Monthly Archives: July 2017

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Nineteen

Previously in the book: War Stanton kidnaps President and Mrs. Lincoln and holds them under guard in the White House basement while he has installs lookalikes upstairs. Tad already realizes they are not his real parents, and Stanton is unsure how the fake Lincoln will handle his first cabinet meeting.
Stanton looked to the door and saw the last two Cabinet members enter, each trying to force the other to go first to allow for a grand entrance, but they ended up looking like a pair of buffoons. Buffoons they were, Stanton told himself, trying to control a smirk as they came to the table.
“Mr. Seward,” Duff said, “it’s reassuring to see a man who knows so much and can still smile.”
“Any occasion I can spend with you causes a smile, Mr. President,” Seward said blandly as he sat in one of the remaining wooden captain chairs and slouched down.
“Mr. Seward,” Duff said. “Pull the cord for Mr. Hay and Mr. Nicolay.”
“Yes, sir.”
Like Blair, Seward was a man Stanton could not trust. Not because of his bluntness, but because of his mystery and equivocating. The war secretary never knew where he stood with Seward, nor, indeed, where the former New York senator stood on anything. He hated the South, but loved Jefferson Davis. He could concede point after point in an argument until he won everything he wanted.
“Good evening, Mr. President,” Chase said as he sat, looking a bit smug and satisfied, which made Stanton flush with anticipation.
Chase would take the initiative, leaving the war secretary out of any suspicion of conspiracy. Stanton liked everything about Chase—except his ambition.
“Sorry to interrupt your evening, Mr. Nicolay and Mr. Hay,” Duff said as they entered, each with a pad and pen. “This shouldn’t take long at all.”
“That’s quite all right, Mr. President,” Nicolay said, sitting to the left of Duff.
Hay sat without a word to Duff’s right. Stanton lowered his eyelids as he studied the secretaries. Hay would not be a problem. He cared only for drinking and whoring. Nicolay, on the other hand, was intelligent, and might put small clues together to guess the truth. Perhaps a trip out west could be arranged for him if this project took longer than expected, Stanton mused.
“May I introduce my new adjutant, Private Adam Christy,” Duff said to an uninterested Cabinet.
Good, Stanton thought, he did not want the Cabinet to notice the change of guard.
“I have a letter for the Cabinet to consider.” Chase pulled it from his coat pocket. “It’s about the Army of the Potomac command problem.”
“There is no command problem,” Duff said, putting his hands to his face as if in prayer. “Only this week I reinstated General McClellan to that position, and expect him to perform to expectations.”
This itinerant farmer from Michigan was good, Stanton thought. It was good for him to resist the idea at first; hopefully, he would not make too good an argument for keeping McClellan.
“He assured me this was his intention when he spoke with me earlier today on his way out of the Capitol,” Welles said. “He said he was going forward. And I replied, ‘Well, onward, General, is now the word, the country will expect you to go forward.’” Welles paused to sigh. “I don’t think he detected the irony in my voice.”
“So will you please read us your letter, Mr. Treasury Secretary?” Duff said to Chase.
“Of course.”
Chase unfolded the sheet and began his recitation of objections to the general, who trained troops well but failed to engage them aggressively. Stanton nodded sagely at Chase’s words, until he reached his conclusion.
“Therefore, we the undersigned call for permanent dismissal of General George McClellan and instatement as commander of the Army of the Potomac General Joseph Hooker.”
Stanton’s head jerked as he looked at Chase, who turned to smile at him. The decision, he thought, had been for General Ambrose Burnside. Was it a misunderstanding, or was Chase instigating his first move toward his campaign for the presidency?
“Any comments?” Duff asked amiably. “Please?”
Interior Secretary Smith cleared his throat and leaned forward. “I, for one, could not sign such a document,” he said with a slight lisp. “Frankly, I appreciate General McClellan’s conservative approach. Killing thousands of our young men from the North will not in itself free any slaves, nor convince any Southerner to stay in the Union.”
“And I wonder about the legal repercussions of replacing generals so quickly,” Attorney General Bates added. “While I agree civil authority outranks the military—”
“This is war, dammit,” Stanton boomed, interrupting the gray-haired Bates, who pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair.
“Thank you, Mr. Stanton,” Chase said. “Bringing back McClellan was equivalent to giving Washington to the rebels.”
“That surprises me, gentlemen,” Postmaster General Blair interjected, his face pinched with a hint of sarcasm. “I thought you and Mr. Stanton would have preferred the fall of the capital to the reinstatement of McClellan.”
“Mr. Blair, please.” Chase rolled his eyes.
“No,” Duff interceded. “I’d like to hear more of what Mr. Blair has to say.”
“I agree we can do better than General McClellan. But I blame Mr. Stanton for the general’s defects, as much as McClellan himself.”
