Monthly Archives: January 2017

Cancer Chronicles

I am a storyteller and part-time actor. That means if I’m offered the chance to parade around for the public amusement for next to no money I grab it every time.
Right now I’m playing an Italian grandmother in a dinner theater mystery. I put on a large black dress, black high heel shoes, one rolled down black hose, and around my neck a cross and a ram’s horn.
All I needed was a wig. On my dresser is Janet’s wig which she wore after chemotherapy made her hair fall out. What better way to defy cancer’s power than to use that wig to make people laugh. I know that Janet would have found it hysterical.
I also used her large black purse from which I pulled a crucifix, prayer cards and a pair of Depends. On the night of the dress rehearsal I reached inside the bag and pulled out a card.
It was a theater ticket to the last play in which Janet watched me perform. It happened to have been directed by the same person who was directing the mystery play. I showed the ticket to him, and on his face I saw all the grief and compassion that I know dwells in the hearts of my friends.
This is how a broken heart begins to heal.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Four

“We’re going to Steve Walker’s on Fifth Street, a little north of here.” After a pause, he continued, “I enjoy hunting also. Spent most of my youth on horseback scouring the wooded countryside for small game to shoot. My mother lectured me severely for leaving the dead carcasses on the ground instead of bringing them home for the cook to produce an evening meal. Never cared much for wild game. But I loved the hunt. Ah, Steve Walker’s. I told you it wouldn’t take long.”
Baker looked around trying to remember if he had ever been in this tavern before. A well-dressed bartender attended the intricately carved sideboard. Fresh-faced tipplers affected a stance to display their attire to the best advantage. Baker decided such a place would have never interested him. The old warrior had no patience for men who avoided soiling their hands from hard work.
After depositing his guest at a table, Bruton went to the bar to place his order. When he returned, he had two small trays holding four shot glasses filled with whiskey and placed one in front of Baker while reserving the second for himself.
“I’m so proud. I didn’t spill a drop. If I had not become a lawyer, I would have made a good waiter. Extending his hand, he tapped the rim of each glass. “Four of the finest whiskies in Philadelphia. I am anxious for you to taste them and tell me which one you like best.”
Baker grabbed Bruton’s right hand, tugged off the soft leather glove and turned it over to examine the palm. Even in the dim light he could discern the remnants of callouses. The young man pulled his hand back, blinked several times before forcing out a light-hearted snigger.
“Excuse my blunt behavior,” Baker explained in a slur, returning the glove to the owner. “It’s just you can learn a lot about a man’s character by the condition of his hands. Though rather pampered now, I can detect a trace of callouses from years past.”
With a natural flair, Bruton fitted the glove back on his hand. “Years of gripping the reins as I galloped through the countryside, my friend.” He sat with aplomb and picked up one of the shots. “Try this one first. The dark amber. It has a nutty aftertaste I think you will like.”
Baker lifted his glass and paused, hesitant because of his experience with English ale. Finally he sipped, then gulped. “Not bad.”
“I’m so pleased.” He leaned back in his chair, his head now completely cloaked in darkness. “So you are considering another appearance before Congress.” Bruton paused as Baker downed his second round of whiskey. “Did you like that blend? I have to admit it’s not one of my favorites but is not without its merits.”
Shrugging, Baker said, “Whiskey is whiskey.” He squinted a couple of times, trying to focus. “They do have a kick, for sure.”
“What you need is a good lawyer to protect your interests in front of Congress. As I said, I’m a lawyer. I would be very proud to represent you. No charge. For patriotism, shall I say?”
“So did you serve in the Army?” Baker glanced at the third whiskey. Only one or two more drinks, and his brain would land in a blissful world of benign acceptance of mere existence.
“To my disgrace, I did not,” Bruton replied with controlled contrition. “My father insisted upon hiring a substitute. Dirty business it was.”
“Dirty business,” he grunted. “You don’t know dirty business like I know it.” He drank his third, and added, “The master of dirty business is former Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. God, I hate that man.”
“You are not the only person who feels that way, I’m sure.”
“Is there a piss pot around here someplace? I gotta go real bad.”
“The cleanest facilities in the drinking district are at the finest establishment, Louis Lesieur’s. On Seventh Street, only two blocks away. And after you relieve yourself, you must have Louis’s cognac, the best liquor in the city. But first you must try your fourth whiskey. I promise it will be the best.”
