before replying, “We have reason to believe the Senate will not find the two-thirds majority for conviction.”
“And why do you think that?” Johnston asked, keeping his head lowered and not making eye contact with Lamon.
“Senator Ross of Kansas, according to reports in all the newspapers, seems to be at least distant from the emotion of the hour to convict.” He paused to look at the man who claimed to be a relative of President Lincoln. “And what is your opinion?”
“I don’t think they have much of a case against the man,” Johnston said, in a voice barely above a whisper. He laughed to himself. “I am suspect of any cause so heartily supported by Secretary of War Stanton.”
“All I know is that it will be rough going for Mr. Gabby and me if the President is removed from office,” Corbett said. “All anyone has to do is look at Mr. Stanton and see the devil in action, a devil which will be intent on wreaking its revenge on the likes of us.”
“After all I have been through, and Mr. Stanton will still be able to kill me?” Gabby’s lips began to quiver. “It can’t be. I’ve suffered enough. Where can I hide? I’ll go out West. That’s what I’ll do, go out West to someplace Mr. Stanton will never find me.”
Corbett patted his head. “You won’t be alone. I’ll be with you. I won’t let anything happen to you. The Lord will see us through.”
Lamon noticed how intently Johnston watched Gabby and Corbett. He detected a smile lurking around the corners of his mouth.
“I don’t think you gentlemen have anything to worry about. These things have a way of working themselves out,” Johnston assured them.
“Excuse me for being presumptuous, Mr. Johnston,” Lamon said slowly, cocking his head to try to get a better assessment of the old man, “have we met before? There’s something very familiar about you. I can’t quite figure out what it is.”
Johnston waved a gloved hand in front of his face. “I don’t think so, Mr. Lamon. You see, I am not as well traveled as you, sir. Rarely been out of the prairie country. Only my second trip to the capital, you see. It’s all for Mama, of course.”
Lamon hardly heard the elderly man’s rambling reply as he was inspecting the gloves. They seemed newer and more stylish than what he would have expected on the hands of an elderly gentleman who seemed proud of his provincial background.
“So what do you think the verdict will be?” Lamon repeated, hoping he would get Johnston to turn and look at him.
Johnston raised his chin but kept his gaze straight ahead. “Justice, of course.”
“But exactly what is justice?” Lamon felt his blood rise, and he could not decide exactly why he felt so intensely about the situation at this particular time.
Whitman leaned over, shushing them while putting an index finger to his lips. “The roll call vote is about to begin.”
As the clerk called out each name, the old man nodded. When a senator voted in support of the President, Johnston murmured approval of the senator’s past record and commended the politician’s upstanding character. If, however, the senator voted against Johnson, the old man shook his head contemptuously mumbling some vague rumor of personal corruptness. Lamon noticed that the entire time Johnston made his running commentary he kept looking straight ahead at the Chief Justice.
“The name to be called next is Sen. Ross,” Whitman announced softly.
“I hope he has the courage to vote against removing the President,” Corbett said.
“And why is that?” Johnston asked.
The old man’s tone struck Lamon odd. “Why are you interested in Mr. Corbett’s statement?” He still did not understand his own growing impatience with Lincoln’s stepbrother.
Baker hushed everyone. “We all need to be quiet.”
“The Honorable Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas,” the clerk proclaimed.
Without hesitation, Ross said loudly and clearly, “Nay.”
The chamber broke into a chaotic mixture of huzzahs and denunciations. Lamon watched the reaction spread around the room as people recognized the significance. Finally the crowd calmed down so the roll call could continue. But the result was self-evident: Andrew Johnson would remain President of the United States. By one vote.
“So there you have it,” Johnston announced as he stood to leave. “Johnson is in, and Stanton is out.”
“So has justice been done?” Lamon did not know if the old man even heard his question.
As he began to walk away, limping on his cane, Johnston turned slightly and replied, “Not yet.”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty-Nine

“David! David!” Abner yelled as he led a group of horsemen coming down the trail to the farm.