“Now that’s true.” Welles shook a finger at Stanton. “The general has enough failings of his own to bear without the addition of your enmity.”
“We’ve so many fine officers coming out of West Point,” Blair continued, “jewels to be mined, so to speak.”
“I don’t know if I quite agree with you on that, Mr. Blair,” Welles said.
“We all know your prejudices against West Point,” Blair replied with a wry smile.
“No efficient, energetic, audacious fighting commanding general has yet appeared from the place,” Welles said with a shrug.
This is foolishness, Stanton fumed. Why does not Duff end this banal debate?
“Another consideration, Mr. President, is political,” Blair said, now leaning forward to make his point. “As you know, my father was an adviser to Andrew Jackson, and I grew up on politics. If you replace McClellan so soon after reinstating him, especially before he has a chance to prove himself on the battlefield, you’ll look like a willy-nilly, not a quality to get you re-elected.”
“And you must consider General McClellan’s popularity with the troops,” Smith added. “Recently I read how soldiers beat up a man in a bar who dared speak ill of their commander. ‘Devil take the man who would say a word against McClellan,’ the paper reported them saying.”
“The military doesn’t run this country,” Bates said.
“You’re absolutely right, Mr. Bates.” Chase pushed the letter to the attorney general. “Sign this so we can end this war sometime this century.”
“Then pass it to Mr. Stanton,” Chase said. “I’m sure he has no reservations about signing it.”
“Not in its present form.” Stroking his pharaoh beard, Stanton wrinkled his brow.
“What?” Chase’s eyes widened.
“I prefer General Burnside.”
“He has declined the position twice,” Chase said.
“He’s a professional soldier. His campaigns have shown him to be capable.”
“He himself said he wasn’t fit for the job,” Chase replied.
“And he’s loyal,” Stanton continued his argument. “Once, upon hearing the rash statement by other officers that the military would run the Republican Party out of Washington and take over the government, he said, ‘I don’t know what you fellows call this talk, but I call it flat treason!’”
“Hooker will fight!” Chase blustered.
“He’s just like Pope, and he’s a blowhard and a liar,” Blair interjected.
Stanton sighed and wondered why Duff was allowing this meeting to get so out of control. But he knew why. This was not Lincoln, nor any other politician who had glided through the rough waters of government debate. Duff was drowning, and there was nothing Stanton could do without raising suspicions.
“What do you think, Mr. Seward?” Duff finally asked.
“There’s some wisdom in everything that has been offered here.” Seward smiled mysteriously. “If we just continue, we’ll find the truth, somewhere.”
Stanton made eye contact with Duff and could swear the man could read his thoughts—what the secretary of state had just said was rubbish. He watched Duff sigh with melancholy and stand, leaving the debate behind as he went back to his own desk.
“Mr. Stanton,” Chase said gravely, “you’ve never expressed any criticism of General Hooker before.”
Stanton hesitated before replying, watching out of the corner of his eye as Duff picked up a book left by Lincoln earlier in the day. No attention span, Stanton fretted, as he tried to find words to rebut Chase.
“I like Fremont myself,” Smith offered.
“Fremont!” Chase responded with irritation. “Please, Mr. Smith!”
Duff exploded with laughter, causing everyone to turn to see him with his large feet on the desk and his dour face opened by a huge grin as he read from the book.
“I was just looking at this book by Artemus Ward,” Duff said with a chuckle. “Listen to this: ‘I showed my show in Utica when a big burly feller walked up to my wax figures of the Lord’s Last Supper and seized Judas Iscariot by the feet and dragged him out on the ground. He then commenced to pound him as hard as he could, yelling, “Old man, that Judas Iscariot can’t show himself in Utica with impunity by a darn sight!” with which observation he caved in Judas’s head. The young man belonged to one of the first families in Utica. I sued him, and the jury brought in a verdict of arson in the third degree.’” Duff threw back his head and laughed loudly.
Stanton thought his worst fears had come true—Duff had succumbed to the stress and had gone out of his mind. Even this could be turned to his advantage if Stanton kept his head about him.
“Mr. President,” Seward said, “you’ve broken the tension and made your point.”
“And what, Mr. Seward, do you think this point is?” Duff finished his laughter.
“If we don’t stop bashing General McClellan in the head, we’ll surely be guilty of burning the future of our country.”
Duff looked at Stanton to shake his head imperceptibly, which the war secretary took to mean that the effort to remove McClellan was defeated, unless they ham-handedly forced their opinion on the others, which would raise too many questions. Stanton nodded.
“You sure can read my mind, Mr. Seward,” Duff said, standing. “I suggest we give General McClellan another chance to lead, until he fails so miserably even his most devoted followers would have to concede he must go.”
Seward nodded. “Wisely said, Mr. President.”