Baker leaned forward, his mouth agape. He tried to focus on Bruton’s four glasses. “But—but you haven’t finished your first drink.”
“Your mind is playing tricks on you. I’ve finished all of them. Now be a good fellow, drink, drink, drink.”
He gagged as he guzzled the last shot. A definite distress rippled through his gut. “I don’t feel so good. I need to get home.”
“I will be insulted if you do not join me at Louis’s. After all, I am offering my vast legal experience to you at no charge.”

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Three

Someone tapped Lafayette Baker’s shoulder, causing him to look to left. There stood slender young dandy, dressed in a tailored suit, adorned with a silk cravat stuck with a diamond pin. He posed elegantly, leaning a pearl-handled cane. “It isn’t fair, isn’t it, Mr. Baker? There you risked your life in the service of your country, and soft clotheshorses like me discount your stories as nothing more than sweet apples hawked at a street market. I say we round them all up and kick them in the ass.”
Baker detected a Boston accent. He tried scrutinizing the man’s face but the flickering light of the tavern made that difficult. Most of the time Baker did not waste his time on dandies, but this one appealed to his ego, which was bruised to the extreme at this moment. Eventually he chuckled.
“Let me buy you a drink, friend.”
“No, it will be my honor to buy you all the drinks you wish, but not the swill in this establishment.” The young man pulled coins from the breast pocket of his brocaded waistcoat and tossed them on the bar. He put a gloved hand on Baker’s shoulder to guide him from his stool to the door and on the street. “You look like a sportsman, sir. Our first stop should be Dick Perriston’s on Chestnut just south of Fifth Street. Dick is known for his fine old English ale.”
Baker found himself being whisked along Ridge Avenue to a better neighborhood of saloons. The young man used his pearl-handled cane deftly to push aside those who did not move fast enough.
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir. You seem to know everything about me, and I don’t even know your name.”
“Roman Bruton,” the young man said with a laugh. “Isn’t it a perfectly horrendous name? My parents honeymooned in Italy many years ago and became fascinated by everything about Rome, hence my rather pompous given name.” He nudged Baker. “My middle name is even worse. Cassius, if you can believe it. You should see the family home in Boston. My parents fashioned the parlor after an atrium. Both Papa and Mama came from wealthy shipping families so they are shamefully ostentatious in their consumption of the finer things in life. I enjoy my comforts but there are limits, don’t you think?” Before Baker could answer, Bruton lifted his cane to tap the swinging sign over the saloon door. “Here we are, Dickie Perriston’s.” He laughed loudly. “He hates it when I call him Dickie.”
Inside Bruton forced their way to an empty table in a corner and pulled a chair out for Baker. “I much prefer sitting at a table than at the bar, don’t you?” Again he continued, not waiting for a reply. “I’ll be back with a couple of ales.” Immediately he disappeared in the crowd.
Baker was at a loss to explain how he lost control of the evening. He would have been perfectly content to drink the evening away in the seamier district, but this dandy took over with such positive energy, Baker did not mind. He even felt flattered, an emotion he rarely experienced. Bruton bustled back and plopped two mugs of the famous ale on the table, pushing one over to the older man.
“So, tell me, Mr. Baker, what is your sport of choice?” Bruton asked as he lifted his mug and imbibed.
“I enjoy hunting. In fact, my brother-in-law had invited me for a short hunting trip into the woods just beyond the city west side. I frankly wasn’t up to it.”
“I am not surprised.” He leaned in, revealing a glimpse of his chin in the lamp light. “Here you are, an American hero, protecting the men who made the decisions that won the war, and no one appreciates you. I read your book. Fascinating.”
Baker found Bruton rather long-winded, but he decided the young man’s flamboyance gave him time to appreciate his ale. The palate was a bit disconcerting, but he had never indulged in an English ale before and perhaps it was an acquired taste.
“I look forward to your new account in the British magazine.” He paused to wipe the foam away from his moustache. “What was the name of it again?”
Colson’s United Service Magazine. It has a limited circulation. I doubt if you will find a copy.” Baker finished his mug and pushed it away.
“Then you must tell me what’s in it. But first let me refresh your drink.” Again, Bruton popped away to the bar.