“Uncle David!” William waved with merry abandon, pulling his horse up in front of the cabin.
David pulled away from Elizabeth to grin and salute the oncoming party. He was relieved he did not have to respond to her question about why he had to leave.
“Hello, Aunt Elizabeth!” William said, dismounting.
“Doin’ fine, Elizabeth?” Abner asked.
“William, Abner,” she said without emotion as she stood. “How’s my sister?” Before Abner could reply, she turned toward the cabin and called out in a stolid voice, “Children, your father’s about to leave.”
They came from the kitchen. Robert stopped short when he when he saw William and nodded to him. Sissy stood back, held her left elbow with her right hand and smiled. Matilda came right down the steps and hugged David.
“Oh, Papa, I’m goin’ to miss you so much.”
“Now, let’s be honest, girl,” he reproved her with gentle humor. “You got Mister Tyson to watch over you. And you got to take care of him, too. Then there’s your ma, brother and sister to fuss with. You won’t have time to think about me.”
Matilda pulled away, her eyes widened in full realization of what was happening. Her hand went to her cheek, and her lips quivered. “I mean it, Papa. I’m really sad.” She looked at him and whispered, “I’m never goin’ to see you again, am I?”
“Of course, you will, Matilda,” he replied with a promptness that belied his sincerity. “Why, by this time next year, we’ll all be back together in Texas. We’ll have a ranch with plenty of hands to work it, and, who knows, maybe I’ll be president of the new nation of Texas.”
“Of course, Papa.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’ll be the daughter of the president. And Thomas’ll run the best store in Texas.” No more could come out of her.
Sissy stepped forward as Matilda retreated to Elizabeth’s side. “I’ll miss you, too, Pa. But I want you to go ‘cause I know it’ll make you happy, and how can I be happy if my pa ain’t happy?”
“And you be happy too, promise?” David reached for her, and she let him hug her.
“I promise, Pa. Don’t worry.” She smiled and looked back at her sister. “I’m goin’ to git Matilda to give me lessons on how to be more sociable.”
“That’s good.”
Sissy walked up the steps to hug Matilda who had dissolved into tears. Robert stuck his hand. “Good luck, Pa.”
David grabbed him and held him. When Robert pulled away he smiled.
“It’s all right, Pa. I understand.”
“Understand what?” David wanted him to explain it so he could understand too.
“Why you have to leave.”
“I really meant to stay. I changed my mind when I came home to say good-bye,” David explained to him. He stared intently at Robert. “I didn’t lie about changin’ my mind. I meant it when I said it.”
“You got me confused,” William said who had been listening in on the conversation. He wrinkled his brow and shook his head.
“He’s goin’ with you,” Robert replied. “And it’s all right.” He looked back at his father. “Some folks can’t sit still, and some of us can. That’s all there is to it.”
It had to be more than that, David thought, but this was neither the time nor place to figure out why he had to keep moving from place to place and person to person. Perhaps, one night as he lay on the Texas prairie staring up at the stars, he might at last understand. Maybe it was just a habit he did not want to break.
“Now, remember what I told Matilda. Next year, you’re bringin’ your ma and sisters to Texas.” He could not resist one last lie to his family.
“Yes, Pa,” Robert said. “You can take me huntin’ and fishin’. We’ll make up for all the times we missed together.”
Elizabeth came down the steps and hugged him, burying her head in his shoulder. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“Don’t feel bad,” he replied, kissing her cheek. “Remember, I’m jest that scairt li’l runaway boy.”
She pulled back, put on a brave, perky smile and said in a quavering voice, “Then run away.”
“We need to git on the road, David,” Abner said. “We want to git at least halfway to Memphis by night fall.”
Robert picked up David’s rifle and bag to hand to him. After tying them to his saddle, David mounted the chestnut and with forced bravado let out a yell and took off up the road, and the other men hollered and followed. They had not gone far, just to the clump of trees where Davy stopped when he came home. A monarch butterfly flitted by, alighting on the branch of a mulberry bush.