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story

Previously in the book: Hal Neely began his career with big bands touring the Midwest and California. Then he entered the record business where he met volatile record magnate Syd Nathan and soul star James Brown.
Hal Neely was not a stranger to the darker side of the record business, beginning with dealings with the Mafia and going on to just barely escaping federal repercussions in the payola scandal. It seemed to start out fairly innocently. King Records, as all music corporations, placed records in stores on consignment. What a store could not sell was returned to the company for credit. One time a record store owner tried to return 500 or more copies for credit. Neely balked because the store had held them so long, but eventually he took them back.1
In due course Neely realized he could sell the returned records to the Mafia for cash. The next step was to over-press intentionally records by several thousand copies and sell them to the Mob for a dollar apiece. The unauthorized over-pressing orders were done in the middle of the night when everyone else had gone home. The Mob then sold the records on the streets for a tidy and untraceable profit. Neely never dealt face to face with any of the leaders of organized crime but rather met with nondescript messengers who gave him envelopes stuffed with cash. The pick-up points changed for every transaction. Sometimes a Mafia front man appeared at a record store looking like they were picking up returns but actually were getting a new product. Neely made sure no one snitched on him, and he never felt intimidated by the crime bosses. It was with this undocumented cash that Neely used for payola payments.2
He kept tabs on which record representatives were given cash. When Neely dealt with radio station people, they always knew to look in his top jacket pocket for the bills. He was also busy at the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention every year where radio disc jockeys received special “comps” such as escorts, food, and shows. Of course, the disc jockeys knew when they went home to their radio stations it was time to show their appreciation for the hospitality by pushing the records. Neely never felt he was necessarily doing anything wrong because all the other labels were doing it too, and they needed payola as a promotional tool just to survive.3
In fact, in the beginning payola was not even illegal, but the practice came to the attention of the national news media after a story in the Miami News on May 30, 1959. Details of the shady operations at a recording industry convention swept across the nation. The official name of the event was the Second Annual International Radio Programming Seminar and Pop Music Disc Jockey Convention, but Miami News reporter Haines Colbert described it more as a Roman orgy than a staid businessmen’s meeting.4
“There were expensive prizes, free liquor around the clock in at least 20 suites and girls, imported and domestic,” Colbert wrote in his article. “There are about 2,000 record companies,” a spokesman for one of the major companies told Colbert, “and all of them send all their releases to every disc jockey. The only possible way to get them on the air is by giving the disc jockey personal attention. And that means giving him whatever he wants.”5
The newspaper expose triggered hearings in Congress by the Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight. Chief Counsel of the special subcommittee, Robert W. Lishman, had recently honed his investigatory skills with his work delving into rigged television game shows. His definition of payola was as follows:
“Bribes paid to disc jockeys to plug certain songs … It also includes charges of secret payment for plugging products and individuals on television and radio, kickbacks for promoting sales, and conflicts of interest by disc jockeys who have an interest in the manufacturing and sale of records.”6
Another form of payola was a radio station’s “Spin of the Day” which was paid for by the record company. That fact was never announced on the air. While being a “Spin of the Day” did not assure success for a mediocre product, it could help a good performance by a new artist get the recognition it deserved.7
By November of 1959 the scandal had taken its first victim, Alan Freed, a New York disc jockey who had been given the title of the “inventor” of rock ‘n’ roll. He was fired by both radio station WABC and television station WNEW.7 In the same month Frank Hogan, New York district attorney, subpoenaed several independent record companies including King. Cities where disc jockeys were allegedly bribed included Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York and Detroit. These were considered the important regional centers where new records were introduced to the public.8
Syd Nathan lost no time in giving an immediate interview to the Cincinnati Post in which he said that King “has paid off disc jockeys all over the country and that he has the checks to prove it,” although he qualified that statement by saying he “never paid more than $10 a month to any one disc jockey, although some firms might have paid as much as $300-$400 to get their records plugged.”9
Payola “is a dirty rotten mess and it has been getting worse in the last five years,” Nathan told the newspaper. There are more than 10,000 disc jockeys in the country and less than 200 demanded payola. That small amount could make or break a record. So we cut it out.” He added that King made regular monthly payments in 1957 and 1958 in the amount of $18,000 a month mostly to disc jockeys in Philadelphia and New York.10
He explained why he paid by check. “How else could we account for the money unless it was on our books for what it was? We told the disc jockeys that if they didn’t want to declare it on their incomes, it was their business, but if they were going to get paid it would be by check.”11 Nathan illustrated how out-of-control the practice had become by explaining how he once received a telegram from a disc jockey in Arkansas. Receiving your records periodically, but never any checks. What’s wrong?12
While his statement of culpability may have seemed brave on the surface of it, Nathan nevertheless shifted some of the blame by telling investigators that payola transactions were handled out of King Records’ New York office operated by Henry Glover who had been employed by Syd Nathan since the early 1940s. Glover had been instrumental in bringing several R&B artists to King, including Little Willie John. In later years, Glover told interviewers he felt Nathan had thrown him under the bus during the payola scandal. Shortly after Nathan’s statements Glover resigned as King’s A&R man in New York, though some in the industry say King fired him. Glover immediately formed his own Glover label in association with Old Town Records.13 Hal Neely defended Glover, claiming that he had left the company voluntarily.
“The only two people guilty of payola at King … were Syd Nathan and Hal Neely. The other guys were just doing what they were told,” Neely said. “They might have passed money, but they didn’t unless it was approved. They didn’t get the cash until it was approved,” he reiterated. “I’m the only record executive they didn’t indict for payola, and I am as guilty as anybody.”14 Neely conceded that they knew the company was going to be in trouble.
“We were hot, and we knew we had to stop. It was only a matter of time before an investigation would come. It was out of hand. We stopped two years before the committee came around and that’s what saved us because they only went back two years. I prepared the audit, and we knew we were guilty but we stopped. Everyone was guilty and should’ve shared the blame. Including Dick Clark.”15
Neely bragged about the day federal agents came to his office to look at the books. He turned to his secretary to ask her to bring in the files. The agents asked for accounts starting three days after Neely stopped paying payola. He also re-pressed records with recycled materials from returns of failed artists so there were no files of fresh material. At this same time supplies of records disappeared mysteriously from King storage. Neely had suspicions that his Mafia connections may have destroyed the evidence in an attempt to protect him because he had made so much money for them.16
Ralph Bass also left King Records at this time. Some felt Nathan had shifted some payola blame onto him, and Bass said, “I figured my operation with Syd…well, I was losing something with Syd. I thought he was doing things behind my back. It didn’t feel like he was on my side anymore. I had to get away, to start fresh. I felt I was stagnating at King. So I got a better deal from Leonard Chess and I went over to Chess Records.”17
The irony of the payola scandal was that R&B artists never benefited from it. White radio stations could not be paid enough to put artists like Hank Ballard, Little Willie John and James Brown on the air. This was not to say payola did not exist on black radio stations. For example, one of James Brown’s childhood friends was Allyn Lee, a master of the practice at WAPX in Montgomery, Alabama.18
Lee, who was paid little or nothing by a radio station, made his living from payments by local businesses for on-air promotions. He also arranged local performances by the record artists he broadcasted.19
“Whenever James Brown appeared disk jockeys from within a 200-mile radius came out,” Lee said. “And they would never leave until the manager came out and greeted them because James Brown always gave out an envelope of money. Always. My chauffeur–they once gave him an envelope of money. I said, ‘James, but he’s not a disc jockey.’ And he said, ‘He might be one next week.’ Back then you had 15 to 20 disc jockeys in the area, and depending on your position there might be $50-$500 in the envelope. He would always be appreciating you for you playing his records. ‘Play my records, man, keep me heard.’”20
Jim Crow laws made a black disc jockey in the South like Lee a very powerful person as a promoter for personal appearances by an artist like James Brown. Lee would take 10% for himself and the remainder went to Brown. The reasoning behind this was that the disc jockey had more incentive to sell tickets if some of that money was coming back to him. The disc jockey was now a business partner.21
“That’s why James Brown became more of a legend than the guy who slipped you something in a handshake,” said Bob Patton, a former disc jockey who later was on Brown’s staff. “He made you out to be a businessman, not a whore.”22
Brown may have made some disc jockeys feel like businessmen, but in the mid-1970s, one of them ended up in jail. Frankie Crocker was called one of the most important black disc jockeys in the world. During a new government investigation of payola, Crocker swore to the FBI he had never taken payola; however, the investigators brought in James Brown’s most trusted lieutenant Charles Bobbit who testified he had given Crocker $6,500 over eight years. When Brown took the stand, he claimed he did not know anything about the deal. Crocker went to jail for a year on perjury and Bobbit left Brown’s employ and the country to work for the president of Gabon.23
1 Roland Haneman Interview.
4Record Breakers and Makers, 454.
5 Ibid.
6Bryan Powers.
7Fever, 122.
8Record Breakers and Makers, 455.
9Bryan Powers.
10King of Queen City, 158.
11 Ibid. 159.
12Bryan Powers.
13King of Queen City, 29.
14Fever, 122.
15Brian Powers.
16 Roland Hanneman Interview.
17King of Queen City, 93.
18 The One,100.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid., 101.
21 Ibid., 102.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid., 316, 317.