Putting both hands to his forehead, Baker checked himself for perspiration. Summer in Philadelphia could be muggy, but he swore he felt more like a fever was creeping across his brow. It was a sensation he had never undergone on any of his rampages through saloon row anywhere in the country. Interrupting Baker’s self-diagnosis, Bruton appeared and placed a fresh mug in front of him.
“Now, tell me, what nuggets of government scandal do you have to share?”
Baker sipped the ale and decided the undertones were not growing on him. “For one thing, John Wilkes Booth did not act alone; that is, there was more to the conspiracy than his small band of henchmen.”
“You don’t say.”
“If I can find the courage to return to Congress with a request for a new hearing, all of America will know the breadth of the evil that manipulated the fate of the war.”
“I figured as much myself.”
He frowned and pushed away the mug. “I’m sorry. I can seem to get accustomed to this ale. I know it is impolite to decline a gentleman’s generosity but—“
“No need to say more,” Bruton interrupted with a smile. “If you take but one more sip, I will take you to a much finer establishment than this. It’s known for its wide selection of incomparable whiskies.”
After a brief deliberation, Baker shrugged, upended the mug and drained it. After all, he did not want to seem unappreciative of Bruton’s hospitality. With a heavy haze settling on his brain, Baker yielded completely as his young companion led him down another street.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Three

Mary went with me to the Beverly Hills Hotel that Saturday night, Dec. 6, 1941. We got home and went right to bed. We had tickets to the football game at the Gilmore Stadium. The game was between the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Bears. As we walked into the stadium we heard the public address announcer keep repeating, “All service personnel report immediately to your unit.”
Pearl Harbor was under attack. All during the game others sitting next to us with radios kept getting news updates about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Many left but some of us stayed and watched the game. There was nothing else we could do. I was due on the ballroom stand for the eight o’clock dinner show and an NBC remote broadcast at nine. Japanese submarines were reported off the California coast, and all non-emergency radio transmissions were canceled including our broadcast as a precaution against the Japanese monitoring the radio signal.
Monday was our day off. The whole nation was in shock and turmoil. I was only 20 years old and had not yet signed up for the draft. No one knew my real age; all thought I was much older. All the guys in my band were married except Rusty my bassist. They all had signed up for the draft, but had not yet been called. Bill Hamilton, my lead alto man, had left the band to join Rudy Vallee’s Coast Guard Band in San Pedro. Millard Lundy had replaced him. We kept our regular Beverly Hills Hotel schedule.
Things in Hollywood were fast getting on a war footing. The Hollywood USO Canteen on Hollywood Boulevard was swamped every night. Soldiers, Marines, and Navy men got to dance with Hollywood stars, starlets and “hope to be” girls. Some local big bands played there every night. I played there with my full band many Tuesday afternoons at about five for a couple of hours as a freebie. Some Sunday afternoons Loretta Young would do a special “charity for children.”
As the war progressed, the hotel cut back to Friday and Saturday nights, and sometimes a Sunday afternoon. I was late for the early broadcast on February 28, 1942, the only one I ever missed. When I walked on the stand one of the band members, Ray Lee, was “pissed.”
“Where in the hell have you been?” he yelled at me.
They all knew it was my birthday but he did not know how old I really was. Without thinking I said, “I had to sign up for the draft.”
Total shock. But I was still the boss.
The hotel had cut back, but there was plenty of work now for bands, and we worked steadily enough so that none of us had to take other jobs. The Army Air Corps base near Lancaster, California, about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles then known as the Muroc Air Base, was built on the desert sands, flat, hot, and dry. It was later renamed Edwards Air Force Base. The commander, a colonel, came into the hotel several times with the Hollywood crowd and fell in love with our band. He and I struck up a friendship. Several other area air bases, Navy stations, and Marine bases received orders for 28-piece military bands. Soon every base and station in Southern California had a band made up of the best musicians AFM local 47 boasted.
The colonel received authorization for the 356th Army Air Corps band to be stationed at the Muroc Army Air Base. Arrangements were made with officials of the local musicians’ union. Hal Neely was appointed Civilian Air Corps Recruiter to enlist 26 musicians who formed the nucleus of said 356th band. A warrant officer was appointed commanding officer. A technical sergeant and a staff sergeant in the service Air Corps musicians would be transferred along with the warrant officer to the 356th.