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-Six

“I hate Moses,” Randy muttered, disturbed by his unsuccessful search for that man and woman. Why did we want to find them? He was fast losing hatred for this Pharaoh too. Slitting his gut was not important to him any longer. What was important to Randy was his warm, comfortable bed he had left behind at the hospital. He missed gobbling good food as much as he wanted and drinking soda pop whenever he wanted. He longed to hoe in the garden, to spray the plants with water again and to feel proud when he made flowers grow. Most of all, he missed his television programs, cartoons, football games and cops shooting bad guys. He wanted to talk to that doctor again, even if he did get too nosy sometimes. The doctor would let him complain about his mother all he wanted without accusing him of being bad for not loving her. But he could never talk to the doctor again because that stupid Moses made him slit his throat. People at the hospital would not give him his bed back or let him work in the garden again after killing the doctor.
“I hate Moses.”
Something slinked across his mud-spattered tennis shoes, causing Randy to jump, grab his knife and throw it down at the retreating snake. Spitting in disgust for missing his target, he bent over to pick up the knife stuck in moist ground.
Jill clinched her jaw as she watched the boy crouch in front of her. When she recognized him to be the thin, angry one, she closed her eyes and prayed he would not see her. Hearing the knife’s being withdrawn from the earth and the boy’s footsteps as they faded away, she thought she was safe for now. That was all she could expect. Again her thoughts went to her grandmother, imagining how she must have sighed, “Safe for now,” every time the topic of Hitler or Nazis was dropped in a conversation. She must have been relieved every time a former member of the Third Reich was caught in another part of the United States and sent back to Germany, thinking at least it was not Heinrich this time. Safe for now. If she survived this night, Jill promised herself she would give her grandmother a big hug and say, “Now, I understand.”
Bob strained to look at the face of his watch. It had been some time since he last heard John or the boys. An hour might have passed, but he realized he could not have been under the bush that long. Yet he could not shake the small hope lingering inside him, that the three escaped mental patients had given up and left. He wanted to venture out to check, but he remembered his own instruction to Jill to stay hidden until dawn. Bob told himself not to blow it, not like he had blown so many other things in his life.
A voice broke the silence.
“Bob Meade. We have your wife.”
His eyes widened.
“It’s foolish to resist. If you want to see her alive, come back to the parking lot immediately.”
“Oh, no,” Bob whispered.
“Bob Meade. Caleb has already slit the doctor’s throat. You don’t want the same fate for your wife.”
He sighed and decided he could not take the chance of having Jill’s lifeless body being rolled down the embankment. He barely survived guilt of pulling away from his dying mother. Knowing his cowardice caused his wife’s throat to be slashed would destroy him. Bob decided it was better for them to die together than for him to hate himself the rest of his life for allowing Jill to be murdered.
“Don’t hurt her,” he yelled as he stepped from behind the prickly bush. He shuffled his feet in defeat toward the embankment, pausing for a moment to wince again at the sight of Harold’s bloodied body before climbing up toward the paved path to the parking lot.
Jill furrowed her brow as she heard Bob call out. She was still secure under her rock. Didn’t Bob realize John was lying? Of course not, remembering Bob’s greatest fault was his conviction that everyone was as honest as he was. She loved that shortcoming in him, but at this moment, she feared it might kill them both.
“Here goes nothing,” she said, crawling from beneath her rock in hopes of catching Bob before he climbed the embankment.
As Bob reached the top he saw the shadowy figures in front of him. He began counting. One, two, three…
“Bob! No!” Jill shouted.
His head jerked away to look down the slope just as Jill emerged from the woods. He turned back to the three escapees. Mike’s brawny shoulders shook as he laughed. John smiled with smugness, tapping Randy and nodding toward Jill. The boy scrambled down to grab her.
“How’d you know they’d come out?” Mike continued laughing.
“I am Moses.”