Toby Chapter Twenty-Eight

Previously in the novel: Harley Sadler traveled West Texas with his melodrama tent show with his wife Billie and daughter Gloria. He made a million dollars but gave a lot of it away to needy farmers and lost the rest in the Depression. After his daughter died, his wife sank into depression, leaving Harley pondering why bad things happen to good people. After an angry confrontation with Billie, he decided all they could do was keep on loving and keep on keeping on.
Harley and Billie fell asleep that night in each other’s arms. He stayed awake long enough to watch her face relax, each muscle calm, free of tension and anxiety. Not numbed by alcohol but purged through their mutual emotional explosion. He did not know how many more assaults on his nervous system he could endure but for now he felt strangely free.
The next morning Harley left for another round of appearances: the PTA meeting in Spur, a Boy Scout benefit in Avoca and returning by the weekend for auditions at the Sweetwater Community Theater. How would he find Billie upon his return? Would another distressing encounter set her off into a new downward spiral? Harley told himself in the final analysis he would accept whatever condition in which he find his lovely Billie. He would deal with it.
When he put his key in the apartment door on Friday evening, Harley felt the door open from the inside. Billie was there, to greet him warmly.
“I’m so happy to be home,” he murmured hugging her tightly.
“And you hold auditions in two hours,” she added, a laugh in her voice.
“You could come with me.” His eyes twinkled. “I’m sure I could get you cast as Susie Belle.”
“Which show?”
“Over the Hills to the Poorhouse.”
A shadow crossed her face. “Oh.” She paused. “I can’t. You know I can’t.”
Harley shrugged. “I had to ask.”
When he arrived at the little theater, the auditorium was filled with enthusiastic amateur actors. They stood to applaud as he walked down the aisle, almost skipping. The director, a balding man with glasses, beamed.
“We are so pleased Harley Sadler could take time from his busy schedule to play Toby for us.”
He ducked his head and waved away the attention. “Aww, I ain’t been that busy.”
“Perhaps we’ll see Billie at one of the performances,” the director added.
“Yes!” someone called out.
“That would be wonderful!” another yelled.
“Billie hasn’t felt well recently,” he replied with a sad smile. He could not say anything more on that subject so he put on his best Toby grin and announced, “So let’s get these auditions under away! Let’s troupe!”
The theater erupted in applause and cheers. Harley waved his arms over his head and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. He did not exactly understand why emotion rose through his throat but he beat it down anyway.
Harley guided the director in selection of the cast and led the actors through the opening rehearsals before leaving for the final two weeks of the legislature.
As the final bills of the session were debated, Harley had a hard time focusing on the issues. They all seemed as though he had heard them before. He had such confidence when he was first elected many years ago that his good intentions would help the people just scraping a living from the land. Now he was an old man and families lost their battles to keep their farms. They moved to nearby small cities. Men took jobs driving trunks or stacking grocery shelves and lied to themselves that they did not mind leaving the soil behind. They did not mind someone else planting the seeds and watching the plants grow.
Harley did not choose that life for himself but he respected the folks who did choose to tend the land. Now as he sat there listening to the same old arguments about how the state government was unable to do anything to help the family farms, he felt like such a failure.
Of course, everyone visiting Austin wanted their picture taken with State Senator Harley Sadler. He shook hands and smiled better than any other politician in the capitol, but he could not save a single family farm.
When time came for his vote, Harley hardly knew how he voted nor did he care. This was his last term in public office. He had no more stomach for it. And, as Billie often pointed out to him, the legislature did not pay enough to pay the bills. Harley was tired. He wanted to go home to his wife.