I sent the word out. Eight guys from my band would enlist with me. We needed another 18 top-flight musicians from the local area. In my discussions with the colonel he decided we would want at least three dance bands at the base: one at the Officers club, one at the NCO club, and one at the USOA club. The orders for a military band did not list piano. We would need three. So, one pianist was called a drummer, one a clarinetist, and one a trombonist. It would work.
Mary was a secretary at the Douglas Aircraft Company. We lived in a small apartment just off the USC campus. At 10 a.m. November 11, 1942, 26 of us enlisted in the Army Air Corps 356 band. We took our physical examinations. All were declared fit.
A lieutenant said, “Neely, take your men on the bus down to the San Pedro Army Air Corps indoctrination station.”
About seven that night a sergeant said, “Sgt. Neely, take your men to the bus which will take you to the Los Angeles train station where you will board the train for Victorville. You will be met by a truck which will take you to the Muroc Air Base. Welcome to the Army Air Corps and good luck.”
I still remember that moment. It was the first salute I ever made in the Air Corps.
In our new uniforms, with our new duffel bags, we all climbed aboard the bus. It was about a three-hour drive over the mountains through the Mohave Desert to the base. We got there about two o’clock that night. I picked out a cot and sat down. It had been a long day. At seven the next morning, our new tech sergeant (a baritone player) barked, “Up and out, form up and meet your new CO.”
All that bullshit. Then back in the sack. That afternoon a lieutenant in a jeep came to get me. “Sergeant, shape up. The colonel wants to see you.”
I was ushered right into the colonel’s office. I saluted and stood at attention.
“Sergeant, glad you made it. Can you play some dances tomorrow night?”
“No sir, we don’t have our instruments, and I’m sure the guys will want their own. We won’t have any of our arrangements.”
“Are they at home, and when can you get them?”
“In LA, and any time.”
“If you get your horns how many bands could you have for Saturday night?”
With that, the colonel waved a hand at the lieutenant. “Arrange a 24-hour pass and transport to LA for the men Sgt. Neely needs, arrange it with their warrant officer. Have them back on the base by Saturday afternoon.”
Our new boss was no bullshit. Get the job done. Imagine that. In the Army less than 24 hours and got a 30-hour pass. Our warrant officer was regular Army Air Force, a schooled military parade band man, not into dance bands nor were our tech sergeant and staff sergeant. Back at the barracks the lieutenant had a meeting with our warrant officer. I had a meeting with the guys we would use in the three bands. The piano players also wanted to go along. It was arranged. We were on our way within an hour.
We stopped at the first gas station in Lancaster, and all the guys called home.
“We will be there this afternoon. Meet us at Hollywood and Vine.”
Saturday we assembled at Hollywood and Vine. Some of the guys elected to take their own cars back to the base. We got back to Muroc about 3 p.m. I took the band at the officers club. Ray Lee took the NCO band and our little jazz trumpet player took the band at the USO club. That night during a break, the colonel beckoned me over to his table.
“Sergeant, you probably don’t know it, but we have a large base sick bay here. They never get any entertainment. Would it be possible for you to arrange something some Sunday?”
“Yes sir, but what kind of program would you suggest?”
“Oh, something light, something that would fit. Ask your officer.”
I discussed it with our warrant officer. He had no ideas. I thought we could put together a brass choir type ensemble which could do the job. We could get some scores in LA. A problem, however, was that we would need a French horn. We had no such player. But there was a French horn in the store room. My brother Sam had played a French horn in high school, and I had fooled around on it several times. I figured with a little practice I could cut it. We practiced and were ready. Years after the war I would play French horn and valve trombone along with cornet and trumpet with my own band.
Saturday morning was a review. Saturday night dances. On some Sundays we would entertain at the hospital. It went well and was always appreciated. After the hospital concert we could cut out for LA on a pass. On some special Sundays we would play a band concert in some LA park with our warrant officer conducting. Great public relations for the corps. This resulted in a regular three-day pass for the whole band, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, back to the base on Wednesday. A parade Saturday morning, the dances Saturday night. A regular routine. It a was good fun service year.
In September of 1943 a captain came to get me. “The colonel wants to see you, pronto, get into uniform.”