Cancer Chronicles

Our sixteen-year-old Chihuahua/daschund died this week. He and our thirteen-year-old Chihuahua had a bad case of flea infestation and were anemic. I supposed I had fallen behind on their monthly flea/tick pills.
I took the Chihuahua in first because she looked really worse than the older dog, but she responded well to the antibiotic and prednisone. The older dog was still going outside on his own and walking around.
One morning I heard a thump which woke me up. The chiweenie had fallen over, I suppose from weakness. I took him to the vet and got basically the same medication but he didn’t respond well. He stopped eating all together and regurgitated the antibiotic drops and prednisone pill. By morning he was yelping. I thought it was from pain but when I held him he stopped whining.
Sadly I admitted to myself it was time to let him go and be out of his misery. I was able to get a quick appointment with the vet. I held his little head until he was gone.
He was a particular favorite of my wife Janet who died of brain cancer in January. If there is any sense to be made of this terrible year is at least she did not have to mourn the loss of the dog. She would have cried. And nothing tore my heart apart more than Janet’s tears.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Thirty-Six

The five of them lingered over supper at Whitman’s favorite tavern, intent on keeping the mood light and convivial. Even Gabby looked up from his plate a few times to laugh and smile. As the waiters cleared away the last course, Lamon cleared his throat, pulled a newspaper from his coat pocket, and spread it out for the others to see.
“Here in the paper,” he said pointing to a small article at the bottom of the page, “is the evidence to support our theory Senator Ross is the one hold-out for a conviction vote. Every other senator has made some kind of statement during the trial about their position, but Edmund Ross has remained mute.” He looked at his compatriots around the table. “The vote is tomorrow. We have to talk to him tonight.” The serious look on Gabby’s face gave Lamon encouragement the little man was ready to be brave. Gabby’s resolve seemed to have stiffened as he became an integral part of the group.
“But I don’t think he,” Gabby paused to point at Baker, “should go with us. I don’t care that he says he’s a changed man. He still scares me. And he might scare this Senator Ross.
“Or he’ll make the senator mad,” Gabby continued. “Some men don’t like being ordered around. This Mr. Ross might vote for conviction just to prove Mr. Baker can’t intimidate him.
“You know, you do get awful mad real fast,” Gabby added as an afterthought.
Lamon looked at Baker while putting his hand to his chin to help him think better. “What do you think, Baker?”
Baker shrugged indifferently. “I don’t give a shit.” Motioning to Gabby and Corbett, he said, “As long as these two can convince him, all the better. Suits me fine to keep my name out of all this mess.”
“Yes, General Baker,” Whitman said with a knowing smile. “You and I can sit here while the others go about their business. You can have another ale, and I’ll recite some of my poems to you.”
Lamon, Gabby and Corbett left the tavern and walked down the street to the omnibus stop where a large clanking carriage soon pulled up. Baker had used his connections with the Marshal’s Office to find Ross’s lodgings at a small but respectable boarding house on a side street. Lamon knocked at the door, and presently an elderly man answered. He puffed on his pipe and looked over the rim of his glasses at them.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“Yes, I’m Ward Hill Lamon, former Marshal—“
“You know it’s damn late out, don’t you?” the man interrupted brusquely.
“We’d like to speak to Sen. Ross if he’s available.” Lamon smiled as congenially as he could, bowing slightly. But as he figured he only had this one chance, the unfamiliar courtesy ploy had better work.
“If you’re more of those damn politicians, you need to leave the poor man alone!”
A voice boomed from the top of the stairs. “Who is it, Mr. Culbertson?”
Before the man could reply, Lamon took a step inside the door to the bottom of the staircase. “It’s Ward Hill Lamon, Senator Ross. I think we’ve met before. You’ve been to receptions at the Executive Mansion when Mr. Lincoln still was alive. We were very good friends, Mr. Lincoln and I.”
A tall man with a large bushy beard covering the tip of his chin came down the stairs. He had thick rounded shoulders, and Lamon noticed printer’s ink permanently stained his fingers. Ross took a moment. Lamon assumed it was to assess the men at the door. He broke into a broad smile and extended his hand.