Club V-Vampire, Part Three

Previously in the story: New Orleans librarian Alpine has decided to experience the wicked nightlife of the French Quarter. To purchase the proper clothing she enters Madame De Baucherie’s Vamporium.
“I want the proper attire to attend a vampire club. You know, one of those places where people role play—“
“I know what you want,” the old woman interrupted. She firmly took Alphine’s hand and led her to a corner of the store with racks of black satin and lace dresses. Dropping the girl’s hand, Madame De Baucherie grabbed Alphine’s breasts. “Ah good. Not so large. You will be able to wear our most scandalous gown with a neckline plunging to the navel. Women, such as I, could not wear this particular creation because of the risk of a nipple peeking through. Most inappropriate.”
Madame De Baucherie thrust the filmy dress into Alphine’s hands and pushed her toward a dressing room. “Go meet your destiny.”
Inside the tiny room Alphine tentatively took off her clothes and wriggled into the black garment. The satin against her skin created a sensation throughout her body that scared her. As she smoothed out the dress, she heard the door open and saw Madame DeBaucherie’s shriveled arm presenting a pair of spiked black heels and a shimmering ebony wig.
“These will complete the ensemble.”
Alphine took the items, and the old woman slammed the door. Gingerly she adjusted the wig on her head. Her own hair was a bland shade of brown, limp, lifeless. Then she realized the wig was actually made with real human hair. The room did not have a mirror so she could not tell for certain if it were straight. Next she slipped on the heels which were surprisingly comfortable despite hurtling her toward Amazon-like stature. Taking a deep breath, Alphine opened the door.
Madame De Baucherie appraised her without emotion. “One final touch—makeup.” Skillfully, she whipped out an eyebrow pencil and filled in the spaces on the young woman’s brow. She flicked the thin eyelashes with a black brush and applied blood red lipstick. Lifting a powder pad, she paused to consider Alphine’s complexion. “Perfect as is.” She put away her tools of the trade. “Ah to have that deathly pallor again. Flawless.”
She took firm control of Alphine’s shoulders and turned her toward the mirror. “Behold yourself.”
What she saw in the mirror both frightened her and edged her toward spontaneous orgasmic combustion. Alphine could not discern one feature that spoke of her past as a protected fragile flower quivering in the breezes from the foreboding Mississippi River. And she liked what she saw.
“You are my most inspiring creation. Of course you need midnight black fingernail polish.” Without a breath Madame DeBaucherie added, “The dress, shoes, wig, makeup and nail polish come to three hundred and fifty dollars, including tax.”
“Let me get my purse and things,” Alphine whispered. If she had even the slightest doubt about her lifestyle decision, Madame De Baucherie had banished it. She picked up her librarian attire and her purse and headed back to the counter where she handed her credit card over.
With efficiency the old woman zipped the card through, punched the proper buttons, extended a pen to her customer to sign and placed her library clothes in a shiny black bag. Before handing the bag to Alphine Madame De Baucherie extended a thin withered finger, hooked it into the vee of the neckline at Alphine’s navel, pulled it forwarded and peered down.
“Panties. Tres gauche. Remove them before your evening at the clubs. Sally forth unto war.” She pushed the young librarian toward the door. “Go to the clubs. Find a young man and destroy his soul.”

Cancer Chronicles

I’ve been going through a lot of old pictures lately which have brought back some wonderful memories. There are some pictures, though, I won’t find because I don’t think they were ever actually printed.
Janet took them the first night we met. She was the public relations officer for an education cooperative and had organized this banquet for all the school officials in a four-county area. I was there covering it for my newspaper. I had introduced myself and then ended up at a table being polite to a group of strangers for the next two hours.
What I didn’t notice was that Janet was walking around the room taking pictures of everyone for a news release. It wasn’t until we were married that she told me she had taken several pictures of me just for giggles that night. When she developed them later she realized I had a napkin to my mouth in every photo. She didn’t bother to print any of them.
She had caught on film one of my little tics. When I am in a situation of eating with a group of strangers and trying to be charming I self-consciously wipe my mouth after every bite. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone at dinner and looking at a smear of food on their lips. I didn’t want to be that person.
I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day analyzing that bit of behavior. Perhaps the doctor could have made a few conjectures about Janet taking covert photos of a person she had just met. That doesn’t matter anymore, I guess, because it was forty-five years ago. Maybe it just proves oddball people belong together. Even though cancer took Janet away, memories like this one keep us together.
I’d still like to see the napkin pictures, though.