I was ushered in. As usual no bullshit.
“Sergeant, this is going to be a long war. I think you are very intelligent and would make a good Air Corps officer. I would like to see you go to Officers Candidate School in Miami Beach.”
“Yes sir, I would like that.”
“I thought that would be your answer so I have already enrolled you. There is a slight problem, and this is still a classified secret. I am being transferred to Washington as a one-star general. You can have a short leave on the way to Washington if you wish. When can you leave?”
“Today, sir.”
As always no bullshit. I did not call Mary. Caught a ride to LA. Took a cab to our apartment. She was surprised and of course a little apprehensive. It probably meant my going to war, but as always Mary was supportive of what I wanted to do. We talked most of the night. She still had our 1938 four-door Pontiac that was in good shape. It was her idea we call our good Lyons friends, now living close by in LA, Herb and Gertie Beigornberg to see if they would like to ride along to Lyons with us. A fast trip, but with all of us driving we could drive straight through. I would catch a train in Fremont and they would head back to LA. Herb and Gertie were both working but could easily get off. We left two nights later. I was able to get a bunch of gas tickets. The speed limit was 35 mph. Everything went well. Gertie’s family lived in Lyons. Mary and I stayed at her family’s farm.

Ben Hur, Done That

Bobby couldn’t believe his luck. His father was actually taking him to the drive-in movies to see Ben-Hur. All his classmates saw it in the walk-in theaters and raved about the sea battle and the chariot race. It showed this one guy scraping the skin off his leg trying to get his chains off. And a lot of guys fall off their chariots and get run over by the horses. This was great stuff.
Bobby didn’t go to many movies since he turned twelve the price went up. The drive-in, on the other hand, were only a dollar a carload. They used to go to the drive-in all the time when Bobby’s brothers lived at home. Five people and only one dollar. His mother didn’t feel like going anywhere anymore. When Ben-Hur came to the local drive-in, Bobby tried to talk his father into taking him. It would be 50 cents per person, dangerously close to what the walk-in theater charged.
“For God’s sake, Grady! Take the damn boy to see the boy to see the damn movie! I’m tired of listening to all his whining!”
So there they sat in their car in the darkness and waited for the screen to go black and the music to come up. By the time Ben-Hur’s boyhood Roman friend came home and tried to talk him into giving him the names of Jewish dissidents, Bobby’s father dropped off asleep, his head flung back against the seat and his mouth wide open. The snoring was deafening. When the soldiers broke through the front door to take Ben-Hur away for throwing a rock at a general, Bobby’s dad fell into the steering wheel, setting off the horn. A group of men charged the car.
“We spent a whole dollar to see this movie! We want to hear it too! Wake him up!
“Mommy said never to wake daddy up,” Bobby whimpered. “She said he would get mad.”
“Well, I don’t give damn if he gets mad or not!” one big man yelled as he jerked open the car door.
Bobby’s father fell out face first into the gravel. The car horn stopped, and the snoring was muffled. The men went back to their cars. Bobby had a tough time concentrating on the rest of the movie. He even missed the part when the guy scraped the skin off his ankle on the boat, because Bobby kept looking at this father lying on the ground. The snoring stopped but if Bobby looked closely he could still see his body go up and down as he breathed. Mom would definitely be upset if he came home with daddy dead. He was supposed to mow the lawn the next morning. Bobby couldn’t keep up with the chariot race. He thought Ben-Hur had the white horses and the Roman the black, but he didn’t know for sure.
By the time Jesus rose from the grave and Ben-Hur decided he didn’t hate anybody anymore, Bobby’s father coughed and snorted, sitting up abruptly on the gravel and then crawling back into his car.
“Ain’t this damn movie over yet?”
“Yes, Daddy. It’s over.”
“It’s about time. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.”

Toby Chapter Three

Harley and Billie strolled down the main street of Cameron which stood amidst fields of corn, wheat and sorghum. Harley waved his arms with wild abandon, describing how he always wanted to be something different from a poor dirt farmer. He explained a traveling actor made as little as the people who scraped out a living from the earth. At least he made people laugh, he said. Billie’s eyes sparkled as she absorbed every word.
“And now you’re the principal comedian for a large traveling tent show,” she said in a breathless, awe-filled voice. “My, that is an impressive title.”