“Of course I remember you, Mr. Lamon. As I recall from those days, you were never far from Mr. Lincoln’s side at social events. Less so, in the last two years, I think, but the war was raging, and I don’t think the President was in the mood for such things. Please, come in.”
The old man, sucking hard on the stem of his pipe, turned and pointed to the parlor on the left. “You can use this room, but I must insist you keep this meeting short. Mr. Ross has an important day tomorrow, and he doesn’t need to waste his evening with a bunch of lollygaggers.”
“Mr. Culbertson, I assure you we will not lollygag one moment longer than required,” Ross replied good-humoredly.
“Well, I’ll be sitting in the kitchen with my rifle, so all you have to do is call out,” the old man said as he walked into the hall.
Ross motioned to the sofa and easy chairs in the simply furnished room. “Please have a seat, gentlemen. Mr. Lamon, introduce me to your friends.”
Lamon gently pushed Gabby toward the senator. “This is Mr. Gabriel Zook of Brooklyn. He used to work at the Executive Mansion.”
“My uncle Sammy was killed at Gettysburg. He was a general. For the Union, of course. He hated slavery.” Gabby said by way of introduction, while extending a limp hand.
“As so we all, Mr. Zook.” Ross gave him a firm handshake before turning his attention to the third man in the group. “And this gentleman?”
Corbett stepped forward and saluted even though he was not in uniform. “Private Boston Corbett, once a proud member of the Union Army but now a soldier for Jesus Christ.”
A smile of recognition crossed Ross’s face. “So you are the man who killed Mr. Lincoln’s assassin. An honor, sir.”
“But I didn’t kill John Wilkes Booth.” Corbett lifted his chin in righteous confession.
“Please, sir,” Lamon said, motioning to Ross. “Please have a seat. What we are about to tell you is quite a remarkable story and may very well change your vote tomorrow in the Senate chamber.”
They all settled down, and Ross furrowed his brow, his eyes moving from one person to the next. “As you know, I am a long-time newspaperman, and as such I have heard every conceivable story there is to be told; but, gentlemen, frankly yours may be the most unbelievable of all.” He addressed Corbett again. “If you did not kill Mr. Booth that night, sir, who did you kill?”
“As God is my witness, I didn’t kill anybody that night. Nothing is as it seems, Senator.”
Lamon leaned forward. “This is a very complicated story, and I think we should not concentrate on the end of it but rather the beginning. Did you not say, Senator Ross, that President Lincoln’s manner was different in the last two years in office than in the beginning?”
“I assumed it was a natural shyness, a diffidence which arose from the exceeding tension involved with the war….” Ross’s voice faded out as his conviction evaporated.
“It was not Abraham Lincoln you met,” Lamon explained. “It was a man who looked like Lincoln. The real Abraham Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement. Placed there by Secretary of War Stanton who controlled the government through this impersonator.”
Ross’s face turned grim and he stood. “Gentlemen, I believe my landlord Mr. Culbertson was correct in his initial judgment of you. You are all a bunch of lollygaggers, or worse. And I am particularly disappointed in you, Mr. Lamon. I thought you were a man of finer character than this.”
Gabby stood, reached out and took Ross’s hand. “Mr. Senator, sir, I am a simple-minded man. You can surely tell that by looking at me. I—I get confused about things, especially since I got sent home from West Point—“
“Mr. Lamon! This is intolerable!”
“Mr. Senator, sir, please look in my eyes.” Gabby paused until Ross relented and looked at him. “Sir, I don’t know enough to tell a lie, never have. This is the truth. I was in the basement setting out rattraps when Mr. Stanton and a private came down the steps with President and Mrs. Lincoln. I had to stay in the same room in the basement with them for more than two years.” His lips quivered. “I guess you could say I’m crazy. I suppose I am. But crazy people can’t help to tell the truth, sir.”