Lincoln in the Basement Chapter Eighteen

Previously in the book: War Secretary Edwin Stanton places President and Mrs. Lincoln in the White House basement under guard and replaces him with a lookalike, a deserter named Duff, so he can run the government
As Duff and Stanton entered the president’s office, Stanton looked around and quietly shut the door, then crossed the room to look through the door to Nicolay’s office.
“He and Mr. Hay are still at supper,” Duff said.
“They may have returned earlier,” Stanton replied. “You must always be on the alert for people who aren’t supposed to be there.”
“Yes, sir.”
“And call me Mr. Stanton,” he continued. “‘Sir’ is much too severe a salutation and implies subservience. After all, you’re the president, and I the mere secretary of war.”
“Yes, Mr. Stanton.”
“And stop acting like a beaten dog, for God’s sake!”
Quietly, Private Christy entered, nodded, and hesitantly went to a corner to stand at attention.
“He’s your adjutant,” Stanton said at Duff’s look of unease. “He needs to be here.”
“I know he’s my adjutant. We met this afternoon. I know he needs to be here.” Duff paused to pout. “I don’t have to be told everything. I’m not stupid. I’m just nervous.”
A knock at the door caused Duff to fidget.
“Then don’t act so nervous. Relax! God, I hope you’ve a sense of humor.” Stanton paused and then spat out a sigh. “Aren’t you going to tell them to enter? It’s your office, for God’s sake.”
“Come in,” Duff called out as he sat behind the large wooden desk. When an older, balding man in servant uniform entered, he smiled. “Tom Pen, my friend.”
“The members of the Cabinet are beginning to arrive downstairs.” The servant smiled warmly and stepped just inside the door. “Shall I send them up?”
“Of course,” Duff replied. “The lamb is ready for the slaughter.”
As the old man laughed, Stanton caught the glimpse from Duff to acknowledge the fact that he indeed had a sense of humor. The war secretary told himself to calm down, because this man was going to be fine. He could see it in his eyes the day he met him in the War Department reception room. A bit stooped, defeated-looking, Duff spoke well and quickly, letting his intelligence shine through.
“That’s quite enough, Mr. Pendel,” Stanton said.
“Yes, sir.” Pendel’s eyes went to the floor.
“Mr. Pendel is my doorman, Mr. Stanton,” Duff said quite aggressively. “I’ll tell him when to leave.”
A bit startled, Stanton stammered, “Yes, sir.” His mouth pinched shut as he watched Duff relish his new authority.
Pendel smiled broadly.
“If you can’t take time out of the day for a laugh, then you might as well be Edwin M. Stanton.” He smiled as Pendel laughed again. When Stanton took his glasses off and tapped them on his palm, Duff coughed nervously. “I guess you better get along before those fellers start talking about taking over.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President.” Pendel gave a side glance at Stanton and turned to leave.
“I promise to end this to-do at a decent hour,” Duff said. “I know Taddie will have you up early tomorrow morning packing for the Soldiers’ Home.”
“Thank you; very kind of you, sir.” Pendel smiled. The pleasant turn of mouth disappeared when he addressed Stanton. “Sir.”
After the doorman left, Duff began to open drawers in the desk.
“What are you doing?”
“If someone asks for a sheet of paper, I got to know where to get it, don’t I?”
“You’re bordering on insolence.”
“First you say I’m acting like a whupped dog, and then you say I’m insolent.”
“Enough of that.” Stanton waved his hand as he put his pebble glasses back on his nose. “Mr. Chase informed me this meeting was opportune, for he’d just written a letter of protest for Cabinet members to sign and present to you.”
“So he’s in on this?”
“No. While he has the right views, he lacks the imagination to understand the need for subterfuge.”
Their heads turned as they began to hear footsteps and voices come up the stairs. As they came closer, Stanton took a seat at the long table covered with a green cloth in the middle of the room. Duff looked up at the portrait of President Andrew Jackson looming over the conference table.
“I wonder what he’d think about all this,” Duff wondered aloud.
“Shh.” Stanton furrowed his brow, leaned forward and whispered, “And don’t acquiesce too easily.”
“Is that Mr. Smith and Mr. Bates I hear plotting outside my door?” Duff stood.
Two ordinary-looking, elderly gentlemen entered the room with reserved smiles.
“Never plotting, Mr. President,” Edward Bates, attorney general, said pleasantly as he extended his hand to greet Duff.
“Well, I’d plot against a man who roused me out of the house at a late hour like this,” Duff said as he firmly shook Bates’s hand.
“We’re ever pleased to do our duty in serving the presidency,” said Interior Secretary Caleb Smith with a slight lisp.
“My Lord, you should be in bed, Mr. Smith.” Duff paused in the middle of his handshake to lean forward and examine Smith’s prosaic, thin, pale face. “Forgive me, but you look worse than the puny turkey the poor relations turned down for Christmas.”
Stanton stiffened at Duff’s forwardness. If he had written a script for Duff to follow, it would not have included that observation on Smith’s health.
“Exactly Mrs. Smith’s sentiments as I dressed to come here,” Smith replied. “She would’ve been frightfully upset with you, Mr. President, if you had not yesterday sent her a note concurring with her insistence that I see my physician.”
Stanton relaxed in his chair as the light conversation continued between the men as they ambled to the conference table. Squinting at Bates, he surmised that the attorney general should not be a problem in agreeing with Chase’s letter. Most of the time he was courteously quiet during Cabinet debate, except when a matter of Constitutional law arose, and then he spoke with authority.
“I know you can’t expect to have the energy of a young man when you pass the age of fifty, but you’d think I could make it through the day without a nap,” Smith said as he slid into the nearest chair.
He would be no problem, Stanton judged the Interior secretary, though he had expressed admiration for General McClellan’s conservative approach to military strategy. Smith’s health was failing, and he conceded arguments simply to end the stress.
“Mr. President,” Gideon Welles said with a flinty New England accent, “I swear I’ll join Jeff Davis if you don’t stop calling these late meetings. I thought you were leaving for the Soldier’s Home tonight.”
The arrival of the secretary of the navy caused Stanton to stir uncomfortably in his seat. On one hand, he knew Welles was no supporter of McClellan and would welcome Chase’s initiative; on the other hand, however, he could not abide the man.
“Good to see you, Mr. Welles,” he said, smiling and stroking his pharaoh beard.
“Stanton.” Welles nodded his way.
Welles may well have been a good administrator from his years of running a newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut, but he knew nothing about ships. When Stanton joined the Cabinet, replacing corrupt Simon Cameron, he recognized Welles’s inadequacy immediately and could not conceal his contempt. Stanton showed no restraint in expressing disdain—his voice dripped with sneering reproof and his eyes glowed with incredulity until, to his surprise, Welles confronted him. It was then that Stanton had become alarmingly aware of how tall Welles was. His appearance may have invited scorn, with his flowing white beard and huge gray wig making him look like Saint Nicholas, but the gnome-like Stanton realized, as Welles loomed over him, Welles was not to be ridiculed. Since then, Stanton had forced himself to smile and be courteous, keeping his opinions of Welles to himself.
“So, Mr. President,” Welles said, “what’s the news?”
“Who else? General McClellan.” Duff stole a glance at Stanton, who looked down at the table.
“Ah,” Welles replied. “The man from West Point.”
“The man from West Point?” A hatchet-faced man appeared in the door. “We must be discussing the esteemed commander of the Army of the Potomac.”
“One and the same, Mr. Blair,” Welles said. “Come, sit down.”
“Good evening, Mr. President.”
“Mr. Postmaster General,” Duff said.
“Mr. Stanton.” Montgomery Blair, tall and weedy, focused his intense eyes on Stanton, and nodded stiffly.
“Have a seat, gentlemen,” Duff said, “we only lack two players, and we can start the game.”
A mild chuckle rolled around the table as Blair sat next to Smith and leaned toward him to whisper. Stanton squinted as he tried to make out what he was saying, for he could not trust Blair. He was an abolitionist for sure; in fact, he had acted as defense attorney for the runaway slave Dred Scott before the Supreme Court, and urged hot action on Fort Sumter, but Stanton felt as though he could not control the man, and that made him dangerous. Radicals and moderates together hated Blair, because he always said what he thought, and true believers, Stanton knew, only wanted to hear what they believed.
“Ah,” Duff said with light humor, “Mr. Seward and Mr. Chase. Now let the games begin.”