Harley stopped abruptly in the middle of the town square, his eyes wide with surprise and hope. The street lamps which dotted downtown cast dewy light, softening the harsh realities of life and creating a romantic illusion.
“You think so? I mean, of course it is.” He was glad Billie could not see him blush. “It—it took years of hard work and learning my craft….” His voice trailed off when he realized how pompous he was sounding. “That was kind of silly, wasn’t it?”
“Oh no, of course not.” Billie reached out to pat Harley’s hand.
“All of a sudden I thought of Mama. She always had a way of bringing me down to earth.”
“”What do you mean?” Billie crinkled her forehead in concern and sympathy. She revealed herself to be wise beyond her years.
Harley kicked the grass and began his story.
“Right before we came here we played Avoca. You know Avoca?”
“No,” she replied softly.
“It’s my hometown. My folks run a small farm. Me and my brothers and sisters helped with the chores. One day I was hoeing the cornfield when I saw some mean dark, menacing clouds form over the western horizon. I kept hoeing and looking up at the skies. Well, finally I had had enough of this. I threw down my hoe and marched home. I called back over my shoulder, ‘You can stay out there and get struck by lightning but I’m going home, where all God-fearing people blessed with common sense are.’”
Harley paused long enough to decipher the look on Billie’s face. He did not know if she believed every word he said or decided he was verifiably insane and was figuring how she could escape his clutches. He shook his head ruefully.
“Those rain clouds never came close to us. Mama was absolutely furious, saying I must be the laziest boy this side of the Pecos River. Papa, on the other hand, thought I was the funniest boy he ever did see and told me if there was a way to make money for making people laugh, I ought to do it.”
Billie giggled, which encouraged him to finish his story which he feared was the longest story he’d told anywhere.
“The next thing I knew I was working for Mr. Fox in his tent show travelling all through Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Kansas.” He took off his straw boater and scratched his head. “So I got my parents free tickets when we played in Avoca.”
“How nice!” Billie beamed. “Did they like it?”
Harley shifted his stance. He realized he was showing her the real Harley Sadler which made him uncomfortable.
“Mama, she just sat there after the show, tapping her foot. I walked up and asked, ‘So what do you think?’ Finally she looked up and smiled real sweet and said, ‘I guess it was pretty good. I really liked the music.’ She paused to compose her thoughts and added, ‘But Harley, don’t you think it’s about time you got a job?”
“Why, that’s a terrible thing to say!” Billie put her hands on her hips in protest. “Acting is a wonderful job. And hard work too, I’d say. But a wonderful job.”
Harley’s heart leapt. No one had ever come to his defense before. Almost everyone in Avoca agreed with Mama. He should get a real job. Except for Papa. He didn’t say much but he grinned a lot.
“You think so?” He wanted Billie to tell him more about how wonderful he was. “You really think so?”
She pointed to a white wood clapboard house with a large porch and sturdy railing.
“There’s my house. Mama and Papa left the front porch lamp lit for us. Sit on the swing with me for a while.”
They walked up the stairs and sat on the swing. The air was thick with the scent of honeysuckle. Harley, for once, could not think of anything to say. Eventually the silence overwhelmed him. He started whistling an indiscernible tune.
“Be quiet,” Billie cut him off. “Mama and Papa are already in bed. Burnie too.”
“My brother. He’s such a lamb. So gentle.”
They lapsed into another silence. Since he was not allowed to whistle, Harley went back to his favorite topic—himself.
“So you think being an actor—traveling around in a tent show—would be a wonderful life?”
“It is for you, isn’t it??” She stared at him, fluttering her eyes.
“Oh, of course.” Harley blurted. Her reply caught him off-guard. “I sometimes wonder though, um, you know, how people who live in towns, well towns like, um, Cameron here, would feel about living with a tent show.”
A smiled flitted across her full lips. “What an odd thing to wonder.”
Harley realized this evening was not going exactly the way he planned. Was she just playing a joke on him? Was entertainment so rare in small Texas towns that girls liked to trifle with young men’s affections just to watch them squirm? When he left town tomorrow night, would she tell her friends how much fun it was to break a stranger’s heart? The thought of such palpable disappointment forced him to stand and go to the railing. He leaned out to stare up into the darkness.