Ross continued to stare into Gabby’s eyes until he relented and sat back down. Gabby went to his seat on the sofa next to Corbett and dissolved into tears. Corbett put his arm around his shoulders.
“There, there, God will make it all right,” he whispered. “Trust me.”
“And I suppose I have to trust you to tell me what happened.” Ross cocked his head and directed his attention to Lamon. After patiently waiting for Lamon, Gabby and Corbett to tell their stories, he scratched his head and asked, “How many people know this?”
“Not many,” Lamon replied. “Not many would believe it, but it is indeed true. We cannot bring Edwin Stanton before a court on charges but we can make sure he is driven from public office. He must never have the opportunity to stage a clandestine coup again.”
“So it all comes down to my vote,” Ross announced simply. “I can set America aright with just one ‘No’ vote.” He paused to shake his head. “However, I still don’t know if I can trust any of you to be telling the truth.”

Davy Crockett’s Butterfly Chapter Twenty-Eight

When Davy opened his eyes the next morning he frowned. He did not want to tell Harriet and her father he had decided to leave. Climbing down the ladder he saw Griffith and his daughter already at the table eating breakfast. Harriet looked up and smiled.
“Well, hello, sleepyhead,” she said.
Griffith looked over his shoulder at him, his eyes solemn. “Good morning, Master Davy.”
Grinning his best, he joined them, loaded his trencher with biscuits, eggs and ham in thick slices. After a few minutes of happy banter about how the air had turned crisp much earlier in the season than usual, Davy became quiet.
“I have to leave,” he said in a whisper.
“What?” Harriet asked.
“Master Davy has to leave, dear,” her father said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to nor has he made his decision lightly.”
“You’re right, sir,” he replied, nodding in agreement. “When I went to the store yesterday afternoon Mister Goodell made it clear that he ain’ goin’ to give up this missin’ captain matter any time soon. I think it’d be best for everyone if I left. With me gone, I don’t think Constable Franks will poke around no more.”
“So you’re disappearing,” Harriet said, only just concealing her anger. “After living with us, and working for us and—and making me fall in love with you—“
“Harriet,” her father interrupted. “I told you I’m sure Master Davy didn’t come by this decision easily.”
“Besides,” Davy continued, looking down at his trencher, “I miss my ma and sisters sorely.” He looked up at her. “I told you, Harriet, how much I miss my ma. You know that.”
“Yes, I know.” She pinched her lips in consternation.
“The reason I left in the first place was ‘cause I was scared of gittin’ a beatin’. I’m too big for that now.” He paused to see if Harriet had a comment; she did not. “And I imagine they need me. Pa’s always in debt for one thing or another, and I’ll have to work it off.”
After a few minutes of silence as they ate, Griffith pushed aside his trencher, stood and announced, “Of course, you’re right, Master Davy. The sooner you leave the better. Goodell or Franks might show up again at any time, and it’ll be the devil to pay for sure.”
“I guess you’re right,” Davy mumbled.
Putting his hand in his pocket, Griffith pulled out a couple of dollar coins and handed them to him. “I wish I had more to give you, but I seem to—“ His voice trailed off as he looked out the window. “Why don’t you two young people go for a walk in the woods while I put together your bundle? Be careful no one sees you.”
Davy and Harriet went outside, looked down the path toward Christiansburg and walked up the hill into the trees. At first she resisted holding his hand but relented when they stopped under their favorite tree. No words were exchanged, but he watched her face as it twisted with pain. She burst into sobs, falling into his arms, alternately hugging him and hitting him with tight fists.
“Please don’t leave me! Why do you have to do this? What am I going to do? I can’t live with father without you. He’s—he’s so sick and I can’t take it all by myself.” Tears flooded down her cheeks, and strands of blonde hairs matted on her face.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I’m really sorry, but I can’t stay.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your pa and me, we lied to you about Captain Stasney.”
Wiping her eyes, she peered at him with curiosity and asked, “Lied?”