Note to Readers

Someone said, “When I grow weary I go to the woods.” I’m going to the woods to walk for a few days to clear my head and fill my lungs with mountain air. While I’m gone please take time to read through some of my stories from a few years ago. If you find a novel you like let me know and I’ll repeat it. In the meantime, walk in the woods. It’s good for you.

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

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely hit it big with Big Bands in the Midwest and California. After World War II he worked for a record manufacturing company before joining Syd Nathan’s King Records where he produced James Brown’s records.
Perhaps the most important change to occur at King Records–and for James Brown–in 1958 was the hiring of Hal Neely because he became a buffer between Brown and Nathan during the rest of their business relationship.1
One of the first benefits Brown received with Neely on board with King Records was a new contract. “Mr. Neely had been a bandleader and a trumpet player and knew something about music,” Brown said in his autobiography. He credited Neely with getting him a 5% royalty even though 3% was the standard for musicians in the 1950s.
In a May 5, 1958 article, Billboard Magazine reported Neely joining the executive staff of King Records. Nathan said hiring Neely was the first step in a “new look” program. “Neely will team with King Records execs Jack Kelly, Howard Kessel, Al Miller and Jack Pearl in a concentrated drive to attain major status for the label in the next two years.” The drive included expansion of the artist roster, the creation of a larger pop Long Play line, and the revamping of the Deluxe and Federal labels.
Neely also adapted the recording session to Brown’s performing style. Most singers would stand in one place in front of the microphone, but not James Brown. Each time he sang it was a full out performance with dancing and jumping around. Neely realized recording James Brown in the conventional way was virtually impossible because he would always move away from the microphone. He gave him a hand-held microphone so he could prance around the studio for two takes. He also had another microphone placed on the studio piano. Neely would tell the engineer to fadeout to end the song even if Brown was still singing. This was the same technique he had used in his first producing session in California back in the 1940s.2
During one session, Brown headed for the piano, and Neely turned to the engineer and asked if the microphone on the piano was working. When the engineer replied that the microphone was off, Neely told him to bring it up. Brown put down the hand-held microphone and played the piano. When he finished at the piano, he picked up the hand-held microphone and continued singing.3
As soon as the session was over, Brown rushed out the door to catch the tour bus for the next performance destination. Usually the recording session was done after a performance because Brown either “had a girl waiting for him or a bus to catch.” Neely sat with a razor blade to cut the tape so the performance would fit the time the record format allowed. Ten days later the recording was in the stores.4
Neely’s music production savvy was essential for King Records because Nathan did not understand music; he only knew how to play it tough in business. Once he gave $100 to writer Pee Wee King for a song. As King was leaving the building, he heard the pianist play the tune again and decided it was worth more than $100. He turned around and went back into Nathan’s office and asked for more money. Nathan told him to hand over the check which he tore up, handing the music back to King. “You can’t change the deal.” King took his song, “Tennessee Waltz,” to another record company who produced it with Patti Paige, which became a national sensation.5
Nathan did not care if he missed out on a hit as long as he was tough in the deal. He had little respect or compassion for any artist. Neely’s music production style helped soothe the way with musical talent.6
During this time Neely apparently had no problems finding people to work for him and King Records, according to reports in Billboard Magazine. In the Feb. 29, 1960 issue, the magazine reported Neely had signed Gene Redd, Bobby Keyes and Lenny Wilson to recording contracts as the production team for sixty albums. The March 23, 1960, issue had two articles about Neely; one that he had re-signed Earl Bostic to an exclusive King contract for ten years, and another that he devised a clever promotion gimmick for Hawkshaw Hawkins’ latest album. He taped a dime to the press release to all disc jockeys so they could call King’s office for information on the country singer’s music.
This procedure was perhaps an omen of the future practice of payola which shook the music industry to its roots, but somehow did not taint Neely one bit.
1 The Life of James Brown, 54.
2 Roland Hanneman Interview.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