“Clear sky tonight,” he whispered. “Clear skies are always good for business.”
“I imagine so.”
Lying down precariously on the railing, Harley cleared his throat.
“Oh yes, I know all about these things. As principal comedian I….” His voice dried up again. Bragging on himself was not really who he was. What he was good at was making people happy. Why was he so foolish to think any woman would be interested in Harley instead of Toby? He closed his eyes to keep from crying. It had been ten years since the last time he cried. He was in high school and he tried to talk to a girl at a school dance in the gymnasium.
“The weather is unusual warm for this time of year, don’t you think?” he had asked the girl.
“The dance is beginning to smell like a basketball game,” he added. When she laughed, he thought he was making progress.
“I apologized,” she said, the giggle still in her voice. “I don’t usually laugh at boys like you. I’m a church girl, but your rubber face is too silly to resist laughing at.”
He didn’t talk to another girl for a whole year.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Billie’s voice was almost breathless yet charged with an electricity Harley had never heard before.
“They ain’t worth that much. I’ll give them to you for free.”
“That’s a bargain. What are you thinking?”
“I was just wondering—oh, nothing.”
“What do you want?” Her question was pointed but not intimidating.
“What?” He felt so confused. Harley never realized confusion was one of the symptoms of falling in love.
“What do you want out of life? Do you want to be Toby the rest of your life?”
He could not look at her. He kept staring at the stars.
“I guess. Toby’s not so bad. He makes people laugh. Don’t you think people need to laugh?”
“Of course.” Billie paused as though she were giving the topic serious consideration. “But don’t you want to go to Hollywood?”
“Why go there when I can make people laugh right here?” he asked in earnest. “I can see them. That’s right. I can see them. I can hear them.” New ideas flooded his mind. “I know right then and there I made a difference in their life, even if it was just for a couple of hours. Besides, Hollywood’s not important. It’s all about making as much money as possible and showing off with a new big house and fancy cars. Being good to real honest-to-God people, that’s what is important. And if you’re good to people, good things happen to you.”
That’s right, he told himself. Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
“You can sit next to me, if you want to.” She spoke with kindness and romance.
Harley practically sprang from the railing onto the swing, immediately leaning into her face. Their eyes intently studied each other. Their heads, slowly but with determination, moved together until they kissed. When they separated, Billie pertly smiled and stood.
“I’ve got to go in now. Good night, Harley.”
After she went into her house, Harley continued to sit on the swing. The surprised look on his face slowly changed to contentment and more than just a little bit proud. Wow. A girl really did like him. Not Toby but him, Harley.

Cancer Chronicles

So there I was sitting on the couch New Year’s Eve with the dog watching clips of the best numbers from musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s. Watching the crowds in Times Square didn’t interested me much. Last year Janet slept through it.
That’s how we spent most of our New Year’s Eves. We never cared for being with a bunch of people who had too much to drink and therefore talked too loud and too much. I noticed the dog—a Chihuahua which weighs no more than eight pounds—was shivering. I looked around and then remembered I had put all the doggy blankets on to wash. I went to a closet and pulled out one and wrapped her up. She seemed content.
Then I noticed which one I had selected. It was a home-made quilt I bought from a local lady made quilts on a treadle sewing machine. I had picked out the colors I thought Janet would like and had the seamstress embroider a message on the back.
“You and No Other, Love Jerry, Christmas 2009.”
That was an expression men often had engraved on the back of bracelets for their wives in the 1700s. Sometimes they put it in French.
Tu, et non autre.
For one wedding anniversary I bought her a pewter pendant with the English on one side and French on the other. She liked it so much I decided to put it on the quilt too.
So there I sat on New Year’s Eve with the dog that used to cuddle with Janet wrapped up in the quilt made for Janet. Despite the ravenous cancer that took her physically away from me, Janet was still there on New Year’s Eve. We haven’t missed one together in 45 years. Nothing will change that.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Two

By summer of 1868 Lafayette Baker was back home in Philadelphia with his wife Jenny, a gentle woman who never inquired into her husband’s activities and his long absences. She merely appreciated the times he was with her. While he had told his associates that removing Edwin Stanton from the post of Secretary of War was enough justice, Baker now sat in his house without a job and with time to contemplate the situation.