“The captain chased me into the woods.” He nodded further up the hill. “Way, way up there. I tripped, and he was about to attack me when your pa jumped on his back. After a big tussle, he killed ‘im.”
“That’s self-defense,” she said. “Constable Franks can see that.”
“Not after we lied for the past two days.”
“So that’s that.” Sighing, she stepped away to lean against the tree.
As he looked at her sad blue eyes, askew blonde hair and pink lips, Davy had an idea which sprang from his mouth before he had a chance to consider it too deeply. “Come to Tennessee with me,” he said. “We can git married in Morristown. I’ll hire myself out to a farmer and make money so we can set up housekeepin’. I love you so much. Come with me. There’s nothin’—nothin’ but problems here for you. We’ll be so happy.” He held his head close to hers. “Please say yes. Say yes.”
“No.” Her voice was soft but firm.
Davy stepped away.
“Father needs me too much.” She looked him in the eyes with serious determination. “Before all this broke open, Mister Goodell, who was trying to be helpful, I suppose, told me all about mercury poisoning. Father is slowly going mad, and he’s going to die. I have to be here to take care of him.” She smiled with sad irony. “Unlike some people I know, I can’t run away.”
“You don’t hate me, do you?” He took her hand. “I don’t think I could take it if you said you hated me.”
“How could I hate you when I love you so much?” She squeezed his hand.
“I’m sorry about your pa.” He paused. “Have you given much thought about what you’ll do after he—well, you know, after he—“
“Get married, I suppose,” she replied without much emotion.
“No,” he said. “Miss Dorcas, she’s a nice lady. Go live with her. She can teach you how to make dresses.” He held her in his arms with tenderness and whispered, “Please don’t marry nobody you don’t love.”
“If I can’t marry you,” she said, her voice cracking, “it doesn’t make any difference who I marry.”
He kissed her soft lips, choking back tears. They hugged in desperation because it was for the last time.
They turned to see Griffith standing at the bottom of the hill, looking around nervously and waving the packed bag.


I am a storyteller.
Upon reflection, it is a poor career choice. Storytellers were probably one of the first professions. Everyone enjoyed traveling minstrels who could make you laugh, cry, be scared or pluck any other emotional string of your heart. They put their hats on the ground, and you dropped in any coin you wished.
We haven’t had a pay raise in five thousand years.
I’m almost seventy, so I’m too old to change jobs. Besides I was really ineffectual at everything else I tried. And I have to admit I think I’ve gotten better at storytelling. On what criteria I based that is unscientific at best.
Over the years I have been told I haven’t grown up yet. Another said they hadn’t seen anyone go from sixty to six in six seconds before. I’ve been cut off in mid-sentence by good church people because I used terrible words like Halloween or witch. Some people think it’s funny to interrupt to ask questions about a phrase I used which doesn’t really influence the story. Or a few like to blurt out the end of the story early to let everyone else know how smart they are to figure it out.
Then there are the people who sit there and smile. Some parents like to take pictures of their children smiling at my stories. One lady said she had just left her husband in the hospital and came to the event where I was performing because she had promised a friend she would attend. Then she heard my stories and they made her feel better. I’ve had parents tell me they’ve never had their children sit still that long before.
The truth is these stories jump into my head and they won’t leave unless I share them with someone. If I don’t tell them I think I get emotionally constipated (Can I say that? I already did so it doesn’t matter.)
I’ve seen a lot of entertainers on television in the last few years who claim in interviews that they are storytellers, whether they be actors, musicians, film editors, directors, whatever. I don’t know if I like them claiming my profession. Why can’t they just be happy with all the fame and fortune?
That reminds me. Do you know the difference between a storyteller and a politician? A politician makes a lot more money. Besides when I tell a bad story people can just walk away, buy some kettle corn and forget the whole unfortunate incident. When a politician tells a bad story it becomes law and everyone is stuck with it for years.
Genuine storytellers know they won’t change the world. They won’t make it a better place, but they won’t make it a worse one either. I do know many people who are high-minded crusaders who want to make the planet a better place. I admire their courage, determination and tenacity. More power to them.