Club V-Vampire, Part Two

Previously in the story: Alphine was a librarian in New Orleans who yearned to enter the dangerous world of vampires found in the French Quarter.
This was Friday, and Alphine sighed as she drove home from the library. She had lived all her life at home with her parents in one of the respectable neighborhoods of New Orleans. Alphine had always obeyed every rule set down by her devout parents. They warned her never, under any circumstances, venture into the French Quarter. Evil people lived there who did evil things. After graduating from Tulane University with a degree in library science, Alphine got a job with the New Orleans library system. Her parents approved. Nothing bad ever happened in libraries, her parents told her. Alphine knew better. She asked to be assigned to the branch nearest the French Quarter. Her parents did not approve. After they had some time to adjust to that decision, Alphine announced she was going to rent her own apartment and live her own life. After all, she was twenty-four years old now. They told her she was a delicate flower that would wither without their protection.
Living in a greenhouse was not living. She had become one of the undead she read so much about. If she were to be undead Alphine would rather be undead away from her parents.
“Mom, Dad, it is unhealthy for you to watch me be undead, so for your own good I’ll go be undead elsewhere.”
Before her mother and father could make any sense out of her proclamation she had moved to an apartment in the garden district, the perfect location to be gloriously undead. However, after a year of living alone, she had yet to venture near the dangers of the French Quarter after dark. Now she was twenty-five years old. How she loathed her cowardice.
At the next intersection, she turned left instead of right. She knew where the vampire boutiques were. They sold the black slinky shrouds, the long black wigs, the death-white makeup and the blood red lipstick needed to integrate into the role-playing shadowy existence of New Orleans underworld nightclubs of vampires.
Vamporium was a black brick store cloaked in dead vines. A tickling bell announced her arrival, and an antique buxom woman wearing a tight, low-cut purple velour gown greeted Alphine. A pile of electric pink hair crowned her head. Her skin was a wrinkled testament to a life spent drinking too much bourbon. Her crimson lips opened in a smile, revealing aged, yellow teeth.
“Entre, my dear. I am Madame De Baucherie. And may I be the first to congratulate you for escaping the stultifying world of suburbia. Welcome to sin.”
Hearing that pronouncement, Alphine wanted to bolt out of the establishment devoted to decadence, but she felt she had gone too far to turn back.

Toby Chapter Twenty-Seven

Previously in the novel: West Texan Harley Sadler has lost his daughter, his tent show and his fortune but he remains oblivious to offers to bribe him in the Legislature.
The lights were off in the Sadlers’ apartment in Sweetwater. Billie slept on the living room couch, a bottle slowly slipping from one hand. Harley came in the front door with his suitcase. The water conservation meeting took longer than he thought. He turned on the light.
“Billie? Why are the lights off?”
When he saw her asleep on the couch, the air went out of him. “Oh.”
She sat up, startled. “Harley, I thought you weren’t coming home until—“
“You know I was coming in today,” he cut her off brusquely. “You were expecting me earlier not later.”
“Why, I thought it was tomorrow. Honest.” Billie tried to slip the bottle behind a pillow.
“There’s no need to hide the bottle,” he announced coldly. “I already saw it.”
“It’s the toothache I have.” Her hand went to her cheek. “The whiskey relieves the pain.”
Harley grabbed the bottle. “So that’s your new excuse. Toothache.”
“But it’s true,” she whined. “My mouth is killing me!”
“And your drinking is killing me.” Harley threw the bottle into the wastebasket.
“Be quiet,” she chided. “The neighbors will hear!
“You don’t think the neighbors already know that you drink?” His voice weakened almost to tears.
“You told them,” she accused him, wagging her finger.
“I told them? Harley laughed with exasperation. “I can’t take it anymore.”
Billie stood and grabbed his arm. “You can’t take it?” Her eyes narrowed, and her tone was ice cold. “What about me? I—I can’t go on supporting us!”
“I work!” Harley pulled away in indignation.
“The Legislature pays nothing!” Spittle sprayed from her mouth. “You lost all our money on oil! You give your talent away to any two-bit benefit that comes along!”
He looked down. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about wildcatting anymore,” he muttered.
“Well, if you can talk about my drinking I can talk about your oil.” She pulled back, retreating from her anger.
Harley sighed as though the last of his energy drained from his body. “I’m too tired for this.”
“I don’t care how tired you are.” Tears clouded her eyes. “You always tear me down for drinking but you never ask why.”
“I know why you drink.” His mind went to that day in the hospital when Gloria died.
Wrinkling her brow, Billie proceeded as though in confession. “I was doing real good, two whole weeks without a drink. Guess who came into the store? Louise Bright. That little girl who thought I was the queen of the theatre. Well now, she’s all grown up and feels sorry for this old—old washed up woman and tells me to keep the change. Can you imagine that? She told me to keep the change.”
“It isn’t Louise or any of the other excuses you’ve used over the years. The real reason is—“
“No!” she interrupted.
“Gloria.” His voice was incisive and final.
“No!” She paused to gather her courage. “It isn’t Gloria. “Taking a deep breath. Billie whispered, “It’s you.”
Harley shook his head. “You can’t blame me.”
“You—you never belonged to me,” she continued quickly before she lost her nerve. “It was the Legislature. It was the oil. It was the show. But it was never me.”
Harley’s back straightened. He turned to the book shelf to get his well-worn copy of the King James version of the Bible. “My Bible. Where’s my Bible?” He grabbed it from the shelf and thumbed through it. “There’s got to be something….” His voice trailed off.
“You always turn to the Bible. That book isn’t going to make your pain go away any more than bottle—“ Billie almost choked on her revelation—“will make my pain go away.”
Harley fidgeted with the Bible but then slammed it shut and threw it near Billie who fell in terror.
“Don’t hit me!” She dissolved into tears.
Harley knelt by her and gently put his arms around her quivering shoulders. “I wouldn’t hit you. I love you.”
“I’m sorry for what I said,” she admitted with remorse.
“No, you’re right. I haven’t helped you much. Your drinking scared me. I didn’t know what to do. You needed a stronger man.”
She melded into his arms. “Oh no, Harley. I couldn’t have lived, wouldn’t have lived without you. Just—just help me. I can’t fight it by myself.”
“I’ll help.” He held her tight.
“I never should have said the Bible was the same as the bottle. I hope God can forgive me for that.”
He smiled. “I’m sure He will.”
“Harley.” Billie paused to sniff. “What are we going to do?”
“The same thing Job did, honey. Just keep on loving and keep on living.”