He decided that Stanton had not suffered enough. Baker’s mind focused on a new crusade to punish the old asthmatic monster. But how? Every newspaper, magazine and publishing house in America would demand facts to substantiate each accusation. Questionable testimony from unreliable witnesses was precarious at best. Baker then remembered Colburn’s United Service Magazine published by a London printing house. The magazine published collections of memoirs of retired military personnel from around the world. Respectable journalists knew Colburn’s editors did not quibble over the accuracy of accounts as long as the grammar was reasonably sound. Baker determined this periodical would be the perfect platform for his new account on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
In his report, Baker claimed he first learned of the presidential murder plot on April 10, 1865. “I did not know the identity of the assassin, but I knew most all else when I approached Edwin Stanton about it,” he wrote. “Stanton told me I was a party to it too but ordered me not to do anything to stop it but to see what came of it and then we would know better how to handle it. He showed me a forged document that purported Andrew Johnson had authorized me to kidnap the President.” Most of this was fabrication—a code, he told himself–which the cleverest of the world’s detectives could decipher in years to come. He also claimed the plot included members of Congress, Army and Naval officers, a governor, bankers, newspapermen and industrialists, all of whom paid a total of $85,000 to have Lincoln killed. Baker added that only eight people knew all the details of the conspiracy, and that he feared for his life.
After the completion of the document, he carefully read it, and for a brief moment considered that he was going mad. Even his wife Jenny worried about his mental stability. He walked through the house each night, stopping to peer out of every window to see if anyone lurked in the shadows. He even cancelled hunting trips with his brother-in-law Wally Pollock and other close friends, outings that always had lifted his spirits long ago, before he was stricken with a conscience. Who knows what could happen, he explained to Jenny. Wally could accidentally shoot him, or a stranger could be stalking him in the woods. Jenny wrapped her arms around him. He’d worked himself into a delusion that he was about to be murdered, she supported her husband. Patting his tousled red hair, she whispered that she knew he had committed horrible crimes during the war but a desire to save his country had motivated him, not greed or evil intent.
“I know what will make you happy,” she announced with a sympathetic smile. “I’ll contact my sister Mary and her husband Wally to go out to dinner. You’ve always enjoyed a good meal in a pleasant restaurant. Then Mary and I will go home and you and Wally will make a round of bars to drink each other under the table.”
Baker shook his head. “No, no. That will just draw attention to me. He’ll spot me and kill me. I know he will.”
“Exactly who do you think would want to kill you?” Jenny asked, cocking her head.
“No one, really.” He tried to laugh away his outburst. “Actually, I have finished a new article for Colburn’s United Service Magazine. I’ll take it by the Post Office this afternoon, and then celebrate by myself. You won’t mind, will you, Jenny? You understand, my sweet?”
Philadelphia’s taverns huddled around the old financial district. Baker frequented all of the saloons. Each one drew a distinct clientele, all the way from wealthy businessmen and elite lawyers to actors, boxers and farmers. On this particular night, he drifted first to Paddy Carroll’s on Ridge Avenue just above Wood Street. Dog fighters gathered there. Baker had indulged in betting on the dogs while busting unions in San Francisco before the war. He liked the dog fighters. He understood how they justified in their own minds their way of making money while dogs bled to death.
Paddy himself tended bar. “Ah, Mr. Baker, ‘tis been awhile since ye have crossed me threshold. What will be ye pleasure?”
“The best whiskey you have.” He collapsed on a stool and folded his hands in front of his mouth. “I’m celebrating. I’ve sent off an article to a British magazine about Mr. Lincoln’s assassination. When it’s published, the whole world will know the truth.”
“De truth, Mr. Baker?” Paddy said with a laugh as he filled a shot glass. “I t’ought ye told de truth with your book last year?”
In one swift gulp, he downed the whiskey and pushed the glass back. “Another. There’s more damn truth about that business than can ever be told in a single lifetime.”
“And each time ye tell de truth, you become a richer man,” Paddy joked, putting the second round in front of Baker.
“I’m not telling the truth for money,” he growled as he sipped on his refilled shot glass . “There’s not enough money in the world to pay for the truth I know.”
“Of course, Mr. Baker, of course. As long as ye share some of dat money with me, ye can tell any kind of truth ye want.”