But I must settle for what I do. For a brief moment in time I can look into someone’s eyes, smile, tell a little story that doesn’t mean anything in particular and help make the cares of the world go away.

Sins of the Family Chapter Twenty-Five

Jill spotted a large rock overhang with an opening just large enough for her to scoot underneath it. Looking around, she fell to the moist ground and slid through the cavity. For the first time in several hours Jill had a quiet moment to consider what was happening. The dread her father had experienced, and she had perceived in him all her life, had become a palpable actuality to her. Now she understood why her mother drank too much. She knew why her grandmother had that startled look in her eyes when anyone ever mentioned World War Two, Adolph Hitler or Nazis. The line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth flitted through her mind, “Blood will have blood,” and made her shiver. Her family’s worst nightmare was coming true, and Jill was in the middle of it.
After several deep breaths, Bob was able to bring his pulse rate under control; his temples no longer throbbed with rushing blood. He became aware that one leg was higher than the other. Looking down, he saw his foot on a large, rough limb. Bob picked it up, finding the wood saturated but solid and hard, and a credible weapon. He had never hit another person in his entire life, but he steeled himself to the prospect he might have to strike out tonight to save himself and his wife.
Rustling leaves caused Bob to jump. Focusing his eyes through a prickly bush, he saw John coming toward him. The Cherokee paused in front of his hiding place to look around in frustration. Bob stared into the back of John’s head and thought of all the reasons why he should hate him. For the first time in his life, he found happiness and peace in his love for Jill, and John, in his insane attempt to lash out at life’s cruelties which afflict everyone, destroyed his own personal Eden. Even if he and Jill survived, they would never regain their innocent belief that their love would shield them from anything the world could throw at them. That was just cause for a hard-edged hatred capable of crashing the branch into John. Bob’s fingers tightened around the wet wood.
John’s body tensed, his head turning to the left. Bob saw feral, animal instincts in his eyes and heard his quickened breath. Bob was so close; all he had to do was bring his club down with all his might and smash into John’s skull, killing him straight away. Without their leader, the boys would scatter, and Bob’s nightmare would be over. Again John tensed, took a step forward but stopped. Bob sensed his opportunity to take back his life was passing fast. For terrorizing Jill, John deserved to die. For his insanity, he deserved to be put out of his misery. Either born of hatred or mercy, Bob’s urge to murder John became a life force into itself. Without warning, John turned and darted through blackness to the left. Bob’s heart sank. His chance had passed to prove what most people would describe as his manhood. Once again inconsequential frightened Bob Meade bumped into the intravenous feeding line, ripped a needle from his mother’s frail arm and shrank from her plea for one last embrace. He hated himself.
Mike continued to stumble through underbrush, becoming more frustrated by his helplessness in finding his brother, the man who called himself Moses or that other man or woman. Several minutes passed since he last heard from Randy or John. Maybe they were all lost, never to be found again. Mike did not want to be bothered with finding the skinny man or someone called Pharaoh. He wanted to bump into that princess. Thinking about her made him tingle with excitement. A branch smacked him under his cheek, stinging his skin. He brushed aside the limb, touched his tender face with his beefy hand and held his fingers close to his eyes to see blood. Mike winced, trying not to whimper at the pain. Randy laughed at him when he cried at being hurt, and he did not want Randy to catch him crying. He narrowed his eyes and clinched his teeth.
“Stupid princess. She’s gonna pay for this.”
Jill stifled a gasp as a snake slithered past her nose. Hearing a crunch of leaves on the forest floor, she held her breath. Her eyes focused on a pair of worn tennis shoes in front of the rock overhang. She knew it had to be one of the boys by the impatient shifting of feet, but she could not decide which brother she feared most it would be. The smaller, more intense one scared her because of his explosive anger, and she feared the larger, more muscular teen because of the lust in his eyes. Discovery by either would be a descent into hell.